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Short Stories from the Elves of Terisho

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A brother confronted with the twisted ways of his people faced with the unthinkable. This is a short story of a larger novel not published online. This story takes place before the novel and does not include the main characters of the novel. Instead, in this story, the main character is a young elf named Ren who is searching for his place among his band.

Dragon Queen
Age Rating:

Brothers Under the Starlight

On a night of no moon, when only the starlight lit up the endless sky, the elves of the Shadow Band spent the beginning of the night praying to the starlight and honoring it. To these elves, the starlight was always there to keep them safe and warn them of dangers to come. That night the starlight had a warning for them, but it didn’t come until all the elves were asleep. All of them, except one.

In each of the bands there was one elf that was tasked with interpreting the signs from the light as well as healing the elves of their band. In the Shadow Band, this healer would stay up every night the starlight was the strongest: the night of no moon. This moonless night was no different. After worshipping the starlight with his band, the old Shadow Band healer climbed his way up to the top of the highest tree; his aching muscles and fragile bones were no problem, for the starlight lent him the strength he needed to reach the top. He sat at the top of the tree for several hours, perched comfortably where he could see all the stars. In all his years, he had never received a sign from the starlight. He lived in a time of peace; the starlight protected his band without the need to communicate through the stars.

The tip of the sun peered over the horizon and light skimmed the sky. The Shadow Band healer expected the stars to start to fade. Instead, they disappeared. Thousands of stars, all shapes and sizes, one by one disappeared from the still dark sky. The healer watched helplessly as the starlight, what makes his people who they are, vanished. Except for two stars. These twin stars had always remained in the same place in the sky, regardless of the season. The twin stars grew larger until they were half the size of the moon. Their light was brighter than any moon the healer had witnessed. He gazed up at the twin stars watching as they stopped growing and one began to shift colors, its pure whiteness drained and flooded by a bloody red. The star bled for a moment then, as if he had imagined it all, the missing stars returned and the night sky was as it was supposed to be.

The healer climbed down the tree as fast as he could and raced back to the Shadow Band’s Homesite. He had to tell the band what he saw. The healer, now also a lightreader, needed to warn his band of the danger that was coming: the danger of twins.

Thunder drowned out Thernal’s screams as she entered her fourth hour of labor. Beside her, the Shadow Band’s healer, Gilthal, held a cup of water up for her drink. The old healer’s eyes betrayed his calm stature; it was too soon for her child to be born. Thernal screamed again, her heart racing as the pitter patter of the rain on the roof of the cavern grew stronger. In the Shadow Band, elves born on stormy nights were more likely to be sickly. The clouds covered the stars and the starlight wasn’t strong enough in the elves born on nights when there were no stars. More often than not, elves of the Shadow Band born on stormy nights had difficult lives.

Thernal had been brought to Gilthal’s cavern when she started going into labor. She knew that the birth was going to be tough; Gilthal wouldn’t even let the child’s father into the cavern. But Thernal was strong; the only concern she had was for her child. She lifted her head to the sky and prayed to the starlight through clenched teeth that the child would be healthy. As Thernal screamed again, the crown of the baby’s head appeared and within a few moments, the child was out and crying. Gilthal wrapped the child securely in a blanket. Thernal smiled, from what she could tell her child, a boy, was healthy. She held out her arms to take her son from Gilthal when she screamed again; she felt another contraction. She was still in labor.

Thernal glanced over at Gilthal, who still held her son in his hands. She couldn’t possibly still be in labor, she already had her child. Yet the contractions continued, just as painful as the last. Gilthal stood in shock, Thernal’s son his hands. He shook his head as to force himself back to reality and set the child down in the crib not more than a few feet from his mother. Gilthal scrambled back over to Thernal as she screamed and pushed once more. She saw Gilthal’s eyes widen; she knew then that she was having twins.

The second child did not cry at first. Gilthal silently picked up the still child and wrapped it in a blanket. Thernal saw how tiny her second baby, also a son, was compared to her first son. At first, Thernal didn’t think the child was alive. Gilthal handed the boy to Thernal and immediately he started to cry. Thernal’s own tears joined those of her son, only her tears were tears of joy.

