"Where is she?" panicked the elvin queen. "Where is my daughter?" she repeated when no one answered. Outside the castle, battle was raging.
"I think I saw her near the city walls, Your Majesty," replied one of the soldiers.
"Now why would Kai be over there during a battle?" she asked, her violet eyes betraying her anxiety.
"Oh, she was fighting one of those tribe fighters," he answered, ever oblivious to a mother's worry.
Without warning, Queen Souta called up one of her guards and ordered him to find her child.
The guard, Védelmez, bowed and rushed out of the castle. Ducking spears, the blond haired elf made his way to the city's gates.
Queen Souta's kingdom was at war with the Tribe of Water of the Weinfreid River, who had invaded their country. The river was not too far away, but steep cliffs, carved from millennia of waves crashing against their walls, kept away any visitors. Even if one were to make it to the canyon, they would be driven away by strong spells of magic, cast by the Shapeshifter, Galduri. He had lived in a cave deep within the cliffs for as long as anyone could remember.
Védelmez knew that Kai must have overheard her mother talking to the army's captains about the current battle.
"Our army is losing. Our only hope is to send someone to Galduri," the queen had stated. Several men, dwarves, and elves, volunteered to go on the mission, but Queen Souta turned them down. "All of you will be needed during the next few days to hold up the enemy, at least until the other soldier gets back. Without my best warriors, the castle will surely fall."
She forbade Kai from setting off to the cliffs, just as she had from joining the army. The queen had also tried to raise her daughter into an acceptable heir, which had simply made her even more resistant to pampering. Queen Souta had been horrified when Kai suggested sword fighting lessons. Even so, she had permitted her to take a beginner's class. Soon, the princess had become one of the top warriors in the kingdom. Still, the queen would not allow Kai to fight in battle. It was obvious that she had been longing to help, especially during the past few days.
Védelmez had met Kai when they were ten. Back then she had looked exactly like the perfect little princess, what with her red hair, pale, smooth skin, and piercing blue gaze. Still, they became close friends and had been ever since. He was sure that she would be in her favorite spot: the cave. The cave was the secret site where Kai always used to escape to when her lessons were over. She would sit thinking as the sun shone through a small hole in the roof. Lately, however, she had been using it to communicate with Védelmez, the only other person who knew about her hiding place.
The elf sensed Kai's presence immediately when he entered the cave. "Kai," he said, "your mother is looking for you."
When there was no reply, he called to her again. "I know you're in here."
Védelmez heard a sigh as a short, red-headed elf stepped forward into the light. "Why did you run away?" he asked, spotting the gash on her shoulder.
"I think you know the answer to that question, Védelmez," she murmured. "If my mother hasn't sent someone to Galduri yet, I doubt that she will."
"Well then I'll go," he responded. "You should return to the castle."
Kai opened her mouth to protest, but Védelmez stopped her. "You can go on the mission, so long as I come with you," he said sternly.
"Fine," she muttered, annoyed.
After splitting one of the loaves of bread Kai had brought, they agreed to set out the next morning.
Purple, pink, and orange clouds layered the sky as the sun rose. The soft light shone into the hole in the roof of the cave. Dawn had broken, and Kai and Védelmez set out for the cliffs.
They hiked through the forest, stopping every so often for a drink of water. They talked very little, and so they were able to make great progress. By sunset, they had been able to travel about one third of the distance.
As they searched for shelter, Védelmez noticed that Kai was acting oddly. "What's wrong?" he asked, concern for his friend flickering in his gold flecked green eyes.
"How are we going to get past the Tribe of Water's camp?" she wondered, her brow creased. "There's no way to get to the cliffs without passing the camp, and they're bound to have sentries stationed at least one mile away in every direction for protection."
She's right, realized Védelmez. "Will sneaking around the camp work?"
"I doubt it. Even if we aren't captured, it will probably take too long," Kai responded.
"Hmm…Here's a good place to stay," he said as he finished inspecting an old abandoned bear den for any traces of life.
"What about the Tribe of Water?"
"Perhaps we'll be able to think of something when we get closer to their camp," Védelmez answered, taking out some bread and apples.
After dinner, they planned their route for the next day. They decided that they would continue southwest through the forest until noon. Then, they would follow the stream towards the river. When they came within five miles of the river, they would cross. This was because the Tribe of Water had camped only along the left banks of the stream. After that, they hoped that to follow the watercourse all the way to the Weinfreid River. As the sun set, the two elves drifted to sleep, not knowing what was in store for the next day.
Kai woke up in the morning to a damp blanket and a loudly snoring Védelmez. Realizing from the faint shadows outside that it must have been at least seven and a half hours past midnight, she shook the other elf awake. "Védelmez," she hissed, annoyed at herself for not waking up sooner. "We gotta get going. It's almost eight."
"Kai?" asked Védelmez yawning.
After comprehending what his friend had told him, he shot up in alarm, his golden hair looking like a blur. "Come on," he said, getting to his feet and picking up the packs. Kai followed him as he ran through the endless trees. Panting, they finally arrived at the stream.
"Are we finally back on track?" asked Kai. The rain had finally stopped, and they
Védelmez grinned at her, satisfied. "Yep. Now all we have to do is follow this stream to where it becomes easiest to cross," he responded, handing her an apple.
After they finished eating, they continued along the banks of the stream until it became night. The next day, they would complete the last leg of the journey.
"Here we are," declared Védelmez as they approached the place where they would cross the stream. After they got to the other side, they heard a rustling in the bushes. Kai and Védelmez went over to examine the spot where the odd noise was coming from, but before they could get there, a very round, hairy creature popped out at them.
