Visitors in the night.
Kyle woke with a jump, the nightmare slowly fading from his memories. Breathing heavily, he put his sweaty brow in his hands and tried to slow his erratic heartbeat. He vaguely remembered being chased, but that was all, nothing else could be dreaded up. Shaking his head seemed to help dislodge the dream so he rose out of bed, his legs screamed in protest. It was as if he had truly been running and by the burning sensation in his thighs a few leagues at the least. Stifling a yawn, he approached the window to better judge the time.
The moon Seita was on the horizon, Lena’s bloated body was on her downwards descent, that would mean that there were about two hours in until the false dawn. Not wanting to go back to sleep, Kyle dressed and made his way through the house to his workbench, he had just picked up a piece of cured wood that could be fashioned into a bow, when he heard a cry for help and distance growling.
A Lone Wolf was not uncommon this close to the Fletcher’s huts, but a pack of wolves was another thing, not taking any chances he grabbed up his longbow and quivers and made his way to the door. As his hand closed over the latch, he felt a touch on his shoulder. Kyle swirled around, bringing his bow in front of him as to fend off the threat. Laurell smiled back in the dim light cast through the window. Being an elf, he didn’t sleep like human and Kyle had long ago stopped trying to catch his mentor in slumber. Laurell was dressed in his usual gear, tan leather boots, soft cotton brown pants, and a mottled green shirt, he was also carrying an old piece of firewood, it had too many flaws for any practical use.
“What did you do that for? you nearly scared me half to death.”
“Come now child, who did you think it would be? there is a pack of wolves outside, and if there get any closer to the village we will be hearing about missing livestock.”
“I heard someone call for help.”
“Then, let’s not delay.”
Laurell wrapped a piece of cloth around the end of the branch and poured a varnishing liquid over the cloth. The ember from the fire brought the torch to life as Kyle opened the door. Laurell sprinted past. The moon’s light was bright and illuminated their paths as the pair rounded the corner of their home, and dashed off over to the wood. Kyle could still hear the shrilly voice carrying through the air.
“Get away you mangy mutt.”
Three big wolves were circling a dark figure on the ground; they stopped just out of view of the wolves.
“Be careful Kyle, kept your bow knocked and ready.”
“What are you going to do?” Kyle’s breath was thick in the morning chill.
“I’m going to save our little friend.”
Laurell crouched down for a moment as if he was gathering his energy, then he took off running at full speed with the torch trailing behind, like the tail of a comet. With a graceful jump, he soared over a wolf, landing nimbly next to the captive. Laurell brandished the torch back and forth at the circling wolves, trying his best to keep the pack in view while slowly forcing the attacker to retreat.
The pack leader made a sound halfway between a bark and a grunt, and the wolves stopped. One slowly edged forward baring his fangs in a snarl. Laurell saw out the corner of his eye the other wolf crouch down readying for a jump. Diving to the side, he only just missed the snapping jaws of the wolf as he sailed by. Twisting over and getting to his knee, he realized the tactic the wolves were using, for now, he was face to face with the pack leader. A huge gray wolf with red bloodshot eyes studied the elf intently; his lip was curling backward in a growl, showing sharp yellow canines dripping with red-tinged saliva. Bringing the torch between him and the wolf, he reached for his hunting knife only, to realize that it was back in the hut.
“You need to go back into the woods now; I didn’t wish to harm you, but you leave me no choice.”
Laurell stabbed at the wolf with the torch, burning the wolf’s nose. The sweet smell of burned hair filled the elf’s nostrils, the wolf howled in pain. Again, the wolf barked out an order, and his two pack mates joined the fight. Kyle saw the maneuver and cried out a warning.
“Laurell watch out.”
With the pack leader taking up his full attention, Laurell only just heeded Kyle’s warning. Turning, he stumbled over the dark figure and came up in a roll as the pack leader made his move. Lunging at Laurell’s neck, the wolf’s savage maws were inches away as it crashed into the elf, sending them both flying back to the ground. He couldn’t understand why he was still alive as he pushed the wolf off, then he saw the arrow that was embedded into the wolf’s armpit. Laurell looked over to find Kyle frozen with the bow aimed at the wolf. The remaining wolves howl into the night before disappearing into the thick forest.
“Kyle, it’s over, the other wolves have run back to the forest….KYLE!” Kyle shook his head and came back to the present.
“I’m sorry, I thought I missed, my hands were shaking so much I thought…I thought.”
“I am ok thanks to you; now, let us see to our friend.”
On the floor slumped in a heap was a Griffin the size of a medium-sized dog. The Griffins eagle head was pure white, tapering down to dark gray feathers at the base of its neck, on its lion breast, the gray feathers were dyed with blood. Small gray feathered wings lay slumped across its body. Kyle knelt next to the Griffin and looked over to Laurell.
