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Sofia

Here's chapter 1! As a warning I must mention that it's un-betad. Poor manga has been injured and therefore wasn't able to read through the first chapter. I hope she gets better soon!

Note: Story has been edited. Thanks so much to manga, Aldar and krwordgazer who pointed out the confusion with Ingen (especially krwordgazer who gave _a lot_ of help with the added sentences - they were mostly all her idea *bows*Wink.

Chapter Rating: PG-13 (Implied death)

*****

Chapter 1: Stray Gliders do find treasures

It had been many eights of years since Aroree had hunted alone. Usually at least two of the Chosen Eight flew together if they went further than half a day’s flight from Blue Mountain, but this night she had felt the need for solitude and distance.

Things had been…different amongst her people for a time now. Lord Voll seldom left his throne anymore. He just sat and stared out at nothing, eyes dull with sorrow. The few orders he gave were always at the subtle encouragement of Winnowill. All in the mountain knew this, though no one said so.

Aroree saw no reason to meddle, it was not her place. If Lord Voll saw fit to follow the advice Winnowill gave him than that was his decision. As part of the Chosen Eight all Aroree ever had to do was follow the will of her lord. In the past that knowledge had given her comfort, made her life simple and easy to grasp the meaning of. But now things were coming undone. How could she serve such a saddened ruler without feeling sadness herself?

Cloudbrusher – her bond-hawk – interrupted her dark thoughts with a shrill cry of delight. Startled Aroree nearly let go of the harness. “What is it?” she muttered, more said to herself than actually asking the big bird. Her answer was a shift of Cloudbrusher’s wings; he had begun circling above something.

It didn’t take her long to spot Cloudbrusher’s prey of choice. After millennia of hunting and scouting she knew the forest they were flying over like her own personal chambers. Reading her bond-hawk’s body language was no greater challenge either. In no time at all she was on her way downwards, preparing to drive the bear Cloudbrusher had set his eyes on out in the open where the great hawk’s talons could strike without branches and leaves getting in their way.

There is no describing the shock that overcame Aroree as she gave the bear a closer look. From Cloudbrusher’s back the big animal had hardly been more than a vague brown dot. This close to the treetops that was no longer the case and Aroree could now see that the bear was feasting on its own catch. The half-eaten prey was a disoriented haze of brown limbs and bloodied clothing to Aroree’s wide, disgusted eyes. Some poor human youth must have ventured a little too far into the woods and…

Aroree felt no grief over the young five-finger’s death. Humans had such short lives no matter if they died of age or got killed by the dangers of the outside world. No she did not grieve, she pitied. The death must have been painful and nothing as interesting as a human deserved such a pain filled end.

Songs of sorrow would be sung in the humans’ home tomorrow. They would ask their Bird Spirits why they had allowed the youth to perish at such a young age and the Gliders would have to think of an answer. Winnowill would not be pleased.

But it was not only pity that ruled Aroree’s mind as she cast a second glance at the bear and its feast. Since their bodies held many similarities seeing such violence against a human was a faint shadow of seeing it against an elf.

Aroree closed her eyes again, trying to block out the unwelcome memories. She had been very young when Blue Mountain was newly shaped, but not young enough to have forgotten how the world was like before Lord Voll had set down the rules of who went outside and who didn’t. All the elves that had died so needlessly during walks in the forest, all that immortal blood spilt by the fangs and claws of lowly beasts before their lord’s wisdom could keep them safe. It was truly distressing and all she wanted was to forget. Cloudbrusher could wait a little longer, she’d let the bear finish its meal before chasing it out of the forest.

The wails caught her attention as she turned her back on the bear. The sounds weren’t made by any animal she could name, although they seemed faintly familiar somehow. Curious and eager for a distraction Aroree began to follow them.

The source of the noises proved easy to find. Not far from the glade she had left the bear and its prey in a bundle of cloth hung on a low branch, a wailing bundle of cloth. No animal then, but a human baby. The human youth that now lay dead must have had one of his younger siblings with him for some unfathomable reason. How thoughtless. The child wouldn’t have been safe for long so close to the ground.

