"The Beasts and the Balverines"

Chapter 1: Welcome to Witchwood

I woke up early again this morning. I was greeted by the rising sun as it peeked through my window next to my bed, hitting my face with the full force of its light and heat. I cracked my eyes open, only to immediately shut them tightly as I was blinded by the light. I pulled my blanket up over my face in the hope of shunning out the light, but its powerful rays still pierced through my sheets. I turned over to my other side towards the wall and curled up, the pleasant warmth now on my back, and did my best to try to get back to sleep.

I knew I shouldn't have stayed up late last night reading my books…

"Hey sis! Wake up, wake up!"

Well, so much for sleep…

My soft blanket was thrown off of me and I felt the full blast of warmth and light. I shivered slightly and covered my face with my hands. I really didn't feel like getting up yet…

"Come on, get up! Today's the big day!"

I moaned miserably. I then felt two strong hands get a firm grip on my butt, and then they started to shake me violently.

"Come on! We have to get ready! Our parents want us to get there as soon as possible!"

"Mmm…five more minutes…just five more minutes…" I moaned.

"Um…no. Quit being lazy and wake up!"

"Mmm…five minutes…I'll be up…promise…"

"Ugh…"

The two hands stopped shaking me and released my rear. I could hear my older sister's footsteps walk off away from me with a hint of aggravation. I couldn't help but smile from my small victory as I pulled my blanket back over my body and shut my eyes, trying to get back into that oh-so-illusive comfortable position.

Just as I started to feel sleep overcome me, the pair of hands returned and started shaking me again.

"Get up, get up, get up! Your five minutes are up!"

"Mmm…five more minutes…" I moaned.

"Oh no! Not this time! You had your five minutes, now get up!"

"Mmm…"

"GET UP!"

"Mmm…"

"Grr…alright…you asked for it…"

Oh no, she wasn't about to…

"!"

My body leapt a foot off of my bed as an insanely high-pitched scream stabbed through my ears and brain. I covered my ears with my pillow in a desperate attempt to drown out the noise, but it was useless.

"Stop, please…" I pleaded.

"!"

My ears felt like they were starting to bleed a little.

"Misty, please stop that!"

"!"

"FOR AVO'S SAKE, STOP!"

The screeching finally stopped and my head was relieved. I turned to my sister, who stood right over my bed with a large grin on her freckly face. Her long light brown hair was a little messy, but probably not as much as mine usually was in the mornings. She was still in her dark green nightgown, so I assumed she hadn't waked up much sooner than I did. She stared at me with her cheery gray eyes, obviously waiting for me to do something. I blinked at her, and then heaved a sigh.

"Alright, alright, I'm up." I stood up from my bed and my bare feet received a slight shock from the rather cold wooden floor. "Are you happy now?"

"Very." Misty replied. "Now get dressed! Mum and Dad want us there before dusk and there's something I want to get done before we head for Witchwood."

"Witchwood?" I asked, suddenly feeling a little uneasy.

"Yeah, you know, Knothole Glade? Where they live now?"

"But…aren't there…?"

"Bandits? Creatures? Monsters? Yeah, there are those. But don't fret! There's a Cullis Gate right outside of the town so we should be able to just teleport there without any trouble and without having to deal with any dangers. Plus, you've got me! Relax, Maia! I got it figured out."

Somehow I still didn't feel relaxed.

Misty scurried across the inside of our small house over to her furniture and started rummaging through her dresser. I frowned at her and felt embarrassed at her excited nature, but I guess I should be used to it by now. We've been living together for about a year now after we moved away from our parents in Bowerstone, after all. I let out a huge yawn, still yearning for more sleep, but I took a few steps toward my own dresser that had a large mirror hanging over it. I stepped in front of it, and a sixteen year old thin girl with icy gray eyes, a few freckles, shoulder length light brown hair, and zero attractiveness started back at me. I rubbed my eyes and sighed, resisting the urge to yawn again. I looked back at my sister and saw that she had already stripped herself of her nightgown and was still digging through her dresser for an outfit while in her undergarments. I stared at her, feeling a hint of jealousy creep into my gut. She was everything I wanted to be appearance-wise, as much as I hated to admit it. She was pretty, tall, had beautiful long brown hair, more curves than I could count, and was strong. I hated her for it, but I felt envious as well. I looked back at the mirror and my heart sunk, disappointed with what it saw. It was depressing, but every morning was like this, so I had gotten used to that as well.

