“One more time, Cera. Please don’t fail me now” - Shaunna Nightshade
“Be careful, the crystal is slippery” Cera warned as the entire group passed from the confines of the castle.
A thick fog filled the cavern, blanketing the crystal in a fine sheen of moisture which gave merit to Cera’s warning. The area was darker than usual, the water particles in the air keeping the light from reaching the motley group. Lithe reptilian creatures slithered through the fog, winding and turning on each other in a graceful ballet.
“What are those?” Parel asked, gesturing to the creatures in the fog.
“What are what?” Shaunna asked
Taren smiled. “Those are magic. Some of the creatures that magic users ask favors of to cast their spells. We are fortunate that these seem to be in a good mood.”
Grathius, Shaunna, and Hope all stared at Taren in disbelief.
“I don’t see anything.” Hope objected “The magic creatures are just faerie tales.”
Ignoring Hope, Parel turned to Taren. “Why can I see them, I couldn’t before?”
Taren thought for a moment. “That is not entirely accurate. I know you could see the creatures in the park. The glowing goldfish let everyone see them.”
“The fish are magic? How do you know?”
“I’ve always been able to see the creatures. I can communicate with them as well.”
“You can use magic?” Parel was surprised.
Taren laughed. “Yes, I can use magic.”
The group watched the fog for several moments; Taren and Parel seeing the creatures playing and the rest seeing the rolling mists. The effect was hypnotic. Just before they drifted off to sleep, a figure rose from the floor.
“Don’t let them get you, or you will never leave.” Cera’s voice rang through the mists.
“What are you talking about?” Hope began.
“Son of Hope, you need to realize that just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there, and your disbelief doesn’t make something not real. The creatures that your companions were discussing are very real. How else would you explain a dense fog inside an enclosed cavern?”
“You seem very sure of yourself.” Hope retorted “Can you see them?”
“No, I can’t, but one of my favorite uncles can communicate with them. He tells me about them.”
“Uncle...?” Hope began, but he stopped when Shaunna touched his arm.
“She means Oran.”
Understanding dawned in Hope’s eyes.
Shaunna turned to Cera. “Are you ready?”
Cera shook her head. “I’ve never transferred a group this large before.”
“You’ll be fine, you’ve been improving.” Shaunna tried to alleviate Cera’s fears.
“Cera, you’ll be fine. You can do this.”
Cera’s purple eyes vanished momentarily, and she let out a deep breath. “Okay.” Cera placed the first two fingers and thumb of her right hand together. Slowly, she drew her hand down, leaving a thin strand of crystal where her hand had passed. The bottom half of crystal quickly thickened until it was the thickness of her finger. The top half split in two, the thin thread forming a chain that could be hung around a neck. When she was done she handed the object to Hope. Without a word she repeated the process twice more, handing the other crystals to Parel and Grathius. She paused a moment, her face mirroring the great discomfort that the process had caused her. “These are part of me. It will make it easier for me to transport you great distances.” She watched the three affixed the pendants around their neck. “Do you have yours on” She asked Taren, Shaunna and the three sisters. She was satisfied as they all pulled the crystal from under their shirt, except Saria.
“I lost mine before returning home.”
Cera nodded her head. She winced in pain as once again she made the motion to create another necklace. Clear fluid ran freely from a crack that appeared on her forearm. She did not cry out, but the others could see how much pain she was in.
Without asking permission, Saria wrapped her delicate hands around Cera’s wrist. Bright blue light flowed from her hands into the crystalline arm, refracting back into its source.
Cera’s eyes went wide with understanding as the light did its work on her arm.
“Saria...” She stopped as the elven healer shook her head ever so slightly. “... Thank you.” After placing the crystal around Saria’s neck, she turned to the rest of the group. “Please join hands, this will be easier if I can transport you all as one.” She watched as they formed a circle, holding each other’s hands. When she was satisfied, she simply said “Transferring”
“Where are we? This doesn’t look like the Sea of Skies.” Hope asked, barely able to disguise the disgust in his voice. “I knew using that... that... girl was a bad idea.”
