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July 2010 Grab-bag Writings and Art

Startear

Here are the elements for July:

-a ride
-a revelation
-death
-water
-ice cream
-a headache

All works must be related to Elfquest, whether canon-based, original character, alternate universe, or whatever. Writings must contain all the above elements. Art can either contain all the elements, or illustrate one of the writings.

Index of Previous Grab-bags

Tenderfoot

A/N: This is a continuation of my Medieval Grab Bags, it's just very different from what I've written earlier. Both in style and picturing. Maybe length too. You can consider it a sneak peak if you want to, or just a retelling of what happened by someone who was there to see it. I can just hope that you will like it, accept it as a full story. And stay tuned, for this is only the beginning.





Look into my mind





Come closer, stranger. I mean no harm. Come. Do not be afraid. Come, sit by the fire, you must be cold. Warm yourself, be safe. It is safer to be close to light. Sit down, stranger, and let me tell you my story, my tale. A tale of life itself, of the world we live in, of two children.



Imagine a world, very much like this. A world where people are divided by class and fortune, where young souls have nothing to say. Boys are sent away from their mothers to defend lives worth more than them. Girls are taken from their families to strengthen bonds that are nearly severed. The rich does nothing to help the poor, though they would not have to give much. Had they done it, they would nearly notice the loss at all. Had they done it, there would be no difference. The would be no injustice, no children wondering why their age mates died.



And all the while a glorious girl rides with her father, a broken boy with no mother lays dying in a cell.



She was woken by soft morning kisses and words by devotion crooned into her sharp ears. Her eyes opened and were met by those she cared for, those who cared for her. The wash basin was filled with heated liquid, gentle touches helped clean her face. A table abound with food was waiting for her, her stomach would soon be filled like it was every day. Two younglings came in, stuttering as they held forth a dish gone wrong. Father eyed them, scepticism written all over his face. She reached out, dipped her finger in the cool sticky substance. Sucked on it, brought a smile to her face. Father stared at her, broke out laughing and the dish was given to her. It was cold and sweet. She liked it.



He was pulled out of a painless darkness by ice cold water splashing over him. His eyes were open. Unfocused. Pointed towards the shade towering over him, but not actually seeing it. The shade seemed unaffected by the blank gaze. He had been, was still a lot of things. He had lows, dark as the middle of night, dark as this cell. He had highs, rare highs. They could shine from him like the blaze of the sun. The sun he was now deprived of. He was many things, but never blank. Never nothing. Not like now. One could only wonder what that blank gaze had seen when the shade reached down.



She lifted her chin, let the soft and cool wind caress her face. Felt her father's strong hands wrap themselves around her middle, shrieked in delight as she was lifted up. Stretched her arms out to greet the warming rays from the sun. So lucky, she was, to have her father like this, to be able to ride like this. So happy to have the world at her feet. She felt so free!



He tried to lift his head, doing his best to still the tremor of his body at this exhausting effort. Wanted to feel the soft hands of his mother pick him up and rock him gently, but was instead pulled harshly up by cold and clawing hands. Made a weak attempt at shielding his face from the raining blows. So unfortunate, he was, to be without a mother at a time like this, at this moment of splitting pain in his head, in his body. So lost in a world too big for little him. So unfree.



Two children, two destinies.



She saw a world, golden and living.



His eyes saw darkness, his gaze met nothing.



Sweet laughter rolled off her pink little tongue.



His mouth opened in a silent and unheard scream.



Her hands met love wherever they touched.



His hands entwined with soil not wet with water.



Her feet ran over soft grass.



His bare feet would never bring him anywhere again.



Her rosy lips turned upwards in a bright and vivid smile.



His cracked lips parted in a hushed and rasped gasp.



The sun fell down upon her, illuminated the world and forced all bad things away to where the sun could not reach. Where she would not go, where she would never be touched.



Darkness surrounded him, claimed him as theirs. Rustling, distant, signs of danger. He, who moments ago could not lift his head without shaking, was suddenly on his feet.



She was standing, running, dancing and jumping, high and low, everywhere she could reach. Laughing, giggling, singing.



He was on the ground, on his knees, not daring to move at all. Wiping away tears he could no longer hold back. Choking on retched screams.



She was alive. Living.



He was not.

lunakat

That is a fantastic bit of story, Tenderfoot! I'm really liking your writing! Is it Two Edge? A story from the past, about Ekuar? I'm really curious!

Startear

Another great piece from Tender! Clap I love this. The strenght of it is that I don't know who he or she is (though I have my guesses.) I love having to guess these things, keeping the readers on the edge.



The other thing which I absolutely loved was how you had two parts in the story, hers and his, jumping from one to the other.

faeriegirl

Awesome work, Tenderfoot!!! And indeed, who's it about? Smile

RedheadEmber

Nice piece Tenderfoot! Clap Like how you included the ice-cream without actually mentioning the word. (the "failed dish" is supposed to be ice-cream, right?)

Anyway... rather silly I guess...

Much Ado About Even More

You remember
don’t you?
The story of the day
when Winnowill got
such a terrible headache.

She tried to drink water;
she’d heard it was good.
But unfortunately
the water was gone.

Then she went for a ride
for no apparent reason.
I guess she just thought
it would take her mind away.
But her brain was still throbbing
and whobbing
and crobbing!
(“Whobbing” and “crobbing” are not even words…)
Then a fly came,
buzzing around.
It simply kept going
bzzzz!!!
Bzzzz!!!
Bzzzz!!!
Making poor Winnie’s head
hurt even more.
Then
SLAP
the fly was dead!

Her head still exploding
Winnie went home,
only to get
a big revelation.
Wonderful ice-cream,
lovely and smooth.
Cures those pesky headaches
in no time at all!

faeriegirl

*giggles* Wonderful!!

WolfMoonSky

Wonderful Redhead!!Happy

TrollHammer

(A little long this month, as I wrote this as two parts and combined them. Hope that doesn't throw anyone off!)

Hail's Frost Valley Elves, parts 4.5 and 5

He blinked, not sure how to take this news. Patchsmith had betrayed him? How could such a one be so kind to meet but so poisonous in intent? Hail’s mind raced, searching for some solid foothold to brace him while he recovered from this shock. He looked a Blueriver, and found that very foothold.

“Blueriver, we’re going to scout head to assess things, and then Cliff will come back for you…. You’re going to learn everything you can about your gifts in that time. If what Cliff said was true, folks are dying, but it may take as long to learn to heal them by trial and error as to just learn from the crystal, and you won’t have to worry about messing up!” Hail surprised himself how quickly his mind snapped into action after locking eyes with her. Even he knew he was normally indecisive about nearly everything, save for when he was rock climbing where there was no room for hesitancy.

Blueriver blinked for a moment, surprised herself at Hail’s command of the situation. Perhaps his brush with the crystal had brought some latent talent of his own to the surface. She simply nodded, and dashed off to commune with their ancestors.

Hail conferred with Cliff that this plan wouldn’t be too much for the winged creature. Cliff assured him that he was fit for the ferrying, and they flew off into the valley….

***

The Trolls had started their attack as soon as the sun fell out of site behind the cliffs to one side of the valley. This provided them with the whole night for sundering this lot of Elves once and for all!

“We’ve swept the upper end of the valley, and there’s not much to report, few settled appeared to have settled there. We are finding more in the lower valley, though, and we are making steady progress in our sweep, my King!” Farscout reported. “We have found no sign of the Elf that infiltrated our caves, but it is only a matter of time, this lot is not putting up much of a fight! It is as though they did not know we were coming!”

“I assume you sent a group to the mouth of the valley, to catch all before they could leave?” Guttlekraw sneered. Even though everything was going better than planned, it bothered him that the one they knew had seen the way into their tunnels had not been found, and of course, these lowly servants were imperfect. He wasn’t about to let them feel as though they could do well on their own!

“I am sorry, my King, the only warriors remaining are those escorting the Destroyer! We have none to spare.”

“And what is the Destroyer doing, do tell?”

“….well… …destroying things? It is crushing house after house, with all inside, then moving on to the next. Is that not what it was meant to do?” The flighty sneak of a Troll started to cower as it was apparent that this was not the answer the King wanted to hear.

“It only takes a few warriors to kill an unarmed family of Elves when they are all spread out like this! Take the Destroyer to the mouth of the valley, where its speed and bloodthirstiness can be best put to use on those trying to flee!” He turned to his own guards as Farscout hurried off. “It is strange how these Elves are putting up no resistance whatsoever. They are uncoordinated, without weapons beyond what they need to hunt with. It is as though they were not a threat! They do not even warn their kin to flee! It won’t be long before they do. Few Trolls know much about Elves, as I do. They can send messages without words over distance. Those we have been fighting have forgotten how, but this lot may be different… they may start sending the word ahead any time now!”

The guards merely grunted their approval of whatever the King was saying. There was little point in actually listening, as the King rarely cared what they thought when it came down to it. They only thing they really listened for was orders (usually something to the order of “fetch the wine”), and the potential for enemy approaching. Their watchful eyes scanned the surrounding foliage for the slightest twitch of a leaf as the night started to fall.

King Guttlekraw motioned to his guards to follow as he advanced down the valley after his warriors. He would personally see to it his wishes were carried out, or his sword would prove to all its worth as more than just ornamentation and a public execution instrument. The blade had proven itself many times in battle, perhaps it would slay more this night.

***

**Father? Are you there?** Hail sent down at his house from above the treetops. He was sick with worry, and could not see a thing. A smoky fog drifted through the trees, and with the sun setting the valley started to become a dark pit with a few branches here and there. He knew he would not get a response from his mother, but his father could send, if he was nearby.

Cliff “sent” to Hail, **I sense nothing at this end of the valley, all the activity is halfway down. There is not a single living thing bigger than a ravvit at this end. Perhaps they have all been pushed down the valley.**

There were times Hail thought he saw an orange flicker ahead, here and there. Cliff pushed on, letting Hail know they were headed to where the activity was. Hail sent open, a call to anyone who could hear him. Every once in a while he would sense a surprised sending that would be quickly silenced, but they were not replies; more like cries for help!

Cliff’s speed was terrific as the fading treetops rushed passed underneath them. He’d been gliding down from the cliffs this whole time, and with Hail’s added weight, it amounted to a controlled, angled plummet down the valley. The pair quickly overtook the fight line, Hail sending a warning for all he was worth.

**It appears to be working, my friend, I will add my call to yours, to ensure they wake** Cliff mentioned momentarily before echoing Hail’s warning. Together, they could cover the width of the valley, warning everyone to wake up and head for the mouth of the valley, escape before the Trolls got to them!

And indeed, they were Trolls, there was no doubt left for Hail to hold onto. These were much shorter than Patchsmith, but the stocky, green figures wielding gleaming metal weapons, able to tread silently in the darkening forest were undeniably Trolls, and warriors at that. Hail only glimpsed them in torchlight as Cliff carried him down the gorge to warn all.

Cliff finally reached the mouth of the valley, a narrow opening that seemed to be guarded by stone pillars rising nearly a thousand times Hail’s height to the cliff tops. There were a few Elves that had settled in the area outside the mouth of the valley, and they made a wide circle over these as Cliff slowed his breakneck speed to head back.

Hail asked, **Where is that enormous creature?** Cliff’s reply was a simple adjustment in direction. His wings surged as the pair rose, the valley more of a steep canyon here at the mouth.

**There, making its way to the mouth of the valley** Cliff finally replied.

Hail peered through the haze that was drifting on the wind down from the line of marauding Trolls. Hail’s eyes had adjusted to the dark by this point, but there was little light to see the figure. Sensing this, Cliff belched a fireball below them, so Hail could make the monstrosity out for a moment.

It was unimaginable, out of the scope of anything Hail could grasp. It was as though something had taken a hundred Trolls and mashed them together; shaping them as an Elf may shape a grove of trees into a thing of beauty, but beauty was not present in this menacing form. Even without the killing, the attack, the sight of the beast alone would have given Hail nightmares for weeks!

