By smatusky All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 21 - Atop Zureel

The was cooler than the marshes of , and fewer streams made the trek easier. Although dense trees chilled the air, our armor kept us warm, so hiking this new terrain was pleasant.

Lord Raine had traveled here many years ago, so he led our party through the forest. Just like Gullane, our giant captain expressed caution. Something had happened long ago between Nocteens and Giants. We heeded his warning and used telepaths, communicators, and Wolfe’s sharp senses to warn us of danger.

The land had transformed into wooded valleys and rocky peaks that housed beautiful waterfalls, blue lakes, and patches of lush meadow. Unlike the flat marshes, hiking became more challenging here; climbing long upgrades, sliding down rocky trails, switchbacks along mountainsides. Our trip was exhausting and took much longer than we had hoped. After five days of travel we gathered on a high mountain pasture to rest and still could see where we had entered the forest from

At the same time, our trials with the T-raiders had put a strain on my ability to control my magic. I struggled day after day, concentrating on my expanding cloud, hoping to contain my powers. I sensed that the Nocteen called Shrealock understood my situation, but I was slipping. I blocked myself from all thought in an attempt to keep my magic at bay. But even a slip off the trail or burning my mouth on hot tea, the ground would tremble with my short bursts of pain or anger. People offered me food or drink, asked to carry my pack, or offered me a prime space to rest. They were fearful of the tremors that were more frequent now and tried their best to keep me calm.

Days later we were deep within the forest, heading southeast. Lord Raine told us that he recognized the area as the home of the Nocteens. I followed our party through the trees while concentrating on my breath, trying not to think about past or future. My present steps were all that mattered.

“Eyes are watching us,” Wolfe whispered to Riley, who had been behind me on the trail. I stopped abruptly and spun around. Wolfe’s thoughts slipped into my mind as he stared at me with concern. His concern was not for the eyes watching us, but for my very own eyes. They were red, puffy, and growing brighter. I scared him.

Wolfe stood frozen, fixed upon my bright eyes. He feared the ground would swallow him, or a bolt of lightning would strike him. I had turned into a monster. All I could do was turn around and go back to my meditation of walking and breathing. Wolfe’s fear was legitimate. I would have probably lost control if I had asked any questions.

That evening, tension filled the minds of those who passed by. We were being watched and my tremors traveled with us, getting longer and more frequent. I was the biggest advertisement for my alliance. Every rock, tree, and animal within a radius of hundred feet or more felt my presence.

The giants were on alert the entire evening. Everyone avoided me completely, worried that their fears might aggravate my evil magic.

After a good night of sleep I felt stronger, my mood brighter. I was holding on, though that was about to change. It was the calm before the storm. My foresight showed conflict during our encounter with the Nocteen, but I chose to ignore the warning, fearful that my worries would cause unwanted stress. Deep down, I was certain that the journey here would change me. Something would happen, changing my life forever, just as it did before I killed my father to save The Land.

We packed our things and headed further southeast. Lord Raine kept a close watch on the trees and traveled at a slow pace so our party would not be separated. Whispers came from Wolfe and spread through the line up to the giants in charge. Lord Raine stopped us. He raised his long muscular arm and the line halted.

Big birds swooped down from the canopy.

“Get down!” Edward shouted.

The people who heard his call fell to ground. When we looked up, we saw the Nocteen make their attack. They grabbed the people still standing. At least forty of them snatched people from the ground and dropped them almost thirty feet from the air. Bodies hurled toward the ground and most were knocked out or had broken bones.

I spoke to Sir Edward telepathically to send out the healers and called on our archers to aim for the Nocteens’ wings. I did not want to hurt them, only take away their ability to fly until we could speak with them.

“Archers!” Shouted Sir Edward, obviously hearing my telepathic call. “Aim for the wings. Don’t hurt them. Only bring them down.” Sae’ka was the first to hit a Nocteen and set it spiraling into the woods. Other archers aimed for Nocteens making a second pass, but one was hit in the leg while another had an arrow go through its arm. There were loud screeches from the hurt Nocteens and screams from the alliance members falling to the ground.

A Nocteen snatched Sae’ka from the leather straps on her back and tried lifting off with her, but George took hold of her ankles. Wolfe grabbed George’s waist and another Nocteen tried to help lift the first one holding Sae’ka. The line of people became longer. The scene looked ridiculous as my friends were lifted into the air all yelling “Hold on!”

Finally, Sae’ka revealed a knife from her belt and wrapped her arm around the leg of the Nocteen holding her. She stabbed its leg while at the same time an arrow shot through the wing of the Nocteen on top. The entire line went tumbling to the ground, winged and non-winged humans together.

