AN: The following story takes place on the world of Alder, the setting of my main novel, Alder. This is the story as it actually happened, not as it is currently known on Alder.

At this time on Alder, the race of the lar were split into two warring factions; the Wild and the 'civilized' lar. The lar's country itself is split into North and South Meikshoreai, both ruled by sister Queens.


The Tragedy of Aerd and Denae

They tell you that Aerd and Denae were lovers.

They tell you that pirates stole and killed Aerd.

They tell you that Denae took his own life.

What they don't tell you is the truth.

Reports said that the Wild were widespread in this part of Fuatheal. Reports also said there were a few humans about, too. It was a dangerous place for any civilized lar to find himself in, but Denae was there nevertheless.

He was of normal height, as far as lar go. His hair was the normal civilized brown, grown to the length of a practiced mage – that is to say, very long. He was one of the individuals the spirits blessed with an unusual amount of lixos, and this gift he used to full effect for one purpose; drive out the Wild and their human allies from South Meikshoreai.

Denae didn't particularly dislike humans - in fact, he even admired some – but any who sided with the Wild were just as liable to get kicked out of the lar's country. It was something he had to do, not for glory, or even really honor, but to show the galae that South Meikshoreai could defend itself.

The Legion, now, he didn't like, ever since they stole his fiancée from him. Saral had, apparently, up and decided that she'd rather not have him, and instead ran off to join her friends up north. She gave no reason; just called off the engagement and left.

Denae snorted just thinking about it. Of all the women he could have courted, he chose her, and then she ran off. Not amusing.

A cry drifted to the lar's thoughts. Denae's particularly magnificent set of ears – minus the garish piercings fashionable in the north – twitched and shivered, trying to pick up the direction of the sound. He brought his reserve of power to the surface of his mind, in case he needed to throw out a defense.

The cry came again, but it was not the cry of a Wild charge, nor a human one. Puzzled, Denae ventured toward the sound some hundred feet away.

The crying got nearer as he passed through trees and thick undergrowth, and he was suddenly reminded of a child. Was that what he'd found?

Sidestepping one last tree, he saw the little naked figure.

It was a girl, with matted brown hair and bruised flesh. She was likely human, or maybe a lar whose ears had been cut – a notion that sent shiver's down the man's spine. She was very young either way, maybe ten in human terms or thirty in the case of the lar.

The girl looked up, her big blue eyes watery, her little mouth trembling. Denae felt a painful jolt of pity. He strode forward, not too quickly so as not to frighten the child, and pulled off his cloak as he did so. This warm article he wrapped around the girl's shivering shoulders.

The girl watched him approach with the same wide eyes. There wasn't any fear in them, only curiosity. The lar wondered what had happened, and why she wasn't at all afraid.

When he put the cloak on her, the girl clutched it to her like her own life, and gave him a big toothy smile. He tried very hard not to return the smile, but failed miserably. The child was simply adorable.

He wanted to speak with her, to know who she was and where her parents were – or what had happened to them, if they were…absent. Her ears were small and round; a human. He didn't know the human tongue, and she likely didn't know lari.

Well, I might as well say something. "Lost?"

The girl blinked wide eyes at him, face scrunched up in thought. He nursed a very faint hope she'd actually understood him.

The girl repeated a word something like what he'd said. It had the guttural feeling of the Wild dialect.

Most curious. "Lost?" he repeated in the Wild dialect.

The girl nodded, paused, then shook her head.

Denae sighed at the lack of an answer. "What about your bruises? Injuries?"

He indicated her purpling skin. The girl looked down on her own body with a frown, then back up at him.

The girl made some sort of hand motion and repeated: "Lar."

Denae frowned. He was very hesitant to believe that his own people would beat a child. He hoped she was speaking of the Wild instead.

She wouldn't understand the concept of 'uncivilized,' so he tried the lar term with her next. "Wild?"

The girl looked confused. She shook her head, and thought a moment. Her face perked up "Free."

