Through a sliver of moonlight, trying to still her gasping breaths, she sensed the shadow’s movements on the wall beneath the sill of the shed.  The cool moistness from the moss beneath her tightly clenched fists did nothing to calm the firestorm that raged throughout her body.  Straining her long delicate elfin ears for any trace of sound in the overly quiet night, she watched with a deepening fear as the shadow grew, slowly tracing a path towards the double wide door.  Filled with an all-consuming anger that battled with her rational mind, the urge to fight won out.  Silently she moved from her hiding place beneath the bows of the large fern.  Daggers drawn, she quickly merged with the shadows and stealthy inched her way towards danger.  Approaching the doorway, she sensed rather than felt…



*        *        *



A sudden pain in her left hand, brought on by four sharp fingernails biting into her soft palm, jerked the small girl back to reality.  Shaking her head and clearing her eyes, she felt the anger from her vision dissolve into fear.  Wiping the small rivulets of sweat that streaked down her brow toward her cheeks, she realized Jainaar had gone still.  She followed his gaze to the slight shifting of leaves located in the small copse of trees seventy yards ahead.  Deep green leaves rustling in the windless night was their only clue that they were still being tracked.  With her hand still firmly clasped in his slightly larger one and keeping her gaze focused on the movement, she asked in a breathy frightened whisper, “What do we do?”


Jainaar stole a quick glance at his sister.  Two years younger, she was already the same height and stature as him; he was slightly worried that it wouldn’t be long before she passed him by.  With her long sapphire blue hair streaked with silver and her brilliant amber eyes it was plain to all she was destined for greatness.  She resembled no one in their family as both of his parents, himself included, possessed the silver hair common to his people as well as the lustrous silver eyes that seemed to glow in the dark.  It was known since her birth that she would grow to be something different.


His father, once a warrior in the empire’s army, had married young after receiving a debilitating wound, and set up shop as a blacksmith in his home village of Jabrokai.  The remote mountainous village, located deep in the wilderness of Raanakrai, had been a peaceful place to raise a family.


It had been his duty since the day of his sister’s birth for him to protect her.  He could still hear his father’s deep voice as he laid the softly bundled treasure into Jainaar’s outstretched hands. “You must always protect your sister that is your greatest duty.”  He wondered if his father had somehow known what would happen.


With cold detachment brought on by shock and fear, his thoughts jumped to his mother and father, whom he know were likely dead; and the once welcoming and peaceful woods with their purple and green foliage and the softly shimmering rocks, now felt dark and unwelcoming.  How was he to protect her?  He was eleven and possessed no weapon other than the few beginners’ spells his mother had recently begun teaching him.  They could run, they were both fit and with their long legs they could elude most any other species, but not when they were this tired and hungry.  They’d already been running since before dawn, nearly a full day ago when their home was attacked. 


His mother’s screams of rage and fear had woken him from a deep sleep.  Remembering his father’s teachings, he’d grabbed clothes and shoes from the shelf for his sister and himself, throwing them into his rucksack.  Still grasping the sack and forgetting that he wore only his loincloth, he looked down in horror at the bloody mess that was his father, a dagger protruding from his chest, and his mother sparring with two armed bulky men.  He had no idea where she had gotten the blades from, but he could tell she couldn’t last much longer.  Though she was equal in height to the humans, she was no match for both.  Staring at them, entrapped by the beauty of his fighting mother, he’d barely registered her screaming cry of “Run!”  With the spell broken, he’d grabbed his still sleeping sister, pulling her sluggish form towards their bedroom window and out onto the welcoming branches of the giant sycamore.  Upon reaching the ground, both began running. 


Slowly his restless mind reconnected with his body as the boy felt her hands shaking his arm and heard her repeat her frantic whisper, “What do we do?” 


He whispered back with a calmness that belied his terror, “We do as father said, ‘go for the water’, they can’t track us there.”  He spoke with confidence, certainty, but inside he was filled with doubt.  He had no idea if those men had hounds.  He was sure they were humans, as they just weren’t large enough to be trolls. 


Motioning for her to move out from their hiding place beneath the branches of an aging elderberry bush, they quietly climbed over the fallen branches of an old oak tree, trying their best not to scrape or damage the moss beneath their knees. 


“But what are they?” she asked in a frightened and perplexed voice.  Being younger and slightly different, she’d been sheltered her whole life.  Taught to fight and survive nature’s trials, as all of her race was, she never knew there could exist a race so cruel, so vile…  Completely confused, dashing between downed limbs and low hung branches and trying to dodge holes, she couldn’t comprehend exactly why they were running from these creatures. 


Agitated by her talking, though silently acknowledging that if anyone was near enough to hear her soft whisper they could easily be spotted and it wouldn’t have been her fault, he hissed, “Shush, no talking.  We head south.”  He knew that if they could make it to the army settlement seventy lengths south, then perhaps the warriors there could protect his sister. 


He just knew that their pursuers were human; just as he knew they wanted his sister.  What they wanted with his sister, he wasn’t entirely sure.  Accidentally overhearing his parents three nights ago, he’d heard them talking of men who’d heard of his sisters powers.  He knew of her powers and right now they didn’t seem so special.  She sometimes knew of events before they took place, but that knowledge was sporadic and rarely involved anything of importance.  He could tell that his parents were worried and they spoke of the possibility of leaving the village, their home, to evade the possibility of danger.  He’d given up listening when they began to speak of the forthcoming harvest and when would be a good time to harvest the potatoes.  With a bitter thought, he wondered why she couldn’t have seen their parent’s deaths. “Think of that later,” he told himself.


Just shy of the river, running full out, Jainaar tripped on a hidden root.  Jerking his smaller sister to the ground, she landed hard with a barely contained cry of surprise as she felt the wind rush out of her lungs, leaving her stunned.  After taking a few moments to catch her breath, she asked him if he was alright.  “I’m fine, we must go,” he said with a half-smile as he attempted to stand, promptly collapsing onto the green and brown moss carpeted ground. 


With a soft cry of pain he moaned, “It’s my ankle, I can’t go but you need to run!”  Hushing her frantic whispers of denial, he continued, “Run to the river and follow it south.  If you run in the river they can’t track you, but you must go!  Follow the river to the end of the mountains, there you should find an army settlement.” Lunging at him, she wrapped her arms around him so tightly that her tears were running down his neck.  “They can protect you,” he cried, wrapping her into a tight embrace.  “I’m sorry Araselli, but I can’t run anymore.  I’ll try to distract them, slow them but you need to run!”  He continued on in a raspy voice full of misery, “I love you, stay hidden, protect yourself, and run!” 


A sudden snap seventy-five paces to their left caused the small pair to jerk their heads and focus in that direction.  Jainaar shoved his sister with all of his might towards the river, whispering the whole time, “I love you, you must run!”  She sprinted away as fast as her young legs would carry her, running because her life depended on it.  She was in the water and barely around the bend, heading toward the falls as the men leapt from the trees and headed straight for her brother.


Turning on his knees and facing the direction the sound came from, knowing the odds were low that he’d ever see his sister again, he decided it was time to make his stand.  Thinking back to the short list of spells his mother had taught him, he couldn’t think of any that would work.  Before this madness had started, it was intended that he would be sent away to study the arcane arts, as his mother wished for him to become a mage and follow in her footsteps.  He would have left early the following year and she had wanted him to be a bit ahead of his fellow students, “It was all for nothing,” he thought with immense sadness, “but perhaps I can still save my sister!”  Feeling the power build in his upper arms as it erupted from the wellspring deep within his chest, Jainaar began to chant.  It was an elementary level spell, but elementary or not, it proved to be quite effective as it not only knocked him unconscious but also the five large men who were rushing him.  Then the world went dark.



