Show Posts

Messages | * Topics | Attachments

This section allows you to view all posts made by this member. Note that you can only see posts made in areas you currently have access to.

Topics - Arandir

Pages: [1]
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / A New Friend
« on: February 08, 2020, 01:54:33 PM »
Arandir had to admit that going back to work at the theater was one of the best decisions he'd ever made. Not better than his decision to wed Carina, have a child, or bring his people to Rhy'Din, but a good decision, just the same. It was only after he'd left that he'd realized how much he'd enjoyed being part of the theater and how much he missed it. Even so, he was only a guest performer, which still allowed him plenty of time to spend with his family, as well as care for his people. He'd been away most of the day, but it had been business with the village council that had kept him away from home today, not the theater. It was nearly dinner time when he finally arrived home, a small bundle in his arms.

As usual, he was greeted almost at the door by Aluviel, toddling excitedly over to see her father. Today, she was waving a piece of paper around her head, gabbling in her own version of Elvish for a moment or two before reverting to her slightly better grasp of Common.

"I drawed for you!"

Aran smiled warmly at his daughter's greeting. "Oh, what did you draw?" he asked as he stepped inside, juggling that small wrapped bundle in his arms, which was wiggling suspiciously.

Smoothing out the crumpled paper, Aluviel displayed it as though it were a piece of fine art. "You, an' me, an' Mama," she explained, pointing to each indecipherable blob as she identified them for him. Her eyes strayed to the bundle in his arms. "Wassat?"

"What would you say if I said you might have to add someone to that picture?" he asked, crouching down so that he was almost eye to eye with his daughter, that warm smile still on his face.

"I dun wan' a little bruvver," she informed him quite seriously, now giving the bundle quite the suspicious eye. "No baby."

From the kitchen came the sound of Carina laughing as she overheard this solemn declaration.

Aran smirked. She might have a little brother or even a sister someday, but not today. "It's not a baby," he assured her. "Would you like to see what it is?" he asked, eyes bright with amusement.

Easily reassured, Alu nodded, peering hopefully at the bundle now. "S'it a dwagon?" she asked. The elders in the village had started to come together to tell stories of their disparate cultures of an afternoon, and Alu loved stories.

"No, not a dragon," Aran replied. The little blanket-wrapped bundle was too small to be a dragon, unless it was a baby dragon. From inside the blanket, there came the sound of a muffled, high-pitched whimper.

Alu's little face twisted into a mask of worry at the noise coming from the bundle. "S'cryin', Papa," she said in concern.

"Because he's getting all cooped up in there," Aran explained without explaining who "he" was. "Do you want to take a peek?" he asked. "You have to be quiet though. You don't want to scare him."

Again, the little head nodded, his little girl taking a step or two closer to lean on his arm and try to get a better look into the bundle he was carrying. "I be werry quiet."

"Okay," he said, letting her get as close as she wanted. "Ready?" he asked, as he carefully peeled back the blanket to allow a little furry red head peek out, little brown eyes peering curiously up at Alu.

Her small face lost the look of worry, only to gain an expression of wide-eyed awe. "S'not a doggy?" she asked, wanting to be sure. It certainly wasn't a cat, that was for sure.

"No, he's a baby fox," Aran told her. "I found him on my way home. I think he got lost. He has an injured paw," he informed her further. "So, I thought I'd bring him home, so we can help him get better. What do you think?"

"Can I touch?" Her hand hovered uncertainly a few inches from the little fox's head, educated enough to know that you don't touch an animal without at least forewarning them.

"Yes, but maybe you should let him smell you first," Aran said, as the fox peeked his head further out of the blanket, as if he was just as curious about the little girl as she was about him.

Obediently, Alu curled her fingers into her palm loosely, exactly as she had been taught, offering her little hand to the fox cub with a hopeful light in her eyes. "Can we keep?"

"Well, I don't know about that ... But I think maybe he's going to have to stay with us for a little while. At least, until we heal his paw and he's big enough to survive on his own," he explained, not wanting to make any promises. The baby fox bumped his black nose against Alu's hand, sniffing her carefully.

She giggled softly, distracted from Aran's reply by the cold snuffling against her fingers.

"I see someone has made a new friend," a voice interjected softly from the doorway into the kitchen, where Carina was leaning with a resigned smile on her face.