Thernal held her second child carefully against her and waited for Gilthal to hand her first son to her. Once both children were safely in her arms, Thernal looked from one son to another, the two were the spitting image of each other. Thernal looked up at Gilthal and her smile faded. It had been three years since Gilthal had returned from his watch on the night of no moon with the prediction that twins would be a danger to the Shadow Band. Gilthal held his gaze steady as Thernal looked up at him and asked, “What is going to happen to my children?”

Thernal struggled for many years after the birth of her sons. The band had wanted to cast the twins out as soon as they were born and leave them to die. As far as they were concerned, twins were dangerous and regardless of their age did not belong in the Shadow Band.

Thernal raised her twins alone, giving up her rank of Crown Hunter. None of the nurturers in the band would even look after the twins. Even the twins’ own father had shunned them, breaking the bond he and Thernal held. Thernal credited her father for allowing the twins to stay in the band. Her father was the king and had told the band that unless the starlight refused the twins during the confirmation ceremony, eighteen years later, that he would not deny his grandchildren a home. It was under his strict orders that the twins were left alone.

Thernal knew from the day of their birth who was the stronger twin. She had named her first son, Ren. He developed more quickly than his brother, Kan, who was very ill as a child. Ren quickly grew to be more physically strong than Kan. Because this, Kan was seen as the bleeding star. Ren was treated much like any other tot was; the tyros spent time ‘training’ him and the hoariers told him stories. It was with much pain that Thernal watched Kan be left out. The band only thought of him as dangerous. Kan kept mostly to himself to avoid confrontation, and even though the king had ordered him to be left alone, Kan was still the subject of relentless verbal abuse.

As the twins grew and the time they became tyros approached, Thernal worried about Kan. If everyone refused to mentor him, he would be cast out of the band as a pariah and be lost to her forever. Thernal voiced her concern to her father, Rualon Angthi. When the day came for the twins to become tyros, Thernal was chosen to mentor Kan, though birth parents were rarely chosen to mentor their offspring. Thernal was comforted to see that Kan earned a bit more respect from the band as an accepted tyro. Despite several objections, she returned to her Crown Hunter duties as soon as Ren and Kan were out of the nursery. She continuously prayed to the starlight that both her son would be accepted by the starlight.

Ren woke up to the distant thunder, slowly creeping its way towards Homesite. He looked to the sky, the moon was at its highest point in the near pitch black sky. A storm was near. As Ren sat up, a loud crack of thunder shook him, rattling his bones and quickening his heart. He looked over at his brother, Kan, the storm reminding him of the hate Kan experienced from within their own band. Ren loved Kan, even though his brother deeply resented him for not being hated like he was.

Ren took a deep breath and smiled. The next night was the twins’ eighteenth birthday, the last birthday that mattered to the elves. The twins would have their confirmation ceremonies and as long as the light accepted both twins, Ren and Kan would become full members of the band. Ren would never have to fear losing his brother again.

The thunder progressively drew closer, reminding Ren that the two needed to start getting ready for their last mission before their confirmation ceremonies. The rain pounded onto the roof of the main cavern; a few drops dripped through the crack in the ceiling of the giant cave, slipped through the roof of their hut and landed squarely on Ren’s head. He shook his head free of the water and looked over at his brother. If all went well, tomorrow Ren would become a warrior of the Shadow Band and Kan would become a hunter. “Kan.” Ren’s soft voice carried over to his brother, who laid perfectly still on his sleeping mat. “Are you awake?”

Kan rolled over to look at his brother, resting his head on his arm. “I am, but I wish I was not,” Kan replied. There was a coldness in his brother’s voice that unnerved Ren. He knew that Kan didn’t like the night; especially stormy nights. All throughout his youth, Kan had struggled with nightmares of storms. Ren knew these nightmares still plagued his brother, though Kan no longer talked about it. He didn’t talk to Ren about much of anything anymore; Ren knew his brother resented him for being more accepted into the band than himself. Kan reluctantly sat up and asked, “Do you think we will still have to go out in the storm?”

“Yes, Luehal said that we would be going out tonight, regardless of the weather.” Ren grabbed his clothes to change into as he rose to his feet. He slipped into his warrior-in-training tunic with ease; the soft fabric conformed around Ren’s muscular arms in a tight fit. Luehal was his mentor and had given the brothers the instructions to be up. “He said something about needing to be prepared for any weather.” It had been storming for the last few days; Ren just hoped it would stop before their confirmations the next night.