I heard moaning and groaning as bodies rolled on the ground.

“Stop!” I shouted and stood up. A Nocteen swooped down to grab me, but my powers blew it far away along with a dozen more perched in trees. The ground trembled and everyone stared at me.

“Stop this stupid fighting!” I yelled and called on my healers to help the injured. I walked over to Gullane and grabbed his arm. The giants stood up while my remaining alliance stayed on the ground, kneeling or on their bellies.

I spoke telepathically to the Nocteens although uncertain they could read my out-pouring of thought. “Shrealock!” I finally shouted. “Where is Shrealock?”

I walked a few yards ahead of the throng followed by Lord Raine. We looked around the trees, hoping a Nocteen would come to us. Then we noticed one lying behind some bushes to our right. Lord Raine pushed the brush down, exposing a wounded male Nocteen.

The males had blues eyes with blonde hair while the females had brown eyes, long black hair, and most noticeable, four breasts. They wore a loincloth that covered their middle body, though nothing covered their upper body.

The wounded Nocteen was startled by his unveiling and tried to crawl away. A large arrow protruded from his calf, another in his shoulder, and passing arrows had torn holes in his wings. Lord Raine grabbed his ankle – he screeched like a large bird caught in a trap, and before he could go anywhere I placed my hands on him.

The terrified male watched me as I concentrated. The arrows were burned to microscopic particles. Instantly my healing powers closed his wounds and rebuilt the torn tissue of his wings. The process took less than a minute, and when finished I offered him my open hand. He gradually placed his two large fingers into my palm – a large muscular thumb clasped from under my hand as I helped to lift him from the ground.

“What is your name?” I asked. He stretched out his arms, examining his mended wings. His wings were much like a bat, attached to his arms and thick layers of skin extended from behind his shoulder toward his elbow and wrist. “.” I said, still waiting for a response. “My name is .”

“.” He repeated my name, amazingly in my same voice.

“Who are you?” I asked again.

“Bahoyia,” he said in another tone more like that of a human male.

“Where is Shrealock?” I was eager to meet this important being.

“Zureel. No Zureel, no Shrealock. Must leave.” Bahoyia spoke defiantly.

“But why?” I asked. “We did not start the attack, and I only wish to see Shrealock. Why must we leave?”

Bahoyia glanced at Lord Raine, then peered beyond him to the other giants standing next to the crowd. I did not care to read anyone’s thoughts, but it was necessary. His people felt the same about giants as the giants did about Nocteens. Both men feared each other – we were not going to get anywhere without talking.

“He thinks you came here to kill them,” I told Lord Raine as Bahoyia looked up at the leader of the giants.

“We would do no such thing. It is they who that have attacked us. Just like before. They are the ones who kill.”

They are the ones that kill!” said Bahoyia mocking the deep tone of Lord Raine.

“No, they ambushed us!” Lord Raine responded furiously.

“No,” repeated Bahoyia. “They ambushed us!” Bahoyia’s two fingers pointed to the giants.

“He’s insane.” Lord Raine’s frustration was causing my head to throb. “We did no such thing.”

He’s insane.” Bahoyia pointed at Lord Raine then gestured to himself. “We did no such thing!”

The bickering was infuriating. “Show me.” I said and grabbed Bahoyia’s arm. He repeated what I said. Suddenly I realized that Bahoyia only answered when a question was asked. He repeated statements in the voice he heard much the way a bird might mock another animal.

“Will you show me in your mind what happened when the giants came here the first time?” I stared at him, my glowing eyes begged for understanding, and my grip became tighter on his arm. He nodded and I closed my eyes. His thoughts of the past became clear in my mind, and so did his understanding of the moment.

It was dusk – twenty or more giants were walking through the woods. The Nocteens were watching from the trees, just as they had done with the alliance, except they did not attack. I noticed a young Lord Raine at the back of the group. Giants and Nocteens live much longer than humans and the event I was witnessing was almost half a century ago.

“It’s in the tree, look there.” Bahoyia’s sensitive ears heard the whisper of the lead giant. A screech came from a tree – it was a call from one Nocteen to another, asking if they should make contact with the people below.

Bahoyia saw it, the spear that pierced the heart of the female Nocteen who called out. This had never happened in their forest. These visitors had killed one of them, and instantly the Nocteens swooped down to attack. All this trouble was caused by one man fearful of a suspicious noise in the darkness, a call he did not understand and possibly believed was an attack. Other giants in the back of the line must not have known that one of their own had killed a Nocteen and as years passed each race believed the other was the enemy. As much as I did not want to think about it, I thought about the protectors. Who was the enemy? Were humans like the giants, not realizing that they had caused the attack? It was an accident and neither one was open to an unbiased view.

