|Warlocks and Witches
Author: LittleFireDragon PM
Takes place after the Legend of Rin series, but not officially part of it. A theoretical "What if?" story about Cale and Rin's kids. Warning: Bittersweet ending. Pairings: CaleXOC obviously , several OCXOC.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Words: 30,798 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Published: 06-20-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5153385
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This is a theoretical "What if?" story, taking place about 20 years after my Legend of Rin fanfic series. The basic idea is… What if Cale and Rin got married and had kids?
This story follows the hypothetical son and daughter.
The reason I say hypothetical is that I believe Cale and Rin would not take their relationship that far, though it's probably a long-term relationship. Again though, this is a "What if?" story. Enjoy!
An orange bounced off the top of the tall vampire-hunter's head, knocking her witch-hat off. The elf in dark burgundy knelt to pick up her hat. Standing up and straightening it on her head, she glared up in the direction the orange had come from. A teenage boy resembling Cale'anon Vatay, only smaller, with freckles, a rounder chin, and dyed black hair (which he styled exactly like his father's) was laughing and leaning against the window frame of the second story of his home.
"Nice catch sis!" he yelled.
"Blaze!" the slayer growled angrily.
"Violet!" the boy replied, mimicking her voice.
"Blaze Vatay, you are the most irritating creature on the planet!"
Blaze stuck his tongue out at her. He jumped out the window, into a tree, and climbed down quickly. He was wearing a black shirt, matching boots, and brown pants. He was also wearing his father's signature cape, which was far too long for his rather runty form. He smirked up at his older sister.
Violet – also called Vivi – Vatay was dressed in her usual coat, boots, and matching brownish burgundy pants, the same shade as her hat. Her belt had all sorts of gear attached, notably a silver dagger, a wooden stake, and a vial of holy water. She had her mother's face, but her father's poofy, pale blonde hair. It was slightly wavy. She folded her arms on her chest and glared at her brother. He merely shrugged and grinned at her.
"Sorry sis, no time to talk! I've got lessons with Uncle Richard!" Blaze said, smirking as he ran off. Violet sighed.
"See ya' later, Uncle Richard!" Blaze called over his shoulder as he left.
"Stay strong, kid!" the warlock replied, waving, "Don't forget to practice your fire spells!"
"I won't!" Blaze yelled. He smirked as he wandered away. Being in a particularly warlockish mood, when he came across a little boy with a lollipop, he took it from the kid and held it up, pushing the kid away, taunting him. He laughed cruelly as the little boy started to cry. And then, out of the blue, before Blaze knew what had happened, he was on the ground. He rubbed his jaw, checking that it wasn't broken. He turned to see who had punched him, expecting an older brother to the kid.
Nope. It was a girl his own age, with brown hair tied in the back in a low ponytail with a dark blue ribbon. She was wearing a black and blue semi-gothic dress. Blaze blinked a few times, confused. She leaned forward and screamed at him, "Nobody picks on my little brother!"
Blaze blinked a few times. After a moment of sitting there on the ground, he raised one finger as if to say "wait a moment", and smiled. "Hi my name's Blaze you seem like a worthy adversary who are you?" he asked, all in one run-on sentence.
The girl kicked him and he flinched back away. "I'm Morgana, and you'd better remember not to mess with me or my brother!" With that, she turned, took her little brother by the hand, and walked away, head held high. Blaze just sat there for a moment, staring in her general direction with a look of confusion and shock. He blinked a few times, and after a moment, he stood, dusted himself off, and wandered home in a daze.
Blaze leaned against a tree, lost in thought that evening. He was reflecting on what happened to him earlier. Boy, I sure am lucky Uncle Richard didn't see that, he thought, but… that girl was actually kinda… impressive…I didn't know girls could fight like that.
"Blaze, dinner's ready!" his mother called. Someone knocked on the door, and the young elf heard his father's voice.
"Richard! Come right in!"
Blaze decided to stay where he was. "Vivi, go get your brother," Rin said from inside. Footsteps came nearer and nearer.
"Hey Runty! Your dinner's getting cold!"
"Don't antagonize your brother," Cale said calmly. Blaze lifted one hand and his sister's hat burst into flames. She let out a squeak and waved it about frantically, trying to put the fire out. She ran into the house, leaving the doorway open. Cale and Richard were standing inside. The tall elf had an expression of shock and disbelief on his face.
"Did my son just fwoosh!"
Richard faked wiping tears from his eyes, sniffled, and put one arm around Cale's shoulders. "I'm so proud of my nephew!"
"Oh gods help me…" the elf said, putting his hand on his face. Blaze snickered and stretched casually, standing up and walking into the house, whistling idly.
Blaze wandered the streets of Kethenecia, whistling a little tune to himself. As always, the city was busy in the early night. Suddenly a brown-haired figure caught his eye. Hey, he thought, that's that girl who had the guts to punch me. Morgana I think her name was? He considered talking to her, but didn't really get a chance to decide, because she turned and caught him looking at her. He spun around and continued whistling, pretending nothing had happened and trying to look cool. He glanced over his shoulder. She was walking toward him.
"Hello… Sorry I left such a bruise…" Morgana said apologetically.
"A… bruise?" Blaze muttered, thoroughly embarrassed now that he realized his whole family knew he'd gotten beaten up.
Suddenly the girl toughened up. "But that should teach you not to pick on helpless kids!"
"Uh… Sorry… I guess…" the boy mumbled. Then he added, "Uh, are you new to Kethenecia? I've lived here my whole life and I don't remember seeing you…"
"Yes." And that was all she said. She simply walked away.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Blaze called after her, running to follow her after a moment. He wasn't used to people just walking away from him and he felt insulted.
"What do you want?" Morgana snapped.
"Uh… uh… a rematch! That wasn't a fair fight! You came out of nowhere!"
"Oh, and you're such a fair fighter."
"Shut up!" Blaze barked, clenching his hands into fists.
"Well," Morgana said, grinning suddenly, "if it's a rematch you want, it's a rematch you'll get!" She punched at him, missing on purpose to let him know the fight had begun. He attempted to punch her in the gut and got a fist to the shoulder for his efforts.
"You're awfully tiny!" the girl laughed, just before she got hit in the side. "Ow!"
"No smaller than you!" the dark-haired boy retorted, satisfied that he'd gotten a punch in. Morgana spun around and struck him in the chest, almost knocking him over. She whacked him atop the head. He blinked a few times, stunned. Then he responded in kind by kicking her in the shin. She yelped.
"Hey, that's cheating!"
"There's no cheating in beating someone up!" Blaze said with a smirk. Next thing he knew he was face down on the ground, Morgana having kicked his feet out from under him.
"Then that was perfectly legal!" She said, hands on her hips. Blaze jumped to his feet and punched her in the shoulder, knocking her down. Eventually they started chasing each other around in an attempt to make the fight more interesting. Morgana tripped and fell, and Blaze promptly tripped on her. Both of them sat up, looking confused, then started laughing. An unlikely friendship had formed.
They stood up.
"Call it a draw?" Blaze suggested, grinning.
"Sure thing!" Morgana replied with a laugh.
"Ooooooh, what have we here?" Violet said.
"Violet? Where'd you come from?" Blaze exclaimed, looking shocked.
"Who's that?" The brown-haired girl asked.
"I didn't know you had a girlfriend, Blaze!" the slayer said with a wink.
The two teens looked at one another for a moment, then, in perfect unison, both cried out. "Ewww! No way!"
"So what's your girlfriend's name, Blaze?" Vivi taunted.
"She's not my girlfriend! Yuck!" the boy said, flailing his arms.
"My name is Morgana and I'm not his girlfriend."
"Uh-huh. Whatever you say," the young lady said, growing bored with the topic, "you two wanna get your fortunes told? I was going to the fortune teller anyway. She's in town and I wanted to ask about fame and fortune…"
"Yeah!" Blaze exclaimed in excitement. He turned to his new friend. "You coming?"
"Hm… Alright…" she said, looking away from him as though he were boring, "Just because I've nothing better to do."
Violet laughed and shook her head. The three of them wandered to the edge of town, where the gypsies had set up their stands. The vampire slayer pointed out a stand where a woman with a deck of cards and a crystal ball sat. She walked over and put a gold coin on the table.
"Tell us three young elves our futures."
The old woman nodded and lay five cards out on her table. She turned them over and stared at them for a minute.
"Here we have a phoenix. An enemy, or a friend? I see change. Here, we have the white bear. Stubborn and cold, but brave. And we have a lion. I see safety in danger, and danger in safety. Down here, a toad. A young man or a boy will play a key role in the future. In the center, the fiery dragon! Tyranny and anarchy! And yet, unity, strength, and loyalty."
The elves stared at her blankly.
"That's dumb!" Blaze said. His sister whacked him on the head. He punched her. Morgana started laughing, and Blaze punched her too, causing her to respond in kind. Violet pushed them apart and dragged them away.
"Let me at him!" Morgana growled, struggling against Vivi's grip. The black-haired elf was doing the same, looking just as eager to attack the girl as she was to attack him. Violet sighed.
"See you later," Vivi said over her shoulder, as she left the house, having finished her breakfast. She walked casually to the town square, and checked the notice board, reading the Wanted posters specifically. She was a vampire slayer, yes, but also went after werewolves, and occasionally, criminals. She didn't notice the two warlocks approaching from behind. The shorter one raised his hand and set the girl ablaze, cackling madly.
"Very good, Blaze!" Richard praised his nephew. Blaze was laughing too hard to respond. Vivi patted the fire out, then glanced around nervously.
"Don't do that," the slayer said, "you'll ruin my reputation!"
"That's the point!" the warlocks said in perfect unison. A fireball struck nearby, nearly hitting a few people.
"Don't do that!" the blonde elf cried out.
"That wasn't me! Did you do that, Uncle Richard?"
"No," Richard muttered, eyes narrowing, "and I don't like it… someone's stealing my spotlight…"
Another fireball struck nearby. People were beginning to panic now. Blaze looked straight up. "Holy-!"
Suddenly his father was behind him, bow and arrow at the ready. "Kethenecia must not fall! To arms!" The Vatay children looked at their mother – who stood beside her husband, her old sword and dagger in her hands, her bow and quiver on her back – and father in surprise. The wyvern that had spat fire at them was circling above. Cale muttered "Let's see what I still have in me…" as he pulled the bowstring back, took careful aim, and fired an arrow at the dragon-like creature. His attack hit its mark! The wyvern swerved and roared.
"Whoa! Dad! You just went way up on my awesome scale!" Blaze exclaimed.
Cale glanced at his son as he readied another arrow. "Your old man knows a thing or two…"
Rin was firing arrows at the beast as well, but it dove down suddenly, grabbed something or someone, and rose into the sky, ignoring the attacks of the Vatay family. Cale stopped as soon as he saw the girl the wyvern held in its claws. He put his hand on Rin's shoulder. "No! Don't attack! We could hurt the girl!"
Said girl screamed for help. Blaze's eyes widened. It was Morgana!
"Blaze, isn't that your friend?" Vivi asked, worried.
"That's Morgana! We need to help her!" the boy exclaimed, his heroic side coming out.
"And help her we will!" Cale said, putting his hands on his sword hilts. Rintasha put her hand on his shoulder.
"Cale, honey, we're starting to get too old for this kind of thing..." she said, as he turned to her in surprise, "It's time we pass the torch to the next generation. Blaze and Violet are old enough to have their own adventures."
"Our adventuring days aren't over just yet, Love. I'd like to get one last quest for good and justice in before we retire…"
The ex-dragonslayer hesitated, then nodded. "Then we'll go on this journey as a family."
"I'll come with you," the old warlock said, suddenly.
"Would you, Uncle Richard?" Blaze yelled excitedly.
"Do you know how boring this town would be without you Vatays?"
"Right then," Cale said, "Rin, love, go dig out your old dragonscale armor. It should still fit you – you're just as slender as when I met you. It's time you slay dragons once again…"
"Mom used to be a dragonslayer?" the kids cried out.
"Sure did!" Rintasha said. She and Cale returned to the house to change into their dusty old armor. When they returned, Cale was wearing his old scale-mail shirt, as well as a green cape that matched his pants (as his son was wearing his old cloak). Rin was again dressed in her signature dragonscales.
"Whoa! I didn't know mom and dad could look so…" Blaze trailed off.
"Awesome?" Vivi suggested.
"See, I told you we're tougher than we seem! And I'm pretty sure you two will be too. You're already powerful for kids your age, and it runs in the blood," Cale'anon said with a wink, "a young and brave adventurer I may no longer be, but a skilled warrior I remain."
"Shall I get the horses, Cale?" Rin asked.
"Yes. But before we go… I have something for you, Blaze… I'm glad I got them when I did. I didn't realize how soon you'd need them. Come to the house with me…"
The box creaked open, and Cale reached inside. He lifted a pair of gleaming swords out.
"I've taught you to use the sword. Now you have a pair of your very own… Use them well in combination with whatever magics your uncle is teaching you. You have potential to be a weapon of righteousness, Blaze. You have the potential to be one of the greatest warriors and heroes the world has ever known. You have the potential, son. Use your gifts, your skills, your knowledge, wisely. I can only hope that one day, you'll outshine your mother and me, as a hero of Kethenecia like no other. Be strong and brave, Blaze."
Normally, at such a speech, the boy would make some witty quip, but there was something about the situation, his father's suddenly regal appearance and attitude, and the gift he was being given, that made him take this seriously. He nodded respectfully and bowed his head as he accepted the swords.
The family and their warlock friend set out that very night.
"How'd you and Mom meet anyway, Dad?" Blaze asked. He'd never been curious about it before, but now that he knew how they hadn't always been boring, he wanted to know more about them.
"Well," Cale began, "it's a rather long story. You see, your mother was already dead when I first learned of her-"
"What?" Violet interrupted.
"Let me finish! I found her journal and sword. Her soul was in her sword, and we started talking. Richard opened up a portal for me, Pella – a dwarf, you've not seen her since you were little – and Benny – surely you remember her from your thirteenth birthday, Blaze? – to Rin's time, ten years before I learned of her. We were the reinforcements she needed to turn the tide of that battle! Together, the five of us fought against a small army of werewolf-like demons called Dark Ones, and returned to our own time."
"To think that was a little over twenty years ago…"
"Seems like it was just yesterday I was saving you from the Dark Ones' castle."
"I will never forget that… And to me it seems like just yesterday I saved you from falling to your death off that dragon. You remember Uru?"
"How could I forget? Your expert flying of him saved my life!" Cale and Rin smiled at each other, remembering those early battles.
"Anyway," Rin said, wrapping up the story, "we went on many adventures together until finally your father asked me to marry him. So I did, and we had you two."
Blaze blinked in shock. "And I thought mushy stuff was boring… You guys fought wolfmen and flew on dragons and really cool stuff like that!"
"Oh, that was just our first adventure!" Cale said, "Don't even get me started on the second. No good, rotten rogue…"
And so, as they rode toward the wyvern's lair, Rin using her dusty dragon tracking skills to follow the beast, Cale told his kids the stories of his adventures with their mother, stories of drama, excitement, romance, betrayal; all of them worthy of legend.
The moon was high in the night sky. Crickets chirped. Suddenly Violet looked to the sky. "Wait!"
"What is it, honey?" Rin asked.
Vivi's eyes narrowed; her hand went to the silver dagger on her belt. With her other hand, she pointed to a bat in the sky.
"It's just a bat, sis," Blaze said.
"Hush you, that's no ordinary bat! Look at its eyes! See how they glint red in the moonlight? That's a vampire!"
Richard raised his hand and set the bat on fire. It plummeted from the sky.
"Anything can be solved with Fwoosh!" the two warlocks said in unison, Blaze backing his horse up to stand next to Richard's, giving his uncle a high-five.
"Unfortunately not the case," Violet said. The bat glowed red for a moment, and turned into a tall, pale purplish elf-like creature with withered bat wings. It had red eyes and straight, dry lips. It was female and was dressed in crimson robes, with a black gem at its throat. The robes were tattered and torn and hung loosely over the tight skin that turned black toward the ends of the fingers and ears. She held a purple, swirling, loosely spherical ball of energy in one hand, like some evil lamp. Her black hair floated around her head, tangled and ratty.
Violet gasped. "My gods! A lampade!" She whipped out the vial of holy water. "Get back, beast! There is no magic to be had here!"
"A what?" Cale asked, swords at the ready.
"Sheath your blades, Father! A weapon not of silver will do you no good!"
The lampade fixed her eyes on the warlocks. Richard, sensing the danger of this beast – it posed a threat even to him – stood protectively in front of Blaze. Cale stared in shock. Never had he expected Richard to stand in front of anyone to protect them, especially not the elf's own son!
"Uncle Richard, be careful! Lampades suck the magic out of you, as well as your life if they feel like it!"
Blaze was petrified. The gaze of the lampade had him hypnotized. He was floating, lost in those terrifying red orbs. Suddenly there was a loud thwup! and the young warlock-in-training snapped out of his trance. The lampade let out a scream and tried to pull the silver dagger out of her chest. Violet was still in the position of one who had thrown a knife! The vampire-creature began to burn from the wound out. Finally, she turned to smoke a dissipated into the night.
"What the nine hells was that?" Rin asked.
"Lampades. Vampire fae. Rare creatures. Haven't seen one in a long time. They need magic as well as blood. That's why it was targeting Richard and – more so – Blaze. Both of them could satisfy the hunger for magic."
Blaze shuddered. Richard raised an eyebrow. A creature that was truly dangerous to him! Such a concept was alien and frightening to him. A being that could resist his fire and suck the magic right out of him… He made a mental note to avoid these Lampades at all costs.
There was dead silence for a minute before Cale suggested they set up camp for the night. Richard offered to keep the fire burning all night, and for once he took his job seriously. Because, for once, the things he was keeping at bay were actually capable of harming or even killing him.