The Destroyer was indeed formed out of one hundred ancient Trolls. Trolls did not live as long back then, but were highly motivated to lay the Elves to waste, perhaps even more hateful of them than those in the attack today! Guttlekraw had not even been born when these Trolls had pillaged the Palace for ancient Troll technology, hoping for some edge that could be gained over the Elves, who would just dash far away when attacked. Small bands of Trolls were no match for tribes of Elves in those days, and many lives were lost before word could be sent and reinforcements could arrive, only to have the Elves leave that area without a trail to follow.

The leader of that time selected one hundred of his most aggressive, Elf-hating, and powerful warriors to follow him to an opening in the Palace, known only to his family line. There was an area large enough for them to all stuff into around an orb that had been formed from the floor of the Palace. Their ancestors may have been short lived, but they had been clever and resourceful, forging this and other devices to plot the overthrow of their captors… but many of these devices had never been used, never needed! The Elves had proven weak, and little was needed at that time to evict them.

But the Trolls had not finished them off then, and had split paths in their freedom. Disregarded as unimportant to the Elves at the time, the Trolls had had clans formed even when they were held captive, and each clan had their own intentions. Some wanted simple freedom from subservience, and left as the Elves were pushed away. Others, such as what had become Guttlekraw’s Trolls, wanted vengeance! That vengeance had been robbed by the others when they let the Elves run away, and so those Trolls were quickly stuffed out in the days that followed but Guttlekraw’s clan.

Years later, the device was activated by the leader of the time, who quickly left the chosen hundred to be melded by it. Powered by the Elvin power of the Palace, the flesh of those Trolls was forged like brightmetal. Two hundred legs, two hundred arms, and a weaving, almost vine-like mass a hundred times more massive than a single Troll were controlled by a hundred interconnected minds focused on one thing: the eradication of all Elves everywhere! The hatred of those hundred linked minds compounded exponentially, and not even the leader of that time was prepared for the murderous and unending rage the creation held for their rival race.

The intent was that the machine would also make the Trolls as long lived as the Elves, or in this case, make the creature as long lived as they. Though it did improve on the length of the Destroyer’s life, it became apparent that it not been perfected when the ruler of that time, who had exposed himself alone to the machine, aged and died just the same, even if his life had spanned generations of the others. Guttlekraw was born to that leader, and installed himself as King when that Troll died.

Even though the strategy had changed from groups of Trolls roving around trying to find tribes of Elves, to single scouts searching for the Tribes and sending the Destroyer to attack them, it was taking too long to put an end to them, and the humans were becoming more of an issue, learning to make stone spearheads and other weapons that were becoming more effective against them in their increasing encounters. The Elves were spreading out more, which took the scouts longer to find, and it became certain that the Destroyer would perish without its vengeance realized.

The Destroyer slowly came to realize this truth, and began to lash out at Guttlekraw. Guttlekraw’s predecessor had pledged that their sacrifice would assure victory over the Elves, and the Destroyer felt cheated. The solution was that Guttlekraw placed the Destroyer in Preserver webbing, to lay in wait for the day its revenge could be complete.

Since then, Guttlekraw’s Trolls had been chased by the cold, burrowing into the forests for warmth, Greymung had revolted, and this lot had returned in time to find the Elves return for the Palace, but they had seemed like such a weak lot Guttlekraw did not feel like waking the Destroyer. The battle had gone on for far too long, but complacency had affected them all, and the old King felt little need to change much.

But change had come nonetheless, and these other Elves, previously unknown, presented this new opportunity, shook Guttlekraw out of his contentment, and he had released this beast! It moved with amazing speed, easily outrunning the fleeing Elves. Two hundred eyes saw all, and it was nothing for the multitude of powerful arms to rend its prey limb from limb!

Hail knew not where such a thing came from, other than the Trolls, only that his warning he’d given not long ago would now play into the Troll’s hands, feeding this monster!

Hail’s Frost Valley Elves Pt5

He wanted to curl up in a hole and stop… …stop having this nightmare happen, stop being responsible for it, stop wondering why his friend had betrayed him, stop worrying about his parents… …stop existing! Hail shuddered as the calamity played out in his mind, the Trolls pushing his kin into the maw of this horrendous beast that was about to close off their escape! Those outside the mouth of the valley would be safe, he supposed, and those inside at least had a fighting chance now that he’d woke them up, but they would be headed into their doom because of another of his mistakes! He barely kept a hold on his wits to keep his head in the now; He would rather have withdrawn into himself to hide from reality.

The pair circled above the Destroyer for a moment, trying to figure out what could be done to even slow this monstrosity down! The brute was knocking century old timber aside as though it were rotten kindling and it wasn’t even slowing to push some of the larger trees over. Even if there had been some way for Cliff to knock a tree into its path it would have no effect!

**Do you think it can be stunned? Drop the biggest boulder you can on it?** Hail wondered.

**There is but one way to find out!** was the reply as Cliff banked for the nearest cliff. He dropped Hail off so he could attempt to carry just that much more, and the creature’s powerful wings surged under the weight of a moderate-sized boulder. Cliff feverishly worked to gain as much altitude with the rock he carried, hoping to add some small amount of potential to the attack. Surprisingly nimble with the heavy load, Cliff was able to line up the drop without slowing. Hail mused for a moment at how a child’s game of Toss-Stone, on a massive scale, had now become a chance to save lives!

Cliff had turned and was headed back for Hail before the rock had even hit its target. There was no waste with Cliff. Every action had purpose, so while others may have set back and watched their handiwork in the attack, Cliff wasted no energy on smug success or waiting to see failure. He could ‘see’ the creature in his mind and would know if he had indeed hit his target.

A sickening THUD was heard by some of the closer Trolls as the sky-borne stone impacted the Destroyer, sending it reeling sidelong and tumbling into some thicker growth. Confused, the contingent of guards escorting the thing followed to see what had befell it. Cliff had been silent in his deadly attack, so they were unaware at just what had happened to their unstoppable Destroyer. They passed a bloodied boulder in their pursuit of the creature as it rolled slightly down a draw, and caught up to it as it came to a stop at the bottom, motionless.

The warily circled the great Destroyer, ever in awe of it, ever cautious of its fits it had shown as they had brought it to this battle! Upon awakening, it had crushed several Trolls without cause, driven by the ancient impulse to kill. It seems that the Trolls that it was made of were not the most hale and hearty of mind as they were of body, and it appeared that even the dimmest of the current population of Trolls were far smarter than the intellect this brute demonstrated.

It became clear that they had little to fear from the beast, though. Splintered bone protruded from a great gash in the backside of the immobile Destroyer, and blood poured down from the wound to pool at its own feet.

***

**It is only wounded, friend Hail, but your kin may escape before it can threaten them again** noted Cliff as he settled on the outcropping he’d left Hail on. **It is good, as I am too exhausted to attempt such an attack again!**

“Are you ok yourself? You look ready to faint away cold! There are too many Trolls left for me to protect you from if you hurt yourself!” Hail was glad something had been done to stop the Destroyer for now, but he was worried it had cost Cliff too much.

His friend sent to him, as he was panting too hard to speak. **Let me recover a moment. We will then see what Blueriver has gleaned from the glitterstone. Perhaps there is hope yet!**

***

Blueriver’s sweat trickled down the crystal where her forehead leaned against it. She struggled with herself, fighting to keep hold of her grip on her body as she pushed inward with her spirit. It felt as though she was being stretched so tight she would snap, but the spirits she communed with aided her, kept her safe from fleeing home too soon! Those with countless ages of knowledge poured out their understanding into her young, but ready mind. Those who had been other than healers have her strength to help her absorb the information and keep her alive! The power of the crystal itself infused her body with the strength it needed to withstand the physical strain this put in it.

As Hail and Cliff came to a stop next to the crystal, they were fully able to see Blueriver in its radiance, perhaps too dim to notice in the full daylight earlier that day, but in this dark time of night Hail could see every curve of her skin in the bright light emanating from the crystal. It seemed to pass through her, perhaps it was even causing her to have her own radiance, a tint of blue-green against the pure white of the crystal.

Hail gently rubbed her back, at a loss for anything else to do. His own youthful body could do no more against the Troll Horde than those down there fighting, and he himself would only become another casualty. He pondered things further, however. Blueriver would come full into her healing powers, but she was no warrior! Of the three of them, Cliff was the only one that had any advantage in that area, but Blueriver couldn’t heal anyone from the air! She was defenseless, so other than to aid those that made it out of the valley safely, there was little she or Hail could do. He felt helpless, and ever mindful that in the end, it was likely he was the bringer of doom to his people! It was good that Cliff was able to stop the Destroyer from blocking their escape, but how long would it take that horror to recover and crush those who had not made it out?

There had to be something that could be done! Though his warning would aid many in escaping with their lives, there were so many more that would be killed by the ruthless Troll Warriors, and perhaps more by the Destroyer if it were to awaken again! Hail was sick of this waiting for the inevitable, the pause in action! It was strange, he thought, how he had avoided confrontation up to this point in life, to the point that it was perhaps costing other’s their lives, and that he now longed for the ability to take things full on and battle though this horror! The whole of his self longed for the power to crush these misbegotten Trolls and their Destroyer, and his soul raged at his decisions up to this point. He would fight! He may not prevail, but he would fight Trolls! He could not right the error he had created, but he could fight against it, and if his death saved even one of those innocent down there it would be enough!

Cliff watched his friend as the through-war raged within Hail. Seemingly passive, the powerful creature said nothing as it watched the thoughts play out in Hail’s mind. The creature’s dark eyes seemed like voids; pits where infinite wisdom or oblivion could await the one who fell into that darkness. It seemed Cliff never focused on any one thing when he looked at someone, but instead seemed to focus on all things near and far. Hail had long given up trying to comprehend those eyes, and did not seem to notice their gaze. He did notice the uncharacteristic shift when Cliff’s eyes suddenly flicked over to Blueriver, which was still meditating with the crystal.

Her back tensed for a moment under Hail’s fingers, then faded to a seemingly perfect smoothness: relaxed, yet poised for action. She stood up, silent for a moment, thinking. Cliff’s fathomless eyes seemed to follow her as she moved.

She sighed, trying to put the knowledge she’d collected into a sense of here and now. Hail felt that she was older, taller, stronger! As she turned to him, he remained kneeling where he’d been as he rubbed her back, feeling the desire to cower before her. She carried a great weight of life and death now, the price of learning how to control such things. Never before had anyone been allowed to take such a responsibility, but as their kinfolk’s spirits were swarming into the place the crystal had come from, it had been agreed that it was necessary to meddle enough to end this atrocity.

Though her presence carried such weight that Hail felt small and worthless, he still began to make his way over to Cliff to prepare to join the battle. Blueriver touched his shoulder, however, stopping him in his tracks. “Hail, it is now your time to speak with those in the crystal. There is one that must teach you something about yourself. It is time you learned who you are…”

Puzzled, Hail looked at her sideways, unsure what importance he could have that would warrant any more delay! Blueriver’s gaze told him she knew more than he about what was important right now, so he went to the crystal and knelt before it.

Taking a deep breath, he fell though the iridescence and into the void beyond.

A strange Elf met him. He’d never seen the like! He had noticed in his first journey into these depths that the image of the spirits here were of the “true self” that these Elves were inside when they were living. Some had been thin and graceful, like birds, while others were more like furry creatures. An elder he had known seasons ago had passed on, and though he looked nothing like the person he was when he was living, Hail recognized him easier now than if he’d looked like when he was alive.

This Elf-spirit was unlike any other, unlike anything Hail had ever seen! It seemed that its skin was covered in small round scales like a snake, but clothing-like areas seem to hang like wet leaves, and webbing spanned between its fingers and toes.

The rivers of Frost Valley were too cold for fish, or Hail would have realized that this was what the Elf was more akin to in vision. Presently, in this spirit world of non-existence, the Elf spoke.

“There is not much time for you to learn what you must! Restrain your questions and open yourself! If you wish to save many, you must not resist what I have to teach you!” the Elf said as it reached out a hand and placed it on what amounted to Hail’s forehead in this place.

Images began to pour through Hail’s mind. Memories that were not his were popping up here and there, experiences that made no sense to him swirled around. Most of these impressions he was engulfed with seemed to have happened under water… water so deep he could not see the sky! Waves of memories, knowledge, and events surged through his mind, and as he started to get used to reliving the life of this Elf that had passed on, there was another.

