Children No More
Avalon waited many battles before risking returning to the house. She sent owls, a method of delivering letters she had gotten used to in her travels, to remain in contact with Elene, but it was many months before she could visit her sister-in-law. It was a nice breather, under the excuse of wanting to go for a casual ride--an action she ensured to perform this numerous times to avoid an ‘unusual’ activity. Miles from the village, hidden by concealment spells ironically in the same place her previous home was--Tali would not expect someone to return to the same place twice. Having concealment and shielding spells did help keep the unwanted away as well.
Dismounting her horse, Avalon watched Fenrir dash passed her, sliding to a slowness as he slipped his head under the two boys, lifting them onto his back and running around as they held his coat. The laughter of those two filled the alchemist with her expelled energy from seemingly never-ending battles of late.
“Osmond! Eskil! I thought I told you to--!” Elene came from the house and saw the source of the children’s joy.
Avalon walked her horse to a post and tied the reigns, allowing room for him to reach water and grass.
“I did not think you would make it.” Elene said exchanging hugs with Avalon.
They looked to the boys, “I cannot go missing my nephews birthdays now can I?” Avalon grinned, lifting her blanket to show the gifts.
“Come inside, the stew is almost done.” Elene grabbed Avalon’s hand and guided her in, knowing the boys would be fine with Fenrir with them.
“The boys say they saw a blue bear the other day.” The witch explained while the two set up the table.
“That was the Guardian checking in on them.” Avalon assured, “I asked for its blessing before having you return to the house. The Guardians are unbiased to the existence and presence of sorcerers so long as they respect the laws of their forest.”
The table was set and Elene went to check the stew as Avalon watched out the window.
“They are known to keep a close eye on the more vulnerable residents of their forest, sometimes they have even taken in orphans and raised them.”
Avalon recalled the Guardian of this forest took the form of a Falcon in her youth, it must have adopted a bear cub since to have taken its current form. Guardians were as the mothers and fathers of their forest, nurturing and caring for it while also fighting to protect it from invaders. The alchemist has never spoken to the Guardian of this forest before, she has seen it, but it was the Volva that normally underwent the task of communication.
“Are you sure you do not want me to create a golem? It could prove useful in case--”
“Avalon we are fine; we are safe here.” Elene said in a tone of warmth and comfort, “Between you, me, the Guardian, Fenrir--I doubt even Hafan is this safe.”
Avalon folded her arms, ”Hafan does not have my father at their front door.”
“Neither do we, now go get the boys and tell them dinner is ready.”
Avalon huffed, getting up and walking to the outside. She stood by her horse and saw the boys playing with Fenrir. How nice it is for them to grow up like this, to grow up without having seen the horrors of war at such a tender age. Avalon and her siblings were not so lucky...Sid was, thank the Tree, their father honored their mother’s dying wish to have her last child live longer without seeing it. The alchemist wanted them to go even longer without seeing it, without that image of death carved into their minds--Avalon would never forget it.
“Dinner time!” Avalon called out when removing the blanket concealing their presents.
The eldest, heard first, he turned and called to his twin who chased Fenrir. The Dire Wolf heard Avalon’s whistle and walked with the twins back to their aunt.
“Aunt Avalon! Which one! Which one!” The boys asked together, their appearances, faces, and voices exactly the same, but they were both very different.
“Hm.” The alchemist made herself look in deep thought before pointing, “Osmond.” She said to the eldest on her left, “Eskil.” To the youngest on her right.
The boys sounded in disappointment, their own mother and everyone else they had ever spoken to could never tell the difference and yet their aunt could. They thought she had her own magic to tell, that she was cheating somehow, but unlike their mother Aunt Avalon was not a witch--she was an alchemist, like their father. The two went inside at their mother’s call and just before Avalon went, Fenrir sat on his rear and waited behind.
“There is only one Fenrir, don’t even try it.”
The wolf wagged his tail, following after the boys leaving Avalon to the company of her horse. The sun was falling behind the horizon now, its light quickly being replaced by the shadows of the night. Though Avalon did well to see in the dark, this time between night and dusk was the worst because her eyes could not adjust. She took a moment to observe her surroundings, seeing to the tree lines and picking out where any unnaturalness may lie. Always be on guard. She told herself, always be careful of habits, never take the same route in a row, do what was necessary to ensure none could find this place--no markings, no telling; the same mistakes her brother made would not be repeated.
