Daelyn tried to calm his mother down after he explained how he killed the young Atranoch.
“Will we ever be rid of those obnoxious beasts?” Shapira raged, lips curled in a snarl, “I swear, when I see that girl I’m going thrash her within an inch of her life! Do you know what direction she went, Dae?”
“She was heading for Black Mountain on Rane with that Atranoch,” he told her, “Should we tell the elders?”
“Black Mountain?” Shapira gasped, “But the troll lives in that area! He’ll tear her to shreds!”
“Son, get ready to travel,” Baylor said, “and Shapira, tell the elders what is happening. They’re not going to be happy at this new trouble concerning Starlyn. Though they grudgingly loved the human girl, their strict rules took precedence over emotions. Starlyn would be severely punished for her mischief and this time, Shapira couldn’t protect her.
“Be safe, my love,” Shapira said to her mate, “Bring her back to us.”
Baylor nuzzled her affectionately, “Don’t worry, my sweet, we will bring her back safe and sound.”
Gorvanal, Anastas and Starlyn along with the two wolves, traveled up the rocky, lush terrain of Black Mountain deep in conversation as Starlyn told him the story of how she was adopted by the shadow dragons. Anastas was solemn as she told how Daelyn found her under the body of her own mother, slain by the Atranochs.
“Oh, why do I have to be born to such heartless creatures!” she moaned, putting her head in her clawed hands.
“You’re not to blame, my friend,” Starlyn soothed, “you were taught wrong, is all. Killing, unless it’s for food and clothing, is wrong! You know that now, right?”
Gorvanal listened to his new friend and agreed. Though he was feared by most, he never killed anything for sport, though the majority of Kilaborn would say differently. He knew all of the rumors about himself and didn’t correct them. After all, it kept the mountain he loved all to himself.
“What I don’t understand is, how the elders were talked into allowing you to stay,” he asked, “I heard they were pretty strict when it comes to dragon law. How did you manage it?”
Starlyn laughed, “Well, think of yourself, my friend. We’ve all heard the rumors of how terrible the troll on Black mountain was, right? Now look at you! I guess you can say I have amazing powers of persuasion.”
He frowned for a moment, then laughed at her easy way of putting things. She was right. She did have amazing powers of persuasion! Even his wolves felt comfortable walking along of her with their large bodies pressed up against her legs. Looking up, he felt a moment’s discomfort at how low the sun was sinking. He didn’t like to be out in the open at night on this mountain. Strange things were said to happen.
“Hurry, we have to find shelter right away,” he warned them fearfully, “it’s getting dark.”
“Why?” Starlyn asked, “What happens at night?”
“A darkness like no other falls upon these mountains at night,” he explained, ’One that wraps around you like a blanket of fear. You see things out of the corner of your eye, but you can’t ever get a glimpse because they don’t want to be seen. But the worst of all is a creature who is part sprite and part wisp. It blends between the darkness of the trees catching its victim as it dances within the shadows. Its victim will fall into a dark depression, wandering aimlessly as he or she forgets why they were there in the first place.”
Anastas quivered with fear and pressed closer to Starlyn as she looked around at the trees. Starlyn took her hand and turned to Gorvanal.
“You’re not just making this up, are you?” she asked, “Because I thought we were beyond all of that, if you are.″
“Well, maybe not the dark depression,” he admitted, “but the creatures are real, their frightening, and that’s why we have to hurry and find a safe place to spend the night.”
As the shadows deepened with the setting sun, something moved ahead of them, darting behind the trees. The peaceful tranquility of the forest changed. Starlyn, not normally a fearful person, felt goose flesh rising on her arms and the back of her neck. She felt threatened, but didn’t know by what. Skittering sounds came from both side them, as if something was moving quickly through the underbrush. Anastas held on to her friend’s hand, squeezing it until Starlyn had to pull away when her grip got too tight. The wolves whined, their fur rising along their necks and backs as they leaned in close to the girls. As protective of their territory as the wolves were, they wanted nothing to do with what followed them through the forest. It teased and darted in and out through the trees just out of reach, letting itself be seen for split seconds at a time. The three of them crowded together as the dark shadows became bolder, hissing and flicking at Starlyn’s hair. One darted in and pinched Rane’s hind end, making her squeal and snort as she reared up and ripped the halter out of Star’s hand.
“What was that!” she cried out in fear, “Gorvanal, we have to find someplace now!”
The wolves led the way as Gorvanal, Starlyn and Anastas led a spooked Rane quickly through the woods and up a rocky hillside. Fast footstep sounds followed them but nothing could be seen as they turned to look. Screeching and hooting echoed from behind as they scrambled up the hill and just when they thought they could run no further, the wolves found a large opening in the rocks big enough for Rane to fit through. Hurrying inside, Starlyn was amazed at the size of the cavern as they all stood near the farthest wall where Gorvanal lit a torch. Basking in the warm glow of fire, they sat as close as possible, still shaking from fear of the unknown.
“What was that out there?” Starlyn asked, “What was chasing us?”
“No one has ever seen it,” Gorvanal told her, “Some say it’s the ancient spirit of the trees and other’s call them the Wood Changlings.”
The wolves lay with their heads in Starlyn’s lap looking up at her adoringly, their fear already forgotten about. The male got up and sat next Anastas, much to her delight, nuzzling her hand to be pet. She obliged, stroking the animal’s soft fur with pleasure. Looking up, she beamed at Starlyn who smiled back at her.
“I never knew how soft a wolf’s fur was,” she exclaimed with wonder, “Look, Star, he likes me!”
“What’s not to like?” Starlyn said affectionately to the last living Atranoch, “How can any creature resist you?”
“Oh, stop, Star,” said shyly, “I know how ugly I am. I’m a beast!”
“No, Anastas, you’re not a beast,” Starlyn told her, “You’re my friend.”
Gorvanal couldn’t help but love Starlyn’s sweetness to the ugly Atranoch. Horrid
beasts, Gorvanal remembered a time three years past when the Atranoch attacked a village not far from where they were. They left nothing standing and the ground was red with blood of the native peoples. He wondered how long this last Atranoch would survive the revenge of all who lived in Killaborn. Her innocence would not save her, he predicted.
“Let’s close our eyes while we can, young ones,” he told his companions, “We’re safe in here for the time being.”
Starlyn nodded, her eyelids heavy, lashes laying on her cheeks like living feathers. With her hands plunged deep in the wolf’s thick fur, her head fell softly on her friend’s shoulder as sleep claimed her. Gorvanal, too, let the music of his companions soft snoring lull him to sleep.