The accounts of Jade M'he El'hruen: Adventure and romance...

  • - The meeting of Reginald Charlesgate

    Jade sat on the ground, her light, elvish frame barely bending a blade of grass. She had taken off the shin plates of her blue hued scale armor, laying them on the grass along with her greatsword as she gently rubbed a sore spot near her ankle. It was bruised slightly, the darkened skin contrasting harshly against her smooth, flawless legs. A battle with a goblin had been clear; luckily the armor was in place to glance the blow of the morning star instead of snapping the bone.

    She was quite beautiful, even by elvish standards. Her hair dark and long, kept in an elvish bun to keep it from interfering with her equipment. Her almond shaped, green eyes were piercing, yet seemed as fragile as twin emerald jewels in the pale sunlight of the morning. She was very shapely, and was more than once disgusted by the torrid of comments as she passed through the Boarshead Inn from her room. The mens' eyes seemed to follow her, their jaws slacking ever so slightly as to allow any un-swallowed ale to drip from the corners of their mouths. In many such instances, she would simply adjust the six-foot long greatsword on her back, their comments drifting off as quickly as they were sputtered.

    "Gods," she muttered as she tested the area with her index finger, grimacing as the pain increased with the prodding.

    She laid back and stretched out in the soft grass, sighing heavily and letting what warmth the sun gave be absorbed into her tanned legs. She no more closed her eyes a moment when she realized that there was another person coming her way….her elvish hearing picking up the slight thumping of shoed feet on sod. She rose up, cursing herself for her laziness, quickly strapping on her shin plates and looking around from her kneeling position above the waterfall. She saw nothing at first, the path below her obscured by the thick grass that clung to the edge of the cliff. She stood up to get a better vantage point, her hand slowly moving to the hilt of her longsword, when she saw him.

    He was human - that was for certain. He was older, yet had a noble air to his step. A handlebar mustache grew ridiculously long under his dark eyes and handsome nose. He was humming a tune, his eyes focused on the parchment he was scribing on furiously with a bright, yellow-feathered pen as he strode toward her. The clothes he wore were colorful and mismatched, yet seemed to fit well with his body language, which was fluid and subconsciously rhythmic and over exaggerated.

    She was about to say hello, but was unable to get out the words before he tripped on a stone that was peaking out from under the long grass of the cliff. He tumbled forward, yelling curses as the contents of his side pack emptied onto the ground. As he reached to pick the items up, the parchment he was writing on caught a slight breeze that suddenly developed and was subsequently pulled from his fingers, flittering over the ground like a playful pixie. He scrambled to grab the parchment, all the while muttering under his breath something about "bad luck" and "the damn wind."

    Jade could not help herself from giggling as she watched the display, but soon regretted it as she was heard by the frazzled gentleman.

    "Well, hello to you!" he said, finally gripping the parchment and plunging it into the many folds of his colorful shirt. "Let me introduce myself, I am Reginald Charlesgate, Actor and Adventurer extraordinaire!"

    He bowed so low that the top of his dark hair touched the top of the grass that covered the plateau.

    Jade, still giggling at the sight of the near perfect retention of his composure during the past few moments, offered her greeting, "Jade M'he El'hruen, nice to meet you."

    In one great swoop and fluid motion from his bowed position, he strode to her, grasped her hand and gave it a gentle kiss. "A pleasure, indeed," he said, eyebrows raised, his eyes focusing on hers.

    Jade blushed, "My, quite the gentleman. Also quite daring, coming to a stranger who could be a bandit for all you know..."

    He released her hand eloquently and straightened his back, laughing with the laugh of a noble lord. "Ah, but such beauty would surely not befall so tragic a lifestyle as that of a lowly bandit," he said assuredly...almost too assuredly, adding, "if so, I have seen no bandit with such form as I see standing before me."

    Jade could not help but smile. She composed herself, and then asked, "So, what tune were you humming earlier?"

    He smiled broadly. "A medley of my adventures in fair Narfell! Stories need music to go along with them, agreed?"

    "So, you're a bard. There are few in this area...few things to be jovial about, I suppose," Jade replied.

    His look grew serious, "I am not here to be completely jovial, fine lady. Life's story must be told even from its darkest, dire, depths," he continued, "I am simply sharing my experiences as best I know with song and word."

    Jade nodded, "If you don't mind, you seem to be standing on my sword," She said, pointing toward his mismatched shoes.

    "By the sun!" he cursed, leaping from the spot with an expedient prance, "Forgive me, I saw it not in this grass."

    His words seemed quite foolish as she pulled the greatsword up from the sod, wiping the hard-to-miss, brilliant blade with a cloth she pulled from her side pack.

    "My, my," he said with a gulp, "quite a large weapon for such a lithe elf."

    She smiled wryly, "Aye...keeps men from trying to touch this 'lithe elf' with their dirtied hands."

    Changing the subject quickly, he reached into one of his many pockets and withdrew what appeared to be a bit of rough quartz. He held it up to the sunlight, squinting as if he were a jeweler inspecting a fine diamond. He tumbled it through his fingers like a talented magician. "Hmmm," he sounded far to loudly, "perhaps an obviously strong, yet supple elvish lady as you would be interested in a powerful artifact that has come ever-so-wonderfully into my hands."

    "What is it?" Jade asked, her nose crinkling as she tried to get a good look at the object that he always seem to keep just out of her curious reach.

    "Ah, interested I see?" he said with faked surprise, a crooked smile playing on his face.

    She cast him a sideways glance, "Aye..." she said dubiously.

    "Great!" he said, much too quickly, as if he would have said it regardless of her response, "'Tis a lovely magical item that has brought me much luck in this--"

    Jade interrupted him, "I've no need of luck."

    Reginald frowned. "Would you not like to hear of the wondrous properties that I have come to find of this beautiful object?"

    "No, that's OK," Jade replied, smiling inwardly, "I have no need for baubles in my travels."

    Reginald displayed a look of shock. "Surely, a warrior such as yourself would be interested in the most powerful item this Narfellian landscape has--"

    "No," she said plainly, interrupting him again.

    He smiled, a thoughtful delay before he spoke, "In good faith, I extend this to you. No, no!" he added as quickly, "No need to reach for your gold pouch. I give this to you knowing that it will help you in your future quests."

    He held out his hand and placed it in her palm as if it were so delicate, it would fracture at the slightest breath. She gripped it, playing with it a few moments before placing it in her side pack.

    "You are so very gracious, good sir," she said.

    "Just do not share with anyone what I have given you, 'tis all I ask," he said in hushed tones, as if they were in a busy marketplace exchanging dark secrets.
    "I shall not, you can trust me," she said in a similar tone with an exaggerated wink.

    She picked up the rest of her things, nodded to Reginald and began her way down the sloped path when he asked, "Where are you going in such a hurry?"

    "I was going to head back to town. Perhaps pick a fight with a few goblins along the way..." she said without turning.

    "Well, I certainly would want to be present to make certain that you are safe, milady," he said, bowing low even though she could not see him.

    "Does that mean you are coming with me?" she asked, turning to meet his glance.

    He straightened his colorful tunic, loosened the rapier in its sheath at his side, "Since we are heading in the same direction, it may make sense. Of course, I would not want to impose myself," he said, bowing again.

    Jade smiled, "Aye. I could use a companion, I suppose."

    Reginald smiled back, gathered his side pack, and strode down beside her as they made their way back to Norwick. Many travelers would speak of their passing, noting the ironic humor in the pair: the small, beautiful elf with the gigantic sword and the colorful bard with the light step, handlebar mustache, and irresistible charm.

    Final note: It must be said that Jade believed she tricked poor Reginald into giving the "magical and wondrous" quartz to her because of her elvish wit and wisdom, while Reginald -- knowing this and being one to always get the final laugh -- would get several chances to sell her other such worthless items throughout their travels.

    Oh, and Jade eventually talked Reginald out of wearing that silly, mismatched set of clothing. She was very relieved when he decided to do so.

  • - A kindness

    The young man squatted beside a crumbling tree trunk and gently placed his pack and bow in the scruffy weeds that encircled its gnarled, snow-covered roots. He suspected the tree had been split by lightning long ago, judging from the lack of bark and blackened, ragged gash that ran its height. It would have to do, he thought, looking about and spotting no other trees in the vicinity.

    The direction of the icy morning breeze was in his favor, though he cursed the grey sky under his frosty breath as snow began to fall. He shook the tingling from his gloved hands and retrieved a rusted spyglass from his worn pack and leaned against the tree, resting the end of the sight on the nub of a low, leafless branch and peered through the cracked lens. After a few moments of fidgeting with the focus with his numb fingers, he managed to spot his quarry: A young buck that was rooting through some snowy foliage several meters away. Upon the deer's antlers he counted at least eight points and noticed his coat seemed thick and healthy.

    Quietly and with a smile, he placed the spyglass back into his pack and raised his bow, knocking an arrow he quickly pulled from a quiver slung across his waist. He drew the bowstring and used the tree to steady his shivering elbow before calming his breathing. The buck had his head lowered and the man held his aim, waiting for the moment to strike.

    There was a sudden, soft "thwang" and the buck cried out while falling to a heap where it stood. For a moment the young man thought he had accidently loosed the arrow, but he quickly regained senses and ducked behind the tree as he released the tension on his bow and tossed it aside. He cursed softly, snatched up the spyglass again and peeked through the sight.

    Amidst crimson snow and trampled browned grasses, he spotted the narrow shaft and fletching of an arrow, following its length downward to the broadside of the prone deer. It was a deft kill shot, but he could not determine from which direction it had been loosed. He began to slowly scan the hill for signs of the mystery shooter.

    "Aye there."

    The young man froze for a moment before lowering the spyglass, fear evident in the shaking of his hand. Crouched next to him was a green cloaked, lithe woman with a raven, braided lock that poured from a deep, fur-lined cowl. The black tip of her hair brushed atop the soft snow at her booted feet. He hadn't heard a sound.

    "Did I take your kill?"

    Her voice was low and soft, but he detected no threat in her tone. He cleared his throat.

    "Uhm, no. Not at all. N-nice shot."

    She pulled back the cowl to reveal emerald, almond-shaped eyes and sharp elven features. A crooked smile played across her pretty face. "Aye. Where're you from?"

    He seemed surprised by the presence of an elf, but relaxed a bit more as she took a knee and stared directly into his eyes, awaiting response. He sat back on his boots and tucked the spyglass away as he averted her gaze. "West, through the mountains. My village is there."

    She looked him over a bit, noticing his rough leathers and padded light traveling armor. "Nars, eh?"

    He looked around and nodded.

    She flicked a stray strand of hair from her eyes. "What's your name?"


    "I'm Jade. Been out a few days?"

    He nodded again.

    "You need this more than I. Come." She slapped his shoulder and strode to where the deer lay, retrieved a long thin blade from somewhere within the folds of her cloak and began to work the carcass.

