This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Nina’s first memory was of watching her Aunt Jill crush dried white petals in a mortar, grinding them into dust. She would mix them in a bowl of hot, boiling water, along with ground Silverleaf.
“This, my dear, is how you make a basic healing potion. Just heat it until it is almost to boil and then remove it from the fire, letting it simmer until the juices concentrate in the liquid...”
But Nina was no longer paying any attention. Time had exhausted her attention span and now the little girl squirmed, longing for stimulation. Aunt Jill merely smiled and continued on her work.
“You are only four. It is amazing that I held your attention as long as I did. You will make a great alchemist one day, little one.”
The little girl’s blue eyes wandered outside. A few birds were starting to dip into nearby Stone Carin Lake. They lived on the north shore, wedged between the lake and the hills, in a little blue-tiled cottage hugged by two adjacent trees. It was just her and her “aunt,” who was a little too old to be an aunt, and seemed old enough to be her grandmother.
They rarely ventured out. Once in a while, Nina was set to nearby Eastvale Logging Camp for supplies. Flour, dried fruits, eggs and meats were needed to supplement her vegetable garden. Their lack of basic supplies bothered Auntie Jill, who would look at Nina’s small frame with concern.
“Hopefully, one day we will make enough money so that we can have a proper barn and coop,” she would mutter to herself.
It wasn’t unusual for travelers to stop by. They were usually exotic folk, dwarves, elves of all kinds, and even gnomes. She was a shy girl, and was known for hiding behind her aunt’s skirts when visitors arrived. It was to these travelers that her aunt would sell her collection of potions and other concoctions, which were rumored to be some of the best in the realm.
Two such travelers came by very often, until it occurred to her that they weren’t travelers at all. One was loud, rowdy Dwarf Paladin by the name of Skinflint, who lived in nearby Goldshire. His long, brown beard was tinged with gray. He took a shine to the little foundling, for that is what she was, and would visit often with treats and toys to distract her.
“’ere ya go lassie,” he would bellow, giving her some toy or other. “I got this one from Ironforge. It’s gnome made fare, so ya better be careful but it should be good fer some time before it breaks!”
The other was a tall, imposing Night Elf Druid who went by the name of Denevell. He would sometimes visit with Skinflint, but other times he would come by on his own to discuss herbs and living things.
When Nina was six, their fortunes began to change. At first, it seemed to be for the better. Enough money had been saved to expand their cottage and build a proper farm, complete with a barn for cows and a chicken coop. Workers were hired, land was cleared, and they were ready to begin construction.
But the night before construction was set to occur, disaster struck. It began with a crash. Nina woke with a start to find a hideous beastman grinning at her through a broken window. Its hide was black spotted and golden, its fangs and snout suggested a dog, but his clawed hand that gripped a simple spear reminded her of a man.
She cried out in terror as the creature jumped in the house. With his gnarly, hairy claws he reached for her. Even though she was just a child, she knew she was going to die. But a ball of fire blasted on through the door and caught the knoll in the stomach. He was hurled back against the wall and ceased moving.
“Auntie, Auntie!” Nina cried desperately as the elderly woman walked in.
“You must go, Nina! You cannot stay here. We are being overrun with them. I think they seek to make this their nest.”
“But auntie, I want to go with you,” she cried.
Her little hands clung to the woman’s robes so strongly that her knuckles became white.
Jill pushed her away and then basically tossed her out of the window. With one last command, for her to leave and never turn her head, Nina was chased off from the only home she’d ever known to an uncertain future.
Only when she reached the edge of the woods, next to Eastvale, that she turned around. Through blurred eyes she watched what was once a budding lake-side community alight. Her old house was burning. She could see black shadows darting in and out of the firelight. The woman who’d raised her was nowhere to be seen.
For as long as she lived, Nina would remember the terror of that night, the deep shadows that covered the ground, the hideousness of the face that loomed over her window, and the deep sadness when she realized that she would never see her aunt again.
She was about to scream, when a boy of eleven covered her mouth quickly. He held a sword in his hand. He was not alone. The men from the logging camp, and a few women, were standing beside him, with swords and pitchforks. A few held torches aloft, creating a beacon for which refugees could gravitate.
“Be quiet, or they will come ’ere next,” he hissed.
He was auburn-haired and tanned, with large green eyes. She recognized him as Cyrus, a boy who basically lived in the wild and would visit on occasion.
“What ’appened ’ere? Cyrus, ya better be careful with tha lass!” A familiar voice roared.
It was Skinflint, who appeared with a few Stormwind guards. They got wind of an incoming attack, but had arrived too late.
“Skinflint!” she cried. “Auntie is there. The monsters came and now the house on fire. Why?”
The dwarf held her close as he looked around him, frowning with concern.
“I’m sorry lass, but ya must be strong now...”
The last thing she remembered was being over taken by darkness. Skinflint told her later that she fainted with shock.
After that night, her life changed forever. Nina was now in the care of Skinflint, who moved to a village next to Eastvale Logging camp and she became his ward. As it turned out, Cyrus was also orphaned and stayed with them sometimes, although he generally lived on his own.
Unlike her Aunt, Nina did not see Skinflint as much. He had joined a small, local militia to keep the knolls and other creatures at bay, preventing their expansion. And so Denevell would take care of them in place of Skinflint. But despite his best efforts, he was often away in his own thoughts, in his reverie, or in his work. Days would pass before the children saw either of their caretakers.
And although the other citizens of the village were kindly, and treated her well, they had their own problems. There was only so much they could do for the child. They left her on her own and she raised herself.
And thus was her life until she reached the age of twelve and she moved to Northshire and became apprenticed to Khelden Bremen. But before she traveled to Nortshire, one other event transpired that would remained forever seared in her mind.
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