*        *        *



Awaking, Jainaar realized he had been out for a while.  Blinking the sun out of his eyes, his first thought was of his sister, wondering where she was and if she was still alive.  His second thought was of his throbbing ankle and wrists.  Tasting the foul cloth stuffed in his mouth, making it a challenge to breathe, it dawned on him he’d been bound and gagged.  Lying on his side, all he could see was the tree directly in front of him.  The soft murmur of conversation behind him helped him locate his captors.


Boots scraping on rocks and dried moss alerted him to the presence of his assumed captor, who continued in a fake falsetto voice, “Ah, our young guest is awake.  How nice!” he sneered as he pulled his head back just a bit before letting loose a wad of spit that landed near the boys head.  “Where is the girl, elfling?” he asked in a deceitfully calm voice while flipping the boy onto his back and yanking the cloth from his mouth. “Come on boy, where did you send her?  I know it was you that released the magic.  Where is she?” 


Scraping his feet against the moss in an attempt to move away from his vile captor, Jainaar only succeeded in pushing himself further into the bark of a large walnut tree, scratching his shoulders and arms.  Flinching as the man leaned towards him, he was finally able to stutter out an answer.  “I…I…d-don’t k-know where she is!” he gasped.  “I just said the words I was taught.  No one ever told me what would happen!” 


Grasping the boy by his waste length hair and shaking him, his captor said in a slow deep menacing voice, “Don’t toy with me you maggot.”  Spittle flying into Jainaar’s face caused him to narrow his eyes and flinch once more.


“Captain, sir!” hollered a lanky, middle-aged man covered in sores with long greasy hair as he ran towards them, stirring up dust and flinging bits of rock at Jainaar as he skidded to a stop. 


“Did you find her!” the captain sneered, despising the middle-aged man for his lack of hygiene and inability to command.  The captain dropped the young elf back to the ground to cower near the tree’s roots as he turned and faced the squirrelly-looking man.


“No sir, but we’ve been called out.  We’re to report to Fort Shnell’ir by tomorrow’s eve.” 


“We can’t leave without the girl!  She’s the whole damn reason we’re in this mess!  She’s the valuable one you fool, not this worthless pile of goat dung!” he said, aiming a kick at the quivering boy whose eyes were wide open in fright.  “Get out there and keep looking!  She wouldn’t have gone far without this one,” he said, eyeing the young elf with a hard stare.



*        *        *



Less than a half a league away, a young girl was pulled out from a winter-chilled river; it was assumed she came over the falls as she was covered in scrapes and bruises.  Two hunters carried her to the bank as a mage was called to heal her.   


“Melkin!” the burly young dwarf shouted. “Melkin!” 


Standing just shy of four feet, the young dwarf, while shorter, was much broader than gangly Melkin, considered rather tall amongst those of his race.  “Learn to respect your elders pup,” mumbled Melkin as he scrapped his scrambled eggs and checked the tenderness of his antelope steak, doing his best to ignore the younger dwarf.


“Listen up you old scoundrel!  Go find Telmin.  Tell him Jorgen and I just fished a funny looking elf out of the river.  I don’t know if she’ll make it, but she sure is unique.” 


Glancing up, the tall dwarf saw unruly Julk holding the figure of what looked to be a young elf with Jorgen running towards the supply tent, looking for what he assumed were blankets.  Jumping up, completely forgetting his eggs, he ran through the makeshift campsite towards the mage’s tent.


Julk, still holding the young elf, knelt down on the grass waiting for the blankets and the mage.  He knew his race was, in his opinion, overly suspicious of the elves and usually not prone to help them if circumstances could avoid it, but this girl, slightly taller than him but weighing a good deal less, was unique not only in her physical appearance, but also in the way he found her.  He knew that elves, typically, were overprotective of their young; and to find one floating lifeless in a river was very odd.  Something wasn’t right, but he’d heard no reports of troubles in these mountains. 


The burly dwarf glanced up in time to see the mage, Melkin and Jorgen sprinting towards him.  “What is this malarkey about an elf?” the middle-aged mage asked, walking up behind Julk.  Gasping as he caught sight of one bloody thin leg, the mage ran around and dropped to the ground next to her. 


Checking her aura and gauging her age based on appearance, he guessed her to be no more than eight or nine.  “Obviously she’s suffering from several lacerations, hypothermia and I’m guessing a severe concussion if her pupils are any indication.  Broken bones?  Your guesses are as good as mine,” he sighed, looking at the useless bed nurses surrounding him and wishing he didn’t have to waste his magic on something time could fix.  Fully aware, that for an elf child to be injured and alone, trouble was abroad and they would go looking for it. 


“Well, as you all are just staring at me, I suppose I’d better do something.  Oh, and Melkin, your eggs are a smidge over done,” he said with a smirk, looking at the blackened pan, as the old dwarf took off stomping and swearing.  Standing up, he took a pace back from Araselli and began an incantation.  The young hunter and warrior watched in awe as electric power the color of rubies radiated around Telmin. 


Julk had heard he would be traveling with a powerful mage, but he’d yet to witness any such events.  Even though he’d moved out of his parent’s home a year ago and had been training all his life to become a warrior, he felt strangely inept watching this dwarf work.  One week ago he’d been told that he, another warrior, a hunter and a mage would be scouting ahead of the main army. 


“So far all has been quiet, as they had expected, I’m sure,” he thought with only a slightly bitter smile.  “Why else would they send an inexperienced warrior and hunter with such a small party?”  He knew though, that this child changed everything.


“All right, make a pallet for her near the cook fire.  It should keep her warm enough,” the mage said as he began walking away.  “She’ll sleep through ‘til nightfall and awake very hungry.  Have some soup ready.” 



*        *        *



Approaching the doorway, she sensed rather than felt the shadow’s presence.  Sliding along the rough wood, praying the moon would stay hidden behind its thin sheet of clouds, she knew she wouldn’t have to battle him alone as there were five mages and nineteen warriors lurking in the woods behind her.  It was her sole job to scout about the shed and report back.  What troubled her, though, was what her reaction would be to what lay within.  The young body, wracked with guilt and worry, tossed and turned in her sleep, nearly removing the blankets tenderly tucked around her shoulders.



*        *        *



Pulling back his leg and aiming at the most tender spot on one’s stomach, the squirrelly looking, greasy haired soldier, Marks, sent a swift ‘wakeup call’ towards the young captive. “Wake the hell up elf,” he said in a derogative tone with a nasty smile adorning his narrow face, taking intense delight in watching the youngster flinch and yelp.


Speaking for the first time since his capture, “I need to urinate,” Jailaar stated, in a flat, monotone voice, staring directly into the older man’s eyes.  He was incredibly stiff and sore, not only from the occasional kicks, but also from the long run the day before.  Emotionally he was absent, still in shock from all that he’d seen and been through.   Although the swelling had gone down, the pain in his ankle persisted.  “It really doesn’t matter,” he thought.  “Next to the other bruises, I can barely feel it.”


