A/N: For those of you that I am reading your stories and owe readings to. my apologies. I was sick for a week, then one of my co-workers got pneumonia. She was out for four weeks. I got work to death in those weeks.
Anyway, it has been five years since I worked on this story. I can't believe it!! Anyway, I had a dream that inspired me to write this one. I would really like to finish this story because it is only plotted to be 24 chapters and an epilogue. So, for those of you have been reading this story, this is just for you. I might even manage to get a couple of more chapters up before the end of the year.
Chapter 14: Gifts and Payments
In the quiet of the trees away from the other five, the light of the setting sun streamed through the green leaves. Silence hung on the air as the birds prepared for the coming night. To the casual observer, no one would see the figure crouched in the higher branches, but the presence was known by the rulers of this forever spring forest.
"You should speak, Silver Tongue. You always did have a beautiful voice. We never intended to silence it," the Meleka said in their musical voice. Yet, unlike when speaking with the others of this party, there was a tinge of emotion to these words. "If you speak again, we might forgive her."
The leaves rustled, but no voice was heard.
"The sins of your race are not yours to carry," they added.
Silence was the only response.
"She will fail, you do realize that."
The leaves rustled as a response. The agitation of the movement was more than any words could say.
"You are not the same. Her curse is her own fault. Yours is not. We do not ask to be born as what we are. We only choose what to do with the life given us."
"So be it," they announced. "The others will soon awake."
Aurora was the first to awake among the four of them. Narrinda was nowhere to be found. Although her paranoia had reason to wonder what the wayward spirit could be up to, the place had an overwhelming sense of peace about it. The goblin woman sneered. She was none too fond of magic in the first place, and she especially hated this kind of magic. She wanted to have her own feelings and not be told how to feel. It was almost as bad as the fear that permeated in the Forbidden Woods. All the same, it was well known that the Meleka treasured life above all else. They were fierce when one of their healers died by the hands of another. The murderer did not die right away. He would suffer a horrible curse that would mean the end of him in the end. This was a well known fact among all peoples of this world. It was forbidden to kill one with the mark of the Meleka upon the neck. On the other side of things, the Healers of Meleka were not allowed to kill under any circumstances, nor could they partake of the flesh of an animal. Aurora frowned. She could not imagine living like this, but she had seen a goblin with the mark. Although she felt secure for herself and her living companions, she was unsure what this meant for one who was undead. Despite her anxiety, she really did not believe that the little spirit was in any real danger.
The three weary males woke at various times. Rhluska was the first among them. The gwam was a bit more hardened than the other two, and he had not sustained much in the way of injuries. He jumped awake, but he soon calmed. His wide green eyes looked towards the quiet goblin woman. The calm of the place gave him no reason to reach for his spear or be on guard. He pulled himself up in a sitting position and nodded to his unwilling companion.
Surprisingly, Galen woke up next. He happily greeted Aurora and the gwam. Abinia continued to sleep for a good solid hour. When he awoke and stretched out, he found that all his wounds were gone. He made an excited exclamation about such, and the others took stock of their missing injuries. Aurora shrugged. She guessed such things would be to be expected of such beings.
Abinia, being a goblin who had not eaten a decent meal for several days, was the first to notice the grumble of his stomach and see the offering laid out for them not far from their circle.. Aurora joined him, followed by the other two. As they looked over the foods, they found no meats of any kind., but this fit in with what they knew of the Meleka. Fruits and greens were the primary part of the offering. There were some breads and cheeses that suggested that there were more physical beings in the woods than the immaterial Meleka. Aurora held a oblong red fruit that she could not identify in her hand and furrowed her brow. She seriously doubted that the Meleka would try to poison them or trick them with bad food. Of course, a goblin's digestive system was known for being able to tolerate anything. Abinia had no pause in accepting what was placed before him. Aurora sighed. Their host would not want to kill the human among them, and he was probably the pickiest eater among them. Fortunately, they were all omnivorous, although meat was an intrinsic part of their diet, goblins could live without it for an indefinite amount of time. The gwamin were more omnivorous, and they weren't known to participate in eating captives or cannibalism. Humans could live without meat, and many thrived with never eating such.