Gently Aroree untangled the sling from the branch, easing the bundle into her arms. She would simply have to bring the infant back to the humans, or perhaps to Winnowill. The humans would then learn a lesson about not keeping a close enough eye on their children and perhaps there would not be so many grief filled questions for the Bird Spirits later.

A small hand suddenly pushed its way out of the bundle and waved aimlessly in the air, as if searching for something. Aroree could only stare at it, feeling as if all her thoughts and memories had been smacked against a rock wall. Four fingers, the hand had four fingers!

Shock soon gave away to confusion and the need to verify what her eyes were telling her. Pushing aside the cloth where she knew the baby’s head had to be her wide-open eyed stare was met by an amber gaze as elfin as her own. The child was quiet now, apparently satisfied to have its face freed from the cloth. It regarded her with calm, piercing eyes.

Aroree felt her heart tremble. How, how could this be possible? Had not Lord Voll himself said that there were no more children? And to find one out here, hanging in a tree, was madness!

So shocked was she that she couldn’t keep herself floating. Luckily she wasn’t high up in the air so she didn’t injure herself when she landed on the ground. Startled by the sudden feeling of the forest floor beneath her feet Aroree hugged the infant tighter to herself. She stared at the ground in dazed confusion, not quite understanding how she’d come to be standing instead of flying.

A soft wail of protest drew Aroree’s attention back to the child. Apparently it didn’t enjoy being held so close. She loosened her grip, which thankfully made the infant quiet down, and once more pushed aside the cloth so she could truly study what she had found. Leaning back against a tree trunk for support Aroree finally managed to clear away the shock and confusion that clouded her mind – if only for a moment – and just looked.

The eyes would take time to get used to. Never had she seen irises of such color on an elf or such a soul-searching gaze. They were beautiful though, of that there was no doubt.

The color of the child’s skin was perhaps what had – and still – confused her the most. There was no doubt in her mind that the infant was an elf, but to her knowledge only humans could have brown skin.

A disturbing thought crept into Aroree’s mind as she gently stroked her fingers through the child’s short hair. The blue-black mane was so much like Winnowill’s that she could help thinking… No, that was impossible. Joining with humans out of curiosity was one thing, she had done so herself a few times. Having a child with one was an entirely different matter. Was it even possible, even for as strong a healer as Winnowill? No, surely not.

Yet the idea kept nagging at her. How else could this be explained? A dark skinned elfin baby left alone in the forest…

**Is there anyone there?** She hadn’t meant to send, but this mystery was becoming too much for her. She shook her head at her own pointless act and took to the air again.

**…w-who…** The answering sending startled Aroree half to death. She didn’t recognize the sender, couldn’t even guess who he could be.

The sending itself was faint, almost nonexistent and filled with pain. Aroree immediately came to the conclusion that the sending was weak because of the sender being wounded. She couldn't know that it was only the stranger's acute pain and desperation that had pushed his mind past its usual boundaries, enabling him to send to her as he died. How could she? She had never heard of an elf that couldn’t send.

**Aroree. Is it your child?** she replied, letting an image of the infant follow her mental words. There was a long moment of silence, then:

**Rayek…son, my son. Save him, please…** Such pain. Aroree hadn’t been subjected to such physical pain in many, many turns, not even through sending. It nearly brought her to her knees.

**I have your son, he is safe!** she hurried to assure the stranger. He was badly hurt. She had to find him and get him to Winnowill quickly! **Keeps sending! I will find you and bring you both back to Blue Mountain. Our healer will tend to you.**

**…no! Flee, flee…monster…** Gone. Whoever the stranger had been he was dead now.

Aroree felt frozen to the core. Never had she been forced to feel an elf die like that, feel the soul leave a maimed and crushed body. Tears fell from her eyes as she hurried to make her way back to Cloudbrusher. The fear in the stranger’s sending had been as real as the pain. She did not doubt there was something dangerous in the forest. She needed to get the child back to Blue Mountain where he would be safe.