Aran had an almost sheepish smile on his face as he looked to his wife. He wasn't fond of the little boxes people carried around to keep in touch with each other, and the fox was as much a surprise to her as it was to Alu.

"He hasn't got a name yet," he told them both.

"I think we should probably get him settled in before we start making him one of the family," Carina suggested. "Alu, why don't you go and get a couple of the old blankets out of the box in our room?"

Pleased to be given something to do - even if that job might take her half an hour or more - Alu nodded, scurrying off happily to her task.

Aran frowned up at Carina, still looking a little sheepish. "I'm sorry. I should have asked you first, but I couldn't just leave him out there," he told her, as he slowly rose to her feet. The little fox sniffed at the air, as if searching for the source of yet another new scent.

"Hal would be so disappointed in you for not letting nature take its course," she teased as she moved toward him, absently offering the back of her hand to the little fox. But she didn't actually look at the creature, holding her husband's gaze, one brow raised. "If he's been abandoned by his mother, then we're going to have to hand-rear him," she warned.

Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:24:23 PM »
Not every production goes smoothly. At the Shanachie, as with many other theaters across the multiverse, sometimes the performers were asked to arrive an hour or so earlier than they would for the next performance, to run through what had gone awry the evening before. Today was one of those days.

Mataya De Luca, owner and sometime performer when she could be talked into it, stood in the back of the stalls, watching the swift run-through of two of the musical numbers with a practised eye. A quiet giggle caught her attention, and she let her eyes slip toward a figure seated in the stalls, a toddler on his lap. Oh, yes. She'd been hoping to catch Aran for a quick chat.

The giggle was coming from little Aluviel - Aran and Carina's daughter - who had just turned two in June and who was half-elf and half-human, like her parents before her. It seemed the giggling was in part due to the silliness taking part on stage, but mostly due to the fact that her father was silently imitating the actions with his daughter's stuffed bunny.

Smiling at the little scene, Mataya pushed herself from her lean against the back wall, making her way toward the father and daughter. Her hand gently touched Aran's shoulder as she slipped a couple of seats along the row behind him.

"Hello, stranger."

A few years ago, Aran might have been startled by the interruption, as gentle and friendly as it was, but he had come a long way since his arrival in Rhy'Din some years ago. Instead of a startled expression, he only smiled, pleasantly surprised to find Mataya herself greeting him.

"Mae govannen, Mataya," he greeted her in his native language. "You remember Alu," he added, regarding his daughter.

"I do," Mataya agreed, leaning over the back of the seat to gently tweak Aluviel's nose. "Getting prettier every time I see her, too." The toddler beamed, holding up her rabbit to have his nose tweaked as well, which Mataya was more than happy to do. "You're looking well, Aran," she added, smiling at the half-elf warmly.

"As are you," he replied, not only because it was polite, but because it was true. He hoped he was right in his assumption, as he thought it impolite to pry. "Carina has been so excited to get back to work again," he said, smiling warmly. She hadn't had a large part in the recent production of Mary Poppins, but had played the lead role in My Fair Lady back in July.

"That voice of hers just gets stronger and stronger," Mataya told him, deeply approving of the very musical young family she insisted she had brought together just by employing the pair of them. "How is your voice doing these days? Not missing the theater?"

There was a brief small flicker of a frown on his face at the question. Either he was confused by the questions or troubled by them.

"My voice has not changed, Mataya," he told her, unsure why it would. Even without training and practice, he was gifted with a naturally perfect tenor voice.

Laughing quietly, Mataya patted his shoulder. "I always manage to confuse you, don't I?" she said. "I'm wondering if you would like to be a guest here again, Aran. Josh is taking time away, since they're expecting their first."

"A guest?" Aran echoed, looking just a little less confused. "But I did not audition," he pointed out. Then again, she had invited him without a formal audition once before, and it was her theater; hence, she could do whatever she wanted. "Did Josh tell you to ask me?" he said, a little suspiciously.

Josh and Dru had told him they were taking time off from the theater and had even gone so far as hinted that Mataya might be looking for someone to take Josh's place, but Aran hadn't thought much about it.

"As a former cast member in good standing, you don't need to audition," she pointed out to him. The suspicion in his voice and face made her laugh quietly. "I may have suggested to him that you would be my first choice if you were interested, but I didn't think he was listening. I genuinely think he was expecting me to throw him out for needing to take time with his family."

