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					                             Prologue
                                Maris




“Maris.”

      My eyes were closed.
      “Maris.”
      My eyes snapped open as the majestic voice spoke again.
      “Maris.”
      I was standing in complete darkness, an impenetrable darkness
as black as spilled ink. There was a deep magenta mist that wreathed
around my feet, beckoning me to join it. And, as I stumbled through
the mist, I began to realize that there was no one else there… but
someone had to have called my name… right?
      “Hello?” I called into the darkness, afraid of what might.
      “Maris… Maris…” the voice coaxed again. It was a soft, feminine
voice, and, despite the forbidding atmosphere, the voice sounded
welcoming and kind… like a good parent.
      As I was thinking, I noticed a beautiful black-haired woman
standing in the mist.
      She was floating about a foot above the ground, her arms
extended towards me as if to bring me into a warm embrace. Her
waist-length, jet-black hair hovered around her angelically, making her
beautiful indigo eyes shine purple against her pale white skin.
      “Who are you?” I asked. “What do you want?”




                                                                        1
      “Your destiny is waiting, waiting for you….” She murmured,
smiling a perfect, white-toothed smile that the girls at school could
only dream of.
      “What? What do you mean?” I inquired, confused by her words.
      “Sleep, child, and all will be well… your journey starts very
soon… and I will be there beside you…” As her voice faded into the
mist, so did she- her figure becoming less and less visible amongst the
tendrils of fog.
      “What? What does that- wait! Don‟t go! What are you talking
about! Wait!” I yelled to the woman as she faded away completely,
allowing the mist to finally envelope me in its intoxicating embrace.
And, just before I went under, I screamed one last time.
                                   “WAIT!”




2
                           Beginning
                                 Maris



- Bzzzzz –
        My alarm blared through my subconscious, jerking me awake. I
sat up quickly in bed as my eyes flew open, the morning sunlight that
lanced through the blinds on my window making colors sprout under
my eyelids. Groaning, I lifted my hand to turn the alarm off, but when
I saw what time it was, I quickly scrambled out of bed. I‟d slept in too
late. Way too late.
        Slipping on the hardwood floor below my feet as I hurried, my
elbow connected painfully with the wall, making me yelp as a jagged
bolt of pain zigzagged up my arm. Not the best way to start on a
Monday morning right before school.
        When I finally convinced myself that nothing was broken, I
turned back to my messy room littered with clothes and the other
miscellaneous junk you‟d find in a teenage girl‟s room. All except
makeup. Definitely not makeup.
        Then, I stumbled into the bathroom, muttering to myself in
frustration. I‟d never been late for school before, and I wasn‟t about to
start this far into my high school years.
        As I stepped onto the cold linoleum floor of my bathroom, my
dream from the night before rose up like a bubble to the front of my
mind.
        I had had that dream for about a month now, ever since I had
gotten back from spring break. I hadn‟t told anyone about it,


                                                                        3
especially my mom. Moms worry too much. It was usually the same
way every single night, darkness, mist…but this time, I had met that
woman…
      I stared at myself in the mirror. Same old shoulder-length black
hair, same pale skin, and, of course, my same deep green eyes, not to
mention the dark circles that were practically permanently attached to
my skin. I didn‟t look like the kind of person who would have some
great destiny on their shoulders… so what did my dream mean? I was
starting to sound like one of those fortune-teller people. A storm of
questions crackled in my mind, but I decided I wouldn‟t let it bug me-
dreams were dreams, and that was it. Nothing real about them. Right?
      After I brushed my teeth and tore a comb through my tangled
hair, I quickly threw on a plain white shirt and sweater with my
favorite faded blue jeans. Then I went downstairs to grab a quick glass
of milk before I headed for school.
      As I reached for the handle of our stainless steel fridge, I noticed
a bright pink sticky-note hanging on the door, waiting to be read. I
quickly peeled it off and began to read my mom‟s equally hurried
writing, not wanting to be even later to school than I already was.


                                 Dear Maris,
               I’m sorry I couldn’t catch you on your way out,
      but I still wanted to wish you a happy 16th birthday.
                                      Love,
                                      Mom


      I glanced at the calendar in surprise. Yep, it was May 18th, all
right. My sixteenth birthday.




4
                                     ~*~


“Shoot!” I spat to myself as I ran to the entrance of Vanguard High,
one of the high schools located in Brooklyn, New York, just a couple of
streets away from where I lived. I was about fifteen minutes late and
was already having to run like an Olympic sprinter if I wanted to make
it before the late bell rang and my no-tardy record went up in flames.
      As I neared the entrance, I noticed that the only students left
outside were a couple of the more popular cliques who didn‟t really
care whether or not they were late to class, and my obviously
flustered best friend, Melissa.
      “What in this cruddy place we call a world were you?” demanded
Melissa as soon as I joined her at the threshold.
      “I overslept, alright?” I told her, beginning the walk as calmly as
I could to my first hour class while my nerves were as jumpy as Fourth
of July fireworks.
      She instantly began tailing me, obviously not finished chewing
me out. “Come on, Maris, you have enough money to at least afford a
decent alarm clock,” She tutted, shaking her head and scattering the
strands of her flaming red hair.
      My jaw clenched. I hated whenever Melissa mentioned my
mother‟s lack of money. It wasn‟t my fault my dad died before I was
born, leaving my mom a single mother with no source of income.
      “What good is a decent alarm clock if I don‟t even know how to
use it?” I shot back, hurriedly ducking around a corner.
      “Say all the excuses you want, but you can‟t expect me to wait
for you every single time you‟re late! I think I‟m gonna start heading
to class without you!” she threatened as we halted at the fork in the
hall that divided our first hours.



