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|This is the first chapter of a story that I have been working on, and my first on Elfwood. Don't be confused by my term ailfe, it is pronounced like elf. It just was changed for something later. Feel free to leave comments||
“Shh, it’s okay,” a gentle voice whispered, “it’ll be all right, little one. We just have to get you out of here. I’ll take care of you. Don’t cry, little one, don’t cry. It’ll be okay.”
The baby whimpered once more and fell silent. A candle flared into life, giving a face to the voice. A man with shoulder-length hair of gold looked down upon the hushed baby. Her eyes, a deep shade of blue with a hint of purple, were bright and aware as they looked up into his golden eyes. He smiled at her, blew out the flame, and continued on down the trail, slipping through the shadows of the trees.
The man stopped at the foot of a giant oak, one that towered high above the others. He bent his knees and held the baby tightly. He leapt lightly up to the first branch, a good fifteen feet off the ground. The next branches were close enough to climb up without much difficultly, and after a few minutes of quietly scrambling up the tree, he entered a secret hollow concealed behind leaves, high up the tree.
.The entire inside of the big tree was hollowed out from this point down, and the hole continued on underground. A ladder of branches and rope leaned against the inside. The man hesitated a beat, grasped the ladder, and slid noiselessly to the ground. On the way down, he passed other large hollowed-out limbs and branches, and paused. But all were dark, and he continued on until he reached the bottom. The base of the tree was almost completely covered by a large, flat rock. Using his empty hand and his feet, he began to try to push aside the rock without hitting the baby. He managed to move it a bit, and then fingers squeezed into the crack to help push it the rest of the way.
Magelight, a common light source because it didn’t flicker like flames, spilled out into the hollow, illuminating the tall figure that stood there. He had soft features, like the rest of the Ailfen, but tonight his jaw was set, his eyes flashed, and his long ears quivered.
“Come in, and hurry,” a voice whispered urgently. The voice was light and musical, even during a time like this. He stepped down inside, and the rock was quickly rolled back into place.
The speaker was a woman with long, green shaded hair. She was tall and slim, with eyes of velvety brown. She took the baby from him, and whispered, “Were you watched, Alroce?”
He shook his head, his mane of gold hair flying everywhere. He looked up, and the light caught on his deep, golden eyes. “But they will follow by scent,” Alroce whispered, his voice light and airy even when he was angry, as he dropped tiredly onto the dirt floor, “They will smell the babe before long.”
He shook his head again. “I won’t soon forget that sight, Ranise. I found them near the Dream Tree. Five dead and massacred bodies lying in a pile, and at the foot of a sacred tree! The babe lay in her mother’s arms, quiet as the grave, and I was afraid I was too late. But she cried as I looked over the bodies. Luckily Rainkeeper was on the top of the pile.”
“How did they miss the babe?” Ranise asked softly. “Surely they should have scented her, if she was alive? Are you sure that it is the babe, and not a shadow that took her shape?”
“I do not sense shadow magic around the babe. Maybe her mother managed one last spell, and kept her only child safe. I do not know why or how she is alive, but this is Rainkeeper’s daughter. Of that I am certain.”
“Do you still plan to make a jump, Alroce?” He nodded.
“You are crazy, Alroce Crazyheart; you were well named.” Ranise stared at him sadly. “If you are indeed crazy enough to make such a leap, you must see Uriel. She can tell you where the portal you need will open.”
Ranise lay a hand on her husband’s arm, “I do not want you to leave me, Alroce. Surely the babe could be safe here, where her powers can develop and she can receive proper guidance. We can bring in another guard for her, hid her somewhere safe, until this war is over. I have a cousin who is a wild mage, living in the Deep Woods. Surely an impenetrable forest would be a safe enough place.”
Alroce shook his head yet again, “Don’t you think we thought of that? Maybe she would be safe for a while living in the Woods, but the Shadow would find her. It doesn’t care how many of its creatures die, or what happens to our land. It only cares about victory, about slaughter and enslavement. The Deep Woods would provide only a few years of safety from the Shadow. And there are other dangers there as well.”
“But, surely there is somewhere in our world that would be a safe haven for her! Who’s to say that she will come back from another world, that she wouldn’t be killed there? We no virtually nothing about any of the other worlds, and you want to bring our best chance of saving this world to one of them. She might not ever come back, or even know she doesn’t belong to Lydessa. Bring in another guard, and she will be safe, where we can see her; bring her to another place, and we might never know.”
“Bring in another guard?! We brought in our best fighters, and paired them with the most powerful sorceress, and thought that we would be safe. And, for awhile, we were. The babe was born, nobody knew, the Shadow left them alone. Until now. They were slaughtered, Ranise, slaughtered and left in a heap. They were barely recognizable; I only knew Rainkeeper by her necklace, and I can’t figure out who the others were, not by their faces.”