Out to the eastern treeline stood a blue glowing bear, highlights of white markings designed its fur and Avalon knew. She told Elene she would return shortly, having wanting to properly introduce herself to the Guardian of her home forest. It was unusual for the Guardian to be seen numerous times though, nonetheless in the same area, but then again their ways are a mystery and the Anexus have only ever been taught to respect it. The alchemist walked to the tree line, following the Guardian to just be out of eye-sight, but within ear-shot of the house. The glowing bear stopped and turned to Avalon who respectfully bowed and waited for the bear to touch her head before rising. Avalon expressed her gratitude for allowing Elene and her children to reside in the forest and for its silence in informing her father. Though Guardians are under no obligation to do such anyway.
The bear backed away a couple feet, showing a small puddle from where it once stood--Avalon came closer and peered at its contents. In its waters reflected another forest, one far from here where fires burned and ravaged life at the cause of those known as Dark Witches and Wizards. The Guardian of that forest cried out for help, its message echoing hundreds of leagues to reach the Anexus. The bear was gone now, leaving Avalon to return to the house and think carefully of what it would mean for the clan.
The boys were excited for their gifts. Osmond now possessed wooden model dragons very carefully carved from scratch and painted by hand. Avalon made a few for Sid as well seeing as he too had fondness for the reptilians. For Eskil was a new set of boots, transmutated using a tough blend of cow and pig. Both received a set of sword and shield to play with, Avalon desiring to begin training them to protect themselves before their magic could fully develop. It was without doubt they would grow to become wizards, but between now and then and even after...Avalon would not have them live a life without knowing even a sliver of the Anexus way. They were Anexus blood, but so long as they retained their mother’s name they would remain safe.
“I will be leaving again.” Avalon said quietly as Elene tucked her boys into bed.
“The dark witches and wizards we crossed paths with?”
Avalon nodded, “They are...” She choose to change her terms when being beside the boys, “Unable to be ignored anymore. I fear that if their numbers continue to grow, their actions will spill over to ordinary folk and even muggles and my father will become worse.”
Elene shut the door and as Avalon sat at the table, poured the two glasses of water.
“There are numerous covens fighting against them, but we are a divided people, we have only known to survive in such a way.” Elene looked to the owl sleeping on his perch, “Even the Great Families have been unable to do anything to thwart their rise and more and more join the Dark Ones everyday.”
The alchemist worse a grim expression on her face trying to think of how to stop this unrelenting force hel-bent on destroying or enslaving everything and anything. If their actions continue they would throw the Great Balance into further disarray and the Anexus will not react well to this. She had to convince her father to focus on a single enemy, not all of them; the Anexus were spreading far too thin, though the sorcerers could be blamed for this destruction, a single Dark One was far worse than twenty ordinary sorcerers. How could she have her father see that reason? See that there is only one enemy they must focus on--could she seriously consider what the Volva had said, what Avalon now knows from the Ragnarok?
Elene placed her hand over Avalon’s. “You will find a way, you always have.”
Tali had become aware of the situation to the west. The Guardian’s message was passed from Avalon to he and then preparations were made to leave within a fortnight. They left by horse back, a strong force of a couple hundred to travel thru the lands and arrive by the end of the week. Sid had come with, now in his twentieth year, he too had experience in a battlefield and to Avalon’s content he excelled at it as well as she and Falcon had at half his age. At least their father kept his word to their mother.
"Sister." Sid broke the silence of eating between he, Avalon, and their father around the fireplace.
“This will be the first time the three of us have ever fought together.”
Both Tali and Avalon looked at each other in surprise that the thought had not even occurred to either.
“I still remember when father and I had our first battle.”
Tali rose a brow, “At home or one the field?”
Sid burst into a fit of laughter as Avalon turned red and choked on her food. They talked about the past, about times that were long forgotten by another and remembered by the other. It had been such a long time they were like this, that they laughed and bickered over small things--Avalon remembers this was how things were before their mother passed, this was the father she remembered as a child, one that Sid did not have the pleasure of knowing.
“You should get some rest.”
Tali said, putting a blanket over Avalon and sitting across from her as Sid was sleeping soundly next to his horse. His daughter shut her book and had it rest in her lap, something she had borrowed from the Volva which was a composition of different alchemic combinations and uses.
“We will be arriving early tomorrow and will likely meet the enemy as well.” The chief explained, throwing another log to the fire.
Avalon looked to Berserker then to her father who watched the flames dance.
“Father...your condition...” She asked nervously, though Tali waited patiently for her to finish, “Is there a cure?”
The chief shook his head, “Even if there was I would not use it--this power has allowed me safeguard the clan and though it does not come without cost, I pay it gladly--”
“But what is it you must pay? Is it really you who must pay?” Avalon said quietly looking to her palm.
