Chapter One (Final)
A group of wolves gathers in a small grove of trees, discussing the future of one of their own. The wolf in question is sleeping in the pups' den, playing nursemaid to them, along with another, older wolf.
"We must be quick," one wolf says. "We cannot trust her near our pups, even for this short length of time."
"Quick we shall be, Light Paw," another wolf replies.
"How are we to deal with her?" Light Paw asks the gathering. "Do we kill her outright, or simply chase he out?"
"Whatever we do," a young, bright-eyed wolf says, "we must send her a clear message--those of her kind will not be tolerated in our pack.
Tails wag in approval throughout the wolves, and several even yelp in agreement.
"Then a lesson it shall be," the leader of the pack says.
Silently, the wolves make their way through the trees. Darkness is falling quickly and the days are growing shorter in anticipation of winter. They are soon upon the den and look upon the unfortunate wolf. Pure white and large for her age, it is hard for anyone to escape her peculiarity.
"Wind Whisper," the pack leader says, nudging her with his paw. "Wake and come join us in our hunt."
"Hunt?" she asks, confused. "But I am still a pup in your eyes, Stalker. The day I am set to first hunt with the pack is many moons away."
"We feel you are ready," Stalker says. He and the other wolves offer her glances of approval and confidence in her abilities.
"Then I will come and hunt with you," Wind Whisper says, rising to her feet. She is nervous about hunting with the pack so soon, but she is also full of pride that they would deem her ready at such an age.
Perhaps my ability to speak with others of the wild, Wind Whisper thinks, that makes them want me to hunt with them. Surely, it would be an asset if I could trick a buck into thinking I am but a doe in heat, so that the others could move in on him.
Once they are in the woods, they move silently in groups of two or three, searching in the fresh darkness for their prey. In only minutes, the group Wind Whisper is in finds a foolish fawn that has wondered away from its mother. Not finding any other deer nearby, they howl of their find to the others. Because the fawn is so young and uninformed in the ways of the wild, the howls simply scare it in such a way that it lays down among the dry autumn leaves.
"She is young," Light Paw says to Wind Whisper, "and stupid. This will be a good kill for your first."
"Go, young one, and show us what you have learned," Stalker says.
Wind Whisper nods and anxiously moves toward the yearling deer. The other wolves move back into the trees, hiding themselves whereupon the deer might bolt and they should need to catch it.
But before Wind Whisper can reach the young doe, she is knocked down. She turns to attack whatever felled her, and finds Stalker standing over her.
"What are you doing?" she questions him.
"Those of your kind cannot be trusted," he says. Howls of agreement rise from the rest of the pack as they close in around them.
"But--it isn't my fault that I'm like this," she says defensively.
"We care not about fault; what we care about is keeping our pack safe from your pernicious magic."
Acting upon Stalker's piercing howl, the wolves are on Wind Whisper quickly. Fangs pierce Wind Whisper's flank, sending pain through her leg. Each malicious bark and growl she hears tells her to run, to flee this place even though her heart begs her not to.
This is naught but a dream, she thinks to herself, ever hopeful. My family would never do this to me.
A sharp bite to her neck brings her back into the present, and her hope fades instantly. Her family would do that, and is attacking her. Dozens of claws and teeth bury themselves in her each second and the terrified wolf howls in agony and pleads with her family not to do this to her.
"Why do you do this to me?"
"You mustn't be allowed to live," says one of the elder pack members. "Death and loss is all that you and your ways will bring to us!"
"Please, you can't do this! I'm not a danger to the wolves of this pack or any other! I don't even know how I do these things," pleads the desperate wolf.
Despite her large size, she is too weak to defend herself. Wind Whisper tries to run away, but her own mother tackles her and buries her teeth deep in her neck. Blood seeps from the wound, tarnishing the young wolf's ghostly white fur.
"Please, just leave me alone! I can't help how I am!"
