Chapter 4 - part 2

 Asadi walked through the meadows, a short distance from the hiding place of the council chambers, in the center of Lomond forest. The soft grass bent under the weight of her bare feet as she slowly and thoughtfully took each step. The sound of nymphs filled the air. Asadi stopped for a moment to listen to their conversations and watch their activity before passing on. The nymphs were the largest reason that the council chambers had remained hidden so well. The forest Lomond held a larger population of nymphs than any other place west of the Misty River. No one with any sense traveled through the forest, for even the most adept tracker could be easily lost if the nymphs did not allow him passage.

“Asadi,” One of the nymphs called. “You must see Irandiil now. He has information for you and the council. About thirteen nymphs approached, each no bigger than a man’s finger. One might question what use a nymph could be upon first seeing one, but Asadi knew the strength of a nymph that lay hidden unless they wished to show it.

She quickened her pace to follow the nymphs, her long, brownish-red waves lifted off her slender frame to be tossed around by her momentum as she walked toward the fairy circle not too far ahead. There have been many a story told about what a fairy circle is and the things that might happen to one who is caught therein, but Asadi approached the circle with confidence knowing that this fairy circle was a gathering of the fairy leaders in the area.

Several bowed at the seer’s approach. Asadi began to glow slightly then seemed to disappear altogether; a small nymph with Asadi’s likeness filled the area she once encompassed. Her wings took her to a dandelion, barren of its seeds. The meeting was similar to a round room meeting that one might expect to find in any castle with the king, his guards, advisors, and any guests in a circle. The major difference to be noted was that nymphs did not use furniture; they either flew or rested on nature, in this case, most were resting on flowers and grass although the more heavily armored guards were encircling the area in flight.

“Asadi, we have grave news indeed,” Irandiil spoke first. He was the king of the nymphs and Asadi’s uncle. His face was hardened by war and stress. He and his fathers before him continually battled the Daimonion in an attempt to prepare the way for the return of Iskatar. They alone, among the people of Ardiil, had not lost faith in Iskatar. Irandiil rested on a blade of grass like many others. “A report has just come in from our scouts in the plains of Manath.” He turned his head to a nymph kneeling before him.

“Ma’am,” The nymph scout began, “We were scouting the area and saw a small battalion of the Korgar’s soldiers carrying a prisoner. We were too small a troupe to try a rescue, for the Daimonion with them were numerous, but we kept watch. The prisoner was branded and tortured before finally being rescued and taken to the town of Althein. The part that we thought you might be interested to know is that the brand laid on his back was that of the line of Huor. The Korgar believe him to be the lost son of the line of Huor.” The nymph bowed and stepped back.

“What?” Asadi asked. Her shock showed plainly through her small features. “Has he finally been revealed?”

“Our scouts are keeping an eye on him, and I have just sent a full troupe of my elite soldiers to protect him, but it may not be enough without your help. Your council must act quickly.” Irandiil spoke with the authority of one accustomed to being heeded.

“I will convene the council at once. Thank you for the information, high king Irandiil. As usual, our council is in your debt.” Asadi bowed and left the circle.

Upon resuming her human figure, Asadi ran toward the meeting room of the council. Hear me, brothers. We must meet at once. Her thoughts echoed through some spaceless rift and found its home in the thoughts of each council member. Before an hour had passed, the council sat together and Asadi shared her story.

“I believe that the Korgar will attack and try to destroy this son of Huor before the work of Iskatar can come to fruition in him.” Asadi spoke to the attentive council, her voice conveyed the urgency her words formed. “I have seen a march against the town of Althein, but I did not know why until Irandiil spoke to me.” Upon finishing, Asadi sat and the seven-foot tall Ikari stood.

“He will require our help if he is to reach the Netherworld. The task may be upon him after that, but until then Senna and I will watch over him and teach the son of Huor all that we may. Perhaps we even ought to take him across the river for a time.”

Kotari stood and met Ikari’s deep-brown eyes. “We will not take him across the river, at least not yet. There is a world there he does not understand. You and Senna will, however, train the boy as well as you might. Above all, protect him. That is your sworn duty until he has crossed the border into the Netherworld.” Ikari bowed then sat as Kotari turned to face Lokai.
“Curthadir, how is the girl? Luran believes that her time is near.”

Lokai remained seated, but turned a serious look toward Kotari, “You cannot truly expect that she will be ready any time soon. She is working hard and we are all teaching her as best as we can, but there is much fear in her. She has much to learn.

“Even we, who were taught by Iskatar himself, could not have learned everything in such a short time. It took us nearly twenty years to even be wise enough to return to Ardiil. It is impossible that she should learn any quicker, for we are not as great at teaching as Iskatar.”

Kotari lessened the severity of his look and responded to Lokai, “It has not been appointed for her full training to take place with us. She must learn as much as possible here, but then she will learn much elsewhere. The important thing is that she is grounded and that the two of you are ready to go as soon as we receive word from Ikari and Senna.”

Kotari turned his eyes from one end of the council member’s table to the other and said, “The time we have waited for is now. This is where uncertainty begins, but it was for this time that we were called. This time in Ardiil’s history will tell why we are alive. We are here only to do what we have been called to, no more and no less. Let us live this moment out without fear lest we fall short of the goal. May Iskatar’s hand guide us all.”

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Ways to Make a Good Book Better


Last week, I met my friend, Jon, at Forza for coffee. For those of you who don't live in Denver or haven't heard of Forza, it's a nice local coffee shop Jon showed me when we first started hanging out about a year ago. They have this great drink called a Ventian Late. Sadly, I have no idea what's in it, but it's really good. I tried their Holy Spumoni once, and it was so sweet I almost wanted ice cream to calm down the flavor. It was good, don't get me wrong, but it was very sweet, so make sure you're in the mood before you try it. It's located on 104th street just west of Federal, if you decide to look it up.

Having said that, we had a great meeting. Jon is a pretty good author and has been writing for a lot longer than me. He's never actually published anything and is pretty shy about letting people read his work, but ever since I started this project, he's been a great motivation. For some reason, the little icon that shows he's following me says "Keoni Keller." Why is that anyway?

Anyway, to get back to the story, he had a lot of ideas on how I could continue to improve on what I'm doing, so I wanted to share them with you here. I didn't take notes, but I think I remembered most of them, so I'll do as best as I can. If I forget something, feel free to leave a comment, Jon.

Before I write the methods of making a good book better, I want to pass on the warning Jon gave me. Don't ever stop writing to edit your book until you're done with the book. He told me not to apply any of these ideas to stuff I've already written. He says that when I finish my entire book, I should then go back and fix it all at once. I am going to start applying these ideas from here forward though.

Watch the Grammar

I personally hate grammar. I never liked diagramming things in school, and I still can't tell you what an indirect object does. I usually try to forget about grammar, and I'd much rather write like I talk than like some sort of school paper. Despite all that, Jon gave me some great reasons having good grammar helps make your book better.

1) Punctuation changes the meaning of a sentence:

Proper punctuation can clear up a lot of confusion. Jon showed me a wikipedia entry about the serial comma versus the Oxford comma: Serial comma entry. The point wasn't the article itself but some of the examples that show how you use a comma can change a sentence completely. The first example right under the "Unresolved Ambiguity" heading was my favorite.  I won't give any examples here for the sake of keeping things simple, but feel free to look at it for yourself.