Denae nodded his head slowly in understanding. 'Free' was the word the Wild used for themselves. The man didn't particularly understand it, but at least he knew the civilized lar hadn't done this to her.

The mage decided that he had to call her something. "Name? I'm Denae."

The girl cocked her head to the side, blinking at him with her round blue eyes. "Den-nay?"

"That's right. You?"

The girl put a hand to her collarbone. "Aerd."

"Aerd," he repeated, giving out a sigh. Definitely a human name – from somewhere in the southwest, it sounded.

"Parents?" he asked next, somewhat hesitant to hear the answer.

The girl's face fell. "Mother…gone," she sighed.

Denae felt extremely sorry for the girl, and was unsure why. Children lost their mothers and fathers all the time. Why was it only her he pitied?

The child suddenly launched herself forward. The lar fell back from his crouch on the balls of his feet as she tumbled into him. He panicked slightly; had something startled her? Was she attacking him? Had she-

It was a hug. The girl, with a big smile on her face, was hugging him.

"Father here."

What?

That word he heard very clearly. Father. But why?

"I'm not-"

"Father. Den-nay father," she insisted with a pout. Maybe she did really know, but was just denying herself the thought.

Whatever had happened or whatever she thought, he couldn't leave her there. Not when it was the Wild that hurt her, and not when they were presumably about. He'd just have to send someone else to clear the area.

He told her a few simple commands, and he found himself carrying a small human child back to the encampment – just in case she'd broken something.

One of his fellow mage specialists, Denebri, approached him first. His cultured nose immediately scrunched up in disgust. The girl giggled.

"What is that? Denae, what about clearing the area-"

"I'll get someone else to do it; you, if you're so worried. And this," he said, indicating the child in his arms, "Is a human girl-child."

Denebri narrowed his eyes. "And why is she here?"

"Because she's hurt. The Wild did it."

At the word 'Wild,' Denebri, like Denae knew he would, smiled. "Well then, take her to the medic, and I'll take your shift."

They exchanged a cordial flick of the ears, and Denebri was off. Denae shook his head and continued toward the medic.

Arael was a loud and spirited woman. She was accustomed to ordering around people and snapping at those she didn't have seniority over. Denae knew that the whole of South Meikshoreai would rather not have to deal with her. However, aside from being loud, proud, and angry, she was also undoubtedly the best healer in the two countries.

Healing lixos was a rare thing in all three species capable of using it. Considering the wyvern had only one lixi talent, that number was really limited to two species. This was precisely the reason why Denae and others put up with Arael.

"Meiner! How many times have I told you not to mix rotwig and fils together! You're useless!"

The man sighed, and Aerd frowned at the screaming of the medic at her hapless assistant.

"I'm sorry, Lady! I'll get it right next time!"

A snort. "Be sure that you do. Go gather some more fernweed."

A petite lar woman hurried out of the medic's tent, basket in hand. Her red face spared Denae a grin as she ran by. Her eyes darted to the human girl, but she said nothing. She jogged on.

Denae stopped a moment before the tent flap, taking a deep breath, as he always did, before going to face the frightening healer.

"Well, come in, whoever you are. Don't stand out there shaking like a coward!"

…He was done being afraid. The lar brushed past the cloth and into the hot tent.

Arael was standing by a little table at the far side of the rectangular tent, bottles, dried and fresh herbs, and mortars and pestles littering the area around her. Her long damp hair was sloppily tied back with a ribbon, and the sleeves of her robes were rolled up and tied at her elbows. She was wiping her sweaty brow with one when Denae walked up with his charge.

Like Denebri, her face contorted in disgust upon sighting the human.

"What is this you bring me, mage? She doesn't look like a combatant."

"She's not. I'd like you to take a look at her."

The medic grinned mirthlessly. "Ha! And why should I?"

Denae frowned. "Because I asked?"