Blaze lay awake for a while. His mind was awhirl. Camping like this… This had been what his parents had done on a normal day for them, twenty years ago… They were so much more awesome than he'd thought. He was proud of his parents for once. His thoughts wandered to the lampade. It had been terrifying, yet fascinating. The young warlock's thoughts continued to wander, and he didn't catch himself when he started thinking about Morgana. In his daydreaming, he didn't realize he was giving her more than a passing thought for several minutes, and when he did realize it, he shrugged it off as worrying about a friend. Finally, thinking idly about her and imagining the rest of his journey in a style similar to his father's stories, he closed his eyes, and drifted into dreams of slaying dragons, rescuing Morgana – and looking badass while doing so to boot! – and climbing along narrow ledges above lava with her in tow.
"Yes, honey?" Rintasha prompted, opening her eyes and sitting up.
Rin looked around in concern. Her son was indeed missing.
"He wandered away a little while ago, don't remember where to," Richard said.
"Oh no…" She shook her husband's shoulder, waking him. "Blaze is missing."
"What?" Cale exclaimed, sitting up immediately, "Alright, we're going to go looking for him. These forests are too dangerous for a kid his age to go off on his own! Split up. Violet, you go north, I'll go west, Richard, you'll go south, Rin, head east. We'll regroup here in roughly an hour, hopefully one of us will have found him by then," the slightly aged elf ordered, already on his feet. His companions nodded and each headed off in their own direction.
"Morgana! You're okay! I mean – of course you're okay. And it's not like I was worried about you or anything." Blaze folded his arms over his chest and looked away from the girl. After a moment, though, he looked back at her with genuine curiosity and raised one eyebrow. "But, uh… How'd you do it? Get away from the wyvern I mean."
"Simple! I tricked him into letting me go. Dragons are stupid," Morgana said.
"Ya know, I was going up there to kick that wyvern's butt," Blaze stated, not mentioning that his family was along for the adventure, "uh, not because I wanted to save you or anything stupid like that." He snorted. "I just wanted to see if I could beat that dragon. Of course, I'd be able to, easily…"
"Of course you would…" She replied, sounding unusually not-harsh. The dark-haired boy gave her a confused look. She laughed light-heartedly.
"Uh… oh… I must have gotten off course somewhere," the vampire slayer said, blinking at her mother in slight embarrassment and confusion.
"I think I was slightly off course as well. Had to go around a lake, among other things," Rintasha said with a nod, "and it may have altered my course more than I had thought. Well, we may as well continue together from this point."
"So you're a real adventurer now," Morgana said almost reverently.
"Uh…" Blaze had no idea what to say. He felt extremely uncomfortable that they were that close and not fighting. It made him feel very awkward. "You're acting a little weird, Morgana…"
An arrow suddenly flew past him, narrowly missing the girl. She turned and snarled, her eyes flashing green.
"Just as I thought!" Violet exclaimed.
"Blaze, get out of there!" Rintasha shouted, firing another arrow at the girl, "That isn't Morgana; that's a wendigo!"
"A kind of werewolf," his sister cried out, pulling out her silver dagger at running toward 'Morgana'. The 'girl' suddenly changed into a white, bipedal wolf with long, thick fur, two tails, and fiery green eyes. Blaze fell over backwards in shock.
The wendigo roared at the warlock's mother and sister and ran toward them on all fours. Violet held it at bay with a silver fleur-de-lis that she always kept on a chain around her neck. The symbol repelled the werebeast, and it paced in front of her, snarling. Blaze saw this as his chance. Both of his hands ignited as he conjured a fireball that hit the monster in the back, burning it badly. It spun around and charged at him. He whipped out the two swords his father had given him; they'd been hidden under his cloak. He looked remarkably like his dad, standing there in that cape with those two swords.
"Want a piece of this, doggy? Come and get it!" the boy challenged, grinning wickedly. The wendigo swiped at him with its claws, but he blocked both blows with the swords, causing the beast to howl in pain and leap away, paws bleeding. It completely ignored the volley of arrows from Rintasha, too distracted and obsessed with this irritating little elf that dared to taunt it! A silver dagger thumped into its shoulder, but was too short to do much damage.
Blaze's swords burst into flames. He was using his knowledge to his advantage, just as his father had told him. He was combining the methods of his uncle and his dad. He stabbed at the wendigo several times, taunting it and calling it names. He found that he quite enjoyed fighting like this; he loved the adrenaline! He was naturally quick with the swords, their use ran in his blood. Every slash he made ignited the fur of the werebeast. It bit at him and slashed, but could never get close enough to damage the young elf with the irritatingly long swords. Finally, as it lunged at him, Blaze put one sword through its shoulder, all the way through, and in one fluid motion brought the other blade up, around, and swiftly beheaded the monster. He turned to his mother and sister, breathing hard, grinning madly, and wiped the blood off his face.
"Uh… Blaze, I had no idea you'd learned so much from Richard and your father…" Rin stammered, clearly impressed by her son's combat skills. Vivi stared at her younger brother in utter disbelief for a minute before silently retrieving her dagger from the wendigo's corpse.
"So what is a wendigo, exactly?" Blaze suddenly asked.
"It's a subtype of werewolf. Unlike some other kinds it's vulnerable to normal attacks, as you found out. They are shapeshifters; they take on the form of one's dreams and desires," Violet explained. She then grinned impishly and added "and the fact that it took on the form of Morgana for you tells me something…!"
Blaze turned bright crimson. "Shut up!"
"You like her!"
"I do not!" the boy yelled.
Both the Vatay ladies laughed. Rin couldn't help but recall how Cale had acted when she'd first met him. Oh yes, she thought, he is his father's son.
Cale returned to the clearing, a relieved expression on his face when he saw his family waiting for him. Richard arrived not a minute later. Cale'anon suddenly looked very stern.
"Don't you ever wander off on your own like that ever again, young man. You're not old enough to wander off by yourself. It's fine if you have Violet with you, but you are not to wander away alone!" He sighed. "I'm just glad you're okay. You had me worried."
"You had every reason to be," Rin said, "and every reason not to be."
"He'd gotten himself tangled up with a wendigo," the ex-dragonslayer stated, as her husband winced visibly at the word, "but you and Richard would both have been proud of him. He's a very good warrior, and a very good spellcaster."
"I'll admit it was really clever how he set his swords on fire," Violet said.
Cale grinned broadly and patted his son on the shoulder, and Richard did the same. "That's my boy!" He exclaimed proudly. Then he forced himself to look stern again. "But remember, even though you're skilled, I don't want you to wander off alone. You could be hurt or even killed, and I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you."
"Fine," Blaze said, rolling his eyes. He knew he wouldn't keep his word.
The older warlock bent over and put one hand next to his mask, and whispered to the boy. "Don't listen to your father; he's full of hot air. Keep up the good work!"
Cale looked over his shoulder. "Getting tired, there, Blaze?"
"N… no!" Blaze panted. They'd had to leave the horses behind at the base of the wyvern's mountain; it was too steep for the animals to climb.
"Then why are you so close to falling over and dying?" Vivi asked.
"I… I'm not ti… tired!" the boy insisted, though he was hardly able to lift his feet. He would not admit to having almost no stamina when it came to climbing. He could fight for hours, but climb? Not so much. How does Dad do it? I didn't know he was so… tough! the boy thought. As long as his father kept going, he would keep up. He had to live up to his dad's legend. Where only days before he'd thought his father was just a boring, aging man, he now had nothing but respect for him. Cale had been an adventurer and a warrior in his day, and his son was proud.
The still-handsome elf with slightly graying hair looked back at his son. He smiled. "Why don't we take a little break? I'm starting to get a little bit too old for this, I think."
"Not going to admit that you're aging, are you, honey?" Rintasha teased.
"Nope," Cale laughed, "Your body may grow and change, but you're never too old to be immature. My body's aging faster than my mind, I think."
"Your body was always ahead of your brain," Richard said. Cale sat down on a medium-sized flat ledge. He leaned against the cliff wall.
"Sure is a nice view from up here."
"Yeah… Uh… Dad?" Blaze said, semi-awkwardly.
"You… You're actually a pretty cool guy."
Father and son looked at one another for a moment, then smiled.
"You're pretty cool too, Blaze."
Blaze yawned. He opened his eyes.
"Wake up, sleepyhead!" Violet said, snickering.
Blaze turned slightly red. "Did I… I fell asleep, didn't I….?"
"Yes. You must have been really tired from your climb."
"No! No, I… I just didn't get enough sleep last night, that's all."
"Come on, then," Cale said, "Now that we're all rested… we have a dragon to slay and a young maiden to rescue. Nothing new, eh Love?"
"Reminds me of that one time we had to kill the dragon of Kerazorha to rescue the fawns' Princess of the Forest," Rintasha replied.
"Oh yeah, that…"
"I will never forget how the centaurs tied Cale up to that tree!" Richard laughed.
"Shut up, Di- … Richard." Cale mentally admonished himself. Must not call Richard that in front of the kids.
And so the Vatays – and Richard – continued the climb to the wyvern's cave. Blaze was panting by the time they reached the top, and he was unable to keep himself from simply collapsing when they stopped climbing. He lay flat on his back, utterly exhausted.
"We take one short break right out here," Cale whispered, "so we'll have the strength to fight, and then we're going in."
"Fine by me…" the dark-haired elf on the ground mumbled.
Rintasha snuck closer to the entrance to the wyvern's cave. She knew how to not get caught. She peered inside, being extra careful not to be seen by the girl inside. That was the difficult part of rescuing ladies from dragons: they always got excited when they saw their would-be rescuer and gave them away. She saw as much as she could before sneaking back around the rock the group was hiding behind.
Once everyone had rested enough, they prepared to attack. Blaze, of course, being the hotheaded teenage boy he was, rushed in before the signal was given, but at least he did so quietly. Unfortunately it was not quiet enough. The huge, navy blue head of the wyvern swung up and around, and its silver eyes stared right into the boy's!
Rin was out from behind her rock and trying to distract the wyvern in a millisecond. She stabbed at the creature with her sword and dagger. The blue dragon would have none of the slayer's techniques; he was far too ancient and had dealt with many a dragonslayer of Rintasha's ability in the past. He spun toward her, head low, using his massive tail to knock Blaze to the ground. He immediately positioned his deadly stinger over the boy's throat as he looked Rin directly in the eye.
"Move not, dragonslayer," the wyvern threatened, "your son's life depends on it."
Rin gasped and froze instantly. Cale's eyes were wide.
"You too, shan't move," the beast stated, not moving its head, but clearly directing its gaze toward the young boy's father. The creature had struck the one point where the Vatays were helpless. Rin and Cale were powerless: their son was being held for ransom. There was nothing they could do.
"Blaze?" a female voice from inside the cave called. The wyvern swung his head around.
"You know the boy?"
Morgana came rushing forward, out of the darkness. "He's a friend."
The wyvern lifted his stinger and sighed. "Very well. Friends of Morgana, you are welcome here. But know I will have my eye on you all. One movement, one word, that makes me suspicious-" he cut himself off and merely wiggled the poisonous stinger at the end of his tail.
"M-morgana?" Blaze asked, shocked. He sat up, very embarrassed. She'd just rescued him from the dragon. That was not supposed to happen to a hero.
"Getting into trouble, I see."
"Well you're the one who got carried off by a wyvern!" He coughed and quickly added, "not that I was coming to rescue you or anything stupid like that. I just… uh… wanted the prize money for killing the dragon. Yeah."
"There is no prize money, Blaze," Violet said, grinning. She turned to her parents. "This is Morgana. She's Blaze's girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend!" Blaze yelled, at the same time as Morgana yelled "I'm not his girlfriend!"
Rin and Cale merely looked at each other and said nothing.
"Who are they?" the girl asked.
"My… my parents…." the dark-haired elf mumbled. Then, slightly louder and more proudly: "and the warlock is my Uncle Richard."
With the need for introductions out of the way, all eyes were on the wyvern.
"Alright dragon," Cale asked impatiently, "what's the meaning of all this?"
The wyvern sighed. In his gravely voice, he growled, "I am merely protecting the girl from a great evil. She is not what she seems."
"What do you mean?" Blaze asked. "Oh wait, never mind, I think I know: she's stupider than she looks, right?"
"Hey!" Morgana yelled. Blaze stuck his tongue out at her.
"Stop flirting, you two," Vivi said, with as straight a face as she could. The two young teens stopped fighting instantly, blinked a few times in confusion, looked at one another and yelled "Ewwwww!"
The azure wyvern growled. "Control yourselves. These are dark times, full of more danger than you'd believe. The Fae are having a war."
"Oooh, fairies are fighting, I'm so scared," Blaze said, sarcastically.
"You should be," Richard suddenly said. All eyes were on the undead warlock. "The lampades are Fae, remember…" The members of the group exchanged worried glances.
"Exactly," the wyvern agreed, "when the Fae fight one another, it disrupts the flow of magic in the world, and more Fae appear in our world than usual. Both good Fae, and evil."
Cale gave Rin a worried look. He turned to the dragon. "So, you're saying… There are many lampades being released into our world. What does the girl – Morgana? – have to do with this?"
The dragon looked at the girl. Before he had a chance to reply to the elf, Richard whipped around and threw a fireball toward something nobody had noticed. A lampade shrieked dodged the fireball. The cave lit up purple as the being pulled out her evil torch.
"Hand over the Fae-Blood and you won't get hurt!" the vampire demanded, "As for you, warlock, your fate is already sealed!" With terrifying speed she ran toward Richard, grabbed him by the neck, and stared into his eyes. Purple streams of electricity-like substance started flowing from his eyes to hers. Richard went limp, but the energy was still flowing out of him. Without thinking, Morgana lifted her hands and shot a bolt of blue fire at the vampire. It let go of Richard, who fell to his hands and knees. The girl looked at her hands. She looked up, shrieked and put her arms over her face; the lampade was coming right at her. Her eyes snapped open as she heard the sound of a collision. Blaze was holding the creature back with his swords, but he couldn't damage it. The young warlock accidentally looked into its eyes. The lightning connected them. It was the last thing he saw before darkness.
"Blaze!" Rin screamed. The wyvern roared something in a language nobody there could understand, leaned forward, and let white fire rage from within him. It engulfed the lampade.
"Your weapons can harm her now; hurry!"
Rin fired one arrow after another in a rage. Cale rushed forward with both swords drawn, holding nothing back. The lampade's orb turned into a pole-axe; she swung it at the elf and used dark magic to deflect the arrows. She was not expecting the frostbolt that impaled her from the side. Richard was on his feet again, though barely able to stand. The hand he'd used to fire the spell was still raised.
"Nobody attacks Richard and lives."
Blaze was dimly aware of someone patting a cold, wet cloth against his forehead. He opened his eyes, and when he saw who it was, he immediately sat up, pushing her away. "No, no! I don't need your hel- Ughh…" He fell over onto his back again, too weak to stay sitting up.
"Now, now, Mr. Tough Guy, don't hurt yourself," Morgana replied both gently and tauntingly. The dark-haired elf turned his head. His parents were trying to figure out how to restore Richard's strength. Though he'd saved them all, he was still very weak from the lampade's attack. The warlock was leaning against the wall of the cave, semi-limp. Cale turned away from his old friend, toward his son.
"Good, you're awake. I was worried about you…"
"We all were," Rintasha added. "Not all of us are recovering though…"
"Wha-?" Blaze asked, alarmed. He looked in the direction his mother was gazing in. Violet was sitting in a corner, facing toward the wall, her head lowered.
"I… I couldn't do anything… I froze up…" she murmured, "Why couldn't I do anything? Of all the things in the world, a vampire…"
Cale stood and walked over to his daughter. He knelt by her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's alright, Violet… I think we were all panicked. None of us expected that, and it all happened so fast… We can't all be the hero every time something bad happens. Just be glad for our victory, regardless of who brought it. I'm proud of you; don't think this has changed that," Cale assured her. Violet sniffled and lifted her head to look at her father. He wiped the tears off her cheeks.
"This has shattered us," Rin said, without emotion; merely an observation. "I don't recall a time an attack has left our group this unstable and broken."
"Hush, don't say that, Love. We'll recover soon enough."
"I hope so. I'm not trying to encourage or discourage us; I'm merely making a purely logical analysis of our status. I know morale is important, but one can't ignore the facts. Both of us are exhausted and in shock, Violet's emotionally broken, both our spellcasters are down-"
"Not quite," Richard interrupted, "the girl is a caster as well."
"Yes… The Fae-Blood often are," the wyvern stated.
"What is Fae-Blood?" Rin asked.
"Morgana is not of fully elven blood. She is of the Fae as well. That is why the lampade wanted her; she's more magical than most beings, and could sate the magical hunger of many lampades… She could fuel a good chunk of their army."
"Wait, wait, but- what? I- I'm not-! I didn't-! I-!" Morgana stammered.
"You are Fae-Blooded," the wyvern repeated calmly. "That's why you could cast that fire spell. You are a powerful sorceress, whether you know it or not. You'll need training though."
"We've got that covered," Cale said, pointing at both warlocks. He turned back to his daughter and patted her shoulder. She sniffled and stood up. Her father gave her a quick, reassuring hug. Cale thought for a moment. "Huh. Sure are a lot of fire-users in this group. Many spellcasters. Wonder what X would think."
"Who's X?" Blaze asked, finally able to sit up.
"Someone I once adventured with. He was a mage. It's… a long story."
The wyvern lay near the entrance of the cave, protecting the adventurers within the cavern as the stars glittered outside. He stayed ever-vigilant and devoted. He glanced calmly back into his cave, where a fire was crackling quietly, lighting the faces of the people as almost all of them slept, keeping them warm. Richard lay on the ground, hands behind his head, deep in thought. Cale and Rin were leaning against one another, arms around each other. Violet was still awake. She smiled when she looked over at the two youngest members of the group. Both Morgana and Blaze were asleep, only about a foot away from each other, facing away from one another. Vivi snuck over, and gently, slowly turned them onto their backs, so they were barely touching. She then carefully lifted her brother's arm and put it lightly on the girl's shoulder. She smiled as she crept away. Neither of the young ones had stirred, and even though Violet had intended it as a prank to embarrass and irritate her brother, she couldn't help but think they looked cute. With a satisfied smile on her face, she lay down, and she, too, fell asleep.