A sentence makes a lot more sense and is a lot more simple when all of the words are correct and match the sentence. For example, affect versus effect. I still don't know the difference between these. Jon and I spent a while talking about the difference, but he also told me to look on Grammar Girl to clarify when I don't know which one to use. When someone with a good vocabulary read my work, they need to be able to tell exactly what I'm saying.

--Addendum on grammar:

There is a thing called a hanging participle. Apparently I use these all the time. A hanging participle is when you have an "-ing" verb that should be related to a noun but is somewhere else in the sentence.... Now that I read that, I have no idea what I was trying to say. Let me give an example:

        Jim went to the store expecting to find a book.

In this example, the word expecting modifies the noun it's next to. So, the store is expecting to find a book, no Jim. In order for this to be correct, the sentence should read:

      Expecting to find a book, Jim went to the store.

I would never talk like that, but Jon showed me how it can create a lot of confusion if you don't do it correctly. I had never heard of a participle, much less a hanging one (reminds me of a hang nail), but I am going to watch for them from now on.

Keep the narration voice consistent

Jon pointed out several areas that I go from an archaic voice to a more modern voice. In the earlier chapters that I showed Jon before posting them, he pointed out that some characters spoke with "ye" instead of "you," but they didn't stay consistent in the accent otherwise. It's important to make sure you have a single narration voice and all your characters are consistent or the reader will become lost in what is happening. It's easy for the reader to loose focus if you don't maintain something consistent for them to hold on to.

Keep the characters separate from one another

Apparently a lot of people, myself included, tend to speak in their own voice when they write, but when you have a book with multiple characters, especially when you are writing from multiple points of view, it's easy to mix and blend the character voices, but it's important to keep them separate. The more distinct you can keep the character voices, the easier it is for the reader to follow and the more fun it is for them to get involved in. Characters become more real when they are more distinct. Try to imagine going to a movie where every character looked and sounded the same. Would that be fun or confusing?

Look at things from the character's point of view when writing

Here's one that I've realized going back over my book, when I write, I see the falls in the Netherworld and hear the sound of the river rushing by. I feel Natalie's adrenaline when the armies of the Korgar come by and Kaelon's pain as he's beaten to the ground. As the reader, you only feel what I describe to you. You only see the vistas I explain. When I write, I should have been writing with more description, seeing these things as the character sees them.

I should also describe them like the character would describe them, and not like I would describe them. The characters should all see the same thing in slightly different ways, and it should be described differently. This will give the reader a better sense of reality. I really want to go back and describe some areas more, but Jon encouraged me to keep writing until I was done, no matter what.

Don't rush the story

It's not about getting to the end of the book and being able to say, "I wrote a book." It's about telling a story and a journey. I've really been trying to get through the book because I want to be able to tell people about my book. I want to know what happens myself. When I play games, I rush through the main story and forget the side ones because I'm so interested on what's going to happen.

In real life, there are a lot of side stories that contribute to the main story. When we think about the Battle at Thermopylae, most of us think about the main story, the 300 Spartans who fought an army, but few of us think about what got them to that point or why those men were fighting or why they held off and fought until the last man was dead. If you think about it though, a story about just the battle would be short and fairly dull. It's the lives of the people who contributed that makes things interesting. Think of the movie "300." The battle that the movie was based on takes several minutes out of a couple-hour film. Don't rush the story. Stop to see the world sometimes.

Always have Jedi ^_^

 This one is actually a joke. Jon and I have been playing SWTOR together a lot recently, so he said "no task is impossible when you have a Jedi around."
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The Journey to the Milk Tea

I was referred by a friend (colleague? supporter? ^_^), named Unity, to Milk Tea. After hearing about this intriguing drink (some of you may know I like tea with milk), I decided to study up on it. Come to find out, Milk Tea means a variety of things in a number of different cultures. Wikipedia left me no closer to uncovering the truth of this new drink than I had been before.

When I googled Milk Tea in Denver, I found something called Boba Tea. This was far too interesting for me to pass up. I learned that boba tea is more often called Pearl Milk Tea, so apparently it's a type of Milk Tea. One type of Boba Tea is called Pearl Black Tea (I wish it was called Black Pearl Tea)!

I went down Federal until I found what appeared to be the closest Lollicup in town. Above is a picture of the fine establishment. I wasn't sure what I had walked into until I stepped inside. It looked quite nice inside, and the list of drinks was huge. There must have been 50 drinks to choose from. 

Now, before I blow this way out of proportion, some of the drinks were similar to others with one or two differences, but the list was impressive nonetheless. I ended up ordering a Taro Milk Tea. The guy there asked me if I wanted Boba, which I had forgotten about in my search for the shop, so I agreed. 

To give you background, I don't know what Taro is. I could look it up since I'm sitting here on the computer anyway, but that sounds like too much effort ;) Anyway, I'm having fun telling my story, so I'll do it later. 

So you all know, Taro is some sweet flavored thing. It almost seems like a fruit or something from the way it tasted. I'm pretty sure Taro is purple or light blue too, because the drink was purple with these black balls in it. The black balls were the boba I had heard so much about. I was about to embark on an adventure. 

After drinking my first boba, I almost swallowed it without getting a chance to taste it. They're slippery and slide down your through easy as ice or something similar. They're slightly sweet, but that may be because of the drink's flavor. The boba are soft and chewy and almost feel like a doughy bread once you bite into them. Apparently they are tapioca, so that might make sense.

When I was most of the way through the drink, I wished I had brought a friend with me so I could have a boba war with them. For anyone who has ever had a boba tea, just imagine how much fun it would be to have one of those straws, a cup full of boba, and a lot of friends to shoot the boba at! I need to figure out where to buy these things!

How about this for a new company: a smaller version of a paintball field where you buy a cup of boba and a straw then you run around and shoot them at your friends. The boba are pretty sticky, so it should be easy to see who won, especially if you add food coloring. It would be great!..... until someone tripped and caught the straw in his throat.... hmmmm, better think this one through better....

Oddly enough, Boba tea actually fills you up pretty well too. Just so you know if any of you decide to go. 

I know this post has been far different than most of my posts, but I wanted to tell you about this new experience I've had; it was quite a pleasure. Next post: back to my book!

