It was a fine night for a seeking spell. The stars glittered like diamond dust around the two moons almost in full eclipse and not a single ripple disturbed their reflection on the lake’s surface. The forest surrounding the lake was unnaturally silent, but this was Caethes the home of many silent predators.
“Ah, E’arwin.” Kegan broke the silence and came up to his companion standing at the lake’s edge. His anxious yellow eyes darted around as he spoke, searching for signs of danger. His Elvin friend’s senses were sharp, but an Alulen’s were sharper. “Are you sure the Calling led you here?”
“Yes, Kegan,” E’arwin replied confidently. “This is the place.” He gazed out over the water. “I can feel it now,” he placed a hand over his chest. “Pulling at me like a rope around my heart and at the other end she pulls me closer.”
“How romantic,” Kegan snorted. The one they sought was E’arwin’s Nirvelli—‘water child’ in the ancient tongue.
“Not very,” E’arwin chuckled in response to his friend‘s dry remark. “The rope binding me to her will soon tighten and if I am not successful then I’m afraid my heart will break in a most unpleasant manner. You understand the dangers of my title.”
Indeed, Kegan did. Born with magical gifts graced upon them by the water goddess Valzalen, the Nirvelli are vital to survival. Unfortunately, if left unguided the mortal women's bodies become easily consumed by their emerging goddess-gifted powers. However, to counter this the wise Valzalen bestowed the title of Seeker upon the princes of Her favored people; the Elvin kind. However, the title is a heavy burden, if a Seeker fails to find his Nirvelli when he feels the Calling, he can be sure that death will not fail to find him.
E’arwin’s Calling was unique in that his Nirvelli was from a different world. There had only been few in ancient Elvin history to find an off-world Nirvelli. The Elvin people have long lost the ability to water-travel, a necessary skill to connect to other worlds, a skill E’arwin would gain through the aid of the eclipsed moons. If he missed this chance there would be no second one.
“I’m going to search for her,” E’arwin decided.
The red and orange-scaled skin on Kegan’s forehead puckered. “The last time you tried to search for her you gave yourself a headache, a bad one,” he added.
“Yes. I remember,” E’arwin replied with a sour frown. “But this is the place where I shall pull her to me.” He gestured to the lake. “I should be able to find her easier.”
“Ah, well, if you believe you can,” Kegan replied knowing there was no way to talk him out of it.
E’arwin knelt down to the water and touched the surface. A small ripple appeared. He closed his eyes and whispered to the water. Kegan stood at his side watching silently. Beneath the water’s surface a light appeared. As E’arwin’s whispers grew louder the light grew from a soft blue to a blazing red.
Violent ripples distorted the surface of the water above the light. The water bubbled and steam rose as the ripples became more and more frenzied until finally the water erupted knocking E’arwin backwards. Kegan stumbled as he shielded his face from the flying droplets of boiling water.
E’arwin lay still where he landed the wind knocked out of him. His chest felt full of rocks and a blinding pain stabbed him behind the temples.
“E’arwin?” Kegan asked leaning over him, concerned about the blast as well as the foolish grin on his face.
“I found her, Kegan. I found her.”
Kat glared at her so-called friend and roommate, who was not doing too good of a job at containing her laughter.
“Keeping laughing, Dannie, and I’ll tell the professor the real reason you wanted to be a T.A.”
That got her attention. “You wouldn’t dare,” Dannie narrowed her eyes at Kat. While Kat had become a teaching assistant for Professor Lumbart because he was her favorite English Professor and advisor, Dannie became a teaching assistant because she had the hots for him.
“I would dare, so help me up.”
Dannie stared at her and Kat could see her weighing her decision; help her out of the awkward bridge Kat was doing to keep herself out of a puddle of mud, or watch her friend struggle to get up and chance her secret getting out. Dannie took longer than Kat liked to make a decision, but with a dramatic sigh she helped her friend stand.
“Blech,” Kat held out her muddy hands. “Reach in my bag and get my tissues.” Dannie did as requested and a pack of tissues later Kat’s hands were clean.
“In my defense you would have laughed your ass off if I fell backwards like that into the mud trying to avoid that spider web,” Dannie said.
“Yes, but that’s besides the point. You actually like spiders,” Kat said. She could not understand her friend’s admiration of the creepy things.
“Yes, but I wouldn’t like them on my face either,” Dannie said cracking a smile. Kat couldn’t help it and smiled back. “It wouldn’t have been that big a deal, either. Aren’t you wearing your swimsuit underneath your clothes anyway?”
“Yes, but that’s only because I won’t have much time to get to my swim meet after this. I can’t be late, I’m competing in the first round and I’ve already asked Professor Lumbart to let me leave early, which you should be thanking me for, by the way. Because of me he’s giving you a ride back to the dorms.”