Blaze yawned. He was semi-aware that he had his arm around someone, but the concept really didn't hit him until about a minute later, at which point he threw himself away from her, flailing his arms. "Ewwww!"
"Wha?" Morgana mumbled, after this rude awakening. Violet, who'd been sitting nearby, fell over laughing. Blaze turned bright crimson.
"Violet!" he roared, his voice echoing.
Cale's eyes snapped open. "Kids! No yelling in caves! You're going to make me go deaf…"
"Vivi, what did you do to your brother?" Rin mumbled sleepily.
Violet couldn't answer; she was laughing too hard. Blaze refused to speak a word of what had happened. He merely stood there, facing away from everyone, arms crossed over his chest, blushing furiously. When the vampire hunter finally got her laughter under control, she explained. "Last night, after everyone else was asleep, I put his arm around Morgana. I couldn't resist! They were so cute…"
"I'm not cute! And neither is she!" Blaze protested, still blushing and facing away. The Fae-Blood blinked a few times as the idea of what Violet had done to her and Blaze sunk in, then also turned bright red, utterly humiliated.
Rin and Cale looked at each other and sighed. "Oh gods," they muttered.
Richard was rolling on the floor laughing, but everyone was ignoring him. The young ones were too mortified to say anything at all, Violet was still snickering over her prank, and the parents simply didn't want to bother.
"Are you feeling better now, Richard?" Rin asked. The warlock got to his feet.
"Yes. I've regained my strength now."
"Good. And Blaze?" Cale said, turning to his son.
"Better than ever! And I guess since Morgana doesn't know how to use her magic, I'll probably have to teach her, won't I…? Uncle Richard probably has other things to attend to." The runty teen tried to sound like he didn't want to teach Morgana, even though he really did. His father nodded at him. He forced himself to give a reluctant sigh and rolled his eyes.
"Train outside, where you have more room. I'll be watching over you," the wyvern said.
"Isn't a giant dragon a little… conspicuous?" Violet asked, raising an eyebrow. The wyvern did not reply with words. Instead, he took on a spirit form. He shrunk down as scales elongated into hard 'feathers' and his snout turned into a flat beak. He ended up around two feet tall, in the form of an owl made of sapphire.
"Now I've seen everything," Cale said, blinking at this odd sight.
"Go on, get prepared for battle. The sooner we depart for the Fae realms, the better," the owl said, still retaining the deep, gravely voice of the wyvern.
"Wait, what?" Violet asked.
"It's been a while since I got involved in a war," Richard said, "I think I'll like this."
"We should be able to end the Fae war, if we get involved."
Cale nodded at the owl. "Right."
After hours of explanation and practice, Morgana was beginning to gain control of her powers. She threw a ball of blue fire at her friend, who deflected it with a counterspell.
"Hey Blaze," she asked, suddenly, as she dodged his fireball.
"Yeah?" he replied, as he called down a rain of ice.
Morgana put up a shield of blue energy above her head. "Did your parents really name you Blaze? I mean, what's your real name?"
The boy turned bright crimson and threw a fireball under her shield, which she barely dodged. He mumbled something unintelligible.
"What?" the sorceress asked, aiming several missiles of blue fire at the warlock's chest. He deflected them and repeated himself, very, very quietly.
There was dead silence for a moment, and then Morgana fell over laughing.
"Shut up…" the warlock muttered, as his blush deepened, making his freckles even more obvious.
"Duncan? That's the stupidest name I've ever heard!" the girl cried out through her laughter. Blaze replied with a fireball. She flailed around a bit, trying to put the fire out. She managed to put the flames out at last. The girl looked around, just in time to see Blaze slinking into the forest to hide. She ran to catch up with him.
"Oh come on, don't throw a fit!"
"Blaze… don't be a dork."
"I'm not a dork."
"Then why are you acting like one?" the sorceress questioned. Blaze was silent. Morgana grinned and punched his arm lightly. "Come on!"
He struggled to keep from smiling, unsuccessfully. He turned and punched her.
"You fight like a dairy farmer!" She taunted.
"How appropriate! You fight like a cow!" Blaze replied, grinning. The two of them exchanged taunts and punches for a while, until Morgana set the warlock's cape on fire, and he rushed to put it out, before returning their fight to a battle of magic.
The owl-wyvern's beak twisted into what might be called a smile as he watched the two young ones laughing and fighting below. They made a good team.
"Are you ready to enter the Fae Realms?"
The six adventurers nodded. Richard, Blaze, and Morgana started working on casting the spell to open the portal. A blue rift in the fabric of reality opened. Cale turned to Rin.
"Familiar, isn't it, Love? Reminds me of the day I met you."
Rin nodded and laughed a bit, and the group stepped into the portal, followed by the sapphire owl.
The world they stepped into was a whimsical one. They were standing on a platform made from a bamboo-like substance; it sat in the limbs of an enormous tree with spiraling branches that curved elegantly. The leaves were normal-sized and plentiful; most of them glittered with dew. As the group looked around, they saw many more of these platforms, all connected by bridges of spiraling vines and gigantic flowers. On a great number of these platforms, elegant buildings primarily made of vivid stained-glass and accented with carefully carved woodwork depicting dragons, unicorns, and whimsical designs. As far as the eye could see, there was light: sparkling dewdrops, shining glass buildings, sunlight filtering through an ever so slight mist, through the leaves of the fanciful trees.
"Look there," Violet whispered, pointing at one of the buildings. Several fawns were there, staring in awe and fear of these strange new beings. "It's okay, you can come out. We won't hurt you!"
Cale looked at the warlock, recognizing the look on his face. "We won't hurt them, right, Richard?"
Some of the fawns stepped forward. The females wore dresses of leaves and flower petals, while the males wore shirts and shorts of the same materials. Their legs were like those of deer, with fur the same greenish-white as their skin, and hooves as deep forest green as their hair. Tiny, hummingbird-like wings lay folded on their backs, and each of them had a pair of small green antlers in addition to their pointy ears.
"You're here to help us?" one of the females asked, timidly.
Cale nodded and smiled warmly. "We're here to help you fight the lampades."
The fawns murmured amongst themselves. "Fight the lampades… fight the lampades?"
One of the two males spoke to the strangers. "Fight the lampades? No, no! We don't fight the lampades."
"Then what do you do?" Rin asked, trying to keep herself from sounding angry.
"Well hiding isn't going to do you any good!" Violet said. Some of the fawns shrank back a bit at the tone of her voice. "Stand up for yourselves! Don't let the lampades kick you around and walk all over you!"
"Some of us tried fighting back," a female fawn said, "they're gone away now…"
"Gone away? You mean they were kille-" Blaze started.
"Gone away!" the fawn interrupted hurriedly. She fidgeted nervously.
"Well," Cale said, "have you tried working together, the whole lot of you, to fight the lampades?"
All the fawns looked at each other in dumbstruck silence. Richard moved as if to do something, but Cale gave him a death-glare and he stopped.
"Behave yourself, Richard," the elf warned under his breath, "cause trouble with the Fae and we'll likely not have any allies against the lampades… and you know what could happen then…"
"So," Rin asked, "are you with us? Will you help us fight the lampades?"
The fawns continued to mutter. Finally, one of them gave a meek "yes."
"Do you have a map of this land?" Blaze asked. None of the others had thought of that. A male fawn skipped away into one of the glass buildings, and returned with a scroll. He bowed as he gave it timidly to the boy, who unfurled it and began to examine it.
"Blaze, let me see that, if you will," Cale said. His son gave him the map, and he stared at it for a moment. "It's divided into regions based on the type of Fae residing there… These five are the largest… We'll want to gain favor with them in particular, if we want to build an army to fight the lampades. This war could last for centuries if the Fae are merely scattered bands of fighters. We need to unite them."
"What factions are those?" Violet asked.
"The fawns, whose allegiance we already have, the igniads, the naiads, the sylphs, and the astarians, apparently," the aging elf replied. He held the map out to the fawns. "Can any of you tell us exactly where we are?"
One of the fawns pointed out their location.
"Then we're closest to the igniads," Rintasha stated, "we should set out for their land as soon as possible."
"There are many winged deer in the forest," a fawn offered, "they could get you to your destination quickly."
"That would be wonderful."
The fawn played a few notes on some panpipes, and several winged does and stags landed on the platform. The adventurers thanked the fawns, mounted the flying deer, and quickly learned how to guide their airborne steeds, the sapphire owl in tow.
"This world is so lame…" Blaze mumbled.
"Don't judge yet," Cale said, "you'll be much more at home with the igniads, I believe."
"I hope so… All this fairy stuff is so… girly."
The forest slowly gave way to fiery plains. The grasses were reddish, and the occasional fire burned randomly in the fields, somehow not spreading into a devastating wildfire. Here and there a rift opened up in the ground, lava glowing within. The flying deer came to a graceful stop. The elves and the undead jumped off.
"I like this place," the warlocks said to each other. Cale pointed to a large fire at the base of a pole, with some huts around it.
They approached, and found themselves looking at a much livelier scene than in the fawns' forest. The bonfire was at the bottom of a large pole that had several red ribbons tied to it. Several female igniads, each holding one of the ribbons, danced around the pole while their male counterparts played energetic music. They all had legs like the fawns, but their fur was bright red. Their hair ranged from blond to crimson. At their ankles they wore bands of gold and red painted leather, with green gems decorating them. They matched their shorts and sleeveless tops. They all had curving demon-like horns on their foreheads, and tiny dragon-like wings on their backs.
"Doesn't the music just make you want to dance!" Violet said, cheerfully. She noticed that Blaze and Morgana were standing next to one another. She swiftly walked over behind them, grabbed their hands, and put them into a forced hand-hold. "Come on! You two dance together!"
The two young ones looked at each other in shock and confusion for a moment, before leaping backwards with an expression of disgust. They both blushed brightly, spun around to face away from each other, and folded their arms over their chests. Violet laughed light-heartedly.
"Come on," Cale said, "we're here to form alliances, not fool around." He turned toward the village and gasped. Richard was standing on the fire pole, juggling fireballs. "Richard! I told you to behave yourself!" the elf yelled, rushing over. To his surprise, the igniads were cheering and clapping. Richard ignited a building.
"I can't look," Cale whimpered, putting a hand over his eyes. After a moment, though, he peeked out from between his fingers. The igniads were delighted by Richard's destructive performance!
"I can't believe it!" Rin exclaimed, "They love him!"
The elves approached the igniads.
"Uncle Richard… how'd you get up there?" Blaze called. The igniads turned to the elves and grinned impishly, their eyes sparkling, their fluffy tails wiggling in excitement.
"I see you've made a good impression, Richard," Cale said. The igniads hopped up and down, clapping energetically.
"Richard! Richard! Richard!" they chanted joyfully.
"I should make my summer home here," the warlock stated, hopping off the pole, into the fire, and stepping out unharmed. Cale whispered something to Richard, who nodded.
"We're here to fight – and ignite – the lampades. Will you join us?" the warlock said, at Cale's suggestion. Given how the Fae of that zone had reacted to him, they were likely to get a positive response if Richard asked.
"Yes, yes, on one condition!" A male igniad said, flicking his ears hyperactively.
"And what is that?" Cale asked.
"Our leader has one object she particularly desires," another igniad said.
"An amulet of great power," a female continued.
"Bring us the Phoenix's collar from inside the volcano…"
"… And we will join you."
Cale sighed. "What? You want us to go running around looking for treasures for you? We haven't got time for this!"
"Then," the female said, sticking her nose in the air, "we won't join you."
"Gah, fine…" the elf mumbled. He sighed.
"Well… Here we are…" Cale said, looking up at the large volcano.
"Does anyone else get the distinct impression that we're all gonna die?" Violet asked. Morgana and Blaze couldn't help but glance at each other briefly.
"I've felt that quite often. I was always wrong. The one time I did die, I didn't see it coming," Cale replied.
There was dead silence, before all three kids said, in perfect unison, "Wait, what?"
"It's a long story. Obviously, I was revived, but... let's just say I had an unpleasant encounter with a Dark One back when I first met Rin, and leave it at that."
Without another word, they began to climb up to the cave entrance. Blaze's stamina seemed much greater now that Morgana was around; he was just as tired but more determined to not let it show. She'd never let him hear the end of it if he appeared at all weak. At the entrance to the cave, however, Cale knew how tired his son was, and called for a rest, claiming it was because he was getting older and tired more easily. Of course, he had plenty of energy left, but that wasn't the point. After everyone was rested, he led the way into the furnace of a cave.
There were several places where the floor had holes in it, showing them a long drop into molten rock and lava. The entire cavern was nearly unbearably hot. Cale and Rin took the lead. At one point Rin stepped on an unstable piece of rock and it gave way beneath her. Cale grabbed his wife by the waist and pulled her back. They looked down into what would have been Rintasha's demise with pounding hearts.
Rin wiped sweat from her forehead. "Richard… a little ice spell, please? Cool us off; I think I'm about ready to faint from the heat…" Richard conjured a mist of ice around them that cooled them for a moment before it vaporized. Still, it was refreshing. The adventurers continued through the unsteady cavern, hearts thumping; any given step could be their death, any given piece of rock could simply fall out from beneath them. The pressure became even greater when the amount of rock in front of them began to decrease as larger and larger holes appeared, until only a narrow ledge of rock, wide enough for two people at the most, remained, held up by a few support beams of stone from the walls. The group inched along carefully. Occasionally Richard would cast ice spells around the group to cool them off as Rin had requested.
"Oh… no…" Cale whispered. Before him, there was a wide chasm: a straight drop down into bubbling lava. Across the chasm was a lower ledge of stable-looking rock.
"Do you… think we can jump it?" Rin asked.
"Not sure… Only one way to find out."
"Be careful, honey!"
"Of course…" Cale gulped as he stepped back a bit, then took a running leap. He landed on the other side of the ravine. Rintasha did the same. They waited for Richard and the children. The warlock leapt over quickly, followed by Violet. Blaze and Morgana looked at one another for a moment. The boy then took a deep breath and jumped across the chasm. He turned. Morgana tried to do the same, but her dress restricted her movement and she didn't make the full distance! She hung onto the edge of the cliff. Her hands slipped, she nearly fell – Blaze grabbed her hand! He pulled her up onto the cliff. They were both breathing very hard.
"Thank you…" Morgana whispered, leaning against his chest in shock.
"No problem…" Blaze replied, also in shock, suddenly remembering to let go of her hand. They both got to their feet slowly, panting.
"Talk about an adrenaline rush," Violet mumbled.
"Are you two alright?" Cale asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine…" Blaze muttered.
"Yeah… My heart is beating about four times faster than it should, but I'm okay…"
"And I wonder how much of that is due to you nearly falling to your death and how much is due to Blaze's presence," Vivi said, trying to lighten the mood with a little humor.
"Shut up! I don't like him!"
"Kids! This is no time for such things!" Rin snapped.
"I don't know," Richard said calmly, "I'm quite enjoying watching them bicker."
"Come on," Cale said, trying to regain authority, "we need to hurry. We need to get the artifact and gather our army as quickly as possible. The lampades grow stronger with each passing moment."
Everyone nodded seriously. They continued on their way until at last they reached the opening of the volcano. There was a ring of stone around the gaping hole: a ledge they could stand on. Above them was the sky, below them was lava. On the other side of the pit, was a round protrusion from this narrow ring of stone. It was positioned back under a ledge, so that it could not be accessed from the sky; in fact, no part of the shelf could be accessed by flying in on the back of an animal, the only way in was through the cave. The group inched along sideways, around this giant ring, toward the protrusion. They had to keep their backs to the walls, as the shelf was not wide enough for them to walk normally on. Finally they reached their destination. A fiery, translucent egg sat there.
Richard gazed at the egg calmly. He then reached out, and touched it. Instantly, it burst into a huge ball of flame. It then hatched. A phoenix chick fell out, and in a matter of minutes grew to its full size. A rope of gold materialized around its neck, followed quickly by a giant ruby at the center of this collar. The phoenix looked at the sapphire owl that had remained silent for nearly the whole trip.
"Greetings phoenix," the owl-wyvern said.
"Greetings wyvern," the bird's voice said in everyone's minds, though the creature did not actually speak; it was using telepathy.
"We have come far and done much to hatch you, in a quest for your magical collar."
"A fair trade. You have given me life, so I give you my collar." The phoenix bowed its head, letting the collar drop to the ground. Blaze picked it up as the phoenix spread its wings. "Farewell, travelers." The new phoenix took flight for the first time.
"… That's it?" Cale asked. He blinked. "That was… remarkably simple…"
"Let's get out of here," Rin said. Her husband nodded. They worked their way back to the ravine.
"Richard…. Can you build us a bridge of ice and keep it from melting?" Cale asked.
"You're trusting Richard with our lives?" Rin mumbled skeptically.
"We've no choice. Besides, Richard is a friend. He wouldn't kill us. Sure, he'd hurt us at any chance he got. But if we were dead he'd have no source of entertainment."
"You're forgetting that I have a nephew now."
"You… you mean… you actually...?" Cale grinned broadly. So Richard really did have a heart!
"Of course. I care," the warlock stated, as he began to form a bridge of ice. He had to keep the magic flowing constantly, as the bridge melted as soon as it was formed. Cale tried to climb it. The steam blinded him and the melting ice was slick. He managed to crawl to the top. One by one his companions followed; he helped pull each of them up. Finally, only Richard was left.
"Dad… How…. How's Uncle Richard going to get up here?"
"I have my ways, kid," the warlock stated. With that, he caused an explosion of ice around him, leaving a huge platform. It started melting right away, but Richard was already climbing up. He grasped the edge of the rock just as the last of the ice melted away. Cale pulled his old friend up.
The group continued on, along the unstable ground. There was a rumbling noise, and all of a sudden, the ground beneath Cale gave way! He fell!
"Cale!" Rintasha screamed. She rushed over to the hole and peered down. There was a second ledge beneath, though barely there! Cale was clinging to the edge, trying to climb up. The rocks were cracking. There was panic in the elf's eyes. The rocks gave way and Cale fell – onto a platform of ice! Richard kept a constant stream of ice flowing, so the elf could stand and grab onto Rin's hand. She pulled him up, and Richard stopped casting. He looked vaguely tired from the constant spellcasting.
