Saturday, March 29, 2014

Short Story #3

Dealing with an Old Friend

By Sadie S.

The sun shone down on two young travelers moving through the forest of Lasho, which was showing the signs of spring coming to life again. Kim walked behind her traveling partner, Bronze. She still remembered the first day they met in the snow as she was petting a fuzzy Bolt Cat. He had asked her to join him on his journey to Quiet Waters. Over the past two months they had become close friends.

Kim watched Blaze flow around Bronze’s head whispering into his ear from time to time. Blaze had been Bronze’s guardian since he was a young boy. Bronze stopped and turned to his left and then continued. Kim followed. Bronze stopped and turned to the right, then took a few steps, then stopped again. He ran his dirty fingers through his messy black hair.

Blaze whispered something to Bronze, "No…well… are you sure… yeah…Kim… no, no… fine."

Kim placed a hand on her hip and voiced strongly, "What about me? What on earth are you talking about?"

Bronze turned to his half Dragon Elf and half human friend, and smiled, "Oh, nothing Kim. Blaze and I were talking about where we should go next."


"And we are going to the city of Rushless Beauty. You are going to make a deal with an old friend of mine," he called over his shoulder as he started walking away.

"Why don’t you make a deal with your old friend? "She asked following him.

"Oh, no. He and I in the same room would be a bad Idea."

"Why is that?"

"Well… last time we were together… let’s just say that he tried to kill me and I took something personal from him. Understand?"

"No...You mean…"

"Let just say that we’re not friends anymore," he interrupted her. Kim shrugged her shoulders and said no more. They walked down the path that Blaze showed Bronze. After three hours of walking and climbing hills, they reached the city. Bronze’s right arm pointed to city, "Kim welcome to Rushless Beauty."

Kim understood where the city got its name. Waterfalls encircled the city with reddish, green, and yellow trees as far as the eye could see. A lake, at the bottom of the city was surrounded with small houses. In the center of the city rose a mountain with a circle carved out of the rock as if it was a castle. Beneath the circle, the most beautiful water flowed down to the lake. The sound of rushing water filled the air. Kim lost her breath looking at the most beautiful city she had ever seen.

In no time they were at the lake. Small shops and houses lined the whole lake. Merchants shouted for the travelers to come over. Bronze eyed the stalls as if he was looking for something. At one stall he stopped and asked a very ugly lady about a dark blue sleeveless shirt. The ugly lady picked up the shirt and held it up for him to see. Blade whispered something to Bronze and he smiled, "I’ll take it and those pants over there." The woman pointed at a pair of pants and Bronze nodded. After paying the woman, Bronze walked away from the stall to a tree.

Bronze handed Kim the shirt and pants, "Here you go."

She looked down at the new clothing, "What’s this for?"

"I’ll tell you later. Now go change over there in that house. You will meet a nice woman. Tell her these words, ‘Bronze is stronger than Silver’. Got it?"

She bit her lip, but nodded and walked over to the house he had pointed at. Bronze took a seat under the tree and took off his brown cape. "Blaze, do you think this will work?" he whispered to his guardian.

"I think it will," Blaze answered in a sparkly voice. "I know that Kim is the perfect person for the job. It says only a Dragon Elf can get it. Plus she cannot get hurt, because it is in her blood to attack before she is harmed. Ahh, here she comes. Remember, watch your words."

Bronze stood up and smiled. Kim smiled back. She held her mother’s blue dress in her arms. She still wore her father’s red cape, not ready to take it off. "Perfect, come on Kim."

Bronze took the dress and placed it in his sack. They walked through the houses and the market until they came to stairs that led up to the highest point of the city. Red trees stood guard in front of the stairs. Leaves covered the stair steps, as if no one dared to step upon the stairs.

Bronze stopped at the entrance and took Kim by the arm, "Ok, take this." Then he placed a small bag in her hands, "I need you to walk up these stairs to where they stop. Wait there. Just wait. Don’t leave until you see a man with a long scar on his left cheek. When he asks you what you’re doing there, tell him you want the Biter. He may say no. Just say it again but this time add this; I have a gift from a friend. If he asks about the friend, just say the same thing you said to the woman at the house. Once you have it, get out of there and run back here to me. Got it?"

"I think so," she said calmly trying to remember everything he had told her. She started for the stairs.

"Kim, wait" She stopped and turned to Bronze who had his hand out. "I need your father’s cape."

"My cape?"

"I know it is important to you, but it’s not safe wearing it up there. Trust me on this one." Reluctantly Kim took the cape off and handed it to Bronze. He took it and placed with the dress. Kim turned quickly and walked up the stairs.

Wind blew through Kim’s brown hair as she stood on the side of the mountain looking at a wall. The stairs lay behind her. She looked left, to the right--nothing. Weird. Bronze did say to wait. Kim looked through her dragon’s eyes at the wall--nothing. Maybe…she closed her eyes. She reopened her human eyes and looked at the side of the mountain--nothing. She pressed her hand over the rough rocky side of the mountain. Nothing happened.

Kim blinked back to her dragon’s eyes. Rushless Beauty reappeared. She looked down at the bag Bronze had given her. Maybe if she pressed against this wall something would happen. She reached out her hand to touch the wall. Before touching it she looked down at Rushless Beauty. Suddenly out of nowhere came an arm which grabbed Kim and dragged her into a well furnished huge room.

Kim spun around to see a well-dressed man with a fur cape and jewels draping his neck. Kim looked at his face and saw a long scar on his left cheek, Bronze’s friend. "Why are you here? Why has a young petty girl come to this place?" he barked at her. Kim stared at him forgetting what to say. "Speak!" The man yelled in her face.

"I came for the Biter," Kim stammered.

The man took a step closer to her, "Oh really? You can’t have it. No one can."

"Why not?"

"Because only a Dragon Elf can wield the Biter. Why should I give it to a helpless girl?"

"Well, I have a gift for you."

"Really? From who?"

"A friend of yours, Bronze is stronger than Silver." With those words the man pulled out his sword and was about to attack Kim. Without thinking, Kim’s body moved with the blood of her Dragon Elf father. She kicked the man’s hand so hard that his sword flew across the room and out the window with a shatter. The man dropped to his knee holding his hand screaming him pain, for his hand was shattered as the window.

Kim straightened up and said without fear, "Now may I have the Biter?"

The scarred man looked up at her pain all over his face. He cursed in a language Kim didn’t know. "Biter, come to the Dragon Elf maid," he called flatly.

Kim turned her head to the sound of doors opening and closing. Soon a sword flew through the air and landed in her hands. Kim grabbed the mighty weapon and threw the bag from Bronze over to the hurting man. "Here, that’s from your friend."

Before Bronze’s friend opened the bag, Kim darted for the wall she was pulled through. She broke into the daylight and bolted down the stairs. When she reached the bottom step she looked wildly around for Bronze. She saw him under a tree taking a snooze. She ran to his side and kicked him gently. "Bronze I got it. Let’s go." Bronze groggily got up and took her by the arm and started running through town back into the forest of Lasho. Once they were far from the city, Bronze started to slow down. Kim half walked, half ran next to Bronze. Panting she said, "Here is the thing you wanted me to get for you."

