Adam: Preface
gracie113
It isnt done yet. but this is what I have of the preface so far......   








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Adam
 
 
 
 
By: Ashley Hannan

 
Preface:
One hand gently supported the back of her head. His large rough fingers were tangled in the blonde tresses that were matted and coated with blood. Her left eye was so swollen she was barely able to open it anymore. The left eye was pink and bloodshot, surrounded by deep purple and black bruises, and the crosshatching of the butt of a gun was imprinted in the skin above her right temple. Her eyelashes fluttered and tears began to well up in her ice blue eyes as the pain began to overwhelm her.
“It’s going to be okay baby; I’m going to get you to a doctor. It’s going to be okay,” he consoled her.
He slipped one arm beneath her legs and pulled her in close to his chest as he lifted her off of the concrete floor. A small groan of pain escaped between her two busted, bloody lips as he did.
“Easy, easy baby,” he said carrying her out of the small, cramped room. The room was in the far corner of the dimly lit, dingy basement of the large warehouse. The stench of mold mingled with the rusty scent of the blood drying on her skin.
He stepped over three lifeless bodies that lay limp on the floor. The henchmen had attempted to keep him from getting to her. The fight began the moment he reached the bottom of the stairs and lasted until the third goon was unconscious on the floor.
He carried her up the stairs and out the front door of the old warehouse. His car was parked out of sight just beyond the tree line.
He placed her gently in the back seat and wrapped his jacket around her. Quickly he got into the car, turned the ignition, and took off back toward the town.

Deep Freeze: Chapter One
gracie113
 
 
 
Deep Freeze
 
 
 
 
By: Ashley Hannan

 
Chapter One
 
Inside the small, dim office, paperwork sat in overwhelming, disheveled piles on every flat surface available. The blinds over the window on the door were shut, but they hung crooked so that the left side was slightly higher than the right. The blinds on the windows were drawn as well. A small desk lamp was the only source of light to illuminate the workspace.
On the floor between the desk and the large, black, leather desk chair sat a tall brunette mulling over stacks of papers and photographs. She softly talked to herself as she moved stuff from one pile to another.
She picked a pen up off of the floor and chewed on the cap for a moment before circling something on one of the papers and scribbling some barely legible notes next to it. Then the pen returned to its place in her mouth. There was not a single pen in her office which has not been chewed on out of stress or frustration.
A knock on the door interrupted her work.
“Come in,” she called with the pen still in between her teeth.
One of the cadets stuck his head in and said, “Chief   O’Hare wants you in his office. Immediately.”
Without looking up to acknowledge him, she waived the cadet away and said, “In a minute.”
The door closed quickly as the cadet scurried away.
She finished scribbling her notes down on the piece of paper in front of her then shoved it back into the stack it came from.
Her feet were numb from sitting in the same position so long. She stood slowly, trying to use the desk chair for support. The chair rolled sideways into the desk and knocked a pile of papers onto the floor.
A curse escaped her lips as the papers came crashing down.
“Deal with it later,” she mumbled as she headed toward the door.
 
*****


Chief’s office door was closed and the blinds were shut completely.
“Not good,” she sighed as she knocked on the door. She knew Chief O’Hare never called anyone into his office unless they were in trouble. In the three years she had been under his command she had always seen him go to other’s offices to talk, unless it was really bad. A nervous dread began to rise up in her throat.
“Come in,” the Chief called from inside.
Slowly, she turned the door knob and made her way into the office.
“Chief, you wanted to see me?”
“Yes, please sit,” he said motioning to the chairs in front of his desk.
Uneasily, she took a seat across from him. Chief O’Hare was a short, heavy set man in his late fifties. He sat there rummaging through a pile of paperwork then looked up at her from beneath large, silver, bushy eyebrows. As she met the gaze of his steel blue eyes, a shiver ran down her spine.
“It has been over six weeks,” was all he said.
“Yes sir.”
“I know it has been hard on you, but it is time to move forward.”
“Sir, I don’t think –
“I know you don’t,” he interrupted, “but the important thing is that I think you’re ready. You have spent way too much time on this case. Not only am I assigning you a new partner, but I am also giving you a new case load. I do not want you spending as much time on the FHK case as you have been. It isn’t good to be so obsessed. You have not closed a single case in two months. That case has consumed your time; not to mention your office. It is time for you to get something productive done around here.”
“But Chief, I --” she began to protest
He held his hand up to silence her.
“Don’t get me wrong, you will still be working lead on the FHK. You know more about him than any other officer. I cannot afford to pull you off the case, but you need to work on other things as well. Your new partner can help you with balancing it all.”
He pressed a button on his phone and spoke into it, “Lorena, you can send him in now.”
“Chief, I really don’t think that this is necessary. I am just –
His hand came up again to silence her.
A heavy knock on the door preceded it opening to reveal the person Chief O’Hare had decided would be her previous partner’s replacement.
He was at least six foot four; short, buzzed blonde hair; and piercing, icy blue eyes. His lightly tanned skin was off-set by his choice of wardrobe – dark jeans, a white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket. In one hand, he held onto a motorcycle helmet, and in the other, he held a green and grey backpack.
“Detective Gabriella DeLuca, I would like you to meet your new partner –
“Collin,” he interrupted, extending his hand to her.
He’s a puppy! She thought. He can’t be any older than Isabella! Like twenty, twenty-one, if that? He has got to be fresh out of the academy. I cannot believe the Chief is sticking me with this kid! “Chief, is this really necessary? I don’t—
“DeLuca, stop. You and Collin will be partnered for as long as he chooses to stay stationed here. Not negotiable. End of conversation. Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir,” she huffed.
“Now please, show him around and get started. I will have one of the cadets bring some paperwork over to your office.”
“Yes, sir,” she conceded and walked out of the office.
Collin followed quickly at her heels, “Have I done something to offend you?”
“No,” she retorted.
“You sure?”
“Yes.”
“Then what’s with the attitude?” he questioned.
She stopped dead in her tracks and turned around to face him, “Listen, six weeks ago, my partner was killed in a shootout with a serial killer called FHK – the Frozen Hearts Killer. Due to extenuating circumstances his body was never recovered so we never got to bury him. But I had to watch him die. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I worked with him for the last six years. He was like,” she paused, “like a second father to me. At first, I was a mess. I barely managed to hold it together. But I’m fine now. I have managed just fine on my own without another partner since then. I don’t need to have some boy, fresh out of the academy, being assigned to follow me around and get in my way while I am trying to get work done,” she snapped.
Without a second’s hesitation he responded, “Chief didn’t tell you, did he?”
“Tell me what?”
“Who I am,” Collin stated.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Let’s try this again,” his voice changed from the soft shy ‘puppy’ she had originally assumed him to be to a more commanding and authoritative tone, “Federal Bureau of Investigation, Supervisory Special Agent Collin O’Hare of the Seattle Washington field office. I’ve been assigned to work within this precinct as a liaison for the FBI as long as the FHK is still on the streets. So as long as that case is open on your desk, you are stuck with me. You might not like it, but you had better get used to it.”
He walked passed her and headed down the hall toward the precinct lobby.
O’Hare? As in Chief O’Hare? The Chief assigned me to work with his son? What the hell am I getting myself into? I can’t –
Her thoughts were interrupted by his voice calling from down the hall, “you coming?”
All she could manage was “uh-huh” as she grouchily trailed behind him.
In the lobby she could feel peoples’ stares and hear hushed whispers as she walked in. it had been like that ever since the incident. Every time she walked into the room, it got silent and peoples’ eyes nearly burned holes in her.
Every time some new case development broke with FHK it got even worse. It was as if they thought she might break from just one more added stressor.
She had become a near hermit after the incident happened. She isolated herself from everyone around her and alienated herself completely. Even those closest to her had allowed her to push them away. In the most crowded of rooms she still felt completely alone.
His voice broke through the silence in her mind, “Where is your office?”
Through gritted teeth she responded, “Down the main corridor. Last door on the left.”
He turned and headed toward her office; she trailed a few feet behind him.
When he reached her door at the end of the hall, he waited for her to catch up. She stopped and looked at him momentarily.
“Ladies first,” he said as he pushed her office door open.
She glared at him as she pushed her way between his body and the door frame. He stared back into her dark brown eyes. The icy blue of his eyes struck something inside her. He had Chief’s eyes.  As she unintentionally brushed against him, she could smell the scent of musky deodorant, salty beach air, and the thick smell of leather from his jacket.
Paying more attention to him than to where she was going her left thigh collided with the corner of the short bookshelf near the door. She let out a pained groan and reached down to rub the now sore spot on her leg.
After a quick moment of recovery she walked to the other side of the room and behind her desk. She quickly picked up the mess of papers from earlier and placed them on the edge of her desk. She was overly careful not to repeat the earlier mishap and knock any more onto the floor.  Then, she slid into the large, black leather chair and let out a heavy sigh.
He shut the door behind himself as he walked in.
Her eyes scanned across the desk. She reached up quickly, grabbed a small stack of disheveled post it notes and shoved them into the top drawer of her desk. 
His eyes quizzically looked her up and down What was that all about? He wondered.
As he came around the corner of the desk, she looked up and scowled at him. She pushed the drawer shut with her elbow and the lock clicked into place – sealing her secrets away inside.
“You might not like that I have been assigned to work with you on this case, but –
She interrupted, “Really? Now what gave you that idea?” Her biting sarcasm came across slightly more obnoxious than she had intended.
-- but,” he continued on, ignoring her comment, “you are stuck with me until FHK is caught, killed or until I tell my bosses I am no longer useful here. So you might as well get used to the idea of having me around, because in order to catch him, we are going to need to work together.”
She scowled at him momentarily then reached for a stack of papers on the opposite edge of her desk. She moved the papers to another pile and removed a white, three ring binder from underneath. “What do you know about the case?” she questioned.
“Frozen Hearts Killer, also known as FHK. A serial killer who has been terrorizing Colorado for the past two years, primarily around Denver. He kidnaps his victims at night. He sends a riddle by untraceable carrier services telling when and where the body can be found. When the bodies are recovered, they always have the same injuries – bruising on the wrists and ankles from being bound, bruising on the esophagus showing signs of strangulation,” he paused, “he probably strangles them until they pass out as a means of making transportation easier during the abduction. Bodies are always frozen with CO2, but not before he cuts out the heart. Cause of death is exsanguination from blood loss when the heart is cut out. No sign of any anesthetics. These women feel everything. As if that is not sick enough, the heart is never recovered. Presumably, it is kept as some sort of disgusting trophy.
There were a few leads being followed: Edward Naturi, Mac Windor, and Shawn Malloy. All of which had air tight alibis the night that,” he paused for a moment to look at her, “the night that Frank Silas was killed.”
She let out a low snarl, “What do you know about Frank? You think you can come in here all high and mighty and instantly know everything about this case and all that I have been through? You have no idea what –
He interrupted her again, “Detective DeLuca, I am not here to undermine your authority or cause a problem. Like I said before, I am here because I was assigned by my boss to work on this case. As soon as we catch this guy, I’m gone. I was not saying anything disrespectful in regards to your former partner, Frank Silas. From what I hear, he was an exceptional man and was very good at his job.
I was simply stating the facts that the three major leads we had – Naturi, Windsor, and Malloy – all had alibis for the night he was killed, and; therefore, could not have been FHK. Naturi was at a dinner party with his wife. At least thirty witnesses could corroborate his story. Windsor was at work; videotape of the construction site corroborates. And Malloy was out of the country and we have the plain manifest and a pile of other paperwork and photographs that can document it.
All I was saying is that I know the case details. I have followed your work on this case from the Washington field office for just over a year and a half now. I was not in any way, shape, or form saying anything bad about Detective Silas.”
She huffed angrily, “Fine, what do you know about the unsub’s profile?”
“Unknown subject is presumed to be a single white male, between the ages of forty five and fifty five; with some sort of medical degree based on how cleanly and precisely he was able to remove the heart without damaging any of the other organs, and to keep the victims alive through most of the procedure without sedation. Believed to potentially also have some sort of criminal justice or law enforcement background. He is highly intelligent, more than likely some sort of advanced educational degree. Possibly works in forensics or pathology within law enforcement,” he rattled off.
“Victims?” she grilled.
“May twenty third of two thousand eight. Natalia Morales. Age twenty four. Five foot six. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Caucasian. Taken from her apartment north of Denver around eleven pm.
Note found on her pillow gave a riddle detailing when and where her body could be found:
‘At a mile above it is clear to see
            That one week’s time will reveal her body.
            And though the mile high is no more
            She lies where the rocks now roar.’