“Ularen Hope, you take that back.” Shaunna chastised. “That ‘girl’ you are referring to is your swords daughter. She did the best she could, I shouldn’t have pushed her. If this is anyone’s fault, its mine. You should hold no malice towards Cera.”
“I’m sorry.” Hope mumbled, abashed.
Unfortunately, Hope was correct. They had not landed at the Sea of Skies. Golden sand drifted in the hot breeze stretching in every direction. Waves of heat could be seen drifting skyward. A cloudless blue sky stretched as far as the eye could see. On the western horizon, a single large tree was clinging to life in the harsh desert conditions.”
“We should head toward the tree.” Taren suggested.
Without waiting for any discussion, he moved toward the lone figure in the distance.
The others, not being prepared for the king’s sudden movement, hurried to catch up with him. None of them knew how long it took them to reach the tree, but they were all red faced and sweaty when they entered the shade cast be the enormous fir.
“This isn’t something you see every day” Hope said, staring at the tree. “It’s not often you see trees in the desert, much less this type.”
“Maxx, this is the tree.” Taren heard, he knew it was one of the other blades confirming something to Maxx, but he did not know which one.
“This wasn’t always a desert.” Maxx explained to everyone.
“You know where we are?” Taren asked.
“”We are in, what once was, the forest of Crainn. Two thousand years ago this was a lush, dense, forest. Trees stretched in every direction for hundreds of leagues. Several types of animals were unique to this area. It was a truly beautiful place.” Maxx seemed lost in memory. “Then the dark ones came. They systematically destroyed large sections of forest until only the tree in the center still stood. Try as they might, they could not bring that singular tree down.”
“Why is that?” Taren asked.
“Look at the tree, you will see why”
Taren examined the tree. Green needles rose from the branches, trying to rise above the heat. Thick moss covered the trunk.
“Other than this tree in the middle of the desert, I don’t see anything special.”
“Taren, look at the tree” Maxx admonished.
Understanding dawned in Taren’s mind. He closed his eyes in preparation. Using the magic sight usually took some effort.
Taren could see it before he opened his eyes. There was enormous magical power radiating from the tree, or something in the tree. He was unprepared for the sight that he beheld when his eyelids finally opened. Hundreds of tiny creatures slept in the branches of the tree. He had never seen creatures like these before. He searched his memory for something to compare them too, but he was unable to remember seeing anything that was even close to resembling what he saw.
Their head consisted mostly of eyes. Tiny limbs extended from the body, front and back. A tail curled around the branches of the tree, letting them hang upside down.
“That explains a lot.” Taren said to nobody in general. He turned to the rest of the group. “The tree is infested with hundreds of small magical creatures. They must be keeping the tree alive in these inhospitable conditions. They are sleeping right now, let’s try not to wake them.”
“We need to get out of this heat.” Grathius suggested.
“There is another shadow on the other side of the tree. It will afford us some protection from the heat. We can make camp there.” Maxx explained.
“For how long before that shadow moves?” Hope asked, noticing that the shade they were standing in had almost abandoned them.
“This shadow never moves.”
The group quickly moved to the other side of the tree.
A long shadow shaped like the tree adorned the ground. Foliage and parts of trees that had once stood tall were preserved in the half-light. Small woodland creatures scurried though the brush.
“This is the shadow that was cast when the magic moved into the tree. The shadow itself is a protective barrier that guards all who are within it.”
With great trepidation, the group moved into the shadow. The temperature was much cooler in the magical confines that protected the last vestiges of the old forest. The sounds of insects chirping echoed through the permanent twilight of the magic. Some small animal poked its nose out of a low hanging bush, examining the new comers.
“We should be safe here for a time.” Maxx said. “The magic should ward off anything that might harm us.”
With practiced hands, they pitched their tents. Taren cleared a small area and started a small fire. Parel pulled a small pan and several strips of meat out of her pack, and started to cook them over the fire. It only took a few moments for the sound and aroma of sizzling meat to permeate the area.