Feeling threatened by this direct eye contact and running on lack of sleep and overly stressed himself, the soldier backhanded the boy for daring to look at him.  He knew they were running behind schedule and weren’t supposed to even be in this area.  If his captain hadn’t taken this side job, none of them would be in this much danger and could be safely resting up at Fort Shnell’ir.  Grinning to himself, he thought of how the Fort brought up images of him and a busty woman named Bertchuá.  “I’m gonna have to go back there again,” he thought, recalling the local brothel he’d visited a few months before.  “Wonder if she’s still there?”


“Get your lazy ass up boy if you want to piss!” he snarled.  Jainaar stood up slowly, arms still bound behind his back and legs shackled together.  “Get over to them bushes,” the guard mumbled; thinking back to Bertchuá and all the fun they’d have once he got there. 


Slowly shuffling towards the brush, the young elf’s mind raced with various methods of escape.  Turning them over one by one in his mind, he discarded them just as quickly as they formed.  There was no way he could free his hands, and the metal bound to his ankles effectively neutralized his magic.  “I wonder where Araselli is”, he thought to himself, fully appreciative of the simple fact that she wasn’t with him.


He felt bad for thinking it, but he knew she’d be better off dead than a captive to this Captain.  He’d overheard the men speaking during the night about how their plans were going awry, how, without his sister, whom they were planning on selling to a man who wanted his own private oracle, they would all surely be killed.  “Apparently this man is somebody important,” he thought with a somewhat evil smirk on his face, fully aware that he’d done everything within his power to foil their plans for his sister.


Jainaar nearly jumped out of his skin as the beefy Captain grabbed his shoulder and said in a rough voice, “Get in the damned wagon, maggot.  We’re leaving and you’re coming with.” 


Although he’d wanted to kill the boy, as he had no use for an elf, a blood relative of the supposed oracle would have to do.  “Perhaps if he’s tortured, she’d dream of it and attempt a rescue.   We’ll be waiting for you, you little monster,” he thought, a nasty little smile forming in his eyes and spreading towards his lips.


After throwing the boy into the supply wagon, crowded from all that they’d pillaged from the local villages, the captain called for his mage.  He’d need to send a message; first to his master and another to his commander.



*        *        *



Stretching in contentment beneath her thick layer of blankets, Araselli dozed.  In her sleep dazed mind she was at home in the bedroom she shared with her brother, waiting for her mother to come wake her up.  Stretching again as she caught an odd smell, then like a broken damn the memories came flooding back.  The risky and rushed climb from their house, the chase through the forest, her brother risking his life for hers, her jump over the falls; tears began welling under her eyelids as a moan and sob pushed its way out of her tightly clenched mouth.  Sobbing uncontrollably, she didn’t feel the arms that lifted her or the chest that she burrowed into.  The pain was so intense she could barely catch her breath.



*        *        *



Julk had sat patiently, slowly stirring a pot of beef and turnip stew, while sitting on an overturned kettle and watching his young charge sleep.  It had been hours since they’d pulled her from the river and although she’d gone through a period of rough dreams, she’d settled down into a deep sleep, “about an hour ago”, he thought with a sigh.  Just settling towards dusk, the sun illuminated the campsite, making it obvious to him that he was there alone.  The mage had gone off wandering, “doing whatever it is mages do”, he thought with a chuckle.  The other two had gone off hunting, leaving him to “hold down the fort”.


Thinking back to his earlier studies, he tried to remember what he’d been taught of the other races of this world and their interactions with the hill dwarfs.  Of the all the species known to him, the humans, dwarves, gnomes, trolls, and elves were the most populous.  He knew that the elves separated themselves into different factions, depending upon appearance, location, and livelihood.  The wood elves that were supposedly in this area were typically tall, in the order of five-and-a-half to six-and-a-half feet, with silver hair and eyes that seemed to glow in the dark.


Hearing the blankets shuffle again, he once more looked down at his young charge.  Earlier she kept moving about with a deep frown upon her face and loosing her blankets.  “Dreaming again,” he supposed.  Turning away, he continued to watch her out of the corner of his eye while he focused on the bubbling stew.  Hearing a sharp gasp and a sob, he dropped the spoon into the soup cauldron and jumped up, whirling around to face the startling noise.  Seeing the girl curled up in a fetal position, she appeared to be in so much pain he could almost think it was physical if he hadn’t known that Telmin had healed her.  Doing what he would have done for any other child and hoping it didn’t scare the bejeebers out of her, he slowly picked her up, cradling her to his chest, and rocked.



*        *        *



Crawling, her head pounding and body aching, she stood up; only to fall to the floor once more.  Tears leaking from her eyes, Marnoa thought about the last few days.  They’d heard from a friend, Mawroc, that strangers were asking around about an odd elf child who could see through time and into the future.  Bitterly, she swept away the tears tracking their way down her chin.  


“I should have forced the issue!  We should have left that night.  How did this all go so wrong?” 


Weeping and holding her tender head in her hands, she curled up on the rug that lay near the cold kitchen stove.  She’d known she was saving her last spell for a desperate moment, knowing it would take most of her energy; but she hadn’t prepared herself for exactly how much it would cost her.  Through her sobs, she wasn’t able to hear the soft footsteps as they stepped over the dead body of her husband. 



*        *        *



Glancing at the dead male elf and the two dead humans, he caught site of the individual making the sounds that had drawn him into the home.  Hesitating for just a moment, the dwarf examined the perimeter with his magic once more, to ensure that he and the woman were the only two creatures alive within the building.  He didn’t want to take any chances of a surprise encounter. 


Clearing his voice somewhat noisily, he felt immediate chagrin when she jumped and sat up quickly, with an immediate look of pain flashing across her face.  “I am so sorry miss, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said in a low soothing voice.  “I just happened by and saw that the door was broken in.  I just wanted to offer my help if any was needed,” the dwarf finished with an earnest expression. 


“I-I…um…I-my head…”  Wincing in pain, she shut her eyes tight, holding her hands on either side of her pounding skull.  Suddenly, feeling rejuvenated and noticing the pain had diminished considerably, she looked up to see a beautiful ruby-red aura surrounding the stout dwarf.  She took notice of her companion this time.  Although he was much shorter than her, nearly a foot, he surely outweighed her by at least 100 pounds.  From the looks of it, it was all muscle.  The beard could fool most people, but she guessed him to be middle-aged. 


“I thank you for healing me, and your offer of aid.”  Finishing the last portion of her sentence in near whisper, he almost didn’t hear the next.  “We were attacked, early this morning…possibly yesterday morning.  I don’t know how long I’ve been unconscious.”  Suddenly, like fire being awoken, she fiercely spit out, “But I fear for my children!  They were after our daughter!  Those creatures…” she continued, contempt dripping from her voice, shooting a death glare at the two corpses lying not far from her.  “They wanted to kidnap her.  They were going to sell her to the highest bidder!” 


“Miss,” the dwarf attempted, still standing near her. 


Speaking without really seeing anyone, “They broke down the door like it was a twig.” 


“Miss, I…” he tried again; he desperately wanted to tell her of the girl his men had found.


“They got my husband first,” she stated with a look of pain flashing through her eyes.  “He wasn’t expecting them to be throwing daggers.  He thought they’d fight like real men.  Or at least with magic,” she added, shaking her head in sadness.