The first line is not too well defined, but the second is obvious. He gave one week until her body would be discovered. The third line clarifies the first, changing ‘a mile above’ to ‘a mile high’ referring to the baseball field. The next line references rocks for the Colorado Rockies. They now reside at Coors field instead of Mile High. Her body was discovered on the pitcher’s mound one week after she disappeared. Unfortunately, he is very good at what he does and we; therefore, have not been able to correctly decipher any of the riddles before a body turns up.”
“Second victim?” she questioned.
“June twenty-third. Abigail Dardras. Age twenty-three. Five foot seven. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Taken from her work parking lot – a bar downtown. Note found on her car read:
‘One love, one life had been taken a month ago.
One more week until I can let this one go.
Does it make you mad that my game has just begun
Or that yet another will never laugh or run?
            She is mine for all of forever, for all of eternity.

But for eighteen dollars you too can see what I see.’
Abigail was taken exactly one month after Natalia. And found one week later. The riddle is a taunt, begging us to catch him. Her body was discovered at the Madcap Comedy Theater over on Westminster Boulevard. That had to be why he chose the word ‘mad’ versus ‘angry or some other word in line three. It’s also why he chose to use the word ‘laugh’ in line four. And the eighteen dollars in the last line must refer to the cost of admission at Madcap.
Third victim,” he continued, “Missy Rivera. August first. Age twenty-five. Five foot six. Brown hair and eyes. Taken from the library at the University of Colorado in Denver. Not found in her biology textbook –
She cut him off, “Okay, I get the point. You know the case well enough. I am not really sure how they are expecting you to help though. It isn’t like we have had any new case developments or information since the last victim – Stacy Eller- last month. We recovered her body and now all we can do is wait and hope that something new will turn up before he strikes again; however, the chances of that are slim considering I have been through each of the crime scenes over and over again during the past two years.”
“Well, maybe a fresh pair of eyes can give you some new angles on the case,” he offered.
“Maybe,” she mused.
“Maybe we should organize this mess first,” he commented, looking around the room.
“What mess? This is not a mess. This is my casework. It’s –
“Organized chaos?” he joked.
She flashed him a dirty look.
He couldn’t help but chuckle at her hostility. He noticed how her eyebrows furrowed and her nostrils flared ever so slightly when she became upset with him.
“What?”
“Nothing,” he replied, “Just, nothing. Where would you like me to start?”
“They’re in chronological order.”
He quickly glanced around the room searching for some way to figure out where the beginning was. There was no clear indication as to where to begin and his eyes wandered back to her. She was busy scribbling something on another post-it-note, “Detective DeLuca?”
“Over there,” she pointed toward the corner bookshelf opposite her desk, “folder on the top left corner. The blue one. Not the green one. The green folder is – oh never mind. You wouldn’t understand it anyway. Just start with the blue one,” she mumbled. “And don’t mess anything up either,” she snipped.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied sarcastically as he reached for the folder.
 
*****

 
Chapter Two
Six Weeks Later….
“Last one,” Agent O’Hare said as he set another box on top of the desk beside him.
In the past month and a half, three more bodies had been discovered – Candice Monroe, Claudia Barr, and Zoria Donivan. All matching the same MO as FHK.
Chief O’Hare had figured that if his son and Detective DeLuca were going to be working together as a special projects team to take down FHK they would need more space to work and moved them into one of the conference rooms.
During the move, Agent O’Hare had managed to organize some of the chaos from Detective DeLuca’s office. He had at least managed to get all of the loose documents into their corresponding folders and put the folders into chronologically organized piles. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do for now.
Detective DeLuca hurried in, not looking where she was going, she ran directly into Agent O’Hare.
“Sorry. Sorry,” she muttered, “You need to look at this. We have another one,” she slammed a fax down on the table; “arrogant piece of garbage sent us a fax.”
He leaned over the table to read the note.
Can you catch me before I strike again?
            Will you save her from her own sin?
            In three days this note’s validity will expire.
            So do you see now that this situation is dire?
            Save her if you will or if you even can,
            from this, my spine chilling plan.
            At exactly three, three days hence
            her eternal salvation will commence.
            Remember my truth and follow this line
            And maybe you can save her from becoming mine.

“What kind of sick pervert is this guy? He faxed the riddle before even abducting the next victim? Disgusting,” he blurted.
“I know,” her reply, “so let’s get him this time.”
“Where would you like to begin?” he asked.
“There is one more set of boxes in my office. Why don’t I go grab those and then we can figure out what’s next.”
“Okay.”
“I’ll be right back,” she said as she headed out the door toward her office.
 
*****
 
            She sat quietly in a large rolling chair in the corner of the room looking out at the sun as it was beginning to sink over the smoky, purple mountains west of the city. Hazy shades of pink, purple, and orange clouds hung low over the sky. The clouds every movement reflected against the tall city buildings like sparkling jewels.
            “I’ve read this same paragraph four times already,” she said slamming the folder down on the floor, “This clearly isn’t getting us anywhere.”
            “Think maybe we should call it a night?”
            “No, I haven’t figured this riddle out yet. We need to keep working. We just need to do something different.”
            “Well what did you have in mind?” he questioned.
            “I’m not sure. I think I need another look at the most recent riddle,” she said standing up and crossing the conference room to where the most recent riddle sat atop the folder including all the other riddles.
            “What if we look at them together?” he suggested more than asked, coming up beside her.
            “How so?” She asked.
            “Well, everything in poetry has some sort of rhyme or pattern or reason to it, right? So what if we look at them from a literary perspective and not just the perspective of law enforcement? Like, what about his style and his word choice and all that kind of stuff? What if this guy,” he paused for a second, “what if he is trying to use the riddles to throw us off but really giving himself away in the process? Every criminal slips up at some point; what if his slip up is somewhere in these riddles?”


The Guardian Chapter 8
gracie113
Chapter Eight:

They stayed up for the majority of the night talking about the prophecy. As she had expected, he had many questions for her. Most of his questions, she was not allowed to answer yet. Much to his frustration, she had to repeatedly explain to him that she had to wait for permission from her Master to answer most of his questions.

The fire started to dwindle down to subtle embers as the sun slowly began to rise.

“Traveling in the light of day is just too dangerous,” she said, “it would be best for us to sleep now and then travel at night.”

“My horse is at the tavern still. So are my belongings. I need to go back for them,” he told her.

“As are mine,” she replied, “we will go tonight for them. For now, we must rest.”

“Fine,” he mumbled.

She stood up and stamped on the remaining embers, putting them out completely.

As he lay down to go to sleep, a sharp screech echoed through the woods.

She watched as his body tensed, Don’t worry. Not them.”

He cocked his head sideways, questioning.

She gave no answer, only let out a long, high whistle, then went silent.

After a few minutes, the silence was broken by rustling branches above them.

He watched as she stood gazing up into the tree. Branches moved over head, causing pine needles to rain down on them.

He looked up to see a red tail hawk fluttering from branch to branch. It let out soft, squeaky chirps as it flew.

After a few minutes, the bird swept out of the branches above and came down to rest on the ground at her feet.

Raella plopped down on the ground by the hawk, crossed her legs beneath her, and extended her arm out toward the bird.

Adam watched the hawk hop forward onto her forearm and climb up onto her shoulder.

It clicked noisily at Raella. She shushed it. It clicked even more loudly.

“You are being rude,” she said.

He questioned why she was talking to it.

“This is Nika,” she patted the bird’s head, “He is my traveling companion.”

He watched as she doted on the bird, ruffling his feathers and gently playing with and petting him.

The bird suddenly stopped playing with her, then turned to look directly at him.

Nika cocked his head to one side then let out a high screech.

“Say hello,” Raella directed at him.

“Uhm,” he stammered, “Hello?” His greeting came out as more of a question.

Nika screeched again.

“Nika, this is Adam.”

The bird turned to her and chattered furiously.

“Yes, yes. He knows some. Only what I am allowed to tell,” she said.

Nika continued his noisy speech.

“I know that. You think I do not know that? I do. Stop harassing me and calm yourself.”

The bird finally went silent.

“Tonight we will return to the tavern for our belongings. For now, he and I need sleep. Will you stay watch?”

Nika clicked once then took off back into the tree top.

He let out another cry as he flew away.

“You should rest,” Raella said.

“Probably,” Adam replied.

She slowly propped herself up against the tree’s trunk and attempted to get settled in.

“Sleeping like that cannot be comfortable,” he said.

“I’m fine,” she said slightly coldly.

His mouth hung open slightly. He wasn’t sure why she snapped at him that way. He started to say something to her, but then thought better of it and decided to go to bed instead. He rolled over, and crossed his arms under his head as a pillow.

Neither of them spoke another word before he drifted off to sleep.

Raella, however, stayed awake longer, keeping watch, until her eyelids finally grew too heavy and exhaustion overwhelmed her once again.

*****

Raella woke a few hours later. The sun had set beyond the mountains and night had overtaken the forest. Beneath the wayward pine, she was shrouded in shadows and darkness.

She glanced over to where Adam had been sleeping, only to find an empty space where he should have been. The pine needles were pressed down where he had been laying, but there was no body there.

She choked on her breath as she realized he was gone.

“No.” She gasped, “No, no, no. Please no.”

She scrambled to her feet. In panic, she grabbed her knife from her bag and ran from beneath the shelter of the pine.

Footprints led from the edge of the pine deeper into the darkened forest.

She ran after him, until she lost his tracks in the underbrush.

“I will kill him. When I find him, I will kill him myself,” she muttered.

She bent low to look at the bushes she stood in. Green Kallinberries grew in clusters on the bushes. She noticed all the ripe berries had been picked away. A few small twigs were snapped sideways along the south side of the bushes.

Raella followed the trail of broken twigs through the brush to a small clearing in the woods.

Adam was bent over a small cluster of bushes at the opposite edge of the clearing. She quickly darted through the tall grass to where he stood.

“Are you out of your mind?” She asked, “What were you thinking? They could have found you. Why are you out in the open? They would have killed you,” she hissed.

He turned to face her. Red smudges streaked the corners of his mouth. At first, she thought it was blood, but upon closer inspection, realized it was berry juice.

He extended his hand out to hers in a closed fist.

“Here,” he said.

Raella placed her hand, cupped, beneath his. Adam dropped a handful of ripe, red Kallinberries into her hand.

“Thought you could probably use something to eat.”

“You still should not have left the…”

He interrupted her, “I also caught this,” he bent over and picked up a dead rabbit off of the ground.

“Oh. Well…”

Adam interrupted her again, “I believe the words you are looking for are ‘thank you.’”

For a moment, she stood there utterly speechless, then she softly said, “Thank you. We should go eat this, then go back to the tavern for our belongings.”

“Probably,” he agreed as he grabbed another handful of berries of the bush.

She grabbed his wrist and led him back across the clearing toward their hiding place beneath the pine.

*****

Darkness shrouded the city as they made their way back to The Cyphert. The dimly lit, dingy tavern reeked of damp horse hide and the feint smell of red clay.

The Guardian Chapter 7
gracie113
Chapter Seven: Bria

The ride to Bria was exhausting. After spending the entire day hunting for him, riding through the night was grueling and draining to say the least. A few times, she felt herself falling asleep in the saddle.

She entered the North West corner of Bria just as the sun was rising over the city. Although Bria was much larger than the small farming and fishing town of Elyia, it was quite a bit smaller than Sarook.

“If he is here,” she thought to herself, “I should have no problem finding him.”

*****

After an hour of searching, she came across the small tavern Jamal had told her of, “The Cyphert Tavern.”

The moment she stepped inside of the tavern, the barmaid gave her a dirty look. She was a short, heavy woman with chubby red cheeks and scraggly strawberry gold hair. Her bushy eyebrows furrowed and her nose crinkled.

“Yes?” the woman questioned.

“Ma’am,” she nodded, “I am looking for someone who may be staying here.”

“You do not know whether or not your friend stays here?” the woman asked coldly.

“No ma’am. I am sorry, I do not know if he is here. I just received word from someone that they had seen him traveling this way.”