PS - For any of you who are reading this blog, please let me know if you prefer to read the book itself or about my experience writing the book. Thank you for your continued reading!
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Chapter 4 - part 1

Natalie trudged along, exhausted from trying to get everything done that was required of her. Her footsteps turned shuffles from physical strain as she, taking water to a village from the lake below, made her way up mountain pass. The road twisted back and forth for a mile and a half to get from village at the top of the mountain to the river beneath it. Violets, shrubs, and some sort of grassy plant Natalie wasn’t familiar with inundated the mountain, with only rocks to mark the path. Evergreen trees and rocks filled in on either side of the path to obscure the view from the river to the village above. Patches of snow still dotted the mountainside from the snow last week. It wouldn’t have been such an arduous task if she had not already made the trek twice today.
The village was full of people who had fled the Korgar. Somehow, the council would find them and send an escort to bring them back to this village. Nearly five hundred people lived in the village. In the village, everyone had a job or role to help sustain the people who lived there. A few of the people who normally fetched water had become ill recently, so the council offered Natalie’s help until they were able to heal. Natalie enjoyed helping at first, but by the end of the first day, she was more sore than she could ever remember being. The second day, they gave her a break, at least that’s what they called it, by having her help threshing the grain. The rest of the week, she had been back to work on the mountain pass. Natalie couldn’t understand how people her age could stay sick so long while she had to do their work.
Asadi was right when she said it would be tough if I joined this council, but I expected war or something, not these stupid tasks. A slave? Is that what they want? Someone to do the things they’re too good to do? I’ll never please them! Natalie grew angry. Every time I mess up in the smallest way, they make sure I know it. They may not say it, but the way they look at me says they know. I can’t even tell a small lie without Asadi’s terrifying eyes staring into my soul! It’s like she’s not even human. “Aaaah!” Natalie allowed herself to scream.
Natalie dropped one of the two buckets of water she carried on the pole across her back and watched it roll down the pass and off a ledge toward the lake where she came from. After several seconds of mixed sadness, exhaustion, and anger while she watched the bucket roll, she threw the pole and other bucket down. “I give up,” she screamed. “You hear me? I give up!”
“What’s the trouble?” Lokai asked with a very calm voice. Natalie glanced up and saw him sitting on a rock slightly above her on the winding mountain road.
“How do you people do that? One minute I’m alone, and as soon as I mess up, you’re there.” Natalie’s anger rose at seeing him.
“I was here before you arrived with your water. I was thinking until you came by. You seem troubled. Is something the matter?” Lokai walked toward Natalie.
“No.” Natalie raised her voice. “There’s no problem, except that I might as well have died for how much of a life you allow me here! I’m spending so much time helping these people in that village that I can’t even sleep, much less care for myself. I haven’t bathed in two days and my eating habits are no better. I’m angry, but you won’t even let me be angry, you say, even being angry against someone is murder against them. You knew that would make me remember since my sister was just killed!” Natalie paused for a few seconds but continued as angry as before when the wizard gave no answer. “And yes, I wish I was as beautiful and powerful as Senna and Asadi, but you won’t even let me try.” Tears threatened to interfere with Natalie’s anger by forming in her left eye, but she quickly wiped them, not allowing herself the luxury.
“Hmmm.” Lokai ran his fingers thoughtfully along his beard. “You’ve only been at this for a week now. Shouldn’t you just calm down and keep going. We’re trying to help you become stronger, and the village greatly benefits from your help. Is it really so hard to give up your wants for someone else for a while?”
Is it so hard?”  Natalie repeated indignant. “Yes it is. You want me to be something I’m not, and I can’t do it. What is it worth anyway? Why am I wasting my time trying to follow your codes and laws and rules for me? Why not train one of these villagers to help you instead. Apparently you care more about them than you do about me!”
Lokai looked seriously in Natalie’s face for a moment before speaking, “Are you angry because we’re asking these things of you, or are you angry because you don’t think we care about you? What is really bothering you, Natalie Dumar? I would be glad to help if I knew.”
The new seriousness in Lokai’s tone made Natalie pause to think, but she knew she couldn’t back out now. “I just want time for myself. I want to be taken care of and not constantly take care of others. I want to be cared about. I want to be beautiful. People used to tell me I’m beautiful, and now every time I look in the lake to draw water, all I see is the dirt on my face and the ratty hair on my head because I haven’t washed, and the dark circles under my eyes from not sleeping enough.” Natalie rubbed the tears that began welling over from her eyes.
“What if I told you that the only way to be completely free from the Korgar was to learn to love others better than yourself. If you can be bought by your greed or your desires for yourself, they will enslave you. If you care about someone else more than yourself, then whether you live or die, you’ll never be their slave. Many men have given up their families and villages and friends to the Korgar for riches or fame or land or power, but in the end, each one becomes more of a slave to the will of the Korgar than he ever could have been otherwise.” Lokai placed his hands on her shoulders and drew her closer. “We have asked you to do these things because we love you, and we want you to never become a slave to them. I may have gone about things wrong though, and for that I’m sorry.”
Natalie’s defenses slowly began to crumble. Her lip quivered as she began to respond, “I... I want to do the things you tell me... but... but, I can’t. It’s too hard.” Natalie let a sob slip and hung her head at her miserable defeat.
“Oh, my child, you are strong, and you are learning.” Lokai, grabbing Natalie and holding her to his chest spoke softly. “Great men have explored half the world and not known what you just learned. You cannot be perfect as you are, but you must find a way.”
Natalie didn’t even look up, none of it made sense. Tears soaked into Lokai’s robe as she held onto his waist. He reminded her of her grandfather right now. Both of them seemed very hard, but she decided that Lokai must care for her like her grandfather did.
“The Korgar prey on fear because fear and selfishness are brothers. It is easy to make someone fear out of selfish desire, and once that is done, brother will turn against brother, father against daughter, and war will never cease. As long as the land is in chaos, there will be none to oppose them.”
“But, Lokai” Natalie said softly, her head still down, “How can I ever overcome fear and selfishness when I can’t even carry water and smash grains? It’s not possible…” Her voice trailed off, and she removed herself from him.
“Love,” the old man replied gently. “Love for another conquers fear, and selfishness with it. If a man ran into a burning building, he would be called a lunatic, but what kind of person would he be if he ran into the building to save a child or mother or friend? ” Lokai walked to the edge of the cliff. “Come here.”
Natalie came to the edge of the pass, where Lokai stood, and gazed down the sheer drop off the edge. She edged back from the precipice to keep her balance.
“Now jump off,” Lokai said.
“What?” Natalie asked. She looked down again to see the drop was probably fifty feet down. “No.”
“Do you trust me?” Lokai turned to the girl behind him. “What I am asking you to do is lunacy, and it is difficult, much like taking water to the village, but I assure you that if you do as I ask, I won’t let you fall.”
Natalie looked down then back at Lokai silently.
“Let me ask again, do you trust me?”
“I think so.” She responded hesitantly.
“Then jump. Don’t be afraid; I promised I wouldn’t let you get hurt.”
“How will you stop me from dying if I jump? Or will I just be a cripple the rest of my life?” Natalie spoke a little louder.
Lokai grabbed Natalie’s shoulders and looked her seriously in the eyes. “Stop asking questions. I won’t push you, so you have to choose. If you trust me, then jump.”
Natalie looked over the edge again then backed away. “I’m not sure...” Natalie responded, but before she could think any further about it, a movement to her left caught her attention. Natalie watched as Senna jumped off the cliff and began the freefall down. As she watched Senna nearing the ground below, Natalie saw Lokai running faster than any man should be able to down the side of the cliff beside her; he pulled her into his arms. By the time the duo reached the bottom, Lokai held Senna in his arms and stood firmly on the ground, a trail of dust on the wall behind him.
Lokai placed Senna on the ground and looked up at Natalie. “Fear would have kept me from saving her, but I love her enough to act in lunacy to save her.” He shouted the words, but they seemed as though he were standing next to her. “Go take a bath and sleep. We’ll finish your chores for today. Lokai grabbed the bucket next to him then he turned with Senna and continued the trek down the mountain.
Natalie stood there in shock, uncertain of what to think. How did the old man…? But he was… This is a stupid place; nothing seems to make sense. Natalie complained, but she remembered her dreams of a place where she could run without getting tired and where she could fly or use a bow or save a man from the monster. Will things ever make sense? Natalie looked down the hill at Senna and Lokai who were talking. With her thoughts to accompany her, Natalie began the trek up the mountain to where her bed awaited her. She suddenly felt more tired than she had before.