"You just saved my life…" Cale muttered, "Thank you, Richard…"
The warlock shrugged. "Let's get out of here. I don't want to have to save you again. It goes against my nature, you know?"
The climb down the mountain was much easier than the climb up. When, at last, they returned to the igniad village, they were directed to the leader.
"We've gotten the phoenix's collar for you, in return for your nation's allegiance," Cale stated, bowing, "Do you accept our offer?"
"I do accept your offer," the leader said. She took the collar from the elf.
"Two down, three to go," Cale said to the rest of the group.
The winged deer that had waited so patiently now continued to carry the group on their way.
"Where are you taking us now?" Richard inquired.
"The sylphs. They live to the eas-" Rin was struck by a bolt of purple magic and fell off the flying doe.
"Mom?" Violet and Blaze yelped. Their steeds suddenly panicked. Violet gasped as she saw why. Before them, on bat wings, were three lampades. "Land!" the girl ordered, diving toward the ground, followed by her family and friends. She jumped off the deer and pulled the rim of her hat down so she could see below it but the monsters couldn't look her in the eye. She whipped out her silver dagger. One of the vampire Fae dove at the girl, only to be slashed through the wing. Unable to fly, it crumpled down. Violet pulled the wooden stake from her belt and slammed it down on the vampire's heart, using her foot to push it the rest of the way in with a sickening crunch. The two other lampades had landed, one on each side. The girl flipped her dagger upside down, showing the fleur-de-lis on the end of the handle as she stepped back. The lampades hissed as they backed away. Vivi jumped suddenly and kicked one of the vampires to the ground. The other came at her from behind; she spun and stabbed it. It fell to the ground. A lance of magic struck Violet from behind, and she fell to her hands and knees. The last lampade standing moved in for the kill; the slayer held up her fleur-de-lis necklace to keep the creature at bay. She'd dropped her dagger, but still had one weapon left. She uncorked the flask of holy water and splashed some onto the vampire. The lampade burst into flames and panicked. Violet grabbed her dagger and leapt to her feet. She stabbed the burning lampade and watched the flames go out as the creature died.
"Whoa! You really do know what you're doing!" Blaze said. They all remembered Rin in an instant. Cale was at her side, but she was sitting up, perfectly okay.
"How did you-? You're not hurt!" Morgana exclaimed.
"We made sure of that," a little voice said. Several white butterfly-like creatures floated around from behind Rin. The little creatures sparkled and grew to the size of a normal elf. They looked like elves, except that they were pure white, with hair the same color, along with large butterfly wings and elegant dresses of the same white. There were no males in the group.
"Why are you out here? So far from your own land," Cale asked.
"We're not. You're closer than you think."
The adventurers looked down. The grass was no longer red but pale, icy blue. The sylphs shrunk back to their butterfly sized forms and fluttered around. They were trying to be cheery, but there was a sullenness that hung around them. The fairies floated around Violet and healed the bloody wound from the fight with the lampades. Then they simply fluttered away. The elves and the undead followed. Some of the sylphs landed on the sapphire owl and rode him, giggling, though the dark undertone still lay in their voices.
"You've been very quiet," Rin said to the owl.
"I'm trying not to scare the Fae. Many of them are jumpy when faced with outsiders, especially at times like these."
Soon they found themselves in a land like no other. There was soft, fluffy snow on the ground, but it wasn't cold, nor was the snow that fell from the sky. Somehow, blue flowers that appeared to be made of ice peeked up through the snow. Trees that resembled whimsical ice statues grew here and there, with curly, smooth branches, and leaves that appeared to be made of clouds. Each tree had a myriad of glowing, pastel 'pine cones' in various colors. The light from these cones caused everything to shimmer and glitter. The sky was dark and starry, and many auroras flowed through it. Yet, there was something about this atmosphere that was almost dark and gloomy, and it was hauntingly quiet.
Rin yawned. "I think it's time we set up camp for the night."
"How?" Cale asked. "There's nothing here to burn for a fire."
"The trees," a sylph said, quietly.
"But they're made of ice… Ice doesn't burn, it just melts."
"These are Fae-lands," the owl-wyvern pointed out, carrying a branch snapped off one of the ice trees. He dropped it on the ground. Blaze set fire to it, and it burned, startlingly enough, although the flames were multicolored and pastel. The elves lay down in the strangely warm snow, and eventually fell asleep. Richard kept watch; for once he was nervous. The lampades were terrorizing this world, and he had to be careful.
The morning sun set the Sylphs' lands alight in bright golden hues, with auroras still floating in the purple and gold sky. Slowly, the elves woke and sat up.
"Well," Cale said, "a new day begins… Let's get to work…"
"What? Aren't we going to eat?" Blaze asked. He was starving after a long adventure.
"There's nothing to eat."
Blaze simply remained silent for a moment. He was not about to whine about hunger, not in front of Morgana or his sister. He just shrugged. "Not like I was hungry anyway."
Violet sighed and rolled her eyes. The group set out to find where the sylphs lived.
"Over here!" A tiny voice called out. Rin turned to a tree, from which the voice was coming. A sylph waved at her, from inside its home in one of the crystal cones. Other sylphs, mostly females, with a handful of males dressed in mouse-skins, also peeked out of their homes. Some of them fluttered out, including one male, landed, and grew to their full size. The male was very handsome, with long silver hair, snowy skin, and pastel blue eyes. He wore grey, short-furred pants, a matching shirt, and a cape of longer white fur. He smiled warmly at the elves.
"Greetings, Sylph," Cale replied, "We've come to seek your allegiance. May we speak with your leader?"
"I am their leader. Our King is missing. I'm the Prince of the Sylphs," the man explained, fluttering his white butterfly wings. Violet examined him carefully. He waved at her in a friendly manner. She turned and lowered her eyes to the floor immediately.
Cale bowed before the Prince respectfully. "My apologies. Is there anything we can do for you to gain your nation's trust, Prince?"
"Well…" the Prince said, turning to his people. Suddenly they seemed suspicious and slightly fearful. He gave the elves a strange sideways look that made Violet feel nervous, as though he was glaring at her. He wasn't, of course, glaring at her in particular. Rather, he, like all the Sylphs, was having a trust-swing. Ever since the war started, their position on the map in relation to most of the fighting, and their naturally friendly nature, had made their hearts and minds fight amongst themselves. One moment they'd be trusting and friendly, the next they'd be xenophobic and mistrustful. It took only the slightest change in phrasing or tone of voice to trigger this mood swap. Finally he asked, "Why do you seek our allegiance?"
"We hope to unite the Fae against the lampades. We plan to launch a massive attack on them."
In an instant, the Prince's attitude had flipped again. "Well, I'm sure if you prove that you're really against the lampades, we'll join up with you!"
"How might we prove that?"
"There is a great cat belonging to the lampades. I believe this cat took my father, our King. I'd like you to hunt this cat."
"And what shall we bring you to prove that we've slain it?"
"Nothing. I'd like to come with you."
Violet's head snapped up instantly. Cale looked at his companions for a moment, then nodded to the Prince. "Very well," he said, "you're welcome to travel with us and hunt this… cat… with us, Prince."
"Then let us set out."
"The cat lives in that cave. It's a horrible beast."
"I'll bet," Violet muttered. After a moment she asked, "If you don't mind my asking… what's your name?"
He eyed her suspiciously before answering slowly. "Roshan…"
"Well, Prince Roshan," Cale said, "do you have a weapon?"
"Yes." Roshan conjured a poleaxe of ice out of thin air.
"Then let us attack."
The group entered the cave. Icicles hung from the ceiling. The cave, unlike the snowy world outside, was as cold as it looked. Out of nowhere, a giant white cat sprung at the group. Roshan spun around and blocked it with his poleaxe, and they both went crashing to the ground. He held the axe in both hands and shoved it away from him, throwing the cat. He jumped to his feet with a single flap of his wings. The adventurers finally were able to register what had just happened. The cat was on its feet again. It was larger than a normal tiger, with white fur. Its skin had many cracks in it, and blue light crackled and shimmered inside. Its eyes glowed with evil azure light. It had black leopard spots on its back. On its shoulders and head were black iron plates, stitched into its skin. The plate on its head extended down over its jaws into a pair of artificial saber-teeth. It roared. Cale lunged with both swords; the cat caught the blades in its jaws and held tight. Blaze ignited his own swords and lunged at the cat. The sabertooth's skin crackled with blue electricity. A bolt of lightning struck the young warlock and he crumpled to the floor. Richard started casting a fireball as Cale managed to rip his sword from the creature's mouth. It leapt up and slashed at the elf, tearing a gash in his armor but not digging too deep into the skin. Morgana blasted the creature with blue fire. Violet stabbed the creature in the back with her dagger. It spun around to dig its claws into the girl, but Roshan stepped in the way and held the creature back with his poleaxe, swiping at it and leaving a dent in the shoulderplate. The cat let out a bolt of lightning that would have struck the Prince of the Sylphs, but Richard redirected it toward himself with a spell and proceeded to take the shock without being damaged. He fired his spell at the leopard, burning its fur. It pounced on him, knocking him to the ground. The cat growled.
Cale brought both swords down into the leopard's back from above. The feline roared in fury. Lightning shot up the blades and struck the elf, who fell to the ground. Rin threw her dagger at it, striking it in the side of the neck. The cat, Cale's swords still lodged in its back, leapt at her. She whipped her sword out and braced herself. There was a sickening sound as the cat impaled itself on her sword. It let out a strangled roar and brought its fatal claws down toward the elf! A poleaxe caught the cat by the neck and flung it against the opposite wall, shoving the swords further into it. The tiger's fate was sealed; now it was just in a dying frenzy. It leapt at Morgana, jaws open. The sorceress flung it backwards with a blast of blue fire; it landed belly-up against the wall a second time. Violet grabbed one of the swords her brother had dropped and brought it down into the leopard's chest. It refused to go down without getting one last blow in, though; a mighty paw smacked the girl, sending her flying against something. The Prince and the girl both slammed into the wall of the cave, the breath knocked out of both of them. An icicle fell from the roof of the cave and tore through the Sylph's wing, close to his back. He let out a cry of pain as he began to bleed.
Blaze sat up, one hand to his head. Morgana helped him roughly to his feet. Cale lifted himself up to his hands and knees, panting. Rin was weakened from the impact of the mighty cat as it had impaled itself on her sword. Roshan was still crumpled at the wall, clutching at the base of his wing, blood seeping out from between his fingers.
"Are you alright, Prince Roshan?" Violet asked.
"I'll live. What about you, outsiders?"
"I'm fine…. Perfectly fine," Blaze mumbled, though the expression on his face made it clear that he was in excruciating pain.
"Are you alright, Love?" Cale asked, looking at Rin.
"I'm fine. You?"
"Just a little scratched up."
Violet tore a strip of cloth off the bottom of her coat. She reached forward to bandage the base of the Sylph's limp wing, but he pulled away.
"What are you doing?" he demanded harshly.
"I'm only trying to stop the bleeding…"
"Oh… Sorry…" He let her bandage the wound, wincing as she touched the torn wing. After she tied the cloth into a knot, they both stood.
Blaze elbowed his sister in the ribs. "Someone's got a crush!"
"I do not!" she snapped, blushing. She glanced at Roshan. Luckily for her, the differences between elven and Fae culture left the Prince innocently ignorant of the meaning of this argument and blissfully unaware of Vivi's obvious new feelings. Without saying anything, he motioned for the group to follow him, left wing hanging at a disturbingly unnatural angle from under his cape. He walked further into the cave. A small fairy in a cage called out for help.
"Father?" Roshan exclaimed, worried. He rushed over and shrunk down, conjuring his poleaxe again, intending to fly up to the keyhole and pick the lock with the axe. It dawned painfully on him that he was a disabled fairy; he couldn't fly, and probably wouldn't be able to again for a long time. He hung his head. Violet knelt down next to him as he flopped to the ground sadly.
"You okay?" she whispered.
"I can't fly…" he moaned, "I need to get up there but I can't… What if I can't ever fly again?" Vivi remained awkwardly silent for a moment. She then uncomfortably held out her hand for him to climb onto.
"I can lift you up there," she offered, embarrassed. The whole situation of him being able to shrink down like this to fit in the palm of her hand was awkward.
"I'd very much appreciate it," the little Sylph Prince said, looking up at the elf. He hopped onto her hand and she carefully lifted him to the keyhole. He put the poleaxe inside and easily picked the lock. The door swung open, and the King of the Sylphs jumped onto the girl's hand. She set them both down and they returned to full size. The King didn't appear much older: like elves, Fae didn't really age much appearance-wise, apart from their eyes growing tired and their hair turning grey, but Sylphs had white hair to begin with. Like his son, he was dressed in mouse-furs, but his were more elaborate. He had a crown of rose thorns around his head, and his hair was shorter than Roshan's. He was covered in bloody scratches and his wings were a horrifying sight to behold. They were completely shredded!
"Father? Your wings…!"
"I know…" the King said sadly. He'd never fly again. He looked at the elves. "Thank you for rescuing me…"
"They seek our allegiance, Father," the Prince said. He pointed to Violet as if to introduce her. "This is- … Oh…. I … don't know any of your names…."
"Oh… my name is Violet… That's my brother Blaze… That's his girlfriend Morgana-"
"She's not my girlfriend!"
"… These are my parents, Cale and Rin… And that's Uncle Richard."
"Pleased to meet you all," the Sylphs said.
"And you have our word. The Sylphs will ally with you," the King added.
The group returned to the tree where the sylphs resided, the two Fae, in their tiny forms, sitting on Violet's shoulders. Again, it was an awkward situation for the girl, but the little winged creatures didn't seem to notice. The elf lifted her hand up to let the Fae step onto it, so she could put them in the largest of the glowing cones. They hopped down onto her palm.
"Goodbye, then…" she said, with a hint of sorrow in her voice, "We'll see you again when all the Fae are ready to fight the lampades."
"Good luck! And thank you!" The King said cheerfully. The Prince remained silent.
"Where are we going next? I want to hurry and get to the fighting," Blaze mumbled.
"The Naiads. Water sprites," Cale said.
"Can I come with you?" Roshan suddenly asked.
"What? Come with us? Well… Another helping hand is always welcome, I suppose," the aging elf stated. He looked at the Fawns' map. "The shore isn't far from here. I'm sure the naiads will be wherever there's water."
As they neared the ocean, the trees changed from whimsical spiraling things to real trees. Very quickly, the setting turned from snowy mountains to tropical beach, with ferns and lush trees with dangling vines and bright yellow flowers, growing at the edge of warm sand. The ocean was brilliant blue, with vibrant coral reefs.
"Does anyone else find the weather patterns of this world slightly odd?" Cale mumbled, immediately realizing how stupid the question was.
"Odd, yes," Rin replied, pushing the slightly graying hair out of her eyes, "surprising, no."
"What do you mean?" Roshan asked, from atop Violet's shoulder.
"Well, where we come from… things are a little more gradual," Richard explained.
"Halt!" a voice said. The group turned. Three blue-skinned elf-like Fae dressed in seaweed tunics and pants, with armor of seashells and coral, stood there at the edge of the water. They were pointing long spears of driftwood and dangerously sharp shells at the group. Each azure-haired Fae had a coral crown decorated with pearls. Two were male, one was female. They were all beautiful, but the natural beauty was spoiled by the harsh, aggressive expressions on their faces.
"Are you friend or foe?" the female asked, "speak quickly or die!"
"We mean you no harm, Naiads!" Cale exclaimed, shocked by the hostility of these Fae.
The Naiads approached, still holding their spears at the ready. They circled around the newcomers and formed a triangle around them, pointing the shell-lances inward menacingly.
"State your allegiance, outsiders. Now," the larger male ordered.
"We're enemies of the lampades. We're friends of the Fawns, Igniads, and Sylphs."
The female Naiad lowered her spear a bit. "Can you prove this?"
The elves looked at each other, at a loss. Violet suddenly spoke. "I can." She set Roshan on the ground and he promptly grew to full size.
"They tell the truth, Naiads," he said, giving Violet a look that said 'I don't think this will work'.
"You have no allegiance to the lampades or the naga, then?"
"The naga? What are they?" Blaze asked.
"Don't fool with us, strange one," one of the male Fae warned.
"We don't know what the naga are!" the boy protested angrily. The Naiad jabbed him lightly with the spear. He stepped backwards. Morgana touched his shoulder lightly in fear, without thinking, for a moment, before immediately jerking her hand back and pretending nothing had happened.
"Leave my son alone," Cale growled, "if you're going to interrogate any of us, interrogate me. Don't touch my kid."
The Naiads looked at each other for a moment, then nodded, lowering their spears. Cale let out a sigh of relief. The Naiads continued to glare at them.
"What is your purpose?" the female asked, no longer aggressive but still harsh.
"We seek to unite the Fae and launch a massive attack on the lampades, to end this war," Rintasha said.
The water Fae threw back her head and let out a coldhearted laugh. "You are too late to unite us."
"There are two types of Naiad," one of the males said, "there are the nixphes, like us, and there are the naga. You must ally with one or the other, but not both. Choose wisely…"
The group remained hushed. Morgana finally broke the silence with a cautious question. "What is the allegiance of these naga?"
"The naga are allied with the lampades," the female nixphe stated, smiling, "You're clever, to learn more before choosing."
"Then we choose to seek the favor of the nixphes," Cale said.
"You've chosen wisely…" The Naiads seemed much less hostile now.
"What do you want us to do?" Richard asked, hopefully.
"We cannot fight the naga and the lampades at the same time. Aid us; attack the naga."
Cale looked at Rin nervously. He didn't want to get caught up in a civil war. Then again, anything that was allied with the lampades couldn't be of any higher moral standards.
"And where are they?" Blaze asked.
"In the sea, of course."
"We can't breathe underwater…"
"What nonsense is this? Are you out of your minds?" one of the Naiads asked, shocked.