Taren sat next to Parel as she browned the meat, gazing at her intently. “I know I’m not supposed to ask, but what happened to you out there?”
“I found out who I am. I guess I’ve known since the others joined, but it didn’t occur to me.” She paused for a moment. “If you think about it, you know too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Who are you?”
“Paron Elloy.” He still didn’t quite get it.
“Then we have Ularen Hope, son of Sareth Hope; Grathius Wolftracker, grand-son of Griffith Wolftracker; Shaunna Nightshade, great-granddaughter of Shalarandra Kaardrannan; and Narissa Silvermoon, daughter of Seth Silvermoon. All are descendants of the original guardians. That leaves two. I am not a centaur, so who am I?”
He stared at her for a moment in disbelief. “You are the daughter of Derek Fantis?” He asked, not really believing the words.
She nodded. “I am Parel Fantis, daughter of Derek Fantis and sister to Shantar Fantis.”
“That explains a lot.” Shaunna said as she sidled up next to Taren. “Derek was never fond of my great-grandmother. I’m not sure he ever fully forgave her for being a dark elf, as though she had any say in the matter.”
“Unfortunately, I know as much about my family as Taren knows about his. My earlier malice towards you had nothing to to do with familial prejudices.”
Shaunna nodded. “I know what caused your dislike of me. I look forward to finding out what kind of relationship you and I can forge out of this.”
Taren quietly excused himself, leaving the two women to get to know each other better. He kept a wary eye on them, recalling what had happened after the last time they had been alone. Apparently, they had come to terms with each other, but he did not relish the thought of searching for either of them, should they decide to have another altercation.
He found it strange that these two now seemed to get along, when Parel had shown such open hostility before. He hoped it lasted.
They waited in the comfort of the magic shadow for several hours. They watched in wonder as the sun slowly moved across the sky, but the light in the shadow didn’t change. A panorama in blues and pinks splayed out as the sun set; and yet the light in the shadow did not change. Even as the darkness of night overtook them, they were able to see in the area contained within the magic as they had been able to all day.
“This is a little disconcerting.” Hope complained.
The others didn’t disagree with him.
Parel noticed it first. The tiny creatures that infested the tree began to stir and fly out into the desert. “Taren, look.”
He turned just in time to see a small, glowing creature land on a bush next to him.
“Son of Elloy, we welcome thee.” The small creature spoke in a tinny voice that reminded him of Cyan. “We hast wait’d f’r thou a long while. We art thankful that thou hath finally answer’d our summons.”
Taren was taken aback. This was the second time that Cera had tried to transport him where he ended up in the wrong place, only to find out he had been summoned. “I am here, what do you wish of me?”
“The matriarch lies close to death. We hope that thou would see fit to save her. If she wast to die, the rest of us will yarely follow.”
Taren understood the implications. “I don’t know what I can do about that.”
“Thy sire creat’d a crystal sarcophagus f’r her. It hath kept her alive these many years. ’tis anon failing. We hope that ye are as adept in the crystal arts as he.”
“What is he doing?” Shaunna wondered out loud. The others could only hear Taren’s half of the conversation, and only Parel could see the creature at all.
“He is speaking with one of the magic creatures.” Parel explained, then she turned to Taren. “What does it want?”
“He wants me to save their dying queen.”
“How does he expect you to do that?”
“I don’t know, we’ll have to see”
The tiny creature turned and flew back to the tree.
Taren rose and followed the shining being. He was unprepared for the sharp rise in temperature as he entered the darkness of the desert. The tree glowed with a soft light against the bleak landscape of the stars. He thought it peculiar that the tree still glowed, even after the creatures had left for the night.
As if reading his mind the creature explained. “The tree hast absorbed some of our power. The power will sustain us for a time, however we will not last long without the queen.”
He followed his guide to a small alcove located at the base of the tree. A tiny crystal sarcophagus was laid in the soft earth located therein. Prisms, refracted from within by a dim light source, decorated the walls and floor of the area.
