Rain was falling in the forest in which the story begins. This forest had seen many rains, but this time it felt like the heaven itself was about to come crashing down. No, it wasn’t just raining. It was pouring. He ran around, looking for some shelter. That proved difficult: the trees were too widely spread to provide sufficient shelter. His bare cold feet got stuck in the mud occasionally. He tripped, and felt blood on his chin. Finally, he found what he was looking for: there was a hollow log, in which a child could fit. He crawled inside, and sat down with a sigh. He shivered; it was a very cold autumn day. It certainly wasn’t a day for children to be out in a forest all alone, anyway. What was he doing here anyway? He couldn’t remember. All he could recall was searching in this forest, though he wasn’t sure what for, either.
His thoughts were interrupted when he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. He jumped, let out a yell, and hit the ceiling with his head. Slowly, he turned sideways. A girl was sitting next to him; a little girl, though slightly taller than him. She had long, black hair and green eyes. Her face was pale, but at the same time full of life. She was gazing at him intently. Still recovering from the shock, he looked back. There was silence for a while. Then, the girl pointed at herself. “Syani.”
He nodded. Sigh-any. A pretty name, he thought. She then pointed at him, an inquiring look on her face. He blushed. He couldn’t even remember his own name. He glanced around, as if secretly looking for an exit to escape to. Behind the girl, he saw a sign: Keryan Forest: Path 3. He stared in front of him for a moment. “Kerryan,” he mumbled. It had a certain ring to it. “Kerr-yan,” she repeated. She laughed. He looked embarrassed: had he said the wrong thing? But then he noticed she was not laughing mockingly, but in a cheerful manner: in fact, it made him laugh too. They laughed together for a while, and forgot the rain. Suddenly, she stopped and frowned at something behind him. Following her gaze, he saw a spider the size of his head beside him. Before he even had a chance to scream, Syani had stabbed the beast with a sword. Kerryan gasped. “Where did you get that?”
She looked at him and shrugged. “We needed one, didn’t we?”
“Did you have it with you?” he asked, almost ashamed he had nothing of the sort to defend himself with.
“No. We needed a sword to appear, so why wouldn’t it be able to?”
He was puzzled. Drawing swords out of thin air wasn’t your basic daily activity to him. But then again, what was?
Distracted, he felt the cold again. It was now raining so hard, he was afraid the log was going to give way. “I wish it’d stop raining,” he said.
Syani sat up. “Well, then why don’t we make it stop raining?”
Kerryan gaped at her. Surely this girl was pulling his leg? “You think you can make it stop?”
She raised an eyebrow. “You were the one who said it should stop raining. Then you should be able to stop it too, right?”
It seemed to have an odd effect on him. Inside, he felt she was right. Why not..?
He raised his hand and closed his eyes. He felt a warm feeling from within. When he had opened his eyes, the rain had stopped. There was no longer any doubt or surprise in his mind. He’d done it.
She grabbed his hand. “Come on, let’s go outside!”
Together, they walked through the forest as the sun started to reappear. It was a strange sight to see the two children walking carelessly through a large forest, ignorant to the dangers that lurked in it, and ignorant to what was about to come.
They spent the next days walking through the apparently endless forest. He felt himself growing closer to her. He had accustomed to his new name, Kerryan, but he wasn’t completely used to Syani yet. He was very fond of her, and yet she also annoyed him sometimes. She always seemed to know better: nothing surprised her, apparently. He had the feeling she accepted life as it was, as well as everything that came with it. She was never cocky about it, or mocked him, but it felt as if she had been around much longer than him. He was getting used to it, though, just like he was getting used to the way they seemed to be able to shape their surroundings the way they liked it, and he got used to the forest itself as well. There were quite some monsters sometimes: Syani was usually the one fighting then, while Kerryan braced himself with a shield. He drew a sword every once in a while, but she was faster. He found himself wanting to surpass her in something, and there appeared to be one thing that happened to fit in with that desire: cooking. He knew more about the mushrooms and the fruits that grew in the forest: conjuring food out of thin air was more difficult than a weapon. She never complimented him, but he could feel she appreciated it.
He hadn’t asked her where she had come from, because he knew he wouldn’t want to be asked either. He had no idea, and she probably didn’t either. All that mattered was that they were here, and they were together.
Another opportunity to surpass her arrived one day, when they reached the border of the forest.
They had been walking all morning, when number of trees began to decrease. “Looks like a clearing,” Syani said.
Kerryan looked in the direction she was pointing. “Hey, that’s not a clearing… It’s the end of the forest.”
“The end, huh?” Syani looked thoughtful. “Well, let’s have a look.”
They walked onward, and saw a large village. It was an odd village: every house looked different from the next one. There were tall houses next to short ones, large and small. There was a wall surrounding the entire village for as far as they could see, but there was a gate in front of them.
In front of the gate, there was a woman with long, pointy ears who had apparently just arrived: she descended her horse and greeted the also pointy eared man. She had long, red hair. Her back was on them.
“Let’s see what kind of people they are,” Kerryan suggested, and leapt out onto the path leading to the forest. Turning around, he saw to his surprise that she hadn’t moved. She was simply staring in amazement at the two figures in front of her.
The woman turned around at the noise, and started. She gestured at the guard, who took the horse and ran into the village through the gate, which closed with a thud. The woman walked towards Kerryan, a grim look on her face. She intimidated him: something about her sent shivers to his spine. He tried to sound casually, saying: “Ah… good morning. I- that is to say, we have come to-” He came to a halt when he saw she had drawn her sword.
“I regret it…” she spoke in a soft but stern voice. “But it can’t be helped. The fact that you exist is a contradiction to nature in itself. Therefore… I must finish you to restore balance.”
Kerryan stared. What in the blazes is she talking about?!
It seemed Syani had come to her senses: she ran and jumped in front of Kerryan. She faced the woman. “Who are you?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Eydilne Fass. One of the Grand Protectors of the Elves.”
“Grand…” Kerryan repeated slowly. She gave a curt nod. “You have the misfortune of stumbling upon one of the three strongest warriors amongst the elves.”
“Elves?” Syani asked blankly.
“Enough now. There is no need for further discussion.” She raised her sword. “Rest in peace, along with your fallen comrades.”
“What-” But before he could finish, she leapt at him with surprising speed. Just in time, he managed to defend himself against her sword with his shield. He noticed he had great difficulty controlling it; this clearly was no ordinary sword. She added pressure, and he felt his grip weakening: he was being overpowered. Just when he thought he was going to give way, she stopped; Syani had hit her on the shoulder with her sword as hard as she could; a small gash appeared in her clothing, though her skin appeared to be untouched. Eydilne turned. “So you did not flee.” She eyed Syani’s sword. “Interesting,” she said, sounding anything but interested. “Neither steel, nor Aderium. Clearly an excellent sword. However…” she pointed her sword at Syani. “Even the sharpest sword is but a blunt knife in the hands of one who does not know to control it.”
Kerryan eyed Syani in alarm. She smiled. “Nothing to worry about. I don’t like this place. Let’s go, okay?”
If the situation wasn’t as serious as it was, Kerryan would have laughed at this comment. It was one of those moments, where Syani made the impossible sound as the most obvious thing to do at the moment.
Eydilne took a step forward. “I know,” Syani said, sighing. “You want to kill us, right? Sorry, I don’t like that. We’ll be taking our leave, like I said.” She aimed, and thrust her sword towards the woman’s stomach. Eydilne sighed. Kerryan barely saw her arm move, but the next moment, the sword was flying through the air. He looked at Syani’s face, and for the first time, he saw a look of shock on her face. “Enough games,” Eydilne said. “The time has indeed come for you to leave.”
“So... fast...” Syani muttered, her eyes still wide.
Eydilne’s eyes narrowed. She slashed, and hit Syani straight in the chest. Kerryan couldn’t stop himself from screaming. Syani merely gasped as she fell to the ground, blood pouring from the cut.
Kerryan felt a terrible feeling of dispair rising up inside him. No... no!
His mind went blank. He couldn’t speak. All he could do was stare in horror at the girl.
Eydilne turned, and Kerryan knew he was going to be next. There was nothing he could do about it. He closed his eyes, waiting for the blow...
But the blow didn’t come. His eyes snapped open, and Eydilne was pressing her sword against his shield. There was a look of surprise and disbelief on her face. Kerryan stared at the shield. He must have drawn it out unconsciously. Eydilne frowned, and pressed harder. For a moment, they were pushing against each other, then she threw him backwards. He lost his balance and fell on his back, while his shield flung backwards, and fell a few metres away.
Eydilne didn’t hesitate. She leapt at him, aiming a killing blow at his stomach, but this time he was ready for her. A second shield materialized into his hands. There was the sound of a clash of steel. Surprised by the sudden hit, she staggered. Kerryan rolled away from her, and stood up, his shield at the ready. She did not attack, however.
“That power of yours surprises me,” she spoke, “considering your obvious lack of battle experience. Just now... for a few seconds, I was completely open. Anyone with a power like that should be able to realize he should make use of it.”
Kerryan looked at her, puzzled. She obviously didn’t see him or Syani as an ordinary child. But there again, he thought, that was quite obvious already.