    Eman blinked and stood slowly, retrieving his pack while watching her closely. He spotted a simple bow was strung across her shoulder alongside her quiver. A greatsword strapped to her back gave him pause, but he cautiously approached as she beckoned to him once again.

    Jade was making quick work of the buck with careful, skilled strokes as she field-butchered the animal. She grunted as she rolled the carcass and started work on the other side, taking care not to damage the hide. "I'll take this hind quarter; you take the rest."


    Jade halted her work and looked up from the corner of her eye. The smirk returned. "It's been a rough winter. You've more mouths to feed." She returned to her butchering.

    Shaking his head in disbelief, Eman retrieved his hunting knife and helped her finish the job. They worked in silence, save for a request for help here and there. He watched her when he thought she wasn't looking, but she caught his gaze a few times for which she offered a smile.

    He wrapped the warm venison in a roll of hide and gathered other usable parts of the animal he could carry into his now-overstuffed pack. It was a good haul, which he silently admitted had been difficult to come by this winter.

    He watched intently as Jade gracefully washed the blood from her hands with a bit of water from her waterskin and dried them in the folds of her cloak. She caught his gaze again and she offered her waterskin. "Drink?"

    He patted his belt. "I've enough, thanks."

    "Nice to meet you, Eman. Good luck." She turned and headed down the trail with the single hind quarter of venison slung over her shoulder.

    "Jade--" He called out suddenly.

    She paused and turned. He spoke nothing, but nodded to her after a moment. She smirked and waved with her free hand and continued down the trail.

  • - The Hunt

    It was late morning when Jade made her way along the hunting trail that wound through the Rawlinswood, a half dozen freshly killed rabbits tied with twine and latched to her bow that was slung over her shoulder. A light, cold drizzle had been falling since last eve, so she had a cowl pulled over her head that cast a deep shadow over her face, though the attached cloak was loose and her form-fitted full plate was glistening from the mist that hovered among the boughs of the forest.

    The trail led to the old Gypsy Camp, the vacant settlement where she and Wilhelm had been living quietly for the past few months. They had made a home from one of the great gathering places where once songs were sung, tales were spun, and close friends had shared fellowship in strong drink and rich food. Little marked their leaving, but what remained comprised of worn furniture, beds, and a well-used hearth. Life in the Nars away from civilization was difficult for most and having a roof over one's head to shelter from the elements and a fire to cook by and provide warmth from the harsh winter was a distinct advantage garnered by few. The couple was grateful for their lonely, meager hideaway.

    The trail headed north and passed over a narrow, root-choked stream where hunters had dropped a few rough and weathered planks to make the traverse easier. A squat, moss covered boulder on the left marked the intersection of the stream and the path as the trail wound its way up a small rise shrouded in gray fog and covered in conifers and swaths of fern.

    She gently laid her bow and small game upon the boulder and leaned against the damp stone to rest her feet. With a small sigh, she pushed her cowl back and let her long, midnight locks spill over her shoulders and across her face, the latter of which she tucked behind her slender elven ears. The ambient gray light from the obscured sun reflecting off her forest-colored steel breastplate deepened the hue of her emerald eyes as she surveyed the trail she had just walked.

    The droning patter of the light rain on the foliage was the only sound, save the low burble from the stream at her feet. Leaves and small branches flicked here and there from the impact of the droplets, providing the only motion in the stillness of the environs.

    Small animals, rodents, and even birds that normally flitted among the taller branches were not about. It was if all of nature had woke to find the cold rain and decided to remain snug in their dens and nests to wait for a warmer day. She had originally set out to hunt deer, but relegated to hard-fought small game when the deer remained elusive after several hours of tracking.

    She absently tugged at a leather strap of the plate covering her upper left arm as she enjoyed the moment of rest. The elven priest Raryldor had met Jade soon after her return to Narfell and, after assessing her prowess, insisted on commissioning a suit of masterwork full plate to replace her worn elven leathers. The human priestess Victoria had proven a skilled smithy, providing lightweight, elegant hardened armor that fit perfectly to Jade's lithe form and yielded mobility that would normally be lost with lesser suits. Nevertheless, she oft found herself restless and claustrophobic in the protective armor.

    "Need help removing that?"

    Jade started, nearly leaping into full combat readiness until she recognized the voice.

    "Dammit, Wil. Hells…" she huffed and released the grip on the hilt of her sheathed greatsword slung between her shoulder blades. She felt his warm hand on the back of her neck as he moved to wrap her in an embrace from behind. She playfully stiffened her muscles and shied away from his caress, rolling her eyes.

    "Is your mind elsewhere?" he said through a chuckle. "I don't believe I've snuck up on you like that in quite a while," he continued, kissing along her jawline.

    She smiled and relaxed, closing her eyes and putting her doeskin-gloved hands on his forearm stretched across her chest. She tilted her head to allow the continued intrusion of his lips and then moved her left hand to his head and ran her fingers through his hair. "You're lucky I didn't strike you down, you bastard of a half-elf."

    He made a small laugh as he shifted in front of her and pressed against her body while she remained firmly against the boulder. He continued kissing her, sliding his hands beneath her lengthy hair and smoothed his fingers against the back of her neck and behind her ears as she gripped her hands around his rough leather belt and pulled him closer. He pushed off after a long moment of intimacy, still smiling from the scare he had given her. She looked up at him, a crooked smile played across her face. Her eyes were narrow slits, attempting to feign contempt.

    "Six measly rabbit," she said disappointedly in a fit frustration, gesturing to her small catch that lay across the stone with her bow.

    "It'll make due," he replied, gripping her hands and pulling them to his chest. "Besides, I landed an elk near the foothills."

    She pulled away from his grasp and slugged him in his shoulder. "Prick!" she exclaimed in elven, an angry expression on her face that was quickly replaced with a flirtatious smirk.

    He took a step back as his leathers absorbed most of the strike, but instinctively put his hand over the impact area and chuckled again. "It isn't a competition, my dear," he said with a slight tone of forced condescension and moved to the side as she coiled for another strike that never came. "I've got a little advantage on my side anyway."

    He gestured to the massive dire wolf that stood in the ferns next to the trail. The beast was paying no heed to them, however, staring off toward a darkened part of the forest to the northeast. Wilhelm looked back to Jade and continued their playful combat, until Wilhelm realized the wolf was emitting a low growl barely audible over the soft rain.

    He gave a telepathic command to the dire wolf, which calmed his growl for a moment as Wilhelm scanned the region the wolf was staring. Wilhelm straightened his stance and moved to the edge of the ferns, furrowing his brow.

    "What is it?" Jade whispered, rising from the boulder and placing a hand on the pommel of her sword.

    He raised his hand to her, motioning with his fingers, and she deftly and quietly unsheathed her sword and brought it to bear, moving just behind Wilhelm's left shoulder. Jade's eyes were sharper, but neither spied any motion in the direction the wolf was still intently staring.

    "I see nothing…" she breathed, glancing quickly to their flanks, still seeing nothing.

    Wilhelm shook his head slightly and laid his hand on the wolf. The wolf's ears twitched at the touch, but his eyes remained fixed on something, or someone.

    There was a sudden bright flash of brilliant bluish light and the air around them burst in an earsplitting crack of thunder, sending heat and sparks and debris flying as a tree nearby exploded into cinders. Jade was knocked to the earth by the blast, but rolled to a kneeling position as she brought her sword at the ready, though her ears were ringing and her vision doubled momentarily. She lost sight of Wilhelm and the dire wolf in the smoke and still-falling bark and tinder, but dared not call out. Whatever had unleashed the magic had somehow missed the target, but was no doubt seeking to strike again.

    She tumbled forward into the ferns and rose boldly to a sprint as she passed through the cloud of ozone and smoke, spotting a gnoll shaman, its outstretched arm pointing to her right; its mouth uttering a spell. As she quickly gained ground on the beast, she followed its splayed fingers to find Wilhelm struggling to rise from a patch of magical vines that had sprung from the damp earth and ensnared his arms and legs. Wilhelm had previously returned magic at the shaman; she could see the gnoll's right arm was badly charred and hung useless at its side.

    As she closed to striking distance, she gave a cry as she brought a brutal swing of the sword across the gnoll's face, cleaving its head cleanly below its snout. She skidded to a halt in the turf, roots popping audibly under her steel boots, as the lifeless body fell backward among the ferns and she turned in time to see another gnoll making a wild swing with a scimitar that glanced off her left shoulder plate. She parried another swing and grunted as she returned the favor, striking the scimitar solidly and pushing the gnoll off balance as the tip of her sword pierced its hide armor, finding flesh.

    She continued the retaliation as the gnoll howled and collapsed under another savage blow from her greatsword, raising its scimitar in defense as she pummeled it a third time, which proved too much from the defenseless position and ended its life with a strike that split its chest from shoulder to pelvis. Breathing heavy from the exertion and her face dusted with fine blood droplets, she whirled from the kill and looked for other attackers finding only Wilhelm standing beside her, a spell on his lips that he promptly ceased.

    The dire wolf was standing by the stream atop another dead gnoll, the wolf's fur charred and part of his face blackened by the lightning strike, but seemed none the worse for wear. The blood of the gnoll was dripping from his white fangs, and he licked his nose a few times as he peered around the scene as if nothing had happened.

    "The hells?" she swore as she continued surveying, coming down from the adrenaline rush of battle.

    Wilhelm frowned, kicking something beneath the ferns. He picked up a small empty bottle and sniffed it. "Invisibility potion," he muttered dryly, tossing the bottle away in disgust.

    Jade's breathing had calmed and she wiped the blood from her greatsword with a rag from the gnoll's belongings. "'Tis odd seeing a shaman out this far," she said, still alertly scanning the area, "and with only a couple scouts? That's strange."

    She didn't notice Wilhelm was suddenly watching her intently, intensely aroused by the raw display of fury she had put on. She caught his eye and crinkled her nose at his stare, mouthing "what?" He quickly turned and looked around at nothing, realizing he was nearly on the verge of drool. She shrugged and turned her attention to the corpses to begin retrieving anything worth bartering for in Peltarch.

    Wilhelm returned to his dire wolf and inspected the wounds, casting a healing spell that caused the blackening on his maw to fade. "Perhaps they don't like their new neighbors," Wilhelm said as he patted the wolf with a smile. He said it only half-jokingly, referring to Jade and Wil's recent arrival in the old encampment.

    Jade shot him a crooked smile and sheathed her blade as she made her way back to her bow and rabbits. "Methinks they'll think twice when they come across this display," she said with a jerk of her thumb toward the battle scene, pushing Wil lightly, just enough for him to check his balance. She slung the bow over her shoulder and they continued up the trail toward the Gypsy Camp hand-in-hand, the wolf walking alongside.