                                                                            5
      “You do that, Mel, but I‟m one hundred percent sure you‟ll miss
me after the first day or two!” I called over my shoulder as I walked
away, happy to be away from her. It was usually this way between me
and Melissa, but we‟d been friends since the first grade and there was
no sign of that changing.
      I didn‟t hear what she said in response as I rounded the corner
into my Biology class, but just as I stepped into the doorway, I could
hear her yell, “Well, happy birthday!”
      I groaned as I finally entered my class.
      Apparently, I wasn‟t as late as I thought I had been, a lot of the
other sophomores were still gossiping about tons of other, unrelated
things and none of them even looked up as I came in, except for one
person, that is.
      “Hey, Mars-Bars!” an unfortunately familiar voice greeted me.
      “What do you want, Justin?” I asked the chocolate-haired boy
who happened to be blocking my way. Not to mention using the
nickname I absolutely hated.
      “Just wanted to wish my favorite girl a happy sixteenth
birthday,” he grinned, his dark blue eyes twinkling jovially. “I mean,
it‟s not every day you turn old enough to legally drive.”
      “Well, thanks,” I thanked him rather rudely.
      Justin was a boy who had been hitting on my since the fifth
grade, and, after ten years of having to put up with him, I was at the
end of my rope.
      “You know, I‟ve been thinking about what to get you, so I
thought just a small kiss would suffice,” he pressed.
      Another fun fact about Justin: he‟s also been trying to get me to
kiss him since I was ten.
      “Sorry, but it just isn‟t happening,” I shot him down, as usual.



6
      “Come on, Maris! It‟s just one kiss,” he whined, getting closer to
me, uncomfortably close. “Besides, if you do it, I‟ll never bother you
again.”
      “No, Justin,” I repeated myself. “I won‟t let you kiss me.”
      “Please, Mars-Bars? Just one eensy, little-bitty kiss,” he
prompted. “No big deal.”
      “No is no!”
      Just then, the late bell rang, saving me from Justin. Thankful for
the distraction, I dumped my stuff down on the first two-person desk I
came to and I sat down.
      For the first time in my life, I was happy that my mom hadn‟t
decided to buy me a backpack. Sure, I would have a big, heavy pile of
books to carry around the school until I had a chance to escape to my
locker, but at least I wouldn‟t get in trouble for having a pack in class.
      “Quiet down, quiet down,” boomed Mr. Walters, a rather round,
short, bald, old man with a bristly mustache, as he straightened up
from his desk to begin the class. Everyone hustled to their seats,
Justin among them as he shuffled into the spot right behind me.
      I allowed myself a low sigh of relief. I had made it just in time.
Thank God.
      “I will start our class today by introducing our new student. His
name is… is….” Mr. Walters furrowed his brows comically in
concentration as he struggled to remember. He was like Professor
Plum in Clue- he had the type of memory that would go on vacation
and stay there for a few weeks, which meant taking the same tests
more than once sometimes.
      “Seth. Just Seth,” a smooth, male voice said from beside me.




                                                                             7
      I turned my head to look at the new arrival (along with every
other person in the class), and what I saw made my head snap back
almost immediately to hide my blush.
      Sitting next to me was an extremely handsome, dirty-blonde boy
with a long, oval face who looked to be about seventeen. I cursed
myself for just plopping everything down without looking. Late or not,
I would never have chosen that spot if I had only known who would be
my table partner.
      I peered through my screen of black hair and took him in more
closely. He had his books stacked neatly in front of him, one for each
of his next three hours, nothing strange. I looked back up at the boy.
He was wearing a dark, forest green shirt and regular, every-day blue
jeans, not incredibly fashionable, but not something that looked like
it‟d been dug out of a dumpster.
      And as I glanced back up at his face, I turned an even deeper
scarlet when I noticed he was looking at me with keen interest; like I
was some sort of new organism he had never seen before. As I looked
on, he met my eyes.
      His eyes were a pure, clear blue, like sparkling blue ice crystals
set in his angel-made face. It was such a beautiful, captivating blue
that I was completely oblivious of the envious mutterings that the
other girls emitted as they glared at me for capturing his attention.
Not to mention Justin coughing a little too loudly as he also noticed
what was happening. The moment stretched on, too long, but I soon
forced myself to break eye contact with him. This was turning into a
bad sitcom.
      “So, let‟s begin!” said Mr. Walters, clapping his hands together
enthusiastically, pulling me out of my reverie.




8
        As he began to ramble on and on about cells and their
composition, I barely heard anything that came out of his mouth. I
couldn‟t stop thinking about the boy sitting next to me.
        Why had he looked at me like that? Where did he come from?
And, most importantly of all, why was I thinking all these questions?
        “Maris!” Mr. Walter‟s voice resonated in my head from out of
nowhere.
        I jumped. “Y-yeah?” I stammered, wondering why in the world
he would say my name like that. Did he somehow hear what I was
thinking?
        “Answer the question,” he replied.
        “Oh, um…” I trailed off, turning a dark scarlet as I realized that I
have absolutely no clue what question he had just asked. I could hear
the chuckles emanating from behind me as my classmates laugh at my
vulnerability, thought half of them probably didn‟t hear it either.
        “What is the basic shape of DNA,” murmured Seth from beside
me, his voice barely audible.
        “Oh, erm… a rope ladder?” I finally answered Mr. Walters,
thanking Seth telepathically.
        “Correct. Now on to the next chapter,” said Mr. Walters as I
breathed a long, slow sigh of relief.
        Sitting back in my seat, my mind whirled. I‟d never daydreamed
in any of my classes ever, but a cute guy sitting next to me completely
topples that over? No, there had to be some other reason. I must‟ve
been tired, spending the night studying must had finally fried my
mind.
        My eyes flicked up at Seth again, who was still sitting
nonchalantly, as if he hadn‟t had helped me.
        Who was he?



