Sunset came quickly, and with it came a doom none could foresee. The town of Alderpool was lit with many torches to provide light throughout the winding streets. It appeared as a city of golden and fiery orange colors from outside of the walls. The night was cold. The fall weather was coming to an end, bringing winter in its stead. Leaves were scattered all about the ground.
In the wooden cage, the leïfae felt as if they were dying. They received less food and drink everyday. They did their best to keep warm, huddling together in close groups, but in this troublesome situation it was difficult to keep up their health. Kay was very sick. His skin was pale, and he had grown very thin. He could barely keep his head up at times. Serena did her best to care for him, making him eat his share of the food, hoping that would help him get better. Eating stale bread could only do so much.
“How are they doing?” Serena asked Jïera.
She looked down at Jehoïn asleep with his heads upon her lap and over to Seryn in Ciaran’s arms who were both asleep as well. “As well as they can,” she said quietly. “In all honesty, I’m surprised Seryn has made it this far. He’s just so young and still small…” She paused to clear her dry throat. “I hate to see Kay so ill. Our children may not have him for much longer if he does not get help.”
Serena rubbed her belly. Jïera often gave some of her food for the unborn child. It would come any day now. How would she even be able to deliver her child like this? The cage was barely big enough for everyone to sit up somewhat comfortably. It would be even more difficult to make room for when she would go into labor. And what of the children? They would have to experience it all along with her. If anything, she was glad to still have Ciaran alive with her. If she was to truly give birth here, she wanted her husband to there to comfort her in her pains.
“How are you feeling?”
“Scared,” Serena answered. “There is nothing else I can think of to describe how I feel at this moment. My child will come at any time, and I worry it will not survive long in this world. Winter will soon be upon us.”
“I know all of this stress isn’t doing you any good. You’re a strong person, Serena, but I do fear that you are in danger in all of this. I want you to take my share the next time the guards bring food.”
Serena shook her head. “I couldn’t do that,” she protested.
“Please.” She placed a hand on top of Serena’s. “You need it more than I do. Both of you.”
She feigned a smile. “You are too good to me, Jïera.”
By now the moon hung high in the sky. The sounds of excited conversation came from within the camp. It was getting closer each second.
The army’s leader came forward to the wooden cage, smiling broadly. Instinctively, the leïfae cowered away from the front of the cage as he came to a stop before them.
The movement aroused Kay from his sleep. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Serena helped him sit up. “I don’t know.”
He was not alone. There was a man standing next to him. Someone they had never seen before. He had long dark-red hair, which hung just below his shoulders and made his pale skin look almost ghostly. It was his cold dark eyes that made him the most daunting.
Who was this man? What was he doing here?
“Is this what I came all this way for? You bring me here to show me simple prisoners? Most of them don’t even look like they’ll last the rest of the week. This is not what you were hired for, General Greerwood.” He pointed to Serena. “She’s pretty much useless. Why’d you even keep her around?”
“I believe you will find what I do with these simple prisoners to be very…enlightening to what you requested.”
The man raised a brow. “Oh really? You do realize, however, that it is not me you need to impress.” He pointed to a small hill just outside of the camp where a lone figure stood, illuminated by the moonlight. There were no distinguishing features since the person wore a dark cloak.
“I am correct in assuming that is the person who sent me the specific orders?”
“He sent you extremely specific orders, and he expects to be impressed.”
“And impressed he shall be!” Greerwood replied. He motioned to one of his men.
A guard marched forward and opened the door. His eyes swept over the shivering prisoners before he finally picked one. He then grabbed Jïera and began to drag her away. She immediately began to cy out and tried to escape his grasp by clawing and kicking.
This woke Jehoïn. “Mama!” he shouted, pulling at her skirt.
Serena held onto him to keep him from doing something that would enrage the man. “No, you mustn’t,” she urged.
“Stop!” Kay exclaimed. In a burst of energy he rose to his feet and began to fight the guard. “You can’t take her away!”
The man struggled with him before another guard came up and punched Kay, knocking him on the ground.
“Kay!” Jïera shouted.
“Wait!” a voice shouted.
Silence fell over everyone, save for the children’s crying. Even the general was in surprised silence. They all looked to the back of the cage to see Eolan. He heaved himself up to his feet. His body mustered all of his remaining strength. “Take me instead,” he said. “There is no need to hurt anyone. They are innocent.”
The red-haired man grinned. “There are no innocents as far as I am concerned. Either you are with us or you are against us. People like you are weak to the forces around you. You are meant to be conquered and used.”
He shook his head. “People like you are the ones who are weak.”
“There is no man like me.”
“We shall see.”
No one needed to bring Eolan forward. He stepped forward silently, and the guard holding the trembling Jïera shoved her back into the group of her fellow prisoners.
Kay wrapped an arm around her as she clung to him. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I should be asking that of you,” she sobbed. “That was a crazy thing to do.”
“I couldn’t let them take you away from us.”
The red-haired man studied Eolan. “You are either very brave or very foolish, considering you have no knowledge of what is about to befall you.”
“None can know for certain what the future will bring.”
“You would be surprised.” He turned his attention back to the general. “Continue.”
Greerwood then took out his dagger and cut deep into Eolan’s palm He then pulled Eolan’s hand closer and let his blood drop on the orb. The blood immediately soaked into the surface and grim clouds began to form within the object, swirling around in different directions. “Everyone, stand back,” he said.
The large circle of watchers immediately took a few steps away from the elderly leïfae. Nothing happened for about three minutes.
“What exactly am I waiting for?” the red-haired man asked, unimpressed.
