Before I start this chapter, I would like to thank a special person that helped kick-start my updating.

3200Runner, thank you so much for your encouragement and praise. I hope that this chapter lives up to your expectations, and that you continue to stick with my story… no matter how much Laptop Charger Roulette there is. XD


Chapter Three


He stared up at the surface from a few feet down, watching his serafie embrace her potre. An ache filled his heart at the scene, remembering how he, too, had once had his own father to embrace.

He shook his head to clear himself of such depressing thoughts, returning his gaze to the two humans leaving the water. A smile graced his cherubic face when he saw Anya give a small wave towards the waves.

After he watched the land-walkers return to their transportation, noting the teenaged male walking in a different direction, Muirin dove downwards, towards the slope of the ocean floor. The currents brushed along his skin, almost like friendly caresses. Small schools of bright silver fish darted around him.

Deeper he went, watching the landscape become filled with life around him. Towering mountains of brightly colored coral made way for forests of kelp, swaying in the ocean's flow. A sea turtle slowly made its way by, and a pod of dolphins played in the deeper waters.

Muirin smiled at the serenity and peace the ocean seemed to exude today, but feared it could be the calm before the storm, if that was the right human saying. There was definitely a soothing atmosphere today…

A sudden chill through the currents shook Muirin out of his thoughts. He tasted the water around him: it was sweet, too much so to be typical salt water, and it was cold… almost… glacial…

He knew whose domain laid in the North, and he feared the worst. He tensed when a dark shape coasted through the water, drawing the attention of the surrounding wildlife.

Everything stilled.

The dolphins moved a little closer, seemed to inspect the newcomer, then turned and left, seeking a new playground.

Several of the surrounding fish fled before the behemoth, and even the kelp shied away from the encroaching figure.

Soon, the giant shape and Muirin were left alone.

He didn't want to have to deal with a Northern lapdog, so he bared his teeth, a sign of defense for his kind. "Why have you frightened away the residents of this area, Ice-dog? You bring the cold with you, so you are obviously from the northern waters."

The shape came closer, becoming a bright white narwhal with a sliver of a tusk, colored a bright silver. It was a young female, small for one of her kind, and her fast pace held a hint of urgency. "M-mui-rin…" she panted.

He perked at the voice, recognition in his eyes. "Cara?"

He knew her, from many years ago. His father had taken him to visit a clan of Mer in the far Northern oceans who were seeking aid. They were trying to secure breeding grounds for the pod of narwhals that resided there, but it was being hoarded by a pack of leopard seals, most of which were too old to bear pups. So they had to be forced from the area, since reason didn't sway them. The lead male had thanked them, introducing them to his newborn calf. And so Muirin and Cara had met.

He swam close to her side, his eyes finding hers. "Yes, mia bengher, it's me."

She seemed to sag in the water, her flippers barely keeping her afloat. "I have been searching for you for some time now. Please, you must listen, and quickly…"

Muirin looked her over, concern filling his eyes. "Cara, you're exhausted. Whatever you have to tell me, it can wait until I get a healer to look at you. You need to save your strength."

The narwhal shook her head slowly, determination in her eyes. "No, this is an urgent matter. It concerns all of us, especially you, Muirin."

She rolled her eye to the side to look him dead on. "The Essence Bearer has been located."

He froze. "What?"

How could they have found her so quickly?! Maybe there's still time before…

He laid a hand on Cara's body. "How do you know of this, Cara?"

She chuckled. "Do you forget I reside in the North? All news travels through those waters, and my kind is the first to hear of it. That is why I was in quite a hurry to find you."

Muirin's brow furrowed in worry. "And is he..?"

At her saddened gaze, he stopped. She nodded after a short silence.

"Lord Winter is coming."

~0~

"Aright, that is the last time we allow you kids to go off alone!"

After the group had gotten home, Ariana had torn into the three kids, complaining and reprimanding them about "proper beach safety" and the like.