As he approached, the coffin lid opened. A butterfly-like creature rose into the air.
“Welcome son of Paron” The queen’s voice echoed though the confines of the tree roots. “We art happy thou hast come. The power in the crystal thy father fashioned for us is fading, and mine life force is fading with it.”
“What can I do?”
“Thou wilt regenerate the life energy in the crystal. Ye are the only one that can. ”
“I don’t know how.”
“Thou will wot, ’tis in thy nature”
Colors began to ripple through the butterfly’s wings, the crystalline structure rose into the air and floated towards Taren. He was unsure what to expect as his fingers closed around the smooth surface as the crystal settled into his hand. It reminded him of the crystal in the caverns where they had just spent the previous two weeks. It was warm, alive even, but he could tell it was fading. Sadness overwhelmed him, a deep loneliness that permeated his soul.
“The crystal is lonely, it is dying of a broken heart.” It sounded crazy as soon as he said it, but he held no doubt that his words were true.
He removed the crystal from around his neck, and placed in next to the coffin. As the two shards merged together, the light from within shone brighter. The loneliness that he had felt dissipated, replaced by a deep happiness that spread through him like a wild fire.
He opened his hand, and the glowing crystal returned to its home in the tree roots.
“Thou hast done well, and we thank thou. The power of the crystal is restor’d. Hold out thy hand.” As she finished speaking, the light from the creature’s wings flashed brightly. When he was once again able to see, he was holding a deep blue stone the size of his palm. “It takes two hearts to mend one broken. He that is lost, the brother will find in the light of the night diamond after faeries flight doth end.”
“What does that...” Taren was unable to finish his question as the magical queen butterfly returned to the safety of her crystal.
“Thou hast done well, son of Elloy.” The guide offered. “Travel north from the tree until thou reach the trident. Bear east from thither, and thou will reach thy destination.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I am sorry, I cannot say more.”
There was a flurry of motion as thousands of tiny glowing creatures fluttered back to the tree. Taren watched as each of the minuscule objects attached itself to the tree as before.
He turned and moved quickly back to the shadow where his companions awaited him.
“Well, you were gone long enough.” Hope spat, a sour note in his voice.
“What do you mean?” Taren asked. “I was only there for a few minutes.”
Shaunna stepped up and placed her hand on Taren’s shoulder. “You were there all night. The sun is coming up.”
He looked eastward to see the light peeking over the distant mountains.
“Yes, what happened?”
Taren related the events that transpired to his companions.
“How did you know combine your necklace with the other crystal.” Hope asked.
“I didn’t, it was like I could feel what the crystal was feeling. Almost as if it were alive. I could feel a deep sense of loneliness from it. I set my pendant next to it to see what would happen. I didn’t expect them to merge.”
Shaunna shook her head. “This causes a problem. The crystal that you wore was your direct link to Cera. This will make it much harder for her to help you, should you need it.”
“Lot of help she’s been so far.” Hope snapped. “Sending us to the middle of nowhere.”
Taren shook his head. “Hope, in her defense, both times I ended up in the wrong place there were outside influences that caused it.”
Shaunna gently laid her hand on Hope’s shoulder. When she spoke, it was with false cheer in her voice. “Ularen Hope, I once told you that you were just like your mother. I now realize I was wrong, you are far worse than she was.”
Hope stepped back, looking very much like he had just been slapped.
She turned back to Taren as he finished telling his tale. As he related what the magic guide had told him, her face fell.
“What’s the matter?” Taren asked as he saw the look on her face.
She waived her hand dismissively. “Do you know what any of it means?”
His eyes never left her as he shook his head.
A deep sigh escaped her before she spoke again. “Well, I understand some of it. I know where we are, and I know where are next destination is?”
“What do you mean?”
“We are in the desert of Balas. North of here we will find the city of Vidlice, which was built in the shape of a trident.”
“How do you know so much?” Hope asked.
She sighed again. “I was born there.”