“But it doesn’t make a difference,” she finished. “I’m wasting my time. I have to be done now.”
She raised her left arm, and stretched her fingers outwards. Kerryan saw her lips move, but no words came out. Instead, he heard a sound similar to a wind’s breeze. A feeling of dread passed over him. Slowly, he saw a silver cord dancing around him, coiling like a snake. He saw a small flash of light, followed by a sudden pain is his stomach. He doubled over, and fell.
Darkness swallowed him. He felt himself falling, but the way to the ground seemed to go on forever. He couldn’t think clearly. He didn’t feel pain anymore. He just felt himself descending lower and lower... as if he were falling through an enormous pit... He tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids felt too heavy. He had the strangest sensation that there was a deep fog inside his thoughts. Slowly, a name passed through his mind: Syani... And still, he was falling, and still the thud didn’t come. Then all of the sudden, a voice echoed across his mind: a man’s voice. He could barely hear what he was saying: “The way... not there...” I can’t hear you, he thought. He wanted to shout out to whoever was calling him, but no sound came out. The words became a little more clear: “Why carry a powerful sword if you do not draw it?” None of it made any sense to Kerryan. “If you want to protect... then fight, and draw your power...” The voice faded. “...from inside...”
Suddenly, everything came back to Kerryan: the attack, the pain... and Syani falling to the floor. Determination flew throughout his entire body. I’ll protect her... I have to!
It was as if his body were on fire. His eyes snapped open, and he saw Eydilne, flat on her back. Somehow... he’d thrown her off her feet. In a quick moment, she climbed upright. For the first time, Kerryan saw surprise on her face, though it vanished quite quickly. “This is unexpected,” she said. “But what is the point of continuing? It will end in the same way, no matter how much you resist. Your friend has already fallen.” She nudged towards Syani with her sword. “There is no escape for you.”
Kerryan looked her straight in the eye. “Syani... isn’t dead.”
Eydilne sighed. “True. Not yet, at the very least. But I told you, it is too late.”
“No. She won’t leave me.” He clenched his fist. “After all that... she wouldn’t just go like that.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”
Kerryan closed his eyes. “Syani is the one who taught me to live. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t met her. I don’t know why you want to kill us, but you’re not going to split us apart. She won’t die... and I won’t let her die!”
Eydilne froze. She stared at him, apparently pondering something.
He drew back his arm, then made a slashing movement across his breast. As he did so, a wave of white light emerged from it and knocked Eydilne head first into a tree trunk nearby. Somehow, it felt as if he’d done this for years. Without taking a further look at the woman, he ran at Syani. She lay on the ground a few feet away, her wound still bleeding heavily. “Come on,” he said softly. “We’re leaving.” He hoisted her up his back, and ran back into the forest.
As soon as he was a good distance away, he laid her down on a soft spot of grass. He looked at her bleeding wound, thinking of what Syani always said. He raised his hand towards the wound, slowly and uncertainly. If we need it to disappear, we can make it disappear... that’s what she’d say. Closing his eyes, he concentrated desperately on that last thought. He blinked after a while. He saw nothing had happened. So it’s not as simple as that... He looked around, starting to panic. He needed a bandage of some sort. He glanced at the trees around him. Leaves? The trees were tall, and the leaves grew too high for him to reach. He shook his head. Suddenly, he noticed that Syani was holding something. He seized her hand, and saw a large roll of bandage in it. He shook his head once more. It was truly incredible how unpredictable she was, even in a situation like this. Quickly, he started wrapping the bandage around her chest. He didn’t really know how to tend to wounds, but he just kept wrapping desperately, believing that it would help... silently praying she’d be alright. When the roll was completely used up, there was a thick amount of bandage around her. He supposed he had overdone it, but at least the bleeding had stopped. He sighed in relief. All of the sudden, he realized how tired he was, after all that had happened. But he had to look after her. Now was no time for sleeping. Yet after a few minutes, his eyelids started to get heavy. He lied down next to her. He held her hand softly. It was warm, which was a comforting feeling. He closed his eyes, and fell asleep next to her.
Meanwhile, on the foot of the village, Eydilne Fass got up, still staring after the boy. The one who taught him to live... She blinked, and turned around to face an elf who was a head higher than she was, with long, blue hair. He wore brown elven garb, and had a quiver of arrows over his shoulder. He was grinning. “Dear, dear. Quite a disturbing way of being welcomed home, eh?”
Eydilne swallowed. “You saw-“
He chuckled. “To think you’re still surprised by that. You’re still a little girl after all, aren’t you, Eydilne?”
She bit her lip. “I hadn’t really expected to see non-elves at the foot of our village, to be sure.”
He nodded. “Yeah, and that’s why I’m really wondering over something obvious. Why did you let them go?” He looked directly into her eyes. “I don’t think a little bump to the head’s enough to knock you out, hmm?”
Eydilne hesitated, turning away.
He raised an eyebrow. “What’s that now? How about you stop acting like a little girl who’s been naughty and just open up? I’m all ears! I came especially to welcome you back, you know. I was just surprised to see two kids were on the job already!”
She hesitated, then said, “I suppose... it was because of what you used to tell me. Something you said.”
He chuckled again. “You actually remembered a lesson from me, then? That’s a surprise, ‘little’ Eydilne!”
She managed a small smile. “I guess I paid attention once or twice... ‘Sir’ Arek.”
It took a while for Kerryan to awake. Several dreams slid by his mind. Finally, he awoke with a start, remembering he was supposed to take care of Syani. He looked around worriedly, and was relieved to see she was still sleeping peacefully on her side next to him. He sat upright. He looked at her face, bathed in the bright sunlight. He stroke her hair out of her face a little awkwardly, then carefully moved her on to her back, thinking it a more comfortable position. He smiled softly. He felt assured she was all right. He felt on his own body, noticing he was completely uninjured. He thought back to what that woman had done. She had certainly hit him with... something. Yet there was no trace of it on his body. His arm was a little bruised, but nothing more.
He jerked out of his thoughts when he saw Syani move. He bended over her, softly calling her name. Her lips moved, but he didn’t hear her speak. He looked at her uncertainly. “Are you... alright, Syani?”
She didn’t respond. “Do you need something? More bandages? Water?”
At his last word, he thought he saw Syani nod. He wasn’t sure, but he was glad to be able to do something for her. He ran to a small nearby stream. He closed his eyes for a moment, then saw a goblet in his hand. He was satisfied, seeing he could still do at least something she could. He skooped up some water and hurried back to Syani. When he returned, she was sitting upright. Despite everything he’d said in Eydilne’s face, he could almost cry in relief at seeing her awake. He dropped the goblet without noticing it, and ran at her, calling out to her. She blinked. “Kerryan...”
He felt that awkward sensation again as he cast his eyes downward. “Y-yes?”
“Would you mind taking these things off me?”
He blinked. “Eh?”
“I’d like to be able to move my arms, if you don’t mind.”
He stared at her for a moment, confused. Then something clanked into him. “Oh! The bandages! Sorry, I forgot...” Only now he noticed he had completely bound her with his clumsy fiddling with the bandages. He gently removed them. He was relieved to see there was no blood.
She stretched out, flexing her fingers. “Well, that’s that,” she said casually, placing her hands on her lap. “So, how about the water?”
“Oh, that...” He turned a little red, looking sideways for the goblet he’d dropped.
She laughed. “Just kidding.” She balanced two new glasses of water on her fingers.
He took one silently. He couldn’t help feeling a slight twinge of annoyance that she’d outbeat him again, but he was glad she was laughing again. He gulped his water down, then felt himself sobering down a little.
He stared into the forest. After a while, he spoke. “Syani.”
She turned sideways to look at him. “Syani. Why... did that woman attack us?”
She lowered her head somberly. “Kerryan... have you ever wondered why some animals in this forest attack us, why some are timid, and some lovable?”
He considered this for a moment. “Well... no, but that’s different, isn’t it? I mean, she’s, well...”
“Do you really think so?”
He frowned at her. She continued, “I disagree. She tried to kill us. That’s all that matters. Just because she looks more like us, or because she can talk, that doesn’t matter if she’s someone who attacks us like that. I think she’s no better than one of those snakes.”
Kerryan pondered over all of this. It was the first time he’d heard Syani this serious. He was about to say something when she stood up. “Well, it doesn’t matter. Let’s just stay away from that place, okay? Let’s go.”
He thought for a moment, wondering if he should argue, but he supposed she was right. It was no use worrying about that woman’s motives. It’d be best if they never saw her again. He stood up and following her. He didn’t bother asking her where they were going, and he suspected she had no idea either. They set off, decidedly in the opposite direction of the village, hoping never to see it again.
Yet how very wrong they were.
“That’s enough for today, I’d say,” Syani said, and dropped down on the floor exactly where she had been standing. Kerryan nearly bumped into her at her sudden halt. He’d been thinking of going on just a little longer, but there was no point in arguing. After all, he decided, there’s hardly a reason to prolong a walk when one isn’t going anywhere. He sat down as well, facing her. “Are you alright? Tired?”
She shrugged. “Nah, I just don’t feel like walking anymore for today. So what’s for dinner?”