“I know, right?” Dannie said instantly turning into a starry-eye teenager. “He’s seriously the hottest professor on campus. Older men are the way to go.”
“If you say so,” Kat said dismissively as she checked on the contents of her backpack. Thank god, none of filters looked damaged. If she had fallen on her back no doubt they would have been squished.
“Your fancy acrobatics saved the day,” Dannie said snickering.
“C’mon, lets gets to the spot he told us about before some other class stakes their claim,” Kat said ignoring Dannie’s smart remark. Their class was called “Stories and Stars: a look at how celestial events influence writings” and as Professor Lumbart was the head of the English department it was a great boost for Kat’s resume to be a T.A. for his class. Besides being the ‘hottest’ professor he was also really funny and honest with his students. He told it like it was, whether it was bad or good.
Kat had a secret crush on him too, not that she would ever admit it to Dannie, but she admired him above all other professors. If she did chose to go to graduate school to become an English professor she would want to be just like him; though she hadn’t decided if she wanted to do that yet. There were five applications sitting on her desk for internship opportunities in different editorial offices that needed to be mailed this week. To teach or not to teach, that was the question.
She had a blast helping Professor Lumbart teach this class and he let her grade the papers how she saw fit, he read the papers too but more often than not agreed with the grade she had given. Dannie was given the task of grading tests, which she and Proffessor Lumbart did together so that worked out fine for her.
If there was one thing Kat learned through all this was that she liked criticizing other people’s work much more than she liked writing her own. Not that she couldn’t write well, she just took more pleasure out of picking apart another’s work and her major guilty pleasure was getting really bad papers and completely ripping them apart (in a figurative sense).
“Kat, no one’s here yet,” Dannie said as they came into the clearing Professor Lumbart had marked on their map. There was going to be a total solar eclipse at around two and the Professor had sent them to the clearing ahead of time to set up and stake out the spot. The clearing was in the mountain’s woods behind campus. Well, Professor Lumbart called them hills, Kat called them mountains, anything that required climbing up rocks was a mountain.
“Good,” Kat said setting down her bag and plopping down on the ground. “I’m in no shape to fight off other students.”
“What? You’re the athlete, how is this any different?”
Kat pointed up at the sun, which hadn’t even begun to eclipse yet. “It’s freakin’ hot. In a pool it’s nice and cool.”
“Oh, aren’t you the poet,” Dannie smirked and went to set up the telescope.
Kat ignored her remark and remained sprawled out on the ground. Dannie was born and raised in California, Kat was from Massachusetts and wasn’t used to this damn constant heat even after three years here.
“Kat get off your lazy butt and help me out,” Dannie said holding two pieces of the telescope in her hands.
“Yeah, yeah,” Kat rolled to her feet and went to help her roommate set up for class.
Professor Lumbart came right on time with his class of fifteen in tow behind him. About half of them were in the same shape as Kat was when they came into the clearing.
“Kat, Dannie,” Professor Lumbart said trotting over to them, not at all phased by the hike up. His short brown hair bounced as he came over and behind his sunglasses he had soft brown eyes and the handsome face of a man in his early thirties. He was sporting long brown khaki pants, a long-sleeved tan shirt and a light-weight brown leather jacket. Kat had to hold back her laughter as she noticed the whip at his hip.
“Professor what’s with the whip?” Kat asked unable to hold back her smile.
“How else do you think I got them up here?” He said jerking his thumb at the students behind him. He frowned in disappointment, “I forget my hat though.” Indeed it was the only thing missing from his ensemble. “Did you have any trouble getting this spot?”
“Some drama club kids dressed in medieval garb came by,” Dannie said. “But Kat shooed them away. Seriously, Professor you should have seen it. They started sprouting some nonsense about Kat and I being witches and that we should disperse, but Kat threw it right back at them saying:
‘Aye, we’d be witches for King Lumbart III and thou hast bestowed upon us thee task of staking out this land for his royal procession. And thou hast given us permission to curse any such creature man or beast who dare’st challenge his claim.’” Dannie flourished her hand in a shooing gesture mimicking what Kat had done earlier. “They left after that in fear of our curse.”
Professor Lumbart burst out laughing and a few students who heard the story chuckled along. Kat had to smile too, she knew some of the kids in the drama club; one was her friend, Tara, from her comparative literature class. So she knew they left because they were pleased she had played along, but she also knew that some of them left because they were shamed that she had out drama-ed them. A few of the kids in the club Kat had met through Tara were real theater snobs, and no doubt were shocked that a non-theater student had acted as well as they had. Kat didn’t mind acting the fool every once in awhile, especially if it put some snoot in their place.