At the moment, she was at the peak of her rant.

"I simply wanted us to have a nice, peaceful outing to the beach. But that didn't happen, did it?"

Ariana's voice rose until it was a high-pitched screech. "I had a feeling you miscreants were gonna get into SOME kind of trouble. God, it's just like adolescents to be so stupid."

She paced in front of the couch, the twins trying not to burst into tears from the blonde she-devil's yelling. Ariana whirled about, her hair flipping into her eyes as she turned to face them.

"Were you even paying attention to the water? You could have all DIED!"

Anya, who fought to not tear off the blonde banshee's face, stayed silent.

She thought back on her encounter with Muirin, and knew she and her siblings had never been in any real danger. She pondered his message to her.

The Essence is the key…? What in the world could that mean?

She could feel her father's and Ariana's gaze upon her, her conscience bristling at the fact that Darian was making no move to defend them.

After a moment, she spoke softly. "It wasn't our fault. We didn't know a big fish was going to suddenly appear out of the deeper water. Where we were at, it was only about four feet deep."

She tilted her head upwards and growled, her eyes glinting. "And don't call us stupid, you old crone."

Ariana snarled. "What did you call me, you little-!"

"Ariana."

She flinched, turning to look at her fiancé.

Darian stood from his seat on the couch, giving her a hard look.

"Ariana, just calm down for a minute. The kids didn't know there was something in the water. Besides, there's no reason to get angry at them for it. It couldn't have been helped."

Anya snorted. Gee, way to save our asses, Dad.

Ariana bit her lip, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment. She floundered for something else to say, probably another insult, but ended the discussion with, "Whatever, I gotta go."

She grabbed her things quickly, gave Darian a short but sloppy kiss, then left.

Anya stood and ushered the younger kids upstairs, then stood at the bottom and glared at the door.

"Great pep talk, maybe you should have given her a slap on the wrist while you were at it."

Darian sighed. "Anya…please do-"

"How could you even see anything in her?"

He blinked in confusion at his daughter's back. "W-what?"

She turned and glared at her father. "How in God's name could she be your replacement for Mom?"

Darian saw tears gather in her eyes, hurt and anguish swirling in the emerald depths. "Anya-"

She moved from her perch, running for the door. "I need some air."

Her father moved to follow her. "Anya, wait!"

The door slammed in reply.

~0~

Grabbing her teal bicycle from the garage, Anya briskly walked to the end of her driveway.

"How could he be so blind?" she grumbled. "How did he even meet that bitch? Did he apply for a free trial at PlasticWomenThatHateKids dot com?" She mounted the bike, pedaling down the lamp-lined street.

The cool night air brushed along her face, clearing her head and cooling her mood. She hadn't meant to explode like that, it was just… he wasn't looking at the bigger picture.

Ariana was a horrible woman, definitely not mothering material. How she had attracted her father's affections was beyond Anya's knowledge. But what she did know was that if the two did end up getting married, she would never accept her as her new mother.

The crackling of leaves drew her out of her thoughts. Anya pulled her bike to a stop to take in her new surroundings.

She found herself on a deserted trail, most likely a hiking path. Brambles were scattered along the edges of the gravel, and bracken covered portions of the road. And with the sun already set and the moon quickly rising, it made for quite an eerie scene.

Anya swallowed. "Well, this is creepy…"

She turned her bike around and started to pedal away.

"Anya…"

Her brakes screeched with the force she used to stop. Her hair flew around her as she looked around.

"What the hell was that?!"

She listened, and the voice came again.

"Anya…"

The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Goose bumps began to appear over her bare arms and legs. Something wasn't right…

The voice was coming towards her, but from which direction she didn't know.

"ANYA…"

She decided to take her chances, spinning her bike back to the direction she was heading and taking off. Her hands shook as they clung to the handlebars, and her eyes darted to either side of the path, searching for any sign of movement.