  • - Freed

    Jade paced the sod, tamping down the lush tufts of grass that carpeted the clearing of the forest. A small stream wound its way through, leading to the Druid camp where Ethan now rested. She had only met the well-spoken elf a few hours previous, but he had delivered a shocking message that Wilhelm had arrived in Narfell and was searching for her.

    At first, she couldn't believe it. She dared not. She hoped not. Emotion after emotion washed over her like alternating waves of frigid and scalding water. All the feelings she had driven down to the innermost sanctum of her soul threatened to burst forth, ready to split her ribcage and rocket across the sky. Her hand was upon her greatsword's hilt, but the comfort she normally garnered from Shen Enai left her wanting, unfocused, and uncertain.

    She closed her eyes, murmuring to herself in Elven. She still refused to speak Common, even after weeks among civilization once again, in the familiar yet changed surroundings of Narfell. She had found hospitality and new, genuine companions, yet could still not bring herself to speak to them in the Common tongue.

    Her thoughts were exploding with hypotheses and questions and desires and fierce, violent images. She had to find a way to calm herself, to drive the demons back into the confines of her soul-turned-prison. She was fighting with lethality and ferocity she had not seen in decades, but within her mind.

    Her pacing slowed. She meandered along the stream, breathing deeply and rhythmically. He was only a man; a mortal. She felt the calmness whisper to her, caress her flawless cheek.

    She looked downward, finding the ground had become hard and rough instead of soft and lumpy. She was standing upon a small rock formation, a flat set of boulders laid upon one another at a small bend in the stream. Their white, quartzite surfaces jutted from the earth in stark contrast to the flora and greenery of the glen – but here she felt the most calm, like a great forest cat perched above the landscape, able to take in the view around her and use it to her advantage.

    She closed her eyes and faced west. A slight breeze played among the locks of her hair and breathed upon her slender neck line. She subconsciously unsheathed her sword and gently laid it upon her shoulder like a mother would comfort a small child. She was at peace now, calm and deeply relaxed.


    The soft, husky voice came from behind, one she recognized. She instinctively tensed her muscles, set to pounce. She dropped to one knee, bringing the greatsword to bear as she twirled on the stone formation; swinging with the intensity and velocity that only adrenaline could drive. The blade struck the figure standing before her, but encountered little resistance. It traveled diagonal and upward, crossing just above the pelvis, slashing through a kidney and the liver, cleaving ribs and slashing through lung and heart and then through the clavicle before freeing itself from the soft tissues.

    Great torrents of blood gushed in all directions as the figure fell in a splayed heap before her, long dead before it struck the blood-soaked sod. The spray caught Jade in the face and across her breastplate, down her arms and painted a gory, single-pigment watercolor upon the boulders underfoot. She remained in a follow-through position for a long moment. Her eyes were closed, her lids splattered in crimson. She took a deep, ragged breath and opened her eyes to mere slits, a grin widening across her calm face.


    The vision flashed before her, almost causing her to stumble. Her heart raced, pounding in her chest. She took a final deep breath and slowly turned to face the speaker. Her eyes met his. She looked upon Wilhelm for the first time in many, many years and took him in. He had aged slightly; his features were roughened, likely showing the nature bound life he had chosen to live after her departure. His youthful eyes were wide, yet no fear was upon him and he regarded her with a nervousness that she had not seen from him since they'd first met.

    Her face contorted as she raised the greatsword above her head and drove it downward with a great cry of fury and terrible anguish. The blade cleaved him nearly in two as she drew the blade like a razor, the tip striking the stone formation, leaving a deep, bloodstained gouge and sending a flash of sparks across the rough surface. His lifeless body fell forward, lying just in front of her steel boots, now slathered in gore and blood.

    The vision faded. She stood strong, showing no weakness. He continued to stare at her. She could feel his nervous energy pulse across the short distance between them, reverberating around the forest that seemed to hush, as if holding its collective breath.

    It was in that moment that a transition took place. The deep, powerful emotions that had writhed like a thrashing demon, welled up and drove sharp claws into her emotionally exhausted mind and threatened to take up the lethal weapon held upon her breast, separated from her form. The feeling, the emotion, it faded. Dissipating like a low fog in the morning sun, it skittered away to shadows far from view, leaving only Jade. Wilhelm's figure brightened in her gaze, coming into extreme focus, and she felt another emotion coming to the forefront: Deep, unrelenting affection.

    For the first time in years, a genuine smile crossed her face. Her eyes brightened and widened, her ears raised as her jaw unclenched. Her grip on the greatsword loosened. She stood before him, smiling, watching his expression pass through several stages, ending on a smile that betrayed his uncertainty, but also his relief.

    She ran to him, sheathing her blade in one swift motion and clung to him, driving herself into his breast and clamping upon him as if wishing to merge herself with his being. She kissed him deeply, passionately. There were no tears, no negative emotions of regret or sadness. Love in its purest form, intense and blazing like the sun, ignited them both.

    She released and she stood in front of him, her steel breastplate against his soft leathers. She stared into his eyes and smiled as he spoke. She responded but couldn't recall what she had said, but it was in the Common tongue, for the first time in years. Her speech was rough and her accent was thick, but she stumbled through it subconsciously.

    They walked along the bank of the stream toward the Druid camp. Hand in hand, she drew him along as he spoke to her. She placed her greatsword on the bank as they walked as she found it impeded his embrace with it slung across her back. She walked a bit further and he spoke, "Jade, I am so sorry, I…," then, suddenly, she felt it.

    The shadow returned. The edge of it crept along her mind, beyond her peripheral, squeezing back into the crevices that drove its escape. She remembered the hurt, the agony, the terrible suffering that the hand she now held had put upon her.

    She released from his grasp and gathered her sword, running from him. She wondered if she could escape and her eyes darted to paths that led away from the glen, away from this half-elven incubus that stalked her as she ran in the first direction presented to her.

    She stopped near the lake's edge, her steel boots sinking into the soft shoreline. She heard him approach.

    "You killed me," she said softly in Common.

    She heard him shift his weight. "I know."

    She turned to him, finding her blade raised and facing toward him. "I should kill you," she said, her mind racing with visions of slaughter and vengeance.

    "I know. But…would that heal you?"

    She stared at him, seeing nothing. She struggled with the demon, the emotions. She forced it out, but this time it wasn't as difficult. It wasn't because it was getting easier to purge the emotion, but as if it was fleeing her defeated and frightened and wounded.

    "No. It would only kill me again," she said, thinking clearer than she had in many years. Her grip loosened and the sword dropped to her side, jabbing into the soft turf.

    "I would rewrite history if I could…," he said as she saw the nervousness creep back into his posture.

    "No, Wil," she cut him off as she took steps toward him, embracing him again, her head upon his chest.

    Shen Enai lay in the grass and for the first time, without an owner. The sword had become an extension to Jade's own being, fused by a bolt of energy that terminated at her very heart, which pulsated with her heartbeat and swelled with every breath. It was her companion and servant. But now, in this brief moment, it was forgotten and without a master.

    The brilliant, exquisitely crafted steel still gleamed in the fading rays of the sun that shown through the trees of the quiet forest, but now instead of a reflection of fearless courage and vanquishing fury, it was at rest and silent. The dark runes along the fine razor seemed to deepen, as if Shen Enai had closed its eyes, finally at peace.

  • - Revealed

    Crouched atop the fallen tree, she surveyed the scene. A light blanket of fresh snow covered the ground and a low, cold fog shrouded the clearing marked by pools of frozen water amid reeds and tufts of tall dry grasses browned and dead from winter's bite. On the far edge of the clearing she spotted a fractured ridge of black shale rising from of the snow cover, marking a hot spring. Lazy wisps of steam rose from the undisturbed surface in the still, frigid dawn air like fading ghosts. Rivulets of warm water streamed through cracks in the shale, collecting in the froze-over pools that would likely resemble a swamp in warmer climes.

    She remained still for a long while, watching for predators. There was no sound in the forest but that of her steady breathing and the calm, rhythmic beating of her heart deep within her breast. Clothed in thick patchwork furs and a deep cowl, she could have easily been mistaken for a mossy knot on the long-dead trunk had it not been for long raven locks flowing from the darkened confines of the hood and two piercing eyes that glinted gray-green in the dim light.

    With the area deemed clear, she shifted and deliberately dropped her pack below, which landed softly in the shadows of the great fallen trunk. A shower of powdery snow fell from her perch along with it, dusting the grasses with silvery crystals. She waited for the glittery noise of the snow shower to dissipate before following suit, lightly touching down next to her belongings; yet remaining crouched among the shadows.

    She retrieved her pack and moved silently, carefully toward the spring. As she drew closer, she noticed ice had formed on the edges of the sparse dead flora in the clearing, with the steam quickly freezing as its moisture clung to them as it wafted by. She took great care in watching her footing for the small frozen pools lay hidden beneath the fresh powder.

    The edge of the spring was clear of snow with the dark, damp shale contrasted deeply against the surroundings. She stepped upon the wide, natural ledge of shale and strode along the length of the spring as she peered into its depths. She could see the white, sandy bottom and small bubbles escaping, revealing its shallowness; perhaps to the lithe elf's waist. She paused and took a knee as she gently tugged a doeskin glove from her right hand and cautiously tested the water to ensure it was not lethally acidic or scalding.

    Reaching the far ledge that served as a natural wall, she laid her pack against the shale and began to set camp. She loosed a bundle of fruit wood kindling and lit a fire, and soon the smell of sweet smoke was mingling with the fog and mists within the clearing.

    The sun was aloft in the sky, but one could not tell through the perpetual gray cloud cover as dark shadows and fog still presided over the clearing. A gentle flurry of snow had begun to fall, though not enough for the elf to shelter her bedroll.

    Having eaten a ration of cooked venison and tender roots, she undressed and dipped into the hot spring. As she slowly lowered herself into the waters, she closed her eyes as she felt the soothing heat embrace her aching body. Her toes dug into the soft, sandy bottom as she continued downward until she was fully submerged to her slender neckline.

    The locks of her hair were free about her shoulders, floating around her perimeter like black tendrils. She raised her hands to her face and wiped away the grime of the forest and gently leaned her bare back upon the rough shale.

    She opened her eyes and locked upon the unblinking gaze of a black panther tucked low among the reeds, well within pouncing distance. Its ice blue eyes were brilliant in the pale surroundings and Jade instantly recognized the stare. Jade was at a catastrophic disadvantage, but she remained calm, keeping her eyes fixed on the panther.

    "You are quite deft, even for an elf," Jade finally spoke in Elven with a regard of recognition to the panther.

    The panther rose to its haunches, lapping its black nose with its bright red tongue. The form of the panther suddenly became distorted, flowing like a fresh oil painting splashed with water, becoming an almost formless black mass. The mass brightened and drew slender, becoming bluish and then brown, forming quickly to the hunched figure of Alanna, who rose to stand at the edge of the spring holding her bow staff.