“Well, I can leave word that you were here, but we have a strict policy against breaking the confidences of our customers,” she said irritated, “If your friend is here, you can give me your message and I will tell him.”

“No, that will not be necessary. I am sure I can find him later.”

“Fine,” the woman snarled as she went back to cleaning the bar.

*****

She stood, waiting outside of the tavern, hoping to see him. Eventually, she walked over to a small furniture shop across the way. She talked with the owner for a while. When he went inside to tend to a customer she sat on one of the hand crafted benches outside the shop.

After a few hours, she was about ready to give up. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a shadow at the edge of the building.

It was him. She just knew. Even though she had not seen his face, she knew. She knew how he walked, how he moved, how he talked. She knew everything about this man.

Yet, he knew nothing about himself. He knew nothing of his own importance. He had no idea how his own life fit into the grand design.

She slowly rose from her seat, trying not to be overly obvious.

As if on cue, the hooded figure slid from around the corner of the building out onto the street. He weaved between the carts and people on the street.

She kept her eyes locked on him as she followed.

He paused at a flower cart. His back was to her. It seemed to be an attempt to make her believe he was unaware of her presence.

She stopped and looked in a shop window. She tried to be inconspicuous and not seem out of place. She watched his reflection in the glass as he slowly walked around to the other side of the cart. She could still see him through the flowers.

He picked up a small bouquet of red Cormarinths. He examined them closely. She watched as his eyes closed and he sniffed the flowers deeply. As he set the flowers back down, he said something to the woman standing beside the cart then continued down the street toward the open market.

“No!” her mind screamed. If he made it to the market, he would be gone.

She took off in a full run. She weaved in and out of the people on the street. She pushed people out of the way, proclaiming apologies as she went.

She watched as he looked back over his shoulder. His eyes locked on her. The panic in his eyes was an all too familiar look. He was about to run, she knew it.

A large man with a basket of vegetables stepped right in front of her. She gave him a death glare as she attempted to dodge him. Unfortunately, the man’s son was following right on his heels. She tripped over the boy and fell forward.

Her hands hit the cobblestone first. It stung so intensely that it brought tears to her eyes. Her knees cracked against the street. She let out a yelp of pain.

She looked up in panic. The boy she had tripped over attempted to help her up. She pushed his hand away from her. He backed up slowly.

Her eyes scanned back and forth across the road between where she was and the edge of the market. He must have already reached the market’s edge. Fear rose up in her throat. She could barely breathe.

“No,” she groaned in agony, “No. No, no, please no.”

He was gone.

“Gaah!” she snarled and slammed her fist down on the ground. Her hand stung again. She pushed herself up to her feet, muttering and grumbling under her breath.

A few people were staring at her. She glowered fiercely back at them then moved out of the street. Making a scene and spectacle of herself would get her nowhere.

“His horse and all belongings are at the tavern,” she said aloud. “He will not leave her. He has to go back,” she paused, “I hope.”

She turned and headed back toward the Cyphert.

*****

The sun had already begun to set by the time she saw him again. She was sitting at a table in the corner of the tavern, looking out the window at the people in the street. Outside, the sky was covered in dark grey clouds and wind was howling ferociously.

He was standing in the doorway of the furniture shop that she had been at just a few hours before. He was had his hood pulled up over his head. In the shadows beneath the hood she could see deep blue eyes looking out across the street.

Panic swept over her. Last time, she slipped up. When he noticed her following him, he ran. The time before that, he saw one of them, and he ran. She knew that if he saw her, or any of them again, he would try to run.

She slid out of her seat and tossed a coin onto the table to pay for her drinks. She moved through the crowd of people making their way to the door. As they all poured out onto the street, she stayed behind a group of women who were talking and laughing. She payed no attention to their conversation, but kept her eyes locked on him as she moved with the group.

Without making too much of a disturbance, she maneuvered herself behind a produce cart at the edge of the street. As she hid behind the cart, trying to look out at him without being seen, the cart’s owner began packing up his belongings. When he saw her hiding behind his cart, he looked at her strangely.

She ignored his bizarre, questioning looks and she scanned the street, looking to see if any of them were watching. She did not see any of them, but that does not mean that they were not there, hiding and lurking in the shadows. She was sure she could hear their faint howls every time the loud wind blew.

He turned to talk to one of the merchants on the street. As he did, she snuck between the vendors until she was less than fifty feet from him. He stopped talking to the vendor and looked back out across the market. His eyes fixed on her.

She muttered one of the dark words under her breath.

He turned away from her and took off toward the market place.

Immediately she reacted, running after him.

She heard their howling in the wind yet again. She looked over her shoulder to see them running after her. She took off, running faster than before. The noises and images of the marketplace blurred into obscurity as she ran. He became the only thing that she could focus on.

She saw him turn onto a side road and knew that the only way she could catch him, without giving herself away would be to outmaneuver him.

She had spent enough time following him to know what his next move would be. He would try to get out of the city as rapidly as possible. The fastest way out of Bria would be south toward the forest.

She ducked into a back alley headed for edge of town. The alleyway stayed parallel to the main road. She turned into another alley until she came to the main road that ran through the center of Bria. As she neared the road she gradually came to a halt, then peered out around the corner of the building.

He was weaving in and out of the people that were walking along side the street. As he came closer she slowed her breathing and moved only that which was necessary, in order to make as little noise as possible.

When he passed the building she was hiding behind, she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into the alley.

He pushed against her, trying to escape.

She pushed back, pinning his neck against the wall with her forearm and struggling to pin his arms with her free hand.

He fought violently, thrashing and kicking.

She had no choice. She kneed him in the stomach, hard, knocking the wind out of him.

He gasped for air as he fell to the ground. She flung herself down on top of him, straddling him. She pinned his arms down with her legs, pressing her knees into the palm of his hands. Her right hand clamped down over his mouth while her left hand tried to steady herself.

He kicked his legs wildly, trying to free himself from her.

She picked her knee up off of his right hand and kneed him in the chest again, knocking the air out of him once more.

He grunted as she pressed her hand down on his mouth again.

“Listen to me. If you do not stop struggling you are going to hurt yourself. I know that you know that I have been following you. But I also know that you have seen them following you, too. I was sent here to keep them from doing their job. They were sent here to kill you. So, unless you want to die a really painful and horrible death, you need to shut your mouth, and do exactly what I tell you,” she commanded.

He stopped struggling for a moment.

“I am going to let you up, but if you try to run I will tackle you and have to hit you again. So, do not even bother trying. Do you understand?”

He managed to nod very slightly under the pressure of her hand.

Slowly, she got up off of him and rose to her feet. He breathed heavily, trying to catch his breath, and then stood up beside her.

“Stay quiet and follow me and when we are safe we will talk about this,” she commanded. She turned and walked back down the alleyway.

He was not exactly sure why, but for some reason, he felt as if he could trust her. Although she had attacked him, something about her told him that her intention was never to hurt him, but to help him. He could not help but follow her.

She turned back to him and grabbed his wrist. She pulled him behind her as she stepped out onto the street.

“Who are you? Why are you here?” he asked.

“There is not time for me to explain. You will have to trust me and follow me. I will explain, but not now,” she pulled him into a shop.

He stood watching as she looked out the shop window. He knew she was looking for someone, but he was not sure who.

“But I,” he started to say.

“Stop talking. Listen to me,” she commanded, “Right now, your life depends on you keeping your mouth closed. So I want you to stop talking and do as you are told. Do you understand?”

He nodded in agreement.

“We are going to get out of this city. We will go south, to the woods, and then double back around the outside of the city. We will get our horses and belongings, and then we will figure out where to go from there. Understood?”

He started to say something, but she cut him off, “Good. Now follow me.”

She grabbed his wrist again and pulled him behind her as she walked out of the store.

She walked close to the edge of the stores, staying in the shadows. He remained as near to her as he could.

All of a sudden, she dead stopped. He was moving too quickly and ran into her.

“Don’t move,” she ordered.

He stood silently, watching her, waiting for her next command.

“Slowly look over your left shoulder. Tell me, do you see the figure by the edge of the dress shop?”

He turned gradually and saw a hooded figure standing there, “Yes.”

“What are they doing?”

“Nothing. Why?” he questioned.

“They are not doing nothing. They never do nothing. Look again, tell me what you see. Give me details.”

“They are watching us. I can see their eyes in the reflection of the window.”

“What else?”

“They keep tilting their head toward us. Are they . . . are they listening to us?”

“Yes. They have impeccable hearing. It knows that we know it is there.”

“So, what are they waiting for?”

“They are waiting for their master to give them permission.”

“Their master?”

“They would not dare to attack without the permission of their dark lord. Their master is a serpent, vile and evil, inhuman and soulless. But even he is not stupid enough to risk exposure in a crowded street such as this. He knows that his work is best done in secret. That it is people’s ignorance of him that makes him most powerful. However, he will not concede to the fact that no matter what he does, Yeill will prevail.”

He watched it shiver at the sound of that name, “Yeill?”

“My Master.”

“And your master, he wants to keep them from hurting me?”

“Yes. You are invaluable to him.”

“Why?”

As he asked, a loud screeching noise came from out of the skies above. It was a noise he had heard many times before. A noise he could not identify and did not trust.

“That is something I can not explain. Not now. You must trust me,” she leaned in closely to him and whispered, “we must go. Now. We must leave.”

She grabbed his hand and pulled him as she bolted down the street. He dragged behind her like a ragdoll.

Another screech crackled across the sky.

“What are they?” he said following on her heels.

“I will explain, I promise. But now we must run.”

A few blocks up, a shadowed figure stepped out from behind the corner of a building. It stood, cloaked in darkness. It waited for them in the middle of the crowded street.

Her eyes met with it and she came to a halt.

He crashed into her.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Come,” she pulled him down another street, heading toward the southern edge of town.

A shriek echoed off of the buildings around them.

She dragged him forward, away from the center of town.

“Faster,” she ordered as she dug her fingers into his wrists.

He ran at full speed, yet he was barely able to keep up with her.

Fear rose up inside him. He felt as if he may be sick. His stomach turned and cramped painfully inside of him. Bile filled his throat. He felt dry heaves begin to consume his chest. He gasped for air as he pushed his body forward.

As they turned onto another street, he saw another one of “them.” A mysterious hooded figure waiting at the edge of the road ahead of them.

She turned quickly, and spun him on his heels. She ran the opposite direction, still pulling him behind.

Each street they would turn down would lead them closer and closer to the south side of the city, and still each street they found themselves face to face with another adversary. The others were closing in around them, boxing them in little by little.

He could hear her mumbling under her breath. She got slightly louder each time they were confronted by one of the others. He realized that even though he could hear her, he could not understand a word she was saying. Her speech was some different and unknown language.

He was about to ask her what it was, when her grip tightened on his wrist, pulling him closer to her as they ran. He briefly thought about how she was oddly strong for such a slender and lithe woman; however, his thoughts were interrupted as she shoved him down a side alley. He nearly tripped over his own feet as they stumbled into the alley.

“Quiet,” she mouthed, as she slowly led him down the alley.

He nodded, following her in silence.

Her grip on his wrist let up as they neared the opposite end of the alley. She released and turned to face him.

“I think we lost them, for now,” she whispered, “but we will not have much time. We must leave the city.”

He shook his head in agreement.

“Follow me,” she said softly.

She ever so slowly walked around the around the corner of the building back onto a main street. He followed directly behind her. She led him into a crowd of people who were moving down the street. Two figures running down the side streets was much more obvious than hiding in the cover of a crowd.

Once they reached a crossroad with the main road through the city, they escaped into a larger crowd headed for the city’s edge.

*****

When they reached the woods, south of the city, the last rays of sunlight had left the sky. Darkness consumed every inch of the forest around them. He stumbled over rocks and brush as he trailed behind her.

“So, are you going to tell me what is going on?” It was more a demand than a question.

“Wait.”

“Wait? What do you mean wait?” he demanded.

“You need to wait until we are safe. It is not safe here. It is far too open. We will get somewhere safe, and then I will tell you everything you desire to know. You have trusted me this far, and I have given you no reason not to trust me further. Just wait.”

“You have not given me much of a reason to trust you either,” he muttered under his breath.

“I heard that,” she snarled.

*****

She led him into the darkest, thickest part of the forest.

“There,” she said pointing in the darkness.