Had Aroree’s mind been free of the fear and grief brought on by the stranger’s death she might have made the connection between the bear’s brown skinned prey and the baby in her arms. As it now was she was hardly aware of her surroundings enough to grab a hold of Cloudbrusher’s harness and give him the command to return home. The gigantic hawk obeyed after a moment’s protest; seemingly understanding that something more important than feeding him had happened.

The child began to wail once more, as if he could sense Aroree’s distress and sympathized with her. Aroree focused her blurred vision on the child’s tiny face and brushed a finger softly against his cheek.

“Rayek,” she said her voice dark and deep with grief. “Child of rocks. We will keep you safe in Blue Mountain, I promise you that. Never shall we do as your father and leave you at the mercy of the world outside.” Determination was clear in her words, even though she still was weeping.

Aroree blinked away the tears and gave the forest a last glance before turning all of her attention to her goal. The stars shone brightly above the mountain that was her home and she couldn’t help but smile slightly at the beauty of it. When they got back home they would be safe, she was certain of that.

****

As Cloudbrusher settled into his nest Aroree hurried to wrap the cloth around the child. He had fallen asleep during the flight back, exhausted from crying.

The Aeries were empty, except for the hawks, which Aroree was thankful of. On the way back she had decided that the first one to see the child had to be Lord Voll, no one else, and keeping the child hidden would be eight times easier if she could avoid people to hide it from.

Unfortunately luck didn’t follow her down the hall. **Aroree!** came a sending just as she was about to turn around a corner. Glancing over her shoulder Aroree spotted Yeyeen, one of her fellow Chosen, flying towards her.

**Where have you been? I don’t believe I’ve seen you at all today. And what are you carrying?** Yeyeen flew closer, curiosity clear in her sending.

Aroree stopped and half turned to face Yeyeen, but kept the bundle safely out of view. “I-it’s something that needs to be taken to Lord Voll.” She didn’t dare send, that could reveal too much.

Yeyeen frowned and tried to peak over Aroree’s shoulder, but backed away when Aroree once more began gliding towards the Throne Chamber. Yeyeen was far too loyal to the rules of the mountain to try and grab something that clearly was for Lord Voll out of mere curiosity, but that didn’t stop her from following Aroree.

When she finally entered the Throne Chamber Aroree had gathered quite a crowd. Elves that’d been close-by during Aroree’s small confrontation with Yeyeen had overheard the open-sending and come to investigate. After that more and more had come to join the growing group of followers as the word of Aroree and her mysterious bundle spread throughout the mountain.

Lord Voll too seemed to have caught word of Aroree’s strange behavior for he said nothing as she entered his Throne Chamber, only nodded a greeting to her, frowning ever so slightly. Equally silent Aroree glided to the foot of his throne, bowed and held up the bundle over her head, offering it to her lord.

“What…“ Lord Voll began to ask and leaned forward to get a closer look. He was cut short by a whimper from the bundle.

All the Gliders’ whispers – both mental and verbal – died away at that small sound. It had been a long, long time since any such a noise had been heard in the halls of Blue Mountain. Everyone held their breath as Lord Voll gently took the bundle into his trembling hands and pulled aside the cloth to reveal its contents.

Lord Voll gasped softly as a tiny, dark skinned face with large golden eyes appeared from within the bundle. The whispers started up again, now unusually lively for the normally subdued, calm Gliders. “A child!” echoed against the walls, breaths of astonishment carrying the words from ear to ear.

Aroree ignored her shocked kinsmen, focusing all her attention on the Lord of the Gliders. Lord Voll had brought the infant up closer to his face, his eyes misty with unshed tears. He eased the child to lie on one of his arms so the infant could rest its head. The baby gave another whimper and managed to untangle a hand from the cloth that held him. Lord Voll met the small hand with his own, much bigger one and smiled as the child wrapped its small fist around one of his fingers.

“Where?” he spoke softly at last. Reluctantly he tore his gaze from the child and turned to look down at Aroree. “Where did you find him?”

“The forest my lord,” Aroree answered, a shudder going down her spine. “He was all alone, I…“ She trailed off and took a deep breath of air. “His name is Rayek. His father sent it to me before,” she gave a half-stifled sob, “before he was killed.”