“Miss!” he cried with much distress, “Really, you must concentrate!  I think we’ve found your daughter…”


The woman jumped to her feet and in one leap wrapped her arms around the shorter man.  


“…we found a girl floating in the water this morning and have revived her.  She’s currently sleeping under guard in my camp.”


“Oh thank you!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she screamed with joy, still hugging the dwarf mage Telmin.  “Take me to her please!  I have got to know if she is my daughter, then I must see about my son,” she said dancing in place with tears once again streaking down her narrow face.  “They ran together you see, I don’t know what’s happened to them.  Oh it must be her!”



*        *        *



Bouncing amongst other people’s now-lost possessions, Jainaar tried once more to fathom how to get out of the trouble he was in.  Shoved against a large wooden trunk, each bounce seemed to either shove splinters into his back, or rub it raw; he couldn’t decide.  Bound and once more gagged, there was little he could do but wait.  He knew they were taking him to the Fort Shnell’ir, but from there he was uncertain.  It had now been a full two-and-a-half days since the attack on his parents’ home.  He was certain that someone would have noticed by now as the blacksmith was popular.  With a few tears tracking down his now dusty cheeks, he wondered whether or not anyone would do anything about it.  Shaking his head and wiping his eyes with the back of his bound left hand, smearing the dust to mud, he started to cry in earnest.



*        *        *



“How far is your camp?  Let’s go now!” the anxious bouncing mother asked the slightly bemused mage who was thinking of the bedraggled woman she’d been just a few moments before.  “We’ll need to travel by magic, I can port us into camp,” he said, grasping gently her arm above the wrist.  All the while, mentally preparing himself for the spell. 

She jerked her arm out of his grasp.  “Magic!  But magic is…” she retorted with instant worry and fire in her eyes. 


“Magic is the only way we can get there safely,” Telmin stated with a stern look which appeared odd on him as she towered over him.  “My camp is leagues away and we’d never reach it before nightfall, let alone daybreak, on foot.” 


“How did you find me so quickly then?” she asked in a perplexed voice.


Chuckling under his breath with little humor, he stated, “My dear lady, my army has eyes everywhere.  Where something odd occurs, such as my group finding a lone elfling floating, we send out enquiries.”  Adding quietly and holding his arm out when he received no response, “If we may?”



*        *        *



Julk sat staring at the fire, the stew long forgotten as his charge had taken a few sips and just one bite before drifting off into what appeared to be a peaceful slumber.  Sighing greatly, with his large hands holding his head up and braced against his knees, he wondered what on earth was going on her mind.  The girl hadn’t spoken a word, just stared at him in fear and after much coaxing had finally taken the cup of soup he’d left on the ground near her.

“Where are you, old farts?” he muttered aloud.  “I have no idea what to do with her.”  He rightly assumed her fright had something to do with her river adventure, but why was she so afraid of him? 


After she’d calmed down, he’d gently laid her back onto her makeshift bed and then sat back on his heels.  “It must have been at that moment that she realized she didn’t know who the blazes he was,” he thought bitterly, remembering how she’d shrunk back into the blankets with terror in her eyes and how he’d reacted on instinct, reaching for her and saying, “No, it’s safe; you’re safe!”


“Perhaps she doesn’t speak common?” he’d thought when she failed to respond to his words.  While most races spoke it, some still only knew their own, native language. 


Thinking that the sight of food would calm her, he’d rushed for a cup and poured some hot soup into it.  Walking forwards though, she’d once again shrunk back from him.  Deciding to leave the cup on the ground and back up, she’d finally reached for it and taken a few sips. 


Shaking his head in frustration, the warrior, who wasn’t used to dealing with children, wanted for nothing more than for the mage, or anybody for that matter, to return.



*        *        *



Carefully leaning against the wooden door with one long, lean ear pressed up close, she listened to the voices inside. 


“What is this?” a low ominous voice inquired.  “I told you to bring me the seer, not this riffraff!” he bellowed. 


“But we tried, sir!” a different voice pleaded.  “We tried, but the boy magicked her off!  There was nothing we could do.”  He quickly explained, continuing, “I thought we may be able to lure her here.  Perhaps if we torture the boy, she’ll see it, know it…however that works and try to rescue him!” he added almost eagerly.


“Fools!  One little girl and you lost her!”


“But…sir…we have the boy.  This is her brother, surely she’ll come for him!” 


Anger like she’d never felt before was coursing through her body.  She was supposed to return and report.  She knew this, knew they’d…



*        *        *



A loud popping sound behind him caused Julk to jump and whirl around.  Tripping over the kettle he was sitting on, he fell flat on his face.  Looking up, he glowered at the mage.  “Dammit Telmin!” he said, spitting a dry leaf out of his mouth.  “You promised you’d stop using that popping spell!”  Standing up and trying hard to look the part of the strong warrior he continued muttering, “Old goat knows the transportation spell doesn’t require the popping, yet the buzzard has to do it…”  A muffled chuckle followed by a deep voice clearing his throat, “Ah-hem…”


Looking up, Julk noticed for the first time someone behind the mage.  A very tall, beautiful someone to be exact.  “Who’s she?” he asked, instantly on edge, subconsciously stepping between the newcomer and the sleeping girl.  Glancing at the other dwarf, anticipating seeing something in his eyes, he really hoped, for the girl’s sake, that this woman was her mother.  Seeing the look pass between the two men, she shouldered the mage aside and demanded, “Where is my daughter?” adding almost as an afterthought, “please.”


He stepped aside so the woman could see the bundle of blanket behind him.  “Oh!” she cried.  “Araselli!  Thank the stars! The heavens!”  Weeping in happiness she dropped to her knees as a feeling of instant relief came over her.  Grasping the elfling up in her arms, she couldn’t stop petting the dark blue hair and whispering murmurs of “…you’re safe, you’re safe…” into the girl’s ear.


Feeling her mothers touch and instantly awake, Araselli was once more in tears.  “We’ve got to save him!” she sobbed, snot running down her upper lip.  “They’re going to hurt him Momma!  They want me and they said they’re going to hurt him!”


“Hush, baby…shhh…calm down,” she soothed, brushing a strand of her girl’s hair out of her eyes.  Slightly confused as to what she was talking about, a thought came to mind that she instantly wanted to reject.  “Please, please let me be wrong!”  Continuing she asked, “They have who?” 


“Jainaar!” she screamed.  Deciding it was best to have the child sleep, the mage whispered a few words and the girl instantly drifted off, as if drugged. 


Sighing in relief, Julk looked at the mage and mouthed “Thank you!” as he wasn’t sure how much more crying he could take.  It never failed to make him feel awkward.



*        *        *



Sound asleep, Jainaar was rudely jerked back to his current reality as he heard a rough voice telling him to move, “Get out boy!”


Slowly trying to sit up, his stiff body aching from the cramped quarters and all the jostling, he watched in dazed wonder as the old hostler undid his leg irons and replaced them with chain. 


Glancing around he noticed that his small party of captors had joined a much larger group camped on the outskirts of a village.  Looking around he counted roughly one hundred individuals, many with swords or axes hanging from their waist; nearly ten were in ropes or chains so he assumed they were captives, much like himself.  Spying several campfires, he hoped he would be able to sit near one as the air carried a strong bite.