This new Elf he recognized as the stone shaper from his own valley, the one who formed and repaired the houses for the families down there, even Hail’s own house! As he realized that it meant that the Trolls had made their way that far and had killed the old shaper, he knew he must learn faster!

But there was more to learn! The stone shaper was not there just to greet him, he was there to teach as well! What mad dream was this? Hail wondered if this could be a dream, a nightmare that he would awake from that seemed so real now, but would dissolve away in a knot of panic and bad feelings, a false reality that could do no more harm than the brush of a leaf! Hail had no stone-shaping powers! He spent so much time around them it was absurd to think he’d never noticed it!

Never-the-less, Hail felt more memories pour in, but these were more familiar, and he felt some comfort when the memory played through of the old Elf forming Hail’s house. A few other Elves added in a little here and there were the powerful stone-shaper’s skills had fallen short, but soon a lifetime of stone-shaping lessons learned had been poured into Hail’s mind…

….and a youth of so few years suddenly had an idea that could save his elders.

***

Guttlekraw had just been given the news that the Destroyer had been maimed, perhaps even killed! This was inconceivable! What accident could have befallen the behemoth? Even the forest was not mighty enough to hold up to its power!

“Send two eights of warriors to the mouth of the valley to cut off them off!” he ordered when told their element of surprise was spoiled. “We go ahead as planned and funnel them down.”

The Trolls did not have much in the way of medicine. If you were not strong enough to survive, the rest would be just that much stronger when you were gone. Even the King did not have much in the way of medical aid beyond simple bandages. Magical healing was the stuff of Elves, and to be despised. The only “useful” Elves were the stone shapers, and they were perhaps more trouble than they were worth! The ones that did not tunnel their way out, form walls to protect themselves, suffocate themselves with stone rather than be made to serve, make stone weapons or entrap their handlers in stone… the few that actually performed services for the Trolls had already cost the King almost as much effort as had he not tried to use them! It was a tossup at this point in the battle: if one were to surrender itself to them he might consider sparing its miserable life, but he wasn’t going to try and sort through panicky cavescum for a few rock-shapers that would just as likely try and kill him as serve him!

As far as the Destroyer was concerned, he was mixed in what he felt for it. It was a valuable resource indeed in battle, and it would be good to recover it if possible, but after this battle, what then? It had been unruly before, and he knew of no way even a Troll could put an end to the monster if it were to turn on them… It had been the most miniscule of creatures that had been able to subdue it, but he doubted it would work again.

What was more concerning than whether the creature could be used for battle or if it was no longer a threat to anyone was the fact that something had injured it! Anything or anyone that could damage the great Destroyer, strong as a hundred Trolls, could lay waste to Guttlekraw’s army! Was it Elvin magic, or some great machine Patchsmith had given to the Elves in his defection? Could it have been something natural, an accident? The source of this attack must be made clear, and so the old King made his way into the thick of battle, to learn what he could.

***

Hail backed away from the crystal and turned to face his companions. He felt empowered, renewed, and hopeful, but also confused as he looked Cliff over in the dim light of the crystal.

When he had dove into the crystal, Cliff had looked wrung out, exhausted beyond a season’s worth of rest. It may seem from time to time that Cliff was impartial to the events going on around him, but his passion showed when he dedicated himself to a task, such as lifting more weight than was healthy to put an end to an evil. The creature before Hail now appeared more invigorated and powerful than Hail himself felt, and it seemed as though Cliff had grown! Blueriver smiled slightly and almost blushed as Hail admired her handiwork, infusing Cliff with the might he may have had if he hadn’t subsisted on the meager forage of the cliffs. A low rumble emitted from deep within, a quiet purring roar that seemed to send skyfire up Hail’s spine.

With little more than a few nods, the Elves mounted the mighty Cliff and began their final trip back into the fray.

***

Wounded, still bleeding, and furious the Great Destroyer regained something resembling consciousness. A sickening warscream seemed to spew forth from the mutated mouths and sent a few of the Trolls nearby running for cover. In an act classic of the kind of ancient warrior the thing was made up of, the beast picked up a suitably sized tree lying nearby and crammed it into the wound, stemming the flow of lifeblood so it could continue on in the fight. Warriors of that time were ruthless in the extreme, and would stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

Feeling the urge for instant destruction, the Destroyer picked up half a dozen Trolls that were standing too close to run, and simultaneously tore a few apart while crushing the others, letting the gore spew over its hide. The gurgling cries of the hapless Trolls were again drowned out by another indescribably wretched screeching roar as the creature scaled the slope. Cautiously, the King motioned to the Destroyer, signaling it to halt and await instruction.

“Did you see what struck it?” the King asked one of the ones that had been with it.

“No, my King! It just started staggering off to where it landed. We all had been at a dead run when it happened, fanned out to guard against attack! We saw and heard nothing and we have searched the area for traitorous Elves that may have attacked, but there is nothing!” the Troll seemed to shake, unsure if the King would brain him before the Destroyer tore him apart.

The Destroyer was unconcerned with the short conversation, and felt any specific malice toward the warrior reporting to the King, but it was clear it was becoming agitated with the few seconds of delay it cost. It started to grumble, in a very perfect sense of the term.

The King had surveyed the area in the short time he’d been there. He assumed the quivering Troll had no reason to lie to him at this point, with his nose on the line either way, and pondered what he’d been told and seen. Out of chance, he looked up to the hated skies above to see a dot of blue/orange light flash in the distant sky. He peered into the black overhead abyss, trying to make out what he’d seen. Slightly closer, he saw the flash again, noting that it was, indeed, flame of some sort. Guttlekraw glanced around himself once more, the tingle of comprehension buzzing around the top of his neck. He saw the bloodied stone again and studied it, noticing for the first time that much of the undergrowth had been crushed underneath it, meaning it wasn’t part of the landscape!

Without hesitation he bellowed, “The skies! Watch the skies! The Destroyer was attacked from above! The attacker returns, and is coming from there!” as he gestured in the direction of another of Cliff’s fireballs.

Word spread quickly among the attackers, and things started to fall into chaos as the warriors found themselves having to defend themselves from alert Elves and now attack from the skies! They had grown used to easy prey, killing entire families in their sleep, chuckling among themselves and taking bets as to how many they’d run through before entering a house. Things had changed, the Elves were awake and defending themselves and the Trolls were suddenly starting to have to actually fight for kills now. It terrified them to know that there was more to fear from the sky than the sun!

But it was not Cliff they had to fear, as sharp ice shards began to fall from the sky, tearing into their flesh, piercing vital organs and generally making things downright miserable. Torrents of these edged flakes of ice half as long as one’s arm began to fall, seemingly guided into the ranks of the Trolls by some unseen force. Here and there, surviving Troll warriors abandoned their goal of mayhem against the Elves to search for cover as the ice decimated Guttlekraw’s army!

Guttlekraw himself was beginning to realize that the battle had suddenly turned against him and began to fear for his own life for the first time this night! He quickly ordered what remained of his forces to defend the Destroyer and sent the nightmare of a beast to take out this new adversary The creature, more than pleased to have a focus for its rage, surged toward the assumed direction of the unseen aerial foe, and the King was soon left with only a few of his guards. He gathered them close and laid out his new strategy: silently, quickly, they would strike out for their tunnels and seal them off in their hasty retreat!

***

Sweating, Hail almost grinned as he exerted his will on the clouds above, sending death down on the killers below! Taking cues from Cliff as to where groups of Trolls were, he flung the deadly ice down at the Trolls, flaying them to bloody shreds as the trio approached. Cliff lit the way occasionally with a burst of fire, merely a small fraction of what he was now capable of. Hail almost sensed a bit of pride from the beast as they got into range and Cliff let loose, adding his fire to Hail’s ice!

A blow sent the three tumbling. Cliff had been struck by a boulder nearly as large as the one he’d dropped on the Destroyer, and had it not been for the strengthening he’d received from Blueriver, he’d have succumbed to the blow. As it was, he tumbled to the ground with a crushed wing and broken hip, as well as all sorts of internal issues.

The death hail that had been falling on the Trolls cut off as Hail became preoccupied with the dark ground rushing up at him. He and Blueriver landed in a heap of bruised limbs, but were relatively unscathed by the fall compared to what Cliff had sustained. **Friends, I am in need of your aid. Quickly!**

Hail’s concerned open sending reinforced the tension of the moment. Cliff had never asked for help! Wary of another attack, the pair rushed to his side.

**Oh, great boulders and ice! He’s dying Hail!** said Blueriver, and set to work at healing their friend without a moment’s hesitation.

Hail got the impression she had it under control, though, but also sensed the menacing creature blundering through the trees at them. He wasn’t close enough anymore to pull water from the clouds, but he did have one other defense. Kneeling, he drew on a skill he’d longed for, felt at home with, but had never attempted in his life!

He placed his hand on the soil, concentrating. He’d been taught how to do this, but had no time to practice as he had with the water-shaping. He felt around under the ground with a portion of that pull he’d always felt during his climbing, and pulled on the rock below. He felt it change shape, felt it form itself to his will, and soon drew a cylinder of stone up through the soil. The shaft grew longer and the end sharpened before it detached itself and came free in Hail’s hands. The ice attack had felt weird to him, but this was something he felt right at home with!

The stone pike had just been completed when the Destroyer broke through the last few trees and into the small clearing Cliff had landed in. It gave no heed to Hail’s presence, and charged without slowing at Cliff, who still lay mortally wounded with Blueriver by his side. Hail bounded off to intercept the mass of Troll flesh and began to feel smaller and smaller as he neared the gargantuan creation. Nevertheless, he ran with full force and his stone pike impacted the creature in the lower part of what Hail assumed was its vitals. The shaft pierced deep before snapping in half, the Destroyer flinging Hail aside holding the other half.

Hail rolled as he landed, for once focused on something else life threatening other than scaling rock faces. The shortened pike changed shape again, dividing lengthwise into two thinner rods, forming complex weighted ends, a long spike forming at a right angle to the rod. Hail sprinted back to the Destroyer, leaping at the creature as it lunged for his friends. His “clubs” weren’t going to be all that effecting against the massive brute offensively, but this was not Hail’s intent. Using the spikes to dig into the flesh of the Destroyer, he scaled the fleshy mountain, dodging powerful limbs as the beast tried to seize him.

What amounted to the beasts head was a lumpy mound with few eyes and no arms, about the only place that was out of the beast’s reach. The previous injury, and the stump of log that protruded from it, was where the top of a spine would have been on a natural animal, but this was nothing nature had produced! Hail reformed the stone crampons back into a sharpened shaft and drove the needle-like instrument as deep as he could; the beast had not even paused and was still bearing down on Cliff, bent on destruction.

The slim sliver slid though the monster’s hide with little resistance, and Hail pushed it in until it almost disappeared, but other than annoy the Destroyer there didn’t seem to be any effect. Quickly changing strategies, he reformed the stone spear within the Destroyer’s body, sending it spiking out into the beast. The needles extended, inflicting massive internal bleeding, until they became so thin they shattered as the Destroyer moved. Unfortunately, this was still not enough to kill it; when the beast was formed it retained a conglomeration of individual beings, much like a bundle of trees tied together and twisted into one tree. Parts of it died, parts weakened, but all in all it remained a massive threat. Hail’s attack had had one desired effect, however. The Destroyer broke its dead run and rolled, trying to dislodge or crush the irritating Elf from its back.

Hail leaped clear, probing around for more stone nearby. He pushed his hands deep into the wet mud at the base of the tree he ended up at. Too far to be of use! He would have to dash over to the hidden outcropping, defenseless as he passed the being bend on his destruction! Already the Destroyer’s eyes were starting, one by one, to focus on him. Hail paused, thinking.

It occurred to him that the mud could be used to some advantage! He could manipulate water, and he could sense, when he concentrated enough, that the dirt felt like pulverized stone. Should he try to separate the two? No, no time! He wished he had had more time to train in his new powers. Neither of his spirit mentors had done anything like that, so he would have to learn on his own when there was more time… if they survived!