    Alanna's icy eyes seemed to draw the warmth from the spring, giving Jade a slight shiver. She spoke in Elven with calm, even tones. "I see you've recovered well."

    "No thanks to you, I presume," Jade replied coolly. "Why are you following me?"

    Alanna closed her eyes, contemplating her response. It was the first time Jade had seen any spark of emotion, revealing that perhaps her icy exterior guarded deeper warmth within. Alanna's next words were pleading, hushed tones – as if spoken out of earshot of others watching the confrontation. "Jade, you must turn from your path. Return south and do not continue further."

    Jade took a quick look around the clearing, seeing nothing. Her brow furrowed as she returned her attention to Alanna. "Why? I don't know you, yet you know me. Why are you determined to impede my travel?"

    Alanna took a knee on the edge of the spring, drawing the staff close to her cheek and continued speaking softly. "I don't want to see you injured further," she paused, sighing. "You were not what I expected. But I cannot prove that to those that pursue you. Their mind is set. I fear you are in danger and it is my desire that you remain safe."

    Jade examined Alanna as she spoke. She seemed genuine, but was hiding something. "Why am I pursued?" she replied, continuing to analyze Alanna's expressions.

    "I cannot say. I will not pursue you further, but I cannot stop others from doing so," Alanna looked down, searching for words. "I know your spirit. You will want to drive north, seeking to confront the others of which I speak--"

    "No, I won't."

    Alanna seemed surprised, recoiled slightly and her face betrayed her surprise.

    "Alanna, I don't care. I will do as you ask. In the past, yes, I would desire to confront those that hound me. But…," it was Jade's turn to search for words. "I've lived long enough not to let such things consume my life. You don't need to be deceitful."

    "I…," Alanna dropped her guard momentarily. In that moment, she was visibly relieved, though she quickly hardened her expression. "I've your word?"

    "Aye," Jade replied simply, staring directly into Alanna's eyes.

    Alanna stared back. "You're no longer interested in why? Or whom?"

    Jade made a wry smile, blinking slowly. "As I said, I care not. I wish nothing more than to be left alone."

    There was a long moment of silence as Alanna pondered her next move. She had accomplished what her Mother had asked, perhaps averted the loss of Wilhelm from the Circle to this Elven warrior that sat before her. She had been given no reason to distrust Jade.

    "Very well," Alanna finally spoke, merely above a whisper.

    Jade watched as the Druid stood and stepped back from the edge of the hot spring. Alanna nodded once, turned and disappeared into the snow covered forest.

    "Very well," Jade said aloud in Elven, looking about and still seeing nothing. She sat in the hot spring a long while, continuing to soak up the warmth as she went over the events of the past few months in her mind.

    Jade washed her hair well, scrubbing with a bit of soap she had acquired at the village. She rose from the water, her bare, smooth flesh steaming as the cold, still air breathed upon her. She felt unseen eyes on her, but she made no show of modesty.

    She retrieved an outfit from her pack, one that she would normally wear in warmer forests. She dressed, carefully setting aside her patchwork fur cloak and laid down to rest, as nightfall would soon be upon the clearing and she would be leaving at midnight.

    Alanna tracked Jade as she headed southeast over the next few days as her Mother had wished, to be certain the elf maiden kept her word. She had decided to remain on the ground, taking the form of a winter wolf and tracking her by scent to keep out of view, knowing that Jade would likely be mindful of such pursuit.

    On the fourth day Alanna came upon the fresh kill of a deer, likely by a pack of dire wolves. The scent of Jade ended here and it was not until she reverted to her elven form that she saw why -- among the tattered carcass was a patchwork fur cloak.

    A wave of anxiousness, anger, and embarrassment flooded over Alanna. She cursed herself aloud, nearly coming to tears, knowing she had utterly failed her mission.

    Jade made her way north and then due west, entering the Rawlinswood for the first time in years. She felt a twinge of guilt for deliberately deceiving Alanna, but something was calling to her, driving her, and she felt compelled to move onward to Narfell -- knowing not the reason or what she might find.

  • A tenday after the blizzard, the sun shone brightly over the small village, marking an unnaturally warm spell that melted away most of the evidence of the terrible snow storm. The melt came so quickly, the small road that cut lazily through the village had turned into a mud bog, forcing the residents to run boards and logs across the slop in order to move about.

    Riza the pub owner had insisted the wounded elf stay with her until she was completely healed from her wounds. Riza's husband spoiled her with rich food the likes of which she had not eaten for years and the village seemed genuinely concerned about their new visitor, coming by to visit her often as she lounged about the pub.

    Jade continued to refuse speaking Common throughout her stay though there was no real reason. Her Common was still atrocious, but every moment she decided to finally say something in Common her mind clamped down and she could find no words to speak. The few times she did speak were all in hushed Elven, though eventually Riza and her husband were able to understand a few basic words.

    Every evening, she listened to stories from some of the older folk about the trials and tribulations of the small farming community. She even laughed at a few jokes – a sound her own ears found foreign.

    A few of the young men had come to crush on Jade during her stay, which Riza found quite amusing and called them out on it after a fight nearly broke out over the closest chair to the elf. Normally this kind of attention would make her uncomfortable, but she found herself enjoying it and had a good laugh instead of a flash of anger or spat of burning rage.

    The sunny day seemed as best as any to move on from the village. She hugged her goodbyes and took up the gifts of supplies and rations, though she had initially refused. One of the older gentlemen had provided a small goatskin map of the forest region that, while outdated, marked a few areas of good hunting and shelter.

    She waved and took up her pack and greatsword, making her way north through the forest.

    The panther with ice-blue eyes watched from a secluded grove of conifers at the edge of town as the elf waved to the small gathering of humans and began heading north. The panther growled deeply and rose from her prone position, heading into the forest after the elf.

    Mother will not be pleased.

  • - Meeting

    Jade stood at the edge of the forest behind a gnarled pine, watching a small village through needled branches that shielded her from the howling wind and blowing snow. The buildings seemed huddled together for warmth, something that she was in desperate need.

    The storm had been blowing for days and she could find little in the barren forest to build shelter, nor a cave or even a hollowed trunk or ditch. Her flint had broken and her hands were useless within seconds of exposure, and what little food or water she had was frozen solid long ago.

    To further add to the misery, last eve she had an unfortunate run-in with a starved dire wolf that nearly killed her as she attempted in vain to build a feeble camp in the shadows of an old oak. She fought off the wolf with a curved dagger, but not before it gashed her side and forearm that now bled freely if she moved too suddenly. The wolf gained a wide gash across its snout and shoulder before running away, but she gave no chase for fear of bleeding to death.

    Approaching deliriousness, she bit her bottom lip and hobbled from hiding and slowly made her way toward the village. She could see smoke from chimneys, but no person dared leave their homes save to gather more firewood or perhaps dart to the pub of which she now found herself standing in front. It was barely a shack, albeit two-story, slanting westward as if standing defiantly against the blizzard winds that would threaten to tear wooden shakes from the drooping roof were it not encased in thick ice and snow.

    She gathered her courage, swallowed her pride, and forced herself into the pub after trudging through a knee-high snowdrift that had formed in front of the beaten door. The patrons turned in their worn chairs to greet whom they thought was likely another villager, but stopped short when they saw the hunched form wrapped in ice-caked furs limp to the nearest table and plop into a chair after dropping a frosted pack on the creaking floorboards.

    A human woman, the owner of the humble establishment rushed over to help. "By Tyr, someone stoke the fire! There now, let me help…" the woman said as she helped unravel the traveler from twisted strips of fur. She was tall and thin, perhaps mid-aged, but the lines on her face betrayed her youth, revealing a hard life. Her shoulder-length hair was graying before its time but nicely kempt and her clothes were not threadbare or torn.

    The elf initially resisted, but quickly gave in; wincing as the woman made the revelation she was not human.

    "Another elf…?" she whispered, incredulously. She turned and shouted into the kitchen, "Garen, fetch a kettle and bring me some tea and whiskey."

    "Coming, Riza! What 'ave we got?" A short, fat, balding man in a stained apron squeezed out of the kitchen and made his way to the traveler, pausing as Riza finished unwrapping the elf, exposing her deep emerald eyes and obsidian hair. Garen blinked a few times and swallowed, then poured a shot of whiskey and started preparing the tea. By now, the few patrons were standing to watch the scene unfold, though none said a word.

    The elf sat in front of the roaring coal burning stove, sufficiently warmed by its glowing fuel and slightly drunk from the strong whiskey. A plate of chicken bones, some crumbs of warm bread, and an empty stone stew bowl were all that remained of the hearty meal that laid on the rickety end table to her left. Her underclothes were still damp and clung to her once-shivering frame, but she cared not. Her wounds had been dressed by an old farmhand that happened to be a retired soldier and her furs were drying on a line over the stove, strung by a couple young men who now sat nearby, sipping their hot cider as if watching over her like they would an injured sibling.

    She was amazed by the hospitality – so much so she broke down in tears for a moment when Riza was helping her to the stove. The rest of the patrons were intrigued, but not overbearing and went back to their seats and continued enjoying each other's company as if nothing had happened. She was glad for that, having endured much undesired attention on her travels northward.

    They had attempted to speak with her, but she could only nod or shake her head. Her Elven was useless here and her Common was still beyond repair. Nevertheless, they seemed to understand and assisted as much as they could.

    It wasn't until she was pondering this surreal encounter that she noticed another elf -- a female -- sitting alone in the corner next to a frosted window that cast a ghostly bluish glow on her flawless skin. Her icy blue eyes were deepened by the fading light, staring directly back at the hunched form at the stove. Her dark hair was pulled behind her long ears and held in clasps of ornate wood and reed to a braid that stretched nearly to the floor. She was dressed in a dark green tabard and a loose black cloak rimmed in fur, but strangely no heavier clothes lay next to her or the table. An ironwood bow staff was resting within a moments reach on the wall behind her chair. If the elf hadn't blinked, Jade would have thought her a statue or phantasm. Jade suddenly felt alarmed, though she didn't know why.

    She took a quick glance at her greatsword that was out of reach, but safe against an unused table surrounded by parts of her pack that were soaked through and steaming in the heat of the stove. Her dagger too was out of reach, lying on bricks next to her drenched doeskin boots. She glanced back and the elf was no longer at the table -- but now standing next to Jade not an arms-length away, bow staff in her grasp.

    The elf leaned toward Jade. "Hello, kin," she whispered in Elven, a thick western accent heavy on her lips.

    Jade hid her surprise well. "Aye, sister," she replied in Elven, nodding a greeting.

    "My name is Alanna. You?" Alanna inquired, taking a knee.

    The non-threatening gesture made Jade relax as she suddenly realized she was clenching her teeth. "Jade," she said quietly, tucking her hands into the quilt Riza had provided.

    Alanna demeanor remained cool and she tilted her head slightly, allowing her braid to roll off her shoulder. "That storm, really came from nowhere. Brutal storm, really. Did it catch you on the road?"