“But we can get a bigger guard. With more warriors, she would be safe.”
Alroce shook his head. “No, they wouldn’t. It would only mean that the Shadow uses more of his shadows to kill them. The guards and Rainkeeper weren’t the only dead around the Dream Tree, Ranise. Others were there too. People I didn’t know, people who weren’t guarding her. They saw the attack, and they tried to help; no others were alive, either. The ground around the Dream Tree is dying, Ranise. It has been poisoned by the shadows. Hundreds and hundreds of them lay there; the dirt is black and burned from the battle. Our warriors managed to hold them off for a good amount of time, but eventually the strongest of them tired, and the shadows just kept coming. They were overrun.”
He looked up at her, and she could see he had been touched by shadows. Not the shadows they were fighting, but the shadows of horror and grief, of sadness and despair. And she knew that he would go whether she begged him or not. But she had to try.
“Alroce, listen to me. A jump isn’t the way to keep her safe. The chances are great that you would be killed in the portal, or that you will get transported to the middle of an ocean, or a desert. You might never come back. And even if you do get her somewhere safe, what happens then? How is she supposed to come back here and help? She won’t know anything about her magic, or her parents.”
“Someone will have to get her, when the time is right.”
“How do we tell when the time is right? How can we judge that? And the person who goes would have to be your equal in power, or stronger, to even manage to take the right portal, let alone find her. And then they would have to make it back. It isn’t possible,”
“It is possible. We have to believe that it is; we have to hope. Otherwise our home is already lost, and we just haven’t found out yet. I’m going to do this, Ranise. I have to. For you, for our son, for our unborn, and for Lydessa, I have to do this.”
A sound made them both start and turn. Their son sat in the doorway to the lower rooms, watching with wide eyes. He stared hard at his father, golden eyes matching Alroce’s perfectly.
“Atrillen, how long have you been sitting there?” His mother asked quietly, worried about what he had heard.
Atrillen didn’t answer. “Dad, where are you going? Can I come with?”
“Not this time, son. I’m going to be gone for quite awhile, and you need to stay and take care of your mother for me. Okay?”
“Okay. But you will come back, right?”
“Yes, son. I will be back, I promise.” Alroce ignored the look on his wife’s face as he said that, knowing very well that it might not be true.
Atrillen walked over to hug his dad. Ranise left the room to give them some time alone.
Atrillen yawned. “Okay, dad. I’ll miss you. And if you don’t come back, I’ll come and find you, okay?”
Alroce’s face darkened at that thought. But then he smiled.
“Right, son. If I’m not back here in time, you have to come and get me. And if that happens, I will also need you to pick up someone else for me. Can you do that?”
Atrillen was eager to help his father. “Of course, dad. I promise. Who do you want me to get?”
“Did you see the babe you’re mother was holding, the little girl? Well, she’s a friend of this family, and if I’m not back, then it’s up to you to go and get her, and bring her here. And keep her safe. It’s a lot to ask, but it might be necessary. If something happens, though, it’s not your fault, and you will need to get back to Lydessa right away. And please don’t tell your mother; we don’t want her to worry.”
Atrillen nodded, then buried his head into his father’s shoulder. “I won’t tell. But you’ll be back, dad. You promised.”
Alroce sent his son back to his room, and Ranise came back in. She was carrying the baby in one arm, and a pack in the other. She put the pack on Alroce’s back, and helped him fashion a sling out of cloth for the baby to ride in. With her riding in the sling, Alroce had his arms free. He picked up a tall wooden staff topped with a dark gem.
With one arm, he hugged his wife. “Be safe,” he whispered, “with luck, I will be back. I love you.”
Without waiting for her reply, he was climbing back up the ladder. He was nearly out the hollow in the tree when he looked back. Ranise stood at the bottom of the ladder, silhouetted against the light inside, waving sadly up at him. His trip to the ground went much faster than his trip up. Alroce simply ran out on a great branch and jumped, turning the long drop into a ground-covering leap.
As he ran through the forest, dodging the through trees, he heard a sound. At first it was distant and faint; but it steadily grew louder and louder. Crazyheart hurried on, going faster for he knew that sound well. It was the sound of hundreds of feet moving fast; the Shadow knew who he held in his arms. He had to get out of here.
It seemed like hours, but eventually Alroce came to the house of Uriel Lightwish. It looked like nothing more than a small hill set in a forest clearing, but when Alroce walked up to it, a door opened in the side. He jumped inside, and the door shut quietly behind him.