“What? Where?” he asked, “I do not see anything.”

“Exactly,” she replied, “You are not supposed to see anything. And though, their eyes are much more advanced than yours, they will see exactly that as well. Nothing.”

She directed him in the direction which she had pointed. When they came closer, she headed directly toward a giant pine. He watched as she brushed the branches aside and disappeared beneath them.

He slowly followed after her. His hands pressed against the pine needles, pushing them out of the way. Yet some of them still struck him in the face as he went after her. Then, he passed the barrier of pine and was in a hollow beneath the tree branches.

“I once heard it called a wayward pine. They are a refuge for travelers seeking to hide from the elements or other,” she paused, “dangers.”

He nodded in understanding.

“Help me build a small fire, and I will tell you everything you want to know,” she declared.

*****

After the fire was built, she encouraged him to sit down and rest as she explained everything to him.

“A long time ago, lived a prophet. Her name was Lyria. She was one of the most insightful, wise, powerful seers who have ever lived. Only days before she died, she gave a prophecy. The prophecy tells of a generation that will rise up and reunite and live in peace and harmony. My Master appointed me to trace the lineage of hundreds of potential candidates. I weeded them out one after the other. One by one, I slowly narrowed it down to a few lines of heritage. It all eventually came down to a matter of timing. After Lyria’s death, her son took her place as prophet and oracle. He gave a very specific time in which the prophecy would come to pass. He was very clear on the matter. And it must come to take place within the next ten years. The problem is, the only other candidates are mere infants. They will not come of age to father a child for at least that many years. Therefore, it had to be you. You, Adam son of Delaella, daughter of Tetro, son of Hollen, son of Pietro, son of Helez, the great priest of the last generation of the Isrols, are the man of which this prophecy has spoken. And because of this prophecy, my Master has charged me with protecting you and keeping you from the others.”

“Who are they?”

“All you need to know is that they are the enemy. And that, in time, all will be revealed to you.”

His eyes furrowed and he glared at her across the fire.

“I will tell you everything I can. But you must understand, there are some things I am not allowed to tell you. There are things my Master must reveal to you himself. So, I will tell you what I can and what I must, but you need to trust me in this.”

He cut her off before she could continue another sentence, “Why? Why should I trust you? What proof have you that you are who you say you are? What reason do I have to believe you are not the enemy?”

She lunged over the fire, tackling him and pinning him to the ground. From seemingly nowhere, a knife appeared in her hand. She made sure he saw the blade reflecting the light of the fire, “If I was the enemy, if I had intended to harm you or kill you, I would not have hesitated to do so when we were back in that alley way in Bria.”

She dropped the knife on the ground next to him, “Either you trust me, or you do not. There is no in-between on the matter.”

She climbed off of him and knelt down, her forehead almost touching the ground. Head still bowed, she picked the knife up in both hands and offered it toward him, “If I have not earned your trust, you may as well kill me and be done with it, because I have failed you.”

His icy blue eyes went wide, looking at the blade in her hand. He reached out and took it from her. The dagger was exquisite, like nothing he had ever seen before. The hilt was made of a dark black stone, some cross between marble and onyx. It was the length of his fingertip to his wrist and the width of his palm. A foreign symbol was carved into it on both sides. Beneath the symbol was inlaid a ruby. The crossguards came out half a hands length on either side. They tapered to points coming toward the wielder and had two flat yoku prongs running alongside the blade as would be seen on an old sai. The blade itself was not metal as it appeared from a distance. It was the same sort of black stone as the hilt, yet it was lighter in color and more metallic in finish. The blade was the length of his forearm. It was wider in the middle than it was on either end, leaving an interesting tapering effect coming away from the person brandishing the dagger.

After examining the magnificent blade, he placed it next to her and declared, “You are right. You have done nothing not to deserve my trust. There is one thing though.”

“Yes?”

“I do not even know your name.”

“Raella. My name is Raella.”

The Guardian Chapter 6
gracie113
Chapter Six: Elyia

The city of Elyia was thing she had ever had to a home. She loved the city. She spent more time in Elyia than any other city.

Her charge also seemed to be quite fond of Elyia. He kept returning to the city time and again. Why? She was not too sure though. She tried not to think too much of it.

When she came to the outskirts of the city, she chose to dismount and walk beside Mallokai. He nudged her with his muzzle. She patted his neck gently.

Around the outside of the city were small farming villages. The northern village was called by the name Edona. Edona had started as one large farm, owned by a man named Hayden Blaise. Now, the people of Edona were all the descendants of Hayden. His daughter, his grandchildren, great grand children now worked the land. The farm had expanded out, away from the city, multiplied over acres and acres of land.

She was met by Adelaide, the village’s matriarch, at the edge of Edona. The two women embraced each other. Adelaide stood just over five feet in height. She had long, silver curls that flowed down her back and piercing blue eyes. Small wrinkles surrounded her eyes and mouth.

“Daneca, we have missed you so,” Adelaide told her as she squeezed tightly. The people of Edona, and all of Edaria, had called her by this name since she was much younger. She had always liked this name more than the others. Some days, she liked it almost more than she liked her real name.

“And I you, Adelaide,” she returned the tight hug.

“Hira,” she called a young boy who was nearby, “Come take Daneca’s horse to the stables. Get him cleaned up and fed.”

The boy came over and took the reign from her hands, “Yes Granna. What is his name?”

“Mallokai, correct?” Adelaide questioned.

“Yes, that is right,” she nodded. She lightly smacked Mallokai on the rear and said to him, “Behave yourself. Understood?”

He snorted and followed the boy toward the stables.

“What have you been doing since we saw you last?”

“Traveling, mostly,” she knew that it was not a complete lie, it was more an omission of the complete truth, “I wanted to visit some old friends who live in Edaria.”

“We are glad you have come back to visit us. My grandchildren will be delighted to see you once again. The little ones have missed your bed time stories, especially Madalana. She has asked over and over when you would return.”

“I have missed her desperately. She must be so big now.”

“Nearly six years old.”

“Have I really been away almost a year?”

“I am afraid so, my dear,” Adelaide took her arm, “come, let us get you some food and rest and we can visit the children.”

She excitedly followed.

*****

That night, the entire family gathered in the barn for a great dinner feast. They had roasted lamb and duck. There were potatoes, carrots, greens of all kinds, and an abundance of ripe fruits. They enjoyed the meal together, talking and laughing.

After dinner, they played music and she talked. Then, all of the little ones gathered around her as she told them stories of her travels. They all sat in the hay around her, eyes wide watching in awe as she spoke.

Madalana sat right in the front. She had long, curly brown hair and big, bright blue eyes. She followed Daneca like a little puppy.

After a while, she looked over to find Madalana asleep in a pile of hay. Her little snores were barely audible.

“Alright children, I think it is bed time now.”

“But we are not even tired,” Jakob whined.

“I know my darlings, but it is time.”

“Please, one more story?” begged Saphira.

“No sweetie, maybe tomorrow though. Tonight you must all go to bed and dream wonderful dreams. Will you do that for me?”

“Fine,” Saphira pouted.

She reached out and gently tapped Saphira on the nose, “Go on, bed time.”

All the children slowly wandered toward their parents. Madalana, however, remained fast asleep.

She got up out of the hay, then gently bent over and scooped Madalana up in her arms. She fussed a little bit, but did not wake. She headed over to where Adelaide stood talking with her daughter Claire, Madalana’s mother. She gently handed the little girl off to her mother.

“Thank you Daneca,” Claire said.

“Of course,” she nodded.

Claire left to find Daniel, her husband, leaving her standing there with Adelaide.

“Thank you so much for your always willing generosity. Your family blesses me more than words can ever express.”

“You are always welcome in my home,” Adelaide stated.

She leaned over and gently kissed Adelaide on the cheek, “You are wonderful.”

“Thank you my dear. Can you stay the night or do you need to be on the road again?”

“I will stay, but unfortunately, I must leave early in the morning.”

“Come, you will stay in my home tonight. And, feel free to take any supplies you need. Understand?”

“Yes ma’am. And thank you.”

“Anything for you, my love,” Adelaide led Daneca from the barn back to her house and gave her the guest room for the night.

*****

The next morning, she left Edona and went into the heart of Elyia. The city was vibrant with life in the early morning. Shops and stands opened up, one by one.

She walked passed a tavern, one of the few buildings with barely any lights. Inside, a barmaid scurried about, preparing for the day while the bar’s owner scrutinized her every move.

Past the tavern, was a bakery. The aroma of the bread was intoxicating. She could not help herself. She left Mallokai outside the shop and slipped in to buy something. People wandered aimlessly around the tiny shop. She weaved her way between the people to a basket of fresh bread. She picked up a roll. It was warm and soft in her hands. She brought it up to her face and breathed in deeply. It was sweet and soft.

“How much for two?” she asked the little boy behind the counter as she picked up two rolls.

“Three coppers,” he replied.

She reached into her robe pocket and handed the boy a silver piece.

He opened a drawer in the counter and placed the silver inside. Then, he pulled out two pieces of copper and put his hand out to her.

She extended her hand out and closed his fingers over the copper pieces, “Keep them.”

The little boy’s eyes lit up, “Really?”

She nodded in agreement.

“Thank you,” he squeaked and then ran to show his father his shiny new coins.

The old man turned to her and mouthed “Thank you.”

She grinned and gave a slight wave goodbye as she headed out the door.

*****

Outside the bakery was a linen cart. She took a few minutes to look at some of the cloth. One in particular caught her eye. A pale blue fabric was laying on the edge of the cart. A few other fabrics were covering it and all she had seen was tiny piece sticking out from underneath.

The young woman at the cart came over and began talking to her, “Beautiful is it not?”

“Mhmm, it is lovely. What is the cost?”

“Let me ask my mother,” she replied. The girl turned to the old woman sitting beside the cart and questioned, “quana perila blea tessato?”

“Ena ora,” the old woman replied.

“A gold piece for each yard,” the girl said as she turned around. She brushed a piece of hair out of her eyes.

“Your mother is from Itillin?”

“Yes, we moved here a few years ago. She is still learning to speak your language, but mostly she speaks in just Itilli.”

“I have to travel for a while. If I pay you now, will you keep it for me until I return?”

“I,” the girl stuttered, “I do not know. I would have to ask my mother.”

“Tell her I will pay extra for her to keep it. I am not sure how long I will be gone. But I can pay for the fabric now. And when I return I can pay her another five gold for keeping it for me.”

“Sesa di viggar. Possabimo manten per il sueo finola sueo retorna? Sesa se peda.”

“La terrama. Mah nah exas peda,” the old woman looked at her.

“My mother says we will keep it for you, but you do not have to pay extra.”

“I insist.”

“Sesa esesta,” she said to her mother.

“Meh, manda.”

“She says maybe. But we can keep it for you.”

She handed the girl five gold pieces then turned to the old woman and said, “Grasa.”

“You welcome,” the old woman replied.

She turned back to the young woman, “Might I ask, have you maybe seen a man I am looking for? He is about this tall,” she gestured with her hand, “with curly gold hair, blue eyes, very muscular. He travels a lot. He has passed through here a few times over the past few months. He rides a brown mare with a white muzzle and white spots along her flanks.”

“Sorry, I have not, but I do hope you find him.”

*****

She spent the rest of the afternoon wandering from shop to shop and cart to cart. She asked person after person, yet no one seemed to remember her mysterious man. He was a ghost among them. She began to wonder how it was possible that no one had seen him.

At dusk, she wandered back through the streets. When she found her way back to the tavern, she charged one of the stable boys with taking care of Mallokai. She paid the barkeeper then went upstairs to her room.

The room was tiny and cramped. A small bed took up most of the space. A wash basin was in one corner, a towel draped over the side. A chest gave room for her to put her belongings.

She dropped her bags on top of the chest, not even bothering to unpack them. She quickly undressed and changed into her night robes.

The bed was not much more than a straw mattress with a few quilts thrown on top of it. Instead of laying directly atop the mattresses, she left the quilts where they were. It was warm enough that all she hardly felt a need for a blanket over her body. Even with both of the quilts between her and the mattress, she could still feel the awful, uncomfortable hay poking through. She had a feeling it was going to be a long night.