Védelmez and his companion both drew their swords, ready for a fight. To their surprise, the dwarf started to speak to them. "Peace," it said in the elvin tongue. "I am Kopnav the Dwarf. You should be warned that great perils lie in the south. The Tribe of Water has inhabited these lands, and beyond them lays the Canyon, the home of many dragons and Galduri himself."
"We understand. We have come this way solely to seek the help of the Shapeshifter in battle," replied Védelmez.
Kopnav bowed and cautioned, "You have been warned."
"Thank you for the information, anyway," Kai replied politely.
The dwarf bowed again and disappeared back into the bush from which he had first emerged.
As the two friends set off once again to the cliffs, they became more and more aware of the Tribe of Water's presence in the area. Sneaking carefully through the woods, Védelmez and Kai tried to make as little noise as possible. A few times, they thought they heard another being in the forest. Once, they even saw a shadow moving noiselessly through the trees. They froze, pressing themselves close to the nearest trunk. When they finally thought that it had passed, they continued on their way. They didn't dare to stop, for they might have been discovered by some enemy patroller.
It was about five hours to midnight when Kai and Védelmez came forward from the woods. They found shelter between two large sheets of rock which formed some sort of tent and a tree, which ensured that no one could sneak up behind them during the night.
In the morning, as they climbed out of between the rocks, they noticed something odd about the surroundings. Sitting on a branch near their lean-to shelter was a large raven. It had feathers as dark as night and intense red eyes. Kai shivered involuntarily as the bird stared at her. Suddenly, in a swirl of blinding light, a tall, slender man appeared exactly where the raven had been perched.
"Galduri!" Kai gasped, at once recognizing the Shapeshifter.
"Princess Kai and Captain Védelmez," he said. "The birds say that you have been at war with the Tribe of Water."
"Yes, sir," replied Védelmez. "We have come to ask your assistance in battle."
"They also say that you have come on your own without the permission of your Queen."
Both elves blushed. "Yes," Kai mumbled, ashamed.
Galduri chuckled. "I will come and help, for I have also have had quarrels with the Tribe of Water. They have been killing off my messengers, the animals, merely for sport. Also, they have sent many of their men to explore the canyon. I have been forced into using extra magic to keep them away from my cave."
"Thank you," Kai and Védelmez murmured gratefully.
"Before you agree, you should know that there is a steep price for my services—a live sacrifice from your people," he warned with a slight sneer.
There was a long pause in which nobody said a word. Then, Kai began to speak. "I will be the sacrifice," she declared hesitantly but determinedly.
"Kai!" sputtered Védelmez, shocked by her suggestion. "But what would the others of the kingdom think?"
"If I had to choose between seeing my country being destroyed and giving my life to save it, my choice would most certainly be the latter."
Kai's voice was strong as she said this, but that was only because she had stopped herself from looking into her friend's green eyes. She knew that if she had, she would never have been able to give herself up.
"Would you like me to transport you there or will you walk?" Galduri asked, interrupting her train of thought.
Védelmez was about to glare at him, but realized that if the Shapeshifter had enough power to dispel a whole tribe, he definitely had the ability to get rid of him if he felt like it.
All of the sudden, Kai and Védelmez felt a powerful tug as Galduri transported them back to the city. After only a few moments, the three of them were standing in front of the castle's throne room. Queen Souta had stood up and started walking towards the trio. Her skin looked paler than usual and her violet eyes shone with distress and tears.
"Is it true?" she shakily asked her daughter. "The messenger told me that you would be the sacrifice."
"Yes, Mother," Kai answered gently.
"I must help my country. Galduri will not drive out the Tribe of Water unless there is a live sacrifice. I believe that I should be that person, seeing as I am the only reason he is here," she responded.
Meanwhile, Védelmez stood stone-faced in front of the Shapeshifter, trying not to show any emotion at Kai's words. "Your Majesty," he said suddenly. "It's my fault that she's giving herself up. I am the one who allowed her to go on the journey, and I should be punished for it. Let me be the sacrifice instead."
"No." Kai cut him off strictly, for the first time since that morning looking meeting her friend's gaze. "I have to do this," she replied more softly. "No one can stop me from helping my people."
Védelmez looked at the floor sadly. "I know," he whispered. Then, he and Galduri left the castle.
Outside, soldiers were still fighting. With a simple wave of his hand, he triggered a magical spell that caused the entire battlefield to become eerily silent. "Go now," he cackled to the Tribe of Water's warriors, "or a new chapter of chaos will reign over your people."
When they heard this, the remaining tribe fighters fled in terror. At the same time, they heard the queen's grievous cries coming from the throne room. "Won't you go and say goodbye to the princess?" wondered Galduri.
"No," he said firmly, swallowing his emotions. "Let her spend her last moments with her mother. I will say goodbye at the funeral with the rest of the kingdom."
"Are you sure? Don't you think that Kai would like to see her best friend one last time before she dies?" asked the Shapeshifter.
Védelmez thought about these words for a moment before regretfully walking back towards the castle. We may have won, he realized, but no one has survived without losses. Blinking away the tears that came to his eyes, he composed himself to face Kai one last time.
He was right. The Tribe of Water was gone, but they had left behind scars that ran deep within the hearts of their victims. Nearly everyone in Queen Souta's kingdom had lost someone they cared about to the battle. The people had lost their beloved princess. During the next few days, and possibly even weeks, the homes and graveyards would be filled with grief stricken mourners of all races. Galduri truly was a terrible weapon—a double-edged blade.