The lar shook her head and returned her attentions to her work on the table. "I've got better things to do that to take a look at your pet. There are sick lar to care for, potions to make, my clumsy assistant to correct, and one human girl doesn't even make my list of things to do. Good day."

Denae bit his lip. He could, probably, force her to take a look at Aerd, but that might cause unnecessary pain...

He looked down at the child with a worried expression. Her big blue eyes decided for him.

"Didn't you hear me?" the healer growled. "You're making this infernal heat worse. Get out all ready-"

"Arael, the Wild got her. She was naked in the woods."

The woman's whole form froze. Her eyes were locked on the herbs she was grinding before her. It seemed to Denae that they stood there for an hour, he watching the frozen medic, the medic lost in her own memories.

At last she spoke. "Damn you, Denae. Damn you to walk eternity."

He didn't dare smile. He didn't want to. "I'm grateful, Arael."

The lar turned from her work and took Aerd from the man with surprisingly gentle hands.

She almost met his eyes. "Get the hell out. I don't want to see you again today."

With that, the lar man was effectively dismissed.

Meiner shook her head and took a sip of the golden wine in her hand. "I don't know what you said, but she went completely tight-shut. Wouldn't even let me five feet inside."

Denae jerked his head in discomfort, flushing slightly. "Indeed."

They both shared an evening fire, outcasts of the medic tent. Meiner was going back and forth between her wine and the little dress she was making for Denae's new unexpected charge, as the man knew nothing of sewing himself.

Meiner grinned at him as she took the bundle of linen into her hands. "What are you going to do with her?"

"Arael?"

"The girl. What was her name?"

"Aerd."

The woman shook her head. "Strange name."

Denae shrugged. "It is foreign."

Meiner chuckled. "You're avoiding the question."

The man frowned. "Truthfully? I don't know. She thinks I'm her father or something. The family won't be happy about that."

"But you aren't, right?" she questioned.

"Aren't what?"

"Her father?"

Denae gave her a level look. Meiner went back to her sewing.

The mage ran a hand through his hair, frowning unhappily. The issue was something he would have to face sooner or later.

His family, though only minor nobility, still shared most of South Meikshoreai's prejudice against humans. There was no chance that they would adopt Aerd, even at the request of the heir. They would not, however, mind if he kept her as a servant, but the lar hadn't the heart to do that to the poor little girl who called him father.

Meiner took a breath, hesitating. "Maybe…the humans down south will take her back?"

He'd rather keep her as a servant than send her south. "No. She's better off here than stuck in the middle of their silly wars, even if I get the royalty of the moment to accept her."

Small feet pattered across the grass. The two lar looked up and saw Aerd run over, a grave look on her round face.

"Father," she whined. "I don't like that woman. She's all sour."

The leggy bundle settled herself comfortably in Denae's lap, snuggling further into the cloak, her only clothing.

Meiner went wide-eyed. "Denae," she breathed, "Why does she speak like a Wild?"

"I don't know. She wouldn't tell me anything besides what the Wild did," he quickly explained, not wanted Meiner to reach for the dagger in her belt. There was more than one lar in camp that had a grudge against the Wild.

The petite woman visibly settled down, returning once again to her garment. Denae looked to the small child in his arms. He was almost uncomfortable with how fast the little human was growing on him. It wasn't fair that anything could be that unbearably cute.

Denebri returned the better part of an hour later and sat himself down on a bucket next to Denae. He begged to hold the small Aerd, but Denae wouldn't let him. Meiner finished the dress she was making for the child, and momentarily took her away to get her dressed. At this, Denebri complained that the mage would let Meiner take the child, but not him, to which Denae calmly responded that it was because he didn't trust his fellow mage. Denebri pouted, but seemingly felt better when Aerd ran over and gave him a small pat on the head. Denae shook his own, put his cloak back on, and took the child to get some food.

"Before you go," Denebri quickly interjected, now serious, "You should know something; Saral's unit has been assigned here. They'll be here day after tomorrow."