                                                                           9
                                  ~*~


After school, I returned to Biology to ask Mr. Walters about the rather
large assignment he had handed to us (I was kind of hoping he would
forget and tell me not to do it or something) but when I walked in, he
wasn‟t in his usual chair.
      I looked around to see if he had left some sort of sign where he
had gone, but there was nothing.
      As I neared the table that Seth and I had sat, I noticed that one
of Seth‟s thick textbooks, English probably, was lying on the exact spot
where he had sat, somehow completely untouched despite the fact
that the entire school day had passed. I was almost certain that
someone would‟ve swiped it by then, but apparently, they didn‟t.
Probably because no trouble-making student worth his salt would steal
a textbook.
      As I bent to pick up the book, I saw an inscription engraved on
the cover, but when I tried to read it again, I couldn‟t even begin to
decipher the letters or symbols or whatever was written on it. To my
eyes, it said something like:

                 Enla Inakarei Ftermina
      This definitely isn’t an English book I thought to myself. It must
be one of those New-Age Goth books or something. Though Seth
didn‟t seem to fit the bill as a Goth…
      You should find him and give it back to him, my conscience
piped up, as righteous as always.
      You should look inside, it could be something illegal or
something Said another voice in my head, sounding a little frantic. I




10
gave into my second voice and glanced around to make sure I was
alone before I opened the book.
      Within the book were a whole bunch of small, close-knit
paragraphs written in the same elegant script as the front but there
were pictures. Horrible pictures of people getting roasted alive and
man-eating trees devouring people with explanations and other
captions in that same language.. Not to mention other, indescribable
things that I shuddered to think about.
      Slamming the book shut, an icy shiver rushed up my spine. Why
would Seth, who seemed like such a nice guy, be reading something
like that?!
      I’m going to find him, give it to him, and then I’ll be home free, I
thought to myself.
   Who knew how wrong I‟d be about the „home-free‟ part?


                                  ~*~


“Seth! Wait up!” I shouted as Seth rounded yet another corner in the
intricate alleyway. He was about four or five yards ahead of me as I
tailed him, and I couldn‟t tell if he had heard me and was just ignoring
me, or he just plain old didn‟t hear me.
      I was running at top speed, struggling to catch up to him, but
his longer legs carried him much farther than mine did, even though
he was just strolling nonchalantly down the street. The alley, to my
relief, then opened up into an abandoned construction site. They were
going to make a mini-mall or something there, but they had to stop
because of contamination or something like that.




                                                                        11
      I was ready to yell his name again, but stopped short when he
walked towards a small door in a shadowy corner of the site that, if he
hadn‟t turned towards it, I would never have noticed.
      He raised his hand as if to touch it, and, with a bright flash of
green light, he disappeared without leaving so much as a dust particle
wavering in the air.
      Instantly, my jaw dropped and my eyes widened in
astonishment as my brain registered what had just happened.
      “What the heck was that?” I questioned verbally, using one of
Mel‟s absolute, favorite phrases.
      How had Seth just disappeared? That kind of stuff happened in
movies, books, and bad sitcoms! Not in real life!
      I hurried to the door, the grotesque book clutched to my side
protectively as I went to investigate.
      The door towered a good seven feet above me, and engraved on
it was a gnarled and twisted leaf-less tree with a small disc, which I
took to be the sun, behind its trunk. There were words written across
the tree‟s trunk in the same language as the book, but I could barely
make it out because of all the dust and grime that littered its elegant
script. But, beneath all that, the words spelled out:

             Erãhas Mersanavf Lemmisiia
                                 Ecladia
      There seemed to be something else written a couple or so inches
beneath that, but when I raised my left hand to brush some of the
dust off, a tree symbol appeared, out of nowhere, on my hand and
began to glow a blinding white. I opened my mouth to scream, but it
was cut short as I disappeared, just like Seth.




12
                           Chapter Two
                                 Maris


“I‟ve just been informed that one of the heirs has appeared,” a craggly
voice growled.
      My eyes slowly fluttered open, but, as soon as they were, I knew
instantly that I was dreaming.
      I was standing in the middle of a large throne room of a castle,
but it looked like a church somewhat. Stone floors stretched across the
room and floor to ceiling glass windows depicted scenes that I couldn‟t
recognize. On the throne there was a small, dark cloaked man sitting
regally, then another figure on one knee before him, equally cloaked.
Both had their cowls up, so I couldn‟t see either of their faces, much
less recognize who they were just by their voices.
      The guy on the throne seemed to be seriously old; his gnarled
hands clenching the throne, making his thin white bones stick out
among his pallid, marble white skin. I placed him in about his…. Oh,
late thousands.
      The person kneeling before him seemed to be between
seventeen or nineteen judging by their small stature.
      The kneeling figure was speaking, so I stopped thinking to listen
to what they had to say.
      “Y-you have been rightly informed, milord, we shall app-
apprehend them immediately,” the figure stuttered in a rather low,
male voice, his gaze glued to the floor as if he were afraid to meet the
other man‟s eyes. Believe me, if you were in that guy‟s place, you‟d be




                                                                         13
scared too, judging by the man‟s thick, gravely voice that just reeked
of pure evil.
         “Really? A new recruit such as you knows exactly what to do?
Tell me then,” the man on the throne cajoled, a smile apparent in his
voice.
         “W-we shall apprehend the heir and b-bring them to y-you, m-
milord, so you may test to see if they are the true heir, if they are, we
shall let you deal with her,” recited the boy, his bass voice shaking
with fear.
         After that, the man on the throne actually laughed! A deep,
menacing laugh that seemed to find joy at torturing the poor boy
bowing before him.
         After a minute or so, the man‟s booming laugh dwindled to a
barely decipherable chuckle.
         “They had better hope that they are not the heir for what I have
in store for Erowynn‟s spawn,” he muttered evilly before laughing his
cruel laugh again.
         Then, everything began to fade away slowly, until I could feel
myself returning to reality.
         I carefully opened my eyes, waking up slowly; the cloaked guy‟s
laugh still echoing in my subconscious mind. As soon as my eyes were
fully open, I quickly glanced around, half-expecting to see that crazy
guy and his little buddy. Luckily, I didn‟t see them. What I did see
totally caught me by surprise.
         I was lying on my right side at the top of a small hill smack-dab
in the middle of a large, grassy meadow surrounded on all sides by
woods.
         Gradually, I lifted myself onto one elbow and scanned the
clearing, looking for any signs of danger. The grass was a brilliant,