“You’d best hurry boy if you want any food, it’s going to go fast,” he said, pointing towards a line of unkempt looking individuals, who appeared to be waiting impatiently for a chance near the black cook pot in the middle.  Judging from physical appearance alone, Jainaar found it easy to pick out the different races.  He found three humans, an elf, much darker in complexion than himself; he assumed from descriptions his father made that the remaining five consisted of two dwarfs and three gnomes.  “Well, at least I’m not alone anymore,” he thought to himself, making his way through the dusty crowd of weary travelers to the large cooking pot. 


Grabbing a wood bowl from the stacks, he tried to scrape out what appeared to be crusty porridge, out.  “You’d best be leaving that,” cackled a little old woman.  Looking down at her he thought, “I bet she’s a gnome!” as she was no more than two and half feet tall.  In a less stressful environment, Jainaar would have been thrilled to be seeing so many different races all at once.  At the moment though, he was more concerned with his dirty bowl. 


“Boy, there’s not much worth eating in that pot.  You’ll get more if you just re-hydrate what’s in the bowl with whatever’s in the pot.”  Staring up at him with weak, watery gray eyes, she asked, “What are you boy?  I thought you were human, but you’re not…are you?”  Still staring but now with a sad, kind smile she added, “You’re like T’snam over there, aren’t you…an elf?”  Sighing, she shook her head sadly and urged him to cut in front of her.  “I’m sorry boy.  Elves don’t stick around here too long; you’d best eat as much as you can.” 


Turning around, facing her once again, he asked, “What do you mean…they don’t last long?” 


Looking him in the eye, she said one word.  “Bait”, she sighed.  “They use you as bait.”


“What do you mean?”  he asked, confused. 


“Well, elves are hard to come by.” Grinning up at him she added, “Apparently you folk are pretty feisty.”


Hesitating a little and motioning with his eyes, “Ar-are all humans like them?  I thought, before they showed up, that everyone pretty much got along, that we’re all on the same side?” 


Shoving with both hands, the little old gnome screeched at someone more than twice her size who was trying to jump in front of her, “Back to the line you blungernut!  Who do you think you are?”  Turning to Jainaar, she stated with confidence and a somewhat cocky tilt to her head, “Sometimes you just have to let them know whose boss, else why’s they’d walk right on over you, without so much as an excuse me.  Grab the ladle, lad.”


Grasping the heavy metal ladle, he poured the thin porridge into each of their bowls before dropping it back into the pot with a splash.  “As for your question elfling, no.  Not all humans are like this.  Truth be known, and as much as I hate to say it, most are all right.  This lot is what we call ‘mercenaries’.”  Turning abruptly she looked over her shoulder at him and primly ordered, “Follow me”.



*        *        *



“Marnoa, more soup?” Melkin asked in an almost compassionate voice.  


Laughing to himself, Julk thought “So odd, coming from him”.  They were sitting in an almost semi-circle, with the fire as the focal point.  Leaning against a tree, he studied his companions.  He knew the old dwarf, although he considered him to be an old goat, was still a well-respected warrior.  He hoped to learn a lot from Melkin on this mission.  As for the elf, Marnoa, they’d found out, she was a mystery.  Staring at her, she looked to be lost and weak, but he knew she was capable of killing two fully armored men.  The more he thought about it, the more he realized he’d always been in awe of the elves.  They were so reclusive and mysterious.  “Not to mention ferocious fighters!” he thought, thinking once again of Marnoa.  “Amazing!”

“Hmmm…”  Turning, she looked at Melkin. “No, thank you.  I’m full.  You make a great stew, though.” 


“Oh, that is all Julk’s doing.  Jorgen,” he said, pointing towards the young hunter who was at the moment trying to pick a piece of meat out of his teeth, “over there and I do all the hunting, but it’s Julk that actually does the cooking.” 


“Was that actually a compliment, Old Timer?” the young dwarf asked with a lazy grin on his face. 


“You hush up, pup!”  Glowering, Melkin kicked out at the younger dwarf, intentionally missing.


Jorgen was busy watching the tall elf as she stroked her sleeping daughter’s forehead and cheeks.  “How long will she sleep?” he asked to anyone who would answer.


Glancing at him, she answered, “Your mage, Telmin, said she’d probably sleep through the rest of the night.  I hope she does.  She’s been through so much.  I’m just worried about her dreams.”


Looking up once more, Marnoa caught sight of the mage walking towards their fire.  Smiling at her he announced, “So...I’ve contacted my counterparts in Laint’ar,” and adding for her benefit, “a mining village nearby.  They’ve made note of a band of mercenaries passing through a few hours ago.”  With a deep sigh, he added, while looking at each member of their small band, “They also made note that the mercenaries looked to be carrying a small group of slaves.  They estimated the numbers to be around thirty to fifty individuals of different races: gnomes, dwarves, humans, and…” he paused for a moment, taking a deep breath before adding, “…even a few elves.”


“So what’s the plan then?” Melkin queried.  “Do we follow them?  Surely we won’t attack.  You know as well as I do mercenaries are the dogs, they do the masters bidding.”  Shaking his head in disgust, he stretched his massive arms and leaned his head against one thick palm.  “Do we know who they work for?”


“No, but we at least have a direction.  They’re heading west,” he said, leaning over the pot of soup, dipping some into a cup.  Sitting down with his back to a log, he sighed after taking a bite of the stew, relaxing a bit.


“Did you talk to Menquil?”  Looking at the elf, the old warrior added with a smirk, “Menquil is the commander of the human armies.  He’s another of Telmin’s little birdies.” 


Shooting a dirty look in the direction of the old dwarf, Telmin spoke after swallowing his last bit of stew.  “You hush, your jaw flaps too much.  And yes, I did speak with him.  He said they do have a group out this way which is lead by nasty piece of work.”  Shaking his head he added, “Apparently, he’s currently on probation, my guess is his slap on the wrist didn’t work.”


Jorgen, who’d been silent for most of the night, asked, “Great, so now what?  Do we follow, go back?  We can’t exactly leave things as they stand.” 


“No, we were simply a scouting mission,” the mage sighed, “but, I’ve contacted Mantrav and we have permission to continue on.  He’s arranged for us to be meeting up with a group of Menquil’s men.”  Looking at his small party, with a smile he added “They’ll be led by Joul.  You all have met him before.  From there we will track this group of apparent mercenaries.”


“Oh, this is good.  Our first time out and we get to go hunting!” an excited Julk, in a stage whisper, told Jorgen.


Shooting Julk a dirty look he continued, “It seems as if we’ve stumbled onto something bigger than we expected.  Our problem is the girl.”  Looking at Marnoa, he said, “I’m assuming you don’t want people to know of her.  Is there a place you can go where you’ll be safe while we look for your son?” 


Properly chastened, the younger warrior offered, “In our favor, they don’t know that we have her.” 


Interrupting the younger dwarf, Marnoa, wrinkling her brow and settling her eyes on the mage, said, “What do you mean we?”  After a moments pause she continued in a somewhat irked tone, “If you think I’m going to just walk off and cower, let someone else fight my battles, you can think again.  I fully appreciate and acknowledge your help and efforts, but he’s my son.”


Glancing at Marnoa, Julk asked, “Did you happen to notice if they had a mage with them?”  Looking at his hands and trying to recall his knowledge of how the human ranks worked, “To my knowledge, Joul’s group should have at least a couple of mages with them.  They rarely travel with fewer than three.  We should be able to keep both Marnoa and the girl safe.  Well, at least as safe as they would be anywhere else.  No one knows we have them.”  Shrugging his massive shoulders, he looked up for the first time in several moments.  Looking at the mage, he smirked.  With a raised eyebrow he added, “And you thought I didn’t pay attention.” 