Both Josh and Aran were not only juggling a wife and family, but royal duties as princes of their respective nations and people. It was why chiefly why Aran had left the theater a few years ago, to focus on helping his people settle in Rhy'Din, but that had mostly been accomplished by now.

"His life has changed since becoming Prince Consort," Aran pointed out, though Mataya likely knew that already. He wasn't sure exactly what kind of responsibilities Josh and Dru had to manage in the neighboring country of Tirisano, but he had a feeling it kept them busy.

"So I hear," she agreed quietly. "But there'll always be a place open for him here, if he wants it. Same goes for Dru, although I get why she won't perform again. All it would take would be one photograph, and the scandal would be immense for them."

"Scandal?" Aran echoed, looking a little confused again. Even after a few years here, Rhy'Din could still be a little confusing. "Why would there be a scandal?" Dru was a sovereign in her own nation, but she was just Dru Granger here in Rhy'Din.

"A ruling monarch taking time out of her duties to perform on stage in another country would cause no end of unrest at home," Mataya explained with a regretful smile. "Tirisano doesn't have the same culture that we do here in Rhy'Din - they don't have musical theater, or any race other than human. Josh and Dru are working on that, but it's going to take time."

"I see," Aran murmured.

There was that frown again, this time thoughtful. His people hadn't known theater either, until they'd come here, but he and Carina had introduced it to them and encouraged their patronage of the Shanachie and other theaters in Rhy'Din. His answer was mostly in reply to the mention of scandal, though. He didn't need to worry about such things, now that he and his people were settled in Rhy'Din. He privately wondered if the people of Tirisano were prejudiced against elves and other races, but was too polite to ask. Josh and Dru had never seemed to be, but he wasn't sure that mattered.

"Do you think they will miss it?"

"Honestly? Yeah, I think they will." Mataya sighed softly, glancing up at the stage as someone took a fall from their heels. She smirked faintly at the laughter this entailed before returning to the conversation. "But it doesn't mean they'll stop visiting here, or stop coming to the theater. They've already asked if I can put together a small company to introduce musical theater to Tirisano, so they obviously have plans on that score."

Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / The Bargain Struck
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:37:20 PM »
The heart of the forest was a good day's journey on foot from Anarven, along tracks that were little more than game trails, deep into the overhanging greenery. The deeper the three petitioners went, the darker it became, more overgrown, more wild. More eyes watching the three elfkin as they passed into territory that did not feel welcoming to those who were not animals of the forest. Luin kept her bow nocked as they passed into a clearing that seemed choked with vines, frowning at the barrier.

"What now?" she asked her companions softly. "We dare not cut at the greenery here."

"You met him once," Hal pointed out. "Perhaps he would recognize your voice if you called out to him," he suggested.

"I think perhaps you should put your bow away, Luin," Aran said, feeling eyes on them and not all of them friendly, but it seemed to him they were only being watched for now, as if someone was deciding whether they were friend or foe.

"I do not like to unprepared in case of trouble," Luin objected softly, but she did put up her bow, albeit with no little reluctance. She glanced over at Hal in concern. "What should I say?"

"You do not walk into someone's home with your weapon drawn," Aran pointed out. "Tell him ..." Aran frowned, wondering suddenly why he didn't just speak for himself. He stepped forward into the middle of the clearing, leaving Hal and Luin at his back and cleared his throat. He was a Prince of Ilyethlin; that had to count for something.

"Vedui!" he called in a voice that he hoped sounded friendly. "We are elves from the village of Anarven, seeking council with the druid Nesgrim. We mean no harm. We only wish to speak with him, if we may. It is a matter of utmost importance."

For a long moment there was nothing. Nothing - no sound of birds or animals, no whisper of wind through the trees. Then a ripple seemed to pass through the vines that barred their way, a mass of coiling, shifting greenery that parted with invitation to show the way toward the very heart of the forest. Luin couldn't help being suspicious.

"Be wary, highness."

"We must all be wary," Aran warned his companions. "Do not draw your weapons. It might be seen as an act of aggression, and we are here on a peaceful mission."

Hal exchanged a glance with Luin, looking as wary as she was. He wasn't sure he liked this; it could easily be a trap, but he had no choice but to do as his prince commanded.

"I'll go first," Luin volunteered, moving with silent care over the moss-covered ground to pass between the rippling vines. She did not like it one little bit, but if this was the only way, then this was what had to be done.