14
emerald green and waved in the chilly breeze, reaching up towards the
stormy gray sky that gave the entire place a rather gloomy feeling.
        The clearing was completely empty except for some guys in
black cloaks like the guys in my dream standing some yards away
from me at the bottom of my hill.
        They were mumbling to each other as if in argument, but they
were shooting occasional glances at me as well.
        Well, I thought, whatever they’re talking about, it just can’t be
good.
        Then, as if on cue, the taller of the two guys broke away from
his partner and walked over to me. He towered above me at what
looked like almost seven feet, his strangely golden eyes glaring down
at my face like some humanoid owl.
        “Come with us,” he coaxed in a very silky, persuasive voice.
        Alarms went off in my head. There was something off about that
guy, so I just blinked and stayed where I was, more out of fear than
caution.
        When I didn‟t do what he said, the just reached down and pulled
me roughly up by my elbow and actually lifted me a good two inches
off the ground with what felt like superhuman strength.
        “Hey!” I exclaimed, struggling to escape from his stony grip with
no success.
        “If you do not struggle, milady, we will not have to hurt you,”
instructed the man.
        “Let go!” I screeched in defiance, beginning to claw at his hands
in hopes of hurting him enough to get away.
        “It seems that you have given us no choice…” the man trailed off
as he reached into the pocket of his cloak and pulled out what looked




                                                                            15
like a syringe filled to the brim with what I guessed was some kind of
anesthetic.
      But he didn‟t even get a chance to lift it up to me before a blur
sped by and rammed into the guy holding me. I fell backwards onto
the soft springy grass as the man suddenly let go of both the syringe
and me. I was jarred for a second, but I looked up in time to see Seth,
yep, Seth, the chick magnet that had sat next to me in first hour,
wrestling with the guy.
      Seth was on top of him; one hand had him pinned down while
the other was around his neck, choking him. The syringe had landed a
good three feet away from the guy, so Seth was obviously in no
danger of getting sedated, nor of being hurt in any way physically
possible.
      My attacker‟s partner gasped in shock at Seth‟s sudden
appearance before disappearing in a veil of what looked like black
smoke, and, seeing his apparent coward of a partner retreating, Seth‟s
opponent escaped from his grip the same way too.
      After the man got away, Seth stood up and rounded on me.
      “What are you doing here?!” he demanded furiously, his eyes
blazing like a sapphire blue fire with all the adrenaline that had
obviously been pumping through his veins up until then.
      “I-I wanted to give this back to you,” I stammered somewhat
stupidly as I held out the gruesome book. As soon as he saw it, he
cooled down immediately, his eyes softening until he was smiling
faintly at me.
      “W-what happened to me? Where am I?” I asked, sensing that
Seth would probably not hit me even if I asked him really obvious
questions.




16
      Seth glanced around as if another of those men were going to
pop out of nowhere and attack us again. “We can‟t talk here, there are
too many spies,” he mumbled half to himself.
      “What?” I queried, getting more confused. Spies? Where in the
world was I?
      “I‟ll take you back to our hideout, Kem will know what to do,” he
muttered as he grabbed hold of my wrist and started to lead me
towards the woods.
      I hesitated at first, weighing the odds. First, Seth could kill me in
there for all I knew. Second, I could never see my friends and family
ever again.
      The odds were weighing heavily against Seth, but something
deep inside me told me to follow him. I still don‟t know what made me
follow him, but I did.
      As we walked into the dark green foliage, the atmosphere
changed drastically. The gloomy feeling that had been hanging over
the clearing like a fog lifted almost miraculously. The forest felt, well,
peaceful.
      We walked for about thirty more minutes in complete silence
until Seth stopped, his head cocked to one side as he listened to some
sound that I hadn‟t picked up.
      He sighed to himself. “Come out of the tree, Jaspr, it‟s just me,”
he ordered, his voice flat as if he had had to say that many times
before.
      “Well, you can‟t blame me for being careful,” a rather loud voice
piped up from above.
      All of a sudden, a thin, yet short, blond boy who looked just a bit
younger than me swung off a low branch in a tree behind us on one




                                                                             17
arm, the other holding a crudely made bow with an arrow knocked on
the string.
         His bright, fluffy, blonde hair shone like a brilliant molten sun
with dark green eyes that were flecked with a dark, midnight blue. He
was wearing a shirt not unlike Seth‟s but had on dark brown trousers
and brown boots that looked like something Link from the Legend of
Zelda would wear. He was smiling a mischievous grin, like he was
laughing at some private joke.
         “Who‟s your pretty girlfriend, here, Seth?” asked Jaspr teasingly,
his eyes sparkling with mischief as he noticed Seth‟s hand around my
wrist.
         Seth clenched his jaw as he finally let go of my wrist; leaving me
blushing furiously, my blush intensified by my extremely pale skin.
         “She‟s not my girlfriend, I think she‟s one of them,” hinted Seth,
struggling to control his apparently short temper.
         The two boys obviously had some sort of thing between them,
you know, a sibling-like thing. It was a possibility considering the fact
that Jaspr and Seth looked kinda sorta alike.
         “One of the Calkora?” joked Jaspr again, toying even more with
Seth‟s temper.
         “No, you idiot!” snapped Seth, slapping the back of Jaspr‟s head
in his fury.
         “Ow! Jeez, bro! I was only kidding! Don‟t you have a sense of
humor?” whined Jaspr, rubbing the back of his obviously throbbing
head.
         “He‟s your brother?” I queried, turning to Seth, who was still
fuming.
         “Unfortunately, yes,” he growled, brushing past me roughly.