A quiet voiced added, “There were no mages.  At least I didn’t feel any.”  Staring at her flexed hands, she relaxed them, grabbing the bowl near her.  As long as her hands remained loose and relaxed, she was relaxed.  Looking up, she noticed the mage staring at her with a questioning look in his wide spaced gray eyes.


“My apologies, but I’m afraid I didn’t ask what it is you can do?  You say you didn’t feel any mages?  Are you saying you're a mage?” Telmin asked politely, but full of caution.  Looking around the camp, the elf noticed a sudden tension in the rest of the men.


Smiling and with a soft laugh she explained, “No, I suppose had I been trained properly perhaps I could have been.  Growing up my family were hunters, that’s what I was trained to be.  I have the capabilities but not the education.  I’ve picked up a few spells here and there; and I was even teaching them to my son, Jainaar.”  Smiling she added, “He was a quick learner.  We were planning on sending him to become educated in the ways of magic.”  Wiping tears from her eyes she added, “You’ve no need to fear me, my skills lie in weaponry and stealth.”  Suddenly excited, she looked up almost eagerly, “I have one good spell.  I can nearly disappear.  In shadows you can’t see me.”


He stared at her with a surprised look on his face, “That’s a complex spell, and you say you’ve had no training?” 


Staring at him straight on, refusing to be the first to blink, “None at all.  Will this help us get my son back?”


“I don’t know,” he answered in a thoughtful tone.



*        *        *



Sitting near the fire, trying to ward off the chill, Jainaar struggled to wrap his mind around what the gnome had told him.  According to her, the mercenaries had, near as he could tell, three employers: the army; Brock, a rogue mage who had apparently paid dearly for his sister; and then the group that wanted Brock.  The old gnome, who washed the laundry for the captors, apparently overheard many conversations and knew much. 


She’d heard them speak of a girl who could see the future at will and how a dark mage named Brock wanted her.  Apparently though, Brock was a wanted man.  He had made a few enemies who would pay dearly for his head.  This was where Jainaar, the bait, would come in.  Shaking his head, with tears running down his dirty cheeks, all he could think was, “I’m glad Selli’s not here.


Looking at the poor boy, the old gnome felt nothing but pity.  She had no idea, after hearing his tale, how this would turn out.  “Boy, you can sleep here tonight.  You’ll be as safe here as anywhere else, I suppose.  We’ve got an extra blanket you can use, and the fire should keep up for a bit longer.”


Grasping the worn cloth she held out as the proposed blanket, he thanked her one last time before huddling up as close as he dared to the warmth of the fire.  Shutting his eyes, he fell asleep with a slight smile on his face. 



*        *        *



Early the following morning, just before the sun peaked across the hilltops, Julk woke up to find two large amber eyes staring straight into his own brown eyes.  She was sitting on her haunches, with her elbows on her knees and her hands propping up her sleepy, but yet alert, head.  He decided it would be best to let her make the first move, lest he startle her again.  “I can’t handle hysterics this early in the morning,” he thought to himself. 


He didn’t have long to wait before she asked, “You’re not like the men that chased me and Jainaar are you…” cocking her head in an inquisitive manner “…you look different.  They were tall and mean.”  Smiling shyly, she added, “But I’m not scared of you anymore.”  Reaching around herself, she grabbed one of the blankets that had covered her the night before, and wrapped it around her thin shoulders.  Sitting cross legged near the young warrior, she continued her whispered one way conversation.  “Did you know my mom came here?”  With a large smile on her face, she nearly bounced the words out of her mouth.  She added excitedly, and pointing towards a sleeping mound, “She’s asleep right next to where I was sleeping!”  After a slight pause, with a somewhat concerned look, the young elf asked the now awake dwarf, “Don’t you see her?”


Realizing it was now time to speak, “Yeah, I see your mom.  She’s a nice lady isn’t she?”   As reward he received an infectious smile. 


“Yeah, she puts lots of honey in my porridge.  Otherwise it’s gross.”  Sighing, she suddenly looked around, “Are we going to go get Jainaar today?” 


“Good grief, where’s Telmin when you need him!  Wake up Marnoa!”  He didn’t know how to respond.  Did he push her or not?


“My name’s Julk and I know your mom’s name is Marnoa, but I don’t know yours?” he asked with a smile.  Sitting up he stretched and wrapped one of his blankets around his shoulders. 


“My name is Araselli, but you can call me Selli.  That’s what my mom and dad and Jainaar call me.”


“I see.  Well, I’ll call you Selli then.  Araselli is a very pretty name though.” 


Gracing him with another large smile and a pert nod, she said, “Thank you!” 


“Well Selli, how about we get that cook fire roaring again and start some water boiling.  Do you think we should do that, so everyone can have some coffee this morning?”


Reaching for his large hand, she tugged, trying to pull him up.  Smiling at her antics, after stumbling up, he thanked her and asked, “Here’s the boiling pot.  Do you think you could go over to that stream and fill it up?” 


Grabbing the pot and trotting off, she looked over her shoulder.  “Yep!”


After they got the coffee brewing and a breakfast of porridge started; with a smile on his face, Julk tossed the frowning girl a bottle of honey.  “Honey!” she shrieked, waking up her mother, Jorgen, and a grumbling Melkin, who sat up with a start. 


“What in blue blazes was that!” roared the grumpy dwarf.  Looking a bit worried, the young elf turned to Julk, who just winked at her.  With a grin full of mischief she whirled around, bouncing with joy she held the bottle of honey over her head.  “Honey!  Honey!  We have honey for the porridge!”  Spotting her mom, who was beginning to stand up, still clasping her bottle of honey, she tackled the older elf.  “Mommy!” she shrieked once again.  “I thought you were lost.  Jainaar said he didn’t know where you or daddy were.  He told me to run and I did.  Now you’re here.  When are we going to go get Jainaar?  He’s scared, but I think he knows we’re coming for him.  I told him not to worry.”


Grasping her daughter’s shoulders and settling the girl on her lap, “Selli, honey, I missed you so much!”  Squeezing the girl against her, and with a frown upon her face but a smile firm in her voice, she asked, “You said you told Jainaar not to worry?  When did you do this honey?  In a dream?”


“Yep, I kept dreaming last night of him.  Did you know I had a dream when I was awake when me and Jainaar where running!” she asked with excitement.  “It was weird,” she stated, frowning slightly as she remembered the vision.


“Did you now?  Well, that’s exciting,” her mother coaxed, tucking a strand of blue hair behind the girls long ears.  Hugging the girl again she asked, “So what did you dream of last night?  You saw Jainaar?”


Staring at Julk and the rest of the bulky short men, who by this time were sipping cups of coffee and greedily waiting for the pot of porridge to boil, she said, “Yeah, he was in my dream.  He was crying in it earlier, but I saw him with this really, really short woman who gave him a blanket.  She was nice.”  Smiling up at her mom she added, “And then he was in a shed.  You were outside…” pausing for a deep breath, she pointed at the dwarves “…and so were they!”  Grinning now, she poked her mom with her index finger. “You went and found Jainaar…” turning she smiled at the young warrior, “…and that’s how I knew Julk was nice.”