I didn't like it, but I accepted it.

I reached over my head and started to pull off my own nightgown. Misty continued rummaging through her dresser and quickly pulled out an outfit and threw it onto her bed. She started to unfold it, but then she stared at me as I stared back.

"Don't just stand there, get dressed!"

I broke my gaze on her, though I still felt uneasiness in the air between us. I looked at the curtains over the windows to make sure they were entirely covered, and then when the paranoia faded, I slowly slipped off my gown.

"Be sure to wear something durable and comfortable." Misty piped up with a calm tone. "It'll probably be raining there, so you should bring your cloak too."

I nodded. I searched through my dresser for some decent traveling clothes. The problem was I didn't really have any. I wasn't expecting to travel to a far away land just to visit my parents. Mum and Dad had sent us a letter telling us that they had moved away from Browerstone, but I had half-expected them to move with us here in Oakvale. When Misty told me that Knothole Glade was on an island to the west of Albion, I immediately felt nervous. I knew they would want us to visit them wherever they lived. Misty was excited about it of course, only because it gave her an excuse to travel the world; the farther they lived the better.

That wasn't the case for me though.

I let out a depressed sigh, unable to find any "adventuring" clothes in any of my drawers. I looked at Misty and saw that she already had a pair of leather leggings on and was adjusting the pack on her right thigh. She was about to put on a leather chest piece when she looked up to me staring at her again.

"What?"

"I…don't have any clothes…" I said softly.

"What do you mean? I know you've got some clothes you can wear."

"Not for travelling."

Misty sighed and dropped the chest piece on her bed. She then walked casually over to where I was and started searching through my dresser.

"What are you doing?" I asked, aggravated that she was digging through my things again.

"Finding you something to wear, again." She said simply. I rolled my eyes. "You have things you can wear on an adventure, sis."

"Adventure?"

"That's how I like to think of it."

"I hardly think that we're going on an adventure, Misty."

"Sure we are…and see?"

Misty pulled out a long dark blue cloth skirt with a few white belts strung about its length. She held it up in front of me as if it was something to be proud of. "I knew you had something!"

"A skirt?" I squeaked.

"Yeah! It's comfortable, this one's pretty strong…" She stretched its fabric a few times. "And you'll look good in it. Those three things are what all Heroes need for their clothing."

"I'm not a Hero…"

"Who said you had to be?"

I opened my mouth to respond, but closed it after I realized I didn't have an answer.

"Here, put it on."

I took the skirt and slipped it on while Misty continued digging through my clothes. It wasn't too bad, I suppose. It was pretty light and it hung down to my knees, so it wasn't too short. I walked around in it and it actually was quite comfortable and I could move relatively easily. I bent over to see if it would rip from my rather large butt, but I was pleased that it didn't. I guess Misty does know what she's talking about sometimes when it comes to certain things.

"Try this." She said suddenly, throwing a shirt into my face.

I grumbled and pulled the shirt off of my head. It was a plain gray long-sleeve shirt with a brown vest over it and a v-neck collar. I pulled it over my head, poked my arms through the sleeves and then pulled it down over my stomach, though it still left a bit of skin uncovered. It was a little tight, but not so much that I couldn't move very well. I stretched my arms out and turned my waist, satisfied that I didn't hear anything rip. I examined my outfit, still unsure whether or not it was proper traveling attire.

"You look cute!" Misty said excitedly. "That should be good for the trip there. Now see if you can find more clothes."

She walked back over to her side while I searched through my dresser again. I found a few villager outfits and stuffed them into my pack and then wrestled out my fur boots and cloak from our overstuffed closet. I slipped on my boots and looked around for anything else that I might need or want for our visit when my eyes landed on the bookcase.

I moved over to the bookcase and scanned all of my books, which made up the majority of the bookcase. I spotted a few books that I haven't quite finished yet and gathered them up into my arms and then tried to stuff them into my pack, but they wouldn't quite fit inside along with all of my clothes.

"Hey Misty, can you help me?" I said, looking over to where she was. She now had on a full leather suit that seemed relatively neutral in color, with a mix of dark blue, orange and a little yellow on the belts and gloves she wore. The suit looked like it fit her body perfectly, and that was something you couldn't say for many of the outfits that she wears. She looked up at me with a smile.

"With what?"

I stared at her again. "Do you have to wear that outfit?"

"Yeah…why?"

"Well…it's…a little ugly."

"Yeah, but it gives me some good protection."