Aran went next, with Hal taking up the rear, in case they were attacked from behind. Though he did not have a weapon drawn, he was wary and alert for any sign of attack. Though Aran was nervous, he had to hope they were not walking into a trap. Certainly not a trap set by gnolls, in any case.

That hope was misplaced. As soon as all three of them were between the vines, the greenery moved, uncoiling, wrapping tendrils about arms and legs, lifting each of them off the ground to pass them as though from hand to hand through the trees, deeper into the darkest part of the forest. No amount of struggling could free Luin's hands or feet - indeed, the more she struggled, the less dignified the position in which she was being carried. By the time they reached an eerily lit clearing around a massive oak in which was set a small door, she was upside down.

All three of them were caught off-guard, but none of them called out in terror.

"Luin! Stop struggling! It will only make it worse," Hal urged, though he was just as alarmed as she was. He had quickly learned that it was useless to struggle.

Of the three of them, Aran seemed the most calm, almost as if he understood this was of the druid's doing. He could not very well blame him, knowing he had good cause not to trust them. Hopefully, he would listen to reason; he could just as easily have denied them entry, but he had not. He only hoped this wasn't a trap.

Frustrated and annoyed, Luin let out a huff of breath, forcing herself to relax as she dangled, long hair brushing the ground beneath them. This was not the best position in which to be assessing the druid. The grand oak they had been brought to was far larger than any other in the forest and, as they watched, the door set into the trunk swung inward. A small figure stumped out, all white beard and hair, branch-like horns worn like a crown, scraps of hide covering the nut-brown body. He peered up at them suspiciously.

"Well?" he asked, his voice reedy and impatient.

Hal held his tongue, though his patience was waning. He was no more pleased than Luin at their predicament, and it was difficult to keep either of his companions safe when he was so tangled up in vines as he was.

"We have come to speak with you and to ask for your help," Aran replied, unable to do much more than that, as he was as tangled up as his companions.

"What's in it for me?" the gnome demanded. He was very old, and obviously very isolated from sentient company. There was little regret in his poor manners, however. "You, boy ... you're Raniel's new whelp?"

Aran clenched his jaw in annoyance, though he held his temper in check. "I am called Arandir. Raniel is my wife's father," he explained, trying not to get too annoyed with the gnome's lack of manners. "I take it you are the druid Nesgrim. We have come to ask for your help. We mean you and your forest no harm."

The gnome nodded thoughtfully, leaning on a staff that looked as though it was nothing more or less than a sapling that had volunteered itself for this task. "You're little Carina's mate." He waved the staff, and the vines released Aran gently onto his feet. The gnome turned to Hal. "You, what are you?"

Hal blinked at the druid, wondering why the little gnome didn't know what he was. It seemed obvious enough. Or did he mean who? "I am Haldreithen, Royal Guard to the Prince of Ilyethlin," he replied, perhaps a little too seriously and a little too honestly. "And that is Luin, my mate. You have met her once before."

Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Making Plans
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:31:07 PM »
Morning found Arandir and Carina going about their daily routine, just as they did every morning. The first order of business was always caring for Aluviel, who was the spitting image of her mother - at least, as far as Aran was concerned.

"Quel amrun, aierea," Aran greeted his daughter as he scooped her up in his arms and smooched her cheek, his eyes bright with pride and joy. Aierea, which meant "little one", had lately become his pet name for her.

"Adar!" The little girl declared happily, throwing her arms around his neck as he lifted her into his arms, her honey brown hair tousled from sleep. She planted a sleepy kiss on his jaw, nestling close and beaming as the smell of spiced porridge made itself known. Carina was already cooking breakfast.

He smoothed her tousled hair with his fingers while he balanced her against one hip. "Shall we go say hello to Naneth and see what's for breakfast?" he asked the little girl, though the smell wafting from the kitchen was answer enough.

Alu nodded with enthusiasm, gabbling quietly in her own approximation of both elvish and common. She was going to be bilingual, as they all were here in Anarven, but it was taking time for that to become coherent babbling.

"Melamin, look what I found! Isn't she adorable?" Aran said as he carried their daughter into the kitchen to greet her mother. "Do you think we should keep her?" he teased, grinning.

Looking up from the pot on the stove, Carina played along with a delighted gasp and a smile. "Where did you find her?" she declared teasingly, reaching out to tickle the little girl under her chin as Alu giggled. "She must have been under the rose bushes, because she is beautiful." She leaned in, kissing Alu's round cheek softly before also kissing Aran's lips with a smile.