“Is this what I think it is?”
His voice trembled with pent-up adrenaline. As if in answer, a soft squawk reached their ears.
“It seems he has suffered from shock and a nasty wound; Let us get this one home where I can help him.”
Kyle picked up the Griffin as softly as possible, tucking the wings into the Griffins body, he carried it back to their hut. Kyle placed the wounded Griffin on his workbench; Laurell was busy mixing the ingredient he had collected on the way back, ingredients he would need for the poultice. Kyle walked over to the fire and gently, like a new mother caring for her baby, brought the fire back to life.
Kyle started to feel a stabbing pain in his head, he reached a hand to his head and squinted his eyes to lessen the discomfort, but his head continued to increase until his head exploded in agony, images flitted passed his mind’s eye. The sensation sent him to his knee, and he clamped his hand over his head as if to try to stop his head breaking apart. The darkness slowly crept over Kyle, promising a sweet peace from the pain. The last thing Kyle saw through blurry eyelashes was the face of Laurell, contorted with worry.
It was peaceful up in the clouds, any other day he would have reveled in the ecstasy of flying, but he didn’t have such a luxury today; a sense of urgency coursed through his body as he soared over the clouds. Closing his eyes and tucking in his feathered wings, he slipped through the moist vapors, the water-soaked into his feathers and furs making the air seem colder than it was. Breaking through the cloud’s bottom, he shook his head, snapped his beak and opened his eyes.
Desolation greeted him, the smell of brimstone heavy on the wind. Over the Elemental city of Lithlad, his brethren fought with the sorcerer’s hoard of dragons. Copious amounts of fires littered the burning city, their smoke seemed like columns holding up the sky. What now lay in ruins was formerly a city, with elegant buildings of the purest marble that stood proud and defiant, their beauty unmatched by any city in KaiKaria.
Statues that previously depicted wise men or beasts of old were scattered around, those that still stood were smeared with soot and blood. Bodies of men, women, and child discarded by the war lined the city. His eyes shone with hatred at the loss of his friends, snatching his gaze away from the destruction, he began to search for the one he had come for, but could not locate. Using the power of his mind was too dangerous, it would alert everyone to his presence.
A rumbling roar announced that his presence had already been detected, snapping his wing to his side, he dove again as a huge black shape tore through where he had just been. Unfurling his massive wings, he pumped the air to gain the necessary altitude he would need to counter the threat of the dragon. Twice as large as himself, the dragon used his leathery wings to sharply turn its immense bulk, a deafening roar split the air as it came hurtling towards him. Kyle shouted his war cry and wasn’t surprised to hear a loud squawk animating from his beak.
The black Leviathan roared again. A trail of smoke whipped out of his nostrils and pass over his scaly shoulder. A moment later, a billowing stream of fire arched towards Kyle, snapping one wing to his side, he spun under the fire singed his hair on his left thigh for being too slow. Swiftly, he curled around and struck out at the scaly breast of the dragon, using his beak, he stabbed between the scales, inflicting a deep gouge out of the dragon’s flesh. Being upside down clinging to the beast did not matter to Kyle, his front talons ripped at the dragon’s neck. The huge head came towards him at an astounding speed. It’s maws open ready to rip him from its body. He pushed the dragon away, and frantically pumped the air using his speed to lose the dragon in the clouds.
He waited in the mist for his foe. The dragon roared its frustration at losing its prey, then he heard the concussion of air underneath the dragon’s wings, announcing its approach. Seeing the clouds darken, he knew the dragon was underneath him, so he tucked his wings as tight as possible to his side, to make him streamline and broke back through the cloud’s diving towards the dragon. His sharp beak-like a spear, he hit the dragon wings, splitting the membrane. The force of the impact shattered the dragon’s shoulder muscle. Kyle unfolded his wings and turned around to watch the inevitability of its demise. His adversary roared as he fell past his uncaring eyes.
The battle with the beast had brought Kyle closer to the barren city. The smell of brimstone was abundant here and made his eyes water. Searching the ground again, he spotted the one he sort, trimming his wings, he sped over the ground and landed on a small hillock, behind what once looked like a meeting area. The figure jumped up from its hiding place, and with remarkable speed ran to Kyle. Leaping through the air, the figure twisted round to fall on Kyle’s shoulders.
“Quickly, we must get away from here before anyone should see.”
Kyle found his mouth moving as words came out seemingly of their own accord.
“Hold tight my brother.”
With a mighty leap, and pump of his wing he soared away from the desolation with an old elf clinging to his fur.
