Robin crept along the crumbled buildings, hiding from the creature that stalked him. When a pregnant sow ran into this abandoned town, Robin knew he had to save her, but it was too late. He found her bones and a smear of blood on the cobblestone path. Whatever had eaten the sow was hungry for more. Robin's features were slim and lanky, his movements smooth and catlike as he slunk in the shadows casted by the evening sun. He could hear claws scrape and raspy breaths. Every now and then he would catch a glimpse of something big and grey darting from alley to alley.
Something grabbed Robin's arm and pulled him in a dark alley. He almost screamed, but a leathery hand covered his mouth.
"Quiet, boy," a man whispered. "Put this on, if you wish to live."
Robin could not see anyone, but he felt the hands that grabbed him and heard the voice that spoke. Something small and cold was pushed in his hands. It was a necklace, silver with a green crystal pendant. Robin could hear drool slurp and teeth gnash. The creature was getting closer. Robin put the necklace on. He felt a tingling numbness go over his body. Robin looked at his hands and gasped. He could see straight through them. Even his clothes were invisible.
An ugly head rounded the corner, peering into the alley. It looked like a grey crocodile with long fangs that dripped with drool. The small eyes gleamed with intelligents as it walked into the alley on two clawed feet, back hunched and front talons held in front of its body.
The unseen man grabbed Robin's arm and pulled him farther and farther back as the creature crept ever closter. They made it out of the alley, then broke into a run towards the end of town and into the forest. Robin peeped out from behind a tree. He saw the creature snuffling the ground, following their direction.
"Come," said the voice. "Start walking home. Stay in front of me."
As Robin walked, the invisible man trailed behind and sprinkled some sparkling white power wherever they stepped. It was nightfall when they made it out of the forest. They entered the village and Robin led the invisible man to an old tool shed on his family's farm. Once safely inside, the man made himself visible. He was a short old man with a long white beard. He wore a crinkled cone hat and a blue cloak. In his hand he held a staff of twisted hickory. Robin almost forgot that he was also invisible, so he took off the necklace and gave it back to the stranger.
"Thank you for saving me," Robin said. "I really do owe you one, or three."
The man smiled. "You owe me naught."
"I don't believe we've met. Can I get a name?"
"We have not met, and you do not know me, yet you know of me. My name is Quinteth."
Realization dawned on Robin. He was in the midst of a famous traveler and map maker, but there were rumors circulating that he also dabbled in magic arts. After the disappearing act that Robin witnessed, perhaps those weren't rumors after all.
"What is a famous traveler like yourself doing in a village like this?" Robin asked, then he looked out the window nervously. "And do you happen to know what that thing was? Or if it will follow us here?"
"Your last question can be easily answered. No, I have sufficiently covered our tracks. You will be safe for a while longer, and you will know when it is not safe and it is time to flee."
"What do you mean? I have to run away else that monster eats me like it did the sow?"
"Precisely. But you need not fret. I will further explain the situation to you tomorrow morning, under the old oak that rests on the hill." Quinteth made a show of stretching and yawning. "I know not about you, but I have had enough for one evening. I'm off to get some rest."
They walked out of the shed and started going their separate ways for the night when Quinteth called over his shoulder, "oh, before we part ways, I must tell you what I came here for. The answer is you, Robin."
That brought about more questions, but Quinteth disappeared into the night before any more could be asked. Robin told himself that everything would be made clear tomorrow morning as he walked to his family's house. He sat down for supper with his mother, father, and six siblings.
"Dear," Robin's mother said. "Try to not be late for supper again. Your food has nearly gone cold. And something came in the mail for you."
She gave him a letter. Robin recognized the seal stamp immediately as the Seymour's family crest. As he read the letter, his younger siblings peered over his shoulder curiously and chattered with excitement.
"Hush," Robin said. "It's from Prince Allon Seymour, of course it is. He wants to know where I've been. I've been busy working, I'll tell you what."
The last time Robin and the prince were together, they had a misadventure and got lost in the Dark Forest. It was drizzling for days on end so Robin had to wear damp clothes, making it an uncomfortable trip that he would not soon forget.
"So?" his father asked. "Are you going to visit the prince?"
Robin threw the letter on the table. "I will visit him. But mark my words, we will be going on no adventures."
That night was uneasy for Robin. He dozed on the top level of the barn that night, unable to fully sleep with an image of that creature in his mind and questions buzzing in his ears. It was strange that some renowned traveler came to a quiet country looking for a farm boy, but then again maybe it wasn't. Robin was an adopted son of the farming family. His adoptive mother found him on the porch step in a straw basket. She decided to name him Robin, after her grandfather.
A joyful thought crossed Robin's mind. What if he was related to Quinteth? Now, Robin was perfectly satisfied with his adoptive family, but something deep down bugged him. Something pushed him to want to learn about where he came from and why.
Dawn broke and the rooster crowed, thankfully signifying the end of a restless night. Robin traveled across a cornfield and climbed the hill where an old oak rested. Quinteth was sitting behind its thick trunk. Robin joined him in the soft grass.
"Come for breakfast?" Quinteth said. "That is too bad, for I have nothing to break our fast with- someone is coming." He paused abruptly, then faded into the bark of the oak.
A young man approached the tree. He was tall and muscular, with broad features. It was Robin's brother, Gwen.
"What are you doing here?" Gwen said. "You're supposed to be herding the swine."
"Yes, but-" Robin thought he should keep all this a secret, at the same time it felt wrong to keep such a thing hidden from the person he trusted most. "Listen, I might sound crazy, but I'm talking to Quinteth at the moment."
Gwen rolled his eyes, then he jumped as Quinteth appeared by the tree.