She rips herself away from her mother and backs away from the group. Terrified tears fill her eyes. The unruly wolves back her into a tree and continue to assail her. They take turns assaulting her: one comes forward and tears at her with their jaws only to drop back and let someone else attack her. Pain is now a constant in her mind. Not a moment goes by without some new bite or wound demanding her attention.
Menacing growls surround her and she can see dozens of fangs bared at her. Determination fills all of the eyes before her, as each one does what they can to protect the pack. Not wanting to see what will happen to her next, the ill-fated wolf closes her eyes and welcomes the darkness it brings.
A painful howl tore from Wind Whisper's throat as a hand on her flank jarred her into wakefulness. Ragged breaths rattled the wolf's body as she struggled to shake the dream from her mind. Reality came rushing back to her when she looked into Ayrlyn's kind eyes. Still apprehensive and doubting, she looked down at her haunches to check for blood and fresh wounds. Upon seeing nothing, Wind Whisper breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed her tensed muscles.
"Are you okay?" the elf asked worriedly. Brown locks fell in front of her face as she knelt down beside Wind Whisper and slender fingers stroked the animal's ears, trying to soothe her. Wind Whisper twitched when Ayrlyn's fingers touched her right ear, or rather what was left of it. One of the wolves in her pack had torn half if it off during the melee.
The wolf gave her head a rough shake and then rested it in her friend's lap. The soft fabric of Ayrlyn's ornate tunic felt good against her fur. Wind Whisper found comfort in the soft glow of the red Fire runes that were embroidered in her tunic.
"I'm okay now. It was that dream again," she sighed heavily, remembering how her pack had attacked her. "I just can't forget what they did to me; it was so cruel."
Ayrlyn hugged Wind Whisper tightly to her chest. The wolf buried her face into Ayrlyn's warm flesh, rubbing the iridescent Fire runes tattooed on the young woman's collarbones.
"Everything's okay now. It's been months since that happened. We're far away from them now and besides, I wouldn't let them do that to you again. Your powers are a blessing, not a curse," she said comfortingly. Ayrlyn put a hand on the underside of Wind Whisper's jaw and lifted her muzzle until their eyes met.
"How many others do you know who can speak with any creature on this Earth or who can become one with the Air at a moment's whim? You are truly a blessed creature, to be one of the Imbued."
The elf kissed Wind Whisper's muzzle and ruffled her fur playfully. "I could always show them my own powers," she suggested with a mischievous grin. "Then they'd find out what 'dangerous' really is."
"I know I'm not a danger, but sometimes I just can't stop thinking about what happened." Wind Whisper licked Ayrlyn's face. "Thank you, sweet one."
"Will you be alright if I leave you for a little while? I snapped my bowstring again and have to see if Llew can fix it."
"I think I can handle myself this morning. I might just go back to sleep again," she said, stifling a yawn. "Say hello to Llew for me, won't you?"
"As I always do," Ayrlyn said as she stood up. "I should be back in a couple of hours."
"Why so long?" the wolf inquired.
"Have you forgotten what day it is?" Ayrlyn teased. "It's the fifteenth anniversary of King Madren's death."
"Of course," Wind Whisper said, finally remembering. "You'll find it hard just getting to Llew's shop, no matter that you need his services when so many people are in the city."
"A few hours it will be, then," Ayrlyn said.
Wind Whisper rubbed her head against Ayrlyn's thigh and then lay down as Ayrlyn receded into the trees.
The streets of the Dacia market were alive with the bustle of shoppers on their way and sellers hawking their wares. The market always had a bright atmosphere, with shops painted every color of the rainbow and merchants hiring minstrels to sing to the people about their line of goods. That day, however, there was an undertone of solemnity.
It was fifteen years to the day that King Madren had been mysteriously murdered. The young king, barely twenty years of age, had been killed violently and without reason in is throne room. He was found with his throat slit and a dagger in his chest. No one had seen a thing near the castle that should have aroused suspicion, and the killer had never been found. And there were no suspects or even a motive for the murder, as King Madren was loved by all within and without of his kingdom.