He looked around. The trees were starting to lessen, and the few trees around them bore no fruit. They were in quite a bare location, as there was even hardly any grass growing. When he pointed this out, she scratched her head, and said, “Oh well. I’m not that hungry anyway. Let’s just lie down for a bit.”
Kerryan nodded. It was late in the evening. The sky was red, and the sun was halfway through setting. He moved next to where Syani was lying, on a small patch of grass. He felt a pleasant sensation of satisfaction. “It’s warm,” he commented.
“Hm.” She nodded, her eyes closed.
“You know, Syani...” He paused shortly, looking at the setting sun. “If we were to continue traveling like this for the rest of our lives... I’d be fine with it.” He smiled. “I’m happy just walking on with you every day. I really feel like my life’s complete like this.” Hesitating for a moment, he looked back at her. “With you.”
He saw a small smile on her face, her eyes still closed. “Good night,” was all she said.
Kerryan looked back at the edge of the sun, just before the last bit of light disappeared. “Good night, Syani.” He lay back, watched the sky darken for a while, then fell asleep.
The next day, they continued in the same direction as they’d been headed for the previous day. They had barely walked for half an hour, however, when they stopped. The trees were gone. They were standing entirely in the sand now. Kerryan squinted in front of him, but he saw no end to the sand. He cursed softly. “Looks like we were on the edge of the forest yesterday. This is a desert. We’ve got to turn back.”
Syani looked around. “We’re outside the forest?”
“Yeah. But don’t try to pass through. Really, we don’t want to end up in the middle of there.”
She looked a little disappointed. There was a silence for a moment. Kerryan hoped she wasn’t going to make a fuss. He was sure arguing with her would be a bother.
Finally, she said, “It’s getting hot over here. I say we’d better go back.”
Annoyed, Kerryan started, “That’s exactly what-”
He noticed she’d already started moving back towards the trees. He sighed. “...Yeah, let’s go.”
So there they went, walking off in the exact direction they had come from. After an hour or so, the trees were thick again, and the cool feel of the forest was back. Kerryan started recognizing certain paths they’d taken before, and started worrying about the fact that they were heading straight back to the village. Just then, as if reading his thoughts, Syani took an unexpected turn to the right, and they wrestled through a few bushes, after which they were on a new path. After having walked on in silence for a while, Kerryan pointed out a few particularly pretty flowers or insects, in an attempt at a conversation. They talked about idle things for a while, until they heard something.
Kerryan felt a sudden breeze pass by him. It gave him a chill, and by the looks of it, Syani had felt it too. They edged a little closer, and saw the spectacular sight of a boar getting hit by a rain of small icicles. The creature groaned and tried resist it. Looking closer, Kerryan saw a boy, a head taller than they were, raising his hand towards the boar. He narrowed his eyes, and the icicles seemed to increase. The boar struggled a little longer, but finally gave up and collapsed to the ground.
The boy lowered his hand and sighed. “There we go. Everyone alright?”
It was only now that Kerryan realized there were several smaller children behind the boy, some of them anxious, others fascinated. “Is it dead?” a little girl piped up.”
The boy shook his head. “No, it’s just knocked out. When it wakes up, it’ll be able to take care of its little kids again.”
“Its kids?” a tiny boy repeated, a look of curiousity in his eyes.
“Yeah. That’s the reason it attacked us, you know. She was afraid we’d harm her little ones.” He looked around. “Anyway, it’s okay now. Run off and play. I’m with you.”
They looked at each other, then one by one, they ran off, apparently chasing each others. Kerryan was too busy watching them to notice Syani tugging at his sleeve.
“They’re coming our way!” she hissed in his ear. He turned around, and sure enough, two of them were running in their direction: a boy chasing a taller girl. She outran him easily, and passed Kerryan and Syani. The boy tapped Syani, then ran away from her, shouting “You’re it!”
The two looked at each other, confused. Then they saw the older boy standing next to them. He had long, blonde hair, combed to one side, the other revealing a long, pointy ear. There was something wise about him, yet at the same time, he had a very boyish feature. He smiled. “Were you two late? First time?”
Syani hesitated. “Um...”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Just join in. They’re playing tag right now. Just chase the others. If there’s trouble, just call me,” he added proudly. “I’m already getting close to mastering basic magic.”
Seeing their confused expressions, he chuckled. He held out his hand, which they shook. “I’m Wayne. Don’t be shy, I doubt these kids even know every one of the others. Some of them have just gotten to know each other as well. Go on then, I’ll see you all later. We’re going back in about half an hour.”
Kerryan thought he ought to say something, and looked sideways at Syani. He noticed a gleam in her eyes, and she beamed, as if this kind treatment meant the world to her. “Okay, thanks!” she said, and ran off. Kerryan struggled, and nearly fell. “Wait up, Syani!” He ran after her, and soon they’d joined the other kids, laughing and playing idly. It was somehow a new kind of happiness they felt as they chased each other, playing and running about.
Finally, Wayne walked up to them and said it was time to go back. Every child stopped playing after a few minutes, and finally formed a group. Syani and Kerryan walked to each other, mutually asking the same question: What now? As the kids made to leave, Marilyn, one of the children they’d gotten to know during a game, looked at the two and called for Wayne to wait for them.
Looking sideways to her, Kerryan mumbled to Syani, “How about we just go with them?”
He turned back to her, seeing she looked a little uncomfortable with the idea. Before he could say anything however, she smiled, and nodded slowly. So they joined the others, and started walking ‘back’, wherever that might be.
After half an hour, Kerryan got a nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He saw Syani had halted, so she must have felt it too.
The village was getting in sight.
“Here we are,” Marilyn said. It was a small cottage, but it looked quite comfortable. It seemed to be made almost entirely out of wood, with a straw roof.
Syani eyed Kerryan, a slightly worried look on her face. “Er... are you sure this is okay?”
She smiled. “Don’t worry! It’s a little late to go further. I’m sure my parents will be fine with this.”
Parents... Kerryan hadn’t considered this. What if they noticed they weren’t from the village? He wasn’t ready for another Eydilne scene. He had felt a little apprehension when Marilyn, assuming they lived on the other side of the village, had offered to let them stay at her place. Syani had agreed, and he knew he was curious towards this village as well, but he couldn’t help worrying something might happen. When they’d seen the village, they had felt an urge to turn around and run right back in the forest. But a curiosity had kept them from doing so, and here they were. Deciding there was no turning back. Kerryan nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”
Marilyn opened the front door. The interior matched the outside: the decor was simple, but it gave a warm, comfortable impression. At a wooden table sat an older girl with long, blonde hair, reading an enormous book. At the shutting of the door, she looked up. One look told him she was Marilyn’s sister, with the same blue eyes and the same thoughtful look on her face. “Visitors?” she asked.
Marilyn nodded, and introduced them. Her sister presented herself as Anna, then continued reading without another word. Marilyn called out for her mother, but no answer followed. Without looking up, Anna said, “They’re out.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right!” Marilyn said, slapping her own face. “They’re visiting some kind of place,” she explained to the other two, “so they won’t be here until tomorrow. Anyway, want a drink?”
Kerryan suppressed a sigh of relief. At least they were safe until the next day. “Sure.”
They’d made two places to sleep out of a few extra bed sheets. It was quite warm in the house, so they needed little more. Kerryan and Syani lay next to Marilyn’s bed. It was a strange feeling, suddenly sleeping under a roof. The soft bed sheets were a change as well. They chatted a little more, but finally fell asleep.
After a good night’s rest, they were awoken by Anna, who had prepared breakfast. This was Kerryan’s first time eating bread with cheese, and it tasted delicious compared to the scarce food that grew in certain parts of the forest. But then again, he rarely felt hungry.
He had a lot of things he wanted to ask Marilyn, but it wasn’t easy asking them without revealing himself, so he mainly kept silent while Marilyn did most of the talking. From what she told them, he caught on that the village was called Eserikto, that its inhabitants, were eleves, that she lived together with her sister and parents, and that the previous day had been one of the occasional strolls to the forest, accompanied by one responsible older child.
When breakfast was done, they went outside. Marilyn waved to them. “Well, see you soon!”
“Uh...?” Syani looked a little taken aback by the sudden parting.
“Well, you’re going back home, right?” Marilyn asked.
“Oh- Oh yeah...” Syani’s face fell. Kerryan felt a twinge of disappointment as well. He’d hoped they could have been spent more time with the kids. But it was still early, and obviously, if they’d really had parents on the other side of Eserikto, then they would be quite worried by now. There’s no helping it, Kerryan sighed.
“It’s that way, right?” Marilyn pointed.
“Uh, yeah,” Kerryan said, and took a few steps in that direction. He turned, trying to look cheerful. “Bye then!”
Syani just waved. Her face was beaming, but he could tell she regretted this early depart as well. They walked off, aware that they were walking deeper into the village rather than back to the forest. They both were rather gloomy, knowing they’d lost their only place to stay in the village. “Well,” Kerryan said, “We might bump into them again on one of their ‘strolls’.”
Syani nodded silently.