Aran smiled brightly into his wife's kiss, as Alu giggled. "I found her in the nursery!" he declared. "How does the saying go again? Oh! Finders' Keepers!" he declared as he tickled Alu's tummy. "I guess you're stuck with us, aierea!" he teased her.

Alu squealed, arms and legs flailing as she cackled with laughter, the sound carrying easily throughout their little home. "Adar! Naneth, makey stop!"

Carina snorted with laughter, enjoying the sound of Aluviel beginning to make sense of her words. "All right," she agreed. "Adar, you should stop, or I won't feed you."

"You are no fun, Naneth," Aran complained with an exaggerated sigh. "Perhaps I should tickle you instead!" he warned, though that could cause her to knock the pot of porridge onto the floor. "What do you think, Alu? Shall we eat breakfast or tickle Naneth?"

It was almost disturbing quite how long it took for Alu to decide on which she would rather have. She patted Aran's nose fondly. "B'ekfas', then tick-tick," she informed her father.

Carina laughed, rolling her eyes. "Then someone needs to sit down at the table."

"Yes, dear," Aran replied obediently, though she was actually referring to Aluviel. He settled himself in a chair, with Alu on his lap, apparently reluctant to let her go just yet, though the little girl was capable of sitting at the table on her own.

It didn't take long for Carina to serve up three bowls of the spiced porridge, and cups of cold tea to drink with them. As she sat down, she reached over to tuck a napkin around Alu's neck. "Try not to cover Adar in porridge today, okay?"

"I am the Prince of Porridge!" Arandir exclaimed with a grin, as he took up his spoon and brandished it like a scepter, before scooping some porridge onto said spoon and offering it to Aluviel. It was just too much fun spoiling her for him to resist.

And spoiled, she certainly was. All the elves from Ilyethlin treated Aluviel as a precious miracle, and indeed, so she was to them. Proof that there was a future for them, somehow. But what was important was that life was as normal for her, a little princess, as it could possibly be, and that meant that she was fed and washed and dressed in good time each morning while her parents decided who she would be with until lunch.

"I'm supposed to be helping with the community baking today," Carina was saying as she tucked little socks on Alu's feet.

"Mm, I have a council meeting, but not until after mid-day," Aran said. "Will you be finished with the baking by then?" he asked, as he drew fond fingers through Alu's honey brown curls. Each task was equally important for different reasons, but if worst came to worst, Carina's mother was usually more than willing to take care of her grand-daughter for a few hours.

"I should be," Carina mused thoughtfully. "But if I am not, there are safe places in the big kitchens for the children. She won't be in danger, or left on her own."

"The council is to discuss the recent attacks on the village," Aran told her, with a worried frown. "The scouts should be returning soon with news," he added, a little worried about those who had yet to return, especially those he considered friends.

"Were there any attacks last night?" she asked, now carefully setting soft boots onto Alu's feet as the little girl lounged in her father's lap, toying with a shiny ribbon she had stolen from her mother's sewing basket not too long ago.

"No, thank the Gods," Aran replied, feeling a mixture of relief and worry. They wouldn't really know how serious the threat to the village was until every last scout returned with news, but he couldn't help but worry, especially now that he had a family to worry about. "Let us hope it was a random attack."

The soggy end of the ribbon was slapped against his cheek as Alu looked up at her father. "Adar sad?" It was difficult for the toddler to understand why no one was sleeping very well at the moment, or why Hal and Luin weren't around to make faces or tickle her when they talked to her parents.

"No, aierea. How can I be sad when I have you and Naneth to make me happy?" he said, brushing the soggy ribbon away from his face. "I am just missing Hal and Luin and hoping they will be home soon," he told her, without mentioning his worry, as she was too young to understand.

"And I'm sure they will be," Carina added firmly, refusing to show her own concern to either of them. "Luin has probably tied Hal to a tree somewhere for teasing her."

Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / The Last Born of the Elves
« on: September 14, 2014, 03:38:04 PM »
"This isn't a battle. It's a slaughter," declared the tall, fair-haired elf who carried himself with the haughtiness and arrogance of a high-born lord, though he was neither haughty nor arrogant. He looked out from the relative, though momentary, safety of a high tower upon the battle ensuing below. "They are pouring over us like ants. There is no hope of winning this battle, no matter how hard we fight," he continued, though it was unclear whether he was speaking solely to himself or to the lady who stood nearby, her fair face as white as chalk. The outcome of the battle was a foregone conclusion. Sheer numbers would overwhelm them eventually. It had been foretold a long time ago.