Kyle could hear a voice through the darkness, but couldn’t make out the words, slowly his brain register that he was waking up. Laurell’s voice was soothing, he now recognized the song that was being sung to him. It was a song the elf had sung to Kyle as a child, to calm him after bad dreams. He opened his sticky eyes to the blurry outline of his mentor’s face, as it came into focus. Laurell stopped singing and removing the damp cloth from Kyle’s brow.
“Lay still you have suffered a bump to your head.””
“What happened? Kyle leaned on one elbow and tried to rise and immediately reached for his pounding temple.
“Ouch, that hurts.” Sinking back to the bed, he remembered the rescue and the Griffin.
“How long have I been out?” Putting the cloth back into the bowl of water Laurell stood.
“About three hours, you hit your head pretty hard so I brought you here to rest.”
Kyle reached up and felt the bump throbbing at his temple.
“How are you feeling?”
“Fine, I think, I guess if you count a blacksmith inside your head as all right.” Laurell picked up a small cup and passed it to Kyle.
“Drink this, it will help with the swelling, rest now I will call you for supper.”
“What no practice today? The tourney is only two days away.”
Kyle swallowed the concoction and shivered at the bitter taste.
“You are in no fit condition to practice, and you have had enough excitement for one day.”
“Arrgh, that’s foul what’s in it?”
“It’s a mixture that my father taught me, not very pleasant but effective.” The taste was burning Kyle’s throat and started to make its way up his nose.
“What about the Griffin is he ok?” Laurell approached the door.
“Our friend is somewhat of an enigma, shortly after I applied the poultice, he popped up and demanded food, now rest.”
Kyle was asleep before Laurell had closed the door.
Kyle woke for supper at the elf’s call, slipping out of bed, he started to search for his clothes only to realize that he still wore them. With a silent thank you that no one saw his stupidity, he made his way to the next room.
The Griffin was standing on the table where Laurell sat with two steaming bowls of stew. Squawking at the boy’s approach, it’s eagle eye watched as he took a seat in one of the elegantly carved chairs the elf had fashioned out of old trees. The Griffin wobbled over to Kyle and placed his head on his hand.
“I think he is thanking you for the rescue.” Kyle stroked the soft feathers on its head. Its beak nibbled at his hand making him laugh.
“How are you feeling?”
“Fine, fine… stop making a fuss, you’re like an old woman sometimes.” Kyle reached for the bowl of stew and started to eat hungrily.
“I forget that you are becoming a man, we of the Elda are not considered grown until we are a hundred.”
Putting down a hunk of bread, Kyle absently ran his hands over the wooden surface of the table feeling every grain beneath his fingers.
“Before when we went to rescue him.” The Griffin stopped rubbing Kyle’s hand and looked up at Kyle’s face.
“I thought I heard someone cry for help but I….”
“Ah yes, I too heard the voice, while you slept, I went back to check the forest in case we missed someone, but found nothing. It wasn’t until I washed the blood from his feathers that…” Laurell trailed off. Kyle looked at the elf with incomprehension.
“What do you mean?”
A slight smile crossed the elf’s face.
“I think our friend can answer that for us.” The Griffin bowed its eagle head and let out an audible sigh, his wings drooped and a small voice said.
“Oh, my cat is truly out of the bag.”
Kyle pulled his hand away, never in his wildest dreams had he thought that an animal could talk. The Griffin looked around at the elf.
“How did you know?” Kyle sat in shock as a musical laugh filled the room.
“Come now my friend, do you think we of the long-lived forget so remarkable of creatures so easily.” Becoming aware of his grasping jaw, Kyle slowly swallowed.
“you can talk?”
“Our friend here is a griffin from the Griffins ranges to the east, the red crest is a symbol of his kin.” The Griffin cocked his head to one side.
“You are a very well-informed elf.”
“Please, call me Laurell.”
“I should have realized one such as you would remember our lore.” The Griffin bowed his head and then turned to Kyle.
“I am sorry young one for the mishap earlier, I had to be sure that you were the one I sort.” Kyle stared at the Griffin, his mind races to understand what the Griffin spoke of and then remembered the dream.
“That was you?, You gave me that pain and the dream?”
The Griffin took a few steps backward.
“I was flying or rather not me but someone else, but I was him.” Looking at Kyle intently, he nodded his head in agreement.
“More of a memory to be precise, a memory from my sire the lord of Griffins range, he wanted you to understand something.”
Kyle closed his eyes and thought back to the dream and the vivid sensation of flying. A grin started to split his lips. The
Griffin watched as Kyle opened his eyes.
“I still can’t believe you can talk” Kyle chuckled.
“A real-life Griffin. What’s your name?” Kyle looked expectantly.
“Preacher, call me Preacher.” He replied as he opened his wings and dipped his head in a bow.
“So if the memory is real, then there must be dragons too, but no one has seen a dragon in hundreds of years?” Kyle looked expectantly at Preaching.