Once they had eaten their fill, Narrinda wandered in among the four companions. They jumped in fright at her full appearance, although it was no worse than usual. She had shed the hood and cloak and walked among them bare handed and bare footed. Although he knew what she was, Rhluska made signs of protection, the other three's reactions were less dramatic. Abinia and Galen only cringed back for a moment. Galen had known her longer, but any time she was gone and returned, the fright returned. Abinia equally felt intimidation at her presence, but he couldn't hold a grudge against his rescuer. Aurora only snorted. The goblin woman had dealt with too many undead things of a more formidable size in her short life to feel anything about her small companion. She only leaned back against a tree and watched her with suspicious eyes.
Narrinda picked up an apple from the remains of the meal. She ran her finger across its smooth, cool surface. She had thoughts of giving it to Aurora, but she dropped it back to the pile. She turned her face downward and ran her fingers through her untidy hair. She wanted to forget why she had come to before her master, but that would get her nowhere. She wanted to be her normal cheerful self around them, instead of scaring them with her silent pensiveness. She knelt before the goblin woman and turned her skull upwards to face her. Her bare hands fidgeted and acted like she wanted to pull off the missing gloves.
Aurora, noticing the discomfort, sat up straight. An ache that she did not like nor the magic of the place could suppress traveled up her spine. She narrowed her amber eyes at the other. The Forest of the Meleka may encourage peace, but it could not suppress her impatience. "If you have something to say, be out with it already."
Narrinda shifted her jaw. She twisted a lock of her raven black hair around her bone fingers. She suddenly pulled her hand away frustrated. How could she do this? Aurora had been her first friend in centuries. If she told her what she knew, the young goblin woman would hate her. She would hate herself if the roles were reversed. She wrung her hands. How could she feel otherwise? The cursed one knew that the unborn baby was all the goblin woman had left of her husband. She shifted her shoulders to relieve the pressure there. She threw down her hands in defeat. The longer she delayed, the more the pain she felt. She wanted to cry out and flee this place. If she hid well enough, she would never have to tell her secret. Aurora would not be angry with her and send her back to that horrible, lonely prison.
She was being selfish and she knew it. She sighed and fell back to a sitting position. Aurora frowned. Although Narrinda could not see it, she could feel it. She did not know whether the empathy came from her unnatural existence or was something that someone achieved after being blind for so long. She gave a push to her spirit. She would do this. She had to before her nerve gave out.
"Aurora, I have had a dream . . . a reoccurring dream of the future," she finally started. The goblin shifted uncomfortably. The Meleka still held back her normal violent reactions. She opened her mouth for a sharp reprimand, but the skeleton held up her hand. "No argument. I must say this while I can." She would have taken in a deep breath if she still had a throat or the lungs for it. She did force herself to sit up straighter. "Like all the other things I have seen, this is a horrible prophecy. I . . . I . . . Damn it! I can't give a proper prelude to this. I might as well spew it out. I have dreamt of two alternatives for the end of your quest. I will stand before your child with his blood on my hands. If I do not go with you, you will die in the same manner as your husband will. Your quest will fail," she finally blurted out.
Aurora sat motionless for a time, but her blood soon rushed through her system. The Meleka did not approve of violence of any kind, but the goblin broke through their power. No one could say whether the Meleka's power failed due to the strength of the emotion or because her victim was one of the undead, and she could not truly be harmed by this kind of violence and should be truly dead anyway. Aurora lunged forward and grasped her hands around the skeletal neck with the intent of breaking it or any other part of the Wichtlein. Rhluska jumped up from his position and grabbed hold of Aurora. Before the goblin could retaliate on the gwam, a force froze them. They were slowly pulled apart.
The hot blood still pounded through the goblin woman as she panted out her hatred. She wanted to fight and bloody something . . . anything at this point. More than anything, she wanted to feel the bones of the cursed spirit break in her hands. She could not move as the force of the Meleka held her fast. She cursed under her breath at the lack of her strength to break free. She cursed the Meleka. She cursed the bloody gwam in her presence. She cursed her fate. Most of all, she cursed the damn skeleton and her prophecies.
The anger flowed hotter, then it cooled as her desires changed. Her mind started to work again as she calmed. She wanted to condemn the damned spirit back to her prison. It would be so much more satisfying to break as many bones before doing it. How could the monster want to kill her unborn child? She had thought they were friends. How could she be so wrong about this being? Was she herself so lonely as to not see the obvious? After all, was not part of the reason for her curses a betrayal of trust? The stories of Narrinda and her horrors had been fading from her memory. Was this part of the Wichtlein's workings as well?