"What do you mean, you can't breathe under water?" the Sylph Prince asked, blinking in an innocent and confused manner. His question threw the rest of the group into confusion. "I thought everything could breathe water."
"Maybe the water here is different…" Morgana said. "I'm Fae-blooded… Maybe I can breathe underwater here…" She started walking toward the sea.
"No!" Blaze suddenly blurted out. "I-I should go…" He blushed as he realized he had no excuse. "Uh… I mean… Uh…"
There was only silence from the group.
"Alright…" Morgana said, reluctantly. Blaze's parents looked at each other, concerned.
"Be careful…" Rin said. Blaze gulped as he looked at the water. If this didn't work… he could drown…
He waded out into the ocean, then went under the waves. He forced himself to let out the last of his breath. After a moment everything that was instinctive screamed at him to go to the surface, to get to air. He couldn't let himself give in! At first, he couldn't bring himself to breathe in the water, but as his body began to panic for need of breath, he forced himself to inhale the water. His eyes widened as the sensation of drowning ran through him.
"He's been down there a while," Rin said, "I'm worried about him…"
"He's only been underwater for a few moments, he could still be holding his breath and gathering courage for all we know," Cale assured her, patting her shoulder.
"I hope he's okay," Morgana whispered, for once showing that she really did care about him, deep down.
Blaze looked around him in shock. The feeling of drowning had lasted only a moment, as the water entered his lungs, but then it had felt natural. Strange and slightly uncomfortable, but not alarming. He took another breath of warm seawater. He realized that for the others, this amount of time must have felt like a century. He surfaced, smiling. He waved at his family and friends, who all sighed and grinned in relief. They, too, entered the ocean.
"This is amazing!" Morgana exclaimed. "I can't believe I was actually worried abou- err… about being able to breathe. Yeah."
"Nice save there, sorceress," Violet said with a wink, "it almost sounded like you were gonna say you were worried about Blaze!" Morgana gritted her teeth and glared at the vampire hunter, who'd put a particularly taunting emphasis on the boy's name. An especially strong wave caused the blonde teen's hat to drift away and at the same moment, it let her shining hair float elegantly around her. Roshan smiled innocently, as though looking at a particularly colorful butterfly, rather than at a beautiful girl.
"Your hair is pretty," he stated, not realizing that she'd take it to mean much more than he'd intended. She blushed and looked away. The Sylph tilted his head at this odd reaction but thought nothing of it. The girl swam after and grabbed her hat.
"Come on," she said, "we need to find these naga and deal with them if we can. Allies of our enemies are our enemies as well."
"Trying to change the subject, huh Violet?" Blaze taunted, "Don't want him to know how much you like him?"
"I'm not in love with him," she insisted, blushing. She continued to swim farther into the sea.
The Prince followed her unquestioningly. He didn't really understand why she always acted so strange around him. He wasn't aware of the differences between his culture and hers: whereas in her world, love was often hidden, the Fae didn't even think of the concept of denial. They simply stated their feelings and that was that, since rejection was likely to be very soft and often accompanied by a 'we can be friends though!' As the Fae didn't hide their emotions, Roshan was oblivious to Violet's repressed romantic feelings. The truth was, he was starting to have his own, Fae-ish version of these feelings – minor, childish, innocent – but they were so slight that he didn't even notice them. Further, even if he had, he wouldn't have thought they were important enough to mention; Vivi had already said that she didn't like him and he'd accepted that fact instantly. Roshan was a very odd character, in this manner. Whereas with complete strangers he would be paranoid on-and-off, with those who'd ascended to the level of 'friend', he would accept whatever they said as truth. He'd had no reason to think that they might lie.
The group swam down into a sparkling coral reef, where a huge city became obvious. It was not fashioned entirely through usual artificial means. Rather, it had been sculpted from coral through magic, by ordering the polyps to build their reef into the shapes of buildings. However, some of the buildings were old, sunken temples, covered in seaweed and barnacles. Unlike traditional fairytale merpeople homes, the doors to the buildings were not at the bottom (mimicking human architecture), but randomly placed in the buildings, distinguished from windows only by size; windows were too small to fit through. Where land-creatures would have dogs or cats in their vegetable gardens, the Naiads kept colorful collections of coral, and in them would live their pet dolphins, manta rays, fish, and sea turtles. Cale couldn't help but smile as a young Naiad girl, probably not of her tenth year yet, swam by, giggling, with a tuna tied to a rope of seaweed in a fashion reminiscent of a young human or elf taking a dog for a walk. The nixphe child had a long, elegant, scaly blue tail with luxurious, silky fins at the end, instead of legs like the Naiads the group had seen patrolling the shore.
"She has a tail," Rin commented. They looked around.
"They all have tails," Richard said.
"Didn't you know?" Roshan asked. "Naiads can turn their legs into tails. Or is it they turn their tails into legs…?" He put his finger to his lips and looked up with an adorably perplexed expression on his face.
The group swam toward the center of town. Many nixphes who were going about their daily business stopped and gave the strange, legged creatures an odd look. They weren't used to seeing things with legs this far from the surface; even though everything could breathe in the ocean of the Fae world, most things chose to stay on land because swimming was still awkward for their land-based forms.
Cale cleared his throat. "Uh… excuse me… we're trying to find where the naga are-" There was a generally negative murmur from the nixphes, who all glared mistrustingly at the elf. "So we can help you fight them…" The attitude of the Fae flipped.
"They're that way," a male Naiad said, pointing into the distance. "Once you see the statue of the serpent, you've found them…"
"Well… here it is…" Cale said.
"Finally. A fight!" Richard exclaimed, "Let me at the naga! I've been waiting to burn something for so long and it's so hard to behave myself!"
"There!" Rin said, pointing. A creature that looked like the nixphes was swimming through the water. It was not blue, but deep purple-indigo with mottled grey splotches. The scaly black tail was more like that of an eel than a snake, it was fat and round and slimy with simple fin-ridges. The naga was a female, with matted black, oily hair. Instead of a dress of seaweed, she wore only a top made of strange, withered black plants. The group looked around and suddenly became aware that these black plants grew in the area around them. There were no brilliant corals here, only grey sand, corrupted seaweed, and jagged black rocks. The water itself was not the tropical blue they had seen earlier, but darker, greyer. The fish here were not vibrant, but sickly and grey.
Roshan had gone into paranoia mode. He was not light-hearted and smiling as he usually was. He glanced about suspiciously, glaring at nothing in particular, a small frown on his lips. It was amazing how he could so easily switch his general aura from cute and childish to dark and battle ready. He conjured his poleaxe, just in case. It was not a moment too soon. From out of nowhere, a dark figure with a tail tackled the Sylph Prince to the bottom of the sea. They impacted with a cloud of sand and blood. Roshan was baring his teeth and holding the naga back on his poleaxe. He'd impaled it through the shoulder. It was pouring dark crimson blood into the water, and Roshan's arm was seeping lighter red blood. The naga flailed about, slashing at him with her claws, but she was too far away to hit him. Still, the Fae was pinned to the ground. Violet flew at the naga from the side, slamming her dagger into it with one hand, holding onto her hat with the other. It screamed and ripped itself off the poleaxe and threw itself at the girl. Cale came at it with both swords, but it was too fast. It spun around like a viper, pausing for a moment to hiss at the elf, revealing sharp snakelike fangs, as it wrapped its tail around his legs.
"Gyah!" Cale cried out.
"Dad!" Blaze yelled, his hands igniting even underwater. "Whoa!"
Richard beat him to it. The naga burst into flames. "Gotta be quicker than that, kid. You've got a lot to learn, young warlock…"
Morgana gasped. "We've got a lot to worry about…" More naga were swimming in circles nearby, drawn by the scent of the Sylph's blood and the blood of their own kind. There were males and females, and all of them were ugly and eel-like.
"For Pony!" Richard roared, setting a great many of them ablaze.
Cale launched himself off the sandy floor at some of the naga, both blades flashing. He slashed violently at them. "I just went back twenty years!" he yelled to Rin. She was stabbing and slashing as energetically as he was, cutting into a great many opponents. A male naga yelled something in a harsh language none of them understood.
Violet's dagger was doing her little good; she was fighting mostly with her fists and feet, kicking and punching. Still, she wouldn't be faring very well if it weren't for the pale fairy Prince at her side, who, despite his large blue eyes and white butterfly wings, managed to somehow look awesome as he performed agile and complicated attacks and blocks with his icy poleaxe. One of the naga attempted to attack Vivi from behind, and promptly was beheaded by a swing of the axe. The cute fairy was angry, and he looked it! Baring his teeth and glaring around, he let out a battle cry as he stabbed, slashed, and smacked his way through the naga. For a happy-go-lucky sprite, he was alarmingly skilled with his weapon of choice.
Blaze and Morgana fought back to back, the boy's swords ablaze as he slashed at anything that approached them, the girl's hands glowing with purple light. They made a very good team. Several explosions originated in their part of the battlefield, as well as from Richard's. Between the three of them, they set the ocean itself ablaze. The water they fought in was no longer murky grey, it was now lit up orange and red with firelight.
"Kelpies incoming!" the elder warlock yelled. "This brings me back a couple decades…"
"It's about time I got to see what those looked like!" Cale exclaimed, stabbing two naga at once.
The kelpie riders arrived. They had been what the naga man had been calling for. He'd literally called in their equivalent of the cavalry. These naga kelpie-riders kept their legs so they could ride the hideous merhorses. Each of them brandished a cutlass of black stone. A cry pierced the water as fangs ripped a small chunk of Violet's arm open – but luckily, not off – spewing blood into the sea. The kelpie responsible met a quick end at the tip of a poleaxe.
"No one hurts my friends!" The Sylph yelled, kicking the naga off of its dying mount. He swung the poleaxe down, splitting the creature's chest. As more naga tried to attack the injured girl, the lone Prince kicked, stabbed, and slashed violently, shouting threats and curses.
"I had no idea fairies could even come anywhere close to kickass, but I think he comes as close as anything with butterfly wings could ever come," Morgana commented to Blaze, as she waved her hand in a full sweep from one side to the other, shooting purple missiles the entire length of the sweep, effectively creating a whip-like action composed of magical blades. Blaze froze the water in front of his opponents, causing them to crash into walls of ice; he flung balls of fire and shadow, he stabbed with flaming swords. The naga had no idea how to deal with the two warlocks and their fiery abilities. Even here, fire didn't usually burn under water.
"Blaze, put a wall of ice around me and Violet! I need to stop the bleeding!" Roshan yelled.
"Watch my back Morgana!"
"Sure thing, Blaze!" The girl protected her friend as he built a dome of ice over his sister and the fairy Prince, protecting the two from outside attacks. After he'd done that, he returned to fighting.
Roshan ripped the piece of cloth Vivi had tied around his wing off and knelt by the vampire slayer, who was lying on the seabed. He tied the already-bloodstained cloth around Violet's arm. She was limp and weak from blood loss. "I'm sorry, Violet, I don't have anything cleaner at the moment!" He held his poleaxe at the ready, knowing that at any moment the ice dome would be shattered. He looked up when he noticed a shadow on the top of the dome. Cale was standing on the top of it and fighting back to back with his wife.
"Richard!" the elf yelled, parrying a cutlass blow with his swords, "I never thought I'd say this to you, but you need to kick it up a notch! More fire!"
"Coming right up, Cale!" The warlock said, raising his hands into the air. With a loud 'shoooom!' he himself burst into flames. "Blaze! Shield everyone with ice!" His nephew did as he was told, putting a bubble of ice around his parents, and another around himself and Morgana – 'accidentally' making it small enough that he had to touch her and pretending to be a bit disgusted by it. The young warlock awaited a fiery explosion and was not disappointed. The fire that had been swirling around Richard suddenly expanded, burning all the naga and the kelpies and melting the ice shields but not harming the people inside.
"Well done, Richard," Cale commented. He looked down from where he was floating and noticed the Sylph kneeling by the girl. He swam down. "Violet! Are you alright?"
"A kelpie bit her arm," Roshan explained. The girl whimpered. Blaze swam over, for once showing concern for his sister.
"Vivi…? Mom, Dad, is she okay?"
"We need to get her to a healer, quickly. Prince Roshan, what types of Fae can heal?" Cale asked.
"Naiads can, and Fawns."
"Then let's get her back to the nixphe city."
Roshan picked the girl up in his arms and used his wings and legs to swim, though moving his injured wing was incredibly painful. He smiled through the pain. If I can swim with it, still, then… maybe I will be able to fly again, after all… he thought, a flicker of hope in his heart.
The nixphes welcomed the adventurers back into their city.
"We've defeated a great many of the naga. They should be no more than a minor nuisance now," Rin said. She looked at her injured daughter. "My daughter needs to be healed, desperately, and if any of you could help…"
One of the Naiads swam forward. "I can help," she said, in a soothing voice. She gently untied the cloth bandage and put her hands on the girl's wound. Violet whimpered and winced as the nixphe's hands began to glow. When the sea Fae lifted her hands, the wound was gone. "She's still weak from blood loss, though. Rest a while either here or on the shore; whichever you land dwellers prefer."
"Thank you, Naiad," Cale said, with a bow.
"Thank you for aiding us," the water nymph said. She turned to her people. "Do these land dwellers have our allegiance?" she asked of them. They murmured and nodded amongst themselves, before giving a unanimous "yes".
Richard, Rin, and Cale sat around the campfire as the sun finished setting, leaving the sky purple. Violet had been sleeping ever since they'd made camp, regaining her strength. Roshan was in his tiny form again, sleeping peacefully on her shoulder. Blaze and Morgana were a little way down the coast, fighting, just for the heck of it. The young warlock kicked at his companion's shins, but she dodged and – unexpectedly – caught him in a grapple-hold. Both of them froze, weakening for a moment, unnerved by being so close to each other; they had no problems touching one another with their fists, but when their bodies were this close, they both suddenly became nervous, perhaps even a touch shy. They made eye contact for a moment and Morgana willingly released Blaze from the grapple, mostly because of how uncomfortable she had felt. Yet, somehow, they both had almost enjoyed having each other close. But they much preferred beating one another.
Cale, with his arm around his beloved Rin, was about to doze off, when two piercing cries shattered the night. One was a scream, the other was a yell. He knew the male voice and it made his blood run cold.
A fireball lit up the night. The young warlock's parents rushed along the coast to reach their son, but he was doing quite well on his own. A lampade, unlike the one they'd seen before – this one had a scaly tail and the remains of a coral crown on his head – had crawled out of the ocean and was being held at bay by a boy with fiery swords. On the ground behind him was a girl in a dark dress. She scrambled to get to her feet.
"Leave 'er alone, ya big eel!" Blaze yelled, slashing at the creature with his swords again. He knew all too well that neither fire nor blade could harm the lampade, but his defense need not actually protect him for long; he was merely trying to save Morgana by distracting the monster, not actually attempting to kill it. "Mom, Dad, get Violet! Get Violet!"
Cale and Rin looked at one another, eyes wide. They could do nothing to help their son; only their daughter could help, but she was injured. Cale took a deep breath, spun around and ran as fast as he could back to the camp. "Violet! Violet! We need you, hurry, hurry!" he yelled.
Roshan's eyes snapped open. He heard the elf calling for help and sat up on the girl's shoulder. He started tugging lightly at her hair and pushing at her head, trying to wake her. "Violet! Violet wake up!"
"Ugh… huh…?" the girl said, her eyes fluttering slowly open.
"Violet!" Cale yelled, coming to a stop. "Come on! Get up, we need you now! You're the only one of us who can help your brother!"
"No buts, his life is in danger!"
Vivi's eyes snapped all the way open. She jumped to her feet, causing Roshan to fall. He managed to fly, barely, and landed on the ground, where he grew to full size in an instant and ran to catch up with the elves who were already tearing along the shore.
"Morgana, run!" Blaze shouted, blocking the lampade's attack with his swords, nearly falling over backwards.
"I'm not going to leave you here!" the sorceress said, defiantly.
"Run! Run, for the gods' sake, run away from here! Run, curse you, run!"
Blaze fell to the ground, barely able to hold the monster back with his swords. It clawed at him with its taloned hands, snarling. He held it up off his chest with the still flaming blades, desperately trying to avoid eye contact with it. Morgana blasted it with purple energy, sending it flying to the edge of the water. It slithered with incredible speed at the girl. The warlock once again blocked its path. Suddenly a second fireball hit the ground near the vampiric Naiad.
"Uncle Richard!" Blaze yelled, never having been so happy to see the undead before.
"You're not fighting this battle alone, kid." The lampade threw itself at Richard. He blocked it with a wall of ice. He chained it with shackles of ice, avoiding eye contact at all costs. He knew, if it latched onto his magic and started draining it out of him, he'd be done for.
"There, there they are!" Cale panted. Violet was using all of her strength to run, Roshan just behind her.
Suddenly the lampade broke the ice shackles. Richard gave a brief gasp, and then it was upon him. The lightning magic started flowing between their eyes as the warlock weakened. Richard twitched about violently, trying in vain to get it off. He felt the dark magic that gave him unlife being drained right out of him by the magic-hungry vampire. For the first time in many, many years… Richard felt despair and panic.
The warlock suddenly felt most of his energy snap back into him. Blood dripped down onto his face as the lampade collapsed. He pushed it off and sat up, rubbing his head. There was a stab wound in the back of its skull. Richard turned. There stood Violet, a bloody silver dagger in her hand. Still weak, she sighed and fell backwards. Roshan caught her, but wasn't really sure what to do with her, so put her lightly on the ground, blinking rather blankly as he did so.
"Uh…." Blaze began. It had all happened so fast he wasn't sure who to thank. "Thanks, everyone…"
Morgana saw the intervention of the others as an excuse to not thank Blaze in particular, though she secretly had been impressed by his bravery and willingness to protect her. "Thank you…" she said, to nobody in particular. She glanced at the black-haired warlock, but thankfully, he wasn't looking at her.
The following day, as they traveled to their last destination – the nation of Astarians – Cale thought about the previous night's events.
"That lampade looked quite a bit like a Naiad."