“Let’s just have a look around while we have the chance,” he added. He was about to continue when he stopped in tracks. “Hey... Hey! Syani! Over there...” He pointed to one of the houses. They looked through the window, and Syani saw the woman he was pointing at. Sitting and laughing with three children around their age was none other than Eydilne Fass.
It was hard to recognize her. With a smile, she looked like a completely different person. By the looks of it, she was playing a board game with the children. They stared at her for a while, then Syani finally pulled him away from the window. “We’d better get going, before she notices us.”
He hurried after her. “Isn’t it incredible? Could that really have been the same woman who attacked us like that?”
“Maybe it wasn’t.”
“Oh, come on. You know it was her. But don’t you see? There must be a reason she attacked us like that. You’ve seen for yourself now that she isn’t some kind of monster.”
She stopped. “Kerryan.”
She looked sideways at him. “You’re missing the point. We don’t have any idea why she tried to kill us. There’s no use wondering about it.”
“That’s right,” A voice came from behind them.
Syani jumped, and turned to face a young man, apparently the age of about 20. He had short, dark blue hair which was held up in the front by a headband. There was a bow over his shoulder, and he was wearing a dark green cloak. He was frowning. “You two have got nerve. I hadn’t expected you to return.”
Kerryan gasped. “You’re... one of them? One of the Guardians?”
He remained motionless, surveying him. “And if I were, what difference would it make?”
Syani glared at him. “So, you’ve come for us. Isn’t that it?”
He shrugged. “Well, that’s what it boils down to. Syani and Kerryan, isn’t it?”
“How did you-“
“Never mind that. Just get ready.” He raised the bow off his shoulder. “I am known as Arek. And yes... I came here to fight you.”
Kerryan clenched his fist. We should’ve gotten out of here while we had the chance...
Syani took a few paces in the elf’s direction. “Before that, tell me why. Why do we have to fight?”
The young man folded his arms. He surveyed her for a moment, then turned his back on her. “I’ll keep my reasons for myself. I have told you my name. There’s no need for further conversation. All we need now is... a better location.”
With that, he stuck out his left arm sideways. There was a silence for a moment, then Kerryan heard that sound again. The same sound that Eydilne had made... like the rustling of the wind. “Watch out!” he shouted to Syani, without knowing how one could watch out for something without knowing what was coming. A green circle of light appeared around them. There appeared to be ruins engraved into it. Kerryan turned around and tried to run out of it, but he felt immobilized, as if he was chained to it. He could hear the sound of the wind swelling, and he was suddenly blinded by the green light, as it flashed once or twice. He snapped his eyes shut instinctively. After a while, the sound died down, and he dared open his eyes. He gasped, seeing the were back in the forest. In the distance, Eserikto could still be seen. He turned around, and noticed Syani beside him. He still felt slightly dizzy. Arek was standing in front of them, an amused look on his face. “First time warping, huh? Well, doesn’t matter. You’ll feel all right in a moment. There’s no need to look so angry,” he added, seeing Syani’s glare, “I just brought us to a better fighting location. No need to get the villagers involved, right?”
Kerryan frowned. He was clearly putting himself in an unfavourable position. He didn’t want help?
“Anyway,” Arek continued, “You can be angry with me... after you’ve tasted one of my arrows.” He raised his bow, and drew an arrow from a quiver which hung over his cloak. “Let’s go!”
We’ve got to run! Kerryan mouthed to Syani, but she wasn’t paying attention. They ran, each to a different side, as the first arrow flew at them like an angry bee. Its aim was considerably off, however, and it hit a tree a few metres away from where Kerryan was standing. Arek whirled around to face Kerryan, and quickly took aim with a second arrow. Kerryan stretched his left arm out, praying the shield would hold, and at the exact time Arek let go of the string, the metallic wonder appeared in Kerryan’s hand. The arrow bounced off the shield, but the force nearly knocked him off balance. He staggered for a moment, and Arek took advantage, whipping out a third arrow. Before he could aim, however, he had to step aside in order to avoid a splitting chop from Syani’s sword. His timing wasn’t perfect, however: she managed to land a blow on his right shoulder. He aimed a kick at her, and she jumped back.
He touched his shoulder, and held his hand in front of him, seeing blood. He looked mildly impressed. “Hm. You’re actually quite good, aren’t you?”
This jigged something in Kerryan’s memory. Just like Eydilne, this Arek somehow gave the impression that he knew them. He hardly had any time to ponder over this, however, as Arek was getting ready for a new storm of arrows. He shot them alternatively to Syani and Kerryan, but they managed to dodge them every time. Kerryan considered this. Their enemy was fast, but he didn’t take the time to aim his arrows perfectly. There had to be a way to take advantage of this fact...
But as he thought, he noticed Arek was getting more and more accurate. At last, he jumped aside to dodge an incoming arrow, and knocked right into Syani. He heard the arrow whistling past his air, making his neck hairs stand on their ends. Then, it hit him what Arek had been doing. They’d fallen right into his trap. He had been missing on purpose, firing a little to one side, so they’d instinctively moved the other way. They’d both been moving in a half circle, finally reaching each other. He’d forced them back together, removing their advantage of having him closed in. He cursed. He should have used his shield and stayed where he was. Arek had chosen the perfect spot for him to fight: it was a clearing: a grass field, with next to no places to hide. The nearest tree was a good distance away. He raised the shield in front of him, as a flurry of arrows hit it. It was hard to keep it steady. Syani held the handle together with him, and the shield seemed to swell: it grew large enough to shield them for any attacks. It blocked all sight as well, however.
“He’ll be behind us before you know it,” Kerryan said worriedly. “If only we could see him...”
Syani faced him. “Can you do that... thing again? What you told me about?”
Kerryan hung his head. “I tried, but it’s just not working.”
Syani sighed audibly, then turned around all of the sudden and slashed her sword forward to meet Arek’s blade. Surprised by her reaction, he was knocked back. Kerryan wheeled around.
Arek had removed his cloak. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt that matched his dark blue hair. The cut in his shoulder was clearly visible now, yet it was not as deep as it had first appeared. A belt was around his middle, with a scabbard attached to the side. In his hand was a polished gleaming white sword.
Syani smirked. “If you’re going for a surprise attack, then try not to be so loud about it.”
Kerryan gaped at her. He hadn’t heard a thing.
Arek appeared to be shocked as well. “You...” He stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. “Dear, dear. Sorry I took you lightly, then. Let’s go.”
He jumped in on her, aiming for a direct hit this time. Syani swung her sword, and they locked blades. Kerryan hurried out of the way. He felt he ought to do something, but what? He desperately tried to remember the moment when he’d unleashed that blast on Eydilne. He tried to repeat the movement he’d made then, but it was no use. All he could do was watch helplessly as Arek and Syani each put as much pressure on each other as they could. Finally, Arek gained the upper hand. He shoved her sword aside, and struck. She’d seen this coming, however, and made to dodge his swipe. His sword cut her in the side, but it hadn’t dealt nearly the damage he’d intended to. He lunged at Syani again, and she fell to the ground, narrowly avoiding it.
Kerryan could see Arek was going to add to the pressure. Syani was losing. However, concentrating solely on Syani, he had his back to Kerryan. And, for the first time, Kerryan felt it. Something unknown to him. A desire to cut, a desire to fight. Battle lust. He glared at his opponent, who was about to deal a direct blow, and struck.
The next second, it was over, and Arek fell down next to Syani, whimpering in pain. Syani looked up at Kerryan, and her eyes grew wide in shock. It was then that Kerryan actually looked at what he had hit him with, and nearly dropped what he was holding in utter disbelief. This had to be a dream. This was utter lunacy.
He was holding a gigantic crooked pole axe. The pole was long, crooked, and broad. The blade was at least half as large as himself, but its most disturbing aspect was the fact that it seemed to be burning, only it felt cool to the touch, despite the fact that his hand appeared to be on fire. The axe itself, felt remarkably light, considering its abnormal size.
Arek gasped. He couldn’t bring out a word. He felt his back. There was a massive cut were the axe’s blade had hit him. Kerryan looked from his axe to the wound in amazement, then recovered. “Syani, let’s get out of here! We’re done!”
Syani hesitated. She seemed to have lost interest in the axe, and had started preparing for the final blow. Kerryan pulled her arm with his free hand. “Come on!”
She didn’t move. She continued looking at Arek. “If we don’t finish it now, he’ll just continue to come after us.”
“Heh. You’re a little too early to argue about that.”
They turned around. Arek was grinning. He had gotten to his feet, and though he was having trouble standing, he picked his sword up, and readied himself. “I’m not done yet. I don’t know what the hell that thing is, but it’s not gonna be that easy.” He was panting while talking. His clothes were getting soaked with blood, but he was still grinning.
“Don’t be stupid!” Kerryan shouted. “If you try to fight now, you’ll kill yourself!”
“I can’t fight, can I?” Arek sneered. “Don’t... underestimate... me!”