Once released, Narrinda remained unaided on her back for a time. She wished Aurora was allowed to finish the job. She wondered if her neck bones would grow back together like the other broken bones. She quickly pushed those thoughts out of her head. The pain of punishment would make her feel like she had paid some minute amount of penitence.
A quirk of hope warmed her undead soul. Aurora was angry now, and it was over with. She did not have to wander in limbo of this anticipation any longer. She knew the goblin would send her back to her accursed prison now before the book was translated. She was too headstrong and impulsive to think about this before speaking the words to send her back. They would spurn both parts of the horrible prophecy. Aurora would go home. Neither she nor the baby would die in that way. Morithil would be lost, but Aurora would live. She would have smiled if she still had lips. She knew Aurora and not her husband. The goblin woman was the important one to her mind. She would expect that Aurora would grieve, but she would soon get over it and move on. Narrinda, relaxed and waited for her sentence. She would have liked to have seen the greens and blues again in reality, but it was not to be.
The force allowed Rhluska to go free first. Aurora wished to clench her fists in further anger of the unfairness of this. The gwam backed away from her and sat down with the other two males. The violence had passed. Aurora huffed. Why couldn't they fight like Morithil instead of cowering like the beaten cowards they were? Yet, as her nerves calmed and the distance from the stab dulled the pain, her calm returned. She felt her constraints loosen.
As she began to regain the use of her limbs, her mind began to work. She knew she could not act upon her immediate impulse to send the damned Wichtlein back to her prison yet. Narrinda had to translate the map for them. She had not done this yet. The goblins's mouth smirked. It would be good to get this over and be done with the accursed spirit. Maybe, bringing along one so cursed had led the fates to give her such bad luck, she thought as she eyed the two from Zelkiden.
Catching her eye, Abinia stood up and came before her. Although his nerves were aflame with anxiety, he met the yellow eyed glare head on. His lips quirked upward, this was no different than meeting with the captain of his squad, except he knew that she could not attack him. He had seen what the Meleka had done to both her and Rhluska. True, she could get him once they left these confines, but he had it in his mind to speak.
"Aurora," he said. His fists clenched at his sides, but his eyes never wavered from hers. "I will do what I can to protect your child from Narrinda. I am not much of a fighter, but you and Rhluska can teach me." His eyes faltered, and he lost eye contact. His voice lowered with his resolve to just above a whisper. "I know I'm squeamish, but Narrinda has no blood. I also know that I should know how to fight by this age, but . . ." His mouth became suddenly dry and his tongue heavy. He closed his eyes and straightened his back. He plowed forward with what he had to say before he lost his nerve. "I have never had a reason to learn to fight before. I do now," he spewed out.
Aurora shook her head and looked down at the small being at her feet. She looked back at the goblin. She suddenly felt very stupid and inept. They both seemed to bow to her as if she were some kind of ruler. The ragged goblin before her was something that she had not experienced before. All goblins that she had known had been forceful. He seemed . . . what was the word she sought she had heard the humans use . . . romantic. She huffed at his offer. What was he anyway? He was just a lowly outcast coward. She hardened her resolve as she looked down at the undead spirit.
"Narrinda," she said, "I want you to read the map."
The Wichtlein pulled herself up into a sitting position. Her soul became numb as she nodded her ascent. "There are other things I have yet to tell you," she answered, "but the Meleka have the ability to remedy it."
The pain boiled again inside of the goblin again. She bashed herself again for trusting this atrocity. A sneer lifted her lip. "How many more secrets do you keep from me?" she demanded.
"It is not good to know everything about me," Narrinda replied. She turned her head upwards and towards her master. "It would have done you no good to know that I have lost my sight so many centuries before. You would have deemed me useless and left me behind."
"I can't say that I really find you of much use before knowing this," the goblin answered without emotion.
Narrinda nodded her acknowledgment. She knew well that she did not count as much as the fighters did. She shook her head. What good had she done since she had left the forest? She had terrible visions and had to be rescued all the time. She was more of a hindrance than a help. What did she know of the world beyond her home? Aurora did not question what she had planned to do once they got the book and she with no sight to read it. It was enough that they now had the way to it. She turned her face upwards towards the treetops where she believed the Meleka to be. Quietly, she wrung her hands. She was ready for her trial.
"And afterwards, do you wish to keep the deal made? You may well return to your black prison, where the sight will be of no use to you." The Meleka informed her.