Bronze smiled but didn’t take it. "Ah, no. I can’t use it. It’s for you Kim. Beside you know that I already have a fine sword." He slapped the one on his side.

"What? You wanted to get me a sword? Next time just buy one in the market, instead of sending me to your weird friend."

"Sorry, but we need that sword of us to get to Quiet Waters with no problems. Understand?"

"Fine." They walked a little bit without talking then Kim broke the quiet air, "What was in the bag you told me to give him?"

"The necklace I took from him. It was given to him by the only women that loved him. She died a week before they were supposed to get married. He was heartbroken. I tried to convince him he needed to stop mourning and rule Rushless Beauty. The people were waiting on him but he got mad. He yelled in my face, ‘I’m still the ruler here… you know nothing… why should I listen to your words?" He pulled out his sword. I followed, we fought. I cut the necklace off his neck and dove for it. I picked it up. I thought if I had the necklace he would listen to what I had to say, but I was wrong. That’s when he tried to kill me. I escaped just in time with the necklace. He swore if he saw me again I would surely die. Now, do you get why I wouldn’t make that deal with him?"

Kim nodded her head, "So you use to live in Rushless Beauty?"

Bronze slowed down his pace for Kim to keep up. "Yes, I grew up there before my mother died. After my mother’s death, Silver, the guy you met took me in and watched over me."

"Silver, that would explain why he tried to kill me when I said, Bronze is stronger than Silver."

"Silver tried to kill you? How did you escape?"

"She is Dragon Elf," Blaze whispered in Bronze’s ears.

Kim was about to answer but Bronze said, "Forgot you are half Dragon Elf and half human, sorry."

"Where is your father?" Kim asked.

"Oh, my dad died also. See my dad was a Might Man. He and my mother were trying to get to Quiet Waters also. Dad got attacked by a beast. My mother never told what type of beast. She brought him to Rushless Beauty and there he died of his wounds. I was only a baby at the time."

"I’m sorry. I didn’t know."

"Hey, it’s alright. Beside I’ve gotten over the past, now I just look to the future. Come on Kim, Quiet Waters waits."

Bronze took a few steps ahead and followed after Blaze who was leading the way. Kim strapped on the sword and followed her friend deeper in to the forest of Lasho.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Short Story #2

The Open Way

By Sarah

The door burst open. I jumped to my feet, ready to run- then relaxed as I recognized the person who’d just dashed in. "Jacen? What is it?"

Jacen bent over, panting. I waited impatiently for him to regain his breath. After several moments, he straightened up, pushing his mop of red hair out of his face. "Dia- the Way- it’s open!"

"What-?" I stared at him, not quite comprehending. "What do you mean?"

"I mean the Way is open." Jacen looked at me expectantly. "Like you’ve been waiting for. The Waykeeper sent me to tell you."

"Oo-oh." I started towards the door into our back room. "I should tell Lexa."

"Tell me what?" Alexa, my older sister, appeared in the doorway. She offered Jacen a smile. "Hello, Jacen. How are you?"

"I’m fine." Jacen grinned eagerly back at her. "Alexa, the Way’s open!"

Alexa glowed, just as I knew she would. "The Way is open?" She swept towards me, her light blue robes swishing. "Dia, can you believe it? We can go home!"

"Home." The word came out less excited than I’d intended it. "Finally."

Alexa and Jacen’s joyous expressions faded. Alexa stopped halfway to me. "What’s wrong, Dia? Aren’t you exciting?"

"Y-" The word choked in my throat. I’d learned my lesson about lies, even small ones, all too well. "Not really."

"What?" Alexa made a disbelieving gesture. "We’ve been waiting two years-"

"Right. We’ve been here in Therae for two years." I stared at my hands in my lip, fiddling with the green sash tied around my waist. "And I know you’ve wanted to go home all that time But for me, this feels more like home than Earth ever did." I waved a hand at our surroundings: the wood-paneled walls hung with ivy, the comfortable wooden furniture, the large windows and skylight, the forest outside. "I’m not sure I want to go back."

Alexa drew back as if I’d slapped her. "Dia, don’t be like that. Don’t you miss home? Our friends? Mom and Dad?"

"I told you. Home is here." I shrugged. "And all my friends are here. I hardly had any to miss back on Earth."

"And Mom and Dad?" Alexa asked, her voice stern.

"I miss them." I wove the end of my sash through my fingers. "I’d like to see them. But we both know how the Way works. If I go, I can’t come back."

Jacen spoke up hesitantly, as if afraid to intrude in our argument. "If your family’s there, Dia, maybe you should go. You know what they say: ‘Don’t break branches on your family tree.’"

He had a point, but I didn’t want to admit it. "Do you want me to go?"

"No!" Jacen looked as if I’d just insulted him. "You’re my friend. Both of you are."

Alexa gave me an "Enough being stubborn" look. "Dia, stop. We shouldn’t even be arguing about this. We belong on Earth, not Therae. This isn’t our world."

"Isn’t it?" I asked, more sharply than I’d meant it. "We helped save it, Lexa. Why wouldn’t it be our world? Because we weren’t born here?"

Alexa nodded. "Yes. Because we weren’t born here, and because our family is on Earth. That’s why we don’t belong here."

"I don’t think I belong on Earth." I crossed my arms, raising my head to stare her down. "I never felt like I belonged there. Not like I do here."

"Belonging isn’t a feeling." Alexa met my gaze with no sign of backing down. "Belonging is being a part of something."

I threw my hands up in exasperation. "I’m a part of something here!"

"And you’re a part of a family at home!" I could tell Alexa’s control over her temper was rapidly slipping. "Isn’t that more important than anything here?"

"Is it?"

Jacen broke into the conversation. "Why don’t we ask the Waykeeper for his advice?"

Alexa and I both perked up. I turned and headed for the door. "That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day. Let’s go."

I led the way over the swinging tree-to-tree bridges to the Waykeeper’s home in the lower branches of the tallest tree in the forest. Of the three of us, I’d been there the most times. Gerren, the Waykeeper, helped me understand what happened when Alexa and I stumbled through the Way two years ago, and since then, his company, his advice, and his special tea had kept me coming back.

The door stood open when we arrived. I started to go in, but Alexa held me back and knocked on the doorframe. "Waykeeper?"

Gerren’s voice came from inside. "Come in!"

I pulled free from Alexa and stepped inside the sun-dappled front room. I’d loved this place from the first time I’d come here. Something about it made me feel safe.

Gerren, a burly man who seemed like he should’ve been more at home on the ground than in the trees, rose from his seat by the largest window. "Hello, Alexa, Dia, Jacen. What can I do for you? You didn’t come to walk the Way already?"

"No!" I shook my head emphatically.