Confused and slightly worried, “She’s never had a real vision…well, one that was important anyway.  How do we know what to trust?”  She stood Selli up and reached out a hand.  “Well, silly, help me up.”  Standing, the older elf took her daughter’s hand as they walked towards the sitting men.  “You’ve got honey!  Oh my goodness you must be special.  I take it this means we’re having porridge for breakfast.”  Smiling, the girl held up her prize for viewing.



*        *        *



Feeling a sharp pain in his lower abdomen, Jainaar attempted to roll onto his side but instead was jerked to his feet.  “Get up, elf!” he heard a voice sneer behind him.   Turning his head, all he saw was a hooded, dark cloaked figure standing behind his left shoulder, shoving him.  Clouting the young elf on the head, he said, “Don’t look at me, keep your eyes forward boy.”


Pulling his eyes back to the path in front of him, Jainaar’s gaze fell on the little old gnome.  She stared up at him from her sleeping blankets with nothing but pity and sorrow on her face.  She mouthed the words, “Good luck”, but that’s all she dared.


“W-wh-where are you taking me?,” he asked in a shaky voice, feet stumbling over dirt clods in the dark. 


“Don’t speak again boy,” answered the rough voice.


“Ah!  Our special guest has arrived,” spoke a disembodied voice from somewhere in front of him.  “Tie him to the horse we don’t want our guest slipping off and hurting himself, now do we?”  Through the foggy air, Jainaar could just make out the outline of a tall man, but from the voice he could tell it was the same man who had chased him through the woods. 


Sounding much calmer and braver than he felt, he asked, “Who are you and what do you want with me?”


“Aww, isn’t that sweet, boys.  The young chick thinks he’s a rooster.”  Hearing the laughter clued Jainaar in that they weren’t alone.  “Bind his feet around the belly of the horse and his hands to the saddle horn.  He’s not to escape,” the man ordered, climbing onto his own horse.  After tying the boy to the horse, the man in the dark cloak grabbed hold of the mare’s bridle and tied it to the back of his own mount’s saddle.  Stopping only for water, they rode throughout the morning.  


Having slept for most of the morning, the rolling of the horse had rocked the boy to sleep; Jainaar was rudely woken when a hand slapped him awake.  “I’ve untied you boy, get down.”  Sliding down the horse’s side, the young elf promptly fell to the ground.  Legs tingling in pain, Jainaar cried as his legs regained feeling.  Grabbing the boy’s arm, the man dragged him away from the tired horse and pulled him towards an old shack.  “I told you to get down, not fall down, you idiot,” grumbled the man in the cloak as he walked off, leaving the boy draped against the side of the shack.


Looking around him, the young elf noticed that the fog had lifted, “Probably a long time ago, as it’s nearly noon now, he thought as his stomach rumbled in protest from the lack of food.  The shack that he was leaning against stood in a small clearing surrounded by massive evergreen trees.  Near the shack stood a corral where a small group of men were removing the tack from the over-worked horses and brushing them dry.  So intent in studying the working men, he didn’t hear the scraping sound of footsteps until the creature was almost upon him.  It was the stench and not the footsteps that gave the monster away.  An odor similar to that of a rotting animal made Jainaar wrinkle his nose in disgust.  


“Well, you aren’t the pup I wanted, but you’ll do.”   There in front of the boy stood a creature unlike any he’d ever seen.  Standing well over seven feet tall, the green ogre possessed a stench that could curdle milk.  Looking towards the boy’s captor, who was standing upwind, he asked, “I don’t suppose you could put him in a dress or something could you?  You think Agrantra will notice he’s not the girl?”


“Meltronous, he’s a demon.  They have the attention span of a child.  No, I don’t think he’ll notice.”  Pausing, he added, “At least he won’t notice right away.”  With that, the ogre’s gaze fell on the elfling.


Frozen in terror and barely able to breath, Jainaar had no control of his limbs and had no way to stop their trembling.  Grasping the elf by the rope that connected the boys two feet, the ogre dragged him into the shack and dropped him in a corner.  “Please leave the door open!”  Jainaar thought through his terror, as another wave of stench from the monster nearly caused his stomach to heave.  Propped on his side, he had a clear view of the interior of the small shack and he watched as the green beast stalked back out the door.


“I’m in so much trouble right now,” he thought, not for the first time that day.  For some reason though, he seemed to recall his sister telling him not to worry last night.  Shaking his head in doubt, he wondered if he was going insane. 



*        *        *



Standing behind the small dwarf battalion, Marnoa couldn’t help but smile when she saw the short, stocky Telmin reach up and shake hands with the much taller and leaner captain of the human troops.  A mage himself, the captain had brought with him sixteen soldiers and three additional mages.  More importantly, though, he’d also brought information.  Apparently, it was a demon that wanted her daughter.  They had identified a man still in their company who had been leaking information to the traitor.  After a small amount of persuasion, he had decided it would be in his best interest to talk. 


After introducing the two groups, Joul made an announcement. “This situation has become stickier.  It appears the traitor is in the middle of double-crossing a demon, Agrantra.  From what I can tell, this demon ticked off a group to the east named Meltronous.  Now, this group has offered a great deal of money to anyone who hands over Agrantra.  The problem is, Agrantra is unpredictable and dangerous.” Looking at Marnoa, Joul added, “He wants your daughter and will do anything to get his paws on her.”  Propping himself against his war horse’s shoulder, “We have three of the strongest war mages on this continent…” Pointing to the dwarf mage and then a younger man who looked barely old enough to shave and finally to himself, he continued, “…in our possession; I agree with Telmin that she’d be better off with us than without us.”  Looking around the group of gathered men and nodding towards Telmin, he said, “Saddle up boys, we’ve a demon to catch,” as he swung into his own saddle and trotted off. 


Julk spat on the ground and swept the turning dust kicked up from the horses off his brown cheek.  Looking up at the elf and her daughter he said, “Well ladies, I suppose that’s our cue.  Are you sure you’re alright with the horses?  I know they’re not what you’re used to.”


Giggling, Selli looked down at him and replied, “Ladies?  I’m not a lady, I’m a girl!  But my horse is nice.” 


Smiling at her daughter, Marnoa answered, “We’ll be fine, Julk.  So we’re to follow Joul then, right?”


“Yep, apparently the man they caught said the shack where this was all to unfold, isn’t far from here.  We should be there by nightfall.  That’s when we’ll attack.  By tomorrow morning, Lady, you should have your son back.”  He finished with a kind smile on his face as he turned towards the horse that was to be his mount for the remainder of the trip.



*        *        *



Through a sliver of moonlight, trying to still her gasping breaths, she sensed the shadow’s movements on the wall beneath the sill of the shed.  The cool moistness from the moss beneath her tightly clenched fists did nothing to calm the firestorm that raged throughout her body.  Straining her long delicate elfin ears for any trace of sound in the overly quiet night, she watched with a deepening fear as the shadow grew, slowly tracing a path towards the double wide door.  Filled with an all-consuming anger that battled with her rational mind, the urge to fight won out.  Silently she moved from her hiding place beneath the bows of the large fern.  Daggers drawn, she quickly merged with the shadows and stealthy inched her way towards danger. 


Approaching the doorway, she sensed rather than felt the demon’s presence.  Sliding along the rough wood, praying the moon would stay hidden behind its thin sheet of clouds just a while longer, she knew she wouldn’t have to battle him alone as there were five mages and nineteen warriors lurking in the woods behind her.  It was her sole job to scout about the shed and report back.  What troubled her though, was what her reaction would be to what lay within. 