This time the shocked silence that filled the Throne Chamber was one of fear instead of joy. Aroree felt tears falling from her eyes but could not stop them.

“He sent to me as it happened,” she confessed, sobbing louder now. “I-I felt him die! And he told me – he told me to bring his son to safety, so I brought him here and…” She couldn’t continue. The memories were too vivid, too new. How could one describe the icy feeling of the soul fading away from a sending? To make the others understand the horror of a mind voice falling silent as it desperately wished for the safety of its kin?

Sending was not an option. She could never expose her fellow Gliders to such pain and terror, not even if her lord asked her to. Death was something no elf should have to experience. Oh how wise Lord Voll had been to shelter them in Blue Mountain, how wise!

“Such pain,” Lord Voll spoke suddenly, nearly echoing Aroree’s thoughts. “Go to your chambers and rest Aroree, you have served me well.” His tone was so warm and caring, far more empathic than anyone had heard him in many centuries.

Aroree managed a shaky smile through her tears and bowed her head. “I thank you my lord. I take my leave.” With Lord Voll’s kind words keeping the frightening memories at bay Aroree hurried away towards her chambers.

****

Long had it been since such exhilarated joy had filled Blue Mountain. Swiftly after Aroree’s departure the rest of the Gliders had crowded around the throne, tradition and rules of approaching the Lord of the Gliders forgotten, or perhaps just ignored in the rush of excitement. Everyone were trying to get as close to the child as possible. As of yet no one had dared asking to hold him, but the wish shone clearly in more than one pair of eyes.

The child – Rayek – seemed to have nothing against the attention. His amber eyes darted from one face to another and he was more than ready to try and grab a hold of any and all fingers that came close enough to his small hands. This behavior fascinated the Gliders even more – if that now was possible. Laughter soon filled the hall and one of the musicians began to play a soft, cheerful tune on his flute, trying to attract the child’s interest.

It was that scene that greeted Winnowill as she entered the Throne Chamber. She had heard the excited sendings all the way down to her personal chambers and had now come to investigate. Aroree could not possibly have brought a child to Blue Mountain, could she?

The Gliders that blocked Winnowill’s path moved away as they saw her dark glare, but they were unusually reluctant to do so. Her heartbeat sped up a little at this. Could it really be a child? What else could have brought on this near defiance in the Gliders’ actions?

When she saw the infant she had to stifle a gasp. How…?

“Winnowill!” Lord Voll called, though she hardly recognized his voice. He sounded so – alive. His eyes were alight and keen, seemingly spotting every move the people around him made. And he was smiling.

“I was just about to send for you,” Lord Voll said, either ignoring or not noticing her stricken expression. Winnowill suspected it was the former. “The child needs food and he’s far too young to eat anything else than milk. Would you?”

Stunned Winnowill held out her hands to accept the offered infant, acutely aware of the longing – and even jealous – looks cast her way. Setting her confusion aside for a moment Winnowill let her healing powers awaken from their half-slumber. Soon she was seated at the foot of Lord Voll’s throne, the infant suckling on her breast.

As the Gliders watched the child nursing Winnowill allowed her mind to drift, trying to solve this unwanted riddle. A dark skinned elf? Had Aroree somehow spawned a half-human? Impossible; there had to be strong magic involved to manage such a feat and Aroree had far too weak a will.

Reaching out with her magic Winnowill examined the boy. He was all elf, of that she was sure. There were subtle differences, such as skin color and how he would grow, but nothing important. And he had potential. She could sense sparks of magic in him, seeds that if nurtured could grow to greatness.

Tyldak swooped down from the ceiling, the last to arrive. The beat of his wings drew Winnowill’s attention upwards and sparked an idea in her mind. She could shape this child, make him hers. It would be a challenge, molding him to her will from birth.

Winnowill smiled to herself as the child drifted off to sleep. Perhaps, just perhaps she could turn this unplanned newborn into an advantage.

If anyone noticed the faint glow of magic around Rayek they didn’t say anything.