18
      Yes! I thought, I was right! It wasn‟t every day I was right about
something.
      “Hey! What do you mean by “unfortunately”?!” Jaspr demanded
from Seth as he scrambled after his brother.
        I stood alone for a second. Everything was hitting me so fast.
One of them? Calkora? What in the world did anything they said
mean?
        My head spun with all sorts of questions, but I just sighed and
followed them into the surrounding trees and bushes, hoping that my
questions would be answered soon.


                                     ~*~


After a couple more minutes of walking, maybe about, five to eight
minutes later, we arrived at a small, makeshift shelter that resembled
a shack you‟d see in someone‟s backyard.
      By the time I got there, Seth was already slipping inside with
Jaspr following close behind. I walked in, reluctantly, after Jaspr.
Things were getting weirder and weirder by the minute.
      The shack was a one-room shelter with a miniature fire pit in the
middle of the floor to provide warmth with a couple of blankets that I
guessed were used for beds surrounding it. All in all, the place looked
like the sort of cottage travelers would use back in the olden days.
      As I was examining the scene, a hand, out of nowhere, seized
the back of my neck firmly, lifting me up in the air. I gasped in both
surprise and pain as my captor‟s fingers dug into the delicate skin of
my neck.
      “State your business,” barked another boy‟s voice from behind
me.



                                                                          19
      “Ed, leave her alone, she‟s no threat. She doesn‟t have any
weapons on her or anything,” a different voice, this one a girl‟s, said,
coming to my rescue.
      I breathed a low sigh of relief, despite the girl‟s assumption that
I was no threat, as the strange hand finally released me, dropping me
the four or five inches back to the ground.
      “Those two are Edwin and Kemris, other siblings of mine,” Seth
introduced to me from a corner of the room, his back to me as he
fiddled with something in his hands.
      I did a ninety-degree turn. Sitting on a nearby box about the
size of a small chair was a honey-blonde girl with long, elbow-length
hair that matched her cream-colored dress and green eyes that were
flecked with even darker green. She looked about eighteen or
nineteen, and she was smiling very warmly at me. I guessed that she
was Kemris.
      I made a mental note to thank her later for saving me from her
bear of a brother, Edwin, who was, obviously, still standing behind me.
Edwin was tall with broad shoulders that made him look older than
Jaspr, but still younger than Seth and Kemris. He looked even more
threatening, though with his dark, ruffled, chocolate brown hair that
brought out his brown- amber eyes mixed with an almost green blue
that were narrowed in suspicion, not to mention his arms crossed over
his dark brown shirt that matched his pants and boots.
      Jaspr sat down on a box positioned next to Kemris‟, gazing at
me intently as Seth had done that morning.
      “You really think she‟s one of them?” Jaspr questioned curiously,
looking me up and down.
      “She does have all the signs: dark hair, pale skin, especially the
eyes,” Kemris agreed. “Did you check for the Insignia, Seth?”



20
      “I didn‟t have to, if Maris didn‟t have it, she wouldn‟t be here
right now,” Seth replied, finally turning around.
      He was holding the hilt of what looked like a sword, probably his
sword, and was trying to get the clasp undone so he could attach it to
his hip.
      “Wait… how do you know my name?” I asked, freaking out at the
fact that a nearly complete stranger knew my name.
      “We were in the same class, Maris, remember? Attendance?”
Seth explained, giving me a pretty warm smile that nearly made me
blush all over again.
      “Oh, well um… when you said „insignia‟, w-were you talking
about that tree sign?” I guessed, changing the subject to one that,
hopefully, wouldn‟t make me look even more stupid.
      “Yes,” Edwin growled bluntly, his eyes so narrow that you could
just barely see past his thick lashes.
      “Let up on „er, Ed, you don‟t have to look at everyone like that
when you first meet them, you have to wait „til they betray you first!”
exclaimed Jaspr, his mischievous grin earning him another slap in the
back of the head, compliments from Seth.
      “Ouch!” He yelped for the second time that day (at least from
what I knew at the time). “Where‟s your sense of humor gone, huh?”
      Jaspr rubbed the back of his head as he scooted farther away
from Seth towards the very edge of his box.
      “It‟s gone like the birds and flown south, Jaspr,” Seth‟s voice
suddenly turned serious. “You‟d better start watching what you say
around here.”
      “Wh-what do you mean by that?” gulped Jaspr, sounding scared.




                                                                         21
      “Let‟s just say if we were you, we wouldn‟t eat anything else
today,” a smirk crossed Edwin‟s face, making him look even more
scary.
      Jaspr‟s face paled immeasurably, making his brothers laugh.
      “Don‟t worry Jaspr, we won‟t do anything to you!” laughed Seth.
      “It‟s not like we‟re going to dose you over some minor disputes,
right?” chuckled Edwin, though Jaspr remained unconvinced.
      I turned to Kemris, a bit bashful.
      “Er are they really going to well…?” I questioned, nervous about
talking to the only other girl in the room and the fact that Seth and his
brother might be serial killers.
      “Ha! No, they‟re just trying to scare Jaspr, it‟s usually nothing
serious. He‟ll get back at them some way though,” she replied, smiling
warmly at me despite the fact her brothers might be plotting murder.
      Eventually, Seth and Edwin stopped laughing, but Jaspr was still
pallid and looking terrified.
      Seth stood up, seriously serious now. “Is everything ready,
Kem?” he checked with Kemris.
      “Yep, the food‟s packed, the clothes, the gold, everything,”
Kemris reported, smiling as she reached behind her back and pulled
out a rather large brown sack that was filled to the brim with…
something.
      Edwin stood up beside Seth. “Finally! Now we can get moving!”
he smiled slightly, his imposing first impression almost disappeared. “I
was getting tired of staking out.”
      “Wha-where are you going?” I stammered as Seth walked past
me towards the door, carrying a bag filled with items like the ones that
Kemris had listed. I didn‟t want to get left behind in… wherever I was!
From what I knew, Seth was my only way back home, and I wasn‟t



