Chapter the Second:
By David Lee
Derryn awoke the next morning to the smell of bacon and tea. He opened one eye cautiously; the appealing aroma wafted to his nose from the fire, where three of the elves were eating. A fourth, the male hunter who caught him last night, was pacing around the perimeter camp spot, alert for any signs of disturbance. The swordsman noticed Terath the barbarian a little ways off, sprawled on the ground. Serves him right for acting like a maniac last night, Derryn thought glumly to himself. Pulling off the cloak that was wrapped around him, he headed for the fire, hooking his scabbard on his belt.
"Morning," he greeted as he sat down, but the elves shied away from his arrival. He looked at each of them and turn, and asked, "What?"
One of the elves muttered something, covering his nose with his sleeve, then produced an object and tossed into Derrynís lap. "Look," he said. The other two chuckled. Derryn picked up the mirror and peered into it.
His brown hair was an unruly mass of tangles and knots. The dirt on his face was evident, mottling it in patches. There was still dried blood from when he received the knife cut. He looked worse than he originally believed, and his smell was not very pleasant either. "Youíre right," he said matter-of-factly. "I DO look like a vagrant." The three elves started laughing.
The elf who lent him the mirror pointed into the forest. "A small river lies half a mile in that direction," he said. "You may wash there." Derryn, muttering thanks, went back to his backpack, pulled out a few things and wandered off into the forest.
The smell of cool air reached the swordsman before he found the river. The forest broke into a clearing, where a waterfall splashed from a rock face into the river. The morning sun glinted off the wet rocks. Walking a bit further downstream, Derryn set his pack on the ground, stripped off his grimy clothes and waded into the water, leaving his sword at the riverís edge.
The clear water was freezing and refreshing at the same time. He scrubbed away the dirt on his face and body, and submerged himself several times. After surfacing for the last time, he saw another person in the other end of the river. Pushing back his hair, slick with water, he lowered himself until only his eyes peeked over the waterís surface. Oh no, donít let it be...
Linnatiel waded in the river with her back to him, bathing and humming to herself. She was as naked as he was, and did not seem to notice him. Sweet mercy... Derrynís face was burning; he berated himself for staring, but found that he could not look away. Her long hair, soaked entirely through, shone like gold in the sunlight. Her skin was like marble, white and flawless. As she turned toward the waterfall, Derryn quickly sank his head underwater. His vision was clouded, so he squeezed his eyes shut until he slowly surfaced again. Linnatiel was nowhere to be found. Derryn gaped at her absence.
"Pervert!" A voice snarled, and Derrynís head was forced back underwater. He screamed bubbles in a panic, until a hand grabbed him by the hair and yanked him up. Dripping with water, he found himself face to face with a visibly enraged Linnatiel. A towel was wrapped around her body, with her cloak hastily slung over her shoulders.
"Linn, itís not what youó" Derryn was silenced by blowing more bubbles. Gasping when his head was pulled out again, he sputtered, "It was an accident! I didnít know!"
"Iíll bet, Derryn Drakelight," the elf growled. "Now you stay there until Iíve gone; I didnít come here for the same reason as you." Yet while she said it, her eyes strayed to his chest for a short moment. Snorting once angrily, she picked up her clothes and marched off. Derryn sighed dejectedly and rested his arms on the riverís edge.
The elves were in a more charitable mood to share their breakfast with Derryn after he had washed and changed. He had traded his black shirt for a white one, with a royal blue vest over top. Blue and white, the colours of the Drakelight family. He still wore his fingerless black gloves, and his hair was neatly brushed back. Half the elves cheered his return, laughing and passing him hot food on a plate. Linnatiel, fully clothed, said nothing, but betrayed a small smile as she ate. Terath, the elves said, was busy in the forest, purging himself. Derryn shook his head and sighed.
After a moment of elvish conversation, the swordsman asked, "Why are you all here in the woods, instead of Vellucyn?" The elves looked to one another. The elf who had shown Derryn the mirroróFintaal was his nameóreplied, "It was Lord Ithralliís command that we stay here with Princess Linnatiel until further word form Vellucyn arrives." The elf had a somewhat harder looking face than his kin, and had his long hair tied in a ponytail. A long, curved scabbard sat at his waist.
"Father said things would be safer in Elithanor, where people rarely trespass," Linnatiel added. Derryn remembered the elf lord Ithralli, Linnatielís father; a wise man whom Derrynís father had sought counsel more than once.