Ayrlyn wound her way through busy streets at a quick pace. As always, she was eager to see her friend and find out how he was doing. Llew was one of Ayrlyn's closest friends and was the elf that had taught her how to use a bow when she was a child. Her strange control over Fire and the fact that she had just shown up in town when she was only five with no family or memory thereof had scared most people away. No one but the school would take her in. But Llew had seen potential in her when he was an archery teacher and had nurtured it until she had a prowess with bows that even he had yet to manage in his forty years. He had retired from teaching at the school long ago, but continued to help Ayrlyn with her archery.
Llew's shop was a small but well-known one that was hidden away in a small corner of the market. Light colored boards made up most of the exterior and darker wood framed the windows and made up the door. Bells chimed as Ayrlyn opened the door to the shop. Llew, a tall red haired elf, looked up and smiled warmly at Ayrlyn.
"What can I help you with today, Ayrlyn?" Llew said. Dark green robes billowed out behind him as he walked out from behind the counter and embraced Ayrlyn with a friendly hug.
"I was hoping you could take a look at my bow." She held out the bow and showed it to him: its ends were capped with gold and a dull red finish covered the wood. Like most of her possessions, it was engraved with Fire runes that cast an eerie glow upon her hands as she held it out for Llew.
Taking it in his calloused hands and looking at the frayed bowstring, he said, "What did you do to it this time?"
"I got a little distracted," she said, embarrassed, "and pulled the string back too far."
Master of the bow she may be, Llew thought, chuckling to himself, but she sure shows her age sometimes.
"How long do you think it will take?" she asked.
"No more than an hour or so. I'm afraid that I can't stop and talk, though. I've got a lot of things I need to get done today," he said with an exasperated sigh, "and not nearly enough time to get them all done."
"Oh, okay," Ayrlyn said, not bothering to hide the air of disappointment in her voice. "I'll see you later in the day, then. Bye."
"Good afternoon!" said Llew. He waved to Ayrlyn and hurried into the back of the shop with her bow.
Ayrlyn left Llew's shop and wandered back to the main market. Meandering through the streets, she took her time looking at the different wares that were up for sale. A pair of wrist guards caught her attention at the tanner's stall. Upon inspection, they were very solid and resistant despite their lightweight and pretty design.
These could save me a lot of pain, she thought with a wince. I don't know how many times that damned bowstring has given me welts on my wrists.
After deciding that she was going to buy them, she took them and stood waiting for the tanner to finish with another customer. The young man finished with the tanner then turned around to leave and Ayrlyn moved to go pay for the wrist guards. The other elf walked right into Ayrlyn and she fell, sprawled out on the ground.
Pain shot through Ayrlyn's thigh when she landed on the ground. She winced as she tried to get up and noticed a small gash along her right thigh where a rock had sliced through her clothing and flesh. Blood tricked onto her ornately embroidered tunic, ruining the fabric.
"Oh my! I'm so sorry, are you okay?" asked the blonde elf who had collided with her. "My name's Mohrr."
He proceeded to help her up onto her feet but almost immediately yelped and dropped her again.
Ayrlyn cried out in pain as she hit the ground again. How dare he! She fumed. Why in the name of Fire did he drop me like that?
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a small fire spreading on the ground a few inches away from her. Ayrlyn instinctually scurried away from the flames. After standing up, she carefully scanned the marketplace for any sign of a Water elf: shells in someone's hair, webbed hands, a sapphire tattoo.
Dammit, where's a Water elf when I need one? she cursed to herself. I guess I have to fix this on my own.
Quickly running over to the flames, she waved her hands over them. Brown eyes melted into blood red and the Fire runes on her collarbones glowed brightly as Ayrlyn's powers surged within her.
However, instead of extinguishing the fire as she had intended to do, it started to spread. Still, even as the fire grew bigger and latched itself onto a nearby stall, she moved her hands over the flames, willing her powers to work and put it out. The gold bands on her wrists grew hot from being held over the hungry blaze. She pulled her hands away before the bracelets could melt completely. Although she didn't feel the heat, she knew that it was enough to damage even her after a while.