And that served to ruin the man's next two days.

Aerd found her place in camp helping out in the mess and the medic's tent. Arael and the girl warmed up to each other, though the former never showed it; she yelled at the girl just as she yelled at Meiner and everyone else. But she also didn't let anyone bully the child, either.

Denae was no closer to deciding what to do with the girl as he'd been two days ago. On top of the looks he received from less understanding lar, he had the visit of the woman he both loved and hated hanging over his head.

To take his mind off Saral, he had taken to scouting out extra shifts. As this made Aerd angry (for she had not gotten to see him often) the rest of his time forgetting his ex-fiancée was spent entertaining the girl and teaching her the civilized lari dialect. Naturally, the first word she learned was inis, which was 'father.' Imid, the word for 'mother,' seemed a taboo subject, and so they never spoke of it after she learned the word.

Aerd's education was administered in the relative privacy (and safety) of Denae and Denebri's tent, away from the malicious eyes of the prejudiced. This was a concept unknown to Aerd, and she asked after it.

"Aerd," he asked gravely, "Have they done something to you?"

He felt himself growing angry. What was that?

The small child shook her head. "No. But they glare and make weird faces. I don't like it. It makes me feel cold. I ask them to stop, but they don't. Why?"

Denae sighed, not very sure how he was going to explain this to a young human child.

"My people," he started slowly, "Well, many of them don't like humans. They think of humans as akin to…animals."

Aerd scrunched up her nose. "That's not nice. We're just like lar."

He didn't have the time or patience to take up the issue of all the differences there were, so for the moment, he agreed. "Right. But they don't understand that."

Aerd suddenly grinned wide again. "But not inis. You understand!"

He couldn't help but ruffle her newly tamed hair. "Yes. I understand. Some day, everyone else will too."

And that was when the happy forgetfulness ended. A series of horn notes sounded, heralding the arrival of a contingent of galae.

Aerd looked alarmed; no doubt she thought of galae and Wild horns as being similar.

Denae forced a smile on his face. "Don't worry. These are friends."

Ha. Friends? With the woman who left me?

"Oh," Aerd said, now looking uninterested. "What now?"

Denae would rather have just stayed in his tent, but it smacked of cowardice to just stay there.

"We're going out to see them."

He took his small charge by the hand and led her outside. What he saw was nothing special; but then. There was a difference between the sight of an adult lar male and a small human female.

She gaped at the procession of galae before her, forgetting to walk all together. There were sixteen of them, fully Sworn women all, in five rows of three, with the officer in the lead, and the woman directly behind her bearing the mountain-and-moon crest of the Legion upon a flag. Their pole arms gleamed, as did the sabers at their waists. Their battle-worn faces were stoic with years of training and hardship, and made a rather fierce-looking lot.

The officer barked an order, and the column came to a stop. Taen, the camp commander, went out to meet this officer.

They saluted smartly to each other, the flicks of their ears perfect.

"Taen," greeted the commander cordially.

"Sephelae," greeted the Legion officer enigmatically. "Permission to join camp?"

"Granted."

Sephelae nodded and turned, shouting more orders to her women. They set about their business of erecting tents in punctual order.

Taen and Sephelae exchanged their farewells and went about their own business once again. The show was over.

"Let's go back, Aerd," Denae bid, looking around uneasily in case he spotted Saral – or whatever she called herself now.

Aerd tried to pull away. "I want to meet them-"

The lar held on to her hand firmly. "Trust me, Aerd, you don't."

Looking very put out, the girl followed Denae back to the tent, seemingly without attracting notice.

Denebri was already there. He grinned and raised a hand at his companion. "See your woman, Denae?"

The man scowled. "She has nothing to do with me anymore."

Aerd detached herself from her adoptive father and crawled into Denebri's lap. He put an arm around her, and both men took it all in stride.

"You know what they say about a galae scorned, friend."

Denae sat on his bunk. "I didn't scorn her, Den. I was going to marry her."