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Chapter 3 - part 3

Kultas Baer’s tall frame with long, black hair stood in contrast to the field around him. His abundance of muscles rippled as his shovel sunk into the earth. It was near time to plant crops again, and the fields needed tending. The work was tedious, but had made his living for as long as he could remember. The sound of a racing horse in the heat of the day brought most of the small town out to see what was happening. Kultas’ head dropped as he saw his son’s horse bearing only one rider. Neither boy would have abandoned the other. What happened?! Kultas stood impatient and frantic as he waited on the main road heading through town with the townsfolk and town elders, who had been informed, or at least noticed the commotion by now.
Renzoku stopped just short of the crowd and nearly fell off his horse, “Kælon!” he gulped air, “They took him! Hurry, we have to save him. They won’t be able to go further than the plains of Manath with a walking prisoner!”
“Calm yourself, child.” The eldest of the town elder’s said. He was a strong man, just now nearing sixty years of age. Much of the town sought him for wisdom, but no one thought less of his strength for all his age. “Tell us what has happened as slowly and precisely as your mind will allow.”
Renzoku, including that it was not the king’s men but the soldiers of the Korgar that took Kælon, relayed the story to the crowd that continued to grow as he spoke. Time raced on for Renzoku, but the story was over in under a minute. He looked up from telling the story to see Kultas’ head fall. Renzoku reached out to him and fell to his knees, “I’m sorry. I’m not a strong enough warrior to have saved your son, but once he is safe, I will give my life for his.”
“Hush, child.” Isil, Kultas’ wife, placed her hand on the youth’s sweat stained back. “We don’t blame you, but let us pray that it is not as we might fear. Anyone who is willing, come to our house in two hours. At sunset we’ll find their camp and raid it,” she called to the crowd gathered near.
“There are at least thirty, more likely forty, men in the company,” Renzoku frantically added. “It will take every able man. We must be well equipped.”
Kultas turned and face the crowd raising his hand, “Let even the abyss open up and the legions of darkness come forth! There is nothing in all the land or even beyond that will keep me from my son! These Korgar have raped and pillaged us for too long. They have taken what we earned by the sweat of our brow, and now they have taken my son. Who will join my march?”
Kultas spoke with such fervor and might that Renoku thought he might have been a king if he had had different birth. The second of wondering ended quickly, and a series of war shouts came forth.
The group dispersed to prepare; likewise Kultas and Isil came to their home. Kultas hesitated on the footstep of the house a moment to allow himself to be overcome by the anger and fear that he held back. His eyes filled with a rage that only the few who have had their children taken might recognize. Fear of what might happen mixed with anger at himself and those who took Kælon filled his brain only to be routed by the voice of his wife.”
            “Get ready,” Isil scolded the delay in her husband’s actions, knowing only too well what troubled him. “We failed him once because our fears produced lies, but the life of our son must not be destroyed completely, if not for the sake of his mother then for the sake of the whole land of Ardiil.” The rebuke from Isil was the sort that only a strong wife could make: loving, yet stronger than the winds of a hurricane.
“You’re right, Isil. We have to stop them before they make it to the Korgar,” Kultas responded without looking behind at his wife. He moved into the house. Even if the town lacked in courage at the final moment, the town elders would come. It was their sworn duty to protect the Baer family, a duty not called on for several generations.
“With Renzoku and the elders, I will have a group of seventeen.” Kultas said looking at a map of the land.
“You’ll have eighteen.” Isil corrected. “I’ll be kept home. As a warrior and the mother of my son, I won’t let a few men fail my son’s life when I could have helped.”
Kultas looked up to see her firm look as she ornamented her belt herself in a pair of ornate short swords he had not seen for many years. Knowing that a fight would end in futility, he nodded his head and returned his gaze to the map.

It was near nightfall before the soldiers even began to set up camp. Kælon had lost most of his senses between the beatings and being drug behind the horses when the guards wanted sport, but he was certain that these hills were on the northern edge of the plains of Manath. He had played here often as a child when some of the elders took the sheep here to graze for a few weeks. Kælon and Renzoku used to beg to come along even though the sheep smelled terribly. It was always pleasant to get away from the city and their parents, but those days seemed distant in the face of his current situation. Kælon sat against the tree he was tied to in order to try to regain what little strength he might. Escape would take a lot more strength and mental power than he currently possessed. The fact that he was near his home at least gave him a small advantage.
The sound of metal clanging against metal filled Kælon’s head. He looked around to find three men hammering several metal shapes together to create what looked like a small metal statue, about the size of a man’s torso. After a few minutes of making the pieces fit together, they hammered a metal rod into the end of the shape and let the shape sit in the fire. One of the soldiers looked at Kælon, then back at the object before bellowing with laughter.
Glancing one more time at the fire, the man walked over to Kælon and knelt. “Do you know what that is?” The man asked curtly with his gravely western accent. “It’s a brand for your back. That way, all men will know who you are.” The soldier began to laugh at the defenseless Kælon tied to the tree. The thought of torture seemed to please him.
“Laugh now. I assure you that beore the night is over, I will be free and you and your men no more than dead heaps. The soldier’s confidence didn’t waver in the least; he only laughed harder. Kælon couldn’t believe his own words, he had only said them to try and muster courage, but all he accomplished was to drain what was left of his hope.
“I’ll give you one thing, son of Huor.” The soldier spat. “You have spunk, but the smell of searing flesh will drive even that from you. There are things much worse than death.”
“Huor? Me? No, there’s been a mistake. He’s a myth and I’m the son of a farmer. I’m no king and certainly no threat to your masters.” Kælon was slightly relieved about the mistake, but only enough for a new wave of panic to set in. If they believed he was the legendary son of Huor, then he would die the worst death he could imagine at the hands of the Korgar.
“Our masters disagree,” another soldier said as he approached. “They say you are the son of Huor and that a spectacle must be made of you. Whatever our lords want, our lords get. I guess I ought to apologize if you really aren’t this fabled heir to the throne, but either way you have only a few days or weeks to suffer before you’re dead.”
“But I’m not!” Kælon called after the men, now returning to their work of setting up the camp. Death isn’t so reassuring if it doesn’t come before torture! Kælon became frantic with the thought of being branded with an iron that could easily cover his entire back.
Kælon pulled at the ropes as hard as he could, but to no avail. He also tried cutting the ropes with a rock, but with the backward angle he had to hold the rock at the get to the ropes, their strength wouldn’t budge. About the time his arms started bleeding from the friction, he decided to save his energy and make a run as soon as he had any amount of freedom. The pain in his leg from the arrow seared like a hot iron; the thought only made him want to run faster.
Kælon tried to distract himself by studying his surroundings, but the first thing that caught his eye was the branding iron. The hot red crest of the Huor clan was clearly visible, a phoenix rising with a sword in its grasp. For a moment everything seemed to darken and Kælon passed out.
When he came back to his senses, Kælon saw the men, eating and drinking, gathered around a fire. There was a lot of commotion. He’d hoped they forgot about him as he renewed his efforts to use a rock to free himself. Before he had made any effect on the ropes one of the soldiers stood and raised his glass, “Men, we’ve hunted and we’ve eaten, but we’ve had no entertainment. Perhaps you would like to help me show this beast who the boss around here is,” he said while pointing to Kælon.
Adrenaline began to surge through Kælon’s body as three men came up to hold him while a fourth loosed his ropes. Kælon began to kick wildly as soon as the men were close enough. When one fell from a kick to the head, two more took his place. Six men beat Kælon until he could hardly move, then his clothes were stripped from him and thrown into the fire.
Despite the pain that Kælon was in, he still squirmed with every amount of muscle and adrenaline he could muster. The muscles in his back rolled back and forth as he struggled under the weight of the men holding him face down in the dirt. Behind him, the man who had proposed the entertainment brought the branding iron from the fire and began the short walk toward where Kælon was being held. The men cheered and screamed wildly; the anticipation of the seared flesh growing in everyone’s minds.
When the iron first touched his back, Kælon’s senses were overwhelmed. He couldn’t see, hear, or feel anything for a split second. It did not last long enough. Once the full pain of the iron ensued, Kælon screamed in anguish, every moment the pain being made anew as the brand was pressed further into his skin. Those few seconds were the longest Kælon had ever encountered as everything from his neck to the small of his back was seared. Every thought that rose to his mind fell, countered by only more pain and his every sense groaned of agony.
The stories say that the cry from Kælon’s lips rang through the deepest parts of D’ath Kutar, to the joy of the Korgar, and to the highest peaks of the silent mountains. It was the cry that brought the searching party to the camp where Kælon now lay. When the iron was removed, he could neither cry nor move nor taste the sweetness of death. The world was one blur as the soldiers left Kælon on the ground and cheered and drank.
Kultas, now saw the lights from the camp glaring off of a nearby hill. His horse was ahead of the fifty men who traveled with him, Renzoku and Isil close on his heels. Once the group had crossed the small hill and were heading down into the valley, the soldiers noticed the party, but too late. By the time the orders to prepare were even issued, the raid was upon them. Kultas trampled two and stabbed one before dismounting near his son. Careful of the burns on his back, Kultas screamed in rage for his deformed son.
A soldier tried to attack Kultas from behind only to find his own back stabbed twice by the spear in Renzoku’s hands. Renzoku then turned to throw his spear at a fleeing soldier. The entire host of soldiers was massacred in a matter of minutes; not a single villager who rode with Kultas died in the fray. Rejoicing was quickly silenced by the sight of Isil tending Kælon’s wounds as Kultas wept over him. Three of the elders carried Kælon gently back to the town to care for him. Kælon wanted to speak, to cry, to say a single “thank you,” but nothing would come forth form his limp body and unwilling lips. He, knowing that he was finally safe, allowed his mind the sleep his body already retreated into.
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Chapter 3 - part 2