She pushed the thoughts of the prophecy out of her mind and nodded. "I fear I will fail your test regardless. All the same, I could never forgive myself if I didn't at least try," she replied as she attempted to stand up straight and giver herself courage.
Silence fell upon them as if a decision was to be made. A pool of clear silver liquid appeared at the skeletal figure's feet. Narrinda knew its presence and knelt before it. She braced herself for the horrors that would soon be hers.
"Will any stand by her through her trial?" asked the musical voice of the Meleka.
Abinia narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow. "What trial?" he queried.
Narrinda took to her feet again and turned to her companions. She wrung her hands nervously again. She did not expect the request from the Meleka. Since the revelation of her dreams, she really did not expect any of her friends to stand with her. "I can keep my sight if I don't cry out at the vision of my own appearance," she explained quietly.
"That's cruel!" the goblin man protested as he raised his fists. A light flashed before him. He yelped and cringed down shielding his eyes with his arms..
"We may be a non-violent race, but she has down more unforgivable sins in her existence than any of you could imagine. She deserves this punishment. She deserves to know what she has become."
Aurora's amber eyes met Rhluska's green eyes with astonishment. They both had done a good many things and seen others submitted to terrible torments. Sadistic cruelty only escalated as they delved deeper into their memories of things done. Could this little being have done worse than that? Aurora's breath caught in her throat. Rhluska stood up straight and made signs for protections. Abinia gulped hard and felt his stomach quell. He had been the victim of many cruelties and seen his people commit many more to outsiders. Galen only remained in the shadows and tried not to think about what the cursed one had down nor the whispers that had filled his town about her.
"Will anyone stand by the accused one through her trials?" The Meleka asked again.
Silence was their answer.
Rhluska was the first to shake his head and turn his back on her. He barely knew these people, and he did not feel inclined to involve himself in their affairs unnecessarily. The cursed spirit was nothing to him, and he planned to keep it that way. There was no reason for him to get himself cursed for someone he did not know. He wasn't even sure that he would take the chance for Abinia, whom he had known for awhile and was not bad for a goblin.
Aurora stood up straight with her arms crossed and her mind firm. This companion was not on the top of her list of favorite people at the moment. If this was before the revelation of the prophecy, she was not sure she would stand by her even then. Somehow she trusted the gwam and the goofy goblin more than her. Why should she stand by someone who threatened her unborn child? It would have been best to have left her to her prison in the first place, she bit her lips to quiet any outburst of emotion. How could she think of such a thing as friendship with this monster?
Galen hid deeper in the shadows. In the last few months he had been exposed to a vast number of things beyond his comprehension. The Meleka and Narrinda were the least of them. How could he stand by a being that he had always been taught was some sort of demon? True, she had saved him in Zelkiden, but to what end, he wondered. He had been taught that goblins were evil as well, but the tall, proud goblin woman was not what he had been told. Even the Meleka, who seemed to hate violence, approved of Aurora and not of the cursed one. The prophecy of the cursed one made things even worse. He could not stand by her after that one.
Abinia was the weakest one of the party, and he knew it. He feared the Meleka. He feared Narrinda as well as her three companions. The human was right to call goblins cowards if they all felt the way he did. He looked to Aurora. An odd feeling stirred within him. He sighed and shook his head. She was no coward. He wished he could be more like her. The corners of his mouth jerked upwards briefly. He wished he was worthy enough to remain with her. He wished to see her child borne safely and she herself safe afterwards. He had other thoughts that were just plain selfish. He wrung his hands he would keep those to himself. Maybe, he was as the cursed spirit, but he was not about to tell her his secret. All the same, he wanted to look good in the goblin's eyes. He bowed and stepped back.
Narrinda clutched her hands at her sides. The request for hope was over with and done. She really had not expected them to stand by her, but it was a pleasant wish, and she had lived for many wishes before. She gave a nod to the beings around her. She would face this alone.
The leaves of the tree above Narrinda shook. A figure covered in glowing white furs appeared crouched beside her in the darkness. No one was able to trace the movements he must have made from the trees to her side. Midnight black fingers wrapped around a white longbow. The large black pointed ears twitched towards the sound of the gasps of the others Although the face was hidden by thick white hair, the party could tell this was another gwam.
Galen and Abinia looked at each other and shrugged. Aurora growled a curse about so many betrayals. Rhluska's jaw dropped, and his knees trembled. He forced himself still. He placed his fist over his heart in a sign of reverence.