Aerd suddenly interrupted. "You have a wife, inis?"

Denae was about to answer with a resounding 'no,' but someone else interrupted then too.

"Well, it isn't me. I didn't think you'd ever move on. I'm proud of you!"

The voice was full of sarcasm. It made Denae wonder why he ever loved the woman it belonged to.

"What do you want, Saral?" he asked of the pretty figure standing the tent flaps, seemingly bored.

The woman grinned. "I'm Naeran now. Besides, I heard some strange stuff, husband. Like, you have a pet human?"

"I'm not an animal!" Aerd piped up.

Denebri looked proud of that outburst. Saral gave the girl a level look.

"Look, Saral-"

"-Naeran-"

"Saral," Denae insisted. "If all you want is to be troublesome, just leave. I'm sure you have something to kill outside."

Saral looked between Aerd and her ex-fiancée with an arched eyebrow. Then her face clouded in anger. "You," she said, "Are insane. What are you going to do with that thing?"

She waved a hand in the girl's direction. Denae stood, slowly. "Saral," he said with a sigh, "Get out."

The woman's face screwed up in a most unattractive fashion. "You can't just dismiss me!"

"Denebri, do you want her here?" Denae asked, looking aside to his companion.

"Um, no," came the answer.

"Aerd, do you want her here?"

"Your wife is mean."

Denae turned to the fairly sputtering galae with a forced smile. "It's unanimous. You can be dismissed, and you just were."

With absolute silence and a thunderous look on her face, Saral left the tent.

Denebri let out a low whistle. "She's pretty, but I don't see why you missed her."

A storm was brewing. All the lar of the camp – with the exception of the very busy Arael – gathered around the figure entering camp.

He was an exceptionally tall specimen, his body painted all over with natural dyes. He was at least decently clothed, if not properly civilized; in his hair was twisted twigs, leaves, and feathers. But his eyes were just as intelligent as those of anyone around him.

His hands were held up in submission; he had come to talk.

Denebri and two soldiers were his escort as Taen approached. Sephelae, the galae officer, accompanied him.

The woman made a short, polite bow, which the Wild returned, somewhat surprised at the courtesy. Taen flicked his ears in the custom of civilized lar, eyes narrowed slightly.

Denae and Aerd stood by with Meiner in tow, watching the negotiations. The lar spoke in hushed tones, conversing in the Wild dialect, if the hand gestures meant anything.

Meiner sniffed. "What do they have to talk about? Taen should just send him away."

"Or kill him," a newly appeared Arael sniffed.

Denae gave her a wary look. "Hey. I thought you had work to do?"

She snorted. "I chose to keep and eye on the enemy."

Aerd came over to the woman and slipped a small arm around her knee. She ruffled the girl's hair.

Meiner was shaking with emotion; whether anger or what, Denae couldn't tell. Either way, he was concerned for the woman. She was a dear friend.

The mage felt suddenly anxious when the Wild visitor turned and looked straight at Aerd, a strong index finger extended. His face was passive, but as the two lar conversing with him turned to look also, Denae felt, inexplicably, that there was something wrong.

Arael suddenly claimed that she needed help mixing herbs and hustled Aerd away with her. A still shaking Meiner followed, mumbling farewells to the mage. He was left alone…for a moment.

"Tell me, husband," Saral's voice drawled, not entirely maliciously, "What they want with your human pet."

He turned to briefly observe the galae. She looked genuinely interested in the fate of his charge. And – more surprising – she also seemed almost concerned.

He gave her the benefit of the doubt. "I don't know. I'm not sure I want to. I will keep her from them."

Saral frowned ever so slightly. Denae had not noticed the glimmer of jealousy in her eyes. The look was brushed away in a moment and replaced with a smile. "Well, you know how fond I am of being dissentious. I'll help you."

The mage favored her with an unsure, almost suspicious set of eyebrows. "You…you're serious?"

"Quite."