22
just about to let him walk out the door without me doing something
about it.
      Seth rested the sack at his feet as he turned to face me. “We‟re
going to Dendris and you‟re coming with us, whether you like it or
not,” he threatened playfully, grinning jovially at me. “We know
someone you‟d like to meet, and we‟d rather not kidnap you and drag
you there unless we truly need to.”
      “Mwahahaha,” murmured Jaspr under his breath, starting to get
his bravado back.
      “Well good. I‟m okay with that,” I agreed, standing nervously up.
      “Don‟t worry, Maris, we‟ll take good care of you, and once we off
Jaspr, there‟ll be more than enough room for you to be comfortable,” a
grin spread on Seth‟s face.
      Jaspr, standing up, turned beet red. “Oh, so funny, ha ha! Well,
you‟re not going to scare me, no sir! You wouldn‟t dare kill me because
I am the only person standing between you and horrible tortured
death! You‟re just jealous you cannot be as mighty as Jaspr!”
      Seth remained unfazed despite Jaspr‟s tirade. “Uhuh. Well,
Edwin, I guess that settles it. We kill Jaspr tonight,” Seth shrugged
nonchalantly. “Well, it was nice knowing you, oh mighty and powerful
Jaspr.”
      Bowing regally as they exited, Seth and Edwin took up their
sacks and fled the shack, Jaspr following in close pursuit.
      “Hey, what did you mean by that?! I‟m talking to you! Come
back here, I say, STOP!”
      Kemris and I exchanged equally quizzical looks before following
the three brothers closely behind.


                                 ~*~



                                                                        23
“Ow! That burned!”
         “It‟s your fault for trying to roast it, idiot.”
         “I was trying to burn off the poison you two obviously spiked it
with!”
         It was night now, and we were all sitting around a small
campfire, Seth was sitting about a yard to my right, Edwin right beside
him, Kemris next to him, and Jaspr was sitting next to his older sister
and me. Jaspr was still convinced that his brothers were trying to
poison him despite their meager attempts to prove him wrong, hence
trying to burn the poison off of the ham and cheese sandwich he had.
         “Come on, Jaspr, we were just kidding,” Seth assured him
unsuccessfully, grinning mischievously.
         “Yeah right, for all I know if I take a bite out of this, I‟m gonna
drop dead; killed by my own brothers!” complained Jaspr theatrically.
         “That‟s it, Jaspr, give it to me,” ordered Kemris, taking Jaspr‟s
sandwich from him, tearing a piece off, then nibbling on the side of it
before handing it back. “See? All better.”
         As soon as he saw that his older sister was still alive, Jaspr
shoved the entire lot into his mouth, spraying crumbs everywhere.
         “See, Jaspr? We weren‟t lying,” pointed out Seth, stifling his
laughter.
         “Sure. I can‟t trust you guys any farther than I can throw you,”
Jaspr shot back, his mouth still full of food.
         “Like you could pick up a leaf,” Edwin mumbled under his breath
as he took a bite out of his own food.
         “I heard that!” Jaspr shouted at him, his eyes narrowing.
         This time, I accidentally let slip of a small giggle, but luckily,
Jaspr didn‟t hear me.



24
        But Seth did. He glanced at me, obviously to see who had
laughed, but, instead of turning back right away, he held his gaze for a
long while, his beautiful blue eyes deep in thought.
        I met his eyes for a split second before we both looked away,
none of the others seeming to have noticed the small instant that Seth
and I had shared. My heart was thumping with an unrecognizable
beat, and I could feel a warm heat rising to color my cheeks. Whatever
that emotion was, I only ever felt it around Seth.
        After our meager “lunch” we all hit the hay so as to make it to
Dendris sometime the next day; whatever Dendris was.
        Kemris helped me set up a sleeping bag for myself while Jaspr
and Edwin were practically unconscious before they even lay down.
        Seth was taking the first watch and, as I lay with my back to
him, I could feel his stares prickling the back of my neck.
        I didn‟t know what was going on, where I was, or who these
people were, but I knew, for some odd reason, that I was there for a
reason.
        I looked up to the glittering stars for comfort, barely even
noticing as Seth shifted on the rock he was sitting on.
        The stars there were much brighter than back home, probably
because of the big city‟s fumes. They were like miniature suns
suspended in a never-ending dance across the skies, the moon at their
head.
        And, as I looked up at the starry sky, many thoughts weaved
through my head. Where was I? What‟s going to happen now? Will I
ever see my family and friends again? Not to mention the biggest
question of all: Will I even make it out of here alive?
        It wasn‟t long until my eyelids drooped, and the inky darkness of
sleep took hold of my senses.



                                                                          25
                         Chapter Three
                                  Seth


I was first on watch, but my mind was wandering; something I usually
didn‟t do while my siblings‟ lives were on the line. I ground my teeth in
frustration. My mind kept straying from my duty to her, Maris. The girl
we suspected was Queen Erowynn‟s long-lost daughter.
           I drove my sword, point-first, into the ground in pure
irritation. I couldn‟t. I just couldn‟t let my apparent feelings for her get
in the way of our mission. My gaze flickered to her again like it had for
the past thirty or so minutes. She was sleeping deeply; obviously still
worrying over everything that had happened to her in the past twenty-
four hours. I chewed my lower lip thoughtfully.
        Back in that Otherworld classroom, she had seemed like such a
beautiful, smart girl who could overcome everything, but I had seen
that look of pure fear in her eyes when she had faced those two
agents, and I cursed myself once again for that.
        What had I dragged her into? What if I couldn‟t get her back
alive? Back to her friends? Her surrogate mother? I shook my head to
try and clear my head. What was done was done. There was no going
back.
        I sighed deeply. If Aivanlyn denied that Maris was who we
thought she was… well, I didn‟t want to think about how we would
even begin to apologize to Maris.