He raised his right arm, his palm facing them, and mumbled a few words. Slowly, a small vortex of water appeared from the centre of his palm. He gripped his wrist with his left hand, and the vortex slowly grew, stretching out in front of them. Syani and Kerryan each ran to a different side again. Arek turned, and the vortex followed the direction of his hand slowly. Arek pointed it at Kerryan, but he was much faster than the spell. Arek dropped his attempt to hit him, and ran away from them, the vortex drifting along. It shrunk back to the small size it first had. Kerryan squinted at hem, then saw what Arek was running at. He dived for his bow, pointed at Kerryan, and pulled the string. The vortex suddenly seemed to become more solid, thinner and longer. It fit perfectly on his bow like an arrow. Kerryan frowned. He’s planning on firing a spell at me like with a bow?!
Arek fixed his aim, but just then, a hand knocked his bow upwards and the column of water shot up in the sky. As he turned, he was hit by the side of Syani’s sword. “Stop that,” she said. “It’s over.”
She brought down her sword. Just before it made contact, an arrow flew in between them, and she had to jump away from Arek to avoid it. “Who’s there?”
“Dear, dear,” a voice said. “You seem to have made quite the mess for yourself, Arty.”
An elf approached. He looked quite like the one they’d been fighting, with the exception that his hair was considerably longer, more curly, and had a slightly lighter shade, and he looked a head taller. He seemed to be about four years older than Arek.
“What did you say?” Kerryan said.
The man raised his hand. “One moment, if you will.” He knelt down before the other, who had fallen down. “Well, well. You’ve still got a lot to learn, eh? I must say though, you did all right. You were just a little too casual.”
He stirred. “Sorry... I...”
The man chuckled. “Don’t worry about it, Arty. You did fine. It’s over now.”
He held his hand to the wound Kerryan had made, and a blue-white light appeared from it. The wound got slightly smaller, and the bleeding stopped. He placed his hand on Arek’s shoulder, closed his eyes, and the elf vanished.
The man stood up. “Sorry for my rudeness. Things were getting quite hot back there, I saw.” He eyed the axe in Kerryan’s hand. Seeing their faces, he smiled. “Ah, of course. My name is Arek. Keryan Arek. It’s a pleasure.”
“Arek?” Syani repeated. “So that other person...”
“Oh dear,” the man sighed. “He didn’t introduce himself? He still lacks good manners, that boy.” He brushed a curl of hair out of his face. “Artea Arek, my son.”
This took a moment to sink in. Then, Kerryan repeated, “Your... son.”
Syani actually had a priceless look of disbelief on her face. “How old are you then?”
The elf laughed. “Heh... You couldn’t pass off for elves for a day. Don’t let yourself be fooled by appeareances, little girl. It can be more dangerous than an arrow pointed at your pretty face.”
“What’s that supposed to-” she blurted out, but Keryan interrupted her.
“But enough about me. So you two, Kerryan and... something ending with ‘any’, right? Nice to meet you! I couldn’t help noticing our names are pretty similar,” he added to Kerryan with a wink.
“They are?” asked Kerryan, puzzled.
“Oh sorry,” Keryan said, smiling. “Not in pronounciation, only if you spell them. It’s a difference of only one accent! Or,” he added, seeing Kerryan’s puzzled face, “in your preferred writing, only one letter.”
Kerryan wondered if he was being rude, not understanding a bit of what this man was babbling about. Said man obviously noticed this, as he said,
“Oh well, I can see I’m not making any sense to either of you, so I’ll stop talking.”
Kerryan, fearing the worst, started, “Um, just to be clear...”
“Oh, if it’s about the letters, don’t bother asking. I’m not good at teaching that kind of stuff.”
Kerryan thought for a moment, then shook his head. “No, not that! I mean, just to be clear, you aren’t here to...” he hesitated.
Syani looked sideways, and finished, “To fight us?”
“Ah,” Keryan said, and his face fell. “Well, that’s the problem. See, as much as I regret it, well... to put it bluntly, yeah, I did come here to fight you.”
Syani folded her arms. “Then why did you-”
“Oh, that was just a bit of small talk before getting down to business. It’s considered polite, you know. Actually...” He smiled. “You still haven’t properly introduced yourselves.”
Syani sneered slightly. “As if you didn’t know our names in the first place. If you’ve come here to fight, then be done with it!”
Kerryan turned sideays. “Syani...”
With a soft chuckle, Keryan snapped his fingers. “That was it! Syani! I knew it, something with ‘any’.”
Kerryan saw Syani’s eye twitch. “Will you just... be quiet?! Get on with it!”
He couldn’t help feeling the comical side of this situation. Keryan was obviously doing a good job at annoying her. He suppressed a laugh, but quickly sobered down when he saw a grim expression on the elf’s face.
“All right,” he said darkly. He slowly raised his bow over his shoulder. “I hope you’re ready...”
An anxious feeling swept over Kerryan, and he became aware of the axe in his hand again. He heard Syani readying her sword. He concentrated on the man before him, waiting for him to make a move.
Then suddenly, two arrows flew right in their direction. In an instant, Kerryan knew he’d be too late to dodge it. Instinctively, he swung the axe upwards, and miraculously, it blocked the arrow just in time, making an arc directly above his head and landing a few feet behind him. He turned around wildly, and saw Syani blocking the arrow with her bare outstretched hand. Or so it appeared, but when he looked closer, he saw she was actually keeping it at a small distance to her palm, slowing it down. When it was hardly moving anymore, she closed her hand. The arrow hit her hand relatively softly, then fell to the ground. A cut appeared on her finger, and blood began to trickle down. She was frowning, perhaps considering something.
“Hm... Nice one,” Keryan said. Noticing a slight gesture of his hand, Kerryan somehow felt he was about to fire another arrow. He ran away from him before he could let go. Yet as he ran, he heard the whistling of the arrow. He turned too late, and the arrow hit him in the left shoulder.
He felt himself drop his weapon as he doubled over. It felt as if a cruel wasp had stung him. The pain stung from the outside as well as from inside him. Vaguely, he heard Syani shout something, but he couldn’t make sense out of it. He was blinded, unable to even think as all feeling left him but that stinging pain...
Then, clearly, he heard Keryan’s calm voice. “Sorry...”
He clenched his teeth, awaiting the arrow that would end it... He heard Syani jump in front of him. He wanted to warn her, to tell her it was useless, that she should run...
Just then, Keryan’s voice reached his ears again, but this time he almost sounded... afraid? “What the...?”
There were footsteps. “No....”
He opened his eyes with great difficulty, and vaguely saw Keryan turning around. “Sorry. Looks like this’ll have to wait.”
With that, there was a flash, and he was gone.
As soon as the man had left, Kerryan instantly felt the pain wearing off. Within a few seconds, the pain was reduced to that of a simple cut. He opened his eyes, dazed. Groaning, he stared down to the arrow in his shoulder- except there was no arrow. There actually was a simple cut, albeit a considerably large one. Confused, he turned, and saw an arrow sticking in the ground bare inches behind him. Apparently, he had only been cut from the side.
Then he noticed Syani crouched beside him. “What was...”
He stopped, feeling her hand on his cheek. “You’re... alright, Kerryan?”
He looked in her green eyes, feeling a little awkward. “Y-yeah, I’m okay...”
Just then, there was a loud noise, like the crunching of wood. Looking up, they saw a large silver coloured bird flying directly towards them. Kerryan groaned. Even with the pain close to gone, he felt exhausted, and barely had the strength to stand up.
“Get down,” Syani whispered, rising to her feet. “Don’t worry. I’ll get it...”
Yet even as she spoke, he noticed she wobbled slightly, and realized her condition wasn’t much better than his. Just as he began to despair, he noticed something. He heard a voice, yet at the same time, it felt more like a breeze. He recognised it: it was just like the chants the elves made before a spell. There was a more powerful feel to it, however. It was fiercer, more commanding, yet had a more delicate feel to it. A white circle, about seven metres wide, appeared around them. As the voice got louder, he saw smaller circles and a triangle appearing inside it. Runes emerged around and inside them, as if a visible hand was writing them. After a few moments, it stopped, as if the image was finished. The voice had stopped as well, and now spoke. Kerryan realized it was Artea who had chanted. He shouted to the two: “Get down! Duck, now!”
The bird flew nearer, and it was even larger than Kerryan had presumed from a distance. He hesitated, then obeyed, dropping himself to the ground. Syani didn’t move, uncertain. The bird was no more than ten metres away. “NOW!” shouted Artea. Kerryan, deciding they had no choice, pulled at Syani’s foot, and she resigned, and lay herself flat on the ground next to him. Directly above them, light gathered in a small vortex to the center. The bundle grew larger and larger. The bird flew at them, baring its talons. It opened its beak and let out a high, horrible screech. As soon as it entered the circle, the bundle separated into tiny particles of light which fired off in every direction, thus creating a large shockwave. Kerryan and Syani watched in amazement as the creature was struck. The particles pierced the beast as they passed through it, and with a flash, the creature was forced out of the circle, after which it fell down with a tremendous crash. Slowly, the light faded, and a burnt smell emerged from the bird.
Kerryan was still wondering if he’d actually seen what he had just seen, when he heard Artea behind him. “You can come up now, you know.”
Syani leapt to her feet at once and folded her arms. “So, what are you doing here?”
Kerryan reacted a little later, still staring at where the image had been. He rose to his feet slowly. “Rather,” he mumbled, “What was that...?”
