A Will of Stone
"A fallen star?" Avalon asked, looking at the map Forge Master Kloog showed.
"A few nights ago the watch reported a star hitting the ground a few nearby." The goblin said, offering a piece of bread to the growing girl.
"I did not hear or feel anything."
"None of us did, which is what is curious to me. I have a few things I must attend to today in preparation for the holiday festivities tonight. While everyone is there, I want you to go and investigate this fallen star before another finds it."
Avalon bit into the bread, "What should I do when I find it?"
Master Kloog chuckled, "Quite confidante I see--bring it back to Hafan, I trust a fallen star would prove quite valuable. Who knows we may find a use for it yet."
Avalon saddled her horse, wearing an armor she did not think she would in her travels. This was not the same, full-body armor she wore into a full battle, it was lighter, faster, but less sturdy against a hard blow. The alchemist did not think to be engaged in a battle of great length, but brought this armor just in case. The leather that coated her was strengthened by fibers of metal, a mix woven in and transmuted to provide a durability below a battle armor, but above standard leather without increasing its weight.
This wear coated her entire body, but was easily concealed under her cloak, unless one stood in front with her arms extended it was difficult to see. Fenrir had similar battle armor, but because of his size, brute strength, and surprising speed he had little need of it as Avalon did. Though it became habit for the Dire Wolf to remain at Elene's side when Avalon was not near, in this case the alchemist decided it would be better if he was with her this time. She did not know what laid beyond the walls of Hafan, in the forest said to protect those true of heart, but Avalon did not trust such myths. In a land she knew little about, to search for something she knew nothing of, she had already taken too many chances thus far and she was not about to allow herself to become docile and soft under the cavern's protect.
She needed to be out here. Needed to feel the adrenaline of fighting, needed to feel the intensity of the unknown, of being ever-vigilant in enemy territory. The Anexus within her called out for the recall to her natural state, to be the warrior and to not forget that though she believed these people she could not afford to trust them. She was an Anexus before she was Avalon and if she wanted to surpass her father, to save her clan and the people she cares about she must be absolute.
"If something happens--"
"Do not worry about me." Elene smiled, hugging Avalon, "I was able to live in the middle of the forest without anyone finding me for years. Do not underestimate me."
Fenrir barked, wagging his tail as he rubbed Elene's side.
Avalon relaxed defeated in her concern, "I should return within a day or two's time."
Avalon mounted her horse and the three moved on, looking to find the highest point in order to achieve an aerial view of the mountains. If a star had truly fallen within the past few days, then there were sure to be signs and seeing as none were able to feel an impact then it was likely to be a greater distance away or somewhere higher up. Fenrir sniffed the air, catching an unfamiliar stench that cause him to sneeze and growl as he rubbed at his nose with his paw.
"I know, I feel it too." Avalon patted the wolf's back her eyes narrowing to a white smoke towards the edge of the thick forest, boarding a mountain that could only be reached by trekking thru the woods.
The alchemist looked to the depth of the woods, the thickness and cover it provided that could easily have the careless traveler lose their way. There were no man-made roads that cleared the trees and opened a path, making it nearly impossible to see if an enemy was making their way thru. It was a place that could pose a threat to Hafan, but it was also the perfect concealment of travelers wanting safe passage to the market. What animals, both magical and non, were hidden within there? In this region she had a general knowledge of what resided here, but it was impossible for her to know everything.
"Come on boy." Avalon mounted her horse again and traveled down the mountainside to the forest.
It was thick, but spread, the pines allowed for room to see a decent distance, but it did little to calm her senses. They were heightened in this place, but it was exciting to be back in her element, yet she also felt uncomfortably alone. Avalon had grown comfortable with always being with another person, though Fenrir provided great company; to have just the two of them again was now...unusual. As her horse followed Fenrir, Avalon listened to the sounds of the forest--the leaves rustling against each other, the wind brushing thru the tree's arms; the crunching of sticks under hooves and paws, the heartbeat of nearby deer, of squirrels' claws against the bark as they scaled the tree and jumped to the next.