Alexa shot me an annoyed look and then turned to Gerren with her usual calm manner. "We, Dia especially, need your advice. It has to do with the Way."

"Ah." Gerren waved us towards him. "Sit down, then, and I’ll see what I can do."

Before long, Gerren had settled us all into cushioned chairs and had given us each a mug of his special tea. I sipped mine eagerly, nearly burning my tongue. If I went back to Earth, I would miss my time with Gerren most of all.

Gerren settled into his special chair by the small stove on which the tea kettle sat. "Now, Alexa, Dia, what’s your trouble?"

I opened my mouth to speak, but Alexa beat me to it. "Dia doesn’t want to go home. Can’t you explain why she should, sir?"

I bristled. "What if I shouldn’t go?"

Alexa started to reply, but Gerren raised his hands. "No arguing. Dia, why don’t you care to go back to your world?"

I shrugged. "I don’t even know if it is my world anymore. I miss my family, but . . . Therae feels more like home than Earth did."

Gerren turned to Alexa. "And why do you say she should go back?"

Alexa replied promptly, "Because, sir, Earth is where we belong. We were born there; we’ve waited two years for a chance to return."

My fingers tightened around my mug. "You belong there. That doesn’t mean I do."

Gerren gave me his "Dia, behave" look, and I shrank back. He looked at Jacen. "Do you have anything to add?"

Jacen jerked up straight as if surprised to be asked. "Me? Well, Alexa and Dia are my friends; I’d love for them to say. But their family’s on Earth, and family should be together."

"Good advice." Gerren nodded approvingly. "But I haven’t heard the best reason to do anything yet." He surveyed the three of us. "Have any of you considered what the Father wants you to do?"

I looked down at my tea. Alexa shook her head slowly. "No, sir."

"I guessed as much." Gerren gestured to the bookshelves surrounding the main trunk of the tree, which stuck up through the floor. "Dia, will you bring me the Word, please?"

I set aside my tea and hurried to the shelves. I slid the soft, leather-bound book off the shelf and, holding it carefully, carried it over to Gerren.

He took it. "Thank you, Dia." Once I’d returned to my seat, he bowed his head. We all followed suit. Then he prayed: "Father God, we come before You now to seek Your wisdom and Your guidance for Alexa and Dia. Please show us Your will for them and help them see what path You desire them to take. Amen."

We all lift our heads. Gerren pages through the Word. "Now, your question: stay or go? It would not be unlike Adonai to have called Dia to remain here. Many times, in both Therae and Earth, He has summoned one of His servants to a new home in a distant land."

He paused. "However, He does not often call people to such a change, especially when it comes to travel between worlds. The Father places people in certain worlds for a reason. Sometimes He’ll call them from one world to another for a short time, perhaps a year or two, but rarely do they stay forever."

"So you think I should go back?" Disbelief tinged my voice; I’d hoped Gerren, at least, would support my desire to stay.

"I think you should follow the Father’s call." Gerren leaned back in his seat. "Do you feel called to stay here, Alexa, Dia?"

Alexa shook her head readily. I started to nod, but stopped. "No. Not really. But I’m not sure I feel called to Earth either."

"Maybe that’s why the Father opened the Way, though?" Jacen looked at Gerren as if seeking affirmation that he was on the right track. "Isn’t that usually why He opens it? He’s calling someone from one world to another?"

Gerren beamed at Jacen. "There’s a lad with a good head on his shoulders. The Way opening is a call, Dia. It always is."

I gulped, staring down into my tea. "I don’t want to leave."

Gerren stood and walked over to me. He patted my shoulder comfortingly. "I know. I don’t look forward to saying goodbye either. But how often are we called to something we want to do."

I managed a small smile. "I guess that’s true." I took a deep breath. "All right. I’ll go."

We spent the next two days preparing to leave and saying our goodbyes. Every farewell seemed to chip off a little piece of my heart that would remain in Therae forevermore. Finally, nothing remained to be done, and Alexa and I returned to Gerren’s house for the last time. We carried nothing with us; we had come to Therae with nothing except the clothes on our backs, and we would leave the same way.

We found Gerren waiting outside for us. He greeted us with a sad smile. "Hello, Alexa, Dia. Are you ready?"

Alexa nodded confidently. "We’re ready." I found that I couldn’t seem to reply at all.

"Very well, then." Gerren led us across a series of bridges that criss-crossed between his tall oak and other nearby trees, all the while going steadily upward. It took nearly ten minutes to reach the Way at the very top of his tree. It looked like just another tree-hut, minus a platform surrounding it. However, through the open door and windows we could see nothing but light filling it.

We paused a few feet from the door. I glanced back. I could still turn around and stay here. I had time. But no. I’d been called back to Earth; I would obey the call.

Alexa and Gerren bid each other a rather formal farewell. Then Gerren turned to me. I hugged him before he could speak. "I’ll miss you."

"And I you." Gerren gently returned my hug. When he stepped away, he dug in his pocket for something. "I have something for you before you go." He produced a small bag and handed it to me.

I took it and peered inside. "Tea?"

Gerren nodded. "I know how you like it. Maybe it’ll help while you’re getting used to Earth again."

"Thank you." I clutched the bag tight. "Not just for the tea- for everything."

"You’re welcome." He nodded towards the Way. "I suppose you’d best go on."

"Right. Goodbye." I looked at Alexa and we joined hands.

Gerren moved to the side so we could pass. "Goodbye, Dia, Alexa. May the Father watch over you."

I couldn’t seem to speak again, so Alexa replied for us. "And you as well." Then we walked forward to the Way. The door was only wide enough for one at a time, so she entered first. I looked around the forest one last time, trying to store my last moments here.

And then I faced forward, took a step, and entered the Way.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Crossing to Afienda Part Two

Hey, so sorry it's taken so long to finish this!
The play ended this past weekend, so I'll have loads more free time at night, which hopefully means I'll be actually be tending to my poor, forgotten blog!

Read Crossing to Afienda Part One here

Crossing to Afienda
by Meredith B.
*last name shortened for safety reasons*

"The herald read the proclamation to us," Naolia whispered. Both girls were continuing to crush the stalks, a task that should have been relatively easy. Yet, the mallets were so heavy, and the pulsating ground made the girls legs throb with fatigue. "We have to be in the market square at noon tomorrow."
"I know. I came to tell you that you have to escape."
"But, I cant. Father and mother—"
"But, you must! Dont you understand? I am the reason youre here in the fields. Im the reason Randolf is gone."