"But we're not going on a serious adventure, just to Mum and Dad's, right?"

She smiled at me. Suddenly I felt worried.

"Right?"

She continued with that grin of hers. "Well…"

"Misty!"

"Ha ha, I'm just messing with you. Of course we aren't. I just like wearing this outfit. It makes me feel heroic."

"But it's ugly! You just said that all Heroes need to wear nice clothes."

"Yeah, but I can make any outfit look good…"

I rolled my eyes.

"What did you need?"

"I can't get my last book into my pack."

"Oh, for crying out loud, sis. We're only staying there for a few days. You don't need to stick the entire bookcase in there."

"Oh shut it."

She giggled a little and came over to me. She took my last book and stuffed up pack. She was about to try her luck, but then she hesitated and stared at the book's front cover. I felt my cheeks turn a little red.

"Maia, do you really need to bring a book like this?"

"W-what do you mean?" I stuttered.

"I know you like your stories and all, but do you need to bring all of these?" She took out the three books I had in my pack and stared at the one she had. "Let's see…The Trials of Aarkan, A Love Story, A Hero's Journey: Volume One, and…The Sock Method?"

I quickly snatched the last book from her hands and held it tight. I just knew that my face must have been a brilliant shade of red right now.

"Why spend all this time reading about adventures and tales when you can live them yourself?" Misty asked.

"I would rather just imagine them in my head, thank you very much…"

"What does a story about adventuring have that a real adventure doesn't have?"

"Well for one, you can't get hurt or killed by reading a book…"

Misty opened her mouth, but closed it and looked at me with worry and sadness in her eyes. She looked away from me off to the side, clearly at a loss for words. She then sighed and looked at me.

"Look, just take two of them. You're not that fast of a reader."

I narrowed my eyes as she turned to finish her own pack. I reluctantly put A Love Story back on the shelf. I waited until Misty was looking in the other direction before slipping The Sock Method back into my pack and was relieved that it fit in. I tied off the top of my pack and tossed it onto my bed. I gazed around, doing a mental checklist of everything I want or need to bring. Clothes, books, a few snacks, gold…Oh, yes! I knew I was missing something. I went to my bedside table and picked up my purse. I gave it a quick shake and was pleased that there still was some gold within it, and then I tied it securely on one of my belts.

"You ready?" Misty asked suddenly.

"Yeah."

I threw my pack over my shoulder and onto my back and grabbed my cloak. I went over to the door to wait for Misty, who was sheathing her katana and bow and quiver on her back. She did her own mental checklist around the house, grabbed her pack, and walked up to me.

"Shall we?"

I nodded. We went outside our door and were about close the door when Misty gasped and ran back inside. I waited until she came back out with her Guild Seal in hand.

"Nearly forgot it…" Misty said. "We won't be able to get there without this."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I'll show you. But first I need to pay a visit to the shops. This katana is getting a little worn. Plus, it couldn't hurt to have some extra supplies. A Hero needs to be prepared at all times!"

"Prepared for what?"

"Anything."

She closed and locked the door and started walking down the hill to the left. I took one last glance at our house, and then I followed her down towards the town center where all of the shops and tavern were. While I walked casually, Misty marched forward with her back straight, her chest out and her head held high and proud. She wore the Guild Seal over her neck with a bright smile on her face as if it were a trophy of some sort. I wasn't surprised. She had been behaving this way since she had graduated as a Hero at the Heroes' Guild over a year ago. No matter where she went she brandished her Seal so that all of Albion would know that she was now a Hero. Our parents and I had lived in Bowerstone and the week of her graduation made them more and more excited. It was right about the time of her eighteenth birthday, and my parents couldn't have been happier. I, however, had rather mixed feelings about it. A Hero's job was to travel the world in search of adventure, which meant that I wouldn't see her too often anymore. She was my sister and my only friend, and she was leaving me behind possibly for good, and it tore at my heart whenever I thought about it.

We arrived at the weapons shop and Misty eagerly stepped inside. The shopkeeper greeted us kindly and Misty asked if he had the weapon she wanted. The shopkeeper said yes and reached behind the counter and pulled out a curved object wrapped in leather cloth. He unwrapped the cloth, revealing a blackened axe with a curved shape and blood red runic markings across its surface.

"That's rather frightening looking…" I said softly.

"Yeah, and it's just what I'm looking for. That is, if it's as strong as you say it is?" Misty said.