So focused on the surrounding foliage, she never saw the rock sticking out from the gravel before her.

With a thunk on the tire, the bike flipped, casting a frightened Anya into the air and back down to the harsh ground below.

She screamed as her hands and knees scraped along the rocky turf. She scrambled to her feet as fast as she could, and after checking her surroundings, she checked herself over.

Her jeans were torn, and blood was beginning to seep through the rips. Her hands were worse; the skin on her palms had been almost ripped clean off. She hissed when she gently prodded the tender flesh.

"Well this is just perfect…" she gently picked out bits of dirt from the wounds. She bent her knees slightly to see if she could move, and winced; sore, but not broken.

A small mercy.

Anya looked at her beaten bike. Half of the front tire frame was bent at an angle, the tire itself was flat with a large hole ripped from it.

She sighed.

"Guess I'm walking back home."

She retrieved her bike, hissing at the tenderness of her hands, and started to walk it back up the path. But before she got too far, a rustling in the trees to her right made her freeze.

Very slowly, she turned towards the foliage, praying that it wasn't anything dangerous.

A pair of bright brown eyes stared back at her.

She gasped.

A doe walked out of the tree line and sniffed at her. She appeared to be quite young, just now losing some of her youthful white spots.

Slowly setting down her bike, Anya watched her move forward.

Deer and girl watched one another for a while, almost judging one another, before the young doe moved.

She circled Anya, sniffing up and down her clothing, before stopping and nuzzling her chest.

Anya smiled. "Awwww…."

She gently scratched between the doe's ears, giggling when the deer tilted her head to get a better angle.

Anya was in heaven: she had always loved animals, and this was like Christmas to her.

After a little while, the doe opened her eyes and sniffed the air. Her ears flicked back and forth, listening to the surrounding wilderness, then she began to walk away. She looked back at Anya once, flicked her tail, and returned to the bushes.

"Well that was interesting…" Anya muttered. She touched her chest, still feeling the softness of the deer's nose.

Sighing at the memory, she retrieved her bike from the ground and walked back up the path.

~0~

The young doe stood for a while and watched the girl leave. She had never seen a human with such a calming presence, especially one as young as she.

She turned from the path and walked further into the woods, stopping now and again to listen and smell for any danger.

After about an hour, she came to a spacious glen and began to graze. The glen was wide, but small; flowers were scattered about in small clusters and bright green moths floated on the gentle breeze. Its simple beauty was heightened by the rising half moon.

The doe settled into her grazing, popping her head up every now and again.

A noise on the far side of the field drew her immediate attention. She froze, her head shooting up to spot the danger.

A man stood at the edge of the tall grass. His bright yellow hair fell in a short ponytail over his right shoulder. Deep amber eyes drew in the doe.

Her nose twitched, trying to catch his scent. All that she found was the sharp scent of nature. No smell of smog or decay came from his form.

Neither had he made any sound entering the clearing.

It was then she took notice of the elegant clothing he wore, a muted green tunic with brown pants accented in red and gold stitching, along with dark brown boots, as well as the bright green and red whorls on his forehead, symbolizing a crown.

She bowed her head. "Good evening, Lord Spring."

The man simply nodded in return. "How do you fare this evening, young one?"

The doe blinked in shock. Never had she heard of the Spring Lord expressing any interest in one of her stature. She was a prey animal, after all.

She stuttered. "I-I am well, my lord. The night is cool and the grasses sweet."

He nodded. "I see. And the scent of a mortal on you is nothing of concern, is it?"

The doe swallowed.

"No, my lord. There was a human here earlier that lost her way. She left after falling on the path."

The man nodded. He turned his head slightly, a golden pendant hanging from his pointed ear. "I see. She hurt herself. I smell the blood from here."

The doe nodded. "Correct, my lord."