Artea shrugged. “Oh, it’s a simple display of our more powerful magic.”
“Magic?” Syani repeated.
Kerryan looked up at him. Somehow, the word seemed familiar, though he couldn’t place it.
“Sheesh, you don’t even know about magic? Man, you two couldn’t pass off for elves-”
“...for a day,” Syani finished grumpily. “So we’ve heard. So just what is it?”
“It’s the pride and joy of the elves,” Artea said rather smugly. “While some of us have trained with the bow and the sword as well, every elf is born with the ability to use magic. That beauty back there was called Fry, by the way. Being able to use that spell is a sign of adulthood, it seems. Anyway, humans need weapons to fight, whereas elves can defend themselves at anytime with magic. It looks like you two are a different story as well, though,” he added, glancing at Kerryan. “You with your stupid axe...” He showed them his back, where his tunic was ripped, and some bandages were visible.
Kerryan thought about what he’d heard. Humans... That word rang a bell as well, but he couldn’t remember where he might have heard it before. When Artea mentioned the weapon, he turned around, and saw the axe had vanished. “Ah right.” He was about to apologize, when he remembered why he’d used it in the first place. Syani, probably thinking the same thing, rounded on Artea: “So, what have you come here for? If you’re trying to attack us again-“
“Hey!” He prodded her forehead. “Think, will you? I just saved your lives! What way of thanking is that?” He folded his arms, and frowned. “Anyway... you beat me, fair and square. There’s no reason for me to fight you again. But I’ve been talking too long. There’s danger here. There are loads of these birds around our village. That’s why Dad- why Keryan Arek left, you know. He and Lady Eydilne are taking care of most of them at the northern side. But I sensed another one over here, on the eastern side, so I thought I’d better get rid of it.”
“So you came to save us?” Kerryan asked.
“Hey, don’t get me wrong! I didn’t come here to save you, I came here to protect my village! It just so happened you got saved in the process.”
“Right.” Kerryan thought for a moment, then said, “You mentioned that Eydilne earlier...”
“We’ve stood here chatting long enough, thank you!” Artea cut in. “I’m going to round up the rest, so-“
Artea turned, and saw a younger boy staggering, holding a bundle of cloth in his hands. “Hey! What’s going on?”
The boy, white as a sheet, tried to respond, then fainted. As he fell to the ground, Artea rushed towards him, catching the bundle right before it fell. He peered in it, and gasped. “It’s... Karyn...”
Kerryan and Syani ran up to him. Looking over his shoulder, they saw a little baby in the clothe. “What?”
Artea looked pale. “It’s... Eydi- Lady Eydilne’s kid...”
At that moment, the sound of flapping wings emerged in the distance.
The sound grew close. Artea closed his eyes. “There’s at least three of them coming this way... How do they find us just like that?!”
Kerryan looked at him. “This is that woman’s child?”
Artea nodded. “Her daughter, yeah. Anyway, those birds are going to be here any second now. Hide in those bushes with the baby, all right? We’ve got no time, and I need my hands free...” He glanced back. “And one look at you is enough to tell you’re in no condition to hold those things off. Go!”
Syani hesitated for a second, then nodded. “All right.” She gently took the bundle in her hands, and moved to the nearest bushes. Kerryan followed her. They tried to get in as deep as possible, praying they wouldn’t be spotted. Syani drew the little elf close to her, shielding her from sharp edges, but the bushes turned out to be quite soft. Kerryan drew a few leaves away, creating a small hole for them to see what was going on. They could make out Artea raising his bow. He fired an arrow. Judging by his scowl, he must have missed. He shot a second arrow, and a loud screech told them he had hit his target. However, the sound of wings swelled further than ever, and it appeared that Artea had little time left. “Shouldn’t we...” Kerryan whispered, but Syani shook her head. He looked back to the scene. Artea was aiming his arrow, when one of the birds came into view, swooping down on him. It was even larger than the ones earlier, nearly as tall as Artea. He jumped aside, avoiding its talon just in time. He cursed, drawing his sword, and slashed at it a few times, fending the bird off for a while. Keeping his eyes focused on the beast’s movement, he left his back unprotected, and two more of them were flying straight at him. Kerryan was about to shout out in warning, but Artea had obviously heard them as well, as he spun around on the spot and slashed across the front bird’s head with his sword. He had swung too early for the one behind it, however, and its sharp beak hit against his sword arm. He groaned as blood splattered to the ground, and his sword was sent flying. Kerryan gasped as he slumped to the ground. Two more birds flew in. They surveyed their prey for a moment, hesitating. Kerryan couldn’t stand it any longer. He jumped out of the bushes, ignoring Syani’s protests, and ran at him. Before he had even reached within five feet of the elf, however, there was a flash. The monster closest to Artea dropped down, dark red blood seeping from a wound in its chest. The two which had been about to attack Artea, suddenly stopped in their tracks. In a split second, there were two sounds of metal piercing flesh. The next moment, the two fell down as a woman lowered her sword. Kerryan backed away. Even from the back, he could tell it was her. The red hair, the swift stroke of her sword... it could be none other than Eydilne Fass.
The two remaining birds screeched and dive bombed at her. She didn’t move. Once one of them had come in her range, she grasped her sword. Kerryan barely saw the strike before it fell down, fatally hit in the exact same spot in the chest. The other had close to no time to think before it met its demise the same way.
She sheathed her sword and knelt down to Artea. Kerryan saw a kind and concerned look on her face. “Can you stand, Arty?”
He twitched, then stood up. “Sorry, I got a little distracted back there. I can fight, Eydilne. No problem.”
She was about to respond, when a screech alerted them. “More of them,” she said, frowning. “Get ready.”
She turned to him. “You said you can fight. Go ahead then.”
“Er...” He hesitated.
“Get your bow out!”
He nodded, and picked up his bow. He took one of the arrows which had fallen out of his quiver, then got ready to aim. Kerryan saw him wince, his wound still open.
“Watch, Arty,” he heard her mutter. “Stay alert. In battle, there is no time for pain.”
He nodded, determination in his eyes. Eydilne moved her hand, tracing an oval, and a green shimmering circular symbol appeared in front of Artea. “You know what to do...”
He nodded. As the sound of flapping emerged again, he pulled the string. He narrowed his eyes, concentrating, and let go. As the arrow passed through the symbol, it started to glow brightly, then split up into three fragments. Kerryan glanced around a tree and saw them crashing into three more birds. The fragments pierced their skulls and they fell down.
Artea clutched his arm, panting. Eydilne smiled at him. “Well done.” She raised her hand, and a light emerged, once again closing his wound. He looked up, groaning slightly. “Eydilne... Karyn is...”
Her hand shook, and the light faded, the wound still partly open. “What?”
“Something happened. She’s...”
She closed her eyes. “I thought so.” She turned around, and looked directly at the bush where Syani was. She walked towards the bush. “You can come out now.”
There was a ruffling of leaves, and Syani emerged, carefully holding the baby. Eydilne reached out her arms, and took her daughter back. She caressed the little girl for a moment, smiling, then turned her back on Syani. She took a few strides away from her. Artea made to speak, but Eydilne silenced him with a look in his direction.
Finally, she spoke. “Leave this village. That is all I can say.”
She turned sideways. “Come, Artea.”
A white light revolved around them, and the two of them vanished.
The two walked on silently as the trees thickened, the village out of sight. Kerryan’s legs felt like lead. He hardly had the strength to go on, not to mention the pain from the cut in his side. Neither of them spoke. He felt a bitter disappointment. He had hoped helping the elves would have changed their minds on going after them, but it seemed it had made no difference whatsoever; there was simply no place for the two of them. Dusk had fallen; gloomily, he looked at the moon rising into the sky. He felt close to tears; why wasn’t there a home for them? What had they done wrong to deserve being treated like this?
He snapped out of his thoughts at the sound of a soft bump behind him; he turned and saw Syani sitting down, her eyes half closed. “That’s enough for today,” she announced. “I’m not moving another inch.”
Kerryan could hardly disagree with her. It seemed they’d experienced too much in one day: it hardly seemed real that they’d awoken in the little girl’s house that morning. He dropped down and lay down in the grass, staring up at the moon. He wasn’t looking forward to the next day. So what if they got away? What would they do then? Would they spend the rest of their lives walking around alone aimlessly?
He sighed. He remembered what he’d said to Syani, about his life being complete just walking like this. Looking back, they might have been happier if they hadn’t met the elves. And yet... playing with the elven children, he had felt so comfortable, so... at home... Somehow, leaving the village was like saying farewell to his only home.
He stayed awake for what felt like hours, pondering his feelings, but eventually fell asleep.
The next morning, they were roused by children’s voices around them.His eyes snapped open. He felt a little dizzy. He blinked, then realised there was a group of at least ten children surrounding them, all shouting at them. He thought he heard their names mentioned once or twice. He nudged Syani awake, and looked around. He recognised a few faces from the other day where he’d played with them. A little girl elbowed her way through and ran up to Syani, calling her name. Syani yawned, then looked at her, blinking. Finally, she showed a sign of recognition. “Marilyn?”