“I sometimes think Luehal is a fish disguised as an elf,” Kan mumbled, stretching as he got up from his sleeping mat and got dressed. Ren smiled at his brother’s joke but knew that Kan often used humor to hide his distaste towards Ren. “I think you’ve gone out in more rainy weather with him than dry weather.”

“I think Luehal hopes that the rain will wash away the fact that I am a twin. He still has his doubts about us, though it should be clear to him now that neither of us are a threat to the band.” Ren secured his belt around his waist, making sure that the small knife he carried everywhere was safely in its holster. “I am actually surprised he agreed to train me. He still thinks being around a twin is bad omen.”

“Like you are ever treated like me,” Kan spat, making no effort to hide his anger then. Kan put his own belt on; he did not carry a knife on his belt. Ren flinched at his brother’s harsh tone. Regardless of what Ren did, Kan always seemed to resent him. Ren sensed a hateful venom in his brother’s voice. “You have no idea what I go through. You may be my brother, but you do not know the pain of being a twin.”

Ren opened his mouth to respond but was cut off when Luehal entered the hut. The older elf had his gray hair up in a ponytail and an animal skin jacket over his warrior’s tunic. “Ren, Kan, it is time to get going.” Luehal glared suspiciously at Kan, even though his brother had said nothing. Luehal had turned to leave the hut Ren saw he eye the knife strapped to Ren’s belt. “Ren, leave your knife here. You will not need any weapons tonight.”

Ren looked at his mentor solemnly, but knew better than to argue. He took the knife off his belt, once the knife was in his hands, Luehal nodded and left the hut. Ren held the knife in his hands for a moment, studying it. Ren had made himself the knife during his free time. The hilt was made of a white wood; the same as the bow he had made for Kan, who had ungraciously accepted the weapon. To Ren, the white wood represented the innocence that each elf should be born with; something his brother was denied. White wood was strong, virtually unbreakable in think panes, but it was easily stained. He placed the knife under his feather pillow and left the cavern, Kan hard on his heels.

“I am surprised we did not wake any of the others,” Kan said, slipping through the animal skin door that separated their hut and the main cavern of Homesite. Ren knew Kan was just avoiding their conversation that Luehal had interrupted. “I mean, Ya always sleeps like a rock. But Am usually wakes up to everything; like your snoring.”

“I do not snore.” Ren rolled his eyes at his brother, playing along with his brother’s pseudo good mood. The other tyros in the band slept at the opposite side of the hut than he and his brother. They had inherited their dislike of the twins from their parents. “It is probably best they stayed asleep. No reason to anger them so close to us leaving the tiny hut.”

“I am going to miss the tyro hut,” Kan said, pausing a few paces outside the hut. “It’s quiet most of the time. Ya and Am are old enough not to be raucous; it can almost be peaceful at times.”

Ren shook his head at his brother, not being able to imagine the tyro hut as being peaceful. But Kan had a lot more free time than he did; Thernal’s Crown Hunter duties often called her away from their training. “Come on, I see Thernal and Luehal over by the entrance. We best not keep them waiting any longer.” Ren led his brother across Homesite and over to its giant entrance tunnel. The tunnel towered over their heads, at least thirty feet high. Moisture from the rain on the outside of the cavern dripped down onto the tunnel floor, leaving the floor looking like the skin of a leopard.

“About time.” Luehal had his arms crossed; leaning on his warrior’s bow impatiently. The warrior twirled his bow, its metal points scraped against the stone floor, as the twins approached. “Kan, you need to pick pace. There is no excuse for slowing all of us down.” Ren glared at his mentor and bit back a response. He didn’t want to give the warrior any reason to deny him his ceremony the next night. Yet, there wasn’t any reason why Luehal had called out Kan. Ren looked at his brother, whose head hung low in shame.

“I am sorry, Luehal,” Kan said, dipping his head to the older warrior. Ren hated how his brother never stood up for himself. Yet, Ren never stood up for his brother either, he was too afraid that if he did, the others would begin to treat him just as bad as they treat Kan.