As it was, the short moments had passed and the Destroyer was already moving in on him, and Hail knew there was no cover nearby that could protect from the coming onslaught. He tried a version of a trick he’d entered the battle with, forming the water of the mud as ice. He could tell already that the mud was weak. It wasn’t so much that he was generating cold to freeze the water as commanding it into form, and it could not form structure with the impurities within it. Weapons were out, so a split second before the Destroyer impacted him he pushed up as thick of a wall of hardened mud he could force between he and his massive attacker. He could feel the shield crack under the sheer might of the collision, and shifted his effort into forming a protective bubble behind and under the mud, hoping it would at least cushion the blow.

It was a bad spot to be in! Half buried under thick mud with a murderous, infuriated creature a hundred times larger than he trying to grind him to a paste on the forest floor, Hail held on to the hope that it would be enough for Cliff to pull through and take Blueriver away to safety, regroup, and find some new way to beat this thing. A deafening thud struck his bubble, cracking it and forcing him to reform the shield. Even if the mud shield remained effective against his foe, Hail would wear himself out trying to repair it. He felt doomed.

His mud bobble took a pummeling. He had found that he could push soft mud up over the shield to soften the force on the shield easier than he could fix the cracks, but it still took something out of him as the blows would push it away each time. Each blow took more and more of his strength, and he couldn’t see any way out of it; it seemed that he had formed his own grave!

If there had been light to see, his vision would have started to grey out. As it was, his mind started to wander and conjure random images and ideas in his haze of exhaution. In a small corner of his mind, he congratulated himself on the quick thinking to "freeze" the mud, and how no one in the known history of his kin had ever manipulated water, much less "told it to freeze" as he was now. In his muddled thoughts, he searched back through his memories at now different things 'felt': icicles and snow in the white-cold, siwimming in the newgreen, even fish in the stream behind Blueriver had water in them! He himself had water in him, now that he thought about it and felt out with his new talent amidst the blows from above. What else? He wondered... Perhaps the Destroyer thing above? Could he freeze it? No, too big, maybe a deer? Maybe, if it didn't move around too much, but then there would be no reason to freeze it, right? He remembered warm milk gathered from deer, a fine and rare delecacy as you would have to find a deer with young and capture it without killing it, while it was trying to kill you! Still, maybe he could freeze the deer to get its milk? But then it would have frozen milk! Hmmm... frozen milk....

A warm wet droplet ran down his cheek, conflicting with the seemingly tangible unreality h'd gotten lost in. He shook himself, trying to clear the fog. Sweat poured from his forehead, and it seemed like he couldn’t get enough air, it was getting stuffy. He just wished he knew that Cliff and Blueriver were going to be ok, that his sacrifice might aid them in ending this nightmare! Each blow drove him deeper into the soil, but the steady rhythm broke suddenly and went away, shortly before Hail felt himself being lifted along with his shield. He shook his head, trying to clear the fuzziness clouding his thoughts. The Destroyer had switched tactics, and he’d need a clear head to figure out if there’s a way out of this!

Only, his cocoon was still on its way up, farther than the Destroyer would have lifted him, and he could feel that he was being carried, which meant only one thing he could think of!

“Cliff? Is that you?” Hail blurted with his first breath after shifting his mud shield around to stick his head through. The familiar flap of leathery wings sunk in about the same time as Cliffs **Yes, friend Hail, Blueriver rides as well.**

Cliff set Hail down on a stony ledge, and the three took a moment to rest after the ordeal. Looking Cliff over, it was obvious he’d carry scars from this night, but he would live, and was just as hale and hearty as he’d been before he was hit by the Destroyer’s attack. In tune with Hail’s thoughts, Cliff murmured, “The scars will be proof I was here tonight, living, fighting, defending friends!”

“That is, of course, assuming we make it though tonight for someone to see those scars. We need a new plan… Wait, I can hear the beast headed this way! It’s still pursuing us, but at least that means it’s not out killing others!” Still exhausted, but gaining strength with his beloved stone solidly beneath him, Hail quickly set to work on rows of stone thorns, teeth, spikes… the ledge was soon surrounded in a thick crusting of sharp, protective obstructions long enough and heavy enough that even the Destroyer wouldn’t be able to bash through quickly.

As he finished, Cliff and Blueriver were in deep discussions as to what could be done about the beast. Blueriver put forth that she could perhaps reform the creature into the Trolls it had been made from, but this would not change how those Trolls felt, and it would take far too long. Cliff could only haul so many stones out, and its many eyes were now watching the sky for just such an attack; it was fast enough to dodge them.

**Let me attempt something. I still have not learned what my limits are now that you have strengthened me, friend Blueriver.** Cliff bounded into the air, a sight that was no less impressive than the first time Hail had witnessed it.

Cliff bore down on the Destroyer, claws open wide to show he had no stone to launch at it. The Destroyer matched the pose, arms spread wide to grapple with this airborne enemy. It didn’t even flinch as a superheated jet of flame burst from Cliff’s mouth and engulfed the Destroyer, searing flesh instantly. It screamed and threw itself back to escape the fire, but as Cliff dove he only needed a twitch to keep the flame on his target until he had to break off and go back to the others.

Cliff landed behind the Elves as they observed the effect the flame had. A full third of the Destroyer had been blackened and was now oozing profusely, charred to the bone in some places, but it was far from out of the fight! It was already pulling trees and rocks out of the ground and was heaving them up at its antagonists. This unnatural creature would just not die!

Cleopatra

Okey, here's my story. It took me a while, but I hope you'll enjoy.





Revelations



He groaned as he woke up. He made a grimace from the pain he had; his left shoulder hurt, his head hurt. He felt quite tenderized. As soon as he could see clearly he looked around. He was in a cell, all alone.





He could barely move around because of the chains around his wrists. He cursed quietly and slowly sunk at the cold floor.





He had failed. He had lost the confidence to The Dark Prince. He wasn’t sure if he had got Optarhs confidence again. He wasn’t sure if he would be forgiven by Optarh, and Louros… High Ones knew where she was and if she still was alive. He lowered his eyes before he looked up again. Louros had to be alive. If she was dead, he would have felt it.





But now he had to think, and plan what to do.





If I had been Optarh now, what would I have done now? He thought to himself. He looked down at the chains. He could still move his hands so they were not too tight. But was he able to wriggle his hands free from the chains?





He got interrupted in his thoughts when he could hear a loud bang and the mountain began to shake a little. It didn’t take long before he began to wonder. He looked down at the chains again. He rose up and tried to wriggle his hands free from the chains.



###########################################################################



“Xin-Jing,” Lilac muttered alf asleed as she lifted her head and looked around in the room. She hadn’t slept much this night. All she had been thinking about was that Hawkeye had been kidnapped by the enemy and Xin-Jing who blamed herself. Although it was quiet now, it was still like she could her Xin-Jings cry.





She rose up from the bed and went toward the kitchen. She made some fire and looked for deer milk. She hoped that warm milk could help Xin-Jing to calm down a little. She was surprised when she found the milk frozen. Was it really that cold this night?





Once the milk was warm, Lilac went to Xin-Jings room. She saw the door was barely open and began to hesitate to enter. But it was her daughter and she needed someone to comfort her. She took a deep breath before she opened the door carefully and looked in.





“Xin-Jing?” Lilac asked quietly. She didn’t get any answer from her daughter, so she went inside.





She couldn’t believe it at first and didn’t want to either. Once she saw that Xin-Jing was gone, she lost the tray with the warm milk and ran out of the room while she cried for Alborn.



###########################################################################



The cold wind whipped the rain at Optarhs face as he stared at the wasteland, the large pit in the middle. He wasn’t sure why he had ridden here, and let the other chiefs follow him. The white horse under him noticed that his master wasn’t relaxed; he was upset, stressed and furious at himself. The horse began to move nervously around and wouldn’t stand still.





“Easy boy. Easy,” Optarh said once he discovered that the horse was nervous and pulled gently at the mane. But it didn’t get calm at once and it began to rear up while it neighed. Optarh pulled at the main again and soon both of them were calm again.





“This place is dead. So lifeless,” said a female voice behind Optarh. He turned his head and stared at the golden eyes to Malina. The white locks stuck to her dark skin from the rain and she moved her hair away from her face with her slender hands; her hands that could heal the mind and the body’s pain with a gentle caress.





He said something like this for a long time ago, Optarh thought and stared into the lifeless place again. He started to think about the words he had thought many hours ago;





The wise warrior doesen’t seeks out an enemy he doesn’t fully understand.





He had an alternative. But if he did, then he had to face the past and a part of himself. And he had tried to escape from it for long. What would happen if he did?





One powerful blow at his head got Optarh back to the reality as he placed his hand quickly at his head.





“OW! What the…” he asked half in anger and confusion. He looked straight into Sharikas eyes who had ridden to his side. Optarhs Bo Staff in her hand showed what had happened moments ago.

“What was that for, Sharika?” Optarh asked.





“Nothing!” Sharika answered.

“It’s past now.”





“It still hurts,” Optarh mumbled and looked down at his hand to see if there was blood there. It wasn’t.





“I know that the past can be painful Optarh,” Sharika said and placed a hand at his shoulder while she looked in his eyes.

“But it’s something I’ve learned, that you can run from it or you can learn something from it.”





Optarh knew that Sharika was thinking about the scar at her left cheek. It was her reminder to be careful and think wisely before a battle.





“So what are you going to do?” Sharika asked after a while, still staring at Optarh. He looked at large pit in the middle until he let out a sigh.





“I think it’s time to face The Dark Prince again!” He said slowly.

“This time, we must search for the enemy.”





His face suddenly stiffened and closed his eyes for a short while before he opened them again.





“I should have known it,” Optarh muttered before he waved the other chiefs to him and Sharika.

“We have to leave now. Several elves are gone and looking for the same goal.”





“You mean…” Arthel asked slowly before Optarh answered the unfinished question.





“Yes. Xin-Jing’s gone to look for her mate!”



###########################################################################



As the shades, they moved, gliding through the entire forest as if they were one with their environment. Xin-Jing jumped elegantly from rock to rock to get across a little rill and looked around the new environment. She looked up to the branch above her and waved her hand. Not a leaf moved once Sturkas jumped soundlessly on the ground. He looked back.





“All clear!” he whispered. From the shadows came the rest of the elves, still aware of the unknown around them.





Krrkkk!





All of them kept their weapons ready as they looked quickly around until they discovered that there was no danger. It was only Daredevil who had stepped on a twig and looked apologize to them while he laughed hesitantly. They all sighed heavily before moving on.





Several times they were forced to stop since Topaz, Daredevil, Blindeye and Starfire weren’t used to move as fast as Xin-Jing, Toron, Sturkas and Eros was used to.





“This goes too slowly,” Sturkas muttered and looked back at the four elves behind them. Xin-Jing didn’t respond, but she actually agreed with him. She couldn’t stop to think about Hawkeye, all alone among the enemy. She looked back before she lowered her gaze. If they continued this way, it would maybe be too late. Only the High Ones knew if The Dark Ones did harm Hawkeye.





Soon they could hear they approached a river and once they where there and saw how wide it were, they had to think a way to get over. Sturkas was the first of them, who took the chance by jumping from stone to stone, but as soon he placed one foot at the fourth stone he arrived, he slithered and fell right into the water;





SPLASH!





Fortunately the water wasn’t deep or had a strong stream, so everyone took a deep sigh of relief. But the sight of the wet Sturkas made the rest of the elves to giggle and chuckle as they covered their mouths. Toron had trouble with to not laugh at his brother.





“Want me to yank you in here with me?” Sturkas growled as he glared daggers at Toron. He was immediately helped from the wate by Toron who held out his Bo Staff and tried to the chuckles from the others.



###########################################################################



It hurt to move the body, he couldn’t move his hands. No matter how much Hawkeye tried it was like something prevented him to do so. Slowly he opened his eyes; the environment was unclear at first, but eventually he could look around. He wasn’t sure, but it seemed that he were in a hall. There were no windows, but he could see a door.





How did he end up here? Then he suddenly remembered. Xin-Jing and some other elves from her tribe had fought against The Dark Ones. He remembered that he had been beaten by a Bo Staff from one of the ninjas.





“Xin-Jing?” he asked low. He didn’t get any reply. He didn’t like it at all.