Now his face did move to suspicious. "No. You hate humans."

"I hate Wild more, love. Besides, Aerd is kind of cute."

From that mouth, so beautiful and perfect – almost too perfect – those words were like poison. Denae decided to excuse himself, and did so with mumbled apologies. Saral watched him retreat from the scene with malicious eyes.

Later that day, Denebri found his friend, a very grave look upon his face.

"Bloodright," he said.

"What?" the mage repeated.

"Bloodright," his friend reiterated. "That's what they want with Aerd."

Denae sighed and clapped a hand to his forehead before running it through his hair. "All right. What's this about?"

Denebri took a breath. "Apparently, her parents betrayed a tribe of Wild. They were-" here he shivered "-sacrificed for it, but they say it isn't enough-"

"Stop!"

Denae did not want o hear it anymore. He could very well imagine what was going to be said anyway.

Denebri looked distressed. "Friend, listen, I'm sure they won't let her go."

Denae shook his head. He shook his head and was about to open his mouth to say something, but stopped. He kept shaking his head as he walked away, leaving Denebri even more distressed.

He was filled with anger and fear at the thought of Aerd back in the hands of the Wild. What made him more afraid was, unfortunately, the very real possibility that Taen would hand her over. No doubt, if it was bloodright, the Wild were willing to give up something very important for her. Or make a very impressive threat. For all their masquerading as savages, the Wild were anything but stupid. That title was reserved for those foolish enough to believe otherwise.

He had to make a decision to do something. He had few options, but he must consider them.

In his musing, Denae had walked far from the edge of the camp despite his better judgment. The little red flags went up in his mind, but he didn't heed them. He was worried for his daughter.

He laughed to himself. When had he begun to think of the tiny human girl as his daughter? And why? Because she smiled at him with trust and innocence?

The trees rustled. Voices cried out, and tan figures formed out of green shadows. Denae was surrounded by a barrier of swords and spears.

They were hard-eyed, as always. There were four of the Wild, plus what seemed to be a mage. She looked upon the lar with enigmatic eyes.

"Come."

"Pass that water, Aerd."

"Grab me the fernweed, Aerd."

"Where the hell did you put the linen, Aerd?"

The little human girl irately tossed the wrapped up strips to Arael. "I'm tired. I'm going to go find inis."

Arael and Meiner watched the little girl leave the tent with ill-concealed amusement. The medic's amusement was just a little better concealed.

"I have hope for that girl," she mumbled. Then, with a glare and shout aimed at her assistant: "Go fetch more water!"

Aerd hummed to herself as she strode around camp. She was used to the hostile stares, comforted by her father's wise words when they first broached the subject, and simply ignored them.

She first checked for him in the tent. He wasn't there. She went and found Denebri. He said he hadn't seen him. She even went and found her father's scary wife, and she didn't know anything either. Just when she was feeling an uneasy squirming in her stomach, Taen and Denebri approached her.

Her face cracked into a smile, as it was wont to do. "Did you find inis?"

The two lar exchanged looks. Taen sighed heavily. Aerd was not feeling good.

"Yeah, we found him. The Wild sent us an ultimatum."

"A…what?" Aerd mumbled.

"They have your inis, little girl." That was Saral, Sephelae a step ahead of her.

She came to a stop before the child, a frown on her face, and mumbled, "Bet he did it on purpose."

Denebri gritted his teeth. "What we'll do to get him back is something else."

Saral's eyebrows were uplifted in concern. "Lieutenant-" she started, turning toward Sephelae.

The war hardened lar turned a set of cold blue eyes on her subordinate. "Naeran?"

The galae looked down at her feet, as if ashamed of what she was about to suggest. "I…would like to suggest a rescue mission."

The older woman's expression did not change an inch. "…Why?"

Denebri and Saral looked at her with surprise. "B-because…we can't leave him there!" she sputtered.

The officer blinked. "Indeed not. Nevermind. We'll speak of this later."