"Whatís the matter, Linn?" He asked the elf. "Whatís happening in Vellucyn?" Linnatiel swallowed, trying to answer, when Fintaal spoke for her.
"There was an attempt on Lord Ithralliís life," he said gravely. "There is also talk of dark things left undescribed. At least, in the purity of this place." Fintaal shook his head. "Too much talk of things to come...too much of it dark." The older elf spoke as if he had experienced such dark days time and again. He turned to Derryn. "I fear your rebellious undertaking could not have come at a worse time, young Drakelight. There will be people who will know of your disappearance, and there are those among them who would use it against the Templar state." Derrynís eyes widened in fear.
"No...I have to go back," he exclaimed. "Theyíll work themselves to the bone, thinking about me." He quickly went for his backpack. "I have to leave. I have to go back."
"Drakelight!" Fintaalís voice carried a tone of authority that held Derryn firm. "You cannot leave, now. There is too much at risk. You lack the experience to hold your own out there. The ones who serve dark purposes wait for you, young Drakelight. They search and they wait."
"I have Tareth on my side," Derryn argued. "Together, we could cut our way to the state." Fintaal raised an eyebrow.
"The same Tareth that took one elven ale too many?" he asked inquisitively. At the same moment, the barbarian burst into the camp site.
"Derryn," he called, panting for breath. "Trespassers! There are trespassers in the forest!" He held his massive sword in one hand. His entire body heaved with exhaustion. Fintaal snapped to his feet, immediately followed the other elves. "A score of them, maybe more," Tareth explained further. "They are no mere robbers. They fight like devils. They challenge anybody without a thought, only demanding for the "Children"." Tareth emphasized the word "Children", as if held some arcane meaning.
"The young ones cannot tarry here any longer," Fintaal said gravely, his eyes narrowing. The other elves nodded. "Shusa," he addressed the female elvish hunter. "You know where the Pathway is. Take them there; they will be safe." Shusa nodded firmly, then went to Linnatielís side. "Tareth, accompany them as well. They may yet have need of your strength." The barbarian nodded, aware of the grim situation.
"Will you be all right, Master Fintaal?" Linnatiel asked, her eyes full of worry. Fintaal smiled and patted her head, as if she were a small child.
"You forget who I am, dear Princess," he said. "Now go." Derryn was hurried away from the camp site by Tareth, whose eyes were locked on Shusa. The young swordsman caught a glimpse of the elves who stayed behind. A few of them scattered into the woods, bows drawn. Fintaal gracefully unsheathed his sword, a long, curved blade, and held it in front of him in a formal fighting stance. One elf to either side of him did the same. "They have yet to taste the steel of a Waymasterís edge," Fintaal snarled, half to his elven comrades, half to the dark forms that began to surround them. "Indallia Thranucia!!!"
They came upon a large clearing in the forest, where they faced an enormous rock face. The wallís jagged edges were worn away with time, and it held the colour of a smoky grey. Vines and weeds crept around the sides of the wall. Numerous written characters were chiseled into the rock face, winding its way around in the shape of an arch. Shusa, leading the others, pressed her palm against the part of the wall in which the written arch enclosed. She uttered a word, and crack of light split the wall. It slowly groaned and slid open, the darkness that lay inside a blanket of comfort for what lay behind them. Shusa turned and looked over her shoulder. "We must not waste any time, especially with young Drakelightís wounds." Tossing her ponytail back over one shoulder, she marched inside. Tareth looked down at Linnatiel, then followed her into the cave.
Tareth was surprised to see that the insides of the cave were not dank or damp, or dripped with earth water. A clear tunnel lay out for them; a burning torch was placed at the entrance. Shusa removed it from the wall.
"This torch will not burn out, so long as there are those who still have need of it," she said. "The likes of Nightcloaks will not go near the inscription at the entrance. Come, there is a long walk ahead." Tareth breathed a sigh of relief at the feeling of comfort that flooded him.
"Mistress Shusaó" Shusa raised a hand as she kept walking.
"Please, good Northerner," she interrupted. "Just Shusa."
Tareth cleared his throat. "Shusa, what is this Pathway?"
"The very thing we are traveling right now," Shusa replied. "It may not look it, but it has a great many magical incantations woven about them." The elf glanced over her shoulder. "Princess, you can see them, can you not?"