The Spring Lord turned to gaze at her once more. His face was impassive, yet there seemed to be a fire dancing in his eyes. He walked towards her until he stood directly in front of her. Raising a hand and laying it on the crown of her head, a golden glow shimmered from his palm.

"You have touched her."

Her knees trembled. "M-my lord-"

"You know the law, do you not?"

She swallowed. "Y-yes my lord."

He looked down his nose at her. "And the penalty? What of it?"

Her shaking increased.

"Death, my lord."

He nodded once. Her heart began beating erratically.

It was against natural law for any animal, predator or prey, to interact with a human on friendly terms. Unless the humans coaxed or lured the animal in some way, the penalty was immediate death. The mortal world could never know that the animal kingdom wasn't comprised of dumb beasts. If they did, the world would fall to chaos.

He raised his hand once more, pressing his pointer and middle fingers on the top of her head. Her ears instinctually fell back. The golden glow returned, this time much brighter than the last. Th doe could feel the heat from the Lord's magick on her fur.

"You have committed a crime against natural law. I, Talon Wells, the reigning Lord of Spring, hereby sentence you to immediate death."

The glow became hotter, and the doe shook with fear.

"However…"

A pause.

"You are young, and I have never had troubles with you before, young one."

The heat lessened, then disappeared altogether.

The doe opened her eyes, shock evident on her face.

"M-my lord…?"

Talon turned from the young doe. "Your innocence is refreshing, young one. Even in the face of death, you stood obedient. And after the threat was gone, you stayed loyal, waiting for my dismissal. I applaud your resolve and trust."

He looked over his shoulder at her, a lighter demeanor evident in his face. "You have the makings of a fine hart."

She gasped.

Becoming a hart was the most coveted position for any doe. They were the only females that were given the privilege of having horns, and were delegated to be the Spring Lord's heralds. They bore his colors, with green eyes and deep red coats, and his symbol, the sprouting silver antlers.

The doe bowed to the Lord. "T-thank you my lord!"

He nodded at her, raising his hand to dismiss her. "You are free to go, young one. But for your next encounter with mortals, keep to your instincts."

She nodded vigorously. "Yes, my lord! I will!"

And with that, she sprung through the bushes, happy to have lived another day.

Talon watched the deer leap away, his expression never changing. His thoughts, however, seemed to leap about just as the doe had.

That scent… it seems familiar…

He inhaled again, catching a stronger dose on the evening breeze. "I should tell Idrian of this…"

He pulled a golden whistle from his pocket and blew three short blasts.

After a moment, three harts leapt into the field. They all bowed to him.

"Lord Spring," they intoned.

Talon looked to the one on the far right. She was the smallest, with a sorrel coat and black tips on her ears and tail. She was also the fastest of his harts.

"Deta."

She stood straight, her eyes still downcast. "Yes, Lord Talon?"

"Fly to my Brother Summer. Tell him his presence is needed as soon as possible. "

With a nod, Deta was gone.

The second hart was a red roan, her antlers the longest. This was Aeri, the oldest of the three.

"Aeri, you must go to Brother Fall. Have him shorten his season a bit, so that we may convene quickly."

After she had left, Talon looked to the youngest, Kilo. Her coat was a beautiful bay, with red streaks throughout.

"You shall travel with me Kilo. I will assist you for this message."

Kilo looked up at her Lord, worry evident in her emerald gaze. "Lord Talon, you don't mean…"

He nodded, a sigh escaping his lips.

"We must meet with my eldest brother, Lord Winter. We four must convene, and quickly. The Essence Bearer is near."


OH JESUS GOD WHY SCHOOL YOU DO THINGS?!

I have been so busy with schoolwork and my job (which I LOATHE but it pays my bills, so I can't complain XP) that I haven't updated in FOREVER. Here's a hopefully good chappie for you guys.

And here's a pronounciation chart, just for extra help:

Deta: Day-tuh

Aeri: Ear-ree

Kilo: Key-loo

Please review and let me know I haven't lost my awesome reviewers!