Once he tried to force himself on his knees he noticed the pain in his head. He closed his eyes and made a grimace of pain. He opened his eyes again barely and tried to move his hands until he noticed that his hands were tied together behind his back. Hawkeye wasn’t sure, but he could barely remember that someone had bound his hands and that he tried to use his magic to the person who did it. But he wasn’t sure if it was true.





He tried to look around again very slowly. His eyes widened and almost gasped when he discovered that he wasn’t alone. Only one look at two of The Dark Ones made him shiver as he stared at them and they just looked at him. Suddenly the ninjas began to walk toward him. He just wanted to stand up and step backward from them, but he felt so weak when he tried. He shut his eyes when they approached, felt completely out of balance as his hands glowed. He noticed that the room shook and could hear a loud bang. Then he opened his eyes and saw the ninjas lying on the floor while they moaned, but they lifted their heads up again. The glances they sent to him was like they said; “You’ll pay for this, your lousy elf!”





Both of them rose up and started to walk toward Hawkeye while they clenched their fists. Hawkeye closed his eyes and waited for the blows from the ninjas.





“Stop it!” a voice suddenly shouted behind them. Slowly the ninjas turned their heads and met the eyes of the figure in the doorway. The Dark Prince held his arms across his chest and looked at them.

“Tie up his hands and disappear!”





The two ninjas did as he said and disappeared out of the room. Hawkeye almost trembled as he held his head with both hands and kept his eyes closed. The pain in his head gets worse. He heard someone coming toward him, slowly. He lifted his head slowly as he blinked. He almost gasped of shock from what he saw, the person in front of him were high as chief Optarh. His skin had a frightening corpse color with a touch of cool blue. Golden hair that was dim as his eyes and his ears had a sharp notch that ran from the tip of the aers to the earlobe. And with red-purple mask in, he looked so different.





“Hello, Hawkeye!” The Dark Prince said calm and slowly. Hawkeyes eyes widened. How did he know his name? The Dark Prince knelt down gently and tried to have eye contact with him. Hawkeye turned his gaze away while the pain is his head returned.

“Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you.”





Hawkeye didn’t dare to look at him or answer him.





“You’ll surely want an explanation why you’re here,” The Dark Prince asked slowly after a while.





“I already know,” Hawkeye growled back.

“Because of my magic.”





The Dark Prince raised his eyebrows, as he was surprised.





“What makes you think so?” he asked slowly, still calm in his voice.





“Chief Optarh told me,” Hawkeye answered, still growling.

“Your ninjas tried to kidnap me, kill my tribe and the monster they had brought were about to kill my mate. All that, so you could try to steal my magic.”





“I understand that you probably have heard bad things about me,” The Dark Prince said and shrugged his shoulders.

“But if it wasn’t true?”





Hawkeye didn’t answer. He just stared at The Dark Prince.





“The first time you saw the ninjas, or ‘The Dark Ones’ that your people call them. What did they do to you? Did they really hurting you?”





Hawkeye felt suddenly confused. Why did he ask about it? Was The Dark Prince trying to trick him? He frowned as he tried to remember. Then he began to remember that they didn’t try to harm the first time he saw them, he had only been pushed gently to the side, over to them.





Hawkeye shook his head to get out of that thought. They had tried to kill the others that day. Trying to send them over to the death, he didn’t remember much the second time he saw them since he used magic against them. The third time, he was rescued by Xin-Jing, but the result ended up that she almost got crushed to death by the monster that had wounded Toron and Sturkas first.





His head hurt by thinking. He took his hands to his head and tried to hide the pain he wanted to cry out.



###########################################################################



A group of eight elves had walked for days, almost without to stop. Xin-Jing was still the one who led the way for them. She could only trust at the bond between Hawkeye and her; she tried to sense his presence as she walked. No one said a word during the trip. Not even a complaining from four elves who suffered in silence. They were tired; they hadn’t slept many hours in the night and almost didn’t have any break as they walked during the day. But then one night when they all took a nap, Xin-Jing went away for a while. The feeling of Hawkeye felt so much stronger now. She moved a branch and suddenly she saw it. She gasped at the sight; it was still fresh in her memory. It was that mountain, surrounded and covered by shadows almost everywhere. Not only were the mountains covered, but almost the entire area. It also covered the moon.





She sent to the others in a lock sending and soon everyone was collected. All of them gasped of the frightening sight. But once they also knew that soon there would be a fight, so they had to be prepared for everything. But one thing had to be done first; find out how to get in.





“And how are we supposed to get inside that mountain?” Sturkas asked as he looked at the mighty mountain before he looked at Xin-Jing.

“Did Hawkeye show you how to get in?”





“No,” Xin-Jing said and shook her head.

“It was more like someone guided me and made go through the mountain walls.”





“Then we have to find a way in,” Toron said. Then they all divided themselves into small groups to look around the mountain and look for an entrance. Xin-Jing went with Toron and searched, but during the search, Xin-Jings thoughts went other ways. Toron was aware of it and placed his hand on her shoulder.





“Are you all right ‘little sister’?” Toron asked slowly. She looked at him before she answered.





“I… I was just remembering the last time I fought against The Dark Ones. I… I don’t want to fail him again.”





Toron realized that Xin-Jing was scared, but she couldn’t give up now. Not that they had come so far. He had to help her; it was his duty as her ‘big brother’. But how could he help her? The only thing he could think about was just a similar form of words of wisdom, but could it help her? He took a deep breath before he said something he had learned by Nuka and gave it to Xin-Jing.





“You must look within and find the strength that is yours and yours alone. You will not fail Hawkeye again. I feel it in my heart.”





Xin-Jing gave Toron a little smile, and then they were immediately aware of whistling from Sturkas. He signaled that he had found something. Sturkas showed proudly what he and Starfire had found when they all were together again, a tunnel hidden by bushes.





“It was Starfire who found it,” Sturkas said, pointing to her with his thumb.

“If she hadn’t stumbled into one of the roots…”





“We would have gone right past it without discovering it!” Starfire finished for Sturkas. For a moment they all took a deep breath before they began to go gently one by one inside the tunnel. Topaz whispered low to Toron through the tunnel and tried to make a plan.





“I’ve thought that not everyone here is good at swinging a sword. And we’re few enough as it is!” Topaz whispered. It felt so easy to talk with Toron since he had more experience and advice to give.





“I see,” he whispered back and looked at her.

“I’ve also been thinking about it, so I think that if we really work together, we’ll have better chances.”





The trip through the tunnel almost felt like they had went for more days, but eventually they could barely see the light at the other side. Toron waved Sturkas over to him and Sturkas immediately checked with his deep blue eyes if it was safe to continue. He waved to them with one of his Sais and they were out of the tunnel. Since them now ere inside the mountain they were extra vigilant. They moved silently through the hallways while they still kept lookout. That they hadn’t seen anything by The Dark Ones made Toron suspicious.





“Something isn’t right here,” he whispered as he turned his head to the others.

“It’s quiet here!”





“A little too quiet!” Sturkas whispered back. Toron looked at him and tried to see if Sturkas had tried to be joking that he usually used to do. All he could see in his eyes were serious.





They continued through the hallways while Sturkas and Eros looked from side to side if there was anyone nearby.





“Nobody here,” Sturkas whispered after a long while.

“But at the end of the corridor is a door. And I think that will lead straight to The Dark Ones.”





Toron almost crept to the door and leaned his ear against it while he listened. He looked quietly to the others.





“I think you’re right,” he whispered before he looked at the door.

“Sooner or later we would probably have met them anyway.”





They all knew all along that there would be a fight, which actually made Sturkas pleased. He clenched his fists as he smiled.





“Allow me!” he said and took some steps backward. The others turned to watch and all eyes were upon him as he began to run. After three steps he jumped up, spun around in mid-air and flung himself towards the door in a perfect flykick. The other elves looked straight into the opening Sturkas had made for them.





“Noisy!” Toron said as pulled his Bo Staff.

“But effective!”





Then they all ran into the hall and saw a whole group of The Dark Ones prepared for battle, against them. It took no more than a moment for the fight to begin. Elves against The Dark Ones. Sturkas jumped and kicked one of the ninjas in the face, then blocked a pair of Katanas with his Sais. He twisted them and the swords flew out of the ninjas hands. He lifted his feet and kicked at the stomach and sends the ninja toward the hall.





Blindeye ducked as he blocked from a Bo Staff with his sword. The ninja jumped in the air as Blindeye swung with his sword and discovered too late the ninjas foot once he got kicked and flew toward the wall. Daredevil wasn’t so lucky either and was soon sending to the wall and landed at the floor at Blindeyes side. Eros was quickly in front of them and defended them with his nunchakus and hit it right in the face of three ninjas who took some steps backwards while they held their hands to their faces. Eros ran straight at them and kicked them in the chest, but it wasn’t long before he fought against more ninjas.





Toron twirled with his Bo Staff, then blocked from the Yari before he jumped in the air and landed at the other side. He kicked the ninja from behind before he faced a new one.





Topaz had problems during the match. She was more used to handle with a bow and not a sword. She had learned long ago how to block and fight back, but the way she swung the the sword felt so clumsy. A kick from the ninja she fought against with made her to lose the sword and she was defenseless. She got beaten in the face, kicked right into the stomach and was immediately thrown to Daredevil and Blindeye.





Xin-Jing twirled her Katanas as she defended a fighting Starfire from the Shurikans. Then she ran against the ninjas, jumped in the air and kicked their heads. But one ninja grabbed her foot and tossed her aside; she almost landed at Blindeyes back and barely tasted blood in her mouth. Sturkas was quickly at Starfires side and defended her from attacks from the side, but discovered too late a grip on his belt from behind and was immediately thrown to the side, together with the others. Starfire followed shortly after. Eros had fought more ninjas as he swung with his nunchakus. He jumped lighly into the air and struck with his weapons and kicked with his legs. But once he turned he felt a powerful fist right to the nose, and a kick in his chest and he flew straight to the others. He groaned as soon as he landed on them. Toron had the luck with him and fought only against two ninjas. He struck with his Bo Staff right in the head to a ninja as he kicked the other in his ribs before he turned and kicked the ninja in his legs. He saw that the ninja had fallen before he suddenly looked straight at the last ninja. He lifted his Bo Staff, ready to block against what might come. But it seemed that the ninja knew what Toron had in mind, and suddenly hit Toron in the eye, kicked his ribs before he hit Toron again under the chin end sent him to the others.





The eight fallen elves looked straight up at the ninja who held a Katana, ready to end their lives. But a pair of eyes who had seen the fight in hiding had other plans. He jumped straight from his hiding place and landed in front of the eight elves as he blocked the deadly blow from the Katana with his dagger. The elves gaped while they watched. The fight was short. The tall figure with the cloak and the hood that hide his face moved so easily, blocked with the dagger, kicked the ninja in the side before he hit the ninjas face with his left fist. He made a grimace after he had hit the ninja and grabbed his shoulder. After a while he turned his head and met the eyes from the eight elves, they were suspicious, but a pair of golden brown eyes also looked confused.





“Who are you?” Toron asked after a while.

“And did you help us?”





“Who I am is not important,” the tall elf said.

“And I helped you because you needed it.”





“I know you who you are,” Topaz said suddenly. The other elves turned their eyes toward her. She stared at the tall elf.

“Sharika told me almost the whole story and it was difficult for me to understand the first time.”





“What are you talking about?” Sturkas asked and stared at Topaz and the tall elf. What was it she knew that they didn’t know?





“You betrayed chief Optarh for a long time ago, but suddenly you’re telling him that the war isn’t over. Optarh shared your pain when something went wrong. It’s obvious that you and Optarh really have a special bond,” Topaz said slowly after a while. The tall elf sighed. He knew that the time revelation had come.





“I understand that it’s difficult for you to understand after what I did to Optarh,” he said slowly.

“But if you need proof.”





He raised his hands against the hood and pulled it slowly off as he closed his eyes. His skin was pale, his hair was dim, but they could barely see the likeness of light hair. Their eyes widened as the hood was off and they saw his face. They gasped when he opened his brown eyes; they had seen this eyes before, but they were blue!

faeriegirl

*wipes brow* Wow, 2 epic length stories read after each other!