Linnatiel nodded, somewhat sadly. "They are like glowing strands of thread, running across the floor. Reds, blues, greens...there are so many of them..." She took no more notice of the floor, and looked up at Derryn. His face looked damp with sweat in the torchlight, his expression of supressed agony. His eyes were closed, but he breathed normally. The elfís eyes began to start with tears, but she blinked them away. "Derryn..."
After what seemed like silent hours of walking, they came upon a grand set of thick, wooden double doors, with the same inscription as the one on the rock face. A figure cloaked in black stood at the door. Linnatiel gave a start, but regained her composure.
"We heard you before you had taken a step into the Pathway," a strong, male voice uttered. "Perhaps you would like to enlighten us as to why you come to the Sanctuary." We? Linnatiel thought in confusion.
"There are fiends about in Elithanor. Nightcloaks," Shusa said grimly. The cloaked figure gave no expression. "There is also one with us who is wounded. I would believe he is your kin."
"I know not your name, enlightened one," the man spoke, a thick hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"Shusa, Bladesister of the Forest," Shusa announced proudly. "Let us pass, Rathos Drakelight, before I crack your skull." Both Linnatiel and Tareth stepped back in surprise. If Derryn was shocked, he did not show it. The man stepped into the light and threw back his hood, a wan smile on his face. He had long, brown hair that was smoothed back behind his head, and fell down his neck. His face was long and chiseled, and slight wrinkles could be seen around his brown eyes, which glowed with wisdom. They examined the group inquisitively as they twinkled in the torchlight. The one named Rathos sighed as if with contempt, then saw Derryn slung over Tarethís shoulder.
"Shusa, my dear, I would kiss you if you were not so sharp with your tongue," he said, allowing himself a small grin before he went back to examining Derryn. "What did my fool nephew do to receive such wounds?"
"He fought a Nightcloak, Master Rathos," Linnatiel said quietly, looking down. "It was coming right at me, and he jumped in the way..." Rathos looked down at the elf, and raised her chin so she looked him in the eye.
"If it were any other reason, Princess of Vellucyn, I would have clubbed him over the head myself. You need not blame yourself for his hurts; he will be fine, and precious few can defend themselves against a Nightcloak, let alone best one." He whirled around, his cloak sweeping around in a wide arc. "Come, this is no place for small talk." He pushed open the double doors with one heave, and went in.
Tareth and Linnatiel gaped at what they saw. They entered a large chamber that glittered with reflected light wherever they looked. The massive walls were entirely made out of crystal, emulating the form of rock faces. Their steps clicked on a white marble floor that was polished enough to show their reflections. Torches blazing with blue fire were set all around the chamber. Several pathways branched out from the grand chamber, leading into darkness, or what ever rooms lay ahead. Rathos strode to the middle of the floor and threw out his arms. "Welcome, my friends, to the Northern Sanctuary," he announced. He then smiled to himself, taking on a lighter tone. "I am the innkeeper. Freshly made beds and rooms are available on the second floor, a hot meal is ready in the common room, and your entertainer will be the Mistress Velena, who can sing, dance, and play the flute!" Linnatiel stifled a giggle. Shusa was less than impressed. "Enter, great Mistress!"
A great bolt of white lightning flashed out of thin air, almost striking Rathos where he stood. He deftly hopped out of the way and bowed deeply, sweeping his cloak out. "If I ever hear any more fool words from your mouth, Rathos Drakelight, Iílló" A faint padding of more boots was heard as a young woman entered the chamber. She seemed to be long way from middle age, and still possessed the beauty of her youth. She wore a white gown with long, billowing sleeves. Several leather pouches hung from a cord belt around her slim waist. Smooth, blonde hair fell down to the small of her back. Radiant blue eyes fell on Linnatiel and her friends, and the womanís lips twisted in a smirk. "I see you have brought friends for your pretend games."
Rathos straightened himself, and swept back his dark cloak as he faced the white-clad woman called Velena. Linnatiel caught a glimpse of a sword at his waist. "Waste, woman!" He exclaimed. "Must you ruin the little fun I get in this place?"
"I will ruin you, oí great joker, if you do not explain the meaning of this interruption!" She snarled. Velena saw the limp form lying across Tarethís shoulder. "Who is the injured one?" she asked. "Is it bad? I will tend to it quickly." She paced across the floor to Tareth, who lowered Derryn and passed him into her arms. Her eyes widened in shock. "Rathos, itís..."