The sound of nature had been muted against the cavern's echo of metal, business, talk and movement. Even as people slept the depth of the cavern made it difficult to listen, the thickness of the mountain acted as a barrier to the outside world and cut the alchemist off from all things nature. Avalon was grateful now that Master Kloog had sent her out, that a star had thought to have fallen and now she was out here in search of it. The sun crept over the eastern mountain and warmed the air, allowing for Avalon the chance to pause and absorb the heat into herself.
Hours went by, the need to rest was apparent when a small waterfall was found feeding the liquid gold into a large, clear spring with an island in its center. Avalon dismounted, revealing her horse of the alchemist's weight and giving her the chance to drink her fill and the human to be the one on guard. Avalon took a loaf of bread and a hand of carrot. She offered the treat to her horse then sat herself against a tree to nibble on her own food. It was nearing midday and Avalon was certain they were getting close. After half the loaf was consumed, the alchemist stood and put her hands in the cool water, finding the spring housing small schools of fish and when looking up, saw that they were not the only ones to take advantage of the spring.
Avalon dropped on her back, as a massive white stag stood on the water's surface hardly disturbing the lives beneath it, but scaring what was above it. This stag was unlike anything she had seen; its antlers easily massing the size of Avalon's horse, its appearance taking that of barren thick branches. Around its head was glowing flowers, some wrapping around the roots of the antlers and going up. His eyes peered deep into Avalon's causing her's to become golden in response to his call.
The alchemist cringed, suddenly able to see an overwhelming vision of trees, animals, land, and magic. The stag came closer, Fenrir jumped in the way, growling in defense of his friend, but the snow stag did not respond defensively. He looked to the wolf, the canine's tail went between his legs as the beast's power to rule and dominant began to push the wolf's into submission. He continued to growl, his fang baring aggressively as he licked his fangs in defiance; his ears tuckered down as his head lowered at the stag's influence. The wolf could not win--he went on the ground, but continued to growl and struggle against the power.
Avalon lifted her shaking arm to the wolf, "Its okay! I'm fine!"
The stag looked back to Avalon who assured the wolf of her well-being. The alchemist straightened herself, adjusting to where she was crouching on her knees and then progressive to stand. She lowered her head slowly, keeping eye contact until her head was below her eyesight. She must show respect to the forest's Guardian. Each forest has one, whether it would be magical or not, there was always one and the Anexus were taught to always respect the Guardian. No matter where the Guardian's will was law, no matter the will of an Anexus they would be fools to defy it.
Avalon's eyes pulsed as the stag lowered its head. He nuzzled his head against the human's, a sign she took to raise her head, that she was being acknowledged for her respect. It was not the first time she had met a forest's Guardian. Rather the Anexus often had communication with the one their village resided in--the Guardians were drawn to the Anexus as they were drawn to them. The Anexus were also Guardians in their own right, the Guardians of the Great Balance which added to the reason of their numerous interactions with forest Guardians. There were few records of Guardians having human-tongue conversations with Anexus, however it has always been taken that the Guardian's will was felt rather than told. Avalon had little experience in that however.
"We search for a fallen star." Avalon said quietly, "We had been told one had landed in this forest, but we have had little luck with finding it."
Her golden eyes faded back to brown as the stag turned its back and walked across the water. Avalon followed, walking to the spring's center and feeling a pulsing the closer to the enter they walked. The stag stopped, he looked to Avalon, then to her feet as she peered into the depths below; there laid a massive smooth and blackened stone that stood out among the lightly colored stones it rest on. This was the reason Avalon nor others had felt the impact of the fallen star--the water had muted the sound. The surface where the stag stood rippled, but when the alchemist looked again he was gone.
Avalon returned to the shoreline, she removed her cloak and armor; lightening her wear until all left was trousers and a light shirt, she then took rope from her horse and tied it to the saddle, taking the rest with her into the waters. It was mountain water, cold and refreshing, though Avalon would rather not be swimming in such chill she did so anyway, diving below the surface. Alchemy would be easier, would be better; she could turn the entire spring to ice and clear a way to the fallen star, or into steam and empty it, but to do so would be the ultimate disrespect and likely would come with deadly consequences.