"He speaks the truth," Quinteth said. "But know this, Robin's life is in danger, and yours will be as well if you choose to join in this conversation."
"Robin's life is in danger?" Gwen's voice was hollow. "In that case, I'll have no choice but to intervene. Robin, what is going on?"
Quinteth chuckled. "Robin does not know the answer to that question. However I will try to answer it the best I can to get you to safety. But first, may I ask you both a question?"
"Ask away," Robin said and Gwen nodded.
"What do you know about Castle Kor?"
Shivers went down Robin's spine. "That's a fairytale."
Castle Kor was a place used to scare bad children into beinghave, or was at the center of horror tales told around campfires. It was a place that brought up images of dark creatures and crumbling stone walls, of great evil and destruction of all that is good. It was a place that lingered in the dark corners of imagination. There was no way it was real.
"On the contrary," Quineth said. "It is a very real place, I have been there and seen it myself. Though mankind doesn't have to worry about it for they live far enough south. At least, they don't have to worry about it yet."
"Not yet. Not as long as Anhona stands betwixt Castle Kor in the north and the land of men in the south. But Anhona is under siege. Peace is a fragile thing right now."
Robin ignored Gwen's bewilderment. "That tale is all well and good, but what has it got to do with me?"
"It is no tale, boy. I speak the truth. As for what it has to do with you, I'd say everything." There was an ominous pause, then Quinteth spoke again. "What do you know of the elves?"
"Not much. There's some stories going around that in days long past, elves would be sighted by hunters and woodsmen. The men would receive wondrous gifts from the elves. But that's just a fairytale… or am I wrong again?"
"You are right about being wrong again. The elves had populated all of Nythandore one-thousand years ago, hence why the name of this country is elvish. Sadly, most of them were killed. The remaining elves built a palace called Anhona to protect themselves. They too, had eventually got killed off. Except you."
Gwen looked at his brother like he never saw him before. "You're an elf?"
"I'm an elf?"
"Yes, and no," Quinteth said. "Your grandfather was an elf. When Anhona became unsafe, he moved to a village down south and married a woman. From there, your family's elf blood became diluted with human blood. You are one-fourth elf, to be exact."
"Thank you," Robin said when he regained his ability to speak. "For telling me my heritage. Do you know where my blood-relatives are? May I meet them?"
"I am afraid not. The King of Castle Kor hates elves. He is the one who hunted them all to extinction. When he found out about the mixed-bloods, your family, he set out to kill them all. That is why your mother hid you away, far south on this farm. She knew the fate that awaited her and her family."
Robin felt like he got punched in the stomach. His mother, his relatives, senselessly murdered.
"You have hid here safely for the past seventeen years, but now the King of Castle Kor has found out about you. He has sent hunters to find you, and kill you."
Robin's heart pounded as he pictured the ugly creature from yesterday evening.
"We have to leave!" Robin yelled. "That thing is coming to kill me!"
"Shh," Quinteth hushed. "They have not found you yet. They only know of your general area. You shall be fine for now. We can make good use of that time by figuring out a plan together. We will meet up at this spot later this evening. Right now, I have other businesses to attend."
Gwen sputtered to ask further questions, but Quinteth had already disappeared. Robin filled in the details for his brother the best he could, and Gwen was horrified to hear about a hungry monster so close to home. Worst yet, the evening meeting never happened. Quinteth was nowhere to be found and night was closing in. The brothers decided to bunker down in the old tool shed to talk in private.
"What are we to do now?" Gwen said. "How do we stay safe when we don't even fully understand the dangers? That old man was a bad omen, I tell you. A warlock!"
Robin was determined. "No. Quinteth was a good man, I felt it in my heart. He wouldn't just leave without rhyme or reason. Let's check around the aria, all the places he went."
They checked the old oak first. They searched its roots, branches, and bark. Robin was just about to give up. He rested his hands on the bark and sighed in frustration
"Over here!" Gwen said.
Robin circled the tree and looked at the spot on the trunk that Gwen was staring at in amazement.
"I see nothing," Robin said.
"I swear to you, there was a necklace buried in the bark. It held a green crystal pendant that was glowing."
Robin had an idea. He put both his hands on the truck. Nothing happened. He took a deep breath, mind focused on finding Quinteth. A small green light flickered behind on the bark, and there it was. The necklace. He gently pulled it out of the tree. There was a note attached to it that read:
I have no time to speak with you further. I must leave immediately, and I shall not be able to return. You are no longer safe at the farm. You will find shelter at Harpshire, a city in Arkwood forest. This necklace is a talisman called Eurgem. It is for Robin's hands only and it can be used thrice. Until we meet again. - Quinteth
Gwen looked skeptical. "Strange that the man gives you a magic item and all of a sudden our lives are in danger. I've never even heard of a place called Harpshire."
"Now is not the time to be critical. We are in danger and we need to leave. Let's pack our bags tonight and leave first thing in the morning. I'll write a note for mother and father saying that we went to visit Prince Allon."
"Do you even know where Harpshire is?" Gwen said. "I sure don't."
"Of course I don't. But Allon might. That's why we will visit Seymour Manor."
Gwen was reluctant, but he didn't have much of a choice. Robin wrote the letter to their parents and placed it on the table while Gwen packed two satchels of camping gear. Shortly after, the brothers went to bed on the top level of the barn. Robin was just about to fall asleep when a hand nudged him.
"Gwen, what are-"
"Shh," his brother hushed softly. "The window."
Robin crept over to the low window, peeking up over the rough sill. He had to stop himself from screaming. A crocodile-like head stuck out over the cornstalks, its intelligent eyes locked with Robin's.