"Yes, Velena," Rathos affirmed, slowly nodding. "Adakranís boy." Velena carefully lowered Derrynís head to the cold floor, tearing away the part of his shirt that stuck around the wound at his side. Reaching into one of her pouches, she pulled out a small piece of folded paper. Unfolding it, the woman sprinkled its contents Ė a fine white powder Ė onto the swordsmanís wound. Linnatiel saw him exhale slowly, as if the pain had been lifted from him. Velena looked up at Linnatiel, and those who stood with her.
"Princess, you are a long way from home," she said, her eyes gentle, but firm. "I know what befalls Vellucyn. You are in good hands." Rathos almost threw up his hands in exasperation.
"Waste, she knows everything," he muttered. Shusa gave him a hard look, crossing her arms.
"Thank you for your reassuring words, Mistress," Linnatiel replied, bowing slightly. The elf had heard of Velenaís name spoken of more than once in the palace, along with Rathosí, but she looked too regal to be addressed by her first name. Velena placed a bandage over Derrynís side, then stood up.
"The worst of it has been tended to," she said, "I am not Saryn, but I can fix a cut or two." Rathos grinned at the reference. "Northerner, you are a long way from your home as well," the Mistress of the Sanctuary intoned, turning to Tareth. The barbarian bowed his tattooed head.
"I go where my instincts will me, Mistress," he said in a formal tone. She smiled.
"I know those who did the same, long ago," Velena replied. "Would you be so kind as to help carry Master Drakelight to a room to rest? I will show you the way." As Tareth hefted Derryn off the ground, Velena turned to Rathos. "Dear friend, please show the others around the Sanctuary. Except Princess Linnatiel." Linnatiel looked at Velena, confused. "I must speak with her a while."
"I do as you command, as always, Velena," Rathos bowed, his voice devoid of any sarcasm. "Good Master and Mistress, this way," he motioned to the closest opening in the chamber, then followed them.
Derryn rushed up the rocky path, kicking up dust as he went. He heard the anguished cries closer now. Rounding the bend, he jumped at seeing Linnatiel. She was sitting on the rocks, tears welling up in her emerald-green eyes. "What happened, Linn?!" he exclaimed.
The elf sniffed a few times, looked up at him. "I fell," she managed to say. "I think itís bad." Derryn knelt by her and looked at her knee. There was a scratch or two, reddening the skin, but nothing more.
"It doesnít look like much to me, Linn," he said flatly, then winced as he saw a further anguished expression in her face.
"I-I donít think I can walk, Derryn," she gulped. "Can you carry me?" The boy studied her face for a moment. It seemed odd to him somehow, but he couldnít leave his friend there, especially with that pained look on her face.
"Of course, Linn," he smiled, then lifted her onto his back. He had never carried such a heavy burden before, but it never stopped him. He managed to keep a steady pace as he walked out of the canyon.
For a moment, Derryn felt Linnatielís embrace beneath his arms tighten. She snuggled her face deeper into his shoulder. "Iím glad I have you as a friend, Derryn," she murmured.
Derrynís eyes slowly opened; he felt a slight sensation of heat and light next to his face. He stared up at a dark ceiling, the light from the lamp beside him creating dancing shadows. Sitting up, Derryn winced. He gingerly touched the bandaged wound at his side; a small circle of dried blood stained the white gauze. The other parts of his body that were cut were bandaged as well. Rubbing his eyes, the swordsman looked around the room. There was a door at the far end of the room; blue light seemed to spill from the cracks. A table sat next to his bed; his shirt, vest and scabbard were hung on a chair that sat close by. His boots lay on the seat of the chair.
Lifting himself out of bed, Derryn pulled on his boots, wondering where he was. "Itís all a bloody blur..." he muttered to himself. He vaguely remembered voices talking, but he couldnít make out words. He felt as if past memories were pulling themselves up again, mixing with his thoughts and waking moments. He wished he could talk to his mother; she would know what to do. She always knew what I was thinking, as if she read my mind, Derryn reminisced. He had just finished pulling his other boot on when a knock sounded at the door. After half a moment, it opened, and Linnatiel walked in. Her eyes widened.
"Oh, I didnít see you there, Derryn," she began, her cheeks reddening at the sight of his bare chest. Derryn sat up with a jolt and snatched the shirt from the chair, quickly pulling it on.