Carefully leaning against the wooden door with one long, lean ear pressed up close, she listened to the voices inside. 


“What is this?” a low ominous voice inquired.  “I told you to bring me the seer, not this riffraff!” he bellowed. 


“But we tried, sir!” a different voice pleaded.  “We tried, but the boy magicked her off!  There was nothing we could do.”  He quickly explained, continuing, “I thought we may be able to lure her here.  Perhaps if we torture the boy, she’ll see it, know it…however that works and try to rescue him!” he added almost eagerly.


“Fools!  One little girl and you lost her!”


“But…sir…we have the boy.  This is her brother; surely she’ll come for him!” 


Anger like she’d never felt before was coursing through her body.  She was supposed to return and report.  She knew this, knew they’d be upset with her, but dammit that was her son!  Silently she screamed his name, hoping he’d know she was there.


Feeling a slight tap on her shoulder, she silently jumped.  Looking over her shoulder, Marnoa saw Julk as he slowly backed away, motioning for her to follow.  Giving the doorway one last longing glance, she did as she was bid.


Quietly, they made their way back to the grove that hid the two mages and several of their men.  Watching their approach, Telmin tapped Joul, who was finishing a conversation with one of his corporals, on the shoulder.  “They come,” he whispered.


Turning around, he nodded to the smaller mage and added, “They’re ready.” 


As soon as she was near enough for her whisper to be heard, the tall elf told all of what she knew.  “I watched as the demon approached and entered the shack.  Aside from the demon, there is the human traitor and what appear to be three of his men, and my son.”  Taking a deep, but shaky breath, she continued, “My son’s in there.  The demon knows they’ve brought the wrong child and is angry.  When we left…” 


Interrupting her, the tall captain whispered “From this distance I can’t detect any other mages, other than the ones in our party.  I can sense the magic you possess and that of your son’s, as it feels similar to yours.  But I sense no others.”  Glancing at Telmin he asked, “Do you?”  As the dwarf shook his head no, the human mage continued his barrage of questions.  “Did you sense or detect any form of magic while you were there?  Could you detect the demon, any sense of magic?”


Shaking her head, “No, no magic, but I was able to feel him.  I can’t explain it really.”


Jorgen stood up and went to stand near Julk, who smiled and nodded at him.  “Well folks, I don’t know about you all, but Jorgen and I are ready for a fight.  What’s the plan?”  Accepting the glare that was aimed at him, he grinned in response at the dwarf mage and said “Well?  Do we wait longer or are we striking now?”


“If I didn’t need you, I’d make you sit here and watch from the back you insubordinate brat.” 


Glancing at the taller mage, Telmin noticed he was mind speaking to the third, younger mage, who was positioned across the grove with the majority of their men.  In the seconds it took to finish that conversation, the door to the shack flew open and out flew the human traitor, sprinting directly towards the grove where the youngest mage stood waiting. 


In the original plan, the youngest mage was to back up the two healers as they mended the fallen and injured warriors during the fight.  It was intended that the two, more experienced mages would actually combat the demon, whose powers were unknown.  As it happened though, with Jainaar’s captor fleeing towards the far end of the grove and the demon languidly flowing behind him, time seemed to stop.  The demon croaked out a single word, in a language unknown to those of that world.  The dwarves and the lanky human Captain, watched in stunned silence as the mercenary disintegrated before their eyes.  He became dust and his once large form seemed to hang in the still, breezeless night. 


With a sudden loud crack, they were jerked back to reality as the demon’s form seemed to shudder from the impact of a spell.  Jaws dropped in surprise, the two older mages watched in astonishment as the youngest member of their elite league threw spell after spell at the demon, dropping it to its knees.  Crying out a string of commands, so in tune were the words, they came out in almost in song.  Finishing the lyric, the green mage dropped to the ground in exhaustion as the world became white and static filled the air. 


Shaking her head to clear her eyes, Marnoa couldn’t figure out the buzzing.  Frantically shuffling her hands along the ground, crawling on her knees, the tall elf searched blindly for her daughter’s small hand.  Slowly, as her eyesight came back, the buzzing in her ears diminished enough she could hear her daughter screaming. 


“Jainaar!” the girl shrieked in happiness, sprinting towards the shack as fast as her small legs could carry her. “Jainaar, get out here!” 


Still dazed, Marnoa watched in fear.  “Thank the stars!” she thought as she watched Julk tackle her girl just short of the door, bellowing “Selli no!” 


Using a tree for support, Marnoa slowly pulled herself upright, as she listened to the young dwarf reprimand her daughter.  “We don’t know if it’s safe yet!” he stated as he carted the impatient girl back to the safety of the trees.


“But he’s in there!  I know he is!” she fiercely insisted.


“I know he is, but we have to wait for the mages to and other warriors to go first.  Then we can go see your brother.  Alright?  Now where’s your mother?” he asked as he winked at Marnoa.


Standing up, the tall elf nodded at the younger dwarf, accepting that he would keep her daughter busy long enough for her to locate her son.  With determined strides and her daggers once more drawn, she approached the small wooden shack.  Standing just behind and off to the left of the mages, she walked directly behind Jorgen and Melkin. 


It was assumed that with the banishment of the demon and the death of the mercenary there were no immediate threats.  They would still need to round up the remaining mercenaries, but not at that moment.


With her heart pounding, Marnoa rounded the corner, her gaze falling on a small bundle bound with rope, propped against the wall. 


Wide eyed, Jainaar finally began to cry as his gaze fell on the figure of his mom.  “Momma?” he asked in fear, not able to reason it out as he’d thought she was dead. 


Running to his side, taking note of the bruises and rope burns on his limbs, “Jainaar!” she screamed.  “Oh!  My baby, what did they do to you?”  Sobbing she pulled him into her arms, wrapping him a tight embrace, she didn’t even notice when Jorgen and Melkin began to untie the boys restraints. 


“Wow, Selli was right, momma did come for me…I’m never telling her she was right though…” were the last thoughts to run through the young boy’s mind before passing out from hunger and shock.



*        *        *



A few short months later…


“Momma!” a happy young voice shrieked through the once peaceful forest.  “I see them!  I see them!”  Strong young legs pumping, a slender young girl flung herself through the newly hung door and slid to a stop in front of her work busy mother. 


Smiling down at the girl, she instructed “Go find your brother and tell him that Julk’s nearly here then.”


Smiling, she thought back over the last few months.  Her son was beginning to once more resemble the carefree youth he had been, and her resilient daughter was still the loving child she’d always been.  With a pain filled heart, she was beginning to accept that her husband was forever lost to her.  Wiping away a single tear, “I still have my children,” she instructed herself. 


As she packed the last of Selli’s small shirts into the satchel, she looked around her home of the last ten years.  Shaking her head, she knew she was doing the right thing by moving to the larger city of the dwarves.  Thinking of the dwarves, “I’ve found some very good friends in Telmin, Julk, and Jorgen,” chuckling to herself, she added “and even grumpy, loveable Melkin.”  No, she thought, this will be good.  “Selli will be safe and Jainaar can learn his magic.”


Looking around one last time, she walked outside to where she could hear her children laughing, and placed the heavy satchel near their bedrolls as she shut the door.