The small dome-like room was quiet yet intriguing. Natalie’s eyes continually moved to the intricate patterns on the walls that snaked in gold across a crimson background in abstract patterns as though they were alive. Though the patterns seemed to have no structure to it, it held a sort of beauty Natalie could not place. While she waited, her fingers traced the slight bumps left by the golden vines on their path through the sterile red. The forest around this place added what smells and view the complex could afford, but once inside, Natalie felt both enraptured and trapped at once. She gazed at a side of the rounded walls in an attempt to avert her eyes from the pattern for a moment. She enjoyed gazing at it, but a sick feeling came over her when she did for too long.
The complex had few buildings, though it didn’t seem to need any more than it had. Natalie remembered Lokai mentioning that single men lived in a house or dormitory, as it was called in her world, of sorts. The women followed the same practice. The woman who showed Natalie her room less than an hour ago said that it was to promote unity within those who lived out here and served something or someone they called Iskatar. Natalie had bathed quickly and dressed to meet the council. Lokai had left straight to the “meeting chamber” as he called it, and he told her to come after she’d had a chance to refresh from their trip.
The trip seemed like a blur at this point. Natalie hardly slept as they traveled, both from the bad beds and her own grief. When Natalie did sleep, it was fitful and she often woke in confusion and worry about the survival of her and her sister. When that happened, Natalie usually cried herself back to sleep. By the time they got to Garath, Natalie could hardly stay awake during the day, but she could sleep no better at night. From what Natalie remembered, Garath was a small but thriving town. Although there were few inns in the area, brothels and marketplaces dotted the entire perimeter and fought for attention at the center of the town. Natalie nearly got lost a few times in the mess of visitors who were seeking trade or a place to rest between their travels. Natalie remembered some exotic traders tried to sell her silk. They spoke a language Natalie wasn’t familiar with.
Most of the people in this new world spoke a slightly different language than she, although Lokai spoke her own well enough. The slight differences made it hard for Natalie to be apart from Lokai for long, and her weariness only added to it. The exotic traders spoke something far different than even what it seemed most of the people spoke. The incessant crowds pushed in on Natalie, so, grasping the back of his cloak, she stayed close to Lokai. At one point, Lokai asked her to stay near the food supplies he’d acquired while he bartered for horses for the journey. Natalie sat down outside the stables and draped her hands across the few brown bags that contained various dried foods and water canteens to help sustain them. Resting against the wall of the shop, Natalie quickly fell asleep. She woke only minutes later to see children had torn the sacks open and were pulling everything from them.
Natalie jumped up and started yelling at the children. She didn’t know if they could understand her, but they left quickly. Natalie looked around to find that no one noticed or even looked her direction. Gazing down, Natalie grew sick. Most of the food was gone. Even half of the canteens were missing, and their packages were ripped beyond repair. Lokai came running outside and when he saw the mess and the girls tears, he hugged her. Natalie never remembered feeling so protected as she did then.
She must have fallen asleep in his arms, because the next thing she remembered, she was tied into the saddle of a horse next to Lokai’s. He held a rope that attached to the bit in her horse’s mouth. She rubbed her eyes and stared at the lush forest around them. She heard the sound of water in the distance and smile. Natalie looked up at Lokai, “Mister Lokai, is there a river nearby?”
Lokai smiled back at the girl. He slowed his horse and allowed hers to catch up. “Please, my friends call me Curthadir, and I would like to consider you a friend, if not now then soon.” Lokai smiled gently then inclined his head toward the sound of the water. “There’s a river, yes, but what you hear is a waterfall. It’s the largest one in this forest. This is the forest known as Tulien forest, or more properly western Tulien forest. This area is known for its great waterfalls.” Lokai stopped his horse entirely and whirled around to the east. “In that direction is the palace of his majesty, Garlon, a spawn of the Korgar. He has enslaved this area with their control. The village we stopped at is just beyond Garlon’s jurisdiction. When he imposed heavy taxes on the people of his city, most of the merchants moved out and started their own city. It’s a popular city in recent years since it’s close enough to the King’s Highway to be accessible to all this continent, but it’s also a short travel from the northern port that trade with the Telmath, the eastern continent.”
Lokai handed the rope to Natalie, “Do you know how to ride?” She smiled and took the reins. “I know you are an important person with things to do, but can we go see the waterfall? I’ve never seen one before,” Natalie said sheepishly.
Lokai smiled. “I used to play in these forests as a child. My parents would come hunting in them while the children found waterfalls and streams to swim and fish in. I would love to show you one day, but unfortunately we cannot now. There is, however, a waterfall near Lang Gradand, where we are traveling, that I’m sure Senna or Asadi would be happy to show you.” Lokai turned his horse southeast again and continued on their journey.
“Asadi and Senna? They’re members of your council?” Natalie asked. “Their names are pretty.”
“They are more beautiful than their names.” Lokai smiled. “And I am old enough to be their grandfather. In appearance, they are much closer to your age, though they are quite a bit older.”
“How do the council members live so long?”
“A great question, and one that can be answered with words, though they wouldn’t mean anything to you. I would rather you see for yourself, if you can be patient.”
Natalie nodded even though Lokai was looking forward. She felt lost in this strange world where people spoke a different language, men and women could live forever, and waterfalls were more common than electronic or gun stores. “Do you know what a gun is?”
“A gun?” Lokai pronounced it slowly.
“You know, it uses a hammer to hit a bullet hard enough to cause it to fly at hundreds of feet per second.” Natalie put her hands in the shape of a gun to demonstrate. “Or something like that. I never paid enough attention when my mom taught us about how a gun worked. My sister was always better at those things.” Natalie cringed at the thought of her sister and the bullet that killed her, but it passed easier now.
“So a gun is the thing your father held when I pulled you into this world? Where does a hammer fit in there?”
Natalie laughed quietly. She hadn’t thought referring to a hammer inside of a small device would sound so weird until she realized she was talking to someone who knew nothing about a gun. “It’s a tiny hammer,” she finally said.
Lokai smiled. “I had never visited your world before.” How does it compare to the little you’ve seen of this one?”
“It’s darker and more violent. People seem just as cruel in this one though.” Natalie remembered the stolen food and began to cry. “I’m sorry I fell asleep and got your food stolen. I didn’t know I was so tired. I should have been more careful.”
Lokai stopped his horse near hers, which took the opportunity to bend and feed on the grass. “Dear girl, it’s not a problem. As you can see, we are provisioned enough to travel. Everything was taken care of. What has happened is passed. Don’t let it bother you. Look to what lies ahead instead.”