26
      I looked up at the moon, which had slowly crept across the night
sky while I was thinking, finally come in line with the hilt of my sword,
which was still stuck in the ground.
      I wrenched it out and stood up from the rock I had been sitting
on and made to go check on the other side of the small clearing we
were camped in.
      As I was walking, a low growling sound made me stop in my
tracks. My blood ran cold as I very slowly turned around and looked at
a small juniper bush that hid what had made the sound. Eyes as gold
as the Calkora‟s agents met my blue.
      A shiver went down my spine. There aren’t supposed to be any
in these woods! I screamed at myself in my head Not now! Especially
not with Maris!
      I twitched my sword a couple of millimeters behind me so that
the tip touched Kemris, who was closest to me, and gently woke her
up.
      “What? Seth, what‟s- oh no,” she murmured somewhat groggily
as she noticed what was still watching us from the bushes.
      “It must have smelled our campfire and come to investigate. I‟m
going to make sure that it‟s alone. Wake the others,” I ordered her as
I strode confidently towards those piercing yellow eyes which only
glared harder as it let out a low, warning snarl.
      Then, someone grabbed my shoulder, holding me back. “You‟re
not going after that thing without us.”
      I spun around. Edwin still had my shoulder in his iron grip that
was so much stronger than mine, despite the fact he was my younger
brother, and Jaspr was standing a little ways behind him, his face
ashen white and his bow locked in a white-knuckled grip.




                                                                         27
      I smirked slightly. I would get him for that later, but that was
not the time to think about vengeance.
      I then looked past Jaspr to see Kemris slowly waking Maris up,
trying not to scare her.
      My gaze flicked back to my brothers, shaking my head. “You
know that these things hunt in packs, I just want them to know that
they won‟t kill us that easily; I‟m not stupid enough to go after them
all alone,” I assured Ed.
      “What hunts in packs?” a musical voice asked from my right, just
outside my peripheral vision.
      I turned my head and met the quizzical, yet fearful, emerald-
eyed gaze of Maris. “Well, erm… you see…” I stammered, my heart
racing with something other than fear. I had no clue what to say to
her! I definitely wouldn‟t say: “Well, there are these things called
blood wolves-slash-dire hounds and they‟re going to kill us!” No.
      “I‟ll explain,” interrupted Kemris, swooping in to save me from
making a complete fool of myself in front of Maris. I wasn‟t going to
turn into a Jaspr. Not for as long as I lived.
      Kemris turned towards Maris. “See those eyes there?” she flicked
her hand to indicate where the eyes were still looking at us. Maris
froze; her face going almost as pale as Jaspr‟s as with obvious fear.
      “Well,” Kemris continued, her voice almost perfectly nonchalant,
but I could still hear a small tremble of fear. “They belong to these
things called dire hounds, or, to use the more popular version, blood
wolves. And, as you can see, they‟ve completely surrounded us.”
      I furrowed my brows in confusion at her last words, quickly
glancing around the clearing before realizing that Kemris was right, an
entire pack of blood wolves had surrounded us.




28
         Then, there was a low snarl from behind us and a small rustle of
leaves as a very large, dark gray wolf stalked out from the forest, its
blood-stained fur brushing ever so gently against the thin leaves of the
bush it had walked out of.
         There was a small movement to my right as Edwin carefully
unsheathed his sword with a small hiss as it came free.
         In response, there were even more growls and barks as the rest
of the pack left the shelter of the surrounding forest to regroup around
the large gray male, who, apparently, was the alpha male, the head
honcho, the pack leader.
         By then, the middle of the clearing was filled with about twenty
or so wolves. All sorts of wolves of all colors, but despite their
differences, they all had the same gold eyes and fur stained with
animal blood… and some other blood. We were completely surrounded,
with Maris utterly defenseless against these wolves that would tear her
to shreds if we let them get hold of her.
         But we weren‟t going to give her up that easily, not without a
fight.




                                                                            29
     Maris




30
All the wolves were snapping and snarling at us, waiting for the signal
to attack.
      The lead wolf‟s nose flared for an instant as he took in our
scents, trying to decide his prey.
      Then, his head swung all the way around until his golden eyes
bore into mine, burning with hunger. He had chosen.
      Seth immediately stepped in front of me, putting himself
between me and the pack of bloodthirsty wolves.
      I didn‟t understand right away why the wolves were staring at
me, but then, I realized why.
      All the others had a fine layer of dust and grime on them,
masking their scent, but since I took a shower every single day of my
life, I didn‟t. Those wolves could smell me very well, and, to them, I
was like a juicy strawberry with an extra coating of the sweetest
chocolate, not to mention an easy meal.
      Seth made a low, growly sound deep in his throat, trying to ward
off the wolves, and then he put a protective arm in front of me. My
heart was racing with something other than fear … but I still couldn‟t
decipher what it was I felt.
      The lead wolf made a sort of rasping sound that snapped me out
of my reverie, and his pack began to close in on us from all possible
directions, making only the small amount of forest behind us our only
escape route.
      I glanced worriedly at the others. None of them had any sort of
armor besides the clothes on their back, and, as I watched, Jaspr‟s
hand was trembling as he slowly reached behind his back to retrieve
one of the arrows from his quiver before knocking it to his bowstring.
Seth was finally unsheathing his sword, twirling the tip of it in small
circles, anticipating the attack. Kemris was muttering something



                                                                          31
unintelligible under her breath and her hands were twitching ever so
slightly as if they were just dying for the chance to fight. Edwin just
moved into position to stop any wolves that tried to come after us.
They were going to risk their lives to protect me… why was I so
important that they would die so I could live?
      All of a sudden, one of the more younger looking wolves broke
free from the rest of the pack and lunged at us, heading towards me.
      Jaspr instantly retaliated and let loose his prepared arrow,
hitting the wolf in the back of its mouth, killing it instantly.
      The others started howling and snarling before they all began to
move in, using me as their intended target.
      With many slashes and lunges, Edwin took out wolf after wolf,
trying as best he could to protect us.
      Kemris was muttering even more furiously, shooting ball after
ball of fire from her palms towards the wolves, lighting some of their
fur on fire and driving them back to treat their minor burns. I didn‟t
have time to be amazed by what Kemris was doing; I was too busy
being absolutely terrified.
      Seeing that there were still a lot of wolves left, Seth quickly
turned towards Kemris and I as Jaspr and Edwin continued to drive the
wolves back. “Kemris, take Maris and run, don‟t turn back,” he
ordered, his eyes hard like pale blue sapphires.
      “Un-understood,” answered Kemris, her voice shaking ever so
slightly despite her fearless composure.
      “What? Wait, no!” I protested as Kemris tried to lead me away
by my arm. I didn‟t want to leave the boys to die! Not for my sake!
      Seth put a hand on my cheek, sending my heart racing once
again with that weird, unknown emotion. “Go, Maris, we‟ve dealt with