“We are going to do a tracking exercise.” Thernal spoke with much more kindness in her voice. Even though she didn’t reprimand Luehal for accusing Kan, Ren still knew that his mother loved both of them. He believed that she was even more worried about their conformation ceremonies than he was. Thernal looked at Kan, the slightly shorter and leaner of her sons. “You will be tracked first. I want you to go to the water fall, where the river meets the ravine. Do not take an easy path; challenge your brother.”

Ren smiled; he knew no matter how hard he tried he wouldn’t be able to outsmart Kan. “He will track me home, then?” Ren didn’t pay much attention to his mother’s answer. He was trying to figure out a route to take home that would challenge Kan.

“Yes.” Thernal looked at the two tyros. “Luehal and I will be watching from a far—tracking each of you as you track each other. Once you meet at the waterfall, wait for us before returning home. We will offer you each feedback on your tracking. Remember: tracking is from a far, you should be out of earshot from each other at all times until Ren reaches the waterfall.”

“This should be fun!” Ren slapped his brother affectionately on the back, forgetting their earlier argument. No matter how much Kan resented him, Ren loved his brother. He smiled at Kan. “Good luck tracking me; I am as subtle as a snake slithering through the fields of the Sun Band!”

“More like an antelope in the plains!” Kan laughed, though Ren sensed the laughter was far from sincere. Ren saw his brother look up through the crack in Homesite’s ceiling, taking note of the starless sky. “Let us get going; the sooner we get this done the sooner we can go back to sleep.”

Kan smiled at his mother affectionately, gave his brother a quick glance, and then took off running through the entrance tunnel out into Shadow Band’s territory. Ren waited for Luehal’s nod of permission before heading out into the territory after his brother. He ran until he reached the mouth of the tunnel. As soon as he left the cover of the entrance tunnel, he felt the cold rain pelt onto him and within a matter of minutes he was soaked to the bone. Ren noticed his brother’s footprints in the mud and followed them. Kan had taken a relatively direct path, right through the heart of Shadow Band territory. Ren knew that Kan would most likely be running; not because he needed to be faster than Ren, but because he knew the faster he could get to the waterfall, the faster they could start back home.

Ren tracked his brother through Shadow Band territory, picking up on every trace his brother left, from the muddy footprints to the broken leavings covering the path. When Ren finally made it to the waterfall, he found Kan sitting on a rock at the edge of the ravine, watching the waterfall pour into it. The rock was conveniently placed under a tree so that Kan was somewhat sheltered from the rain. “That was easy.” Ren approached his brother, squeezing the water from his hair as he pushed his brother aside to sit next to him on the rock. “You left so many prints in the mud, it was like tracking a horse.”

“It’s hard to cover my tracks in this downpour,” Kan said, defending himself. “Besides, I was not trying to make it difficult for you. I just want to get home.”

“You really do hate storms.” Ren looked at his brother, whose eyes hadn’t left the bottom of the ravine. For a moment, Ren watched the waterfall travel down as far into the ravine as he could see. The bottom was at least a hundred feet down and in the dark, impossible to see.

“I do not see why you love storms so much,” Kan said, looking around for Luehal and his mother without breaking the conversation. “Storms are loud, cold and dangerous.” He held out his hand and waited for a raindrop to land on his palm. “Imagine if you were this raindrop, formed among the stars only to be destroyed once you hit the ground. There is a reason the starlight hides from the storm; is a violent and terrible thing that only brings destruction.”

“I disagree.” Ren looked up towards the sky, watching the lightning illuminate the clouds. “To me storms are powerful. The may hide the starlight, but it just makes me want to climb high enough to find the starlight. The starlight does not go away during storms, it is just above the clouds, waiting to be found. Imagine riding the lightning as it streaks across the sky; the energy that would run through your body as you reach the stars. It would be so exhilarating.”

“Sounds painful,” Kan retorted and looked over to the edge of the forest where he could make out two figures. “Luehal and Thernal have finally caught up with us.” He nudged his brother, nodding in their mentors’ direction.

“Well I am pretty sure they were not expecting you to run the entire way here.” Ren stood up to greet the approaching mentors.