The girl smiled brightly. “Syani! Why were you lying here, silly?”
Kerryan felt uneasy. How do you explain that to an innocent young child like her?
Marilyn put her hand on Syani’s shoulder. “Hey hey, why aren’t you at home?”
“Well...” Syani averted her eyes. “We...” She sighed, then finished, “We aren’t from here.”
“Not from here?” The girl looked thoughtfully. Then, she turned around to the others and whispered something. There were sounds of awe and amazement. At that moment, taller boy approached and called the lot of them. They all ran at him and shouted at him, pointing to the two of them, who looked at each other a little dazed. The boy walked up to them, and Kerryan recognised him as Wayne. He smiled at the two. “So, I hear you two are from outside the village, huh? Which village are you two from, then?”
“Er...” Kerryan started, but he stopped when he saw an elf place a hand on Wayne’s shoulder. It was Artea. “Hey.”
Wayne spun around. “Hey, it’s Arek! Who would have thought I’d see you here?”
Kerryan looked at the two elves. He had first thought Wayne was quite big, but Artea was clearly a lot taller than him.
Wayne was grinning up at him. “So, er... don’t know if you know these two? They’re from outside here, d’you know where the closest village is? I mean, they’ve got to be...”
“Right, right,” Artea cut in on his babbling. “Now, shouldn’t you go after your group? You’re in charge, aren’t you?”
“Ah, yes!” He fiddled with a strand of hair, then walked off. “I’ll just... go then, yeah? Yeah... Yes sir... okay...”
Artea watched him leave with the children, shaking his head. “I wonder if they’ll be all right with a leader like that...”
Syani stood up, and Kerryan, only just realizing he hadn’t moved since he’d woken up, followed suit. She narrowed her eyes. “So, what is it?”
He sighed. “You’re lucky that kid has zero knowledge about geography. Now he’s skipping off happily being excited at meeting two elves from a different village.”
“There are more, then?” Kerryan blurted out.
“So, what have you come here for?” Syani folded her arms.
Kerryan’s heart sank. “Don’t tell me you’ve come to-”
Artea raised his hand, silencing him. “Don’t worry,” he said softly, pushing his sheathe towards them, showing them it was empty.
Kerryan stared at him. “Arty...”
Artea clenched his teeth. “One thing to start with, okay? Don’t. Call me. Arty.”
“It’s a stupid nickname my dad gave me. Just call me Artea, got that?”
Seeing they were still a little tense, he smiled. “Don’t worry. Between me and you two, our fight’s over.” Beckoning them, he added, “C’mon. Let’s go for a little walk.”
They walked through the forest together in silence for a while. They occasionally passed a few children chasing each other. Artea smiled at them, finally speaking.
“They’re cute little kids, aren’t they?”
Syani and Kerryan looked at him.
“I’ve lived in Eserikto all my life. I’ve been to other places at times, but...” He stared in the distance. “This village really means a lot to me. These kids... they’re full of innocence, don’t know about danger, and just spend their time playing. And they have a right to that, don’t you think?”
Kerryan considered this for a moment. “I guess...”
Another boy ran by, nearly tripped over a tree root, and ran away after regaining his balance. Artea looked after him as he disappeared in the bushes. “It’s hard to believe I was just like them not too long ago, just yelling and playing all day.” He sighed. “To think I won’t be part of their group anymore in one or two years...”
“Why’s that?” Syani looked up. “Are you leaving the village?”
“No, no.” Artea chuckled. “In a few years, I’ll be an adult. Well, it could take longer, but I’m approaching the age where most elves become an adult.”
“What does that mean, then?”
“See, unlike humans,” Artea explained, “elves can live on forever. While we’re still a child, we’re quite similar to humans, but once we reach adulthood, our growth stops.”
“You’re immortal then?” Kerryan said in amazement.
Artea shook his head. “There’s a difference. We don’t die of age like humans do, but we can be killed or die of a disease, though we’re immune to many diseases. We are closer to nature than humans, and so death at the hands of nature is very uncommon to us.”
“Hm.” Syani looked thoughtful. Kerryan had a hard time thinking of how to react to this as well. He couldn’t say he knew how long Syani and he himself would live.
“So anyway,” Artea continued, “I’m still a child actually, but in a few years it’ll be over, and you could say I’ll be the same age as my father and Lady Eydilne.”
Kerryan frowned. “That’s...”
He was interrupted by a girl’s shout in the distance: “Catch her!”
Artea chuckled. “They’re really going at it, aren’t they?”
Syani smiled. “We played with them once too.”
“Really now? Enjoyed it?”
Kerryan nodded. “Yeah... they’re all really friendly.”
“I’m sure they are, the little tykes.”
Syani looked at Artea indignantly. “So why-”
Artea raised his hand. “I know what you’re going to ask. I’m afraid I can’t tell you everything, but I’ll tell you as much as I can. Come on, let’s sit down.”
He pointed towards to large trees close to each other. Kerryan and Syani sat down in front of one, while Artea leaned against the one opposite to them.
He closed his eyes for a moment. He asked, “Ever heard of energy waves?”
Syani and Kerryan looked at each other, then shook their heads. “Not really.”
“Thought not. Energy waves are everywhere. They come from all living beings, and when people are especially active, they release stronger energy waves. They’re invisible to the naked eye. But elves have the natural ability to sense them. If we focus, we can see those waves clearly, and learn to recognize certain energy patterns.”
Syani raised an eyebrow. “So what does that all mean?”
“It means,” Kerryan said slowly, “That they can see who we are and what we are... without seeing us.”
Artea thought for a moment. “That’s one way of putting it, I guess. We can see without looking. Anyway, the point is that humans and elves, as well as other living beings, have different kinds of energy patterns.” He looked grim. “For an elf, it’s clear as day that you two aren’t elves.”
Kerryan gasped. “Then...”
“However,” Artea cut in. “I should mention that Eydilne and my father told me something interesting. Apparently, your energy’s slightly different from that of humans. You’re closer to human than to anything else, but... still different.”
Syani made to speak, but it seemed she couldn’t find anything to say to that. Kerryan merely frowned. Then what are we?! What does this all mean...?
Artea folded his arms. “I don’t know anything else, I’m afraid. But if you were wondering why those kids just accepted you like that, it’s because children can’t sense energy patterns. The fact that I can is already an exception. It usually comes with adulthood. I guess you could call me a prodigy,” he added smugly.
Kerryan felt a burning anger inside him. So if they knew, they’d all... “Then why?!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. “What have we done wrong? Are you all attacking us just because we’re different? What did we ever do to you?!”
Artea looked at him, his face expressionless. There was a silence for a while. Finally, he spoke. “Please sit down, Kerryan.”
“Answer me!” Kerryan roared.
Artea looked from him to Syani. She had not reacted to Kerryan’s rage, but she was merely glaring at Artea. He sighed. “Listen. I’m sure you got a bad impression of us, but there’s a reason. I want you to know for starters, we don’t kill just because you’re different. We don’t kill. There is nothing we hate more than conflict, battle, or the spilling of blood. And yet... And yet there is a reason we had to dispose of you. I’m sorry, I can’t tell you why...”
“So what now?” Syani asked softly.
Artea sighed. “Let me be honest. I can’t stop anyone from coming after you. But I lost to you, and I accept defeat. I won’t fight you again. We elves have our honour, you know? Anyway, I’d say you’d better do as Eydilne said and keep away from the village for now. I’ll try to reach you and talk to you some time, all right?”
“But...” Syani said slowly. “If you can just find us to talk to us, won’t they be able to find us as well?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.”
“That’s hardly a convincing promise...”
Artea ignored her, noticing Kerryan’s wound. “Hey... want me to clean that up for you?”
Kerryan hesitated. His anger hadn’t really vanished. On the other hand, he still felt a throbbing pain in his side, so he nodded.
As Artea held out his hand to the wound, a soft light emerged from it. It felt warm, and it was a pleasant sensation. Artea frowned. “So this came from my father?”
“His arrow,” Kerryan answered, and told Artea about their interrupted battle.
Artea rested his chin in the palm of his hand, thinking. “The pain wore off as soon as he was gone, huh...” he narrowed his eyes. “He went quite far in that battle then...”
“What do you mean?” Kerryan looked down, and saw the wound had completely disappeared. “Thanks...”
“It’s a special arrow of his. Infused with magic, you might say. It’s created to-”
At that moment, a bell rang out, and multiple shouts of children could be heard.
“Ack!” Artea hit his forehead. “I should be getting back. I’m supposed to hand out food to picnicking hungry little children today.”
“Sorry, I’d better go. If they come looking for me, you two might get in trouble.”
Kerryan and Syani stood up uncertainly. “Er...”
Artea shook their hands, then turned. “I’ll be back. I should tell you a few more things next time.”
“But how...” Syani started, but he vanished in a burst of white light.
Artea sighed, moving towards the elven kids who had no idea what was going on. What now? I can’t keep going on like this... He wondered what would happen to the two. I’m glad I held back in that fight. He looked at the elven children, who sat on the floor waiting for their lunch. It wasn’t hard to picture the two of them between them. In the end, surely they were no different? There could be any pair of elven children just like them here.