“Yes young one, there are Griffins but sadly our numbers are few just like the great dragons of old, but there are thousands of lesser dragons, savage
mindless beast bent on destruction.”
“Why are you here Lord Preacher?”
Laurell reclined in his chair and interlinked his finger to place his index fingers against his lips.
“Please just Preacher, Lord is my sire. I am but his humble servant until my time comes to stand at his side, however, to answer your question. Dark times bring me here. Dark times are coming my friends and fates finger is pointing at you.”
Preacher looked directly into Kyle’s eye. A shiver started at his toes and made its way up to his head leaving a feeling of a crown placed upon his head. Kyle looked puzzled.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m afraid that you are mixed into the dark events that my sire has foreseen, I and my brother were on our way here when we were ambushed by Orc’s and wolves.”
Preacher dipped his head in sadness. “My brother was taken and I barely escaped. It wasn’t until I arrived here that I realized I had been followed. I don’t know what they wanted with my brother and me and don’t know what is to happen to my brother now he has been caught. I expect that he will be sport until the orcs get bored and kill him.”
Kyle looked at Laurell, but his expression remained unchanged. Shaking his head, he asked preacher again.
“Why were you sent here?”
“Because my sire believes that hope stirs here with you”
Kyle stood up and started to pace the room.
“Why me, there’s nothing special about me.” Turning to look at Preacher a worried look settled over Kyle’s face.
“My sire believes that you are special, or at least someone of importance in the dark times to come, The last time my site felt this ill omen, an ancient race was destroyed by a powerful sorcerer known as Malgaron. We believe someone means to take up his mantle and is looking for the same artifact that gave Malgaron control over the lesser dragons. Malgaron used it to bend them to his will and destroy the elemental city of Lithlad.”
When the word elemental was spoken Laurell’s eyes glistened with tears, sucking in a breath he whispered.
“Such a loss.”
Preacher looked from one to the other. “I know this comes as quite a shock to you both.”
Kyle sat dumbfounded. His face was frozen in disbelief, and his eyes were wide and unseeing. A chill swept his body making him hug himself despite the fire burning not a few feet away.
“What’s going to happen?” asked Kyle.
“We only know that darkness is amassing. It seems the epicenter is in Daracia, but who is behind pulling the string, we do not know”
“How do you know all this?” asked Kyle.
“My kin was once linked with the elemental. We helped in the battle of Lithlad, but sadly after the battle my house was fewer in numbers, so we decided, to our regret, to stay apart from the realm of humans and their destructive nature, however, as a precaution we send out some of our numbers to bring back news of the realm.”
Kyle watched as Preacher dipped his head into the stew bowl and helped himself to a chunk of meat, swallowing it whole.
Laurell’s face was unreadable as he sat looking to the only window of the hut, Preacher respected their silence. Finally, Laurell turned to the Griffin.
“You say that there are dark times coming, are we in danger here?” Preacher bobbed his head in agreement.
“My sire is the oldest of my kin and has the gift of foresight, he sent me here to warn you that shadows are coming this way, but it seems I am too late, the wolves and orc must be close and will now know where I stay.”
Laurell leaned against the table. “You mean, orcs are here, now?”
“Maybe, I’m not sure.”
Laurell stood and paced to the Window.
“This is not a good sign, orcs haven’t been seen on Kaikaria since the downfall of Malgaron, why now?”
“We do not know, my sire cannot see beyond the shadows but there is no question something is amassing.”
Kyle looked up from his gloom. “What does it mean?”
Preacher walked over to Kyle and rested his head on his arm and looked up at the young man, but before he could speak Laurell spoke.
“It means we are not safe here?”
Preacher looked back at Kyle with an expression of sorrow.
“He’s right we must move from here until we know for sure that what they want.”
Kyle couldn’t believe that he would have to leave the village and more so Kora.
“But I’ve still got the tourney and besides where will we go?”
It was Preacher who spoke.
“The shadows are upon the Malander Forest, the only way to go is around it. We can make our way through the Dreamlands then up to Salesor?”
Kyle looked at the Griffin and then at Laurell. “You must have banged your head in the fight with the wolves. To walk the Dreamlands is suicide; everyone knows
that we’ll never make it through there.”
“It’s either that or we take the chance of slipping through the Malander forest before the shadows close in on us.” Preacher Retorted.
“You say we Preacher, are you to accompany us?” said Laurell.
“I will assist in any way I can; they have taken my brother, and I will have my revenge.”
Laurell let out a deep sigh as if the weight of the realm was on his shoulder. “So we should prepare to leave our home, Kyle.”
Preacher fished another piece of meat out
of Kyle’s bowl and swallowed it whole.