“Why in the name of starlight did you go so fast?” Luehal stomped up to the brothers, his voice almost shaking in anger. Ren knew the cold rain probably wasn’t helping the old warrior’s mood. Luehal slammed down the end of his bow into the mud, letting the sharp blade sink into the mud inches from Kan’s foot. “Kan you are supposed to try to make it so Ren cannot track you, not leave prints every other footstep! You must have made enough noise to scare away all the nearby prey! Do you really think you can be a hunter if you act like that?”

Ren looked at his mentor in shock; Kan did not move from his seat on the rock. “That is not fair.” Ren immediately regretted speaking up. Luehal turned around and stepped up so he was only inches from Ren’s face, his anger bubbling up his face in red fumes.

“You are one to talk!” Luehal was shouting over the thunder now. “You may have found your brother quickly but I can only guess that is because we told you where to find him! You are supposed to track him, find every giant clue he left you and use that to find him! From what I could tell, you just casually sauntered to the waterfall, not caring at all about your mission!”

“Luehal that is enough.” Thernal put her hand on the warrior’s shoulder, pulling him away from Ren. Her voice was firm and steady. “Ren did a fine job tracking Kan. I noticed several times where he stopped to observe the trails Kan left.”

“That does not matter!” Luehal shoved Thernal’s hand off his shoulder and took off towards the forest. “I have kept quiet for a long time about this because of the respect I have for your father, Thernal. But these two do not belong in the Shadow Band. Especially that pathetic excuse for a hunter. I am just glad that after tomorrow, when the starlight refuses him, that I will never have to see him again!”

Ren grabbed Luehal’s arm, roughly pulling him back towards the ravine. He had had enough of Luehal’s abuse towards his brother. “You better watch it, or it will be you that we never see again!” Ren growled in Luehal’s ear before Thernal could pull him away.

“Is that a threat?” Luehal pushed Thernal aside, almost causing her to fall to the ground and violently twirled his bow before thrusting it up against Ren’s neck, the sharp blade pricking into his skin.

Ren froze. He knew he had gone too far. Luehal had been waiting for an excuse to get rid of him and Ren had just given him one. Ren glanced over at his brother, who had risen to his feet, unsure of what to do. Ren sighed and put his hands up, surrendering to the warrior, keeping silent.

“Enough!” Thernal pushed Luehal’s bow away from Ren’s neck and placed herself between Ren and the warrior. “Luehal, stand down.” Ren had never seen his mother so angry before. Her voice was firm and fierce. “You know never to raise your weapon against one of your kin! Rualon Angthi will hear about this.” Luehal opened his mouth to object but Thernal turned her back to him, facing Ren. “And Ren, you should never threaten anyone, regardless of how mad they make you. You need to learn to control your anger better. Now can we all just get back to our task at hand so that we can get back to Homesite and get some rest before the night is over?”

Ren eyed Luehal cautiously and relaxed as the warrior lowered his bow and bowed his head to Thernal. Ren knew that Luehal wouldn’t risk arguing with the Crown Hunter anymore. “Good idea.” Luehal gritted his teeth as he tried to speak without anger. “Ren. It is your turn to be tracked, go on ahead and get started.”

Ren glanced nervously at his brother, who had stayed silent during the entire exchange. Ren was hesitant to leave his brother now that Luehal had voiced his hatred. Yet, he knew that Luehal was very loyal to the Shadow Band and wouldn’t do anything more to jeopardize his possibility of becoming the Crown Warrior one day. Ren locked eyes with his brother, exchanging a concerned look, before turning away and heading back towards home.

Ren decided to take the path alongside the ravine back towards Homesite, instead of cutting through the territory or following the ravine. The path wasn’t widely used and involved several twists and turns, which would prove to be a challenge for Kan. As Ren trekked through the territory he found it hard to concentrate on his path; the confrontation between Luehal and himself weighed heavily on his mind. Ren knew that both of their actions would make it back to his grandfather, Rualon Angthi. He just hoped that he hadn’t thrown away his chance to finally be accepted into the band.

Ren decided to hum his mother’s favorite lullaby to take his mind of the confrontation. He remembered that his mother would always sing the lullaby at night during storms when Kan was woken by the thunder. Ren began to sing the tune aloud, knowing that Kan would be out of earshot.