*****

She had been right. Sleeping on the hay mattress was not worth the three silvers she had paid for the room. She spent the night tossing and turning uncomfortably and mildly irritated

In the morning, she got dressed and ate breakfast in the tavern downstairs. Her eggs were runny and slightly cold, the milk was disgustingly warm, and the bread was stale. She was not overly happy.

After her breakfast, she walked out to the stables behind the bar to find Mallokai. She walked through the stables, but there were no horses inside. She walked through the barn to find two fields behind it. In one field were geldings, stallions, and colts. In the other, were mares, fillies and foals.

Mallokai cantered over to the fence and nickered at her. A small brown colt frolicked playfully then followed Mallokai over to the fence.

“Hello handsome,” she said.

He whinnied.

“Hello sweetheart,” she said to the little colt. She reached out and rubbed his neck, then turned to Mallokai. She petted his muzzle and asked, “Are you ready to go?”

He whined.

“Alright. You stay here for a while. I am going to go look through the city for him. Behave?”

He snorted and then took off to run around with the other horses. The little colt took a few steps, jumped up in the air a little, then trotted off after Mallokai.

She walked back through the stables and out to the street. She would spend the rest of the day looking for him, and if she had not found him by the end of the day, she would move on to Bria.

*****

Beyond the south edge of the city lay a lake called Deana. It was one of the three lakes which lay between Elyia, Bria, and Sarook. Between Elyia and the lake was a small fishing village called Tammia.

In Tammia, lived an old man named Jamal. Jamal was a priest and wiseman in Elyia. If anyone knew where she would find her target, it would be Jamal.

Jamal’s house was a tiny little cabin right on the beach. Jamal sat in a rocking chair on the front porch of his house. A black dog lay sleeping at his feet.

The old man squinted to see her as she walked toward the house.

She brought her hands together in front of her, palms pressed together, fingers straight in a prayer position. She bowed deeply, a sign of honor for the old man.

“Welcome child,” the old man attempted to force himself up out of the rocking chair.

“No, please do not get up for me,” she said.

He released his grip on the arms of the chair and slumped back into his seat.

She came up onto the porch and leaned over to hug the old man.

He kissed her cheek softly and said, “What brings you to me today Daneca?”

“I am looking for someone, a man, and it is of utmost importance that I find him immediately.”

“Why do you seek this man?”

“I cannot say everything, but I can say this much: I do not seek him for myself. It is my Master who seeks this man. My Master believes this man to be of some importance. I only know what he has told me. But I believe, my Master believes this man is one of a secret prophecy from long ago.”

“Prophecy?”

“Yes. A prophecy of many generations ago. My Master believes this man is the one spoken of in the prophecy and has entrusted me to find him. There is a problem I have encountered with finding him. He is a nomad even more so than I. He travels from one place to another and cannot) remain in one place too long. And even more than that, there are others looking for him, others who know of the prophecy. They seek to kill him to avoid the prophecy from being fulfilled.”

“That is quite a problem. Well, if he is the one of the prophecy, I am sure it is important. How do you know the others looking for him have not found him yet?”

“I saw them in the mountains. They had not yet found him.”

“Tell me, who is this man you seek?”

“I am sworn to secrecy of his name and his lineage. But I can tell you of him. He is tall and has golden curls and blue eyes and is muscular. He wears a set of long brown robes and rides a brown horse A beautiful mare with a white muzzle and speckles along her back and flanks. He carries a long sword made by Bretan of Sarook. It has Bretan’s signature curled hand guards. He has”

The old man interrupted her, “I have seen him.”

“Honestly?"

“Yes my dear. He passed through the city no more than two days ago. I saw him outside the Macalar Tavern.”

“Did he stay at the tavern? Was he alone?”

“He did not stay long. He ate at the tavern and was gone. I have not seen him since, so I am sure that he has left the city. Maybe he has moved on to Bria or Sarook?”

“Which do you think I should go to, Bria or Sarook?”

“Sarook is the bigger of the two cities and, therefore, a smart man would know it would be a better place to disappear. But a smarter man would know that anyone would know Sarook is bigger and would attempt to trick those who seek him and would flee to Bria instead.”

“Is that what you would do?”

“Yes my dear, that is exactly what I would do. In Bria, there is a Tavern on the north east side named The Cyphert. The owner is a greedy old fool. And his ugly wife is just as greedy and foolish. They would be more than glad to hide someone on the run, for a price.”

“I cannot thank you enough, Jamal. Unfortunately, I must go. But I promise, when my work is done, I will return and we may spend some more time together.”

The old man reached out and grabbed her hand, “Promise me you will take care of yourself?”

“I will. And I promise I will see you again soon,” she said as she was leaving.

*****

The Guardian Chapter 5
gracie113
Chapter Five: Kayute

​She breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the Kayute, the northern half of the Tarisian plains. During the summer the northern plains were covered in tall, pale green and wheat colored grasses for as far as the eyes could see. She effortlessly hopped off of Mallokai's back and landed in the grass. She allowed her legs to crumple beneath her and she collapsed into a ball in the grass. After a few minutes, she rolled over onto her back and gazed up at the sky. Perfect clear blue.

​"Can we just stay here?"

​Mallokai snorted at her.

​"I know. I know. We have to find 'him'," she spoke with disdain, "but we have been searching for him for as long as I can remember. Can we just, take a break?"

​He snorted again.

​"No, I suppose you're right, that would only cause more trouble. Give me an hour?"

​Yet another snort.

​"Fine, half an hour. Want me to take off your saddle and bags?"

​He let out a heavy sigh.

​In one swift movement, she was off the ground and at his side. She released the saddlebags and let them fall to the ground, then reached beneath him and unlatched the saddle. He shook slightly and it fell to the ground beside the bags. Then quickly removed his bridle so he could graze.

​"Go graze and rest for a while. Wake me when you are ready to leave."



*****



​She soared through the air, free and careless. Nothing and no one could stop her now.

​The sky was clearer than she had ever seen. The air was cool and crisp against her bare skin.

​She had no accountability or obligations to anyone but herself. She was free to fly as she pleased. All priorities were left on Earth far, far behind her. She floated up and down through crystal sky and misty white clouds. Finally, she had her freedom.

​She was woken by Mallokai's soft, damp, velvety muzzle nudging her cheek.

​"Must you always ruin my dreams so?" she questioned. She felt that her nap had been far too short and wished for nothing more than to lay back down and go back to sleep. She was desperate for more dreams of soaring through the sky freely and peacefully.

​He let out a large huff.

​"Fine!" she breathed irritably, "you ready to be off then?" She got to her feet and picked up the saddle, bags, and bridle off the ground.

​She resigned herself to the knowledge that her wants, desires and wishes no longer mattered. Only "he" mattered, and how she despised him for it. He would be the death of her and yet, she was stuck being his salvation. The irony of it all was definitely not lost on her.

​Mallokai lowered his head for her to return his gear to him. She then returned the saddlebag to Mallokai's broad back. He heaved a great sigh as she climbed up onto his back. She stroked his neck, gently brushing the long mane against it.

​"Alright then, we best be off," she huffed.

​Mallokai slowly walked through the grass, heading south east across the plains, toward Elyia, Bria, and Sarook.

*****



By mid-day, the summer sun had begun to turn her cheeks and nose a light shade of rosy pink. She pressed her hand to her face; the skin of her cheek was warm and slightly burned to the touch. She stripped off her outer robe and shoved it into the left saddle bag. Still feeling too warm, she rolled her sleeves up over her shoulders. Almost immediately she could feel the heat of the sun on her bare arms.

"Maybe I should just travel at night?" she questioned aloud.

Mallokai huffed loudly.

"I know. I know. We cannot. We must not. There is far, far too much at stake for us to only do what we are comfortable with. I signed up for this. I asked for this assignment. I just ... I feel like this has become too great for me."

Mallokai stopped cantering and pulled against the reigns. He snorted and nickered at her.

She patted his neck, "I know. Thank you 'Kai. You always know what I need, when I need it most. When we get to Elyia, remind me to pick up a lighter robe to travel in, this one is too heavy, but I would prefer to not expose my bare skin to the elements."

From the Telamar Pass, it would be at least a two or three day ride across the Kayute to Elyia.

"It could be worse," she sighed, ''we could have to travel across the Casmenian Desert."

Mallokai snorted in agreement.

Nothing could possibly compare to the immense torture of traveling the deserts of Casme mid-summer. She would rather be shot by one of the poison arrows of the Ranier Tribe. The slow, excruciating pain one would feel as the lungs became paralyzed and ceased breathing, the inconceivable and insurmountable agonizing similarity to being forcibly drowned, could not even begin to compare to the many horrific deaths which could only be found in the Casminian Desert this time of year.

She breathed in the heavy summer air. Her nostrils were flooded by the intoxicating aroma of the tall, pale green, sweet grass. The soft breeze brushed against her bare skin making her feel a slight bit cooler, but not nearly cool enough.

Some light dust particles lingered in the air and they would occasionally stick to her sweaty skin or hair leaving a dusty residue clinging to her.

Small, pale blue butterflies fluttered through the grass. She leaned to her left side, reaching with her fingers extended out toward them. She nearly fell out of the saddle as she leaned. One very small butterfly floated around her fingertips then fluttered away. She smiled softly then pulled herself back upright in the saddle.

Her stomach gurgled loudly. She rubbed her hand across her belly then began to rummage through the saddlebags. She pulled out a chunk of bread and started eating.

Nika swooped down out of the sky and fluttered around her.

“Hungry?”

He clicked his beak loudly.

She ripped a piece of bread off and tossed it to him. He caught it eagerly and it disappeared into his beak. Then he clicked again.

“More?”

A screech came from the bird.

She tossed another piece, which he also caught. Then, he took off back into the skies.

She ate the last piece of bread then brushed the crumbs off of her hands.

At some point, she knew she was going to need to hunt. Bread could not sustain her forever.

*****

Nightfall quickly swept over the Kayute. It felt, to her, that the darkness had overtaken the skies in mere moments.

She knew that they all needed rest. She climbed off of Mallokai’s back and down to the ground. She released him from his gear and let him roam freely.

From one of her bags, she withdrew her hunting knives, her quiver of arrows, and her bow. Hunting in the Kayute was not an easy task. There was nowhere to hide and sound traveled much more easily.

It took her over an hour to hunt down a small rabbit. It was not much, but it would have to suffice.

She made a fire and set up a small camp beside it. She eagerly cleaned the meat and then cooked it over the flame. She and Nika shared the meal while Mallokai grazed nearby.

When finished, she pulled out the cloak and blanket from the saddlebags. She stamped out the remaining embers and lay the blanket down on the ground. She laid down on top of it and used the cloak as a covering.

For a while, she laid there listening to the sounds of the Kayute. She could hear the night birds singing to one another. A great owl’s hoots and screeches echoed across the plains, louder than all the rest. Coyotes howled, calling to each other as they hunted. Small animals scurried back and forth through the grass little noises came from them all.

Finally, she allowed her mind to slip into the unconscious.

*****

She rose just after dawn. The sky was shades of hazy red and orange. She lay there for a while, staring up at the clouds above her.

“Help me?” she whispered softly, “Father, help me. I can not find him on my own. I need you to guide me to him. I need you to help me.”

After a few minutes, she rose to her feet, packed her belongings and called for Nika and Mallokai. They both came to her quickly. Nika chirped in an uncharacteristically singsong sort of way. Mallokai, on the other hand, remained silent, still half asleep.

She put his gear back on and then flung herself up onto his back.

“Off again,” she sighed.

*****

The Guardian Chapter 4
gracie113
Chapter Four: Impasse

​When she awoke in the morning, the sky was crystal clear blue. Not a single cloud was in sight. The sun beat down heavily on her.

​She swept her hair back from her face. She pulled it to the nape of her neck and tied it with a small piece of cord. A few wispy pieces still managed to escape and flutter back and forth in the breeze.

​The glare off of the icy mountains was, at times, unbearable. She squinted her eyes, trying to see how much further they had to ride.

​The snow was wet and mixing with the dirt creating sticky, thick mud. It clung to Mallokai's hooves, making the difficult ride down the back side of the mountain even more troublesome. A few times he slid in the mud, nearly tumbling head over heels down the side of the mountain.

​Nika circled high in the sky above them. He continually screeched, happy to be out of the snow and storm. He clearly enjoyed being able to fly freely once again.