"No, uh, itís okay, Linn," he said, his voice muffled by the shirt. Waste, she seems to appear whenever I think about her! Startled, his own face began to color at the thought. He turned his face away to avoid Linnatielís eyes. It hasnít even been a day since I met her again, and already Iím...waste! WASTE! Derryn reached for his vest and slipped it on, keeping his head down.
"Is something wrong, Derryn?" Linnatiel asked, regaining her composure. Derryn began to fluster, reaching for his scabbard and hooking it on his belt.
"No, Linn, Iím as good as new," he managed to look up, grinning. He could still feel his cheeks flushed. "Iíll just be on my way back home, and Ė" Derryn gasped in pain as he stood up. His side had felt as if a hundred burning needles had been pressed there. He faltered, slipping to one knee.
"Derryn!" The elf exclaimed, and rushed to his side. She placed a hand over his, on the wound. "You shouldnít move so much yet; itís not easy to heal from a Nightcloak blade for the first time." Derryn looked up at her.
"Linn," he began. He looked into her eyes; brilliant pools of green that studied him fondly. Locks of blonde and brown hair delicately hung over her face. He caught his breath the same way as when he first saw her. "IóIó" The door creaked open, cutting him off. A slender, young woman in a white robe softly stepped in.
"You are awake, Derryn Drakelight," she mused, her lips curling into a small smile at the sight of the elf and the flushed human. "Ready to leave so soon?" Linnatiel placed one of Derrynís arms around her shoulder, and helped him to his feet. The swordsman examined the grace of the older woman. Only an elf could match her grace.
"You look familiar, Lady," Derryn murmured. The woman laughed lightly.
"I should, Derryn," she replied, her eyes twinkling. "I visited you often when you were younger. I made your two-story snow fortresses during the winter, when you tired of the castle." Derrynís eyes widened.
"Mistress Velena?" he uttered in disbelief, vague memories flooding back to him. The gentle-hearted young woman who seemed to be more of a good friend to him, rather than a guardian in his youth. Snatches of memories of her telling him stories about dragons and knights, and towers that touched the sky. Once, when he tried to steal into the castle pantry, Velena had caught him because the pastry cupboard was out of reach. He recalled the mischievous gleam in her eye when she raised a hand, and he was sent floating up in the air. Waste, has it really been that long? I could barely remember Linn, and now I canít even remember my old nanny? Whatís happening to my mind? Derrynís frustration led to guilt, and he threw himself into Velenaís arms, sobbing into her shoulder. "Whatís happening to me, ĎLena?" he cried. "Why canít I remember?! Iím running away from everything! I ran away from Linn, I ran away from you, and now Iíve run away from home! Whatís wrong with me?!"
Velena hushed him and ruffled his hair, like she did when he was just a little boy. "Itís not your fault, young one," she whispered, rocking him back and forth. "Thereís nothing wrong with you. Nothing." She looked up at Linnatiel, who clasped her hands in front of her and looked confusingly at them. "I did not expect this, Princess," she said quietly. "For now, I think it is best that you rest. There is still much to talk about." Linnatiel gave a slight nod of her head, looked worriedly at Derryn, then strode out of the room.
"Be still, Derryn, and look at me," Velena said. Derryn pulled himself away from her and looked her in the face, sniffing back tears. "There are things stirring in the world, now. Dark things. Unpredictable things. You ran away from home, but it was not of your choosing. Fate sometimes has a hand in what we say and do, and sometimes it stands aside, waiting for the next moment to present itself. You are meant for something greater, Derryn Drakelight, but for what, I cannot say."
Derryn sniffed again. "I feel like a small child," he laughed to himself. "First I cry, now I feel like I want to go home."
"In some ways, you still are a child," Velena soothed. "You are the youngest of all of us here. As for your memories, it is natural to forget things long past. But to remember so many things at one given time, it is truly Fateís doing. It wanted you to remember, Derryn, to make the path you tread on easier to travel."
"I donít understand yet, Velena," Derryn said softly. "But I will. I will understand everything." Velena smiled, and lifted him to his feet.
"Just the answer I wanted to hear! On your feet, good master," she said. "Now we must speak with the others, for they must hear what I have to say, just as much as you." Velena smiled again, reassuringly, and led him to the door. It was then, as they walked out of the room, that Derryn realized that she was almost a head shorter than he was. He almost laughed to himself.
January 10, 2002