She turned her attention to the two men. "She's right, of course. Taen?"

The officer scratched his head with an unpleasant expression. "I'd hate to leave him, of course, but I'm not sure such a mission is feasible."

"…Where's Aerd?"

Several heads perked. The adults looked around. They had others go around camp to try to find the child, but she was gone.

A cynical Saral noted, "Well, I think they'll give him back now."

Denae looked around the camp wearily. The Wild were all about their daily business: tending the fires, cleaning weapons, and generally surviving.

So far, he could not particularly complain of his stay. They had been very civil to him besides kidnapping him and tying him up. But he was not fooled by their apparent pleasantness. If they didn't get what they wanted, he was quite sure they'd take him in Aerd's place.

It took the better part of a hour to come to the realization that that was okay with him.

The mage laid his head against the bark of his arborial captor and closed his eyes with all the appearance of a man at peace. On the inside, he was scared of dying, it was true. But, if it came between saving himself or saving the small child who claimed him – him, second son of a minor noble, a mediocre mage at best – as kin, there was no thought to be had. He was all right with the new development. He had few regrets: to spend his life under the rule of his brother was no pleasure; to live under it with a wife he didn't want in tow was no better. Saral wouldn't miss him, and Aerd…Aerd would be fine. Arael or Meiner would surely take her.

Denae was drawn from his thoughts by a sudden commotion at the edge of camp. Wild were gathering in a rowdy clump, yelling unintelligible sounds. And the group was moving.

He saw a neat blonde head within the group, one that was clean and did not belong to any Wild he'd ever seen. A cold feeling trickled through his nerves.

"I want to see him!" a feminine voice cried. "Let me see him! Now!"

From the midst of painted, nearly naked Wild, someone most unexpected appeared.

"M-Meiner!"

She gasped. "Denae! How did you get here?"

"How did you?" he sputtered. "What are you doing?"

The assistant stepped closer, but two Wild reciprocated her action menacingly. She glanced warily at the two of them, knowing she would be allowed no closer. She turned her attention back to the mage with pleading and apologetic eyes.

"I-I'm sorry, it's just, I heard that you were taken, and Aerd said they were going to abandon you-"

Denae nearly choked. "Aerd! She isn't here, is she?"

Meiner looked shocked and hurt. "What do you take me for? I left her with Arael!"

They both shut up and glared at each other for a brief moment. Meiner sighed and looked away first.

"No, we shouldn't scream. I…came to get you out."

She had a look in her eyes, a look Denae hadn't seen before. It was a rash, desperate look.

She was about to do something stupid.

"Meiner, don't-!"

There was a burst of light and several explosions around the camp. What Wild didn't fall down because of the shock of it ran for cover. Denae sat dazed from the sight.

Something – rather, someone – but his bonds. "Let's go."

Denae wanted to stop her, to tell her to stop being foolish – they'd kill her now no matter what happened, and he was even willing to take Aerd's place.

He wanted to tell her all these things, but his mouth would not obey. He could say nothing; he was struck dumb.

Meiner was being completely irrational, and because of this, the mage could understand none of her actions. Although, she had at least been wise enough to drop Aerd with Arael before she stormed off.

But why had Arael let her go? Had she known? Arael, at least, would not have lost her head no matter the situation. What was going on?

Eerie horns sounded in the distance. Subtle drums, growing louder, accompanied the sound.

The Wild had only a few moments to organize themselves before galae and South Meikshoreai troops invaded their camp.

Denae, having regained his senses, saw Sephelae at the head of her women, saber drawn and shouting commands. The mage wondered if Taen was about as well; Denebri surely was. And Saral.

"M-Meiner," he mumbled, powers of speech slowly coming back, "Let me go. I have to help fight-"

"You're going no where but to Arael," the woman insisted stubbornly.

It was when Denae tried to pull away that he realized Meiner had captured his hand in her viselike grip. He had to get away from her. He could still fight.