*****


​​Halfway down the backside of the mountain, she came to a terrible impasse . It would seem, the mountains would do anything they could to keep her from her destiny, anything to keep her from him. The weight of the snow had been too heavy for the path on which she traveled. It had become such a considerable burden that it had forced the ledge to collapse.

​She dismounted and cautiously walked over to the edge. The drop was straight down for a good thirty five to forty feet. There was no way it would be possible to get Mallokai down one side and up the other. It was at least fifteen feet to the other side of the ledge.A nearly impossible jump if it were up and out, or even straight across. Thankfully, the jump was neither up nor straight across, but about three or four feet lower than where they currently stood.

​She turned around and faced Mallokai. His big brown eyes gazed into hers. She reached out and gently stroked his muzzle.

​"What do you think?"

​He snorted at her.

​"That's what I thought, too. But do you think you could make it?"

​He whinnied at her and tossed his head in agreement.

​"I am going to take everything off of you so you have the lightest load possible. Understand?"

​He nickered.

​She stepped to his side and unhitched his saddlebags and saddle from him.

​She grabbed the rope out of one of the saddlebags and tied them together.

​She clicked loudly, calling for Nika.

​He circled over head, over and over.

​She folded her arms and clicked again.

​This time, he virtually dropped out of the sky, falling straight down toward her. She watched as he plummeted. Closer and closer, but instead of stopping he continued straight. He passed the edge of the cliff and plunged into the fog below. A few seconds later, a shrill screech as he reappeared out of the fog. He came up just past the edge of the ledge she stood on and glided to her feet.

​"About time," she murmured.

​He clicked his beak, ignoring her comment.

​"I need you to take this," she set the cord down on the ground, "and fly it over there," she pointed to the other side of the gap. "But let us cross first, so we don't land on you or hurt you."

​He let out a quick cry of understanding. She reached down and petted the top of his head, to which he clicked noisily at her.

​"Okay Mallokai, you ready?"

​He let out a heavy sigh and lowered for her to climb up onto his back.

​She hoisted herself up onto Mallokai and wrapped his reigns around her wrists and gripped tightly onto his mane.

​The giant beast backed himself up slowly and carefully in a straight line as far back as he could go. Her thighs squeezed his sides, her fingers grasped his hair and neck. She felt his body shudder beneath her.

​"You can do this. I know you. You can do this," she reassured him.

​He took a few more steps backward, then his entire body tensed. He stamped with one hoof, questioning her.

​"I'm ready," she told him.

​His first few steps were slow, then he picked up into full gallop. He flew across the ground effortlessly. The gap grew nearer. The closer it came, the harder she clung to him.

​At the edge, both of Mallokai's front legs left the ground and curled close to his body. His body arched up from the ground. She pulled in tightly to him. His back feet left the ground and pulled up to his body. Her breath caught in her throat. They flew through the air, seemingly weightless, breathless. She made the mistake of looking down, looking at the lack of ground beneath her. All she could see was the rubble pile of rocks and snow down below. She felt as if she may be ill. The other side drew closer. Mallokai's front legs extended, reaching for ground beneath them. They were falling through the air, toward what felt like nothing. She braced herself for the impact.

​Mallokai's front hooves contacted the ground, hard and heavy. They almost flew forward head over heels. His right rear hoof made contact. The left hoof missed the ground. The ledge caught his calf. He slid backwards, toward the emptiness behind them. She leaned forward, trying to urge him to move. His right hoof slid backwards right to the edge.

​"Come on!" she shouted, digging her feet into his sides.

​He whined and kicked his back legs, trying desperately to get some ground between them and the drop to the ground below. His front hooves dug into the wet mushy earth. Getting leverage in the mud was not an easy task. He slid a little more, but finally, his hooves found solid ground beneath the mud and muck. He tried to push himself forward as hard as he possibly could, and eventually, he was able to get his other hoof up onto the ledge. He heaved his massive body forward, away from the edge of the cliff. Once safely away, he took a few steps, then stopped.

​She released her grip on his mane and loosened her legs from his flanks. She unwrapped the reins from her wrists, slight rope burns left marks around them. She dismounted then turned to look at the gorge they just crossed.

​"No way to go back now," she said aloud, "even if he comes back through the mountains toward Eberdine, we will have to find another way. Trying that jump the opposite direction would be sure suicide."

​Mallokai snorted in agreement.

​"Alright Nika, your turn," she called to him.

​The bird grabbed the rope in his talons and lifted off from the earth. As he flew toward her, the cord unraveled from the pile on the ground. Once across, he dropped the rope into her waiting hands then took off into the sky once again.

​Her grip tightened around it and she pulled, hand over hand, inch by inch. The saddlebags came to the edge of the cliff, she stopped pulling.

​"Mallokai, I need your help boy," she said.

​He whined in protest.

​"Last favor. I promise. Once we get to the valley you can graze and rest. Okay?" She petted his neck, then she took the rope and tied it around his neck.

​"Pull," she commanded.

​As he pulled forward, the bags dropped off of the cliff and swung into the gap below.

​"Keep going," she ordered.

​The horse kept walking along the narrow ledge until the bags reached the edge on their side. She ran over to the edge and pulled them up. She carried them over and reattached the saddle and saddlebags to Mallokai's back.

​"Thank you," she brushed her fingers through his mane.

​He snorted at her.

​"How bout I walk for a while to give you a rest?"

​Another snort in response.

​"At the bottom remind me to leave a message for travelers that the pass is no longer usable."

​Yet another snort as he stepped forward, eager to be on the way out of the mountains.

​She walked beside him slowly and carefully, letting him set the pace as they continued.

*****

The Guardian Chapter 3
gracie113
Chapter Three: Close Encounter

​She was up before the sun had risen over the mountains. Refreshed and replenished, she knew she needed to be on her way as soon as possible.

​She took a piece of parchment from a night stand in her room and scribbled a quick note, Thank you for your hospitality. I hope to complete my mission and return to see you again soon. All my love. Your Little One. She slid the note under Methad and Elani's door before she left to retrieve Mallokai from the stables.

​Mallokai and Nika awaited her in one of the stables.

​The three of them quickly headed out of the palace and toward the northern valley exit. The next two days would be torturous travel through the mountain boarder between Edaria and Tarisia.

*****


​​The journey out of the city, through the northeastern country side, to the foothills at the base of the mountains took all day. Clouds began to roll in from the other side of the mountains.

​The Telamar pass began in the foothills. It was a green soft path through the hills, so harmless and benign. It soon turned and led deep into the mountains. There, at the mountains' base, the pass led into a gorge between the rocks. Green grass stamped flat against the earth, and vines clung to the wet rock.

​Going into the mountains at night would be an icy, snowy death trap. Yet, wasting the time to make camp, to sleep, to pack in the morning, and then begin the journey, was beyond her. All that mattered now was finding him, and that could not wait any longer.

​Forward into the mountains, she led Mallokai. He whined at her urgency, protesting entering the mountains in the darkness, even though he knew she would force him in anyway.

​The wind whipped through the pass, eerily hissing as it went, bringing cold damp air down around her. She shivered as the wind bit at the exposed skin on her face and neck. Her hand dug into one of the saddlebags and pulled out the heavy cloak Elani had lent her. She quickly tied it around her neck and pulled the hood up over her head. The thick material clung to her skin, helping to block out some of the nasty, bitter wind.

​The pass climbed up into the mountains, further and further into darkness. She looked back over her shoulder, outside the gorge she could just barely make out the faint lights from the city, twinkling against the black night sky. She longed desperately to go back to the city, to turn around and head for Elani and Methad, to be in the comfort of the big bed in the palace. She desired nothing more than to end this quest for this man, to be free of her obligation to this person, to his future. Yet, she forced herself on into the pass, into the night, and she would continue on until Mallokai could no longer carry her.

​Three hours into the journey, she had ridden upward, high into the mountains. The path narrowed between the rocks and as she turned a corner around the gorge, she was faced by a solid rock wall. From there, instead of weaving between the mountains, the path continued up the side of the mountains into the darkness.

​Mallokai protested at driving upward into the mountains. The rocks slid under his hooves as he trudged forward with her on his back.

​Nika had been circling above them, but the wind had become too much to bear and he was forced to come and land on her shoulder. His talons dug into the cloak, yet he was careful not to dig too deep and go into her skin.

​The path grew more and more narrow as she rode higher against the mountain's side. She felt wetness against her cheek, a snowflake. Soon after, another followed, and another, and another.

​Within moments, the snow was falling heavily on her. She clutched tightly to Mallokai's neck. The wind blasted up against her skin, pushing the snow into her eyes. She felt as though her nose was going to freeze and fall off of her face.

​She pushed them into the storm. The wind whistled as the snow beat against her. The ground vibrated beneath her. It would do her no good to turn back now; it was equally as far back to the gorge as it was to the other side of the mountain. On one side of her was the snowy rock face, to the other was a straight drop, plummeting into the darkness below. The snow began to pile up around Mallokai's hooves, making it harder for him to continue up the trail.

​The earth shook again, snow slid down the mountainside behind them. She urged Mallokai to go faster; however, the fastest he could go was not much greater than he was going now.

​Thankfully, she knew a cave existed not much further down the path. She would make her camp there for the rest of the night, in hopes that by morning, the storm will have passed on.

*****


​The cave was just barely tall enough for Mallokai to get into. Thankfully, it went deep enough into the side of the mountain that it allowed her to get them out of the storm. Mallokai lay down in the back of the cave while Nika hopped off of her shoulder and fluttered across the floor of the cave.

​“You okay?” she asked. Mallokai snickered at her. “I know, I know. I'm sorry.” She walked over to Mallokai and removed his bridle, saddle, and saddlebags.

​Nika clicked at her.

​“Come here,” she beckoned, “Let me see you.”

​The bird hopped toward her and settled by her feet.

​She bent over and brushed the snow off of Nika's head. She sat down, picked Nika up, and set him in her lap. Then she began to gently pick the ice chunks off of Nika's feathers. When finished, she set him back on the ground.

​“Bed time boys,” she explained as she lay down against Mallokai's stomach. Mallokai snorted in agreement as Nika flew up onto a little ledge on the cave wall. She grabbed her blanket out of the saddlebag. She wrapped it around herself then got herself comfortable against Mallokai's soft belly, and she fell fast asleep.

*****


​She awoke with a start, her heart pounding heavily in her chest. A screeching howl echoed in the wind outside of the cave. At the sound of it she shivered. It was them; they must have followed her out of the city. Her hands shook. Two more nasty, higher pitched screeches called out through the storm, undoubtedly females. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and small bumps rose up on her arms.

​"Please do not let them find me," she hoped silently. "Surely there are too many of them for me to take them on, she looked out toward the mouth of the cave to see ice and snow flying in the air, especially in this storm. "I cannot do this. I cannot get captured. I just cannot. I have to find him." She prayed silently, “Yeill help me. Protect me and guide me. I cannot do this on my own. I need you now more than ever before. Father, please protect me, blind their eyes so they will not see.”

​She continued in silent prayer, begging for guidance and protection.

​More than once, she watched the shadows pause as they passed the mouth of the cave. Each time, she prayed harder.

​The howls grew louder and increasingly frustrated. And then, with no warning, they stopped all together.

​“They must have given up for now,” she thought. “Thank you. Thank you Father.”

​She waited up until she was sure that they were gone. Finally, she forced herself to curl back up against Mallokai and go back to sleep.



*****

The Guardian Chapter 2
gracie113
Chapter Two: Eberdine

​Mountains covered nearly all of the middle kingdom, the kingdom of Edaria. To the south, the magnificent gray mountains trailed off, becoming softly rolling hills that overlooked the blue-green waters of the southern Sea of Aravav. The mountain chain sat between the two great plains; to the west laid the highland plains of Marno and to the east laid the lowland plains of Tarisia. A branch of the mountain chain trailed off in the east, creating the boundary between the southern Casmenian Desert and Tarisia’s plains and woodlands. Another branch of the mountains traced up into the nation of Soloria, headed west toward the coastline, then traveled south again coming back into Marno.

​The city of Eberdine lay in a valley hidden deep in the heart of the Edarian Mountains. Aside from the few trails that curved and twisted through the treacherous mountains, the path that followed the Nyenwar River was the only way into and out of the valley.

​As was custom in each of the four major Edarian cities, four sets of four watchtowers surrounded the city, one set in each of the four cardinal directions. As the Edarian capital, Eberdine had another set of watch towers at the city’s outer wall.