The inside of the small home was light by firelight instead of magelight. In front of the fireplace, sitting in a large, woven rocking chair, was Uriel Lightwish. She was small and petite-looking, with long silvery hair, and a kind face. She was also the greatest seer in Lydessa. He walked over to the fire and sat down on the floor.
“Crazyheart, you are here just when I expected you. I hope you have good news for me,” She said, her voice soft. She was running a comb through her hair. Uriel turned as if to study him, the firelight flickering off her unseeing eyes.
Alroce sighed almost inaudibly, but she heard it. She also heard the grief in his voice when he finally answered. “The babe was alive, yes. But the rest were not. I didn’t get to them in time, Uriel.”
She considered him, “What are you going to do now, Alroce? The babe cannot remain here.”
He nodded briefly, “I plan to take her to another world; one that used to be connected with ours, but was cut off. ‘Earth’ I believe it is called.”
“Why are you doing this, Alroce? This mission could cost you your life, and for no reason. Why?”
The question took Alroce by surprise. “I am doing this for the babe, and for Lydessa.”
Uriel nodded, and then continued. “Are you also doing this for you? To make up for not saving them, I mean? Is that another reason? Are you doing this out of guilt, because you didn’t keep your first promise to keep Rainkeeper safe?”
Alroce looked down. “I do not know. But I am going to do it, because, whatever other reason I have, it is the right thing to do. Can you see a portal for me, Uriel?”
Uriel, satisfied with his answer and things he had not said, gave a brief nod, “I can help you. A portal for that world will open up in an hour, on the edge of the Fuoncie Plains. You must hurry, for this is a flyby portal. It will be open for a brief moment only. I do not see any others for many years. If you miss this one, she is stuck here.”
“When I arrive, how do I know where I should take the babe? She cannot be left with just anyone.”
“When you get to where you are going, ask the wind for its guidance. It will help you, if it wishes. If not, then you must decide for yourself.”
“I must hurry then, if I am to make it. Thank you for your help, Uriel. If I survive, I shall owe you greatly. I hope that we can meet again in better times.”
He turned, pushed open the door, and slipped out into the night. Uriel watched him go, and whispered faintly, “Things shall get worse before they can become better. May our world have better times for us to meet; may Rainkeeper’s daughter live safely.”
Outside, Alroce spared a glance around, but saw nothing. The moon was waning now, and the shadows were deep. He could sense the eyes of waiting shadows. He also knew that if he moved too suddenly, they would be on him. He needed stealth more than speed, if he was going to survive the night.
Alroce turned carefully towards the east; the direction of the Fuoncie Plains. He felt the shadows turn with him. Clutching the baby and sling tightly to his chest, he slipped into the shadows of the forest. Alroce knew that he was in dangerous territory right now. Shadow creatures could slip into the shadows, because they were shadows, and they could become the shadows. If they did that, he would never know he was being attacked until it was too late.
Luckily for him, he was watched by shadow hunters; they would not attack him until told to or provoked; they were not that smart. They would simply follow him until warriors arrived; the warriors, though not much smarter, would attack him instantly simply because he was an ailfe. He began to risk moving faster, slowing down only when the shadows around him swirled in agitation. Time moved by slowly, but Alroce was not sure he would make it to the Plains for the portal. He also knew that he had to.
Just when he was about to risk being attacked, the shadow hunters were gone. Alroce did not trust the silence around him now. It was too quiet.
Since there was no longer a need for stealth and silence, he began to run flat out. He stopped and listened intensely as time passed and nothing happened, but nothing changed.
His hour was almost up when he caught sight of the tall, waving grass of the Fuoncie Plains between a gap in the trees. He burst out onto the Plains in a dead run. Alroce could feel power gathering where the portal would open. He headed towards that.
Then, in the distance, he could see something. It was a shimmer in the air, swirling and collecting in a certain spot. The air spun tighter, and suddenly it split open, revealing a hole in time and space where the only thing he could see was gray light.
Alroce ran even faster, seeing the end of the journey growing nearer with each step. He was nearly to the portal, which was still opening, when he saw the arrow coming. Alroce threw himself to the side, jostling the baby, who cried out. But the arrow flew past him, and he was still running. A shadow creature, standing about half Alroce’s height but armed with a sword, stepped out of the grass.
Alroce blocked the sword lunge with his wooden staff. Light flared from the gem, and the creature collapsed into nothingness.
The creature with a bow fired again; this arrow hit Alroce in the leg. He cried out, but kept on going, blood flowing down his leg. Then Alroce was at the portal. He didn’t slow down, but threw himself right in as it began to close. The portal swallowed him up, and he was surrounded by gray light. Everything he could see was dim and cloudy. He drifted for what may have been a single second, or a couple hundred years, until everything was slammed violently back into place.
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