Faluri shuddered as another spasm of memories struck her, and she sank into their insistent clutches.
The breeze had deposited her at the servants entrance of Lord Locmanas grand mansion. She had been found by a scullery maid and been appointed as a serving maid herself. She refused to tell anyone where she was from. The plague had begun the next day, and twenty noblemen had died. Then, Lord Locmana had been stricken with the mysterious illness himself, and hysteria had grown to a fever pitch. The lord had decreed that a Pacmana maiden must be sacrificed to appease Hungalis wrath and had said that the casting of lots would determine the maiden to be chosen. Now, as Faluri relived these memories, it suddenly came to her that the casting of lots was merely a clever ruse. She had always been the object of Hungalis desire, and he was determined to have her. She thought of Randolf, a king who was also a brother to a commoner. He had sacrificed himself so that she might live. Should she not do the same for his sister?
Hungali had been as good as his word, for the unexplained illnesses of so many noble young men had caused outright panic. Blame had naturally fallen on the Pacmana race. Only Faluris adopted family had taken a stand, for though they did not know where she was, they extolled the Pacmana race as equals to nobles. Thus, they were punished by being forced to become slaves.
Faluri stared at her adopted sister for a long moment. Then, she whispered to herself, "He knew Id give myself up to protect you, to honor Randolfs memory." There was no need to wait for the drawing of lots. She would do what she had to do tonight.
"Sweeties. Lovely sweeties!" An old mans voice rang through the relentless pounding of the mallets and groans of the slaves. Faluri gaped as she beheld a stooped form hobbling through the crowd of slaves. The overseers flocked to the man, snatching sweets from a basket which he balanced upon his hip. "Easy!" he cried. "Plenty for all!"
"All? These beasts dont get anything." One of the overseers guffawed, his mouth so crammed with barley sugar that his words were garbled. Syrup dribbled down his chin.
"Beasts, eh?" The man chortled, grinning cheekily. "Appears to be only you yourself. Beast in the decidedly singular. Wheres my coin? These treats arent free, you know."
"Watch your tongue, you old fool! Weve never payed in the past, have we?" The overseer yankd the basket from the old mans hand, dividing the remaining goodies among himself and the others. "Be off with you."
Calmly, the man raised his hands, snatching the basket back. The wicker container now bulged with a vast profusion of treats, and he staggered under its weight. The overseers gaped at his retreating form as he circulated among the slaves, giving each one a cone of barley sugar. "From King Elumis own fields. Not ill-gotten by slave labor but freely grown for all."
As the man made his rounds, he stopped beside the pit, gently patting each girl on the shoulder as he handed them the treats. "Only one day more," he murmured. "Then your slavery will cease." As He spoke these words, his eyes locked onto Faluri, who gaped in shock. "You are more than you think, courageous girl," the sweet-seller murmured. "Hungali wanted you to surrender to his embrace. Now, he will surrender to you." He withdrew a cloth bag from the folds of his brown tunic, and a belt the translucent color of honey. Thrusting these items into Faluris hands, he enfolded her in a strong embrace. His touch brought a surge of comfort and strength, and the scents of cinnamon, cloves and other spices clung to him. Faluri suddenly knew from whence the breeze that had carried her to the mansion had originated. Then the man vanished.

Faluri blinked in wonder at the bag. Trembling, she opened it and stared in disappointment. A lump of barley sugar, a skein of scarlet yarn and a strangely-scented leaf were the only objects it contained. Faluri withdrew the leaf, gaping it its strange beauty. Scalloped-edged, the leaf was a dazzling white and shone with a mesmerizing brilliance. Faluri returned the leaf to the bag, her mind reeling with confusion. She prepared to journey to her doom.
The barley fields were eerily silent. Faluri stood alone, her hands trembling. Around her waist was the golden belt, and attached to it was the small cloth bag. She felt the thrumming of Hungalis heartbeat and knew what she had to do. Stepping to the edge of the barley pit, she prepared to enter it yet again.
A thunderous pounding of hoofbeats tore through the silence, and Faluri shrank back, fully expecting the ghostly black steed to rise from the pits depths. Yet, the sound came from behind her. Trembling, she turned around and came face-to-face with a towering steed. The horses coat was dazzlingly white, and a scarlet mane flowed down its back. The horse neighed and reared onto its hind legs, and she realized that it was wild. Yet even in its wildness, it stood before her, its glittering golden eyes scrutinizing her closely. Faluri reached into the bag at her waist and withdrew the lump of barley sugar, a sugar more refined than any grown in these fields. She proffered the sweet, and the horse bent forward, its mouth nuzzling her fingers as it took it from her hand. The majestic animal nickered softly and knelt upon the ground. Light poured from its shimmering mane, and Faluri caught the distinct scent of cinnamon, cloves and other strange spices.
"Y-You will allow me to ride upon your back?" Her heart pounded in fear, but her eyes were filled with tears of wonder. "I must journey to the mountains."
The horse inclined its head. Faluri grasped its mane and clambered upon its back. Instantly, the horse rose and began to gallop, its cloven hooves thundering across the fields. The steeds movements were so graceful, and Faluris hair flew behind her in a gentle breeze. The horses movements grew even faster, and they were suddenly airborne. Faluri gasped, clinging to the mane with an iron grip. You will not fall. The steeds thoughts were amused. Trust me.

Soon, Faluri felt familiar biting cold, and she felt a tremendous jolt as the horse landed upon a stone walkway. To her right yawned the immense chasm, and everything was as she remembered from that harrowing day. The only difference was that now there was no one to lend her a helping hand. Even as she thought this, the steed vanished and the ground began to quake.
Ah! I knew you would return. Hungalis rumbling voice rang with jubilant triumph. Your weak heart could not bear that others die. Youre so pathetic!
Faluri swallowed, staring as the breeze began to intensify. "Y-You want me to come to you. Why? You love no one but yourself."
Have you any inkling of how hard Ive worked to establish my kingdom? He had to interfere, to take into his home a worthless donkey of a girl. The prophecy will not be fulfilled. His own weakness prevented it. Once I have dealt with you, then I will be safe. My reign will be firmly established.
Faluri felt the tears course down her cheeks, and she thought of Randolfs intervention. "He is strong, far stronger than youll ever be."
There was a long silence. Then, Hungalis tone of contempt abruptly changed. What do you wear around your waist?

Faluri trembled, clutching the bag in her sweat-soaked hand.

Come now. Let me see.
Faluri held the bag toward the gaping chasm, keeping the contents hidden from sight. "Ill show you if youll consent to remove the illness from the land."

Hungali laughed. You presume to bargain with me?
"This bag contains great weapons from King Elumis own land. Would you not desire to possess them yourself?"
The air from the chasm roared in anger, jerking Faluris tunic as it pummeled her extended hand. Give it to me!
"I must have your word first."
Very well, shrewd creature. I will remove the plague, but you will not leave here alive. Ill have you and the weapons as well. Now give me the bag.

Faluri opened her hand, reaching toward the roiling breeze. Instantly, iron fingers snatched the bag away, tearing it open to expose the contents.
A snarl of utter rage erupted in the air. You deceived me! What is the meaning of this? The bag was flung into the air in disgust. It flew toward Faluris outstretched hand. Hungalis aim was wrong, for the bag clattered onto the stone walkway at Faluris feet, the white leaf and the scarlet skein of yarn erupting from their cloth enclosure.
Suddenly, the overpowering scent that Faluri knew so well filled the air. She gasped as a tree appeared where the Lleaf had fallen, a squat object from which dazzling light poured forth. The trees golden branches swayed, its dazzlingly white leaves glimmering.
Hungalis laughter was horrible to hear. You think a mere tree will stop me? A massive tree the size of a great oak burst from the chasms depths, its towering branches a garish black. The tree bent forward, the snake-like branches wrapping themselves around the smaller tree. The trunk snapped, the deafening pop resembling the sound of a breaking back, and the Talmun tree hurtled into the chasms depths.