​During the darkest hours of the night, she quietly snuck past the southern watch towers that guarded the river entrance, and then headed into the forest that covered the south-western portion of the valley.

​The sun’s morning rays began to slowly peer through the peaks of the eastern mountain ridge. Although the mountains to both the east and west still had a light snow covering on their peaks, the mountains in the west were far larger than those of the east. The snow glistened with soft shades of light oranges and pinks in the morning light. The shimmering colors contrasted strongly with the deep green of the forests and farmland that covered most of the valley.

​The soft light managed to stream through the canopy of green leaves that hung overhead. It gently illuminated the blanket of mosses, ferns, and small shrubbery that covered the forest’s floor.

​The road she was on had probably once been a main road, but now it was only a horse trail that meandered back and forth through the forest, staying close to the edge of the valley.

​The path slowly veered closer to the mountains at the edge of the valley. A hundred feet ahead of her it disappeared into the tree line. When she came up to the edge of the tree line she could see that the path turned into a gorge that ran along the mountains’ edge.

​The rock face stretched up forty feet above her head on either side. The flat black rocks were slick with rain water from the storm the night before. Heavy green vines climbed up the rocks, seeping into the cracks between them. Other ferns and shrubbery crowded over the sides on top of the chasm creating a canopy above her.

​To the north, the path split into two slightly smaller trails. One trail veered back into the mountains, disappearing out of sight, and the other led down out of the forest and up to the main road that led through the valley.

​When she came upon the split in the trail, she veered to the right, turning toward the main road. The road would eventually lead her to the main gate of the city of Eberdine. From there, it was only a matter of hunting him down and carrying out her mission.

*****



​Within a few hours, she had reached the outer wall of the city of Eberdine.

​From the large stone arch of the gate, she headed east through the city.

​Downtown Eberdine was a plethora of shops, vendors, and market places. Many of the shops close to the wall were small, owned by farmers or people who lived outside the city walls but traveled into the city to sell goods such as crops and handmade clothing and furniture.

​Further toward the castle, the shops belonged to the city dwellers. The search for him through the city, through all of the shops and homes, would take at least a few days.

*****



​​After three days of searching for him, unproductively, she finally resigned herself to moving on. Exhausted and low on supplies she decided to go visit old friends at the palace.

​It took her the entire morning to ride from the tavern where she had been staying to the castle.

​The outer castle wall ran from the eastern edge of Lake Laroushe across the main highway. It then curved north into the woods, which covered the northern portion of the valley, before turning back to the east where it connected with Mount Le’Blonne. In the west, the wall ran southeast from the western tip of Mount Le’Blonne to the western side of Lake Laroushe.

​The gate was one of the most beautiful architectural features in all of Edaria. The stone archway of the gate spanned the entire width of the large cobblestone highway. Stones in shades of grays, reds, yellows, oranges and browns created an intricate pattern of interlaced diamonds, swirls, and arches. Above the elaborate design of the archway, the stone structure became tower that stood three stories high. Two windows on the third level allowed the archers inside to peer out, seeing anyone that would be approaching on the road, and on either side, doors allowed the archers and guards to exit the tower onto the top of the stone wall and walk its distance to the next gate or lookout tower.

​As she rode up to the gate, Mallokai snickered loudly.

​Two guards stood just inside gate on the main highway, peering out at her. One was a short, portly, old man who looked as if he had been standing inside the gate peering out for longer than he cared to remember. The other was man who looked to be no older than thirty, with short black hair and green eyes. He stood a good three feet taller than the old man beside him.

​The older guard looked up at her through the gate, squinted to see, and then ordered in a gruff voice, “My lady, please state your name and your business in the city.”

​“Who I am is of no consequence and I am only here to visit some old friends,” she replied, avoiding answering the old guard’s question.

​The old man stared up at her angrily, “I will not grant access to the palace until you answer the question to my satisfaction,” he replied.

​“I am the nomad who roams the forests of the ruins of Talish,” she lied. “As I said once already, I am only here to visit some old friends.”

​“Ruins of Talish hmm? That’s in Tarisia. You know we are at war with the province of Tarisia? And Morda? And Casme?” He questioned, already knowing the answer.

​“I take no sides in the insignificant affairs of foolish men,” she replied coldly.

​The old man glared up at here, obviously irritated. He muttered something under his breath about young people and insolence as his face slowly changed colors from pale white, to light pink, to a deep red.

​The young guard next to him attempted to stifle a chuckle.

​“Quiet boy,” the old guard said as he elbowed the young man beside him square in the ribs. “Now state your business in my city,” he grumpily muttered.

​“Your city?” she questioned. “Last time I checked this city was under the rule of Torran, King of Edaria, first born son of High King Liann and his first wife, Queen Esmerelda, may the Creator rest her soul. I am here to see Methad and Elani, the high body guards to High King Liann and Queen Mother Tallia. I am an old friend of theirs, passing through the area and wish to meet with them while I am in the city.”

​“Wait here; I will announce your presence. If they choose to accept your visit I will come back to let you in,” the guard huffed as he turned to walk away.

​Moments later the guard returned from the palace and strode back to the gate. He mumbled underneath his breath as he opened the gate for her. “The royal family has decided to spend the day by the lake and Methad and Elani have accompanied them. You will have to meet them by the lake’s northern shore.”

​“Thank you for all of your helpfulness,” she responded with sarcasm dripping from her lips. She headed toward the stables to let them tend to Mallokai as she went down to the lakeside.

*****


​By the lakeside was set up a large tent structure. Long bamboo rods were latched together in four bundles that were two feet across each and were staked into the ground. There were bundles half that size and double the lengths which were stretched out to form a square frame eight feet overhead. Between the frames were stretched single bamboo rods to form a ceiling. Over the whole bamboo structure was draped flowing cloths in multiple shades of blues, oranges, and reds. On two adjacent sides, one facing the river and the other facing the palace, the curtains were drawn back.

​Slowly, she made her way toward the side of the tent that faced the water. Inside the tent sat two large throne chairs, one slightly bigger than the other. King Torran sat in the larger chair. At his feet, sat his daughter Esmerelda and his younger sister Elliea. Torran stroked his daughter's hair gently as she played with her aunt. In the chair next to him, sat his wife, Queen Starla. Her stomach was round and pronounced. She rubbed her belly through her robes, quieting the baby inside her.

​Large pillows covered the ground around the thrones. To the left of the queen sat Rori and Zaria, Torran's younger half sisters. The two women were braiding the hair of Zaria's daughter Tabita. Zaria's husband, Erian, stood behind her, holding their son, Marcus.

​Behind the brood of siblings and children was a large lounging sofa. The High King sat leaning against the right arm of the sofa. His wife lay across the sofa, her head in his lap. King Liann's wrinkled hands gently brushed his wife's silver curls. He whispered something softly to her.

​In the shadows behind the royal family stood hooded figures. They stood guard, eying every movement made and hearing every word spoken.

​“Majesties,” she bowed gracefully before them, her hood still masking her face.

​“And you are?” the King questioned.

​“I am a nomad and healer. I have different names to different people. The people of your city have taken to calling me by the name of Esther.”

​“How may I be of service to you, Lady Esther?” the King asked.

​“My lord, it is actually with your father's guards that I seek to request an audience. We are old friends and I have not seen them in quite some time,” she removed her hood and lifted her face into the light so that they all could see her face.

​A soft gasp escaped the lips of one of the guards as she recognized her old companion.

​“Hm,” the King mused. “I would not usually allow uninvited guests to stay. But it seems you know each other,” he momentarily turned to look back at the guards that stood behind his father.

​“Elani and Methad are my father's guards, so it is with him that you must request audience,” he waved at her, beckoning her toward his father.

​She bowed to the King, “Thank you Sire."

​He nodded in acknowledgment.

​She stepped carefully around the pillows and family members sitting on the floor to get behind the throne where the High King was sitting.

​He looked up at her; his dark brown eyes were hooded by large, bushy gray eyebrows. Wrinkles and creases outlined his eyes and forehead, “Yes, my lady?”

​“My King,” she bowed, “I wish to request an audience from you, with your guards, Methad and Elani.”

​“How, may I ask, do you know them?”

​“They are my parents.”

​A puzzled look overcame the old man's face. Anyone who knew Methad and Elani would understand the King's confusion. Methad was dark like onyx rock while Elani was like perfect white porcelain. She looked like neither.

​“Not by birth,” she explained, “I had no real parents. Elani and Methad took me in and raised me as their own.”

​He nodded in understanding, “any family of Methad and Elani is welcome in my home.” He turned to the small boy beside him, “Elia, go to the guards in the throne room and tell them to come to me in Elani and Methad’s place.”

​The boy stood up and ran toward the palace.

​“Elani, Mathad, you are released from your responsibility as my guards for the afternoon. Enjoy your time of fellowship with your daughter. I do expect to see you at dinner tonight.” To her he said, “And you too, my Lady, please join us at dinner this evening?”

​“It would be my pleasure,” she said bowing her head.

​The two guards stepped out from the shadows behind Liann and Tallia and walked toward the huntress. They bowed to her. She bowed back to them both.

​The small woman on the left, no more than five and one fourth feet, had pale and smooth ivory skin, dark eyes that were slanted slightly, and long dark hair that flowed down her back to her thighs. She smiled softly.

​The man beside her stood over seven feet in height. His ebony skin sharply contrasted the milky whiteness of his partner. His eyes were sparkling emeralds, his hair shaved close to his head, and his lips pursed thoughtfully.

​“It is good to see you again Little One,” the woman said.

​“And you Elani,” she replied.

​Elani flew forward and flung her arms around the huntress in a loving embrace. The huntress returned the embrace, laughing softly.

​The man’s muscular arms reached around them both and gripped tightly, lifting them both of the ground.

​“I have missed you Little One,” he deep voice echoed in her ear, “It has been far too long,” he said placing the two women back on the ground.

​“That it has,” she replied.

​“So you are going by the name Esther now?” Elani questioned.

​“For the moment,” she replied. “It is easier than explaining everything. You know as well as I, that it would take far too long and I do not have that sort of time.”

​“True. Have you shrunk since we last met? You seem to be shorter than I remember,” Methad laughed. It was a deep, throaty laugh that sounded like the dull roar of thunder.

​“Or maybe you have just become taller,” she retorted quickly.

​“Or maybe you both are losing your minds,” Elani smirked.

​Methad and Elani both laughed heartily.

​“Oh, how I have missed the sound of your laughter,” she sighed.

​“Come, let us walk by the lake,” Methad suggested.

*****


​“So, Little One, how has the search for the prophesied one gone so far?” Methad asked.

​“Not well, I am afraid. He always seems to escape just before I can catch up with him. I do not know if he knows that he is being followed or if he is just that nomadic that he cannot stay in the same place for more than a week.”

​“Where did you see him last?” Elani questioned.

​“Last I saw him was at the southern side of the city. He was heading out of town. I tracked him all the way down through the mountains to the Sea of Aravav. He must have doubled back somewhere in the mountains because Nika saw him north of here about two weeks ago.”

​“Which direction was he headed?”

​“Nika believes he was headed back toward Elyia or Bria. So I assumed it would be best to look here in Eberdine first then move onto the eastern cities,” she stated.

​“Can we help you in any way, little one?” Elani asked.

​“For now, I believe all I need is just a good night's rest, some food, and some supplies. And then I will return to my hunt.” she told them.

​“Then come, my dearest little one, let us feed and bathe and clothe you and allow you to rest before you must hunt again.” Methad said softly.

*****


​​After dinner Elani lead her down a long, dim corridor, up a winding dark wooden staircase, to a heavy wood door. Elani pressed both of her hands against the door and swung it open. Inside the door was another dimly lit, but much shorter corridor. At the end of the corridor an archway draped with red and purple curtains. Elani pushed the curtains back in order to let her walk through.

​“This will be your room for tonight, and however long you wish it to be,” Elani told her.

​The room that had been prepared for her looked fit for any member of the royal family. A large bed took up the northeastern corner of the room. The bed was covered in an abundance of fine silk blankets and pillows. Sheer material hung from the ceiling creating a soft canopy over the bed. Matching draperies hung over the windows.

​Her first move was to pull back the drapes so that the moonlight would shine into her room. It swept across the floor, up over the bed, and reflected off of the mirror on the far wall.