Violet nodded. "That would make sense. They are, after all, vampires – that is, undead. So of course they'd be made from other Fae. I never thought of that before, but it makes sense."
"It sure is pretty here," Rin commented, looking around at the purple, blue, and white crystalline trees whose roots were real wood that somehow turned into gemstone toward the top. Flowers made of various colorful gems bloomed on natural stalks. The grass was plant, not stone, but it was blue toward the base and purple toward the tips.
"Finally, I fit in," said a voice. They all looked up. Perched in one of the amethyst trees was a sapphire owl.
"About time you came back!" Cale said, "Where were you!"
"I wish I could answer that myself. I was lost."
Cale simply put the palm of his hand to his face. The owl flew down and landed on his shoulder.
"Come on," Richard said, "I want to burn things."
The group laughed a bit as they continued on.
"Whoa!" Blaze said, jaw dropping in awe as he came out into a clearing.
"What is i- Whoa…" Morgana said. The rest of the group came up behind them, all reacting to the brilliant sight, though the older adventurers were not as impressed.
Before them was a brilliant castle with tall spires. The whole thing was made of amethyst, solid amethyst, and it floated a few yards above the ground, with a ramp of wood, like a drawbridge, coming down from the door and into the purple and blue grasses below. The entire thing sparkled brilliantly, just like the forest, accented by the navy blue and gold banners that hung from each tower's walls, with their silver stars overlapping silver downward-pointed swords.
"Welcome to Astarian country…" Cale whispered.
"The Astarians are the highest ranking Fae… Now I see why," Roshan said in a hushed, awed whisper.
"How should we approach them?" Rin asked.
"I don't know…"
"No need," a gentle female voice said from behind them. A lovely elf – or so she appeared at first glance – in luxurious purple silk robes with golden trim and topaz gems decorating them landed next to the adventurers. She had purple semi-corporeal feathered wings. Only where light would have highlighted real birds' wings was there any sign of any sort of feathery structure; where there would have been shadow there was only open air. Her eyes had no pupils; they were simply orbs of deep blue resembling top-quality star sapphires. Her hair was indigo with what almost appeared to be stars glittering within it, making her long, wavy locks resemble the night sky. There was an aura of calm around her when she smiled at the newcomers. "Welcome. You're here to seek our allegiance."
"How did you know?" Cale asked.
The Astarian woman simply smiled as her magical wings faded. "Come in," she offered, gracefully raising one hand, palm up, toward the castle of amethyst. The adventurers nodded at her and followed the woman. She seemed to glide more than walk. She led them up into the castle, which was startlingly empty.
"The others are merely elsewhere," she stated, as if she knew what they would ask. They were too busy staring around in awe. The amethyst walls extended so far up that the torchlight from the lower part of the circular room's wall didn't reach up to the top, which was shrouded in shadow. A pair of spiraling staircases jutted out of the wall, rising up and up into the darkness. Blaze started going over to one.
"No, you'll not be going up there, young one," the Astarian said, not even looking at him, "I have other tasks for you to prove your worth."
Cale looked around. Besides the staircases of purple gemstone, there were doors of plain stone. The walls – where they weren't covered by torches or banners like those on the outside of the castle – and the doors had strange, glowing runes carved into them. Each of the five doors had differently colored markings, as did the runes in the six-sided star that was engraved in the floor and painted gold. Each point of the star led toward a door, with the rune on the tip matching the runes on the doors: the first red, another green, the third black, one blue, and the last white.
"What sort of tasks?" Rin asked. The owl sitting on her shoulder tilted his sapphire head.
"The Astarians are not to be won by fetching treasures, slaying monsters, or fighting rival factions… No…" the indigo-haired woman said, "We have… the Trials of the Ancients."
"The Trials of the Ancients?" Rin asked.
"A series of tests… Five tests… Of the mind, the magic, and the material. Do you wish to proceed or turn back now?"
"We have yet to turn our backs on a challenge, and we've been at it for over twenty years," Cale said.
"We only spent two of those years adventuring, honey. The rest were spent raising the kids."
"I think that counts as an adventure in and of itself," Richard said.
"Anyway," Cale said, "the point here is: we accept the challenge."
"Very well," the Astarian said, "your first challenge is fire."
Blaze grinned at Richard. They did some sort of elaborate secret handshake that ended in a high-five and said "Alright, let's do this!"
The red-runed door opened with a menacing hiss. The group entered cautiously. This room was, unlike the main room, made of grey marble. Like the first room, the ceiling of this supposedly tall room was shrouded in darkness. In addition to being lit by torches, glowing runes on the wall and a crimson glowing band carved all the way around the room at shoulder's height provided more light. There were four round pillars in the circular room, one at each cardinal direction. These, too, were carved with glowing red runes, and they also had bands carved into them. From these bands, dim flames flickered. The center of the room had a sunken circle, in the center of which was a large stone table with seven flames burning in little dishes around the edge. In the center of the table was a pile of jewelry, coins, and precious stones. Across from where the group had entered there was a stone door with seven colored rings, one for each color of the rainbow, and white.
"Uh…" Blaze mumbled, realizing it wasn't just a test to see how much they could burn. He scratched his head.
"Take all the time you need," the Astarian said, and then the stone door slammed shut behind them. Cale yelled and pounded on the door, then tried to force it open, with no luck.
"We're stuck here…" he whispered, "obviously we have to solve this puzzle or die… but what's the puzzle? Clearly we're supposed to do something, but there's no riddle, no hints, just a pile of objects and a bunch of flames…"
Rin picked through the heap of coins, rings, and necklaces. "Seven gems," she said, holding in her hand exactly seven cut gems, each perfectly round and the same size as the sockets in the second door. They matched the colors of the door.
Richard scratched his head. "We can't just put them in the sockets they appear to match… That wouldn't be a trial of fire. And the task can't be to just find them in the pile. Obviously these things are provided for some reason."
"Look," Morgana suddenly pointed out, "all of the things in the pile are vividly colored and I don't see hardly any in-between colors. No burgundy, no teal, no gold, and almost nothing at all that is black, brown, or grey. Maybe if we sort them by color – into the same colors as the seven gems – we can figure out what we're supposed to do."
"Good thing we're not colorblind," Blaze said.
The group began sorting the objects. After a few minutes, Rin, who'd decided to focus on sorting green objects, said "Funny, all the copper coins are oxidized… they're all at least partially green…"
"And all the iron is rusted," Richard said.
"They're all probably just neglected…" Cale replied.
"No," the owl-wyvern on his shoulder suddenly stated, "I believe there is some significance to that. The little bits of other metal in the rings and necklaces are all shiny and new…"
"Speaking of green copper," Violet said, idly, unaware of the significance of what she was about to say, "did you know that if you put oxidized copper in fire, the flame turns green?"
"That's it!" Cale exclaimed, "You are brilliant! We're supposed to change the color of the flames!"
"Gods know she didn't get her brains from your side of the family," Richard muttered.
Violet picked up one of the greenish coins and placed it into one of the seven flames. Roshan picked up the emerald that Rin had set aside earlier. He walked over to the door with the sockets.
"Each of the sockets has a colored flame design around it. I think we're supposed to put the gem the color of the object into its respective flame. Like if a white object turns the fire blue, we put the white gem in the purple socket."
There was a general nod and murmur of agreement in the group. The Fae Prince delicately placed the emerald in the green socket. Immediately the green flame design started to glow. The Sylph smiled.
Richard promptly ignited his entire pile of red objects. Part of the flame glowed white. "Red gem in the white socket," he called, picking up the object under the white part of the inferno and placing it on one of the flames of the table.
Blaze followed suit and ignited most of his heap of blue objects, noticing that in one place the flame turned lemon yellow. He put out the fire and picked up the blue gemstone ring and put that in a flame. "Blue gem in the yellow socket."
And so it went on, until every flame on the table was colored and every gem was in its glowing socket. Cale pushed on the door with all his might; Rin joined him and together they pushed the door open. A strange hissing noise came from within the newly opened room, along with the clanking of chains. The group looked inside the small room. It was similar in design to the one they were in, but without pillars. The band in the wall of this room had flames within it. Chained to the center of the room was a fiery phoenix-hippogryph. It had a horse's body, the head of a falcon, flaming bat wings, and a scaly tail. Its hooves and tailtip were like torches. Its eyes blazed. The phoegryph reared up, straining against the shackles, opening its beak and letting out fire. It dropped to all fours, hissed, and reared again. This time the shackles broke. Cale rushed forward, swords ready. The creature brought its massive hooves down on the elf; he crashed to the floor with the sickening sounds of bones crunching. He lay nearly still, coughing up blood. Rintasha screamed in rage and threw herself at the creature. It let out a blast of fiery breath. Richard blocked the attack with a wall of ice.
"Dad!" Blaze yelled. He ran forward. The phoegryph snapped its huge beak at him. The young warlock coated his swords in ice and stabbed at the creature, forcing it to step back. Cale coughed more blood up, weakly, as the creature backed away. The jaws opened and another blast of fire released itself from within. Morgana tackled Blaze out of the way, and they both leapt to their feet. Violet's dagger found itself embedded in the flank of the monster. With a hiss, the phoegryph bucked and kicked with its powerful hind hooves. Vivi was flung across the room, into the wall. She slumped to the ground, out cold. Blaze used this attack as a distraction while he darted forward and dragged his bleeding, crushed father out of harm's way. But it was too late, the damage was done. The elf coughed and more blood came out of his mouth. He was struggling to breathe.
"Dad!" Blaze whimpered, "Don't die! You can't die! You're Cale'anon Vatay; you can't die!"
At nearly the same moment, as Violet fell to the ground, Roshan went into berserker mode. With a furious cry, he raised the icy poleaxe and charged at the phoegryph. Still screaming his battle-roar, he jumped up with a flap of his wings and slammed the end of his axe down into the creature's back. He landed on its flank, the spike at the end of his weapon dug deep into the animal. The flaming wings of the creature beat furiously at him, finally ripping the spike out of its back and throwing the fairy Prince to the ground. He sat up and rubbed his head, dizzy.
"Blaze, look out!" Rin screamed. The boy, still kneeling over his dying father, turned and froze, his eyes wide. His life flashed before his eyes as the mighty hooves began their descent toward his skull. A flash of purple. The creature was on its side, screaming and frantically beating its unbroken wing. A bolt of ice and magic struck the creature to the ground again as it attempted to rise. Morgana and Richard continued casting spells. Richard called down a rain of ice that kept the beast from standing as Morgana attempted a binding spell. Magical shackles held it to the ground as Rin let out a cry that was a mixture of a roar and a sob. Tears flew from her face as she charged at the phoegryph, sword above her head. She plunged it deep into the monster's chest, sobbing uncontrollably. The flaming creature let out a last cry. Rin left the sword in its chest and ran over to Cale, who was now covered in his own blood. He wheezed weakly and his eyelids began to droop. Rin put her arms around him, sobbing.
Roshan lightly shook Violet's shoulder. "Violet…?" he whispered, the cold fear that she, too, might be dead settling on his heart like snow over a fallen traveler.
Cale suddenly coughed several times and gasped. His breath then escaped his lips in a death-rattle. Rintasha threw back her head and let out an anguished cry. Blaze started sobbing, and tears began to roll down his cheeks. Morgana knelt by his side, also crying. She put her arms around him and cried on his shoulder. He held her tightly, as his tears fell into her hair.
"No," Rin wailed, "not again! Not again, Cale! I can't lose you again!" She held her limp, dead husband to her chest, crying piteously. Violet slowly opened her eyes and moaned. The first thing she saw was Roshan, looking very, very sad.
"What's wrong…?" she mumbled. The Sylph didn't dare make eye contact with her.
"Your father…." he began. He looked over at the dead elf and trailed off.
"No…" Violet whispered, eyes wide, "Dad…?" She stood and walked over, whimpering softly. She sniffled and began to cry. "Daddy…!"
Roshan hugged her, tears welling up in his eyes as well.
"Leave him to me," a gentle voice said. The Astarian stood there, in the doorway.
"No!" Rin sobbed, her voice broken. She held the fallen Cale'anon in her arms. The starry-haired woman glided over and knelt down. "Shh…" she whispered, wiping the tears from the dragonslayer's cheeks. Rin stopped crying and looked up at the gentle face, with pure agony in her eyes. The Astarian gently took Cale up in her arms and turned. She glided out of the room slowly, carrying the dead elf in her arms. Rin simply slumped and sat there, her will to continue completely drained. Her children hugged her and cried silently. Even Richard twitched a bit, as though moved by the tragedy unfolding before him. He stood there like a tragic fallen angel, a sentinel watching over the shattered elves, his arms folded over his chest, his eyebrows raised slightly in what almost appeared to be an expression of pity and sympathy.
The Astarian glided slowly up the spiraling staircase. Finally she came to the door she was looking for. It opened for her as she carried Cale inside the room. She lay him down on a stone table with flowers around the edge. The stained glass window behind it let light filter in. The woman lit the candles around the table and pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket; she slowly wiped the blood off of the fallen elf's face until he looked peaceful in death.
"Come on," Richard said, for once sounding serious and almost sad, "we have to continue…"
"Go without me," Rin said, "I can't go on like this…"
Nobody in the group besides Richard seemed to have the strength to go on. Nobody, that was, until Roshan spoke, his voice full of sorrow. "The warlock's right… Even if we've been drained of our will… We've got to go on… Two worlds depend on us. It would be selfish to just stop here… Besides… From what I got to know of Cale," he pointed out, "he would have wanted us to go on…"
Violet sniffled. "He's right, Mom… Dad wouldn't have wanted us to just shut down…"
Rin stood, looking tragic and determined. "Yes… Cale wouldn't have wanted that… We need to continue… For him…"
A new Astarian was there to guide them; the female was missing. In her place was an equally mysterious male. His hair was long and it also glittered with stars, his somewhat fluffy, sleek bangs nearly shrouding his deep, dark eyes. He was dressed in the robes of a wizard. He nodded at the group as they approached and looked at them apologetically with his sapphire eyes.
"I am sorry for what happened," he stated, softly.
"How did you know…?" Rin mumbled, not making eye contact with him. He did not answer. Instead, he merely told them that their next task was to overcome the challenges of water. The group sullenly accepted the challenge, dragging themselves on through their grief. The mysterious Astarian led them to the next room, through the door with blue runes. The room's design was similar to the fire room's, but with a blue theme instead of red, and the pillars, instead of having flames bursting forth from the carved bands, were actually fountains. At the base of each was a sunken area with a pool of water. In the center of the room was another sunken circle, deeper than the one in the fire room. It was partially full of water. In the center of this sunken circle there was a platform that stuck up above the surface. A marble hippocampus sat upon it, appearing at first to be a statue, but as the adventurers came into the room, it moved to look at them. Next to the little pool around it, there were two vases, one larger than the other.
"This one requires a bit of an explanation," the Astarian man said, "you need to put four more units – I'll not tell you what units they are – of water in this pool. If you put too much in, it will flow into the drainage holes that I've concealed with magic. You'll not be able to find the holes with your hands or your eyes. If water enters these holes though, you'll anger the oozes within. If you put too little in, you'll not be allowed to add more; this hippocampus will prevent you from adding more. You'll die here.
These two vases can hold three and five units of water. Measure out four units, and the spell I've put on the pool will activate and open the door. Good luck…" And with that, he turned and left. The door shut behind him. Rin stared at the vases for a long time, a tired and sorrowful look on her face. She forced herself to ignore her broken heart and focus on the problem at hand.
"Five," she said, solemnly, "pour three into the three unit container… we have two… Then what?"
"Do it again?" Blaze suggested, gloomily.
"No," Morgana stated, "we only have two containers… We need to use both to measure out two..."
"Dump the bucket of three units out, and work from there," Richard said. He was the only one who didn't sound depressed. Even happy-go-lucky Roshan was down in the dumps. He was in his tiny form again, sulking on Violet's shoulder, his wings drooping.
"Pour the two units from the five unit vase into the three unit vase," he directed, miserably, "then fill the five unit vase…"
Violet leaned against the wall and sighed moodily, "What are you getting at, Roshan…?"
"If the three unit vase has two units in it, it can only hold one more. Pour one unit from the five unit vase into the three unit vase and you have four units left."
"Clever little fairy…" mumbled Rin. She picked up the vases and used the fountain pillars and their drainage basins to perform their little plan and halfheartedly poured four units of water into the hippocampus' pool. The door creaked open, but there were no cheers. The entire group was very solemn as they continued to the second part of the challenge.
With heavy hearts, the adventurers prepared to enter and face whatever creature lay within. Rin suddenly drew her sword and held it up. "For Cale! He will be avenged!" After a moment she lowered her sword, a dark expression on her face. She entered the next chamber with an aura of authority. It followed the design pattern of the previous rooms, but was much larger with a deep pool of water. For a moment, Morgana considered pushing Blaze into it, but her heart was not in it. The tragedy that had befallen them earlier had dampened their souls with grief.
Suddenly a massive, smooth, black head erupted from the water on a long neck. The creature resembled a black, scaleless snake, with red horns atop its head, long fangs, and a crimson saw-edge ridge down its back.
"Lindorm…" Rintasha muttered, her head lowered. Suddenly her head snapped up, her eyes blazing. She wanted revenge and at this point she didn't care who or what she unleashed her rage upon. Instead of thinking logically and firing arrows at the beast from afar, she flung herself at it with no regards for her own safety; she felt the need to just kill something in Cale's name. She screamed as she dug her sword into it and hung on as the lindorm writhed about. A massive black tail with red fins rose from the water and struck the elf, throwing her toward the wall. The monster unwittingly saved her from death by collision when it snagged her cape with its bony, clawed, webbed hands. The great serpent coiled its tail around Rin and began to squeeze her. She screamed in pain as the constrictor tightened its grip.
"Uncle Richard, help me make a fire storm!" Blaze yelled as he began channeling a spell.
"Sure thing, kid," the warlock growled as he aided his nephew. A fiery tornado took shape before them and flew at the lindorm. The monster released Rintasha and dove into its pool. The elf gasped for air and swam toward the edge of the pool.
"Mom, are you alright?" Violet yelled.