Your games bore me. Come and be mine.
As these words rumbled around her, Faluris attention was arrested by the glimmering scarlet yarn that still lay on the stone walkway. The skein was unraveling by itself, the glimmering thread stretching until it reached the lip of the chasm. The yarn continued to unwind, stretching until a thin rivulet of scarlet spanned the infinite divide. Faluri realized she was staring at a bridge.

I see. Yet another tiresome tactic. Hungali rose upward, suddenly transforming into the most handsome man Faluri had ever seen. His jet-black hair billowed around him like a cape, and his fathomless eyes shone with triumph. Calmly, he reached out a hand, clutching the thin rope bridge. I will break this as I destroyed that useless tree.
Yet, Hungalis boasts were futile, for the harder he pulled at the scarlet thread, the weaker he seemed to become. Faluri saw him shake with exertion.
"Hungali." A voice shattered the stillness, and the scarlet thread seemed to move. Faluri saw a form in the distance, a shimmering man walking toward her with measured strides. "Your day of reckoning has come."
That voice! That compassionate, powerful voice! Faluri gaped in shock as she beheld Randolfs approaching form. He walked upon the glimmering bridge, his scarred hands held out in front of him. His face shone with a translucent light.
Instantly, Hungali lunged toward Randolf, his face contorted with rage. The man form dwindled before Faluris eyes, and the powerful breeze pushed against Randolfs advancing form, repeatedly attempting to hurl him yet again into the cavernous depths. It is not possible! You were crushed.
"Faluri, come to me." Randolf continued crossing the bridge, heedless of Hungalis rants.
Yes, Faluri. Go to him. Step upon this futile bridge. It will not bear a mortals weight. When you fall, I shall be waiting to catch you. You shall melt into my embrace, and we shall become one. Hungalis jeers pummeled Faluris stomach, and her heart quaked with fear.
"I will enable you to cross, Faluri. Do not be afraid. Did I not give you sustenance in the barley fields? Did I not transport you here? Did not my branches weaken his power? Though I fell, I rose yet again, and the thread of my lifes blood has provided a crossing over Deaths demesne."
Faluri gaped, seeing within Randolf all the things that he was; a loving brother, a provider of sweetness, a scarlet-maned horse, a tree of life, a bridge builder and a conquering king. Shaking, she took her first tentative step toward the gaping chasm. In her ears, she heard Hungalis laughter. When she stepped onto the bridge, she felt it sway and give. The breeze grew so furious that she heard as in a recurring nightmare the walkway begin to collapse yet again. The bridge groaned as it swayed to and fro. A scream erupted from her throat.
"The bridge will not collapse, Faluri. Trust me."
Her heart in her mouth, Faluri took another step forward, her right hand extended. Warm fingers closed over her own, and she and the king began to walk forward together. The bridge continued to sway and shake violently, but Faluri clung to her brothers strong hand.
As they reached the other side, they stepped from the bridge onto a snowcapped mountain peak. Instantly, the bridge ceased shaking, and in the distance, Faluri saw a towering tree burst from the chasms depths. As the tree emerged, Hungali was thrown back into the chasm. A low rumble emerged from the chasms depths as the ground closed with a thunderous roar. The chasm had closed forever. Hungalis screams were abruptly silenced.
Faluri flung herself into Randolfs embrace. Brother and sister twirled round and round, and Faluri saw a dazzling sight. Vast barley fields stretched before her, the pure snow blanketing them in a profusion of downy white. Oddly, the air was not cold here but crisp and caressing, and the scents of cinnamon, cloves and other unidentifiable spices tickled her nostrils.

This beauty was unsurpassed, but as Faluri stared, she glimpsed a sight more wondrous than any landscape. People worked in the fields side by side. No overseers plied their whips. People of every color and class were united here. In the distance, she saw two figures, a petite, dimpled woman and a muscular man. Both of them sported pointed ears, and their faces were a mirror image of her own.

Suddenly, Faluri was running, her pace as swift as a mountain gazelles. As she ran, the two figures ran as well, their eyes shining. Daughter, father and mother met in a blinding collision, their tears of joy mingling together as they embraced.
Then King Elumi, (or Randolf as he would always be known by Faluri), was there, enfolding the family into his arms and gently wiping the tears from their eyes. "Welcome to Afendia, my sister," he said, his voice like the rushing of many waters. "Welcome home."

Two days later, a brother and sister descended a vast mountain. They trod upon a walkway of scarlet stone which was skirted by two Talmun trees that stood on either side of the path. The trees stood like strong, silent sentries.
The brother and sister journeyed to a valley in search of willing pilgrims, travelers who would accompany them to a new home, a land of perpetual joy. The Chasm Crossers would make many journeys of this kind, and all would be well. The prophecy had been fulfilled. An adopted girl from the Pacmana race had called forth the Kings wondrous grace.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Crossing to Afendia

I am so incredibly sorry- I meant to post this last week but yes, cue the excuses.
Without further ado, here is the winning entry of my short story contest!


         By Meredith B.
Adopted girl from the Pacmana Race will call forth the Kings wondrous grace.

--The Ancient Afendian Scrolls.
"Pointy-Ears! Pointy-Ears!" The ever-increasing multitude of girls danced round and round the huddled form, their jeers growing in volume. Several daring ones gathered stones, preparing to fling them into the young girls face. "Your father and mother defied Hungali. Your no better than a donkey."