“Nothing comes without cost--the burden of leading the clan and fulfilling our duty is a path wrought with danger and we must use what we can to ensure we stay on that path.” Tali looked to Avalon, “You too will face those choices sooner or later.”
His daughter said meeting eyes with her father, “When I do, I will not choose the same as you.”
Tali shrugged, lying on his back to observe the stars, “Then you will die.”
Avalon shook her head, “I will find a way...I will find a different way or at the least I will die with a clear conscious.”
“You would think differently if you were Chief.” Tali sighed.
His daughter disagreed, “If I did, I would not be worthy of being Chief.”
The next morning came early, but all were fully prepared, energized and able to leap into action at the first sign. That first sign came quickly, as the scent of burning wood came with the wind into their faces. It was an over-whelming scent and the gravity of its source was seen as the clan’s forces stopped at the hill overlooking the inferno. The entire valley was being engulfed in these flames, people were walking on its outskirts, their wands casting burning trails into the tree line. Tali needed not consult, nor did their people need orders given, they knew of their task. Sid went with a third of the warriors, their focus would be to evacuate and save the forest’s residents; while working to cut off the fire’s advance as the remaining two-thirds would engage the sorcerers.
The alchemists came in like rolling thunder and strike with its vengeance. The battle erupted as the two sides fought with killing intent towards the other. They were unprepared for an assault this far north, nonetheless from the Anexus. How they discovered their whereabouts was anyone’s guess. Still...a mighty prize was offered for the one who brought the head of Tali Anexus and that prize was worth the risk for many desperate. Others were not so desperate nor stupid--Tali Anexus and his Berserker were not one’s to engage head-on.
The battle ensued--its end brought about by the retreat of the Dark Ones and the arrival of the rumored dragon-mask elites. Avalon was the first to meet them, she fronted her comrades, walking towards the masked sorcerers with her brother’s axe and a free hand, readied for transmutation. One of these people, a man, came in front of who was thought to be the leader. He was eager to fight, to fight a warrior worthy to kill and this woman, Avalon Anexus, was certainly worthy. Tali was too occupied to notice is daughter’s new opponent.
The dark wizard shot out a spell, it hit the wall Avalon transmutated and the wall was sent hurling towards the group. The wizard evaded, moving to the back to where his opponent was...supposed to be. From underground spike shot out, impaling the man and rendering him less than able to fight. The ground shifted and moved, opening to a gap where Avalon emerged from. The wizard attacked from behind, his spell colliding with the cased sword on Avalon’s back. Using an illusion was a grand idea. Avalon fell forward, her foot went forward, she spun and threw her axe into the man’s chest, dealing the finishing blow to the real sorcerer.
The others were caught off guard by the wellness of the alchemist, certainly that spell was meant to land a deadly blow, but that was not the case. Avalon transmutated the ground into another weapon, a shield and readied for the next attack. The dragon-mask sorcerers went to attack at once, but he word of their leader was final--withdraw for now. In a pillar of blackened smoke each sorcerer left until only the leader and Avalon were left.
“When I head Avalon Anexus had returned, I thought it was the words of a madman.” The witch said, placing her wand back into her rob.
Respectfully, Avalon stabbed her spear into the ground and empties her own hands.
“Do you know what our people say of you? An alchemist who shows mercy and sympathizes with sorcerers; the black sheep of the Anexus.” The dark witch said, waving her hand and dissolving the dragon-bone mask.
It was the first time Avalon had seen one of these higher-ranked sorcerers willing remove their mask. It was the first time one had stopped to talk and it was the first time Avalon had seen them withdraw from a battle simply because of one death. She did not know she had become famous within the wizarding world, apparently even within the ranks of the Dark Ones; that could be good or a death sentence. However, how any of them knew about her actions...likely steamed from her time in Hafan.
“I am honored to have reached the attention of your Dark Lord.” Avalon smiled, making a point to show her own knowledge of the enemy.
The witch before her was a woman her senior, but not by much. She had a thin figure, pale-skin and platinum blond hair. Her face was pointed, the features of her jaw distinct either with a lack of food or a healthy balance of diet. She was taller than Avalon, taller than the average woman in the isles, but not of the average man.
The sound of the troops drew their conversation to a close.
“My name is Antares Malfoy.” The witch waved her hand over her face, returning the mask to its original place as blackened smoke oozed off her, “I hope we may speak again one day...away from battle.”