An alchemist most important lesson: Alchemy cannot solve everything.
Avalon tied her rope around the massive star, something she took as a blackened stone and returned to the surface. Transmuting the water from her clothes, she redressed and helped her horse to pull the stone free from the spring's grasp. The waters did not resist, rather they helped, seeming wanting this fallen star to leave and once it broke the surface and was touched by the alchemist she understood why.
Everything living has magic. To be more precise, everything of the elements has magic--stone, fire, water, wind, and lightning; all that creates anything in this world is embed with magic. Nature is magic itself and all, not matter what form it may take will always have the slightest bit of magic coursing thru it.
This fallen star...had nothing.
Avalon had the stone dragged behind her, all the way to the Forge Master's shop, who was more than surprised at her success and what this fallen star appeared like. She did not like to touch it, it felt empty and dead. Carrying her brother, holding his body...it was just like this and it made her feel sick to her stomach.
"I understand your unease, it does give off a peculiar aura." Forge Master Kloog said when placing his hand on the star, "It will make a fine blade. One-of-a-kind; this is the material I will forge your blade from."
Avalon did not voice her concern, but the expression she wore and her silence was enough for Master Kloog to know it. He went back to his shop, returning shortly with a marked parchment and placing it on the dead star for the younger to see. The sword looked nothing as what an Anexus would usually wield into battle, not even ceremonial. Theirs were shorter, flattened blades with heavy handle composing of the hilt, cross-guard, pommel, and grip. This sword, designed by Master Kloog, too an appearance similar to a muggle knight's 'war sword'. A war sword seemed lighter, and they possibly were, but those kinds of swords were certainly more balanced than the crudely-transmutated swords the Anexus made.
"A sword forged from a fallen star would do well to match one forged from a volcano's spitfire." Master Kloog chuckled, "A battle between heaven and earth."
Avalon kept out of Master Kloogs way, entering it only under his strict instruction: breaking the star apart into pieces, shoveling the pieces into the forge to be melted down. The alchemist watched the goblin forge this weapon, careful to take in every technique and movement to understand the skill of goblin craft. She nonetheless removed herself in certain parts per Master Kloog's instruction as some of the techniques were those only goblins may know. She did not protest, though this sparked her dangerous curiosity, but the alchemist resided herself to be distracted by fetching two bread-bowl soups, one for herself and another for the Forge Master.
This work went on for days; Avalon found little sleep as Master Kloog worked without rest and without tire having a seemingly infinite supply of energy. She did her best to stay awake, but the tenacity of goblins when working outweighed her resting-energy. Even in battle, as she fought for hours without rest, she still had a breaking point that could not exceed a single day. The alchemist became so deprived of sleep, she was able to see that which was not real and upon noticing Avalon talking to a pillar Master Kloog ordered her to curl up in her previous corner and go to bed. He was too busy to babysit a half-crazed alchemist on the loose.
Avalon awoke to the heartbeat of hammer against metal, only one hammer. The goblins came around to see first-hand if the rumors were true--Forge Master Kloog was smithing once again. It was curious what he was forging, why he was forging and who for, but the who was easily known seeing as she was seen waking and walking from the master's shop. He was hard at work and she did not want to disturb him, but as she went to fetch them both breakfast she was stopped by the parade of goblins eager for an explanation.
"What is he making?"
"What material is he using?"
"How did you convince him to forge for you?"
Fenrir came with Elene in tow, growling at the goblins, bearing his fangs as a warning for them to leave be. Discouraged from gaining an answer the goblins returned to their workplaces quieting Master Kloog's area from unnecessary noise.
"Still at it I see." Elene smiled, as Avalon quickly grabbed a chair for her to rest.
"You should not be out and about needlessly." Avalon said when helping her down, careful to not disturb very large and well-rounded belly that protruded her clothes.
Elene shook her head, though was happy to be off her swollen ankles after walking for what seemed like forever. Fenrir did what he could to help lessen her burden, but his strides were rather large and proved too difficult for Elene to keep up. She lifted her basket to Avalon's eye-sight, enticing the alchemist's stomach to growl in hunger.