He closed his eyes. They were an interesting couple, though. Syani. Long black hair. A face which was pale but full of life at the same time. Green eyes, and a daunting appearance. Kerryan. Dark brown curly hair, blue eyes, tanned skin, and a face with slightly feminine features.
He sighed once more. They should be allowed to live as much as anybody else. I guess it can’t be avoided. I’ll have to have little chat with dad...
A silence fell over the two. They sat facing each other, not knowing what to say, because there was so much to be said. Finally, Kerryan spoke. “They don't seem to be bad people...”
“When they're not attacking us,” Syani finished, staring into the distance.
Kerryan hung his head. “I just wish we knew why...”
“That's the big question, isn't it?” She scowled. “Just what is it with these elves?”
“Do you think... they would just rather be left alone?”
She didn't respond. Kerryan continued, “Even just now, Artea gave me that impression. Maybe the only thing they want is to be left to themselves.”
Syani looked thoughtful. “If it was as simple as that, they could have just told us to leave. But still, where does that leave us? There's nowhere to go, is there? Everywhere we go, we meet elves.”
She shrugged. “Unless you count the old man...”
Kerryan nodded again. Then he stopped. “Old man?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Didn't you hear him? When that man... Arty's dad... shot those arrows at us. Didn't he tell us how to stop them?”
Kerryan gaped. “So that's how you...”
He hadn't heard anything at that time. Her story, however, did match something that had happened earlier... when Eydilne Fass was about to strike them... he was sure he'd heard a voice; an old man's voice, come to think of it.
He was startled out of his thoughts by a voice. He was alerted by the sound; it was the same voice of the old man. He closed his eyes, to be sure to hear everything.
“So my voice has finally reached the two of you...”
Who are you?
“True, I have not yet introduced myself. But who are you? Do you know?”
...No, I don't. I couldn't say. Can you tell me?
Can you tell me?! I...
“...Yes, I can.”
“Please come, and we will talk. All right?”
His eyes opened, and he was in a dark corridor. The only source of light came from a few lightly burning torches, aligned in pairs along the corridor. In front of him, in the distance, a brighter light shone. He saw Syani next to him, looking as dazed as he felt. He turned around, and saw nothing, only darkness. He turned back to Syani, who nodded, and they walked along the corridor, towards the light. The only sound they could hear was their own footsteps, and the soft crackling of the fire from the torches. The walls were coloured in dark brown, giving the corridor the impression of a cavern. As they walked, they saw doors on either side, branching off perhaps to other corridors, or to other lands as of now unknown to them. But they walked on, for their destination lay ahead, towards the light. He knew where they were going, without knowing.
They passed many more doors, and they were getting closer to the light in the distance; it seemed to shine more brightly with every step. But suddenly, they came to a halt next to a door to their right. It seemed identical to all the other doors they had passed, yet both of them knew somehow that this was the door they had to take. Kerryan reached for the door and opened it. They couldn't see anything behind it, but Syani walked past him over the threshold. Kerryan took one last glance at the light at the end of the corridor, wondering what it might be, slightly disappointed they wouldn't be able to take a close look at it, then followed Syani.
They walked a few steps in total darkness, then the scenery changed. They were standing in what appeared to be a chapel: it was a circular room, with stained glass above them. In the centre of the room, there was a circular wooden altar, or at least that was what it seemed like to Kerryan in this room, although it might as well have been a stage in a different situation. Standing on the wood was a young man in fine clothes, his back to them. “Welcome, Kerryan, Syani.” He spoke with a slightly high voice for a man. He turned to them, and smiled. He had short, blonde hair, dark brown eyes, and he gave an impression of royalty. Kerryan noticed that his ears were not pointed like the elves, but more round, much like theirs.
“I apologize for being so late in introducing myself.” He walked off the altar, towards them. Kerryan was wondering whether to shake hands or to bow. He decided to wait.
The man was about to extend his hand, when Syani asked, “Are you the old man?”
Kerryan tried to make shushing movements, but the man laughed. “I have been looking forward to meeting you. You are really most amusing.” He bowed his head. “You could call me an old man, yes. I have been here for a very long time. But that is not what you asked... Yes, I am the one who invited you here. But now that we have met, let us make ourselves comfortable.”
He closed his eyes, and the room dissolved. Kerryan blinked, and saw they were now standing in a living room. There were windows, out of which they could see the sun, and a fire crackled in a fire place. The room certainly seemed more comfortable and warm than the previous one. The man motioned for them to sit, and said, “I imagine you have many questions... I suppose I should start with who I am.”
He stretched out his hand and held it open, his palm facing the ceiling. Above his hand, a small image appeared, and they could see the village of Eserikto, surrounded by trees. The image changed, and oceans were visible. It then changed again, and they could see towering mountains, tall and mighty, their tops covered with snow. It then vanished.
Syani and Kerryan stared at where the image had been, fascinated. The man smiled, and said, “I am one who watches over the land of Estpolis, the world which you know. I am... the Keeper of the Spiritual Force.”
The man paused for a moment, apparently waiting for this to sink in.
It didn't. Syani voiced what Kerryan was wondering: “What does that mean?”
He nodded. “I suppose I ought to explain myself further.” He sat down opposite them. “You have recently heard of energy waves, I believe?” They nodded. “Those waves exist around us, like air, and change slightly when they touch someone. The energy waves around a person is sometimes called his aura. It is unclear where they come from. All living beings emit energy waves themselves as well as shaping those around them, but even all those waves combined are only a part of all the energy waves in the world. It is said the other energy that does not come from living beings, is emitted by the earth itself. In any case, there are a few particular kinds of energy waves. One of them is magic power, which only the elves can use to cast spells and change it into a different shape. There is another kind, which few living beings know of. It is known as the Spiritual Force. It is a very unusual form of energy... Unlike most waves, they never disappear, nor do new waves appear. The Spiritual Force simply exists. Yet at the same time, it is a power greater than any in this world. The power to create... but also, the power to destroy. Naturally, a dangerous power like that must be kept on a leash, in a manner of speaking. Therefore, since the world was young, we of the Keepers have been watching over the world and the Spiritual Force, keeping it in tome. We can use a fragment of its power for the good of the world if we deem it necessary. One Keeper watches over the world for many generations, but eventually, his ability to control the energy waves reaches its limit. Then, it is vital that a new Keeper rises, for he must contain the power of the Spiritual Force. Thus, the cycle continues.”
He sighed. “I have been protecting this world for many hundreds of years, and now, my time is nearly up. I have twenty years remaining at most... Which is why it is time for me to step down...” He looked at the two children in front of him, and finished, “...And find a successor.”
Kerryan and Syani remained silent. Kerryan knew what was coming, but it was still difficult to believe. Was this the reason for everything that had happened to them?
After a while, Syani said, “But what do we have to do with all that? We're not some kind of god who can fix the world by snapping their fingers.”
The man inclined his head. “If only it were that simple... If there is a god somewhere, he is not here. I myself was born as a half-elf, one with the blood of both elf and human, many years ago. I lived an ordinary life... until this task was thrust upon me. I was hesitant at first, naturally. To bear the burden of the world, to live for so many ages... the prospect was frightening. Yet I was forced into it. And shortly after that, I realised that this meant being able to make a difference. It meant I could help the helpless, try to ease the sorrow that lived in the hearts of many. And I was not alone. Those I had known as friends were still with me. It did not mean living a life in solitude for ages, as I had feared. But I could go on for a while. I want you to know this: I will not force you to do anything. You must make a choice. You two, however, are most suited to watch over the world: your heart is pure, you are very bright and the resolve to protect burns within you.”
Kerryan took a deep breath. It was still too much to contain all at once. There was something he wanted confirmed, however. “Can I ask you something... sir?”
The man smiled. “Of course. Ask anything you like.”
“What or who are we? The elves saw something unusual in us... As if...” He stopped, not knowing how to put it. The man, however, nodded understandingly. “Perhaps I should have started with that... I hope it hasn't been weighing on your mind for so long.” He surveyed the two of them for a moment, then said,
“The two of you were born as human children. That day in the forest, you two met for the first time. It was then that you first touched a fraction of the Spiritual Force. You found it yourselves... as soon as you met, the ability to control it arose slightly in the both of you. I noticed, naturally. I was overjoyed: you each have many qualities necessary for this. It seems, however, you don't remember those events, am I correct?”
Kerryan thought. Now that he mentioned it, he couldn't recall anything before the day they'd met in the rain. Had they met shortly before? Was that the reason for everything...?
He stammered, “You mean, when it happened... we lost our memory?”
A sigh came in response. “Perhaps. I do not know about anything of the sort happening before, but the Spiritual Force is an unpredictable power. It could be... yet, disturbing though it is, it is clear you can use this power. You have felt it, haven't you? You must have noticed some unusual abilities that only you have...”
“Materializing objects out of thin air?” Syani suggested suddenly.
The man inclined his head. “Perhaps you felt a familiar scent when you came here.”
Kerryan thought for a moment. “That light at the end of the tunnel...”
He smiled, and nodded. “Shall I show you?”
He stood up, motioning for them to follow him.