"Then we must do what we can to save those we are able before it is too late," she replied, her voice as calm as still waters amidst a stormy sea.

"It is already too late," the other said as he drew his sword and moved with elven grace toward the door. He had lived a long life and was unafraid of death. Death was but the start of a new adventure. All of them were old. Too old for this world that was changing far too quickly for the likes of them. Their time was over. It was time for a new age of men, who were spreading as rapidly as a disease across the lands. As numerous as ants and as short-lived, it seemed. They had done what they could to keep the peace, and yet, it had not been enough. Greedy, hate-mongering, selfish children mortals were. Could they not see the folly of their ways?  They would kill every last one of them, and then where would they be? There would be no more magic in the world, no beauty, no song. Jealousy had blackened their hearts, and now it seemed all they cared for was destruction. Well, let them destroy us, then, he thought. But we will not go down without a fight. He paused upon reaching the door, turning slightly as if with an afterthought. "I will buy you as much time as I can, daughter. I fear there is precious little of it left."

"I love you, father," she replied too quietly for him to hear, though she knew he'd heard her in his heart. The door did not close after him, as another took his place. The two of them exchanged a knowing glance, and then he was gone. She knew she would never see him again.

"You called for me, lady," the newcomer said, with a small incline of his head. He did not need to offer such courtesy, and yet, he gave her that. She turned to regard him a moment, and her heart ached with longing. The love she felt for her father was nothing compared to the love she held for this one.

"Yes," she replied, resisting the urge to reach out and touch him, to brush the wayward, sandy hair from his brow.

She need not explain to him the gravity of the situation. He, like all the rest, already knew. There was a bow strapped to his back, and a sword held in his hand. He had been on his way to join the others in battle, no doubt, when he'd received her summons. He had only paused momentarily to greet his grandfather on the way up the long flight of stairs before reaching this, his destination.

Her heart ached to look on him - so young, the youngest among them. Young, untried, untested. He would be tested in battle one day, but that day was not today. He looked so like his father it was like a dagger to her heart. She had loved him well before she'd lost him, before they'd taken him from her. This youngling standing before her - in her eyes, more boy than man - was half man, half elf - the best of both races. An abomination to some, a treasure to others. It seemed like only yesterday he was a small boy - the only child among them, loved by a people who honored him as the prince he was, the last born of the elves of this world.

"What is it you wish of me? I am needed on the parapet," he pointed out.

So young and so eager for battle, she thought. So willing to throw his life away for a people who were not wholly his. "I have more need of you here, Aran," she told him in that calm tone of voice that belied her fear and trepidation. They would all die here this day, if she did not act quickly. "You are the last born of our people," she told him, as she'd told him many times before. "You are the only hope for continuing our race. It grieves me to ask this of you, but you are our only hope."

She stepped toward him with that fluid grace that always made him think she was floating on air, rather than walking. He thought himself a clumsy thing, compared to her. How he had come from her flesh and blood, he could only wonder.

He watched mutely as she drew a gold chain from around her neck from which hung a small, white stone, which seemed to throb with life. Indeed, it was almost as if it was a living, breathing thing - warm and translucent and pulsing with life. He had always wondered at it, and now it seemed he would wonder no longer. He bent his head as she slipped the chain around his neck, the small white stone beating like another heart against his chest. Her hand lingered on the stone a moment before retreating, and she touched his cheek for what she knew must be the last time. He looked into her eyes - deep violet and brimming with tears - and knew without asking what she wanted of him.

"You cannot ask this of me," he whispered, in horror. "I cannot leave you. I will not leave you. Not like this. Not when..." Her fingers touched his lips to silence him, just as his voice caught in his throat. Not when you need me most, he thought, though the words never passed his lips.

"You must and you will," she replied, making no attempt to hide the tears that now flowed freely down her face. "You carry the seed of our people in your blood and our memories in the stone. You were born for this very purpose, Aran. It is what you must do." She stroked his cheek, remembering more innocent days. Long, lazy days spent laughing and lounging in the warmth of the tree-dappled sunlight. Everything she knew, everything she felt, everything she remembered seemed to pass through him like an arrow to the heart as she touched him. Hundreds of years of memories. Memories of love and honor, tragedy and triumph. Memories of a father he had never known, taken from them before he'd been born. His birth had been meant to bring hope to a dying people, and perhaps it still would.