"The White Gwam!" he exclaimed. "I thought you only a legend as do many of my people. I am most honored,' he announced as he approached him. He knelt before him.
The hunched white figure moved slowly and intentionally. White eyes in the black face narrowed and glared at the other with more expression than any words could ever convey. The free hand moved towards the white quiver of white arrows, but it paused. He looked up to the trees. He frowned with a silent acceptance. He stood up and pushed Rhluska away from him. The white gwam looked up and around himself with the expression of disappointment on his face.
Rhluska froze with the cold running up his spine. His feelings crushed by the rejection of an idol, he regained his feet. He returned to his companions. He knew well that his presence was not wanted. He was unsure what he had done in his life to merit such animosity. It was true that the map was removed from its place, but he was with it. He was sort of friends with one of the enemy, but he couldn't help but like Abinia. The goblin was more trouble to his own people than to his. After all, he was honor bound to owe the goblin something for his rescue. He sighed. He knew not what he could do to raise himself in this one's eyes.
Abinia wrapped his fingers around his companion's arms. "The White Gwam," Rhluska answered the goblin's questioning look, "is a figure from legend. He is a great and just warrior from beyond. He is the messenger of our gods, and he kills those that break the way of the gwamin people."
Scratching his head, Abinia pointed out the obvious to the other. "He looks like he doesn't exactly approve of you. What did you do?"
"The Silver Tongue, as we call him," stated the Meleka, "was an abandoned gwamin child that we found on the verge of death in the snow. We ever strive to defeat death's clutches. We did what we could for him, but he was too far gone. We had only a partial success with him. He walks between the Living and the Dead. He is closer to the Living than the undead. Before us.
"He is not one of the Healers. We do not force those that we save to become one of the Healers, and his choice was not in that direction. Still, we claim him as one of our own. We taught him to read and write. We taught him right from wrong and the history of this world and his people's role in it. Upon hearing the horrible deeds of his people, he ceased to speak." A silence followed for several long, stretched out seconds. "He chooses to destroy his own species. We never intended for him to do this. Still, we accept our mistake in him and claim him as one of our own."
Without turning around. White Arrow made a slashing motion with his arm towards the others then the Meleka. A frown continued to mar a relatively handsome face. Silently, he turned back to the lone figure of the cursed spirit. He placed his arms around her in an act of protection. Narrinda froze in the embrace.
"We do not understand why you chose to protect the one who has brought the curse upon herself," the Meleka stated.
He held Narrinda tighter. The skeleton said nothing. Her fingers splayed out in the shock she felt. Although usually the most outspoken one, she could not find a reason to argue one way or the other. For the moment, she allowed herself to drift into the warmth of her companion's embrace. He might be half dead, but he was as warm as any living being. His scent was of pine trees. It made her want to fall into a peaceful sleep.
"You choose to stand by her through this trial?" the Meleka asked.
The White Gwam nodded his ascent. His tight embrace released his companion. Narrinda uncurled herself from him like a leaf from a branch. Her fingers lightly touched his wrists and hands in her gratitude for all that he had down and was willing to do.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Unseen, he nodded to her. With a sad smile on his face, he stroked a stray lock of hair from her face as if she was a frightened child. His finger traced her cheek bone then her jaw. He turned her around and gently pushed her down to her knees. His large hands took hold of her shoulders. She shifted her jaw and then nodded her head..
"I'm as ready as I ever will be," she answered the unasked question.
She leaned forward over the pool. The reassuring hands never left her shoulders. The babble of the nearby stream crackled loudly in the following silence. She wondered at first why they didn't use the stream for the purpose than create this pool. The skeleton wrung her hands underneath her as the stream ticked off the seconds before the horror and the ultimate condemnation. They were right. She could continue on without her sight. It was not her only selfish desire. She would have done several things that entailed her still being alive. But, since she could neither snort or smirk, she was left with cold silence. Her desires had gotten her in trouble. She knew that her vanity was what caused her to do whatever horrible things she did to deserve this curse. Now she wanted her sight that would do no one any good but herself. Maybe, she had gained no wisdom in her 700 years. She felt one of the hands move from her shoulder to the back of her head. She was forgiven to lean forward.