"I'm fine, nothing's broken!"
"Look out!" Morgana cried out as the demonic snake lifted its head out of the water and opened its fanged jaws, preparing to strike the woman. A flurry of incorporeal purple throwing-stars flew past it, several of them embedding themselves in its back before dissipating. The lindorm swung around and tried to bite the girl, but found a flaming sword lodged in its jaws. It roared and threw itself backwards against the wall of the pond in pain, nearly slamming into Rin as she crawled out of the pool. It sunk into the water. Ice crystals swirled around Blaze, whipping his father's signature cape around, as the boy cast an ice spell; ice erupted from the center of the pool and spread out in an instant, freezing the entire thing – lindorm included – solid. With a defiant shout, the boy leapt onto the frozen pond, ignited one of his swords, and slammed it down into the ice with both hands. The ice cracked and split into many pieces, the demonic serpent splitting with it. Blaze ripped his sword out of the ice and stepped off, panting, his eyes shrouded under the shadow of his hair. He did not look at anyone or say anything as he calmly sheathed his sword.
"Very good," the male Astarian said. Somehow he'd appeared behind them. "Are you ready to face the challenges of air?"
"Yes," Rin said, evenly. Her fit of rage had passed, leaving her only with calm, reflective sorrow. The others seemed to share this feeling. The starry-haired Fae led them to the next room. He left them without any explanation or hints besides "watch where you step".
The room was round, and judging by the curvature of the wall, much larger than the others. There were runes etched into the walls, and a band about shoulder height. They glowed only faintly, very dimly illuminating the fog in the otherwise dark, stone room. Rin pulled an arrow out of her quiver and took her old flask of pitch off her belt. She dipped the feathers in it and handed it to her son.
"Ignite this." The boy did as he was told, and held the torch out in front of him.
"Well…" Violet said, "what are we going to do? Any part of the floor could be a trap… He said to watch where we step." She took the tiny Roshan off her shoulder and looked at him expectantly. "Well, you're the Prince of the Sylphs. You're an air spirit, aren't you?"
The little Sylph Prince blushed faintly and looked guilty. "I… I don't know what to do… I'm sorry…"
Vivi sighed. "It's alright, Roshan."
There was a long silence, until Morgana spoke. "Blaze," she said suddenly.
"Your cape… Look at your cape. It's moving, like it's being blown by the wind or something." The warlock looked down. Sure enough, his cloak was rustling slightly.
Violet managed a little smile, trying to lighten the atmosphere a bit. "You only noticed that 'cause you're staring at him all the time."
"I am not!"
"Shut up, both of you," Blaze said, sounding remarkably like his father. "We need to focus. Morgana, I think you might be on to something." He walked a little bit toward her.
"Stop," she said, suddenly. He halted. "Look, your cape isn't rustling anymore. That air current was directed in a specific direction. And this is an air puzzle."
"Follow the air currents," Richard finished the statement for her. They began slowly moving along in whatever direction Blaze's cape was blowing, changing course when his cloak moved a different way. Finally, they came to a tiny statue of a gryphon, made of moonstone, in a small niche in the wall.
"Well…" Blaze said, blinking, not sure what to do next.
"When in doubt…" Richard began, raising his hand. He ignited the statue. "…Fwoosh it." The statue began to glow brightly.
"Well, I guess now we just keep following the wind," the younger warlock said. The sorceress nodded at him and they continued to lead the group along, lighting many statues of winged animals around the room in a seemingly random order. Finally, they came to the door, which had a wyvern carved into a moonstone plate on the front of it. With that stone lit, the door opened.
"Good work," Morgana said. She then added "for a dork, I mean."
"I'm not a dork. If anyone here's a dork it's you. Or Violet. Either way works," the boy said, "But… uh… good work on your part too…" He smiled at her semi-grudgingly. As much as they hated to admit it, they needed each other in these dark times.
They entered the next room. This one was lit, and the only fog was a weak dry-ice effect pouring out of the carved band in the wall. Roshan had hopped off of Violet's shoulder and grown to full size in preparation for battle. Two bolts of lightning whipped around near them, missing the Fae Prince by less than a foot. A huge eagle with two heads, standing at least six feet tall, cawed loudly. It had a dark stormcloud around its necks, matching its grey plumage. Richard threw a fireball at it but the creature dodged. It opened its beaks and let out another pair of lightning bolts, both of which struck Richard in the chest. The warlock crumpled to the ground.
"Bind it!" Blaze shouted. Morgana set about casting a shackle spell as the boy conjured two ice whips that he snapped at the thunderbird. As the whips wrapped around the heads, the young warlock let them go and "welded" them into loops around the beaks with a pair of frostbolts. "Uncle Richard, are you alright?" The undead lay twitching on the ground, unharmed but unable to control his movements or respond; the powerful electric shock had caused all of what was left of his muscular system to spasm uncontrollably; he'd be down for several more minutes. The bird made strangled cawing sounds as electricity crackled over its feathers. It beat its wings at the group, knocking just about everyone else to the floor, stunning most of them with the lightning that arced about over its body. Roshan was still standing though; he stabbed the thunderbird's chest with the spike on his poleaxe. It flapped its wings and made choked squawking sounds.
"Hurry Morgana!" the Prince urged. Blaze ran over and grabbed the sorceress' wrist and pulled her up to her feet. She attempted the binding spell a second time. The beaks snapped the ice chains and shot lightning. One bolt nearly hit Rin but her son put up a wall of ice in the way. The sapphire owl dove down on the creature, once again reminding the group of his easily-forgettable presence. It shrieked as his gemstone talons dug into its back. Morgana's shackle spell took effect; purple chains wrapped around the claws, wings, necks, and beaks. The thunderbird fell helplessly on its side. The sorceress conjured a scythe of magical energy and swung it at the bird, slicing through both throats. Lightning managed to crackle up even this incorporeal weapon and weakly shocked the girl. She fell backwards, but Blaze caught her.
"Uh…" he said, awkwardly. He then dropped her and she landed with a thud.
"Gee," she said, rubbing her head, "that was nice."
"I know," the warlock replied sarcastically, "I'm just a wonderfully kind person like that." He didn't even help her get up. She stood on her own, as did Richard.
They turned, thinking the battle was over. Another bolt of lightning struck Morgana, indirectly though. She dropped to the floor instantly. Blaze gasped.
"Morgana!" He spun around and saw that one of the heads, its throat bleeding as the creature lay in its death throes, had snapped the magical chains. With a furious roar the young warlock raised both swords, igniting them, and plunged them deep into the thunderbird's skulls. He then ran to the sorceress's side. "Morgana! Are you okay? Please tell me you're okay! Come on, come on!" He held her limp form in his arms. She moaned weakly. "You're alive!" the warlock exclaimed in pure joy. Without thinking, he hugged her, just as she really became aware of the world around her.
"Ew! Let go of me, you pervert!" she screamed, punching him in the jaw. He let go with a yelp.
"Hey! I was afraid you were dead! You didn't have to hit me!"
"No, I didn't have to… but it was fun."
Blaze merely clenched his teeth and growled, rubbing the spot she'd hit him in.
"Well…they say that a good many romantic relationships are abusive…" Violet said.
"I don't like him! That's disgusting! Anyone who liked him would have to be completely out of her mind!" Morgana yelled.
Blaze snorted. "You're just upset that I'm too awesome for you. I'm too cool to like anyone," he stated, sticking his nose in the air and facing away from them, arms folded over his chest.
Violet simply leaned against the wall in a fit of hysterical laughter. Her hat burst into flame. She frantically tried to put it out and glared at her brother. They'd effectively created a diversion for themselves to keep their minds off of Cale's death.
"Impressive, most impressive," the Astarian said from behind them, "You've but two tasks left to complete. Your next task is earth, the essence of life. After your loss, I know this has much significance to you. Are you ready?"
"Depends," Richard said, "does it involve creating life or destroying it?"
"Richard!" Rin growled. "Yes, we're ready."
The noble Fae led them into the green room. The ground was covered in soil, and there were withered plants everywhere, as if it had been a lush indoor jungle at one point. There was a circular depression in the center of the room, just like before, with no soil in it, but unlike before, it had four channels leading out to the edges of the room in a large X. At each channel there was a shut, watertight gate. Above each was a rectangular slot about five inches tall. There were many of these slots around the room. Notably, they were lined up with a particularly large, bold, brightly glowing set of green runes, as if they were missing letters in a sentence. Rin turned to where the Astarian had been, but he was gone. She merely sighed and walked over to the wall. She ran her hands along the tough stone, her fingers gliding over the runes.
"These are dragon runes," she mumbled, "not like the rest. I can read these, I think… they're a different dialect that I'm used to, and it's been a long time, but…"
Violet wandered to the sunken circle, and knelt down in it. She examined the six stone tablets, each with a rune carved into it. None of the runes were glowing. "Mom, are these dragon runes?"
Rin looked over her shoulder as her daughter brought her a pair of the tablets. "Yes…" She turned to the slots in the wall, then looked around the room. "Some of the letters are missing from these words. These are the missing runes. We need to put them where they belong in the draconic phrases, I believe…"
"There are… twenty slots, and only six tablets…"
"Are you sure there aren't more?"
"I think they did that on purpose," Richard stated, "so if you put them in the wrong slot, you're punished. Very clever. I should do that as a security lock on my summer home."
Vivi showed her mother the rest of the tablets. Rin stared at them for a long time, then slowly rearranged them. "These runes spell out the draconic word for life…"
"Rin," Roshan asked, "can you decipher the runes on the walls?"
Rintasha spent a very long time working out what the vivid dragon runes were saying. It was difficult, between the dialect and the missing letters, but eventually she managed a translation.
"It says something like 'Earth overcomes, life will prevail. Solve the mystery and conquer death; revive the fallen and open the door'. What in the nine hells does that mean?"
"Never mind that," Morgana said, "just figure out what letters are missing."
Rin walked around the room, running her hand along the words, making strange, harsh hissing noises that sounded disturbingly unnatural coming from an elf, as she read the words aloud without translating. She paused occasionally and called for a letter, describing the form of the rune she needed. Violet brought them over to her, and she carefully inserted them into their slots. Nothing happened, even with them all in place.
Rin looked devastated. She had no idea what to do, and the terrifying thought that they might all die there came over her in a wave of hopelessness, overwhelming her instantly. She sat down and placed her hands on her face, letting out a sigh. She was too stressed to cry. Suddenly a cheer broke out around her. She lifted her head. Blaze was grinning smugly. One of the tablet runes was glowing.
"When in doubt," he said, "fwoosh it."
Rintasha hugged her son proudly. "Good job, Blaze."
"Mom…" he moaned, rolling his eyes and glancing nervously at the rest of the group, embarrassed.
"Keep lighting the tablets," she instructed him, relieved that he'd managed to play hero and save the day. She smiled sadly and wiped a tear from her eye. He's so much like his father…
"Look!" Morgana suddenly cried out, pointing to the pool in the center of the room. It had filled halfway with water and the little channel door under the tablet Blaze had ignited was open. The warlocks continued to light each of the dragon tablets, opening another water pathway and causing many gears to turn above them. As the young elf lit the last tablet, there was a great creaking sound and the ceiling suddenly opened, far above them; sunlight poured into the chamber, and those inside shielded their eyes and squinted, having grown used to the dark. When they finally were able to look around, the room had changed drastically. The dead plants were lush and in full bloom, and still growing at a surprising rate! Vines climbed up the walls, ferns unfurled, flowers blossomed.
"Look there," the Sylph exclaimed, pointing at the door. Vines were crawling into the cracks around it and growing thicker. The massive stone door was beginning to crack and finally it crumbled. Everyone in the group – minus Richard – smiled. They'd brought new life to a dead land, and hope once again flared up in their hearts. It was a tiny spark, but it was there.
Richard was the first to enter the new room. A moment later he turned back to the group with an excited "Look what I found!" and held up what appeared to be a human or elf skull. Or so it appeared at first glance. Its snout was too long and slightly leonine; it had three rows of razor sharp teeth. The group entered the room cautiously. On the ground behind the warlock was a large skeleton, partially buried in the dirt. It was like that of a lion, with tiny bat wings, and a long tail tipped with a stinger.
As soon as the group was fully inside the suspiciously empty battle chamber, the door slammed shut. The skull flew out of Richard's hand and placed itself back on the neck of the skeletal manticore as the body rose up out of the ground and steadied itself.
"Why am I not surprised?" Rin asked, drawing her weapons. The bones rattled against one another as the creature let out a disembodied roar.
"Hmm," Richard said, putting a hand to his masked chin, "I should very much like to have one of these as a pet."
"Less talking, more fighting!" Rin said, lunging at the delicate wing bones.
The creature turned to bite her with its knife-rack of a mouth. A whip of ice caught it by the neck and yanked it sideways. It reared up and ripped the whip out of the young warlock's hand.
"I need to get better with ice," Blaze mumbled, switching to fire.
"Don't even try that," Richard said, preparing a frostbolt, "Fire is practically useless against skeletal targets." The manticore's spiked tail swung toward the undead, only to be blocked by a wall of ice.
Violet pulled out her flask of holy water and held it out at the skeletal beast. It backed away, whipping its tail around violently, growling. The tail struck Morgana but the girl stayed standing.
"Are you okay? Did it catch you with the stinger?" Rin asked, hacking a wing off off the beast.
"I'm fine! It didn't sting me!"
"Keep away from the tail anyway, it could still be poisono-" Rin warned, but she was interrupted by a huge claw slamming her to the ground. She slashed through the foreleg, snapping the bones and allowing her back onto her feet. The manticore roared and lashed out at the nearest thing. Its jaws clamped down on Roshan's poleaxe. The Prince's eyes widened as he frantically tried to pull his favored weapon out of the creature's grasp. It suddenly let go and flew at him, saw-like maw wide open, remaining claw raised. He let out a cry of pain as the teeth sank into his shoulder and lower neck, thankfully missing any vital veins.
"Leave him alone, boney!" Violet screamed. She uncorked the holy water and threw the entire thing at the monster. It burst into golden flames and reeled backwards, roaring. It burnt to ashes. Vivi ran over to the Sylph's side and knelt by him. "Are you okay?"
Roshan sat up and wiped the blood away from his eyes. He had two huge gashes across his face, bleeding badly. Blood trickled down his chest and arm like crimson vines. "I-I'll be okay…" He flapped his wings to make sure they weren't torn. The Sylph sighed with relief. "My wings are okay. I'll be fine." He smiled despite the pain he was in.
The group followed the Astarian man into the dark-runed room. It was shockingly plain. Besides the basic runes and columns, there seemed to be nothing at all in the chamber. The Fae walked to the center, then turned around.
"What is this challenge?" Richard asked, impatient.
"This is not a test of the mind. Rather, a test of the heart. I present you with a simple choice. Simple, but difficult," the starry-haired man stated. He pulled two objects out of his robe. One was a flask that contained a dark liquid, glimmering with stars. The other was a silver key with onyx decorations. "You must make a choice between these two objects. The key will allow you to attempt the final challenge and continue your quest. The potion will revive your beloved Cale'anon Vatay. Choose wisely. Take all the time you need."
Every face was pale, all eyes were wide, every expression was shocked and horrified. Slowly, everyone turned to Rin. Her eyes were wide and unfocused as her mind raced along frantically.
I could bring him back. I don't have to live without him. But is that what he would want? Is that what… what would be best for the kids…? she thought, If I bring him back, we'll be together again… but for how long? The world would still be in danger. Would he want for us to give up on the quest for him? If I revive him, the children have a father and I have a husband… but will we be safe? Will I forgive myself for… whatever darkness I fail to defeat, by giving up…?
If I choose the key, many lives are saved… but not his… We'll all be safe… but alone… is that life worth living? But what of the other lives, not tied to him? The innocents I'd be saving, at my own expense… at my children's expense… The cost of justice… our happiness?
If I bring him back, we'll be together, but in danger. We might be worse off then… but at least I'd get to say goodbye… one last kiss… Rin let out a sob. If I don't… The world will be better off… but my family… Will I be able to forgive myself for not bringing him back? What would Cale want…? Why me?
… He would want me to do whatever helped more people, regardless of their importance to me… Sacrifice one life to save many… But… could I… could I do it? I … What if I can't?
Rin lifted her head. She stared through the objects before her, eyes wide and glazed over with torment. Her heart was tearing itself apart. She slowly lifted a trembling hand, and reached forward. She hesitated for a moment. Her hand moved toward the flask, and stopped a mere fraction of an inch from the bottle. What if… Is this… the right thing to do? She gulped, and suddenly moved her hand toward the key. There, she hesitated too. Can I… is it right to… just… leave him? Is this… right? What if, when I choose the key, I'm too… broken… to continue the quest anyway…? Then I will have gained nothing and saved no one. She started moving her hand back to the potion, but suddenly changed direction and forced herself to grab the key.
"I will regret this…" she muttered, tears flowing down her cheeks. She lowered her head and held the key up, shoulders and chest shaking with silent sobs. "I choose the key," she stated coldly, voice thick with sorrow and defeat. She dared not look at her children, to see the betrayed looks on their faces. She felt like the most horrible person in existence. More than anything, at that point, Rintasha Vatay simply wanted to die.
"Very well," the Astarian said, without emotion, "continue your quest. Good luck. You've but one challenge left."
"Hopefully it'll kill me," Rin spat bitterly.
The door swung open, as the group prepared to face whatever was inside.
"Wait," Blaze asked, as the Astarian turned to leave, "What element is this?"
"This is Ether. The most powerful of the elements; the essence of nothingness, of darkness, of the stars, and of magic. Go forth and face your destiny, young one." With that, the Fae left, irritatingly emotionless.
"I want to kill," Rin said, darkly, "let's get this over with."
"That sounds disturbingly like something I would say," Richard said, "only… more cynical." Even the warlock raised an eyebrow at the elf's dark attitude. The group watched the Fae leave, minus Rin, who didn't bother to turn and look. Instead, with no expression on her face, she silently drew her weapons and walked calmly into the next room. The others looked at her and, not really having a choice, followed her.