"Please," he pleaded. "Please do not make me do this." His own face was wet with tears, his heart feeling as though it was breaking. This was his home and these were his people. Where would he go, what would he do, and why couldn't they come with him?

She smiled at him, as though she had long ago seen the possibility of this day and had accepted it and prepared for it. If he only knew how important he was. He was their salvation. They would live on through him. "I will make you do nothing, but if you love me, if you love our people, you will do this. You will find a place where you can live in peace and you will remember; and in remembering, we will live on in your heart and in the hearts of all those who come after you. And perhaps someday when the world changes, some of you will return and know this place again."

As grievous as he felt, he knew he could not deny her. Like his father before him, he loved her too much to ever deny her anything, even something as grievous as this. He wanted to stay and fight and die with them, but she would not let him. "Come with me," he pleaded further. If he could not stay, then perhaps she could go with him, but somehow he knew before the words left his lips that she would not.

"I cannot abandon my people, and where you go, I cannot follow," she told him gravely but truthfully. Her heart would die if she left this world, but he was not wholly of her blood. He would live on. "Come," she told him, taking his hand in her own as she had done so many times before and leading him to a corner of the room where stood a great pane of glass.

A mirror or a window, he was not sure which. Whenever he had asked before, she had told him never to touch it or be lost forever to a place where she could not follow. He had disobeyed only once, and that mistake had nearly killed him. She had hidden it away after that, where he could not be tempted, but here it stood once again, like the stone around his neck, pulsing with life, a kaleidoscope of colors that flowed and blended like colored water in a pool. His heart froze in his chest at the sight of that thing, knowing that once he touched it, once he stepped through, there would be no finding his way back.

"Naneth, an ngell n?n," he pleaded again in their native tongue, the tears coming fast and furious, his heart heavy, as though a heavy weight lay upon his chest, though there was only the stone.

"There is no more time," she told him sadly, turning to wave a slender hand across the shifting colors of the mirror.

He knew she was right. It was either fight or flee. He would rather fight, but it seemed she was giving him no choice.

"Live on, my son, and always remember."

How could he ever forget when she had been his whole world?

He wept openly as she embraced him, and she wondered at how he had grown into a man. Far too quickly, but it was better to send a man on this quest than to send a boy. He would become a man soon enough. Among mortals, he would have no choice.

"Farewell, beloved," she whispered, brushing a kiss against his cheek so warm it seemed to burn his flesh. Her fingers touched the stone he bore against his breast, soft as a lover's caress. "So long as you keep this close, I will always be with you."

The moment was interrupted by a soldier at the door. He had just enough time to notice the blood on the soldier's sword and armor that did not seem to wholly belong to the enemy. "They come, my lady," the soldier told her briefly before shutting the door again. There was no need to lock or bar it. That would only further delay the inevitable.

"Now, you must go," she told him and without another word of farewell or plea for time, he was shoved through the portal. The last thing he heard as that world faded from sight was the sound of the door breaking open, followed by a woman's scream. Then he knew no more.

When he awoke, he found himself in a woods, not unlike the woods he knew back home. There was magic here - he could feel it in his bones - but it was not the same magic. It would take time to learn and to master, but for now, he cared nothing of that.

His fingers gripped the stone that hung from his neck, and he remembered his mother's face and voice and words. He remembered everything from the very first moment of his birth. He fell upon his face on the cool grass at the heart-wrenching loss and grief of those memories. He wept for what seemed like days. Hours passed, and the sun sank low in the sky.

When at last he had no more tears left to weep, he composed himself enough to lift his head from the earth and found that daylight had turned to night. Twin moons hung high in the night sky, caressing him with their cold, silvery light, not unlike the orb that pulsed upon his breast. He climbed to his feet, hunger and weariness and grief tugging at his heart and making him choose. He could die of grief or choose to live. It seemed an insult to those he'd left behind to choose the former, and so he chose the latter. He put one foot in front of the other and set off in search of prey. First, he would fill his belly and then he would seek shelter. Once that was done, he would learn all he could of this world and try to understand why the mirror had chosen to send him here.

And he would remember.

Pages: [1]