Ren barely noticed the forest around him thin out and the ravine come back into view. He continued singing as he walked along the edge of the ravine, taking notice of the thick trees of the Shadow Band territory contrasting with the empty plains on the other side of the ravine. As he continued to sing the lullaby, Ren became wrapped in its words, engulfed in memories of his childhood; unaware of what was happening around him.

Ren was finishing the last verse of the lullaby when the earth beneath him began to fall into the ravine. He had drifted too close to the edge of the cliff. The mud beneath his toes dragged his feet from underneath him. Ren tried to free his feet from the sliding mud and spun around to face the forest. “Help!” His voiced echoed through the empty trees amplifying his hopelessness, knowing no one would be close enough to hear him. He was alone.

Ren fell face forward right into the mud, sinking closer to the edge of the ravine. The mud clung to his skin and clothes like honey dripping from the hive onto the ground. Ren shoved his hands deep into the mud, desperate to find a root or rock to grip onto and stop his fall; but there was nothing there. Ren wished that he had brought his knife; it would have at least provided him with something to stop his descent. Ren flailed helpless as he started to slip off the edge of the ravine. He held onto as best he could but he could feel his arms beginning to tire. His strength would do him no good now. Ren knew that he was going to fall.

Ren closed his eyes. Starlight, please let me die quickly and painlessly. Ren prayed silently as he started to lose his grip on the mud. As his hand left the last of the mud, he felt someone grab his arm, stopping his fall. He opened his eyes to see Kan holding on to his arm, halfway off the cliff himself.

“Give me your other arm!” Kan yelled to Ren. Ren reached up and grabbed his brother’s hand. “Hold on!” Kan began to pull Ren back up onto the bank with all his strength.

After several agonizing minutes, Ren had solid ground underneath him; Kan had managed to pull him up. Ren sat next to his brother, a bit farther away from the edge of the ravine, and tried to catch his breath so he could thank his brother. He was just about to tell Kan how grateful he was when the ground underneath Kan gave out and Kan tumbled over the edge. “KAN!” Ren reached out to grab Kan, but only grasped air. Ren laid in the mud, his arm still stretched out over the edge. He had to catch Kan; he had to save him just has Kan had just saved him. Ren clawed his way towards the edge of the cliff, letting his body slide through the mud, and desperately peered down the dark ravine in search of Kan. “No!” Ren’s agony overpowered him, leaving him with his arms hang helplessly over the edge of the cliff. Kan was gone.

Ren laid in the mud, resting his chest against the soft ground, his eyes focused on the blackened bottom of the ravine. The rain had greatened, now pouring onto his back, each drop felt like a knife driving into his skin. After a few moments, Ren felt a hand softly touch his shoulder. He didn’t move; he just continued to stare into the abyss, waiting, wishing for Kan to reappear.

“Ren.” Thernal gently stroked her son’s back. Ren knew that she had Luehal had probably watched what happened from the edge of the forest; helpless to help from such a far distant. Tears ran down from Thernal’s cheeks, falling like the rain onto Ren’s shoulder.

Ren heard his mother speak but didn’t respond. He kept opening and closing his eyes in hope that this was all a dream and that Kan was still alive. As it continued to pour, he felt the dirt beneath him turn to mud. Ren knew that another mudslide was emanate; yet he didn’t move, he just laid there wishing the rain would wash away his sorrow.

Ren could see Luehal standing behind him, safely away from the edge of the cliff, watching him and his mother grieve. For a second, though the heavy rain made it hard to see, Ren could swear he saw Luehal smiling. As the rain continued its downpour, Ren heard Luehal approach. “We need to leave.” Luehal’s voice was soft and laced with forged grief.

Ren felt his mother stand and leave his side. He sat up but he couldn’t bring himself to look away from where Kan had fallen. He said nothing as Luehal repeated himself. Ren felt Luehal put his hands around Ren’s arms and pull forcibly. Ren never took his eyes off the cliff, even as Luehal dragged him back into the forest, towards Homesite.