"I needed the fresh air, its become rather stuffy in the inn when you are out here at all hours of the day and night. Do you even know what time it is?"
Avalon shook her head, having lost her sense of time and truthfully did not know whether it was day or night. She would readjust later, but now was not the time. Fixing another plate, the alchemist stood from the ground and went towards the forge:
"Master, do not forget to eat." She said, un-expecting of a response, but placing the plate in a spot within his line of sight and reach nonetheless.
She returned to Elene's side, taking a spot against a wooden pillar and continuing to scarf down her food.
The witch finished a bite of her boiled egg, "How long have you two been working?"
Avalon leaned back and looked to the tallied wood she made in the corner.
"I believe we are on the fifth day." She straightened again, "I have done little, Master Kloog has been working without end this entire time."
Elene looked to the goblin concerned, "Have you tried to have him rest?"
"Goblins are stubborn when they start a task, they refuse to stop until it is perfect." Avalon shook her ahead amused, "And I know better than to try."
Elene suddenly gasped and leaned forward, stopping her meal and holding her belly. Avalon and Fenrir instantly snapped to attention and were off the ground at the witch's side. Her plate dropped to the ground with another contraction, a whimper of pain and struggle for breath caused Avalon to become ghostly pale.
The Dire Wolf bends down, enough for Avalon to lift Elene up and set her on his back.
"Wait! Wait! I cannot ride--!"
Fenrir runs, his master keeping close on his tail as they weave between the ally's keeping on the ground to avoid the witch losing her grip. The wolf runs at full speed when making it to the main ally, the crowds part as a sea against a rock, aided by Avalon's loud commands to make way. Arriving at the midwife's house, Fenrir comes to an eased, but quick stop at the house, bending so Avalon may take Elene from his back and into the arms of the midwife.
She knew the day was near, but she was not expecting the day to be this near.
"Avalon!" Another midwife called, beckoning the alchemist to come as well though she knew nothing of childbirth and less of how to help the witch thru it.
Nine hours of labor went by. The son to poke his head from his mother's womb was healthy and strong as was his brother who was unexpected. Twins. Two think that Falcon had not one, but two children and now Avalon was an Aunt...to her honesty it was much sooner than she thought she would be, however not unusal. The midwife cleaned the infant boys, wrapped them each in their own blanket and laid them to rest on their mother's bosum. Avalon stood in awe of witnessing this birth of life. She had seen animals be born countless times, how their mothers nurtured them and caref for them, occasionally a twin would be rejected and the rejected animal would be cared for either by Avalon or Volva. That was how Fenrir and Avalon bonded so well, both were without mothers.
However, Avalon does not see Elene doing such. The alchemist watched the infants curl closer to their mother, their cries from birth settled as they began to drift off to sleep. She looked upon those two with eyes full of love, eyes that saw her brother in his sons' face. This was how he would live on, not only as a memory within his family and his lover, but his legacy would continue in the form of these boys. Avalon would protect them, would look after them and help Elene raise them to be men of great worth. She would protect them...no matter what...as long as there was a single breath in her body she would never stop fighting for them.
"Avalon..." Elene lifted her hand to her family, "Come here, look at your nephews."
Hesitantly, the fourteen-year-old stepped closer, but did not reach for Elene's hand. What right had she to touch these pure and innocent children with her tainted hands? These hands, covered in blood with dozens of people whose lives she's taken, would she even be a good influence on them?
"Come here..." The witch took the alchemist's hand and pulled it to the back of the second-born, "Help me name them."
When Elene fell asleep Fenrir was escorted in to take in the scents of the newborns. He would have to grow used to this strange scent, the mixing of alchemist and sorcerer blood was unheard of, but it would not take long for their magic to bloom--afterall Avalon could sense the magic their bodies produced. They may take after their father's apperance, but they certainly took after their mother's nature. Fenrir rested himself at Elene's bed and Avalon stepped out to leave the cavern and take in some fresh air.