    Her guard slightly down, Jade replied. "I was in the forest. Foolishly unprepared, it seems."

    "It seems that way. Lucky for you, this village is quite used to our kind passing through. Where are you from?"

    "Not from around here…" Jade replied, raising her guard once again. "What of you?"

    "Far off from here," Alanna said cryptically, "but then, I've been on the hunt for a while now."

    Jade suddenly felt alarmed again. "Oh? What are you hunting?"

    Alanna smiled for the first time, revealing straight teeth and dimples. "You know how it is. You're among nature. Just feeling that breeze, without the cares of villages and cities. That thrill you get when you're on the trail. Just wandering free, you know? Out of reach of the stresses of being around humans…"

    Jade returned a crooked smile. "You didn't answer my question."

    "Hmm, I didn't, did I?" Alanna gave a small laugh and leaned in close to Jade. "It's a secret, but you know, it is really dangerous around here. You should be more careful," she said, gesturing to Jade's wounds, "I've heard there's better forest southeast of here. Far safer, and certainly warmer. Far out of reach of any dire wolves."

    Jade shot her a quizzical glance. "I never mentioned dire wolves…"

    "You didn't?" Alanna pursed her lips, "Hmm, a good guess, I suppose."

    Alanna stood, smiled again and turned from Jade, heading for the door. Jade nearly stood to halt her, but caught a dizzy spell and thought twice of it; watched as the elf pulled her cloak over her lithe form and strode boldly into the blizzard to disappear into the rapidly darkening evening.

    Rushing outside the village in the shroud of the blizzard, Alanna changed form and took to the skies. Only her Druidic prowess allowed her to keep aloft in such winds. As she circled over the village, a deep feeling of relief washed over her eagle form. The confrontation was not as she expected, seeing Jade in the state she was in, but Alanna survived and Jade seemed genuinely shaken, as intended.

    She had been tracking Jade for a few weeks, biding her time to meet with this elf that was threatening to tear her circle apart, though Jade seemed little aware of all that was happening around her. Jade was a strong women and a capable warrior, certainly hearty for having none of the woodland arts in her Elven blood, and Alanna was beginning to understand what Wil might have seen in her.

    Alanna suddenly felt regret and a twinge of guilt encroaching upon her conscience as she replayed the meeting in her mind, having little use for such passive aggressive words, let alone using nature against a fellow elfkin. Gerda's plan of intensifying the nor'easter around the forest had worked its effect, though the dire wolf attack seemed nearly too much and left Alanna questioning the action. Nevertheless, as she circled one last time and headed west, she prayed Jade would heed the warning and turn from her course, away from Wilhelm who was growing ever closer.

  • This post is deleted!

  • - Spy

    Months had passed since the elf had once again delved into her memories of the Druid. She was finding difficulty submerging the thoughts, sometimes dwelling on them for hours while staring into the distance. The abstraction grew throughout the day and long into the evening, penetrating her slumber and invading menial tasks. She finally arrived at the conclusion she needed to flee the region to different scenery in the desperate hope the unbearable feelings would finally subside.

    Thus she headed north. She came across a Wood Elf tribe and traded furs, mushrooms, and other things she'd gathered in her life among nature for a bit of coin and some supplies she would need as she headed out of the forest. It was the first interaction with other sentient beings in years, and she found herself staying with them for a few days to reacquaint her tongue with the Elven language.

    She continued traveling for weeks, finding caravans or a boat, when needed – ever heading northward. Her refusal to use Common made the travel unnecessarily difficult and brought unwanted attention to herself. An elf maiden among men with emerald eyes and raven hair, dressed in furs and leathers speaking only Elven. A flash of her greatsword thwarted much, though prying eyes rarely let her be.

    Nevertheless, it wasn't until she began seeing snow that she felt she was being watched. At first, she blamed it on nerves, being that she was among humans again for the first time in decades. But the feeling persisted, even once she thrust herself into another forest away from civilization.

    Woodland creatures were adding to the feeling that now bordered on paranoia -- an elk, a bear, a circling hawk, a lone wolf. She sought a presence in shadows, a voyeur among the boughs, a spy lying in wait within the underbrush. Finding nothing brought little comfort.

    Perhaps she was aging and her skills had dulled, or perhaps she had finally broken her sanity. Whichever the case, she continued north in search of a respite from her entrancement.

  • - Reflection

    The doe gently sauntered to the edge of the shallow, meandering stream, cautiously moving into the rays of flittering golden sunlight that filtered through the dense, leafy canopy. Each forest sound stiffened the muscles in her sinewy neck, her dark eyes flicking in the direction of the noise to survey the source. A creaking branch amidst the towering, ancient trees; an unseen rodent skittering along the forest floor – each sound nearly drove her to flee, yet the drive to slake her thirst was willing her movements forward.

    She took one more glance of her surroundings before slowly, deliberately bowing her head to the surface of the cool water that rippled over the smooth stones that shone like polished baubles. She extended her tongue and tasted the refreshing water, first carefully, then deeply.

    A lance of scorching pain shot through her shoulders causing her front legs to buckle, her rear legs doing the same as the pain splintered across her spine and up her neck and rang in her ears like cracking ice upon an undisturbed pond. Her vision shown stars and all she could think to do was flee, but she found it impossible to gain purchase and slid to her belly, her hooves now digging into the muddy sand of the stream's edge.

    The pain dulled the less she struggled, so she instinctively relaxed her attempts to flee while her breathing became labored and slowed. Her heart was racing and she felt the blood pounding in her ears, but that too began to fade until her vision became clouded and blurred. She looked about once more, no longer hearing the sounds of the forest, save the rippling water. Her dark eyes peered into the shadows and saw a figure hunched among the craggy roots of the towering trees. Her vision fading quickly, the last focused sight before she closed her eyes forevermore were two emerald eyes staring back at her – sad, ancient eyes.

    The shot was true, piercing the lungs and nicking the aorta, making the doe's death quick and quiet. The figure lowered her draw hand and flipped the bow around her shoulder in one smooth motion as she darted nimbly and silently from between two mighty trees and their gnarled, massive roots that were tangled across the forest floor. She leapt across the small stream and approached her kill cautiously, drawing a curved knife from a sheath on her thigh. A second strike was unneeded as the doe was down, lying among the short ferns as if she was taking an afternoon rest.

    She brushed back her raven locks, revealing elven ears as she listened carefully for the sounds of other predators. She knew the forest, knowing all too well that while she tracked the doe there may have been other creatures tracking her, biding their time to strike.

    Detecting nothing, she made quick, precise work, field dressing the doe with the razor-like dagger. In just a few minutes, she filled her leather pack with warm meat and hide and then darted back into the protective shadows of the forest, leaving the well-trimmed carcass of the doe in the dimming rays piercing through the leafy boughs.

    The sound of crackling fire and sizzling fat broke through the small clearing where the elf had made camp. She moved often and never back to the same place twice, though she had been in this area for months. Her bedroll was laid and wood for the night was stacked neatly by a makeshift chair of an old stump.

    She ate swiftly yet daintily, with a grace that only the elves seem to possess. The venison was a welcome meal, for she had been finding it difficult to find prey in this region as of late, a hint that she would soon be moving on from the region.

    As she ate, her ageless, viridian eyes wandered to the other side of the well-built spit atop the fire where her sheathed greatsword, Enai, was leaning against a moss covered boulder that sheltered the western side of the camp. The edge of the blade was peeking from the sheath flap, giving the gleaming edge a crimson glow in the light of the flames.

    At that moment, as she watched the flames dance in the reflection, a wave of memories flooded over her from decades passed. Suddenly, she was in another camp much like this one, deep in a remote forest though several more bedrolls were laid out. The human, Reginald, strummed a ukulele while a young woman named Kara swayed and hummed to the tune. A monk was there, deep in meditation. A Knight, Kanen, and his wife Seven curled among each other's arms. The others were blurred, her memories of them distant, though all focus was now fixed upon the Druid across the roaring fire. A wolf lay at his side, ever watchful of the surroundings, and he stroked its coarse fur as he listened to the bard sing a tale of humor.

    The detail in which she recalled the Druid's face was staggering, and she looked longingly upon the hair that fell about his shoulders. She could smell his scent, the lure of leather and nature and fervent passion. He caught her staring at him and he stared back, their unblinking eyes locked as the two spoke without words from across the wavering flames and heat between them.

    The vision vanished.

    She sat motionless for many moments, a tear streaming down her face. A longing ached within her, rising from her belly to her breast in a plume of deep, deep emptiness and regret.

  • What the hell am I doing here?

    The slender elf stood in the cool shadows of the ancient tree and squinted through the tendrils of mist that surrounded the gathering of adventurers. Her greatsword was resting comfortably on her shoulder, the dark runes glistening in the damp air. She shifted it's weight, perhaps more like one would shift a restless child rather than out of discomfort. Nevertheless, she continued her self-commentary.

    It's like watching a ferret wander into the mouth of an Otyugh. Nothing has changed…save the bait's color, shape, and scream.

    She allowed a brief smirk at the bitterness of the thought…or maybe at the imagery the thought evoked. Whatever the case, they were moving again and so she sighed and continued watching from afar, keeping to the shadows.

    The younger elf strode up behind Jade. She had heard her for a while and had hoped she would join the group rather than attempt conversation. Alas, her hopes were shattered by the voice of the woman. Jade allowed herself a conversation as she continued watching the scene unfold.

    As the gnome say, 'tis like spinning one's wheels.' Futile.

    She laughed inwardly at the statement. She could count the gnomes she'd met on her left hand and none had ever said anything like that…even if she'd have wanted to speak to them. But she thought the analogy fit well for the question, which was of Jade's intentions.

    I've seen this a million times over. The fruitless running to and fro…the charge into battle; the expeditious retreat amidst the screams and, sometimes, body parts of comrades. Heh. Have I become that numb? Am I that bitter?

    She watched as a guardian relentlessly pummeled the crumpled form of some poor soul into the damp sod of the forest floor. The wrist of the dead was upturned, still holding the shattered blade like a fly who'd been smashed upon the bedstand and who's wing still twitched out of thoughts of escape. Years ago, she'd have been horrified. Now she just watched.

    I suppose I am that bitter.

    The group continued forward, then rushing back, then surging, then contracting. Jade was reminded of marsh gnats floating over a gurgling tarpit. Meanwhile, the conversation with the elf continued.

    She really doesn't know. The futility of all this. Only when she is there, lying in a twisted, broken mass will she know. And by that time it's too late. Drawing a spasm-racked dying breath, she'll shudder and cling to thoughts of her youth…and then, she'll know it.

    They entered the portal and vanished from sight. Jade and the younger elf stood in the dull blue light that filled this part of the forest. The elf tried to coax Jade into entering…but Jade didn't budge. She watched the youngling enter and vanish from sight.