​“All of your belongings, and new supplies, are here” Elani told her, gesturing toward a wooden chest at the foot of the bed. There were three new pairs of robes, one pair for traveling, one for dress, and one for sleeping. Next to the robes, were a pair of riding boots, undergarments, two bags filled with a multitude of delicious foods, a small, yet warm blanket, and a bow with a quiver filled with arrows, and a new set of nice, sharp knives.

​“Thank you Elani,” she hugged Elani tightly.

​“Of course Little One. Should you need anything in the middle of the night, our room is down the stairs and to the left.”

​“I am sure that as soon as I lay down, I will be gone until morning, but thank you for everything you and Methad have done for me.”

​“Good night then.”

​“Good night,” she replied.

​After she heard the door close and lock shut, she unfastened her knives from her belt and placed them with the others. Then she slowly bent over and unfastened the multiple straps on her boots. Balancing on her left foot, she pulled the boot off of her right foot. After removing her boot she pulled off the stocking underneath. She then proceeded to do the same with the other boot and stocking.

​She unbuckled her belt and tossed it onto the pile, and then she removed her robes and undergarments, adding them to the pile.

​She had no desire to put on a night robe, so she flung her bare body into the mass of pillows and silk blankets on the bed.

​In mere moments, the exhaustion overtook her.

*****

The Guardian Chapter 1
gracie113
Chapter One: The Hunt

​She sat quietly in the cool, damp sand watching the sky as the stars slowly faded from view. The sun rose over the eastern horizon and the waves crept up the shore just far enough to caress her bare feet. A warm southern wind blew in off the ocean sending locks of long, dark brown hair flying into her face. The wind caused loose grains of sand to swirl back and forth across the exposed skin on her hands and forearms. She sighed heavily as she lifted her hand out from beneath the sand to tuck the loose hair back behind her ears.

​The tide was slowly rising, each wave extending further and further up the beach. She quickly realized how close the waves were coming, but before she had a chance to stand up, a wave washed up past her knees, drenching the bottom of her long black robe.

​She rose to her feet and turned to walk up the beach. Another wave swept up the beach, knocking her feet out from beneath her. She pitched backward onto the sand while another wave came up and drenching her in cold, salty water.

​Frustrated and obviously annoyed, she forced herself to her feet and out of the way of the next incoming wave. Sand clung to her wet skin and long robes infuriating her even further.

​As she slowly made her way up the beach, a hawk circled over her head. It screeched loudly. She turned her gaze skyward to look at the creature. It screeched again then dove down toward the earth. The bird landed in the sand less than thirty feet from where she stood.

​“Nika, where have you been?” she questioned the creature.

​He clicked its beak at her.

​“Hm?”

​He clicked again then hopped toward her a few feet.

​“That does not answer my question,” she said matter-of-factly as she bent to pick her bag up out of the sand.

​The small bird cocked its head sideways then flew forward in a low incline. He just barely missed hitting her in the face before pulling up and circling back over her. He dropped something on the ground a few feet from where she stood.

​She stooped down to look. The bird had dropped a small cluster of flowers in the sand. She extended her left hand to pick up the delicate flowers. She gently brushed the sand off of them and then examined the long, dark green stem and the broad, full leaves. At the end of the stem was a group of flowers that had petite petals which were pink on the tips but faded to a brilliant orangey-red in the center. Gradually, she brought the flowers to her face and breathed in their sweet, intoxicating scent.

​“Nika!” She shouted, “Nika! I need you!”

​The bird flew from the sky and came to a gracefully stop landing on her shoulder.

​“Good boy,” she said as she reached up to pet the bird’ head. “These Tailia flowers only grow in the mountains north of Eberdine. Did you see him there?”

​The hawk looked at her then screeched loudly in agreement.

​“How long ago?” she asked.

​The hawk let out three more screeches.

​“Three days, huh? We had better get moving then,” she told him, handing him a piece of dried meat out of her bag.

​Nika clicked thankfully as he snatched the meat from her hand. He cried out in delight as he spread his wings and took to the sky once again.

​She laughed at his behavior then strode up the beach. She stopped at the edge of a grassy area where her horse was grazing.

​“Mallokai,” she called then clicked her tongue softly.

​The large horse looked up at her for a brief moment then went back to grazing. His silky black mane and tale billowed gently in the breeze as his grey muzzle disappeared into the tall green grass.

​“Kai, he is headed north again. He doubled back through the city. Kai, we do not have much time. We need to find him before they do.”

​The horse whined in protest.

​“I know we just came from Eberdine, but we are running out of time. I promise that when we are done I will find you a nice place to rest. A farm, a big farm. One with a nice family, with kids. You like kids. A farm with a lot of room for you to run and graze. And even other horses. I promise it will all be over soon,” her voice trailed off.

​The stallion snorted at her, obviously annoyed. Then he conceded to her wishes, lowering itself enough for her to climb up onto his back.

​“I promise it will all be over soon,” she repeated.

​He snorted at her again.

​“We just need to find him,” she said softly as she pulled herself up onto his back.

*****

​ Eight days had passed since she had spent the night on the beach overlooking the Sea of Aravav. By her estimates she had at least four more days of riding to make it to Eberdine. However, she knew that both she and Mallokai needed to rest or neither of them would be able to make it much farther.

​Slowly they rode up to the riverbed and she dismounted. She quickly removed the heavy saddle, leather saddlebags, and bridle to allow her horse to roam around freely.

​As Mallokai wandered she sat down on the riverbed and dumped out the saddlebags. Their few contents spilled out across the rocks and sand. They were running dangerously low on supplies. The bags had once held food, ropes, knives, clothing, and all the other necessities she had needed for this assignment. Now all that was left was a medium length of rope, some stale bread, two knives (one that was for hunting and one that was for close combat fighting), a blanket, and an extra cloak.

​She whistled loudly, calling for Mallokai and Nika. The noise echoed off of the gray, snow-covered mountains that stretched up on either side of the river.

​The horse slowly wandered back to the spot where she sat. He nudged her gently with his soft, gray muzzle. However, the hawk was nowhere to be seen.

​She whistled again and was met with silence. She waited a few minutes. Again, she whistled, this time impatiently. For a moment there was silence. Then, a reply came from far overhead. The bird quickly moved between the edges of the steep, grey cliffs that towered above the dark river, crying out loudly to announce his presence. In one sift movement Nika dove down in a near free-fall then pulled up at the last moment, the tips of his wings just barely skimming the water’s surface.

​“So nice of you to finally join us,” she said to the hawk as he landed by the river side.

​He clicked at her in response.

​“We are running low on supplies and we are out of food aside from this,” she held up the stale bread.

​The bird hopped over and nestled down in against her legs. He looked up at her with pleading golden-brown eyes.

​She handed the piece of stale bread to Nika who chirped thankfully as he wolfed it down.

​“How far are we from Eberdine?”

​The bird made three soft cries through the bread in his beak.

​“Only three days? Less than I had thought, but still too far to go without food,” she could easily go for days at a time without food if she was riding easy and did not have anywhere important to be. Nika could easily fend for himself and live off of small animals like small rodents and Mallokai could graze on the grass that grew at the base of the mountains. However, she had her mission and it required strength and clarity for both her and the animals so they needed to find a better food source, “Boys, it’s time to hunt.”

​Nika spread his wings and took to the skies as she gathered her belonging and threw them back into the saddlebags. She returned the saddlebags and saddle to the horses back and the bridle to his mouth. She climbed onto the tall, gray horse and took the reins in her hands.

​In mere moments, the horse's heavy hooves were flying across the loose dirt and gravel at the base of the mountains. Nika circled high in the sky above where the river bent out of view between the mountains.

​By the time she had caught up with the hawk he was perched on a long outcropping in the rock face high above them.

​Mallokai lowered himself so that she could dismount. Once again she removed the horse’s constraints so he could graze without restraint. She took the rope and knives out from the saddlebag. She slowly wound the rope around her waist over and over again. She tied the knives into one of the ends so that they hung just above the curve of her hips. Slowly she tied off the ends, being sure to tighten it enough that it would not be likely to easily become undone mid-climb.

​The rock wall in front of her was a very near vertical incline. It would not be an easy climb for her. After studying the rocks for a few minutes, she found a crevice that ran nearly three-quarters of the way up the cliff. It was just barely wide enough for her to be able to squeeze her hands in between it. She ran her fingers up along the inside of the crevice until her hands were at least a foot over her head.

​She placed her right foot on a bulge in the rocks that ended up being the same height as her left knee. Her arms tightened as she pulled her body upwards to the point where she could stand on the small bulge with both feet.

​She carefully inched her fingers up over her head again and then found a hold for her left foot. Once again she tightened her arms and pulled herself up.

​Little by little she found her grips in the smooth rocks and climbed up the cliff. She finally reached the point where the crevice ended and she was forced to dig her fingertips into very shallow cracks in the rocks.

​After straining herself momentarily she was able to lift herself up enough to grab the ledge above her. Her body weight worked against her as she dug her hands into the dirt on the ledge. Bit by bit pulled herself up onto the outcropping where Nika sat.

​Nika clicked at her softly, and then flew away.

​As she examined the rocky ledge, she noticed recurring hoof prints. They were undoubtedly the prints of a large mountain goat.

​The ledge crept back into the mouth of a small cave in the mountainside. The prints faded into the darkness of that small cave.

​Slowly she walked toward the cavern. Two glowing yellow eyes peered out through the darkness. She calmly leaned backwards into the shadows next to the wall of the cave.

​As she inched her way forward in the shadows along the wall she was able to make out the shape of a young male goat. She knew he was young from the size of his immature horns, but he was still abnormally large for his species.

​Before she knew what was happening the goat lowered its head, charged out of the darkness, and caught her square in the calves.

​The force was enough to catch her off guard and knock her over. A sickening thud echoed in the cave as her right shoulder cracked against a rock sticking out of the wall. She hit the hard ground with a loud groan.

​Her reflexes were normally much faster than this. She was starting to feel like the longer she spent here the more she was losing her abilities.


​The goat looked at her; the ferocity behind its eyes told her that it would not be going down without a fight.

​She shifted her weight slowly and forced herself up onto her feet. The ram lowered his head again, ready to attempt another charge.

​She pulled one of the knives out from the rope on her waist. She looked down at the knife and realized she had grabbed her combat knife instead of her hunting knife. As she reached across her stomach to pull out the other knife, the ram charged forward at her.


​That has been exactly what she was hoping for. She jumped a foot to her left catching the ram off guard. It skidded forward attempting to stop. She flung her body forward on top of the ram, knocking it up against the wall.

​The creature bucked beneath the weight of her body, obviously fighting for its life.

​She grabbed its right horn in her left hand and pulled down hard. The ram bleated in pain. She pulled the knife back, then without hesitation brought the knife down into the ram’s throat.

​As she dragged the knife through its skin it fluttered in pain. With one last sharp pull the ram stopped struggling and went limp beneath her.

​She dragged the carcass out of the cave and onto the ledge so she could clean it in the light. Blood dripped off of the dead animal onto her feet and the bottom of her robes.

​As she cleaned the carcass, blood soaked her hands. After about an hour she had fully cleaned and skinned the ram. She cut a piece of the rope from her impromptu belt and used it to tie the meat up inside of the skin.

​She untied the rope from around her waist then cut off a piece to tie the goat skin bag to her shoulder. She took the other end of the rope and fastened it to a large rock a few feet from the edge of the ledge.

​Little by little she lowered herself down the side of the cliff. When she ran out of rope she forced her fingers back in between the crevice in the rocks, letting go of the rope, and lowering herself back down slowly.

​She finally reached a point where she was less than twenty feet above the ground she pushed off of the rocks and dropped to the ground.

​Nika sat perched on a rock near where she fell. The bird clicked at her softly so she pulled a piece of fresh meat from the goatskin bag and tossed it to him.

​She walked over to where she had left her belongings. Mallokai slowly wandered back and lowered himself so she could put the saddlebags, saddle, bridle back on. She untied the meat and skin from her shoulder and stuffed them into the saddlebags.

​She patted Mallokai on the side and then hoisted herself up onto his back.

​“Time to go boys.”

​Hopefully by the time she got to Eberdine he would still be there. Hopefully she would finally be able to find him.

*****

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