Awesome story, both of you!! Clap

...is Mr. Mystery the twin of Optarh? Smile

Cleopatra

Quote:


Awesome story, both of you!! Clap




Thanks.



Quote:
...is Mr. Mystery the twin of Optarh? Smile





Heh, heh, heh, heh. Yes!

WolfMoonSky

Have to read stories, damn this is going to be a long day but I already know that they are awesome! Tongue

Cleopatra

Take your time to read them Wolfie.

*offers cookies*

Want some while you read?

WolfMoonSky

Aww thank you Cleo!!Hug
*thats some cookies*
Aww love the cookies!!Heart

Cleopatra

Happy you like them.

TrollHammer

Quote:


*wipes brow* Wow, 2 epic length stories read after each other!



Awesome story, both of you!! Clap









As always, kind words from a kind heart! Thanks!

WolfMoonSky

I Like it, Tymber!! Clap

Cleopatra

Tymber!! *hugs*

Wonderfull story Tymber. *hugs more*

faeriegirl

TYMBER!!!! *tackle glomps* Love it!

faeriegirl

See? Told ya you were missed! *smug GRIN* Happy

TrollHammer

Nice to see more from you Tymber!
Feels like a good fit for the current state of the 'ended' epic! A good snug waiting for the future of Shadow...
Keep limbered up for when the next inspiration hits, I'm falling out of practice myself and fear the stumbling when I feel the call back to it.

Embala

TYMBER !!! *big hug*

Guess my neighbour is doubting my sanity now ... I'm afraid I screamed like a teenager Laugh There's one thing better than seeing you return to the grab-bags - you returning with Stonehowl! Or ... was it Stonehowl bringing back you? I got the strong impression that Shadow wasn't done with you!

That's such a fitting sequel to the epic conclusion of the saga. Following Shadow ... his mixed feelings about losses and wins. The elves have everything - their rightful home, peace, Recognitions, new blood - but it is not enough. Not for Shadow. Not even with the gift of a child of his own. (Oh yes ... you owed him this child!)
And you leave it open ...
Will he arrange with the life within walls - with all its benefits?
Or will he leave - choosing a life of dangers and freedom?
... and maybe - hopefully! - a new start? (It's allowed to hope and dream ... Smile)

It seems that I have to thank faeriegirl, too *hug* Have you really had doubts that there are friends who want to hear from you? I don't believe so! And when being dement means to wish you back - to the Scroll and the grab-bags - then I'm not afraid to grow old Tongue

faeriegirl

*blushes* I merely remembered him of the fact that there were enough people here on the Scroll who did not have Facebook so did not have contact with him there... and were missing him very much!!! *hugsback* Glad I could help to make you scream like a teenager! Wink

Embala

That's too funny, Redhead! Your muse got cocky once more. Hilarious! Big_laugh

Hope you understand when there will be NEVER a collage, tho Tongue

WolfMoonSky

Awesome Embala!!Smile

Startear

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OMG!! Smile Happy Evilgrin Laugh Roflmao



Oh that illustration was just perfect Embala!

Embala

Thank you, Wolfie Smile Your fun is my reward, Startear! Laugh





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*urpmph!* And THIS is exactly why I returned...
You want a hug, Tymber? ...

Quote:
As for Stonehowl... I think there's more to tell... I am curious where they take me... but the reason I came back centered a lot on you, my dear. Smile
... for both of this I wish to huggle you tightly once more Hug



Quote:
Tis easy, at times, to feel there are "clicks" on any given forum (or anywhere in life, really!) where you feel like you simply don't fit in, no matter how long you have been around, or how much you have said. Making walking away, very easy. Especially when there are other outside elements that make the desire to walk away that much greater.


I know and understand this - the more I'm happy that your way led you back.

Cleopatra

Quote:




Awsome collage Embala.

RedheadEmber

LoL! Embala! That is just great!YeahRoflmao

Embala

Thank you for your comment, Cleopatra ... my little background pic is spreading over the pages!

I hoped you would like it, Redhead Laugh - I had double fun: reading and illustrating.





Quote:
Another great piece from Tender! Clap I love this. The strenght of it is that I don't know who he or she is (though I have my guesses.) I love having to guess these things, keeping the readers on the edge.



The other thing which I absolutely loved was how you had two parts in the story, hers and his, jumping from one to the other.
Agreeing with Startear ...



... cryptic and intriguing - light and shadow - a happy life and an early death ... and no conclusion at all. Awesome story, Tenderfoot - actually I'm fascinated but completely clueless. Hoping for a sequal soon - and a revelation or at least a hint.



Oh - clever "not-use" of ice-cream Wink

Embala

Like how your story goes, Cleopatra ...
- Hawkeye with the Dark Prince ... who is obvioulsly trying to gain influence on him
- his recue party rescued by Optarh's old friend
- and Optarh and the Chiefs on the way as well
- ... and Louros?
... this time it looks like the final confrontation is ahead.

So his "friend" is his twin? Well ... I thought they must be soul brothers like Cutter and Skywise - twin brothers would work as well Smile

Cleopatra

Quote:


Like how your story goes, Cleopatra ...




Thanks Embala



Quote:
- Hawkeye with the Dark Prince ... who is obvioulsly trying to gain influence on him

- his recue party rescued by Optarh's old friend

- and Optarh and the Chiefs on the way as well

- ... and Louros?

... this time it looks like the final confrontation is ahead.




And we'll see how it goes.



Quote:
So his "friend" is his twin? Well ... I thought they must be soul brothers like Cutter and Skywise - twin brothers would work as well Smile




Yes Optarh has a twin and twins have a special bond with each other, like Ember and Suntop.

Embala

That was thrilling, TrollHammer! Couldn't leave this long-lasting fight - watching the three friends doing their best, fighting the beast with all their strenght, learning by try and error. Awesome job Clap And you leave us with two !!! cliff hangers: How to defeat the beast and rescue the villagers? And ... what will happen with Patchsmith?



Will Hail learn he isn't a traitor? Will he be rescued by the friends somehow (cannot imagine how this should work). Or ... will he be the force which turns the battle between Elf and Troll - taking the side of the elves of course? Or ...will he be Guttlecraw's hostage?





One last thought:



Cliff has literally grown - in size and power. Hail and Blueriver have found their magic - immense powers, probably more than each elf in Frost Valley ever had as long as memory reaches back. Of course, you need these powers to defeat the monstrous menace you created, to save the lives of the village elves. After this battle though - ... I wonder whether it would not be too much, too fast acquired ... two youngsters being super heroes now.



I don't know what you plan for Hail and his people but these immense powers are not necessarily good for ongoing stories. In case you havn't considered this and solved it already otherwise - how about taking the powers away again - at least for an uncertain time? Hail can "burn out" in fighting the Destroyer and the Trolls (or when rescueing Patchsmith) as can Blueriver in fighting death. And then, knowing about their possibilities, they have to gain them back the "natural" way.

TrollHammer

Hmm... Very good points, I hadnt really thought of their powers as being super elven... I was thinking of them as being a leap in terms of knowledge of those powers due to the crystal, but that is true, its too much fot the valley, perhaps.
The next installment is halfway finished, and i had to go back and figure out how far hed progressed... Hopefully i got it right....
Thanks for taking the time to read it and giving such wonderful feedback. I hope the eventual progression of the planned story is satisfying yet unexpected....

Tenderfoot

Yes. It is me. The evil Tenderfoot who always likes to leave you all in a coma with my dreadful cliffies from Hell! No, I'm well. I'm just waiting for the 'opportune moment' to come out with those cliffies you love so much. Savvy?



*sighs* I am so unbelievably sorry I left you so long. I suck, I'm worse than a sucky thing that sucks a lot. I'm horrid and I deserve no reviews (but I'd like 'em?). I won't bore you with all the details of why it took so long, but let's say my life turned into one of the aforementioned sucky things that suck a lot and I kind of hit a big brick wall. So, here's the next piece. Over a year late.



BTW, fear me, for I have joined the cult of Cliffie-Writers.

















Behind the cloister's walls – part 1





This tale began at the end of the last spring moon, when Newgreen began to melt into Long Hot. Two Moons was the land, its streets and alleys dark, empty and abandoned. It was precisely the turn of night, only moments into what would become a late Newgreen day burned into many people's minds. Darkness had long ago claimed the sky, a dark blue canvas spattered with millions of stars. The clouds, also a darker color, wrapped themselves around the pale, silver moons, only allowing the thin, glittering silver hue to shine through.



No wind was present, not even a little breeze, yet the ashen wisps of cirrus moved slowly and with ease. Some places they parted and moonlight broke through, reaching down towards earth like the hand of a corpse. The moons shone with great force, bathing the world in a silver hue and leaving trees and buildings shrouded in a cloak of lace.



But as the clouds removed themselves from the moons, and pale silver light and dark shadows moved as one, secrets were revealed. Dark secrets that did not withstand the daylight of the sun, nor the darker light of night. Shadows moved over the large hills outside of town, heading for a lone building made of stone and gliding past it. But by the wall of this fort, a shadow stayed behind, lingering at a window close to ground.



A cloud slid past the moon, the building was again bathed in darkness. The cloud thinned out, the moon lit up the building once again. The shadow was gone.





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The first sign that something was amiss was the empty chair closest to the door.



Young Aroree, just having started on her seventh year in the cloister, kept sending the wooden seat thoughtful glances. There were times Mrs. Winnowill would not eat with the rest of them, but then she would always make sure to alert someone beforehand, this someone often being sira Ekuar or little Redmark. Said young boy sat next to her and followed her glance with his own, before turning to look up at her with bright, green eyes.



Aroree gave a careful smile. “She will come,” she whispered. “I am sure of it.”



Rosy lips parted and Redmark slowly nodded, eyes still on his dear older 'sister'. The boy was young, his exact age not known, but fairly small the evening he was found on the steps of Blue Mountain nun cloister. Nearly four turns of the seasons had passed since then and though Redmark could be no older than this, his eyes held the clear look of age-old wisdom one seldom found with even elves older than him. It was with these eyes he pinned Aroree to her seat, with his deep, childish trust and faith in her. His Mama would soon come, and then this strange lump would perhaps leave his stomach be.



Aroree wanted so desperately to share the child's belief, that there was an explanation for the abbess' absence that would prove harmless to the children. But even as she glanced up at the empty seat once more, she knew this was not the case.



Something was wrong.





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Winnowill sat heavily down on her bed, resisting the urge to lie back down and close her eyes, retreat into the inner depths of her mind where she would be left alone for an amount of time she herself saw fit. A pale hand reached up to rub the slim neck, one reason for her discomfort. The other hand went for the second source of pain; her spine, shooting small bolts of pain throughout her entire body whenever she moved. How a highly respected abbess came down with back aches was something few would know the answer to. She herself could not be sure, but had to admit it could have been the fall from a few days back, when young Skywise had come for a visit and tempted little Redmark to climb a tree too tall for his fragile body.



He adored his age mate and had scaled the tree trunk in pursuit of the other. One slip of his foot later had sent him tumbling to a ground that came towards him too fast. Winnowill, cold with fear of Redmark being scared, hurt or worse, was quick enough in her desperate dive forward to catch her little boy in her arms and prevent further harm than a galloping heart. But she had fallen herself, and with Redmark in her grasp her only thought had been to shield him from the harsh meeting with dirty ground. She somehow spun her body halfway round and landed with the child on top of her as her back connected with the ground and twisted.



She winced as her finger touched a sore spot and arched her back, eyes clamped shut and teeth clenched. This would not do. She had a dinner to attend, a family of nuns, novices and lay sisters waiting for her. And Aroree and Redmark, of course, the only children inside the walls of the cloister. The youngest of the two would be disappointed if she failed to show up, and his large green eyes welling with tears was an image you could only bear to witness once. She unclosed her eyes and heaved a sigh; sira Ekuar's herbal mixture would have to suffice.