Natalie looked up to the man and examined his fine wrinkles and grey eyes. Smiles formed on the edges of his eyes as he looked at her. Movement in the distance caught her eye. Lokai followed her gaze to a dozen soldiers in black armor and riding dark horses. He turned his horse and began moving southwest more quickly.
“Come, Natalie, we are not warriors, and these men may well be looking for us. We should depart before they come close enough to know we we’re here.” Lokai rode over to a tree, put his lips near it and said, “Cuindar Phos, your help please.”
Natalie watched in puzzlement then looked back to the men with worry portrayed on her face, but she followed closely and wordlessly. Lokai led them through a thicker area of trees. Natalie still heard the hoofbeats, but they were more muffled. Either they’re further away or the grass covers their sounds, Natalie thought. She couldn’t see them, so she hoped for the former. While looking, she saw the grass behind them grew thicker as they rode, and their own hoof prints quickly obscured. It looked like the grass was coming alive and chasing them. Natalie shrieked.
Lokai looked back and saw her hurrying her horse from the living grass. She was pointing as she began passing Lokai. “Slow down, you’ll tire the horse. It’s only the nymphs. I asked for their help. They’ll keep the Korgar’s guard from finding us. Don’t worry. They won’t bother you or the horse.
Natalie jumped off the ground when she heard footsteps echoing down the hallways. Her memories faded from her into the red and gold walls she was gazing at before her revelries overtook her. The footsteps preceded two men dressed in white robes with red sashes across them. White hoods that came seamlessly off the back of the robes covered the faces of the two men as they approached. They all seemed to wear the same clothes. Even Lokai had changed his garb for a similar vestment, but he was easier to spot because of his beard.
The men stood a cordial distance away from her and one removed his hood to speak, “Lady Natalie Dumar, the council will see you now.” The man’s face was long and thin, not sickly so, but without muscle in the conventional sense. There was nothing of particular interest about his face. His eyes were wide and his nose was little more than a stub, but Natalie noticed nothing remarkable about him.
Natalie had no idea what this council was that she was supposed to meet. Lokai had talked about them some, but never really revealed why they existed or why they wore ridiculous clothes. Natalie wasn’t sure how long she had been standing in the lobby area to this building, but she wished she had more time. Nervous excitement washed over her with a sense of being unprepared like she often did when she went into her math classroom as a child.
A long hallway led the trio to two open, oak doors, leading into the next room. Natalie saw the inside of the room well before she ever found herself on the precipice. The room was similar to the last, but had a round table and quite a few windows covered by thin veils. Each of the members of the council stood in front of a seat, apparently waiting for their new guest. The six council members in the room had their hoods removed. Lokai had told Natalie that two women were on the council, but now that she saw them there, it struck her as weird that women would stand with the male leaders. In her home country, no woman would have been allowed a position of authority. What kind of world is this? she wondered yet again. It seemed that she would never stop coming to that question.
A few seconds after entering, the two men led her to her seat then retreated from the room. The council sat down.
“Lady Dumar, we have seen that you would come.” One member said. He was the tallest of them, a seemingly proud man with excellent posture. His baritone voice was calm and even, betraying nothing of his emotional state. “I am Kotari,” he said quite simply. “These are my fellow council members. I’m sure Curthadir has told you of the current state of the world in which we live?” He moved his eyes to the wizard whom Natalie knew best.
“Yes, Lokai, I mean Curthadir, told me of the Kogi... what were they called?” Natalie, began to blush as she asked.
“The Korgar. Yes, she has been informed on all that we discussed.” Lokai spoke up.
“Tell me then, Lady Dumar, do you wish to help us?” Kotari asked, returning his gaze to her.
“I...” Natalie stuttered. Me, help them? Natalie wondered. Who are they even? “I’m... sure... I mean.” Natalie sat rigid, but helpless and uncertain of what to say.
“The poor child is frightened. Give her a minute.” A dark complexioned lady said. Natalie turned to see that she was more beautiful than anyone she had ever met. Her curly hair was pulled back only to reveal more of her smooth skin and angelic eyes.
“Ikari,” the lady said turning to the man beside her, “Get the girl a glass of water.” Natalie could only watch the man as he exited the room. His arms are bigger than my head. He must be the strongest man alive. What amazed Natalie even more than his great size was the fact that even with his large size, he remained quite nimble. She hardly even noticed him rise from his seat, much less make any noise while doing it. I can’t even walk without making a ruckus.
When the man named Ikari left, another man spoke up. His eyes held a piercing gaze and seemed to talk with his mouth. “My name is Luran. I assure you, we are, none of us, here to cause you harm in any way. We know very little, in fact, of why you were brought to this land, but it is our sworn duty to protect and save all that we may from the terrible rule of the Korgar. If we can extend that hand to you as well, then we will. Perhaps the seer, Asadi can explain who we are.” He turned to face the woman to his left. There was terrible depth in the eyes of the seer, but a sort of terrible beauty also filled them. Her face was at once both stunning in beauty and frightful. What sort of people are these? The women have power and beauty and the men are strong and agile. Everyone acts nice, but their eyes... Natalie couldn’t think of how to describe the eyes of her hosts. Looking into them was akin to gazing at a storm. They were beautiful from afar, but danger seemed to lurk in them.
“Child, when we came back from seeking Iskatar, we were different than when we left. Iskatar set us free from fear and the bondage that we allowed ourselves to be in. Now there are six of us, with only Iskatar, the nymphs, and a handful of brave men as our allies. Together we struggle against the Korgar and their powers of darkness. We call ourselves Cuindar Phos, the council of light, and we do what we can while we wait for the one who will lead us, the son of Huor. We don’t pretend to know the end. Even Luran and I, who are called seers can only see a small arena of future events, but each of us will do what we can to overcome these Korgar and set the kingly line, established by Iskatar, on the throne.
“Danger and hard times are around the corner for all who are in league with us, but our path is the only path to freedom. The only other option you will find is to side with the Korgar. Eventually, you will fall into one side or the other. We are simply giving you the option to follow what we may teach you. There are no guarantees of what will happen, but I can say, from experience, that where you will find meaning and purpose is here, you will find hurt and anguish with the Korgar.”
Natalie sat back. There was a lot to try to understand. She gazed at the table in front of her, and to her amazement saw a glass of water. She gazed to her right and saw Ikari where he was, as though he had never left. Natalie began to realize the power of the people in the room around her. Fear mixed with comfort overwhelmed her, then she saw Lokai’s cool and gentle eyes. In that moment, the fear in her heart melted a little, long enough for her to make a slightly coherent decision.
“Okay,” Natalie finally blurted, “I’ll do whatever it is you expect me to do. I don’t really have any other place to go.”
Lokai looked at her for a moment then nodded at Kotari.
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Chapter 3 - part 1