Ren looked up through the crack in the cavern’s ceiling at the night sky; it was clear and full of stars. He hadn’t spoken since Kan’s death, only listened. He had received many expressions of sympathy from his bandmates, but he knew none of them were actually sad about Kan’s passing. As far as they were concerned, the danger of the twins had passed. Ren sat on a bed in the healer’s cavern; Gilthal had wanted him to get some sleep where he could be monitored for signs of shock. He hadn’t slept at all and now he was only moments away from his confirmation ceremony.

“Ren.” The gravelly voice of his grandfather pulled Ren away from the repeated memories of Kan’s final moments.

Ren looked up at Rualon Angthi, who wore the traditional ceremonial outfit of a Shadow Band king: a dark green tunic with a cloak and long sleeve on one side. It had a metal breastplate and shoulder armor. Stitched into the center of Rualon Angthi’s chest, in rare golden thread, was the king’s symbol: a crown studded with stars. Rualon Angthi’s crown glistened in the low light, the golden threads with leaves of emeralds twinkled softly. Ren didn’t say a word to his king.

“We will have the death ceremony for Kan, followed by your confirmation ceremony.” Ren could sense that his grandfather was unsure of what to say. He knew that nothing his grandfather could say would ease his pain.

“I do not want the ceremony.” Ren’s voice was cold and harsh, fueled by his grief and pain. “The starlight will not accept me. Kan should have lived not me. I do not know why he was so close to me. He should have been far away. Safe.”

Rualon Angthi sighed heavily. “We will have your ceremony.” Ren tensed at the firmness of the king’s words. “It is your eighteenth birthday; your ceremony must happen. It is the way of our people.” Rualon Angthi put his hand on his grandson’s shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze, attempting to reassure the young elf. “Let us go, it is time to begin.”

Ren glared at his grandfather but did not say another word; he knew this was a fight he would not win. He stood and followed Rualon Angthi out of the healer’s cavern over to SkyRock, where the band awaited the pair. Ren took a seat between his mother and mentor while Rualon Angthi took his place at the base of SkyRock, ready to address the band. Gilthal stood and joined Rualon Angthi. Together, the healer and king would conduct the death ceremony.

“We gather here tonight not only to grieve the loss of an elf too young to die, but to celebrate the life of an elf too young to know the pain of death.” Rualon Angthi’s voiced resonated throughout Homesite.

Gilthal stepped up to stand beside the king. “Tonight we will honor Kan. Kan may have only been a tyro but he died the death of a hero. He was a valuable member of the Shadow Band and will not easily be forgotten.” Anger gathered in Ren as Gilthal spoke; he knew every word was a lie. “Thernal, please present us with Kan’s bow.”

Ren was overwhelmed by as his mother got up and placed Kan’s bow at Rualon Angthi’s feet. Ren eyed the stars he had carved into the bow to remind Kan of the light he was so scared would reject him. Ren didn’t fight the tears that streamed down his face as he grasped his mother’s hand when she returned to her seat. Normally, the death ceremony would be conducted at the burial site outside of Homesite, but since Kan’s body was trapped at the bottom of the ravine, the ceremony was being conducted in Homesite and his bow was being used in place of his body.

“While we will continue to grieve for Kan, we will also celebrate for Kan is about to become a part of the starlight and therefore be immortal in our hearts.” The ancient words of the death ceremony echoed off the main cavern’s walls.

“Please, join me as we call upon the starlight to carry our fallen kin to his final resting place among the stars.” Gilthal spread his arms widely, inviting the rest of the band to join him.

“Starlight, my starlight, we call upon you to carry our kin to you so that you may shine brighter with their wisdom.” The elves around Ren spoke the words of the death ceremony reluctantly; Ren, his mother and grandfather were the only ones speaking sincerely.

SkyRock lit up and a light brighter than the sun engulfed Kan’s bow for a moment before fading. Ren studied Kan’s bow, realizing that the star carvings were gone. Kan knew then that his brother’s spirit had reached the light. Ren sniffled, unable to mask he grief as he waited for Rualon Angthi to begin his confirmation ceremony. He was still sure that the starlight would refuse him.

After Gilthal took his seat, Rualon Angthi picked up Kan’s bow and beckoned for Ren to join him. “Ren, please step forward.”

Ren grasped his mother’s hand and gave it a squeeze. He approached Rualon Angthi, wiping away his tears. He stopped in front of his grandfather, his heart pounding against his chest as he anticipated the worse: the starlight would refuse him and he would be cast out.