Faluri struggled to shift her weight, but the baskets strapped to her back prevented movement. She gritted her teeth and snarled, occasionally hissing in anger as she tried to free herself. Her skeletal frame buckled, and her back screamed in agony. Unintelligible gibberish escaped her mouth as she tried to plead for mercy. A few of the girls backed away, their faces growing pale as they stared at her livid visage, the saliva streaming from her mouth, the teeth exposed in the vicious snarl.
A heavyset girl, her dazzling dress of cloth brocade glinting with jewels, retrieved a stick from the ground. Obviously the ringleader, she thrust the stick forward, jabbing Faluris arm. "Get up and finish your task, donkey."
Faluri fought to stand, but the burden was simply too heavy. She had already fallen twice, and the girls had continued to strap baskets to her back. Curse her distended belly that constantly groaned with hunger! Curse the fruit seller who had momentarily left his stall! Curse the peach that had tasted of ambrosia! How had she been expected to know that the basket had belonged to a noblemans daughter? The glistening fruit had perched upon a shelf unattended, and the sweet scent had driven her mad. She had snatched the peach and started to flee but had been accosted by the heavyset girl who had been perusing ribbons in a nearby stall. "I-I didnt mean—"
"Whats that? Bray louder." The girl laughed, preparing to use her stick for a second assault.
WHACK! A stone flew through the air, and Faluri cringed, fully expecting the missile to be meant for her. Instead, her tormentor screamed as her weapon sailed from her hands and fell into fragments. A broad-shouldered young man emerged from where he had been concealed behind a tree. "Arent you a bit old for such childishness, Ariadne?" he murmured. "Why dont you pick on someone who can fight back?"
Ariadne glared, her eyes glinting with malice. "Uncle Augustus will hear of this, Randolf," she hissed. "Fathers already displeased with your disruptions of the counsel."
"And hell do what, exactly? Send me to the cloisters? The Talmun monks are the only ones who speak the truth."
The girls gasped and turned away, quickly sinking to their knees and touching their foreheads to the earth. "Hungali will kill you one day," one of them murmured. "The cloisters of Afendia are accursed. You learn nothing but lies there."
"Their scrolls are the true ones," the man murmured.
Ariadne laughed. She flounced to Faluris side, removing one of the baskets from her back and sauntering away. The other girls copied her movements. Faluri gasped as the burdens were removed, sighing in relief as her pounding heart subsided.

The man bent over her and smiled. He was probably no more than eighteen or nineteen, and his hazel eyes shone with kindness. He was not impressive-looking but rather plain. Yet, something drew her to him, and she could not turn from his compassionate gaze.
The man extended his hand, offering to help her stand. Faluri shrank back, her eyes widening and another snarl escaping her lips. "Do you bite?" The man grinned at her.

She could not help but smile, for he, (had they called him Randolf?), drew back slightly.
"I wont touch you. I just thought you might need help."

Faluri struggled to her feet, her head spinning as she tried to get her bearings. She opened her mouth, the unintelligible gibberish escaping.
Randolf smiled at her. "Youre welcome. Here." He withdrew a flask of water from the pocket of his tunic. Faluri backed away yet again, her shoulders shaking. How often had she reached out only to receive slaps or worse?
Randolf shrugged. "Youre so thin. Bet youre hungry. Come to my house. Im sure Mother will help you."
Faluri turned to run away, but the boys next words stopped her in her tracks. "Were having stuffed goose and apple meringues tonight. Theyre my favorite dishes."
Faluri turned toward him, her eyes growing wide. Apple meringues? Her mother used to make those. She fell into step beside Randolf, never guessing that these first steps would set into motion such momentous events. As she shuffled in his wake, she became aware of the pulsating ground. Was it her imagination, or was Hungalis heartbeat quickening. Moreover, did the quickening heartbeat signify anger or fear? She did not know, and she did not care.
She remembered the stories told around the hearth of her home. In the version of the story that everyone knew, their was a mountain kingdom that soared above their valley, the Kingdom of Afendia, the Land of Immortality and Perpetual Abundance. She had heard tell of a creature that had infiltrated the land bringing poison in his wake. The creature had been as ugly as he was deadly, a creature who claimed to be king and demanded absolute allegiance. One of Afendias most gifted inhabitants had resolved to save his land, but the king had forced him to leave. Many had followed him, descending the mountains to the valley below and establishing their own kingdom. Yet, the creature often sought to take them away from their home, to force them back into his clutches.

Faluri thought of this story as she followed Randolf from the market. The barley fields lay just beyond a small hillock, the place that only held shame and misery. Randolf turned to the right, leading her up a winding pathway and away from the place of shame. Her mind continued to ponder the story that all the children knew, even the despised Pacmana race.

The alternate version of the story was startlingly different. Only a select few knew of it, for the story was sheer blasphemy. The Pacmana nation was the only race where certain individuals believed the sacriligious tale. In that version, a benevolent king ruled the mountain land of Afendia, providing for his subjects in every way. He stipulated that his subjects not leave the mountain, for the further a person descended, the thicker the air became. Darkness dwelled below the mountain peak, a lonely, depraved beast craving companionship. Darkness clawed at the ground with tenacious fingers, stuffing itself with emptiness and growing ever more hungry. It keened and wailed, pleading for someone to come. One man heard that cry and responded.
The man had attempted to usurp the kings throne. His attempt had failed, and in his anger, he had thrown himself from the mountain peak, tdarkness enveloping him. As he sank into the cold embrace, he felt his body collapse into a gaping chasm. Above him, he thought he glimpsed a hand reaching down as if to pull him up. He shrank from the proffered hand, dwindling into the chasms depths. He was no longer a servant of darkness but darkness itself. His name was Hungali. He keened and thrashed in agony, calling for others to come to him. Many had done so until the land beneath the mountain had become its own settlement.
Faluri had never believed the latter version of the story, but her mother had done so. "My child, if you look into the night sky, youll see a shimmering white star shaped like a hand. The hand is Elumis, my child, the Great King who seeks to help us, to bring us home." Faluri had strained her eyes, seeking the hand that her mother constantly claimed to see. Yet, the fog that enveloped their land prevented her from seeing anything.
"Home, Mother? But, this is our home. We have all we need."
Her mother had frowned and gently tousled her daughters carrot-colored hair. "Do we deserve to be treated as animals? The true scrolls say that in Afendia, there is no slavery. One day, child, I will take you with me, and we will cross to Afendia. We will be reunited with your father. His illness robbed us of many years, but he will see you one day, and we will live together again."
Yet that day had never come, for her mother had become very ill, an illness that seemed to come from nowhere. Great spasms coursed through her body, and she burned with fever. She grew increasingly thin until she was little more than a skeleton, her usually rosy cheeks wan. She had called Faluri to her side two weeks after the illness struck. Speaking through parched lips, she said, "He reaches for me, and I will go to him. He reaches for you, too. He is even now in this land, and he will care for you. I will always be with you." Then, she lay back on her pillows, her eyes closing in sleep. The next morning, she was gone. No trace of her remained, but a scent lingered behind, a scent of cinnamon, cloves and other spices.

"Are you all right?"
Randolfs soft inquiry jarred Faluri from her reverie. She nodded.
"You can speak to me if you want to." He grinned at her.
Faluri swallowed. "I-I snuck away from the barley fields last night. I-I was hungry. I didnt mean to steal anything. The overseers will—"
"Youll be fine at my home. Mother will want to fatten you up. Itll be all right."
Faluri shuddered, her eyes filling with tears. "Why did you help me?"
"Because you needed it. Besides, my cousin is spoiled. She needed to be put in her place. Uncle Locmana wont do anything, so—"
"B-But, I am a Pacmana maiden. They did what was expected."
"By whom?"
Faluri blinked in confusion. "Why, everyone, of course."
"Not by me." Randolf grinned at her and turned right upon a stone pathway. Faluri gasped as she beheld a towering mansion, a dwelling made entirely of glittering stone. Ivory gates stood at the dwellings entrance.
"Randolf! Randolf!" A petite girl pelted through the gates as her brother prepared to open them. Her dimpled cheeks were flushed, and she jumped up and down with excitement. "Poppa got me a pony today. Will you teach me to ride?"
Randolf scooped up the child in his arms, swinging her round and round until she squealed in delight. Depositing her on the ground, he ran round and round, beginning a spontaneous game of tag. The girl chased him, her shrill laughter filling the air. After a few moments, she collapsed in an exhausted heap, giggling and grinning. Randolf plopped down beside her. "Yes, Ill teach you," he panted, tousling the girls hair. "Now, Naolia, meet the young lady I brought home."
Naolia gaped, quickly standing and turning to Faluri. "Youre a Pacmana maiden. You have pointed ears. The stories are true."
Randolf frowned at his sister. "She has beautiful eyes, Naolia, and her ears are unique."