“Well, then,” Professor Lumbart said wiping the corner of his eye with his knuckle. “Lets begin shall we?”
Once the class started Kat and Dannie sat back while he gave his lecture. Their job was to hand out the solar eclipse viewing materials and remove the filter off the telescope when it became a total eclipse. Kat was able to stay up until the total eclipse, but would have to leave soon after to make it to her swim meet, but for now she could enjoy the class.
“Professor,” Kat said coming up behind him as he peered up at the sun through a filter as the sun started to come out of its eclipse. “I have to go now.”
“Of course, go right ahead. I’ll see you next week,” he said not taking his eyes off the sun.
Kat waved good-bye to Dannie at the other side of the clearing and she gave her a thumbs up in response and mouthed ‘good luck’. Nodding in return Kat quickly headed to the path that would lead her back down the mountain. It was easier going back because she didn’t have to carry her backpack. Dannie was going to bring it back for her and all of her swim stuff was in her car any way.
She came to the leveled out part of the path, which meant she was half way down. Up ahead was a little pond she remembered passing on the way up. As she came to the pond Kat stopped and stared. In the center of the pond was an image of a large moon.
Despite knowing that she was short on time Kat went closer to the pond’s edge and looked around and up into the surrounding trees, but couldn’t find the projector creating the image. Her school was a liberal arts school and had a pretty extensive art program; so Kat had no doubt that this was a student’s work and a timely theme for the eclipse. However, there was something different about the image, something wrong and she couldn't quite put her finger on it.
It was really bothering her. There was something about that moon and the pond that captured her attention and would not let her go until she figured out what was missing. Letting her eyes trail down Kat stared at the water’s edge next to her feet.
“Oh,” Kat said in a flat and empty voice as a creeping panic rose within her. Her eyes knew what they were—or weren’t seeing, but her brain was doing cartwheels trying to comprehend what it meant.
The pond wasn’t creating any reflections, not the trees, not the plants around it, and not herself. There was nothing reflected in the pond except for that large moon.
Just to be sure Kat squatted down and leaned over the edge of the water. A ripple distorted the water and Kat quickly looked up to see what had caused it. Finding nothing she looked back and found a reflection below her, except it wasn’t hers.
Before she could scream the image of the man in the water reached up and grabbed her outstretched hand and yanked. She screamed as she was pulled into the pond and water filled her mouth. Before she blacked out a small part of her found it funny that she, a member of one of the strongest swim teams in their district, was going to drown.
The water was still.
The air had a cold, crisp, early morning smell only present at twilight. A blue glow was present underneath the water where the reflection of the two moons aligned as one.
Kegan stood waiting at the water’s edge, his feet damp from standing too long in the wet sand as it slowly enveloped his boots. He stood with his scale-covered muscular arms crossed over his chest and his sharp yellow eyes scanning the water’s surface for movement. E’arwin had been under a long time.
A bead of anxious sweat ran down Kegan’s forehead.
The blue light faded.
Kegan unfolded his arms and leaned towards the water. A ripple appeared in along the surface and he took a hesitant step into the water. A hand broke through reaching for the air above. E’arwin’s broke through the water’s surface, in his arms he held an unconscious girl.
“E’arwin!” Kegan splashed his way to his friend and gently took the girl from him as he was struggling to keep her and himself above the water. Hefting the girl over his shoulder Kegan reached out and grabbed E’arwin’s arm and hauled him back to shore.
“Care…ful,” E’arwin panted as he collapsed on the ground.
Kegan laid the girl on the grass and grabbed his friend’s cloak. E’arwin took the cloak and wrapped it around his bare body; he doubted he could muster the strength to even dress himself.
“What happened? Are you ill?” Kegan asked worry creasing his brow. “You are weaker than a hatchling.”
“I’ll be fine,” E’arwin assured him and lay down on the sand. “The traveling spell just took a lot more of my strength than I thought it would.” He craned his neck to look at the fruits of his labor and smiled triumphantly. “However, it was well worth the effort.” E’arwin crawled over to his prize, the sleeping girl. Her breath rose and fell in the steady rhythm of a deep sleep. He had just enough strength for one last spell. Touching his lips with his two fore fingers he whispered the words of the spell and then touched her lips. A small blue light settled on her mouth before slipping between her slightly parted lips.
“She’ll be able to speak and understand our language now,” E’arwin said and collapsed beside her all of his strength gone. Tomorrow, tomorrow he would really see what kind of woman his Nirvelli was.