No! Not again, Ayrlyn's panicked mind raced and pulled up images of a toddler setting her favorite doll on fire during a tantrum; a small girl setting grass fires at school after she fell out of a tree and broke her arm; a young woman getting nervous during class and setting her essay alight. I thought I had things under control…this shouldn't be happening. I tried to put it out! Why won't it go out?
Now that the blaze had become noticeable, some of the elves in the market started to shriek and run away while others ran over to try to put it out. An older man took charge of the situation and yelled orders at the townspeople.
"You four bucks come here--I need some muscle to help me move these stalls so they don't catch fire. I need the strongest among you to go into Gwenhwyfar's and tell her what's going on. Form a bucket brigade as quickly as you can and get the patrons to help too. The rest of you can start kicking dirt on the flames."
Elves scattered in all directions to follow their orders, willing to do anything they could to prevent the entire market from going up in flames. All of the men and a few of the women went into the tavern to get water. The rest of the women along with children and elders ran over to the flames and started to smother them with dirt. Amidst all of the commotion, Ayrlyn stood frozen, still in shock.
"You--lass! Get over there and help. Now!"
Ayrlyn snapped out of her frozen state when she heard the elf yell at her. As quickly as she could, she ran over to a spot on the far side of the fire where no one else was helping and got right to work.
Please, please, don't let them know it was me who did this, she pleaded to herself while she frantically kicked dirt on the blaze. Ayrlyn soon found herself struggling not to cry. If they know that I did it, they'll hate me for it even though it wasn't my fault. I didn't mean to do it…it just happened.
Three lines of people started forming, going from the outside of Gwenhwyfar's Tavern to the edges of the fire. Soon after the lines were set in place the first buckets of water moved along them from hand to hand until they were poured onto the flames.
Ayrlyn's panicked mind only raced faster when she saw no change in the size of the fire after nearly fifteen minutes of elves dousing the flames with water and dirt.
She walked over to a part of the blaze that no one was working on and she closed her eyes and held her hands held amidst the flames. The more power she raised the more massive and tempestuous the fire became. As she focused on the inferno, she could feel her bond with Fire growing stronger. Ayrlyn opened her eyes; the blood red almonds stared at the center of the fire, concentrating her power.
Out! Choke yourself of life, she screamed inside her mind. Desperation filled her every thought. Since usual tactics hadn't worked, Ayrlyn had to resort to more intense measures to deal with the fire. With all of her strength, she willed the fire to retreat. You will not grow anymore. You have fed enough, now cease your course and leave.
Sweat beaded on Ayrlyn's forehead from her efforts and she struggled to keep her focus. Finally, after several minutes, the fire responded to her will. It began to shrink back, slowly at first, then disappearing all at once in a mighty gust of wind. Everyone in the market stood in stunned silence, trying to decipher what had just happened.
The instant the fire went out, the very air was pulled from Ayrlyn's lungs. She struggled to breathe and stumbled as she felt strength drain from her body. Seconds later, she collapsed. A woman nearby ran over and knelt down beside Ayrlyn to see if she was alright.
"Are you alright?" she asked, propping up Ayrlyn's head.
"I'm fine," she mumbled in a daze. She could hardly believe how close she'd come to setting the entire market on fire.
After catching her breath for a few minutes, Ayrlyn looked around her at the marketplace. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw how little damage had been done. Only one stall was completely incinerated, and only the two nearest stalls had significant damage. Best of all, it appeared that no one had been injured.
When she looked around her, Ayrlyn noticed that everyone was staring at her in varying combinations of amazement and fear. Some people stood open mouthed, just gaping at her, while others were shaking with fright. Upon making eye contact with Ayrlyn, one woman shrieked, grabbed her daughter, and ran away. The young woman who had just run over to check on her health had since backed away and Mohrr, who stood a few feet away, was staring blankly at her, as if he could hardly believe what he'd just seen.
"Why are you looking at me like that? You look like you've all just seen Cern," she said with a dismissive chuckle, citing the Goddess of death and destruction in the popular adage.