Blackness was all around her as it had been for most of her memory. She tried to remember reds and blues and greens in the real world and not how it was in her dreams. A lightness played through her soul. She remembered being fond of lilac. She pushed hard on the memory. She was a mere child then. She knew that much. It was before she had done her crimes that deserved such a punishment and abandonment. She pushed harder. She wanted to know sight again before it was taken away from her again. She could remember her own language. She did not know why it had been so important for her to remember this.
A trickle of yellow and green came to her mind. She wanted to let go of a girlish giggle at the memory. She could remember the colors names as well. The color brown followed, but this was not a memory. The vision before her told her this. The off white, sharp angles framed by the mane of black focused into the horrid visage of the skull of the undead monstrosity that she now was. Her jaw dropped opened. It left no doubt as to what she saw. She pulled back into the arms. The screams formed and would have spewed forward like vomit. They were never released. A black hand clasped her jaw closed so that the sound never escaped. She took hold of the arm and struggled. Bone hands on the black arm made her pull back further into the body that held her. Her mind raced. How could she escape form these visions before they cursed her further? She kicked furiously at the ground in her struggles. She could not escape. The grip on her was too much.
After awhile, the struggles calmed. She knew she could not escape. She was the curse. She knew. The thing that terrified her so much to see was herself. With the calm established, the arms around her eased up. She could move again. She buried her face into his darkness again. White arrow enclosed his arms around her as if to protect her from the outside. He could feel the trembles in her body. He turned his face upward to glare at the branches of the trees above them, where he knew the unseen beings to be.
"You cheat," they announced calmly. Still, the demanding glare did not ease. Silence followed. "You win. She can keep her sight. It will add to her other curses because she cannot tolerate what she has become."
Although Aurora's impatience demanded that something be done right away, she accepted the offer of the others heading her away from the scene. Narrinda would come to them when the time was right. Aurora knew this from the scant trust that she had for the little one, the mysterious stranger, and the Meleka.
The time did not pass quickly for her, but there was nothing she could do about it. The Meleka would not allow her to indulge in the violence of her emotions. None of her three companions deserved any of her outbursts. She smirked. She might enjoy harassing Abinia. She sighed as she sat down between the three of them. . The three remaining males did what they could to cheer and encourage her. She mostly drowned out their words with her own thoughts and concerns. Abinia asked her several questions about her life in the forest and the other goblins there, but she did not answer him. He was not deterred by her lack of answers. He would have happily continued his stream of questions except for Rhluska pulling him away.
The goblin woman sat with her back to a tree in a light doze when her ears caught the sound of approaching feet. The skeleton came with the accursed archer behind her. She held the book in her arms. The expression on the gwam's face was neutral as the undead before him. Narrinda's hair and clothes were as disheveled as they had been upon entering this place. She had made no attempt to straighten them as she was prone to do before.
"It is time," spoke the undead Wichtlein in a flat voice so unlike her usual lively tones. She did not look up to see any of them as she spread her cloak out on the grass. She, then, laid the book out on the material. She knelt down in front of it and turned the pages stoically. The others watched patiently for her to find what they sought. Aurora shifted her weight and moved to the reader. She stood towering over the reader.
Narrinda's jaw shifted in an effort to ignore the presence above her. She quickly scanned through the passages as quickly as she could. Although she could read the words, she could not comprehend them. If she still had a throat, she would have swallowed hard. Still, they were expecting. Aurora's movements were distracting. All movement was confusing to her. It had been so long since she had seen movement. She wanted to understand it all again. The self outcast gwam was a great help and understanding. She was glad of him.
So many colors overwhelmed her as well, and she only wanted to stare and gawk at them all. She had forgotten how beautiful it all was, even black was wonderful to see in contrast. Unfortunately, her sight was given to her at night. She wanted to see the sunlight shining through the leaves again. Still, there was light in this most unusual forest.
After the vivid colors, she focused on shapes. Each leaf, each flower, each blade of grass brought delight to her. It was a true wonder to see the patterns of the bark of the trees. Her twisted, knotted bone hands still made her pull back at first sight, but things changed in her mind. Terrifying as what the bare bones represented, they held a beauty of their own. The color and the shape were good to see instead of just feeling.
She had turned to her tall stoic companion. The white on black was lovely to behold as well. She swayed on her feet, and the world moved too fast with her. His movements to hold her were not like the rest of the world or her own. He was there one moment and here another. It was less discerning. Her next move was to get used to real movements. Her own movements were too sudden and weird. She wasn't too sure of herself even when she rejoined them.