Kegan sighed and stared down at the two unconscious and soaked through figures. He had a long night ahead of him. Their camp was further in the forest away from the water where unpleasant creatures made their home. E’arwin’s spell would only repel them for so long. Kegan would have to carry both of them back to camp where he could build a proper fire so they could get dry and stay warm.
E’arwin lay asleep, his hand resting on the girl’s shoulder, and a slight smile on his lips. Kegan could understand his relief and joy at accomplishing what could have been an impossible task. Looking down at the girl Kegan could see nothing unique about her except for her odd boyish clothing and her short cropped black hair. Her skin was pale and flushed, but it could very well be due to the spell. Her face was what a human might call pretty, but being an Alula he was no judge of the beauty of flesh. What he could tell from her body and weight was that she was a slender woman but had well-used arms and legs. This girl was used to moving; she might even possess some strength.
He could tell she was going to be trouble. From talking with E’arwin Kegan knew his friend expected his Nirvelli to be a composed, noble, and graceful woman as were his brother’s Nirvelli. However, just from looking at this girl’s body Kegan could tell she was going to be a handful. With one body under each arm Kegan headed back to camp where the next days would reveal to them what kind of trouble this girl was going to cause.
On a distant shore on an island where no natural living thing grew, a presence made its home. The dark island was surrounded by black water tainted by death, giving it an unnatural evil presence.
Crashing on the rocky cliffs the murky waves lapped at the silver-sanded shore. The water churned in defiance to the moons’ tides and followed no pattern, but went in and out as they pleased. The waves brought bones to the shore long since stripped of flesh until the beach looked like a half dug-up graveyard.
Further along the island, away from the beach, twisted vegetation grew. Thick vines oozing sap entwined around rocks, stone-like trees hunched over as if the very air weighted them down. Cruel predators prowled the island preying on one another and in turn were preyed upon by the black carnivorous vines and other meat-hungry plants.
The forest had only one path and all creatures and plants alike kept it clear. The path led to the master of the island and none dared challenge its territory.
The path twisted deep into the land destroying all in its way. A tall thick tree trunk wider than five men had once stood in the path’s way. Now, a gaping tunnel bore though it allowing the path to continue as the great tree slowly decayed. Even the dark-watered lakes and ponds scattered around the island parted where the path led. Deeper still the path wove into the rock mountain at the island’s center. No daylight lit the dark cave or its various tunnels, but an eerie glow came from the main cavern where the master, the entity, dwelled.
Near a shallow pool of mirror-like water the entity was in a deep trance. A ripple disturbed the still surface of the pool and the entity snapped to attention. It peered into the water and its own reflection glared back. The water did not move again and the entity sat back, dismissing the occurrence.
When the pool began to hum the entity glanced at it annoyed, but curious. Ripples appeared at the center emitting from one focal point. It watched the pool through narrowed eyes. Then, much to its surprise, the focal point of the ripples split into two. One created violent ripples making the water’s surface grow unsteady as it created miniature waves at the sides, while the other point slowly grew still and faded.
All the ripples stopped.
The entity frowned, bothered. Someone had used a great deal of power to make the water react so; enough power to intrigue him. The entity extended a hand out over the water and lightly touched the surface with one of its long skinny fingers creating a new ripple. Within this ripple an image appeared.
The corner of the entity’s mouth twisted into a satisfied smile. Silently, it slipped away from the pool and out of its cave. It walked down the path and smiled maliciously when it could sense the forest creatures fleeing in fear. The entity reached the end of the vegetation and the start of the silver sands. It blinked a moment to adjust to the moons’ light that the forest and cave had shielded. Luckily there was an eclipse of the moons, so it was not as bright. It stepped onto the shimmering shore and stood before the black water churning in excited waves at its master’s arrival.
Something crunched underfoot and the entity looked down at the broken bone, one of the many scattered along the shore. Fish, animal, and human bones littered the beach. It smiled at the death that the black water brought here.
A larger wave crested along the shore and rose up the beach to greet its master, falling short at the entity’s feet. As the water withdrew it left behind a full skeleton of a human still clothed in a sailor’s uniform.
The entity, pleased with the offering, praised the black water. In response the water’s activity grew frenzied and the waves became more frequent and energetic. The entity whispered words of command to the water’s edge and the waves immediately calmed. It dipped a hand into the water and closed its eyes.
Its mind traveled rapidly along the black water’s currents until it found the place where the power originated. The entity traveled up the river, where the black water flowed until it found the creatures it sought. The entity reached into the minds of its slaves and spoke the command of what it desired:
Find the ones who caused the disturbance and kill them.
After the orders were received and understood the entity let its consciousness return back to its body and it removed its hand from the water. Satisfied that its commands would be carried out, the entity entered the forest once again returning to the cave.