“It was a giant.” I finally spoke, although my eyes remained shut. “You were in the back of the line. You didn’t see it. A spear went through her, a female in the trees who had called out to another.” My tired eyes opened to see Lord Raine watching me, his mouth open. “It was dark and silent, yet Bahoyia saw it.”

“It can’t be.” Lord Raines voice was quiet and low. “It must be a trick. He made it up!” The leader of the giants did not want to admit that he could have been wrong.

He made it up!” repeated Bahoyia just as before.

“He’s lying!” shouted Lord Raine.

He’s lying!” Every word Bahoyia repeated made the giants angrier, but they did not understand that Nocteens mock a statement and answer a question.

“No, you don’t understand!” I gripped Lord Raine tight on the wrist.

“But they attacked us first!” Lord Raine’s anger pulsed through me.

Before Bahoyia could mock the giant in his same deep tone I burst aloud, “Aahhhh!” The pain in my head was about to explode. There was no solving this battle between who started their war first.

“Run!” I shouted as the ground tore open. It was as though my head was splitting with the earth beneath us and Riley raced over from the line to grab my arm. We jumped to the edge of a forming chasm then ran further into the woods. Would the opening follow us?

I did not look behind but heard people struggling. Some were shouting and I noticed a few Nocteens healed by alliance members flying into the sky. Sir Edward grabbed my other arm, and along with Riley they led me deep into the woods, away from the trembling rocks.

Bahoyia followed us into the woods, still bickering with Lord Raine. My breath escaped me and I dropped to my knees gasping for air with Riley doing the same. Sir Edward said some words that were muffled. He was trying to calm me. I lay on the ground, my head resting on Riley’s lap. Faces stared at me. Sir Edward placed his hand over my burning forehead, and although I did not speak aloud, I telepathically told him I needed to speak to Shrealock.

“Shrealock,” Edward said, repeating my plea to Bahoyia. “She must speak with him.” In my mind I told Edward to ask Bahoyia if he would to take me to see Shrealock.

“No Shrealock, must go.” Bahoyia said. Gullane insisted that he take us to this person. More Nocteens flew down from the trees, standing behind Bahoyia, while the giants were positioned around Lord Raine. Their arguments were churning the cloud above me. The reflection of the negative situation built quickly and I moved Sir Edward’s hand from my forehead. I focused my uncontrolled magic as best I could on the treetops outside my dark cloud and instantly they burst into flames. The spontaneous combustion stopped the arguing and Bahoyia asked me to stop hurting the trees. I did not look at him for fear he would burst into flames and I whispered “Shrealock” while continuing to channel my evil magic to the trees – it was the only thing I dared to look at.

Burning branches fell around us while screeches came from the Nocteens. I heard Riley being subdued by Sir Edward and Devin while someone from behind helped me up. Before I knew what had happened, my feet were dangling in the air.

“Don’t leave!” Riley shouted until his voice began to fade. “Take me with her!”

It was too late. Two Nocteens gripped each of my arms between the elbow and shoulder, their talons held tight. I stared down while trees caught on fire, but soon my mind began to clear. The air became brisk, my eyes soothed by the cool breeze. We ascended into a range of tall snow-covered mountains and it quickly became bitterly cold. Not only did my head ache, but the thin air made me dizzy as well. I could not shield my face from the cold because my hands, clenched into fists, were away from my body and my fingers were going numb.

After a long flight we were close to one of the mountains, flying between rocky, snow-laden peaks. Then we passed through a narrow range. As soon as we emerged an even taller mountain lay before us and the Nocteens flew even higher. I passed out briefly but woke after being dropped onto a stone landing on the top of the mountain.

Shivering from the cold, I shouted to the Nocteens that were about to leave.

“Where am I?” I asked. One of them turned to answer.

“Zureel,” he said. They lifted into the air and had become mere specks against the clouds.

Numbness hindered my coordination as I stumbled along the platform. I rubbed my sore arms then stuck my hands under my armpits to warm them.

Finally I was atop Zureel, home of Shrealock. What would I find? Frankly, I did not care, and I longed for some relief. I would not survive being in our world the way I was, broken with my dark cloud hovering above me. Some dwellings were close but were locked so I walked into a bungalow open to guests. I could not imagine Shrealock having many guests.

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