"Absolutely." The shopkeeper replied. "The black forging of this weapon has increased its sharpness and power, though it twisted its appearance a bit, a typical trait among all obsidian weapons. I got it straight from Knothole Glade."

"I'll take it!"

The shopkeeper handed over the obsidian axe and Misty gave him the appropriate amount of gold. We bid the shopkeeper farewell and headed across the area to the items shop. Misty replaced her katana with her new axe and held out the katana to me.

"What?" I asked.

"Take it."

"Why?"

"So you'll have a weapon. Everyone should have at least one."

"But I don't need that…"

"True, but you should always have some means to defend yourself. You never know when their might be a bandit attack or something."

I sighed. "Whatever…"

I took the katana and held it for a moment. It was a little heavy, but not so much that I wouldn't be able to handle and swing it. As much as I hated to think about it, it was a rather nice sword, with a well polished surface and hilt and elegant curved shape on the razor side of the blade. I hooked it onto my belt on my left side before we entered the item shop and immediately Misty went up to the shopkeeper and purchased a few health potions and will potions, as well as some food. She then stuffed them into her pockets and pack. We left the store and headed left toward the entrance to Oakvale.

"Ah, here it is." She said, changing her tone to a happier one. "Our ticket to Knothole Glade…"

She pointed at a circular stone platform near us. It had the same symbol as the one on her Guild Seal.

"This thing?" I asked, unsure if she knew what she meant.

"Yep, a Cullis Gate. These are scattered all over Albion and I can use them to teleport across the world. With my Guild Seal, I'll be able to transport to any Cullis Gate at any time."

"How?"

"I'll show you…"

Misty held out her Guild Seal and pointed it toward the stone platform. Within seconds a column of blue light began to swirl and glow, shooting upward toward the sky. A low hum sounded from the gate and I could just feel a small amount of vibration from it. The air also felt like it was swirling around the Gate itself.

"Wow…" I whispered.

"Shall we?" Misty asked.

"What do we do?"

"We just stand inside the light. I'll do the rest."

Misty stepped into the center of the Gate's light and faced me. She beckoned me forward and I cautiously stepped into the column. It felt strangely warm within it and the vibration was a little stronger. Misty placed a hand on my shoulder.

"Now hold on. The first teleport can be a little rough…you ready?"

I was quite nervous now, but I still managed to nod my head. Misty nodded in return and stared upward with one hand still on my shoulder and the other holding her Guild Seal. I closed my eyes, unsure of what to expect. I really hoped she knew what she was doing. I don't want to have to explain to Mum and Dad as to why I was now missing a leg or something…

I waited, listening to the hum of the Gate. However, a few minutes had passed and nothing had happened. I opened my eyes and looked up at my sister, who now had a confused look on her face.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Strange…" She said softly. "I can't teleport to Knothole Glade's Cullis Gate."

"Why?"

"I don't know. Someone must have deactivated it or it could just be malfunctioning. Either way this isn't good…"

"Not good?" I squeaked.

"Relax! We'll just have to use the one in Witchwood. It's not too far from the Glade. How are your hiking legs?"

"Not good…" I said sadly.

"Don't worry. If we keep moving we can get there before dusk. Okay…you ready?"

I stared at her with anxiety filling my mind, but I nodded again.

"Alright! Here we go!" Misty exclaimed.

The light surrounding us began to glow brightly until I was blinded by it. I shut my eyes tightly and held onto Misty. Suddenly I felt like something was lifting me up into the air by my head upwards almost like I was being sucked into something. I held tighter, not sure of what was going on as the air around us swirled like a tornado. Then just as quickly as it started it ceased. I felt my feet hit solid ground, the swirling stopped and the light faded. My head felt like it was spinning slightly and my skin tingled. I then felt cold raindrops hit my body as I opened my eyes. We were now standing in a Cullis Gate with four small stone protrusions on the edge of it. Thick green trees now surrounded us with an open path in front of us that with trees in the center of it that traveled away beyond my view.

"Well, here we are!" Misty said with a hint of excitement. "And sure enough…it's raining…"

"Do you know how to get there from here?" I asked, throwing the hood of my cloak over my head.

"Of course! We just have to follow this path here."

"Have you been here before?"

"Actually…no. But a trader I've talked to before said that's all we have to do to get to Knothole Glade from here."

I whimpered.

"Oh, relax! We'll be fine!" Misty stepped down from the Gate and onto the soaked grass. "Welcome to Witchwood, Maia!"