The witch was gone, the last of her forces ended by the blow of the alchemists. Avalon retrieved her axe, sliding it back into its leather strap, that kept it to her hip. She walked to where her father and the others gathered, watching as the fire raged on--Fenrir’s ears perked up. Tali and Avalon both noticed this and the silencing of the people allowed for the cries to be heard. The alchemists looked to Tali who shook his head--the village was too far in the inferno for him to risk an Anexus life.
“They are residents of the forest too!” Avalon argued, “We should be trying to save them!”
“I will not risk anymore lives for the chance of saving a few villagers. All we can do now is pray the Great Tree will grant them a painless death--”
Avalon shouted, “This was not caused by nature! This was caused by the Dark Ones--human beings did this!”
Tali said nothing else and no others had the energy or desire to refuse his orders and go on a suicide mission. The Anexus mounted their horses and made for the opposite side, towards where the blaze was advancing and where the other part of their force battled to cut it off. They battle thru the night, creating ditches and blasting away burning timber to protect the untouched portion. Animals were rescued and treated by healers, its Guardian, taking the form of a red and purple-marked fox, guided animals out of the blaze. The dawn came and the majority of the Anexus laid on the ground, sleeping soundly despite the smell of burn wood and the covering of ash and soot cloaking them.
Avalon was awake, walking the extinguished portion of the woods, she followed the beaten and man-made path. Fenrir did not like the still and quietness of the dead wood no more than Avalon. It was painful and depressing, though they had seen many natural forest fires caused by a strike of lightning, to see the was intentional and man-made was a fact harder to swallow. The dire wolf’s ears came up and Avalon went on alert--in the breaking was a smoldering ruin. The crumbling remains of a village of mainly wood and straw. There were one or two stone foundations, but nothing of structure remained. Avalon clamped her hand over her mouth at the sight:
A sight too horrendous to describe, too graphic, it would remain in Avalon’s mind forever. An entire village...its people...were consumed by the blaze, set by the Dark Ones.
“Do you see now?” Tali said, placing his hands on his daughter’s shoulder, “The Chief must always make the choice that is for the sake of the clan. Perhaps we could have saved them...perhaps we would have lost our own and failed to save them anyway.”
Fenrir whined, he nuzzled his nose into Avalon’s hand hoping to distract her from this sight. His head jerked to the movement of rubble--Avalon sprinted, her hands bare against the warmed stone, she and Fenrir dug until reaching the wood of a table. Avalon pried the wood, freeing it and revealing the opened space that sheltered a small boy.
“Get me some water!” Avalon shouted to the Anexus behind Tali.
The boy had to be restrained from drinking too fast, but enough to clear the dryness from his throat. Avalon was relieved for a moment...only a moment: this boy...She could feel the magic within him and without a doubt Tali sensed it as well. The young alchemist, lifted the boy into her arms and turned around, Tali already wielded Berserker in his hand.
“Put him down.” Tali ordered.
Avalon did not move.
“You know what is he--”
“A Betrayer.” Tali corrected, “You are Avalon of the Anexus Clan--do not forget, our duty is to protect and maintain the Great Balance. You know the sorcerers are our enemy--”
“His ancestors are, not him! He is an innocent child! He has nothing to do with the sins of the past.” Avalon shouted.
“You forget your place my daughter, need I remind you the punishment for betraying the clan? I allowed you leniency once because you were a child, but you are a child no more and will be held responsible for your actions.” The Chief said, dotting on the past mistakes of a dead man.
Avalon hesitated, seeing the expression of her brother, of the other clan members who would sooner turn away than stand against their chief. They would not rise against him in fear of him, but also in trust of his intentions of the betterment of the clan. His daughter has often challenged his decisions, but has carried them out nonetheless, but this time...was to be a turning point.
“Put it down.” Tali tightened his grip on his axe, “I will not ask again.”
Avalon was silent. Sid did not know what to do or what to say...they had already lost their elder brother at the crime of betrayal, he could not lose another. He did not know what his sister would choose, he did not know what she was thinking, but he was certain of his own actions--he would fight with his sister no matter what. Avalon has never had ill-intentions, father is only misunderstanding.
“What if we could teach them?” Avalon asked quietly, “What if we could teach the sorcerers the error of their ways and to show them the right way?”
Tali shook his head, “They are too consumed by their dependence on magic, they are beyond saving.”
Avalon set the boy down slowly, standing him up-right and giving him another sip of water before taking a step to his right. Tali walked closer, lifting his axe above him.
“You made a wise choice.”
Avalon shut her eyes, “I know.”
Tali brought his axe down and sparks flew as Berserker collided with Caliburn.