He didn't want to use magic on her, but he would; his role could have a direct hand in Aerd's future.

He did what he thought the unthinkable, and let out a tiny burst of electricity. Meiner gasped more from shock than pain and dropped his hand. The man took off through the trees, away from her, sorry all the way.

He circled around the camp in hoped of catching some Wild unaware. It seemed like a sturdy plan, relatively safe for him in his current position.

The sounds of battle were all around him, echoing around the trunks, beating in his ears like the drums of life. It pumped his blood as his heart did, and he felt invigorated, ready for battle. It was a battle he had to have some say in.

He approached the edge of the enemy camp, now quite familiar after hours of staring around at it. He used higher doses of electricity to stun the occasional outlying Wild, managing in this way to escape notice from the soldiers. He was not too terribly worried of being marked by his use of magic by the enemy mages, as they were probably quite occupied with other problems; namely, the galae.

Denae was all ready having to work hard at pushing down his feelings at the sight of the battle. He was rather soft when it came to such things; he preferred to avoid killing when possible, and the bloody screams of the dying harrowed him days after any battle; admittedly, he'd only been in a few. He regretted every one, but they wee necessary evils.

He caught sight of Denebri during the chaos. His friend seemed mostly unscathed. He imagined that he saw Saral once, but he wasn't particularly worried about her. One of Saral's greatest skills had always been survival.

Sparks shot up into the air, coming from a ground-based point somewhere near the middle of the camp. A triumphant Wild cried; "We have the girl!"

Denae's heart stopped. Literally and figuratively, the former if only for a moment. Then the rage came.

How dare they! How dare they try to kill a girl whose only crime was to be born to the wrong parents! She was so sweet, so innocent, and kind despite the sorrows in her life. She could have grown up to be a great woman – and he could have grown to be a good father to her.

What was he saying – they hadn't killed her…yet.

Denae charged out of the shadows of the trees, flinging spells wrought from his thoughts left and right. He aimed himself toward the spot where the sparks appeared from, roaring out words of warning to the Wild, should they harm his adopted kin.

He somehow grabbed a sword along the way, trying to discover why he'd done so as he ran, dodging weapons both material and magical. He would not let them kill his Aerd! Not his daughter! Not the one person who depended on him-

With a last cry, he broke through a ring of surprised Wild – and saw Aerd. The man holding her looked up at him with wide eyes. Denae didn't see if Aerd was still alive; he instinctively ran his blade through the man's shoulder. He cried out in pain and fell over.

The mage did not register his name cried out twice from further away. All he saw was Aerd, all he heard was her still breath.

He knelt down by her young form. His eyesight blurred. The hands reaching for her shook. He refused to believe it. He refused.

He was no longer paying attention to his surroundings. A Wild spear grew out of his back, stabbing right through his heart. He gasped and looked down at the bloody tip protruding from his chest. He looked back up to Aerd. He'd died now; would she come back to life?

Saral and Meiner both saw him fall.

The leader of the Wild surrendered to Sephelae.

Denebri would be honored for his valiant part in the battle.

Arael got more lar to look after.

And Aerd and Denae were dead.

Saral stood a few feet away from the fallen body of her one-time fiancée. Meiner stood next to her.

"So," the galae said. "This is it."

"Yes," Meiner mumbled, eyes puffy and red from unshed tears. "It is."

They were silent a few moments longer. The Wild had been carried away, leaving only the dead and select few others on the battlefield.

"You know, I…regretted my decision," Saral murmured.

Meiner smirked mirthlessly. "Which one?"

"Leaving him."

The medic's assistant looked askance at her only companion. "Really?"

Saral looked down, an ashamed expression on her face. "Yes. Really." She looked up at Meiner. "And what about you? Why did you go rushing off?"

Meiner smiled sadly and looked between Denae and Aerd. A tear fell from one eye. "I loved them both. I thought to save Denae."

Saral closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She murmured quietly: "But we couldn't."