    Why do I bother?

    She was standing on the moss-covered steps of the druid circle, bathed in the bluish light. She could see the many footprints that led into the portal. She counted at least twenty distinct prints.

    Morbid curiosity. Or maybe nostalgia, like I told the elf. Probably both.

    She entered and found herself standing in a dimly lit cave. There was much noise, but she stood near the young elf who had yet to venture forth. They continued their conversation as Jade listened to the noises ahead of them.

    More battle. What a waste.

    Then, she heard something. A scream. The voice was as clear as the desert skies of Calim. It struck a cord in Jade's being, something that had been at the surface all these long years but hadn't been dared to be contemplated.

    "Skyla's dead."

    A wave of coolness rushed over Jade's form. She relaxed, turning from her conversation with the elf, her emerald eyes ablaze.

    Justice. I suppose this little trip was worthwhile after all.

    Jade left the cave and disappeared into the woods.

  • - Allusion

    Like a barbed sliver of rusty steel in the arch of one's foot, she once again finds herself standing in the midst of the town she swore she'd never return. She lacked the care to decipher if she was the sliver or the foot, but the analogy seemed fitting. She didn't feel the aching this time…perhaps because she had numbed her mind with a few choice herbs. Still, it seemed surreal as she walked the lumpy grass of the commons.

    She wandered around town, much akin to a lost kit in the thick fog of some gods-forsaken swamp. She sought solace in the belief that she would see familiar faces, but deep within she knew that most had either perished to old age, retired, or moved on to other lands. This made her feel angry...not for some trite reason that they would dare to move on without her, but that she, herself, left in such a way that severed all ties as one cuts the sheaves at Harvestide. She paused a moment to reflect on the irony, leaving a smirk on her face as she shook her head slightly.

    But she was never one for goodbyes anyway.

    At the base of the hill she stood eyeing the lone, leafy maple as she would a well-armed foe. It had grown larger in her absence, but looking upon the twisting branches instantly brought memories that she frantically pushed to the back of her mind. She glanced at the waterfall and the lazy stream that led into the woods as she attempted to compose herself. She took a deep breath and began slowly walking up the rise of the hill...

    ...and then she saw it.

    Her emerald elven eyes and long, slender ears were keen...more keen than most as of these past few years, but the wolf had strode upon her with nary a brush in the tall grass nor a padding of a paw on the soft turf. She instinctively gave her greatsword's pommel a tug, loosening the simple leather binding that kept the protective sheath in place. Had the wolf attacked from it's position, she would have been at a dire disadvantage given the height at which it could have leapt, for it could have tore her throat out long before she could swing her greatsword. So she reached for a curved dagger on her thigh, ready for the attack that never came.

    Instead, the wolf slowly sat upon the hill's edge. So slowly in fact, she was reminded of a leopard moving upon it's heedless prey...and yet she saw no rancor in it's movement, no malice in it's intent. No, it was observing. Perhaps. She took her hand from the dagger's hilt as a mutual show of non-aggression. The wolf simply stared at her, unblinking.

    "Cormamin lindua ele lle. Loth lri'nir freo'ein shor'hri so di'hr vasa ar' yulna en i'mereth?" She spoke softly in elven, her voice mingling with the songbirds and the constant rush of the waterfall. The wolf's ears perked slightly, no more.

    She dared to take her eyes off the wolf for a moment and look to the north into the village. Seeing no figures in earshot, she turned back to the wolf and hesitated....then spoke again, this time in Common. "My heart sings to see thee. What are the intentions of the wolf who spies upon the elf in the wilderness?"

    The words rang sour in her elven ears, so long it had been that she spoke in the Common language. She wondered if she had pronounced the words properly when the wolf gave a nearly inaudible whine. Her ears perked; her emerald eyes widened.

    Swallowing hard, she scratched her flawless neck with a slender finger nervously, and then crept forward smoothly and deftly as only an elven huntress could. She extended her left hand toward the wolf, bending her fingers as one would to a house dog to allow one's scent to be perceived. But this wolf had long known her scent and her motions seemed prosaic, foolish. She paused a moment, fighting a terrible inner demon that seemed ready to burst from her breast. The aching was pounding in her head, but curiosity moved her foot one in front of the other, overpowering the ache in her heart and slaying her pained conscience with pure adrenaline. She was within a handsbreadth from the snout of the wolf, still staring unblinking with intellegent eyes. A tear slid from her cheek, her lip trembled. Yet she continued her battle, biting her lip and drawing blood.

    They touched.

    She felt the cold nose of the wolf on the backside of her hand...felt the push of the wolf as it leaned into the caress. She had closed her eyes, letting the tears burst from their dam within her eyelid. A thousand memories rushed into her mind like the roaring of a mighty river and she turned her hand, her fingertips feeling the fur. A gasp escaped her lips and she fought to control her emotion. In that moment of weakness...the aching returned. She pulled back slightly from the wolf's snout...a shard of doubt, a shunt of ineptitude was thrust upon her heart and it penetrated, wounding her, bleeding her. But she gained control again and felt for the fur just below her fingertips...and found only air.

    She thrust her eyes open and looked about. The wolf was gone. She wanted to scream out, to call to Him, but she knew it was fruitless. She gripped her left hand in a fist, closing her eyes as she longed to remember the touch...instead, feeling something cold in her grasp, she looked into her open palm and saw a silver ring. The inscription had worn, but the elven was still legible.

    She smiled.

    And somewhere, over Norwick, the cry of the nighthawk was heard.

  • - Reminiscent

    I'm crouching on the earthy ledge surrounded by the arms of the old forest. I can feel the cold steel of my greatsword, Enai, against my inner thighs, but it was a feeling that made me think of the bitterly cold winters in this land. My fingers are wrapped around the grip of the blade; entanged like the roots that extend from the ledge that grasped at the air. I push down on the hilt, piercing the tip further into the sod. I can hear the muffled snap of the roots being severed by the blade, but I keep pushing until the hilt is next to my face and I rest my cheek on the leatherwork, taking in that all-too-familiar scent of steel and leather.

    But there's something else on the wind. A smell of burning birch and cedar. I look across the village, trying to track the scent to it's origin. Ah, the small home on the edge of town has a thin, wispy column of smoke coming from it's hearty chimney of fieldstones. I remember that home…I remember walking inside many times and seeing not what should be or what an ordinary person would, but a world suspended between planes.

    At least that's what I was told.

    But who really cares? I was there as a spy. We were so very suspicious back then, and not 'just' of evil, but also of those who were powerful. So I kept up appearances and even helped out once and a while...

    I feel my eyes shifting to another part of town. The Inn. That damned Inn. I scarcely remember it's name anymore, but the things that went on in there were incredulous...and things that make my eyes well with tears. My eyes wander to the third window on the upper story. I made love in that room, had dreadful nightmares in that room...cried in that room. The aching comes to me again but I push it away and let the euphoria drift into my thoughts like a morning fog across a sleepy valley. Oh, to be there again.

    I see the merchant in the middle commons, working at a pile of shoddy equipment gleaned from the goblins that still wander the forests to the south. I find myself laughing a bit, something uncharacteristic as of late.

    The benchs, the well...all of them bring a flood of memories spilling over me, threatening to drown me in the aching. Still I resist and let my eyes rest on the scene a few moments more. The grassy knoll around the well. I can still feel the cool grass on my hands, sitting there next to Him...I remember bards sharing tales, songs, poems...I remember singing there once.

    I'm standing now. I resist the temptation to stroll into the town, but I find myself looking for a way down from the cliff. My gaze finds it's mark and locks there, to the south. There it is, a lone tree on a hill by the waterfall. I can still see the butterflies flittering in the shade of the tree...

    The aching returns to my heart. I'm overcome with emotion. I see us sitting there beneath the tree, speaking on things, looking into each other's eyes. He comments on my eyes and their emerald hue, even speaks a poem to me. I see him on the riverbank watching me as I bathe in the waterfall. I then see myself sitting on the upper bank, tossing a ring into the stream...

    Enough for me.

    I'm striding back from whence I came. I place Enai back in it's holster across my back and trudge through the forest...why did I come back here? The scent of cedar and birch smoke is no longer on the breeze. The aching subsides slightly and I wipe a tear from my eye.

    Perhaps another time. Perhaps.

  • - Return to light

    The dawn sunlight filtered through the dense canopy of the old-growth forest, striking dew on the rich foliage and scattered the warm amber rays into a million prisms that flickered and pulsed in the cool breeze. A clearing amidst the swaying trees revealed a small spring-fed stream that wound its way through the masses of twisted roots and smooth, mossy stones that bathed in its cool waters. It was there, upon a misshapen stone she sat.

    Her doeskin boots removed, she dipped her sore feet into the stream, letting a quiet sigh escape her smooth lips as the chill of the water sent a tingle up her spine. She tilted her head back and peered into the canopy that stretched dozens of meters above her head, causing the sunlight in the clearing to strike her emerald eyes and shimmer brilliantly. She closed her eyes slowly and pulled the silver rings from her raven-colored locks, spilling her hair like a silken waterfall over her slim shoulders.

    Aside lay her greatsword, leaning against a large, knotty root that protruded from the soft sod. Refracted light struck the well-polished, gleaming edge giving the blade a look of fiery life…an ever-seeing sentinel keeping watch over it's master. Her hand never strayed far from it's hilt and in this, it seemed part of her being. An extension of her soul; striking vengeance and fury. But this morning, it just lay against the old root, waiting. This morning it too, like it's master, felt the calmness.

    Her elven ears perked at the sound of movement. Her eyes opened with a slight start, looking left and right, half-expecting a fight. She smiled a crooked grin and sighed, seeing a raccoon come to the water's edge further downstream and wash a piece of fruit. It scampered off soon after devouring it's breakfast, leaving the elf to wonder where it headed...if it had family...a mate.

    Shaking her head as if to exude the thought from her mind, she noticed another friend of the forest had joined her. Directly across from her, a wolf. Gray with dark patches, it strode to the stream's edge and sat, staring at the elf with it's light-blue, piercing eyes. She stared back, even giving a slight smile as if to extend a greeting to the strong creature. It did nothing, save blink. It was then that she felt the itching in her brain. Her eyes narrowed, as if to pierce the flesh of the wolf and look beneath...look into the soul.

    Her mind's eye flashed scenes before her. Deep in the wood...somewhere...she led a wolf down a path. She fought along side it...spoke with it...


    She sat up quickly, pulling her feet from the stream, causing a mild splash. The wolf started, rose, turned and sprinted from whence it came...into the deep foliage and brush of the dense forest. The elf stood and spoke to halt, but her voice cracked from lack of use and she cursed the actions that betrayed her and startled the animal. Gathering her blade and boots, she jumped across the small stream and attempted to follow the trail of the wolf. Alas, the animal did not want to be found, for she could find no trace of the wolf...not a print, nor disturbed bush. She continued looking for several minutes before she found herself once again at the stream's edge. Looking into the waters rushing over the stones and root, she spoke softly...