Kælon crept silently through the eastern Tulien forest, a day’s journey from his home in Althien. His brown hair and green clothes helped him blend in with the forest. His blue eyes held fast, fixed on his target in the distance. Sitting quietly in an oversized shrub, Kælon stared at the large brown stag, about 80 meters ahead, who would make an excellent meal for his family. It’s large antlers marked its location, even when its skin threatened to melt into the background. A deer that size would require a lot of work to get back to town, but it contained enough meat to last them for a few months. In the coming winter, having enough meat to survive became a necessity.
Kælon thought he tasted the meat for a moment before realizing he had instead tasted the familiar flavor of adrenaline on his tongue as he slowly moved his bow into position. Move a little closer…. Kælon thought. Forgetting everything else around him, he focused on the stag; it was a dance between his speed and the stag whose ever-ready gaze held alert as he ate. The bow now pulsed with his blood. Kælon drew and released the arrow with one swift motion, but his back elbow was thrown from its practiced course by an aggressive tap from a metal staff.
Kælon watched the deer run and saw the arrow shatter into the tree just behind the deer’s neck, then he turned to see his brown haired friend fall to the ground in laughter. Kælon smirked at the jovial nature of his closest friend as he extended a hand to help him up.
“Was there a reason for doing that or are you just cross that you can’t sneak up on anything?” Kælon, slightly irked at the thought of spending another entire day searching and tracking a beast to slay, asked. His height was as average as his build. His smile betrayed his serious voice to his friend, however.
“I snuck up on you.” Renzoku retorted before laughing again. “Besides, we just got up here yesterday. If you’d killed that stag then we’d have to return tomorrow. If you do the math, that’s two days of travel for only one day of being here.”
“Remind me why I brought you.” Kælon said as he lowered his head, in an attempt to mask his amusement, and began to walk.
“No, there’s a point to what I’m saying.” Renzoku insisted. His stature was comparatively larger than that of Kælon. His uncontrollably curly, light-brown hair matched his slightly odd and carefree personality. “I found a waterfall we’ve never jumped off of before.” His smile returned at the thought of the fun to be had.
“It’s a good thing you weren’t born during a time of war,” Kælon teased. “You would never have been able to take orders, you’d always find something better to do.”
“The oppression of the Korgar and their puppet king is almost worse.” Renzoku sped up a little to take the lead. “But what is there to fear, they say the son of Huor shall return soon to throw King Garlon off the throne and oppose the dominion of the Korgar.” Renzoku smiled in sarcasm.
“Perhaps he’ll be a better fighter than his old man, Turgon the great, who was killed by the Korgar.” Kælon looked pointedly at Renzoku while walking, “Then again, maybe he just shouldn’t take traitors into battle.” Kælon drew his iron short sword and turned it upon Renzoku who countered with his 6-foot tall metal stave. Neither weapon was heavily decorated, nor did either man act highly proficient either.
“He’ll have to be a better fighter than you, or at least wear some armor. I guess it’s a good thing you weren’t born in a time of war either.” Renzoku pulled back his staff and laughed.
“You think I’m a poor fighter, do you?” Kælon sheathed his sword and plowed Renzoku into a tree. The latter dropped his staff in surprise, but quickly took the offensive and grappled Kælon to the ground. Renzoku threw his fist into Kælon’s side, but that only brought retaliation. It was only a few minutes before the two sat on the side of the grassy knoll panting and examining their new bruises.
The deep green of the forest melted into black in the areas the sun had already left. A refreshing breeze blew across the faces of the two and carried through the grass. A wild dance took place for only seconds among the weeds and flowers as they responded to the wind. The sound of rushing hooves rode on the wind toward the ears of the youths.
“Sounds like the king’s men are hunting.” Kælon remarked quite apathetic.
“Maybe they’ll be entranced by fairies and never return.” Renzoku quickly added.
“I’d like to meet a fairy.” Kælon commented beginning to dream, “Maybe then I’d get to have an adventure instead of living this sorry excuse for an existence.”
“Don’t forget, the only adventure a fairy will take you on exists only in your dreams. You’ll wind up lost and alone on the end of a fairy hoax.” Renzoku retorted.
“Aye.” Kælon quickly brushed the comment aside. “Let’s get the horses and get to bed. Seems we have an unexpected date with a waterfall tomorrow.”
The trees of Tulien forest blocked much of the direct sunlight, even during the brightest times of day. The light that does enter plays off the leaves and foliage in the forest making them seem all shades of green. Kælon considered himself an expert dreamer, so he laid down as soon as they had set up the camp and watched the light in the trees. His eyes focused on the beautiful orchestra playing above his head and remembered the stories that his mother had told him. At times the fairies blessed the traveler, but other times they simply made sport out of confusing humans who were so thoughtless to begin with. At the end of every story, his mother warned, “Never cross a fairy.” “The wrath of a fairy will be a curse on your head for years.”
Kælon nodded to whatever fairies might be around; seeing that the heather on the ground would well enough provide cover for them not to be seen. He wondered, as he often did, what fairies even looked like. He never doubted their existence, for too many stories had come through their village for fairies to be just tales, but he knew almost nothing about them. He laughed at the thought that at that moment, he could have been surrounded by a council of fairy elders and not have known.
There’s something about a bed in the wild, sleeping with the grass as a mat and the stars as a blanket that refreshes a man more than his own bed. Kælon gave into the deep sleep to be found at the base of a small hill. Renzoku was so excited about the next morning that he could hardly fall asleep. He kept shifting and re-shifting just a few feet further from the hill than Kælon slept. Finally he fell into a deep sleep, tangled in the few blankets he had wrapped himself in.
The next morning came quickly, and Kælon awoke with the sun and began packing his two blankets and arraying himself with the few armaments he owned. “Ready for some fun?” He asked Renzoku who had just been awoken by a stray ray of sunlight in his face.
“Fun? Can’t we wait until later? Maybe when the sun gets up too?” Renzoku moaned as he covered his face. “What’s for breakfast anyway?”
“Well,” Kælon said with a hint of knowing sarcasm, “We can eat salted beef, berries... or there are enough fish and rabbit to catch a few easily.”
“Rabbit?” Renzoku’s head popped up out from behind the covers. “Why don’t we come hunting more often?” He quickly shoved his blankets in the horse’s side bag and found his bow and quiver without a second thought.
Twenty minutes later, the two had found what seemed to be a rabbit highway. Tracks ran several directions from where they stood. Renzoku followed a path toward the stream, taking the horse with him, but Kælon spotted a rabbit heading further into the hills. Eager to surpass Renzoku in his hunting skill, Kælon quickly took off after the prey with as little sound as possible. He never stopped to look back at his friend.