A shadow moved suddenly, then revealed itself to not be a shadow at all, but rather a dragon that no light at all reflected off of, creating a pitch black silhouette. It was sinewy and wiry, with glowing red eyes. It let out a shriek, but Rin didn't even move. She didn't even raise her head. She simply slowly lifted her sword, and it glinted menacingly. The elf lunged. That was all. No battle cry. No facial expression. Just a mechanical lunge. Her sword pierced the shadow dragon's skin but did no damage at all. Three great black razors slashed her across the chest, throwing her backwards, but not doing very much damage through her tough armor. She got up, silently, without any expression. She stood, her head still angled down, and finally spoke in a dark, calm voice.
"Is that all you've got…?"
The rest of the group didn't want to admit it, but they were almost more afraid of her than they were of the dragon.
Rin and the shadow beast faced off. The monster didn't even try to dodge her attacks, it simply let them hit. It continually beat her down, but the elf no longer felt pain. She simply got up. Again. And again. And again. Blaze's eyes widened as he saw his mother being continually worn down by the monster. Finally he snapped.
"Stop!" he screamed, igniting his swords as he whipped them out of their sheaths. With a battle cry he launched himself at the monster and plunged his glowing swords into the shadow dragon's back. It roared in pain. They'd discovered its weakness.
"Ignite my blades," Rin ordered, still emotionless. Her sword and dagger burst into flames; the elf began to slash at the monster's chest violently, head lowered the entire time. She shredded the very fabric of the creature's existence. It still stood. An explosion of magic sent the two elves flying. They both smashed into the walls and fell to the ground. Rin forced herself onto her feet, barely able to stand but still emotionless. The warlock did not rise.
"Blaze!" Morgana screamed. She shrieked defiantly and stars of purple magic began to rain down in a hail of death.
"Uncle Richard, give me a weapon! Any weapon!" Violet yelled. She was sick of not being able to fight. Richard threw a spear of fire to her. She charged forth, dodging the stars of death, and jabbed the spear into the dragon's side. Her mother was in the battle again, slashing with flaming swords. Finally, the elf showed emotion: pure, unstoppable rage.
"Butterfly boy!" Richard said, as Roshan's enchanted ice poleaxe burst into flames, "Join the fray!" The warlock started flinging fireballs. The Fae Prince charged and hacked deep, burning gashes into the shadow dragon.
It raised up onto its hind legs and breathed shadowfire down on them, but Morgana held the flames back with her own blue fire.
Blaze opened his eyes. The sight of everyone in the group wielding fire against the shadow monster struck determination into his heart. A sudden scream jolted him fully awake. Morgana crashed into the wall; the sorceress began to stand, but the dragon, having decided to ignore everyone else and kill one person at a time, stalked toward her.
The girl looked up in terror as the creature opened its mouth to kill her, but suddenly the head turned sideways as a figure leapt up its tail, over its back, and jumped up above its head in only a few bounds. The shadow dragon's eyes widened for a brief moment, and then the flaming sword plunged down through its skull, followed by a fiery explosion and – for a fraction of a second, what almost appeared to be wings of fire behind the figure. The shadow beast dissipated into smoke as Blaze dropped down and landed, crouched, with one hand on the ground, the other holding a sword across his chest, cape spread out. He rose to his feet and forced a wicked grin.
"Very good," stated the Astarian.
The group turned and walked out to the main hall, having finished their tasks. Rin's head was held low, she didn't respond or even look up, even when everyone gasped in utter disbelief.
"Rin…" a familiar voice said. The elf's head snapped up. Her eyes went wide and for a moment she refused to believe it.
"The one and only," Cale replied, smiling at her. She ran over and flung her arms around him, sobbing on his shoulder.
"Dad!" the kids yelled, huge grins on their faces as they, too, hugged him tightly. Cale laughed light-heartedly.
"But how is this possible, Cale?" Rin asked, her face buried in his shoulder, tears flowing from her eyes, "I had to choose between you and the quest, and I chose the quest… Did I do the right thing, Cale?"
"The Fae brought me back," he said, pointing at the leaders of each type of Fae behind him. He hugged his wife. "Yes, you did the right thing."
"It was a test of devotion," the Astarian said, "You'd proven yourselves physically and mentally able; at that point we only needed to determine how ready you were to accept loss and continue on. We were going to revive him all along. You've proven yourselves worthy of our allegiance. The Fae are united under you. Don't let us down."
They turned to the Fae gathered nearby. The King of the Sylphs, with his tattered wings. The leader of the Igniads, with her phoenix necklace. The Queen of the Naiads, with her coral crown. The chief of the Fawns, with his healing staff. The Astarian lady from the beginning of their tasks.
"We're ready to fight back against the lampades whenever you are," the Fawn said.
"Where are your forces?" Rin asked. Cale motioned for her to follow him to the gate, where he pointed outside with a smile. Divided into five sections by race and role, an army stood before them. In the back, mounted on winged stags, the Fawns provided the cavalry and healers; each wore 'plate' armor crafted of strong wood over their leafy tunics and pants, and wielded a staff or spear of wood with vines growing upon it. In the center, the Igniads filled the all-purpose divison, sporting chain-and-plate armor of a golden hue, holding almost any weapon imaginable, from swords to wands to bows. On the left were the Sylphs, dressed in light leather armor and weasel skin capes that still had the upper jaws and ears as hoods; they were the main aerial attack force, each armed with a bow and arrows. On the right was the mage division, the Astarians in their purple robes. In the front, the battle-ready Naiads, in the same shell armor and with the same spears as the shore patrol. The Fae were ready for all-out war.
Cale lifted his sword into the air, and the army burst into cheers. "The lampades will fall!"
The Sylphs had located the lampades. Apparently the vampire Fae had figured out that the fairies were rallying, and had gathered into an army of their own. There would be no sweeping across the landscape, wiping out the lampades; no, there would be only one battle, on the outcome of which the fate of two worlds was resting.
And so it was that the two armies faced off, one on either side of an open, grassy plain, as the sun began to grow low in the sky. Cale discussed strategy with the Fae leaders while the others joined their respective divisions. Violet and Rin joined with the Ingiads. Richard, Blaze, and Morgana teamed up with the Astarians. Roshan joined his fellow sylphs. After all the preparations were done, Cale joined his wife and daughter.
"What's the plan of attack?" Rin asked.
"Too complicated to explain," Cale replied, "Just follow your orders. Each of the Fae leaders has a different sounding horn and their division knows what it sounds like. Just follow the others in the group. They know what the different signals mean."
A wailing sound – possibly a horn? – echoed across the battlefield from the other end. The lampades began to move. The sapphire owl took its wyvern form and flew out over the enemies, blasting them with white fire. A horn sounded from behind the Fae army, and the Sylphs flew overhead, firing arrows down into the lampade archers from the sky. One of the pale, winged Fae dropped out of the sky, struck by an arrow. The first casualty of the battle had occurred. More horns continued to blast. The Naiads in front charged toward the enemy, lances lowered. The thunder of a thousand hooves roared around Cale as the Fawns on their winged stags went around their army, toward the side divisions – the dark cavalry – of the lampades. Suddenly the Igniads began to move, and the three Vatays went with them. The division split in two, but the family stuck together on one side. They were not charging, rather, moving slowly outward.
"What are we doing?" Violet asked.
"Flanking," a male Igniad replied, "count yourself lucky kid, we're not gonna be running straight into a wall of spears like the rest."
Back in the magic division, Blaze asked what a certain call meant.
"I'd know that call anywhere. Dunno what the rest mean, but that one says 'attack!'" Richard said, beginning to cast a fireball.
Cale looked up. Flames were shooting through the sky like comets, arcing over the armies and striking down in the very back, mowing down the backup infantry of the lampade lines. There was a sudden clatter as the two armies met and clashed. Another call; the Igniads picked up the pace. They ran right past the skeletal horses with their dark riders that were fighting the Fawns. The earth Fae were suffering heavy losses, having almost no combat experience and weak wills. Another call, the Igniads spun, they attacked the lampade cavalry from behind.
"Oh no!" Cale whispered.
"What is it?" Rin asked.
"The Fawns! They're on the verge of routing! I can tell, they're about to-" Cale began. The Fawns finally broke from their battle and fled, as was their nature. "There they go." Rin glanced to the side. The Naiads were in spear-to-halberd combat with vampiric, undead versions of themselves. Another wave of flames arced overhead, this time striking the lampade spearmen.
"Hold together!" Cale yelled, as some Igniads began to flee, "We have to stand together! If we scatter, they'll pick us off one by one! Stand together!"
"Oh gods," Rin whispered. They were losing the battle! "The army's slipping through our fingers like sand!"
"Hush! You're not helping their morale!"
"I can't help it! I'm merely stating the fa-"
"Sometimes we don't need the facts, Rin! Keep fighting! We will win this!"
The sounds of horns were deafening. The Sylphs dove down and swooped into a flanking position; having picked off the archers in the front, they began to attack the archers, taking the place of the Astarians who'd refocused their efforts toward the spearmen.
"We're outnumbered!" a female Igniad screamed. Cale could feel the morale of his division dissolving around him. More and more cavalry were ganging up on them, and they'd been at a disadvantage from the start – cavalry were very effective against infantry. More bugle calls. Fireballs flew overhead, but unexpectedly half of them hit the cavalry as the magic unit split in half, one half to aid the infantry, one half to continue picking off spearmen. Unfortunately that half also hit some of the Igniads. This snapped their morale and they fled. Cale tried to rally them with no success. He too, turned and ran, his wife and daughter in tow.
"I thought we had to stick together?" Rin asked.
"Exactly," Cale said over his shoulder as he ran, "that's why we're retreating! We need to regroup with another division; ours has scattered! Join the Naiads; they need our help, they're outnumbered!"
"Dad," Violet said, "if they're outnumbered, the three of us aren't going to be enough to help!"
"Help's already on the way," a familiar voice said from behind them. They turned; there was Roshan. More Sylphs were landing behind him. "Charge!" he yelled, unintentionally striking a valiant pose as he pointed his poleaxe at the enemy lines. They charged forward and aided the water nymphs on foot.
"Oh gods," Morgana whispered. The cavalry, having gotten the Igniads out of the way, were free to charge up the hill toward the magicians. "Brace yourselves!" she screamed, and a moment later, the lampade cavalry was upon them. Blaze whipped out his swords as the Astarians conjured their own weapons. They were at a distinct disadvantage; magicians caught in hand to hand combat with cavalry was as bad as it could possibly get.
"Help!" Blaze yelled. The remaining Sylphs in the sky dropped down and began stabbing at the cavalry from behind. Startled and suddenly outnumbered, the mounted lampades routed, but the Sylphs took to the sky and followed, diving down at them with their icy weapons, picking them off as they attempted to flee, driving them right toward the great sapphire wyvern.
Cale looked around him. The tides of battle had turned unexpectedly, as each division of lampades dwindled in number, they slowly began to rout.
"Don't let them get away!" Rin yelled.
"Don't let them regroup or they'll be back for more!" Cale shouted.
The wizards, suddenly freed from their mortal combat with the cavalry, found that the Fae had pushed the lampades back. The Astarian horns sounded; the magicians began to move forward. They split into two groups and went around the fighting, both ways. The Fae army had begun to form a circle around the faltering enemies. The fireballs began to rain down again, this time on the remaining lampade archers.
The Igniad horn unexpectedly sounded. Hooves could be heard from a ways away; the Igniads had regrouped and were charging back on the small group of lampade cavalry that had also gathered itself and rejoined the fray.
"Keep fighting! The tides have turned, luck is on our side!" Cale yelled.
The lampade horn sounded. The vampires knew they were surrounded, and with the readdition of the Igniads, outnumbered. They attempted to retreat in the most disorganized fashion imaginable: scattering and simply trying to get out through any hole they came across, including the sky, but those who took to the air proved easy targets for the Sylphs and Astarians. Most of the lampades were slain before they could escape, and the rest were killed by pursuing Sylphs or the wyvern.
The sounds of battle quieted and slowly turned to cheers. "Victory is ours!" Cale shouted.
"Well… everything's been resolved," Rin said, happily.
"Now we can finally go home," Cale said with a happy sigh.
"But…" Violet began. She sighed.
"What is it, honey?" Rin asked.
"I… I guess it's time I go say goodbye to Roshan then…"
"Oh…" the slayer's parents looked at one another sadly and nodded.
"We leave tomorrow morning," Cale said apologetically, "Go say your goodbyes…"
Blaze frowned a bit. He felt sorry for Vivi. At least he didn't have to say goodbye to Morgana…
An Astarian walked over to them. "Fae-Blood."
"Yes…?" Morgana said, confused.
"You can remain if you like. You can be with others of your kind. You can learn your full potential as a half-Astarian and live in the amethyst tower with us."
Blaze looked like he'd just been slapped unexpectedly in the face. Morgana just stared at the Fae. She glanced over at the elves, then back at the Fae. "I… I… I guess… I'll stay here…"
"What?" Blaze yelped, looking completely betrayed.
"I'm… sorry…" Morgana mumbled, and wandered away.
"M-Morgana, wait!" the warlock called out after a moment, running after her.
"Roshan…" Violet said, quietly, as she approached the Sylph Prince. The sun had almost finished setting.
"Hi, Violet!" he said enthusiastically. But when he saw the look on her face, the smile vanished from his. "What's wrong…?"
"I… I've got to go home… R-Roshan…"
"W-what…?" the Sylph blinked, looking hurt. "I… I don't understand…"
"I'm not from this world. I have to go back to my own world… You have to stay here; you're the Prince… But I have a life, and a home, in another world… I can't stay… We have to say goodbye now…"
"B-but… I don't want you to go!" Roshan looked very sad.
"Roshan… please… don't make this harder for me…" Violet hugged him and buried her face in the soft fur cape that was draped over his shoulder. Her voice broke, but she managed to whisper "I love you…"
"Why didn't you say so? I like you too. And I don't want to say goodbye…"
"I'm sorry… I haven't got a choice…"
Vivi sobbed. "Goodbye, Roshan! I'll never forget you!"
"I won't ever forget you, either…"
"I… I'm just glad we had the chance to know each other… even if only for a short while." Violet smiled. Somehow, she knew they'd both recover.
Blaze and Morgana sat side by side on the wall as the last sliver of sunlight disappeared behind the horizon.
"I've never had a friend like you before… You're the best friend I've ever had…"
"Same here… Blaze… I-I'm going to… miss you…"
"I'm going to miss you too… Morgana? Why do you want to stay?"
"To find out… who I am… To see the other side of me…"
"Will you ever come back?"
"I don't know…"
There was an awkward silence.
"Morgana, I…" Blaze choked up. He couldn't say it. Hell, he didn't even know what exactly he was trying to say. Morgana turned and looked at him. They made eye contact and froze. The sorceress thought for a moment, but she couldn't spit it out any more than the warlock could. She took a deep breath. She grabbed Blaze's arms, pressed herself against him, and kissed him roughly. He sat perfectly stiff, with a look of complete shock on his face.
Morgana let out a sob and jumped off the wall. She ran away, crying uncontrollably. Blaze simply stared in the direction she'd run off in, with an expression of pure 'what in the nine hells just happened?'
He had no idea how long he sat there, staring. Minutes? Hours? For the longest time, he felt only a mixture of shock and joy, until he finally snapped out of it, and the feelings were crushed with smothering sorrow and despair. He'd missed his chance to say goodbye. He jumped off the wall, for a moment intending to chase after the sorceress, but she was long gone. He sank to his knees with a sigh. The stars were out and the sky was dark by the time he stood and trudged back to his family, head held low, heart broken.
Things were normal in the Vatay household. Almost.
"You're feeling better now, honey?" Rin asked.
"Yeah," Violet said, "I'm glad I got to know Roshan. We're both better off because of it. Besides, it would never have worked out. I'm just glad to have the memories. But… I'm worried about Blaze… he doesn't seem to be taking his departure too well…"
"Yes… I know…" Rin sighed, worried. Ever since they'd gotten home, Blaze had spent his days in his room, with the door and windows shut, in his bed, the blankets up to his nose. Sometimes his family heard sobbing from inside. Occasionally they'd hear loud thumps and thuds, varying from the sound of someone punching a wall to the sound of objects hitting furniture, to the sound of someone kicking a door. Further, he'd lost his appetite completely; he hadn't eaten a thing since his return home.
"I just hope he'll be okay…" Vivi mumbled.
Blaze lay on his side in his bed, covers up to his nose, as tears flowed sideways down his face. Why didn't I say goodbye? I'm never going to see her again… and I never said goodbye… I wish I'd never met her! I wish I'd never known her! Then I wouldn't be hurting… why am I hurting? She… she kissed me… am I… in love? No way… But… And I had to say goodbye… Or rather… I should have…and I didn't… I hate myself so much… I wish I could just die…
He heard his parents say something in surprise, but he didn't care. Nothing in Kethenecia was important, now that Morgana was gone. His life was unimportant. Until, he caught a particular phrase that got his attention.
"Morgana? I thought you decided to stay…"
"I came back, I decided I didn't want to stay."
I'm imagining things now… I'm hearing her name… I'm hearing her voice…Oh Gods, I miss her so much…
"Blaze!" his mother's voice called, "There's someone here to see you!"
"Make them go away!" the warlock moaned.
"I think you'd do best to come out here and see!"
Blaze sighed and got to his feet, sadly walking out to see who was cruel enough to bother him in his misery.
Her voice sounded so real that he had to look up. His face lit up with joy! "Morgana! You came back!" he yelled. He ran toward her, looking like he was going to throw his arms around her – and then he tackled her to the floor. They both started laughing and smiling. The sorceress hugged the warlock tightly. This time, he didn't freeze up at her touch. This time, he hugged her too.
"Oh, Blaze," she whispered, "that kiss…"
"U-uh-uh… Y-y-yeah? Uh wh-what about it?" he stammered in a whisper.
"It never happened."
"Uh… Right." He nodded. "But this did!" He punched her.
"Ow!" She slapped him, but neither of them could keep from grinning and laughing in delight.
XXX THE END XXX