When she returned to her . . .friends . . . yes, they were friends, whether the feeling was mutual or not . . . she still startled at every shift they did. The movement was too much. She had to avoid looking at them. Still, as she scanned through the book in search of what they wanted to know, her curiosity got the better of her. She had to look up. She had to see them before she lost them for forever.
She pulled back from the book and turned her skull upwards to look at them. Her jaw dropped open and she fell backwards to a sitting position instead of kneeling. Warm black hands held her arms. They kept her from fleeing. It was still too much too soon.
She relaxed. White Arrow shooed Aurora back away from his ward. The goblin, still none too pleased with the fact that her secret protector had been a member of a race that she was sworn to kill, growled something to him. Galen gently pulled her into their group.
Narrinda cocked her head. She saw all four of them at once. Aurora was the only female among them. Her long black hair cascaded down her torso to the tip of her elbows. Amber eyes were narrowed with the impatience the young one was so known for. She was of a stout build that the black clothes made hard to see the defining lines of her form. Grey skin covered firm bones. This took Narrinda back a moment as she glanced down at her bare bone hand. No flesh covered her own bone structure. She shook her head to clear away the thoughts. She looked at the tall figure with crossed arms and frowning with those protruding teeth.. Yes, she was indeed a goblin.
Abinia was the other goblin of the party. His visage was not as frightful. The jagged teeth were not as formidable in the big mouth because of the goofy smile that covered his face. He was not as stout as his counterpart, but he was wider than either gwam or the human. His dull, ragged clothes covered a body with more defined bones. This gave a jerk to the undead Wichtlein. His cheer cancelled out her fear of the memory. A new warmth flushed through her. She was glad that they had rescued him, no matter how much Aurora had protested it. She wished that she would have time to get to know him a little better, but she feared it would not be her fate.
Rhluska was next. He was long and lanky, much like her own companion. He stood half as wide as Aurora, but he was slightly taller than her. His clothes were drab greys and dark browns, but they were much more whole and better kept than his fellow from Zelkiden. His sharp undercut teeth were not as large or jagged as the goblins'. Puzzled, she looked at her companion. She could not see his teeth protruding like that. She wanted to run her fingers along the white gwam's face, but she resisted the urge. She turned her sight back to Rhluska. The gwam had deep green eyes much like the dark vegetation around them. His face was much rounder and kinder than her own companion's face.
The final member had to be Galen. He was the brightest color among them. His blue eyes shone bright from a tan face. His golden hair fluttered down to his shoulders, where it curled. He was slight like the gwamin with long limbs, but he did not sport the sharp teeth. His pale pink lips seemed to contain them. His smooth youthful features made her feel more at ease with him than the two predatory races. She would have liked to smile. He was quite handsome compared to the others.
She folded her hands with a calm and the satisfaction she had gained from the experience. Then, it hit. She fell backwards into the arms of her protector as if she was hit with a fierce, physical blow. It was another premonition. She grasped a hold of her supporter's arms with all her strength. Her jaw shifted and she forced herself to stand up straight. She had to spit out this prophecy as well. Why couldn't she see something good for a change? Their nervous shifting didn't help things either.
"One of you will die if you continue onward," she spoke up as she looked to each of the males in turn. She had nothing to lose on this one. Aurora already condemned her for the last prophecy.
The four of them looked to each other with somber looks. Abinia shrugged and put on his usual cheerful demeanor. "I say we draw straws for who dies," he suggested in an effort to calm the mood.
Rhluska hit him in the back of the head. The gwam shook his head and asked the more logical question. "Which one of us is doomed?"
The skeleton shifted on her feet. She wanted to avert her sight, but she had to know which one. She had to look at each one of them in turn. She could not see anything out of the ordinary. She couldn't even feel anything different when she looked at each of them in turn, but she knew. "All I know is that it is one of the three of you," she answered. "Aurora's fate is different."
"Hmpf!" Aurora snorted. "It's always doom and gloom with you. Why can't you see something good or precise?"
"I didn't ask for this power," she returned defensively. "I wish nothing bad on any of you either!"
Aurora threw out an arm to the three males. "I will not hold you. Leave if you are so afraid. I can do this on my own!"
"I stay with the book," Rhluska stated. "As soon as you are done with the book, I return it to its hiding place, and you can go wherever you wish. As for the other two, I think they have no other choice but to go with you."
"Galen and Abinia may stay here if they so wish," the Meleka spoke. "Both have the potential to be one of our healers."