    "A'Laena Sar...Wilhelm."

    After a few moments, she smiled widely, letting go a small giggle and pressed two fingers to her lips as she shook her head slightly.

    "Until we meet again, Wilhelm..." she repeated in Common.

  • - Alone

    What is it to walk alone? To lose the feeling of the wind against your face or the sun on your skin. That unexplainable aching…the hatred of those who are happy or joyous. That flash of anger when you hear the sound of laughter or even the merry sounds of a chirping bird among the branches.

    Walking amidst the lands of Toril like an aimless wraith, this ghost of an elf traveled hundreds of miles always looking but never finding. Strangely, ironically...she knew deep in her mind where she would find what she was looking for. She knew what would satiate the hunger in her soul...suture the gaping wound in her heart.

    Even though she knew it was a fruitless to search, she continued to wander. Her only companion was her sword, found in the ruins of an old elven keep, given to her by ancestorial ghosts in the depths of her despair...fighting against the demons of her past. The black, elvish runes in the blade were burned into her mind, so many times she had laid her hands across them and pondered the maker's thoughts as they engraved them into the hot metal. Strange that she find so much comfort in a blade. Not in it's security of protecting her against the evils of the world...but the likeness it portrays about her own life. A self-portrait of steel. Emblazoned upon her soul was his mark...and even as the maker had long cast her upon the world to survive a lonely existance, those fiery runes still ran deep...though she covered herself with a sheath of self-denial, those runes still glowed like crimson embers.

    Her elven ways coming to the forefront, she no longer spoke the common tongue. She despised it. No longer did she drink from a flask, but of the river itself like a fawn. She cast aside the gleaming aquamarine armor and took up simple leathers. Strange that her outward appearance would change so, but her mind still reflected on the past. On him. It was difficult to separate her thoughts of him. She simply existed, but with his face always in her mind. When she closed her eyes, she saw only him. When she looked into the waters, she saw his reflection standing behind her, always reaching out and touching the soft locks of her black hair. She heard his songs and poems in her ear, whispering like the leaves of the autumn falling in the bitter winds of the west.

    She wanted to end it. She wanted the pain to stop. Was it lack of courage? Was it fear of death? Or was it hope?

    In the night she would cry out. Whether of anguish or bitter sorrow, it was always the same. Blade in hand and emerald eyes staring into the darkness that embraced her like the cruel arms of a brutal rapist, she would whisper the words of her lonely song. Where was her Wilhelm? Where was her love? She knew where he was and yet, like the butterfly beyond the grasp of one's hand, she knew it was futile to reach out to him. Thus, she sings her song. Thus, she continues wandering. Alone.

    Please, please forgive me
    But I won't be home again
    Maybe someday you'll look up
    And barely conscious you'll say to no one
    Isn't something missing?

    You won't cry for my absence, I know
    You forgot me long ago
    Am I that unimportant?
    Am I so insignificant?
    Isn't something missing?
    Isn't someone missing me?

    Even though I'm the sacrifice
    You won't try for me, not now
    Though I'd die to know you loved me
    I'm all alone
    Isn't someone missing me?

    Please, please forgive me
    But I won't be home again
    I know what you do to yourself
    I breathe deep and cry out
    Isn't something missing

    Even though I'm the sacrifice
    You won't try for me, not now
    Though I'd die to know you loved me
    I'm all alone
    Isn't someone missing me?

    {Lyrics: Evanescence - Missing}

  • - A'maelamin…melamin

    A group of four travelers set camp atop the mountain shrouded in cool mist and tall, ancient pines that towered over their small clearing like watchful guardians. Three looked at the fourth, watching her intently as she moved with the deliberate grace that all elfkind display. She was slight, wearing forest colors of green and brown. The elegant armor of layered leather and chain was both simple and functional, yet was designed to enhance and reveal her shapely form. As she set her pack against a giant, moss-covered trunk and began eating of a small crust of bread, the three gathered to prepare their own meal and began talking in whispers.

    One mentioned how her beauty stunned his breathing. Her hair seemed that of smooth, glistening obsidian and yet soft as silk. The locks were pulled together with three silver rings and so long they nearly brushed her ankles. Her sculpted features were smooth and perfect, like an ivory statue of great worth…but it was the eyes that caused such pain for another man. They were deep pools of emerald fire that pierced the very soul, but betrayed a tragic, shadowed sadness in their depths. They spoke words that no bard dare portray in lyric. He spoke how they caused the heart to ache and moved his emotions so that he desired greatly to take her in his arms gently and press her cheek to his and let her weep her troubles upon his shoulder.

    The third man watched as she sat upon a stone and, in great care and delicate precision, took up a massive greatsword, unsheathing it and working dark oil into the exquisite blade inlaid with runic etchings of elven origin. He marveled at the dauntless strength of the woman...the purity, yet perplexing contrast of beauty and steel; softness and obdurate impermeability. He was awed by visions of fighting back-to-back with her against hopeless odds. Just to watch the fluidity and skill combined with the ferocious might and terrible, wicked power of such a blade in the hands of the alluring, lithe elf maiden caused adreneline to course through his veins.

    And yet, it was not until nightfall did their souls tremble most with the conflicting surges of aching desire and sorrow. Upon their bedrolls tucked among the thick bed of pine needles, the men watched; their breaths held. The wispy mists curled among the silent trees and the thin smoke of their dying fire's embers rose to meet the cloudless night as the lone angel strode to a stone outcropping, peering into the darkness. Her sillouette infused with the silver light of the quarter moon...she sang a song that haunted the valley and silenced the creatures that scurried and chattered among the branches. A poem put to was filled with such sorrow and longing, the men thanked the gods they did not know elvish, for fear it would be too much to bear. It ended in a broken that told the men a deep sorrow mercilessly clenched her heart, causing tears to fall unheededly from her flawless face upon the stone like blood from a fresh wound.

    One man tried to rise, gathering enough bravery to have thoughts of approaching her, but the remaining two held him at bay with only a look. He returned to his bedroll, sighing heavily as they watched her standing like a weeping, lonely statue...the chill darkness of the night enclosed around her like a cruel blanket that saturated her essence and left the men in ruin.

    Two words were spoken after the sad song...two words still lingered in the minds of the men, even though they knew not the meaning in the common tongue.

    "My love."

  • - Talaenar

    Jade sat at the edge of the stream atop the hill where they had spent so many hours together. She had been weeping continually since she left him standing there in the narrow streets in Peltarch and the emotions did not cease their flooding, just as a shoreline is beat upon relentlessly by the surf.

    First, of terrible sorrow…of none she had felt before. She had been wounded horrifically...both by his words and the dagger she had slit her wrist with. The wound was nothing but a pink scar now, after Wilhelm had healed her, but the wound on her soul was still spurting her life upon the ground in great torrents. So she cried…not knowing what else to do…not knowing what salve could heal the ragged gash.

    Then anger. Anger of the coldest degree; anger that made her appendages numb and her heart skip beats. She was angry at his words...the chill wind that bit her when he spoke them with unemotional purity and agonizingly obvious indifference. She knew that he thought she wanted to kill him...she felt it when she looked upon him in those final moments together. This, however, was the furthest from the truth. She wanted to kill herself...and she knew not the reason why.

    Then hatred. Hatred for ever sharing herself with another man after the death of her husband, Caleb. Hatred for ever pouring her love into such a hopeless relationship. Hatred for caring. Hatred for loving. Pure, unadulterated hatred...pointed not at him, but at herself for the immense failings of her iron will and statuesque determination.

    She looked down at her armored feet. She watched the water rush over them as the stream carried itself further...toward the waterfall. She looked to her lap and saw the tears glistening in the cold, uncaring light of the silver moon. Then, she looked to her hands. In one, she held the letter written to her. In the other, the dagger...already bloodied from the wound she had given herself as she stood before Wilhelm in the street. She read over the words once again...again determining that she would not cry as she read the words on the roughened parchment...

    _My dearest Jade,

    In the seasons of your absence, I have wandered alone. I have seen much to move the heart of a man, but little to match the fierceness of your beauty. Nonetheless, the heart of a man must know change if it is to survive the absence of beauty, and I have reluctantly moved on, with ever an eye to the past.

    However, I am now reconciled that our paths have irrevocably diverged.

    Know that you taught me much of love, and much that I had yet to discover. You opened new chambers within my labyrinth soul, and some of these will remain forever a secret to any but you and I.

    If I see you again, I shall not be the same. I will remember you with love. I hope that you think on me fondly.


    Tears streaked her beautiful, unblemished face, her elven features twisting in the agony of the emotion that coursed through her body in terrible, intense waves. Memories flooded into her mind…memories that tore at the wound in her soul.

    She recalled the first day she met Wilhelm in the Rawlinswood, nearly ten years ago. She remembered blushing at his words of how beautiful she looked in the moonlight...

    She remembered how terrible she felt when he fell to Atol. She remembered helping rescue his body and resurrecting him...

    She looked back at the time at the waterfall, their first kiss...

    The visions of their adventures together flashed in front of her eyes in rapid succession. She tried to shut them out, but they continued to bombard her. She cried out as if they were fists pounding into her face and stomach...

    Suddenly, there was nothing. She opened her eyes and watched the letter get borne away by the rapid water, passing over the waterfall's edge unceremoniously. She looked down and opened her hand. Through the blood, she saw the silver ring, its etchings faded from wear, but still visible even in the dim moonlight. She tossed the ring over the waterfall, speaking in low, bitterly cold words that were nothing more than a whisper in her shaking, cracked voice: "No one is worthy of it..."

    She turned her gaze then to the dagger, still held tightly in her small, elven hand. She turned the blade so that the moonlight reflected off the glistening blade still stained with her own blood and smiled bitterly. "Sh'mai, Wilhelm...Sh'ai, ave talaenar..."

    Far down the stream, a young elf was walking along the shoreline. He stopped a moment to wash his face in the cool water, squatting in the smooth stones that tumbled in the swift current as his boots sunk to the ankle. He ceased his cleansing as he watched a piece of soaked parchment pass him by. He tried to make a grab for it, but it fell apart in his lithe hands. He shrugged and finished his washing, took his gear, and headed back on the path toward the elven encampment. He noticed not the crimson streak that followed behind the dissolving parchment.

    Somewhere in the night, a beautiful voice was heard echoing among the ancient trees of the Rawlinswood. Somewhere, a few elves bowed their heads as they felt the despair in the achingly sorrowful melody...

    _My dearest love,
    How my heart cries out for thee,
    My dearest love,
    I desire you next to me.

    My Ehiela,
    I call your name in haste,
    My Ehiela,
    Oh, let not my soul waste.