She glanced over at the small table by the headboard and, sure enough, there it was. She took the goblet in her hands, sniffed it and winced again. Sira Ekuar's mixtures proved wonderful, but they could do with a taste one would actually be able to swallow. Resisting the urge to pinch her nose, she downed the drink in one go and coughed. The taste of metal lingered in her mouth as she put the goblet back on the table and moved to sit up, only to find the room all black for a moment. She blinked and, upon finding herself flat on her back and staring up at the stone ceiling, frowned. Then winced, as fire erupted deep in her throat. She coughed, hawked and gasped, slim fingers fisting and tangling the sheets beneath her. This was not right, the cloister's herbs were not meant to cause pain. They were not meant to do this.



She fought a moan of pain as the burning bolts in her spine found their way to her front, to her stomach, her chest, her heart. Her torso lit up and died, followed as soon and instant by the rest of her body as if the next beat of her heart had shot the bolts through every vein. Her blood, the liquid of life, betrayed her; it pumped the bolts steadily through her body, from her chest to her legs, to her feet and up to her shoulders, to her arms, hands, fingers, and up to her head and back down. There the flaming darts stopped, they did not find their way back to her heart as the route was closing off. A strange expression settled on her face and a pale hand reached for her slowly constricting throat.



The moons lighting up the world outside her chamber may not have reached her misting vision, but she would later admit to have been vaguely aware of something dark blocking the silver rays.





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They were woken early in the morning, before the first prayer, and ushered to the dining hall where all the nuns were waiting. Tables and chairs had been moved aside to make room for the novices, the lay sisters stood on either side. Aroree glanced at her fellow 'sisters' as she was lead up front with little Redmark in tow. The boy was clutching her dress and hiding his face, eyes darting to and fro as they stopped by the front row. Where was sira Ekuar? The kind old priest would know what was going on. Aroree petted his head with a delicate hand, he looked up. Whined.



“What do you think has happened?” a novice to her left whispered. The girl was new, no more than 13 white-cold, and the blue novice dress too large for her slim body.



Aroree dared not answer, for the women on either side silenced and straightened and she knew better than to stand out. She followed suit, glad Redmark's grip on her dress loosened as he too righted himself. Then tugged at her arm. Aroree chanced a glance down, finding him staring wide eyed at something to their left. She followed his gaze with her own, drew in breath and swallowed hard. A middle aged woman stood inside the door, clad in a black dress and headpiece hemmed with white cloth. Her eyes, piercing black as the night outside, took in each and every elf and human in the room. When they settled on her, Aroree stiffened and went back to studying the floor with great interest, but out the corner of her eye she clearly saw black almonds narrow.



The woman crossed the floor in slow motion, moved for the free space in front of the children. Redmark gazed silently up at his 'big sister' as the woman neared them, took in her tense frame and the quickening beat of her heart; he could see it bang against her ribcage, through the thin dress. Could see her pale skin take on an alabaster shade, her already large eyes widen and fill to the brim with emotional drops. Redmark slipped his tiny hand into hers, gave it a small squeeze. Aroree squeezed back, but no smile graced her now trembling lips as she looked up at the woman in front of them.



The prioress. Whose harsh words had turned Aroree's world upside down and doomed her to a life inside these cold stone walls, when she told of her dear mother's death.



Aroree had barely seen her since, but was still plagued with an overwhelming feeling of grief whenever the dark eyes were set on her. The memory of her parents might be vague and difficult to grasp, but the shivers down her spine when those cold eyes locked with hers would never leave her be. Redmark squeezed her hand again. Aroree squeezed back.



“This has been an uneasy night,” the prioress stated, her hard voice so loud in a room filled with silence. “And we all have a long day ahead of us.” She glared at everyone and no one, clearly she did not wish to be the one to talk to them. “Last night our dear Mrs. Winnowill was stricken by sickness.”



She felt Redmark's hand stiffen in hers, then go limp, and she dared a glance down at him. Then did a double take. The child's eyes were wide open in shock, green gaze fixed on the stone wall behind the black clad prioress, breathing shaky and one tiny fist clenched tight. His small, small eye ridges knitted in an unsettling expression. And finally, the tears. Oh no...



“We have no knowledge of this disease, therefore we have sent for the folk healer as well as our brothers, the monks.” Had Aroree removed her gaze from Redmark at these words, she would have seen something similar to a smug smile on the prioress' face. “Until Mrs. Winnowill has healed, I shall lead you through these difficult days.” Now Aroree looked up, mouth agape and mind as blank as snow drift. The prioress set her eyes on her, hardened and glowered. “You may all return to bed, the rest of the day shall proceed as normal.”



Aroree made a move as to follow the novice beside her, but halted upon having her name flung at her and turned back to the prioress. “I believe the nuns will have more chores than usual the next days. They will not have time to prepare our meals.” Aroree blinked. “That will be your responsibility from now on. And I will personally find some to help you.”



The child choked on a sigh and curtseyed. “Yes, Mrs. prioress.” Something tugged on her hand and she looked down at Redmark's concerned gaze. She managed to offer him a weak smile, one that turned into a trembling pout when the prioress addressed her young friend. “And you,” Aroree cringed at the tremble that ran through Redmark's frail body as green eyes met black. “I pray you shall prove useful too.”







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They had just finished preparing the meal when the prioress entered. Aroree glanced up from the pot with vegetables, but reverted her gaze the moment black material registered in her head. She was still uncomfortable with the older woman’s presence, still not ready to meet her stare.



And she had still not forgiven her for separating her from Redmark.



The boy had been kept on the other side of the cloister for the last three days. Aroree knew not what his chores were, but the only times she was able to see him was during prayers and just before they fell asleep. He would come shuffling through the door as the last, eyes on the floor and feet barely lifting, and wearily climb onto his bed. He had eaten, he would reassure her whenever she questioned his absence during their meals. Not much, he would admit when she whispered her concerns for his thin frame. But enough to get through the day and finish his chores, he would slur as sleep wrapped him in its silken sheets of reverie.



One of the older novices, having been kept awake by their silent whispers at night, had taken pity on the youngest and somehow managed to change his chores so that they fit with Aroree’s kitchen duty. She now chanced a glance over her shoulder at the boy working silently behind her, gently sweeping the floor with a broom taller than him.



“You have finished.” Aroree’s head snapped back up, blue eyes moving past black and instead locking on the pale gray of the stone wall behind. The prioress stood like a looming shadow as she regarded the group of elves before her, eyes dark and narrowed, mouth slightly down curved. “That is good.” Black eyes fell on Aroree, thin lips were drawn in a line and the child swallowed hard. The dark gaze settled on something behind her and Aroree started to tremble. Lightning went through the dark pearls and Aroree became truly afraid that she had done something wrong. Black material moved and she tightly shut her eyes.



Nothing happened.



Blue eyes cracked open in time to see the prioress stalk past them with a thunderous expression and Aroree froze as she understood, as it came to mind there was only one thing behind her worthy of the prioress’ attention, and she whirled around to see Redmark pause in his unfinished chore to look up at the approaching older woman, green eyes narrowed yet large, his face set in silent confusion.



The sound registered in Aroree’s mind before the slap itself did.





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Everyone have their own little corner of the world, where they can do or be whatever they desire. A sanctuary, a haven, their very own spot. Even in Blue Mountain nun cloister, one could find these spots. Aroree’s was a small tower which stairs were hidden away, young Redmark’s was a mossy carpet baldachined with thick leaves in many shades of green. Mrs. Winnowill would lift her chin at such a statement, but there were times when she too were not to be found anywhere within the cloister. The abbess was more alike the children than anyone would ever believe.



And sira Ekuar?



His special place was somewhere he could no longer be, someplace that was a mere memory to his old mind, and a distant one at that. But he had found a spot of his own in this new home of his too, a place no one would question if they were to stumble upon him. Even if it was not what his heart once yearned for, he was content enough with what he had. The library of Blue Mountain nun cloister held too many secrets for him to dislike it, though he preferred to stay there of his own free will. Even as a servant of the High Ones, he still had one.



The room could seem dull and old at first glance, a place that promised no fun for adventurous souls. But stay there long enough, search the shelves on shelves filled with books and scrolls, and mayhap you find an adventure of your very own, one that could lead your life to a new path. Such as it had once done for Ekuar, and not too long ago for little Redmark.



Ekuar smiled bitterly once the image of a serious redheaded child crossed his mind. Gone was the cheerful smile he bestowed upon everyone he encountered on his way, gone was the light of mirth always concealed within his eyes, gone was the feline grace of his that caused strangers to liken him to a kitten. Gone was Redmark, left behind was an empty shell of a young elf Ekuar once knew.



He leaned forward on the desk, fingers clutching a feather pen and the other hand touching his forehead as a choked sigh escaped the old priest.



What had happened that caused Redmark to retreat like this? What incident had managed to steal his night’s sleep, wipe the smile from his face and replace it with the hollowness you should only find within a dead tree? What kept the young one away from his few private lessons and the gardens outside? And how did the dark bruise find its way onto his marble chiseled face?



When he last saw the young one, Redmark had been scrubbing the floor outside the prayer room. Ekuar had stepped in front of him and the child had lifted his head, but no words passed between them. The priest’s brows rose in an unvoiced question, but Redmark only shook his head as silent tears fell from sore, green eyes that dropped to the floor as he resumed his task.



Sister Aroree had been the same when he came to fetch her for her lesson. Confined to the kitchen with three older novices, she had just looked at him with poorly hidden grief and declined his offer with a small shake of her head. She started to cry the moment he turned his back, and he knew the onions she was cutting were not at fault.



Had Aroree had wings, she would have flown long ago.



A light knock on the door brought his musing to an end and he shook his head as entrance was allowed. Aroree slid inside and closed the door behind her, eyes on the floor while awaiting acknowledge from the priest. Forefinger and thumb moved to pinch his nose bridge and Ekuar shut his eyes tightly, sighed and unclosed them to look up at the child by the door. “What can I do for you, sister Aroree?”



The girl met his weary gaze with her anxious one. Blinked. Her breath hitched.



Ekuar’s brows furrowed in gentle concern as he beckoned the girl closer. “Sweet child,” he breathed. “What is the matter?”



She stopped in front of the desk, fought the tears in her vision and willed her lip to stop quivering. Even when crying, she was still a soft, quietly spoken voice. “Redmark,” she sobbed.



She needed say no more.





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Ekuar had never known his legs to move as fast as when running through the corridors of the cloister alongside young Aroree, blocking out her tear hitched breath as they ran through door after door, deeper into the labyrinth that was Blue Mountain nun cloister. He cast fleeting glances at the child next to him, at still visible tear streaks and still quivering lips, and tore his eyes away from the sight.



How did we come to this?



Aroree, young and sweet Aroree. So young, too young for this burden to bear on her shoulders alone. Aroree, dutiful Aroree. Unable to smile, unable to talk, unable to meet others’ eyes. Aroree, ever-loving Aroree. Terrified of the cloister’s new self-appointed leader, victim of the prioress’ harsh words and actions. Aroree, innocent Aroree. Unable to speak her mind, yet leaving her chores to fetch one of the three she could trust, to ask for help in this time of need.



Oh, little ones.



The children, kept away from each other by force. The novices, confined to chores they rarely did, forbidden to speak, forbidden to laugh, smile. The nuns, scattered all across the cloister; in the prayer room, in the library, in the herb room, in the gardens, by the barracks, even outside the walls and in town. Conversing with the few monks that had arrived only days ago, as well as the folk healer, mixing herbs, searching books and scrolls for anything that might prove useful for the true leader of the cloister.



Mrs. Winnowill. Stricken by an unknown illness. The reason for this change.



Their heightened senses could pick up what their ears, eyes and nose could not and as they rounded yet another corner, a wall of absolute despair rammed against them, causing Aroree to cry softly out and Ekuar to pick up his pace. He reached the door to the kitchen, tore it open the moment skin met wood and halted inside.



A fraction of a second later his arms were full of Redmark, the distraught child weeping openly and stumbling on his words. One hand clutched the brown fabric of Ekuar’s robe, the other pointed weakly when asked of the cause of his tears. Following the finger with brown eyes, Ekuar held the trembling child close and found the special meal the young one had been instructed to make, a meal that mayhap would make their dear Mrs. Winnowill recover enough to take back her position as the head of the cloister.



A meal that did not turn out like it was supposed to.