Faluri flushed. No one had ever told her her eyes were beautiful. And, surely what he said was absurd. Pointy ears were a disgrace.
Naolias face fell as she held out her hand. "Im sorry," she murmured.
In spite of herself, Faluri smiled. "Its all right." Tentatively, she clasped the little girls hand in hers.
"Come on," Randolf murmured. "We all better go inside."

"You are impossible, Randolf!" Faluri jerked awake, her full belly groaning with discomfort and her heart pounding. She recognized the voice of Randolfs father, a burly man with an impassive face. "We cant keep her here. Have you any idea the wrath that will descend upon us?"
"Augustus, please." The soft murmurings of Randolfs mother filled the silence. "Youll awaken the girl."
"The rules are binding, Melenda. Hell bring trouble upon us by his constant defiance of the counsel."
"What rules, Father?" Randolfs voice was as soft as ever, but a hint of steel permeated it.
"The counsels, of course. The class distinction is unbreachable. Im sorry about it, but I cannot defy it."
"Why not?"
"Because I—" Augustus voice trailed away.
"Remember the Afendian scrolls, Father? Adopted girl from the Pacmana Race will call forth the Kings wondrous grace."
"B-But, we cannot be the ones to—"
"Oh come now, Augustus," Melinda murmured. "How can you, of all people, say that? Hasnt this family witnessed many wondrous things? Besides, what kind of people would we be if we turned her out? She obviously has no one."

Faluri listened to this exchange in utter confusion, her eyes filling with tears. What was to become of her?
The next morning, she learned the answer. Tentatively rising from the luxurious canopied bed upon which shed slept, she made her way to the large dining room. Randolf held out his hand, guiding her to the table upon which sat a lavish breakfast. "Welcome home," he said.
"Youre a fool, Augustus!" The raspy voice reverberated in the grand hallway, charged with an overpowering anger. "To even have one of them in your home means trouble. Moreover, to express your intention of adopting—"
"She has no one, Locmana. Randolf brought her here a fortnight ago, the most emaciated child Id ever seen. How could I turn her away? Melinda feels the same."
"Youll reign down Hungalis anger upon us! You know the prophecy as well as anyone. The Pacmana race will bring down the foul creature from the mountains of Afendia, and he will devour us all."
"I know what the new scrolls say, but the ancient ones extol the Pacmana race as equal to our own."
"You dare to reference those blasphemous writings? What has come over you? My own brother listening to the rantings of a foolish young upstart! Randolf has no proof that those writings are genuine. Ever since he returned from his studies, hes been an outspoken fool. He does not know what hes saying."
"You speak of my son and your own nephew! You may be lord of this land, but youre also my brother, Locmana. If you cannot respect your own familys decisions, then Ill thank you to leave this house!"
"That animal will ruin you all, you see if she doesnt!" Locmanas footsteps stormed down the hall as he slammed from the house. Aluri stood stock-still in the shadows, her mind reeling and her heart pounding. She turned and hurried to the rear entrance of the mansion, her eyes brimming with tears. Was the noble family that had done so much for her truly in danger? What of Randolf, who had been nothing but kind?

Faluri hurried through a patch of blackberry bushes, journeying to the road that would take her to the marketplace.
"Oh, its the Pacmana Donkey!" A familiar, jeering voice emerged from beyond the blackberry hedge. Faluri cringed and tried to retreat, but Ariadne flounced into view. Her face was flushed with triumph. "What are you doing out here alone? Is Randolf not holding your hand anymore?"
"Leave me alone." Faluris voice emerged in a pathetic squeak. Her mind was jerked back to the humiliating day in the marketplace.
"No. I think you still owe me for that peach you stole. Besides, you dont belong here." For the first time, Ariadnes sneer faltered, a look of fear crossing her face. "My father told me. Youll ruin everything."
Faluri blinked. "Ruin what? Im doing nothing wrong."
"Idiot. Your being born was wrong. Youll bring that creature from the mountains down upon us. Hell kill us all."
"I dont under—"

My pretty one. Come to me.
A gentle voice suddenly burst upon the girls ears. The ground began to pulsate more strongly than ever, a heartbeat of ecstatic anticipation.
A gentle breeze began to blow, carrying with it a strangely cloying scent unlike anything either girl had smelled before. The blackberry bushes bent beneath the winds assault, parting as if to let someone pass. Youre so lovely. Come and be mine.

As the breeze advanced, it grew stronger and stronger. Ariadne gaped and then turned and ran, her face ashen.

The strange presence seemed to pause for a moment, a deep-throated laugh emanating from it. The weaklings always run, but you shall not.
Faluri struggled against the breeze which was no longer gentle. The ground began to quake. Shaking, she fell to her knees, pressing her forehead to the ground in supplication. "G-Great Hungali. Please—"

Yes, my dear? The breeze surrounded her now, pummeling her from all sides. Gentle hands picked her up, clutching her in a grip that was suddenly as strong as iron. You do not need to bow down, for I am here with you. I am taking you to my home, for my loneliness grows daily.
Faluri whimpered, and she suddenly realized that her mother had spoken the truth. She tried to scream, to make even the smallest outcry, but Hungalis hold prevented speech. She felt the breeze move at a lightning pace, traversing miles in seconds. She was being carried she knew not where.

Stones bit into Faluris feet, and her head swam in confusion. As her eyes adjusted to her surroundings, she realized that she stood upon a walkway of stone. Two jutting walls were on either side of her, and her head spun as she realized she stood at a dizzying height. Coldness bit into her, for she was hardly dressed appropriately. The sleeveless tunic was thin, and the leggings were as well. Looking behind her, she saw two snow-capped mountain peaks, their white faces staring impassively at her predicament. The breeze had lessened in intensity but still blew gently.
Welcome, sweet one. Hungalis voice emerged from her right, but Faluri could see no one. She dared to turn her head and immediately regretted her mistake.
A chasm loomed at the edge of the walkway, so vast as to be unbelievable. The sheer drop yawned up at her like a gaping mouth. Pinpricks of light danced before Faluris eyes as she strained to catch a glimpse of the bottom, but it was clear that this chasm was bottomless. The ground itself moved here, seeming to breathe of its own accord. Faluris knees buckled as her heart plummeted in fear.
Its rather frightening at first, I know. Hungalis tones were so caressing, his voice dripping with a musical cadence as sweet as syrup. I was frightened as well. Yet, I cast myself from his land of obligation and ingratitude. I embraced my own destiny.
Faluri trembled, her mouth growing dry. "Y-You are no longer who you were, no longer a brilliant man."