“You shall see,” Greerwood answered. He glanced down at the orb occasionally before placing it on the ground next to Eolan. “Sometimes, the time for it to take effect depends on the subject’s strength.”
“He must be stronger than he looks, then.”
The grey clouds in the orb continued to whisk around until they abruptly turned red. Immediately, Eolan fell to the ground convulsing and shouting in pain as if something was attacking him from the inside out.
Serena turned Jehoïn’s head away from the scene. “Don’t look at it,” she advised, covering his ears in an attempt to keep out the sounds.
Everyone watched in shock as the red cloud within the orb floated out from the top, no longer held back by any barrier and surrounded Eolan, still writhing on the ground. It swirled around him in a large circle until it fleetingly returned into the orb and disappeared into the darkness within.
Once the cloud was gone, all of the leïfae in the cage fell back at what they saw. They no longer saw Eolan before them. In his place was a frightening creature. A creature they had seen only once before. This was the creature they saw on the day of the Ride, when their home was attacked. Now they understood what happened to the others. They had become the very creatures that destroyed their home, their family and friends, their livelihood.
The creature slowly rose to its feet, confused for a moment as Greerwood picked up the orb. Its eyes widened and it let out a frightening shriek, clawing at those around it as a warning to everyone to stay a distance away.
The red-haired man’s eyes glistened with interest. “How very interesting.”
Greerwood nodded in agreement. “This is only the beginning. I am able to control these creatures with the orb once they are turned.”
“Fascinating. Show me.”
The leïfae watched stunned as the general commanded the now turned Eolan to the far side of the camp where the walls of Alderpool were. The crowd outside followed Greerwood and his guest, leaving the cell with just two guards on either side of the door.
“What just happened?” Serena asked.
Ciaran tried to look over the mass of tents and shook his head. “I cannot see anything.”
Suddenly, the sounds of strange shrieks pierced the air, bringing silence within the cage. What happened next was too dreadful to watch. An entire army of the creatures scaled Alderpool’s walls and began its attack throughout the entire city. All of the leïfae covered their ears to block out the screams rising from the city, shivering in terror. The scent of sickening smoke wafted all around and they watched as a fire began to consume the city.
A new sound then echoed throughout the land. It was an unfamiliar sound, something the leïfae had never heard before. Even the guards seemed worried as they glanced around, trying to find what had just made that sound.
Serena looked up into the sky just as a shadow flew past the moon. She blinked her eyes twice, wondering if she had been seeing things. A second shadow went by.
What was up there?
Just then, columns of fire spiraled down into the camp as five dragons descended from the sky. Their angry roars brought a surge of hope to the leïfae.
Were the dragons here for them?
The guards shifted nervously. “What do we do?” one asked.
“I don’t know! We never received training for dragons before,” the other one snapped.
There was a whistling sound before the two guards fell to the ground. Both had an arrow in them. A group of ten tall figures came into view.
“Who are you?” one of the leïfae girls asked.
“We’re here to help,” one of the figures answered.
“Be careful of the top,” Ciaran warned. “There is a rope that keeps it from falling on us.”
“Of course. I assume opening this door will not trigger its fall?”
“No, they aren’t connected in any way.”
“Good,” the man said as he opened the door. “Is there anyone unable to walk.”
“My husband,” Jïera replied. “He’s very ill.”
“I said I was fine,” Kay protested before someone came in and helped him to his feet.
“For once, just listen, please,” she requested.
Serena finally got a good look at the men before her as the light from the torches illuminated their faces and pointed ears. “You’re elves!”
The man in front bowed his head with a grin. “Haldir, at your service. We wouldn’t have been able to find you if it wasn’t for some friends.”
A new figure came to the front of the group. She must smaller and her red hair glistened. Her ears were much smaller.
“Renefaire!” Jïera exclaimed.
Her sister knelt down and wrapped her arms around her, both of them sobbing.
“I can’t believe you survived!”
“I couldn’t believe it either when I heard you were here,” Renefaire replied.
“How did you find us?” Ciaran asked.
“I’ll explain everything later. We have to get you out of here. Engwen is leading his army against the enemy.” She turned to Serena and smiled.
“It’s so good to see you,” Serena said.
“You too. Here, let me help you.”
It took a little effort, but Serena eventually made it to her feet. She winced at a sudden pain in her middle and rested against the cage wall.
“Are you okay?” Renefaire asked.
Serena nodded her head, her breathing slightly labored. “It’s just a little pain. Probably from being in this cramped space for so long. I only need a moment.” She waited with Renefaire by her side as everyone else made it out of the cage, some needing assistance since they were weaker.
She took a step forward when the pain suddenly got much worse. Gasping for air, she doubled over and would’ve fallen if Renefaire hadn’t caught her. It felt like a vice grip inside her, and it was getting worse. “No, not now!” she gasped.
“Ciaran!” Renefaire called out before turning her attention back to Serena, looking into her eyes nervously. “What is it?”
“The baby…” Serena managed to say through clenched teeth. “It’s coming.”
“Of all times to have a baby—”
Ciaran ran back to the cage. “What’s going on?”
Haldir returned. “We need to hurry,” he said.
“Serena is in labor,” Renefaire explained.
“And it hurts really bad!” Serena cried.
“I will carry her,” Haldir offered. “We brought wagons and healers just in case anyone was wounded.”
“Please…hurry…” Serena tried to take deep breaths.
Ciaran held her hand as Haldir lifted her in his arms. They all ran to the wagons hidden within the trees.
Behind them continued the chaos as the elves and their allies fought the enemy and their creatures. With the enemy occupied, it gave the healers plenty of time to help Serena and the others who were sick. It was to be a long night.