    This I sing for you,
    This I pray for us._

  • - Returned, but still unanswered

    Jade reached the waterfall south of Norwick and tossed her pack to the damp shoreline uncaringly. She plopped down on the soft grass and sighed, stretching her legs in the unseasonable warmth of the afternoon sun. Her new, gleaming armor caught some light and temporarily blinded her, for which she whispered a quick elven curse.

    Reaching into her pack, she took out a crust of bread and began eating it to compliment the sour berries she picked in the Rawlinswood. Throwing a few small bluish berries in her mouth, she began humming an elven tune. She gazed up the cliff, watching the perpetual motion of the water rushing over the glistening, jagged stones that cut through the river’s surface at the top of the cliff, as if straining for breath from beneath the punishing flow.

    That was me once, she thought, a bitter smile playing on her lips.

    She reminisced about her time here, namely the countless hours spent sitting with Wilhelm beneath the tree that peeked over the cliff edge. Shaking her head, she wrapped the remaining crust of bread in a piece of cloth, gathered her things and began her journey through town, toward home.

    She kneeled on the worn mat in the darkened corner of the room and stared at the wall with her emerald eyes, trying hard not to cry out from the pain. She had been kneeling on the mat for several hours, hands clutched together…waiting. Her eyes closed once again and she began chanting the elven words over and over again, hoping that the Nameless god would heed her call.

    The answer never came.

    Frustrated, she stood and picked up the mat, whipping it across the room where it landed in a misshapen heap. She lay down on the bed, rubbing the sore spots on her knees where the mat had left deep gouges in her tanned skin.

    She began to cry softly, thrusting her head into the feather pillow in frustration. It had been months since the encounter, and still the god had not answered her plea for direction. She had done all that the god had asked, but she has heard nothing but silence.

    Patience. Patience is what I want…

    She held her breath as she heard the voice, gentle as a soft breeze upon the grass. She sat for long moments waiting for more words, and then began to breathe again, wiping the tears from her face. It was all she needed.

    She rolled over and stared across the empty bed to the darkened corner of her bedroom, absently running her hands over the place where Wilhelm would have been. Quietly, she began to whisper a song in a sorrowful elven melody, wishing for Wilhelm to be by her side…

    _My dearest love,
    How my heart cries out for thee,
    My dearest love,
    I desire you next to me.

    My Ehiela,
    I call your name in haste,
    My Ehiela,
    Oh, let not my soul waste.

    This I sing for you,
    This I pray for us._

  • –edited by Phaedrus --

  • - Wanderer, part 2

    Oren sat across from Jade patiently as the elf caught her breath from the battle, watching as she cooled herself with the water from the waterskin by pouring it on her face. She threw him the waterskin and he drank from it, nodding in appreciation.

    He eyed her closely. This, being his first, close-up experience with an elf, he was amazed at the fluidity of even the most simply movements, as she reached into her pack, or stroked back her hair. He was awed by her grace, but his eyes shifted constantly to the massive greatsword that lay next to her, always within an arms reach.

    Jade didn't know what to make of Oren. So many times she had witnessed the curiosity of strangers back in Norwick, Jiydd, and even the Gypsy Camp. But Oren was different. He was innocent – not filled with the preconceived notions and ignorant racism or misunderstandings. She enjoyed watching him eye her hand movements, and more than once she caught herself smiling as his jaw went slack when she turned a certain way or moved her body in her trademarked coy fashion.

    After satisfying her hunger on a bit of bread from the tavern, she began to speak.

    "I've been traveling for some time now. I've heard rumors of an elf in these parts, in the mountains to the south. Have you heard such rumors?" She asked with interest.

    Oren seemed to ponder a moment, then spoke. "The elders speak of an elf witch that lives in the foothills, if that's what you mean. They say that there are monsters too...big rock-like creatures called golems."

    Jade's eyes widened. "Aye! That's the you know where this place is?"

    Oren smiled and then chuckled. "No, no, no," he said, waving his hands, "that's an old story that's been told to the children in these parts to make sure they stay near their homes. There's no elf south of here. Trust me," he said, thumping his chest with a smile.

    Jade frowned. Oren, his interest now piqued, leaned in and dared to ask. "So...what is really going on? What's the reason you're looking for an old elf in the hills?"

    "I'm haunted," she said plainly, with no emotion. Oren nodded, quickly calling to mind the image of the man with the scythe.

    He waited for her to continue. When she didn't, he bobbed his head and urged her to finish. She seemed reluctant, but after a few moments, continued.

    "I have memories, you see. Something happened to a few friends and I many months ago..." she looked distant as she continued, as if remembering some great tragedy. She paused, shook her head. "Its too much to explain...lets just say something happened that caused my friends and I to remember things...horrible things that happened to other people.

    "Recently, these...memories...have begun manifesting themselves in horrible ways. The battle you witnessed was one of the worse of the more challenging ones," she said, absently fondling the grip of her greatsword that lay at her side.

    Oren was having a hard time understanding. Such things she was speaking about are written in books and read in the darkness of a cold winters' night to scare the children. But he had witnessed it! It must have some truth to it. He listened closer.

    "After this started, I set out to find answers...a balm for the disease, I suppose. After much traveling, I find myself chasing after this elf of which you say has no existence," she said, looking defeated.

    Oren began thinking. He had heard the stories of the elf in the hills. He knew the place. He had gone there as a child, just as all children did in defiance of their parents' wishes. He had stood on the outcropping near the lake and peered into the cave the lay across the waves. He remembered the fear of that day, constantly looking out for the golems of the elf witch.

    Oren suddenly stood up. "Let's go, then," she said, offering her his hand.

    Jade smiled, grasped his hand, and let him pull her to her feet. She gathered her things and followed Oren to the road that led south, toward the foothills of the mountains that stretched their peaks upward in the distance.

    As they began their journey together, Jade asked Oren about his sudden decision, wondering what his motives were. Oren replied, "There are times for fear from old men's stories and a time to stand up and help someone who needs it."

    Jade simply smiled as they strode down the dusty road.

    A full day came and went with no incident. Jade was not used to walking such a distance with no encounters of bandits, goblins, or orcs that she seemed a little bored. Oren tried to keep her spirits high by recounting the stories the elders used to scare the children from the elf witch.

    It worked for a while, but soon she found herself humming an old elven tune she had learned long ago. Oren tried joining in more than once during what he presumed was the chorus, but his vocal cords were not meant for such music as the elves' voices were.

    It was nearing nightfall of the second day before they reached the small cliff overlooking the calm waters of an oval lake of dark water. He pointed out the cave to Jade, who quickly scanned the terrain as the sun set and darkness fell upon the foothills.

    They sat together, sitting by a small fire Oren had made from the dried birch bark from a grove of trees to the west. Oren kept his eye on Jade, noticing that she had become edgy and restless. He could only assume this was due to the closeness of the answer she was seeking.

    Soon, Jade was on her back, staring up at the half-moon from her bedroll. Oren, his back to a large boulder near the fire, continued to watch her with interest. He soon noticed that she was mouthing words, so he asked what she was doing.

    "Oh..." she said, surprised that he noticed, "...just thinking of someone."

    Oren smiled. "Who would this someone be?" he asked quizzically.

    "You are a nosey one..." Jade giggled. "My love..." she said after a few moments of silence.

    Oren was indeed surprised. She said nothing of this during their entire trip. "Where is this one? Where is your love?"

    "I've left him back where I met him...away from all of this...this nightmare," she replied nearly in a whisper.

    "Do you worry about him?" He said, knowing the answer.

    "Every moment of the day. He must think horrible things...not to see me after all these months," she replied, her voice cracking slightly.

    Oren thought carefully, choosing his words wisely. "You'll see him again soon. You'll be all better and he'll be so happy. Trust me," he said with a wink as he thumped his chest.

    Jade turned her head to look into Oren's eyes and smiled.

    Oren awoke as the ground around him shuttered momentarily, but fiercely. He leapt from his bedroll and scrambled to gather his weapon and shield. Spinning around, he saw nothing but the rising sun on the horizon.

    He then realized that Jade was gone. He looked around, peering over the cliff and toward the cave, but she was nowhere to be seen. He even dared to call to her, but no reply was heard.

    As he walked back to camp, he noticed something out of place. The boulder he has been resting on last evening was now sitting across the camp near a pile of other oddly shaped boulders. He strode slowly toward the smoldering campfire, looking to his left and right, sensing something was very, very wrong.

    He felt it again, but this time, the rumbling was deeper and less violent. He stopped his forward movement and tried to keep his balance. There was a thundering crash behind him and he whirled just in time to dodge a potentially fatal swing of a massive stone fist. The golem lumbered toward Oren, who was on his back, scooting backward across the rough grass of the outcropping, his feet pushing as hard as he could to stay out of the reach of the creature.

    The golem stopped moving forward and tilted his head at Oren, almost in amusement of the pitiful human that was obviously terrified. This gave Oren enough time to get back on his feet and get in a shaky, yet defiant fighting stance.

    The golem strode forward suddenly and slammed its fists downward, toward Oren's head. Oren parried the attack by jumping out of the way and then struck at the arm of the golem, which shattered Oren's shortsword into thousands of glittering shards of steel.

    Shocked and disappointed by the performance of his blade, Oren ran behind the golem, toward the cliff. Realizing his error, Oren spun around and screamed in horror as the fist of the golem struck Oren in the ribcage, crushing bones and sending him tumbling end-over-end down the cliff face to the rocky beach below, where he instantly became unconscious from the massive wounds he had received.

    Oren came in and out of consciousness several times. At one point, he thought he saw Jade. But it couldn't have been her, because the armor she wore was not the same he remembered during their travels. Could it have been?

    Oren woke to the sound of water being sloshed within a bowl. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but pure, white light. Blinking a few times, some dark shapes came into focus. Then a voice.

    "He's coming to."

    It was male, older. He recognized it as one of the elders. Blinking rapidly, he saw the old man's pale, wrinkled face peering at him from above.

    "By the gods, Oren! What happened to you?" the old man asked, his voice rising to an unnaturally high pitch.

    Oren winced at the elder's voice, but was soothed as a woman came into view and laid a damp cloth across his forehead.

    "Shh, Elder Mortan. He's got to have such a headache, after what that woman said," the woman said quietly but harshly to the elder.

    Oren licked his cracked lips and tried to speak. "W...what woman? W...was it her? Was it...was it Jade?"

    "Shhh..." she said, " took quite a fall. What were you doing playing around in the eastern quarry? You should know better, Oren. You broke your sword, you know."

    "Quarry...? Wha..." he was cut off as the woman pressed her fingers to his lips.

    "Rest, child," she said quietly. She pulled the elder back from standing above Oren and left the room, closing the door as quietly as possible.

    Oren turned his head and stared out the window of the room, his gaze going over the sharp edges of the southern mountains that slashed a white-capped edge against the blue sky.

    "...good bye, Jade...and good luck..." he said before closing his eyes in slumber.