Kælon  followed the rabbit tracks into an area densely covered by brush and heather. Movement from the right caught his eye, so Kælon gripped an arrow in his left hand and knocked two in the bow. A grouping of nearly a dozen rabbits sat before Kælon in a little glen, sadly a little too alert from his approach. It’ll only take two to feed us; maybe three with Renzoku’s appetite. Kælon smiled to himself. Keep steady.
The arrows flew, and the rabbit scattered. As Kælon had expected, he didn’t have a chance to even take aim with the third arrow before the group had scattered. Two rabbits lay on the ground with arrows cleanly through their hide. One still moved and whined as though it could get away. Disappointed at the fact the arrow hadn’t killed his quarry, he quickly moved to it and snapped its neck with his gloved hand. Kælon had always despised it when an animal lived after being hit with an arrow. Kælon thought back to his first hunting trip when his father caught a rabbit in the hind legs and made Kælon watch as the creature suffered for several minutes. The entire time, Tulkas, Kælon’s father, asked him to imagine the pain and suffering the animal was enduring. Ever since then, Kælon cringed at the first whine of an animal and vowed to never make one suffer more than necessary.
Kælon tied both rabbits to a stick upside down with their necks slit so they would bleed properly while he cleaned and checked his arrows. The ground was soft enough that both arrows could be used again. He decided to head down to the lake and see what Renzoku had been up to for the last half hour. After his victory, Kælon was sorry he had left his friend. Victory never tasted as sweet alone as it did with friends around. I wonder what Renzoku’s up to, anyway. Kælon thought for a moment. Likely fishing he laughed to himself.
I wonder what they are searching for. Kælon thought, a bit concerned, as he listened to the sound of the hoof beats just a mile or less below him. They must be near the camp we set up last night. I’m sure they won’t be mad we used the grass to sleep on. Kælon knew that the king was never a man known for being generous. King Garlon had been known for executing hunters simply because they had been in the forest at the same time as him. Kælon always knew how to stay away, and since the king only came here to hunt, there was little likelihood they’d accidentally stumble on each other if he stayed careful. Still, Kælon wondered if it wouldn’t be better to find a different section of the forest to hunt in. Garlon had been known to do terrible things if he was in a bad mood. He’d probably take his own mother to court if he thought he could get something out of it. Kælon’s breathing stopped when he realized the horses were nearing his position. Time to find Renzoku and get out of here quickly. Kælon examined his surroundings as he realized the horses were heading straight toward this area. If he ran, it might attract their attention. Kælon put the rabbits on the ground and took cover in the crevice of a fallen tree, to wait the passing of the horses below him.
It took less than a minute before the soldiers passed; they were men wearing light armor. About twenty of them carried spears, the rest only held their swords and shields. Kælon couldn’t tell how many had bows on their horses, but clearly not enough for this to be a hunting party. The black-stained metal of the armor immediately told Kælon that these men were not the king’s hunting party, as he’s feared. The flag carried by a soldier near the front worried Kælon more than anything else. The guard of the Korgar? He wondered What would they be doing all the way out here?
The flag portrayed a golden dragon rising out of the sea on a black background. One of its feet stood on the land, and its hands grasped a star. It was a sign of complete dominion, Kælon had been told for most of his life. The Korgar weren’t satisfied with controlling the kingdom and all trade routes, they also wanted the stars. When a herald read their proclamation, it always began, “From those who control the land, the seas, and the heavens…”
Kælon had been so focused on the guards in front of him that he hadn’t noticed one approaching his flank with sword and shield ready. “Stand.” The guard commanded.
Kælon grasped the stick holding the rabbits and stood. He eyed the bow he had laid on the ground and felt the sword in its scabbard on his leg.
“Are you Kælon Baer?” The soldier asked with the authority of one not accustomed to defiance.
“I guess it depends on why you want to know.” Kælon responded hesitantly. Those who met the guard of the Korgar were often taken for some reason or another. Of those taken, none returned. Of those not taken… Kælon preferred not to think about the scenes which had been described to him of men flayed and set upon a pole to die in the sun, or the villages burned and raped for the amusement of these men.
“You are under arrest by order of his royal majesty and the lords of the land. Come willingly or by force, but you will come.” The man kept a firm grip on his sword.
“I guess it would be unwise of me to run and even more stupid to fight.” Kælon surveyed the land around him. This was the only soldier in sight. “Okay, there’s no choice left to me. Where are we going?” Kælon placed the stick in his right hand and raised both slightly above his head.
“That’s of no concern to yours.” The soldier sheathed his weapon and came toward Kælon to bind him, but as soon as the soldier’s hands were engaged with rope, Kælon slammed one end of the stick into the eye of the soldier. He cried out in pain, and the entire company below looked up to see Kælon fleeing. A dense area in the forest, likely impassible by horses, lay directly in Kælon’s path. He only needed to outrun the horses for a few dozen meters, then he would be safe from their horses. Kælon heard the sounds closing in behind him, but he was sure he’d make it before the could get completely to him. As Kælon came within 10 meters of the denser section of forest, an arrow found it’s mark in his calf. Kælon fell to the ground.
When the first ride came to him, Kælon grabbed the shaft of his spear, just above the head; he yanked the man off of his horse and stabbed him through the opening of his visor with a newly drawn sword. Kælon couldn’t remember drawing it, but he felt committed to defending himself at this point, although he knew he would likely suffer worse for it. Before another second had passed, the company of spears that were raining in upon his head overwhelmed Kælon. He fell to the ground and received a continued beating by wooden shafts there.
Renzoku came to the scene just in time to see his friend overwhelmed. A bone jutted out of Kælon’s forearm, yet the guards continued the beating. Kælon screamed a few times then ceased. Renzoku hoped Kælon had passed out and wouldn’t need to continue feeling the pain. Knowing that he would be less good to Kælon bound beside him, he stayed hidden. The sight of his bleeding and bruised friend as they stripped him naked and tied him to the back of a horse turned to loathing in his stomach: loathing for having come too late. It would be difficult for the two of them to try attacking the thirty or forty guards, but maybe he could have helped his friend. However, with Kælon incapacitated and an arrow in his calf, Renzoku knew that any attempt to help would be useless.
Thoughts of all else abandoned, Renzoku ran down to where he had left the horse and mounted up. It was usually about a day’s walk to Althein, but riding at full speed he would likely make it just after the lunch hour if his horse could keep up the pace. The elders must know what to do, even if everyone is scared of the Korgar, Renzoku thought. He sped through the clearing and emerged from the southern edge of the forest heading southwest toward Althein.

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