“The time has come for a tyro to become an official part of the Shadow Band. Ren has trained hard to learn to ways of an elven warrior. Now it is time for the starlight to accept this tyro as one of the band.” Rualon Angthi paused, looking into Ren’s grief filled eyes. “Ren, I know you are in great pain right now. I wish more than ever that Kan was here standing next to you. But do not let his passing weaken your faith in the starlight. Take your brother’s let it remind you of the strength Kan gave you.”

Ren took the bow from his grandfather’s hand, knowing that the king had strayed away from the traditional words of the ceremony in hopes to offer him some comfort. Ren gripped the white wood bow tightly, feeling every grain of the smooth wood. Once again, Ren looked up through the crack at the stars, noticing a new star, one that shone more brightly than all the others. Ren realized that Kan had always been the strongest of the twins; he had sacrificed himself so that Ren could live.

“When you are ready, please recite the warrior’s promise.” Rualon Angthi stepped back from the warrior-to-be and waited for Ren to speak.

Ren took a deep breath and began. “As a warrior of the Shadow Band, I hereby promise to protect my band even at the cost of my life, to give my all in service to my band, to honor my ancestors and to embrace the power of the starlight. I promise to defend my band in the event of an attack. I promise never to kill unless necessary to protect my band. I promise to protect those who cannot defend themselves—kin or not. This is my promise. This is my life.” Tears streamed down Ren’s face as he finished his promise.

An eerie silence engulfed Homesite, convincing Ren that the starlight had refused him. He glanced over at his mother nervously, gripping his brother’s bow as tightly as he could. Thernal met his gaze with a look of love; concern absent from her gaze. Ren took a deep breath and told himself that he was ready to be a warrior; that it was what Kan would’ve wanted. It was then that the light came.

The light blinded Ren, encompassing him and blocking out the rest of the band. Ren felt a slight burning sensation on his neck as the light made the warrior’s mark. Ren looked straight ahead as the light faded. He could swear he saw Kan in the light, staring at him with a smile wider than the river.

“Ren.” Rualon Angthi spoke as soon as the light had diminished. He smiled at his grandson before speaking the final words of the ceremony. “The starlight has accepted you. From this day forward, you will be known as Renin, warrior of the Shadow Band.”

Renin entered the hoarier’s hut quietly, he had been summoned by his grandfather, the retired king, who was now on his deathbed. “Angthi.” Rualon spoke softly as not to startle Angthi but still alert him to his presence. It had been thirty years since Kan had passed. Angthi had retired after becoming sick about twenty years ago. Since then Renin had risen through the ranks of the Shadow Band, first to Crown Warrior and then to king.

“Rualon Renin.” His grandfather used his formal name, beckoning Renin to his side. His voice was still gravelly, even as weak as it was. “I am so proud of you.” Too weak to rise when his grandson entered, Angthi laid in his bed. “There is something I want to tell you, my boy. Before I pass into the starlight.

Renin knelt at his grandfather’s side, placing Angthi’s hand into his own. “You should save your strength.” Renin pulled Angthi’s blanket up, covering his grandfather’s body completely. “You can still pull through this.” Angthi had fallen ill about a week ago and wasn’t expected to recover. Yet Renin held onto hope, as he always had.

“Listen to me.” Angthi stared into Renin’s eyes just as he had the night of confirmation ceremony. “I want you to know something, something I should have told you long ago. I think you find it will fill the hole you feel in your heart. I want you to know the meaning behind your name.”

Renin gave Angthi a look of surprise; he knew that every elf’s name had a meaning, but most meanings were unknown to all the light. Renin himself knew only the names of two elves he had chosen names for. Renin wasn’t sure what to think. “You know the meaning of my name?”

“Yes.” Angthi broke into a coughing fit, Renin knew it was getting harder for his grandfather to breath. “Your name means West Brother. I gave you the name ‘brother’ so you would never forget Kan and the love he had for you, even if you couldn’t always see it.”

Renin sat back on his legs, taking in the meaning of his name. Brother. Something he had not been called in over thirty years; something that he was called every day. Renin stared into his grandfather’s fading eyes. “I will never forget Kan.”

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