Precisely, clever girl. I am a god. Yet, godhood is rather trying at times. The loneliness is overwhelming.
"M-My father and mother. You killed them, didnt you?" Tears sprang to her eyes, but she tried to hold them back. She did not want this creature to see her weep.

Why do you mortal ones always cry. It is decidedly demeaning and accomplishes nothing. Contempt laced his voice. Then, he resumed his gentle tones. Killing is such a harsh term. I did nothing. It was their fault. They refused to listen to my warning. I told them to give you to me, yet they refused to do so.
Faluri thought of her mothers final days of illness. "Y-Youre a monster."
The air from the chasm swelled in a roaring torrent, and the ground quaked violently. Faluri trembled, quickly stammering, "I-I am sorry. What do you want from me?"

I told you! I want you for my own. All you need do is come to me. Just cast yourself into my embrace.
Faluri stepped backward, her eyes growing round with horror. "Never!"

Then I shall reak havoc on the land. My wrath will know no bounds, for I will make the Pacmana nation and the nobles suffer beyond anything they have ever dreamed.
"Faluri!" A voice, an honest, human voice, burst upon her. It came from her left. Faluri sighed in relief. She knew that voice. Turning, she saw Randolfs strong arm beckoning to her from behind the jutting stone wall. "Grab onto me."
Faluri stared at her surroundings. His hand was far enough away that she dared not reach toward it. One false step, and she would hurtle into Hungalis arms.
As if to confirm her suspicion, the ground quaked yet again, a derisive laugh filling the air. You fool! You think a mere mortals handclasp will save you?
"What are you frightened of, Hungali? That the prophecies are true? "Adopted girl from the Pacmana race will call forth the Kings wondrous grace." Randolfs voice soared above the laughter.

I destroyed those prophecies long ago.
"The prophecies will never die." Randolf continued to proffer his hand. How had he gotten here? Faluri knew that a decision had to be made.
Trembling, she turned from the chasm, reaching out her hand toward Randolf. Instantly, the chasm roiled, a clattering sound as of pounding hoofbeats emerging from its depths. Faluri dared one look back and saw a coal-black steed. Fire spewed from the steeds mouth as it thundered from the chasm and onto the walkway. The animal was not solid but transparent. The air that comprised Hungalis being had transformed into this massive beast. It charged at Faluri, stones from the walkway hurtling into the void below.
Faluri closed her eyes, desperately groping for Randolfs hand. Warm fingers closed over her own, and a tremendous hjerking sensation occurred as she was lifted into the air and deposited onto a snow-covered hill. A tremendous shattering sound assaulted her, and she opened her eyes in time to see the last of the walkway disintegrate. The horse stood in midair and lunged at Randolf, who stood directly in front of Faluri, shielding her from the oncoming attack. She realized that his hand had never moved, that he was reaching out to the horse as well. Randolf was not just her brother. She understood that he was so much more. As this understanding burst upon her, she saw the steeds massive body collide with Randolf. Transforming into the swirling air, Hungali shoved Randolf toward the gaping chasm. You! It was you all along! Your efforts are futile, Elumi! She will be mine!
Faluri screamed as her brother plummeted into the ever-expanding chasm, the air pressing down upon him in a suffocating avalanche as the stone wall began to buckle. She saw flying debris cut into Randolfs face and hands. He was bleeding so very much. "No! No!" She lunged at the dwindling wall, fully aware of Hungalis crazed laughter, of the thundering tattoo of his heartbeat pounding out a drunken swell of triumph.
It was then that another breeze wrapped itself around Faluris quivering form, a breeze that smelled of cinnamon, cloves and other unidentifiable spices. She felt herself being lifted, and blackness engulfed her. As she sank into sleep, she heard Hungalis angry vow: Youll return to me even if I have to kill everyone else, pretty one. Ill make them give you up!

Two Months Later

Faluri heard the groans and cries before she reached the fields. The clash of whips brought bile to her throat. She had worked in these fields so often with her mother. Now, she paused before the vast stretch of swaying barley plants. Women struggled under heavy baskets which were strapped to their backs. They crawled along the ground, gathering stalks of barley. Young girls stood in a colossal pit, their hands and feet moving in a rhythmic dance as they used mallets to crush barley stalks into coarse granules of sugar. Men struggled to unload heavy crates of the freshly prepared sugar into colossal chests.

Above this activity loomed five burly men, each of them wearing crimson robes. They held whips in their hands as they marched through the fields. Faluri gasped as a young girl paused in the rhythm of the dance, slumping forward and crying with exertion. The mallet fell from her trembling hand, and she bent to retrieve it.
SWISH! SWISH! One of the overseers paused beside the pit, his whip crashing upon the little girls shoulders. Faluri screamed and bolted toward the pit. She lunged at the overseer, attempting to snatch the whip.
"Stay back, beast!" The overseer shoved Faluri backward, delivering a vicious blow to her stomach. She gasped and struggled to reach the pit, to cradle the young girl and bring her comfort.
"Wait." One of the other overseers approached at the sound of the commotion. He scrutinized Faluri closely, grabbing one of her hands. "Soft as goat cheese," he murmured. "You dont belong here, despite your obvious Pacmana status. A house slave, eh?" He leered at her. "What brings you here?"
Faluri shuddered, longing to back away from his scrutiny. Yet, she also realized that he had given her a golden opportunity, and she must make the most of it. "Lord Locmana sent me here to retrieve another girl for the kitchens."
The overseer frowned. "Do you take me for a fool? His Lordship has been ill for a week. He cant even rise from his bed. Why are you really here?"
"Im telling you the truth. Some dignitaries are coming for a banquet tomorrow, and were short-staffed."
The overseer leant closer to her, his leer more pronounced than ever. "White-faced wench thinks she can pull one over on me, does she?" he chortled. "Ill just put you to work till I can verify your story."
Faluri gaped. "Y-Youll pay for your mistreatment of me."
The overseer laughed. "Lord Locmana could care less what happens to you swine." He shoved her toward the pit. As she fell into the gaping hole, the deep thrumming of the earth immediately pulled at her, forcing her to rise and move in tandem with its rhythm. She struggled with all her might to resist, but the pulsating heartbeat brutally pummeled her, causing horrendous pain.
"You must obey him," a little girl whispered. "If you dont, youll be beaten."
Faluri gasped and turned to the familiar voice. With a strangled cry, she reached out a hand to the petite, auburn-haired girl, the only one whose ears were not pointed. "Naolia," she whispered. "Its me."

-- The rest of the story coming soon... --

Savo'lass a lalaith,
-The Writer