Three beings stiffened as the sound of footsteps reached their ears, three breaths hitched and three heads lifted simultaneously as the prioress stood in the doorway. Ekuar met her glower with one of his own, distangled Redmark from his robe and gently, but firmly pushed him into the shelter of Aroree’s embrace. And the old priest stood, his body a shield to protect the wonder that was the children as the black clad woman stepped forward, a strangle gleam in her eyes.





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Redmark squeezed his eyes shut as tears yet again threatened well up and spill over. He turned with a whimper and blinked rapidly, trying to will the salt liquid away and failing. He chanced a quick, squinting glance upwards, coughed and dropped his eyes. Not a cloud in sight. Sky all blue. The sun was white-hot on them, blinding their unshielded eyes with its glaring warm rays.



He plucked a yellow ear, squinted as he looked up at the others. He could no longer see Aroree, as she had been ordered to another part of the field to gather berries. Much easier than picking straws, but they dared not protest. A week had passed since his kitchen duty, and it was the same amount of time since they last saw their dear sira Ekuar. Whispers spoke of the dungeons, an older novice claimed to have seen the prioress leave the vault with hand splattered with blood.



They went to no other with sobbed pleas of help.



Aroree, still confined to the kitchen, could do nothing as Redmark was assigned heavier and heavier tasks. They had seen but brief glances of each other, able to count their moments of soft, whispered words on one hand. Today gathering was on the list of chores. Outside the cloister. They had not been outside since the day they learned of Mrs. Winnowill’s sickness, and the bright sun did not bring joy to their hearts as it usually would.



Someone was watching them from a distance, he noted as he looked up again. A horse and two riders, an adult and a child. A nobleman, he judged by the bright color of his clothes. A kind man, he hoped. Elves usually were, but he could be sure no longer. Redmark fought the lump of nausea in his throat, blinked to clear his vision, clutched weakly at his empty stomach as he reached for another straw. And halted.



He pulled back as if the straws had burned him. Chills ran down his spine, the hairs on his neck stood on end as he slowly righted himself again. He was being watched. And not by the nobleelf on the other side of the field. It was someone else. Someone with no good intentions. He swallowed, closed his eyes briefly and turned.



The prioress looked down at him with eyes as dark as the blackest night, and he knew that again she was not pleased with his pace, with his work. He dared not look away or close his eyes, in fear of being disrespectful, and thus his eyes never left hers; not when she hissed, not when she took a step closed, not when she moved her arm.



He saw the raised hand, but cold terror did not register before the limb fell and his scream rolled over the field.





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She woke up when someone shook her shoulder. She was about to jump up, afraid that she had overslept, when she opened her sleepy eyes and saw someone stand by her bed. She rubbed her eyes, yawned and blinked, then froze. This had happened once before, nearly six turns of the seasons ago. She had been woken only to learn that… oh no!



She blinked furiously to clear her eyes when she felt a hand on her shoulder and the mist suddenly cleared, revealing sister Yeyeen. The older novice offered her a small smile as she whispered, “Hush, sister Aroree.” Then, as if reading the fear in the younger’s eyes, she added, “It is time for the High Ones’ hymn.”



Relieved, Aroree gave a trembling nod, but still whipped around, terrified at the sound of a small whimper, only to find young Redmark being woken in the same gentle way by the new novice. The boy, once reassured he was not about to be beaten or yelled at, yawned and stretched as he glanced around for his ‘big sister’. When his eyes fell on Aroree, she was already by his bed and gently helping him climb down and change into the novice dress that also young males wore.



Most of the other novices had already lined up and a nun led the three children to the front. She was one of the older ones, usually on kitchen duty and always hiding a snack for the two youngest. She had proved a great ally, and so neither Redmark nor Aroree flinched away from her touch but allowed her to find them a spot in the long line of novices. The new girl slipped in behind Aroree, smiling shyly and letting it grow to a grin when Aroree smiled back. Taking Redmark’s small hand in hers, she followed the nun out the door and down the stairs, thankful of the old woman’s tallow candle as it was still dark outside.



Only once did Redmark stumble and Aroree felt a pang of sadness as she helped him regain his balance; she knew it was not the lack of light that was the cause of his misstep.



They filed into the altar room where the nuns were already waiting. The novices lined up behind the black clad group with the children in the middle, followed the normal procedure and started on the hymn. Confident no one was watching, Aroree chanced a glance to her left and backwards, to a slumped figure in the corner of the room. Sira Ekuar met her worried glance with a misty one, but was able to offer her a weary smile as he straightened. She did not miss the look of pain that crossed his face when he moved, did not miss the dark lines that marred his old skin, and felt a pang of regret at the sight.



She was the reason for his troubles. If only she had kept quiet, he would not be in this state. But then were would Redmark be?



Her head snapped back up front at a bark from the prioress, her body unstiffing as she found to her relief it was only a sign that the hymn was over and they were to continue in their prayers. Her last though however had stolen her last bit of attention to what they were doing and instead of mumbling along with the others, she dared a glance to her right.



Redmark was standing on his own, albeit not entirely upright, but still standing. Shoulders slumped and feet planted firmly on the ground, eyes closed and lips moving, but making no sound.



Aroree fought the lump that grew in her throat, blinked as her eyes grew hot and stung with unshed tears. This was the first time in days she had been able to see Redmark, really see him, and though she drank him in like one denied water for too long, she did not like what she saw.



Dark shades circled his eyes, rosy lips were cracked and fingers stiff and dirty. The bruise on his face was still clearly visible from their trip outside days ago, same with the first he had received, only that one was much, much paler and had taken on a yellow hue. It looked painful and no doubt anything he did would hurt; she had seen him flinch when tucking a stray lock of hair behind his small, pointed ear. The clothes seemed to have grown on him as they hung off his lithe frame, but Aroree knew from a stolen glance yesterday that that was not the cause.



She had been able to count three ribs on either side, and that was through his nightshirt.



Oh, Redmark.



A nudge in her side told her the prayer was finished and she gave a weak thankful smile to the new novice, taking little delight at having it returned. The nuns up front bent over and the novices moved to kneel on the cold floor. As Aroree helped Redmark to his knees, she tried not to care for the cold glower sent her way from up front, tried not to meet the eyes of the prioress, tried instead to concentrate on staying on the cold stone floor.



Next to her, Redmark closed his eyes in fatigue, thankful for this little moment of peace. Being woken so early after having slept so little, did no good for him. Already weak with hunger, he was in dire need of all the rest he could get. He was cold, hungry and so very, very tired. Where was Mrs. Winnowill? Where was his Mama? He knew she was ill, but why could he not see her? She had seen him whenever he was ill, and she had let him see Aroree when she was down with fever last white-cold. Why would this new woman not let him see his Mama?



He dared not lift his head in fear of being yelled at again, his head was already too full to take in anything else. And thus no thought of his registered fully, but he let them drift by nonetheless, anything to keep him kneeling and awake.



Had something happened to this woman? He had done nothing wrong, so she must be very sad to get so angry with him. Had she been forced into the cloister when she was young? Or maybe left there like him. Did she sometimes wonder where she came from? Or did she mayhap know, but not happy with it? Sira Ekuar once said something about life being formed during childhood. Redmark knew not exactly what it meant, but understood that certain things would have certain consequences and that if something bad happened to a child, it could be bad even when the child had grown up. Maybe something happened to this woman when she was a child?



His head swayed and he opened his eyes to find the prioress glaring at him from up front. He fought the lump of nausea in his throat with a swallow, blinked to clear burning eyes from stinging tears as he looked away. Why did she not like him? What wrong had he done her?



This woman stayed away from them. Maybe she had no friends when she was little. Mayhap the others picked at her, laughed at her and told her mean things. Mrs. Winnowill had once described to him the way of grown people, elves and men alike. That when one grows up with one way of life, one will continue to live that way. Redmark did not understand this. He did not like being beaten and would certainly not like beating others, especially not those younger and smaller than him. Mayhap this woman had been beaten as a child, mayhap she thought it was the right way, the only way. Mayhap it had worked for her.



Then why did it not work for him?



Pain seared through his head. His stomach churned, but he resisted the urge to moan and hug himself, instead freezing as his vision turned misty. He blinked, swallowed, blinked again. The mist was still there, but had taken on a darker hue, a blackish color. He shuddered, trembled, blinked again. And toppled over as the world went black.



He was barely aware of hands grabbing his shoulders, someone screaming his name and someone saying “I think brother Redmark is fainting”, before he fell into the cold clutches of unconsciousness.





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He was pulled out of a painless darkness by ice cold water splashing over him. His eyes were open. Unfocused. Pointed towards the shade towering over him, but not actually seeing it. The shade seemed unaffected by the blank gaze. He had been, was still a lot of things. He had lows, dark as the middle of night, dark as this cell. He had highs, rare highs. They could shine from him like the blaze of the sun. The sun he was now deprived of. He was many things, but never blank. Never nothing. Not like now. One could only wonder what that blank gaze had seen when the shade reached down.



He tried to lift his head, doing his best to still the tremor of his body at this exhausting effort. Wanted to feel the soft hands of his mother pick him up and rock him gently, but was instead pulled harshly up by cold and clawing hands. Made a weak attempt at shielding his face from the raining blows. So unfortunate, he was, to be without a mother at a time like this, at this moment of splitting pain in his head, in his body. So lost in a world too big for little him. So unfree.



He did not know what to do anymore, what could possibly stop this endless pain. He had tried asking. He had tried begging, crying, screaming. He had forced himself to stay awake during the first beatings, in hope of someone hearing his cries. Only later had he succumbed to the empty darkness, to somewhere the pain could not reach him. He did not know what scared him the most. That this was done in the name of the High Ones, that he had no idea where Mrs. Winnowill was... or that he welcomed this darkness.



He had tried to pretend he was sleeping in hope they would go away. He had pulled himself to his feet when he heard the keys in the door; if they beat him because he was weak, he would not be. It failed each time. Now the beatings had turned so bad that he started feigning unconsciousness; they would leave him once he blacked out. And he was left crying, curled up alone in the dark cell, asking himself what he had done wrong.



Why him?



Rustling, distant, signs of danger. He, who moments ago could not lift his head without shaking, was suddenly on his feet.



Pain



His eyes saw darkness, his gaze met nothing.



Pain



His mouth opened in a silent and unheard scream.



Pain



His hands entwined with soil not wet with water.



Pain



His bare feet would never bring him anywhere again, he was sure of it.



Pain



His cracked lips parted in a hushed and rasped gasp.



Pain



Darkness surrounded him, claimed him as theirs.



Numb



He was on the ground, on his knees, not daring to move at all.



Darkness



He was going to die.



Only when the door closed did he dare to look up, but trying to see his surroundings was a task he would have to abandon soon, like he always did. There were no windows in this room, no light. Only endless darkness and the sound of rats scurrying to and fro.



Somehow he was reminded of last white-cold, of a moment when he had been standing outside and looking at the snow covered graves. It had been so cold, so silent. And so peaceful.



They must be so well, those who were dead. Those who no longer felt pain, he decided as his head fell back to the floor and his eyes closed again. Open, closed, it did not matter; he saw nothing.



The stone was rough against his skin, hard. It was freezing cold to lie there like that.



But it did not matter.



His insides were like morning frost anyway.















A/N: Most of the last paragraph is taken from the other July Grab Bag I wrote. Why? Because I was too lazy to find other words to describe the exact same scenes, because I liked it and because I can.



And btw, I'm evil. Think you've discovered that by now.

*dodges stones*

But don't worry, I'll give Redmark back to you.

*dodges daggers*

I promise!

*dodges arrows*

Though it might be in a less than good state...

*dodges axe*

But it's a reason for it.

*dodges scimitar*

Oi, was that one absolutely necessary?

*is chased by a roaring crowd of revengeful fans*

SEE YOU SOON!

Hugin

Yes, the scimitar were necessary. Write the next part of the story, or I will throw some more!

lunakat

Can't wait to see the continuation of this, Tenderfoot! I really missed these stories of yours!

faeriegirl

Yes, please write more!!!

(and please collect all of your Medieval stories into one big thread, so we can easily reread them time and time again! pretty please? It's just near impossible to find all of the grab-bags that contain them...)