"I knew I was good for something!" Abinia exclaimed with a bright smile.
Galen shook his head. "I guess I will be the one to die. I will not abandon Aurora. I have come this far."
Abina shrugged. "I can't abandon her either. If all works out for her, and I survive, I might take you up on the offer."
"I'm tired of all these forebodings," the cursed spirit complained.
With nothing more to say, Narrinda knelt back to the book. She scanned through the pages, but she found no drawn map of any kind. The book was nothing more than a journal of a man . . . a simple married man, who seemed happy with his life. Aurora would not be pleased. She could tell the goblin woman was not exactly happy now. It was taking her too long to find what they needed.
The word for "magic" appeared early in the text. She made an effort to understand the passage better. Maltere had a talent in such matters, and he took an interest in it. Unlike her, he had the attention for this study early enough. Although she enjoyed reading this part, it was not what they sought. She scanned through the writing to learn that the man had used the knowledge he had gained for the good of his people and all peoples. He had made quite a name for himself.
She pulled back from the book. Aurora sent her a scowl, but she had already learned to ignore such things. The events of the past made no sense. How could he become the monster that Aurora had destroyed? She flexed her fingers and shook her head. The world still moved too much from the action, and she had to put her hand to her head to steady herself again. What Maltere had become was not her concern. That tale was already over with. Kalantis had told her the solution to their problem was the reason for the wizard's transformation.
Then, it struck her. She flipped through the diary towards the end. Somehow she didn't believe the man would have continued the book once the quest had started. Yet, she had been wrong many times before. She still found no drawn map, but she did find the reason for his quest to destroy the Shadow Demons. The question that Rhluska had asked Aurora about the child rang in her ears. It wasn't the same. Maltere's wife carried their child when she was tainted. Narrinda pulled back and clutched her shirt. She knew their end, and guilt weighed upon her as if somehow it was her fault. She shook her head. This all happened after her imprisonment. She knew this, although the book was not dated in her people's calendar year. How could this be her fault? It wasn't, plain and simple.
She shook her head more fiercely. This time the movement was far too much and she fell into a sitting position again. Although she had all this trouble with it, she was still not willing to part with this new sight if she could help it. She saw Aurora glaring at her. She would have liked to blush, but she had no blood. Why was she embarrassed? Was the guilt of receiving the vision eating at her again? Her inaction made the goblin stomp her foot.
"What have you found? Tell us now," she demanded.
"There is no drawn map," she replied plainly. She would have liked to have left it at that, but she knew she couldn't. She pulled the book into her lap. She turned several more pages and found what they sought with a yelp. "A crystal that draws pure light in but only gives off blackness is the source of their power. Destroy that and the Shadow Demons will be no more."
"And where will we find this crystal?" Aurora demanded.
Narrinda ignored the question at first. She scanned down passages and pages until she came to what she sought. She looked up. "I have found it!" she exclaimed happily like a school girl knowing the correct answer in class. "There is descriptions of landscapes and directions."
"Things change. How will that help us?" she cried out.
Galen put her hand on her shoulder and kept her from moving forward and doing something that she might regret. "Give her a chance."
"There are towns named and other landmarks," Narrinda answered. "I don't recognize them, but there is a reference to a place that seems to be Zelkiden. The Finnis Mountains are mentioned as well. It seems that this place is far to the north."
The cursed one read aloud a passage that described the mountains curving into a hook. White Arrow nodded his knowing . He made a motion with his arm and pointed to the north. He held out his right arm and motioned with his left to indicate that the place was on the western side of the mountain range, and they were on the right side of them.
"You know," the skeleton commented. "You will come upon a place in the directions that none of you will know. That is part of the place being secret."
Aurora spat something at her.
Narrinda pulled back and held her arm up in a disgusted way. Regaining her composure, she shook her head. "The directions only get more complicated from here, and White Arrow seems to be the only one among us who has traveled much. I can relay the directions to Galen and hope that he gets it without mistake." She paused and looked down at the book. Her jaw moved without words. "It would be better if I could continue with you to be sure the details are right. A mistake could be fatal to the quest."
"Convenient for you, isn't it?" the goblin complained.
Narrinda held up her hands and shrugged. "I didn't make these rules nor did I give myself these curses."
Aurora huffed. She turned her back on her companions and walked off into the shelter of the trees. The remaining five looked at each other. It looked like they would all be traveling together for awhile longer.