32
these things before, we‟ll be alright,” he assured me, managing a very
weak smile that didn‟t touch his eyes.
      I stared deep into those beautiful blue eyes, becoming lost in
their depths. “A-alright,” I managed to say as I pulled away and
reluctantly followed Kemris into the foliage behind us.
      I could feel Seth‟s stare prickle the back of my neck again as
Kemris and I retreated, but that feeling soon lifted as we finally
entered the cover of the trees.
      After about five minutes, Kemris whispered. “Stop.” She stood
stock-still in the middle of a clearing we had reached, listening very
intently to something I hadn‟t heard.
      She had opened her mouth to say something else when a blood
wolf broke from the cover of the trees and toppled her over. I
screamed in fright.
      “Run!” she yelled at me, struggling to avoid the wolf‟s long,
yellow fangs.
      I was frozen with shock, but I broke free from my daze to grab
the closest weapon I had at hand: a tree branch.
      I wielded it awkwardly, but managed to hit the wolf with a few
very inaccurate blows.
      The wolf, somehow threatened by my attacks, then rounded on
me, spitting and snarling as it lashed out at me, trying to sink its teeth
into my arm.
      I dodged as best as I could, but one of its fangs glanced off my
right bicep, amazingly tearing through my sweater and ripping through
the flesh underneath. The pain was so excruciating; I screamed a
blood-curdling scream before falling to my knees, completely at the
mercy of the wolf.




                                                                         33
      Blood was welling from my arm and spreading through my
porous sleeve and I knew that I was losing way too much blood.
      The wolf raised a paw armed with claws the size of piano keys to
finish the job it had started, but then there were three loud battle-cries
as Seth and the others burst through the bushes, driving off the last
wolf left from the retreating pack.
      I barely noticed their heroic effort. My vision was swimming in
and out of focus as I tried with all my might to stay conscious as I
heard Seth shout out my name before he knelt in front of me, cupping
my face in his hands.
      “Stay with us, Maris!” he pleaded as a black wave threatened to
encroach on my vision. “Please, stay with us!”
      Then, everything disappeared and the darkness finally settled in.




34
                   Chapter Four

                                Seth

I slowly stood up, Maris‟ unconscious body draped in my arms, the
blood from the wound on her arm spilling onto my shirt and turning
the dark forest green felt a grotesque maroon.
      “Is-is she… well…. Y‟know?” stammered Jaspr, his face still as
white as the fallen snow.
      I shook my head solemnly in response before turning to Kemris,
who was staring at her feet. “How long does she have?” I asked,
already knowing the answer but hoping against hope that it wouldn‟t
be true.
      Kemris gulped. “Not very long, the poison‟s already coursing
through her veins and you know that I can‟t do anything about it,” she
mumbled, her voice almost inaudible.
      There was a very long silence after her last word faded away.
      “I think if I were to run the rest of the way to Dendris on my
own, I might be able to make it, we are pretty close,” I recommended,
shattering the silence.
      They all looked up at me. They didn‟t say anything, but they
knew that if Maris was to survive, we would have to take the risk of
letting me go on my own, even if the Calkora were following.
      Kemris nodded slowly in agreement, recovering slightly knowing
that she would have to take charge of our younger brothers. “We‟ll


                                                                       35
follow you in our own time so that we can make sure that we‟re not
being followed,” she said.
       But before I could run off, Edwin butted in, “Seth… are you
okay?”
       I smiled as convincingly at him as I could, which is impossible for
me. “Of course I am,” I answered him before I sped through the forest
surrounding us, fear for Maris‟ life and raw determination driving me
on.
       After a small while, Maris, in her sleep-like state, was having
dreams about someone named “Mel” and her surrogate mother. I kept
going, running through the seemingly endless expanse of trees and
thorns, trying to get to Dendris as fast as I could.
       “Don‟t die on me, Maris,” I muttered through gritted teeth. “Hold
on.”




36
Maris




        37
I slowly and very cautiously opened my eyes, squeezing them shut
again as a blinding light forced its way into my eyes, sending many
spots of bright colors sprouting under my eyelids. I groaned as the
light forced me away from my wonderful dream world and I began to
sit up, knowing that I wouldn‟t be getting much more sleep.
      “Don‟t sit up too quickly, you‟re still recovering from your
wounds,” cautioned a soft, musical voice from nearby.
      I opened my eyes fully now and slowed down efficiently until I
was in a sitting position, remembering what the voice had said. I
blinked the sleep out of my eyes to try and get a clearer picture of my
surroundings.
      I was sitting on a small, cotton bed with off-white sheets in the
middle of what looked to be a wooden cabin. There were a couple of
chairs in the room and a dresser, plus a small side table that clung to
the side of the bed like a baby koala clings to its mother.
      The voice that had spoken to me had come from the woman
sitting on the end of my bed.
      She was a tall, sun-blonde woman who looked to be about
twenty or so years old with pretty baby-blue eyes. She was wearing a
long white dress with long sleeves and faded blue trim. Cradled in her
hands was a small wooden cup filled to the brim with some sort of
foul-smelling liquid inside.
      She smiled a perfect, white-toothed smile and held the cup out
to me. “Drink,” she said.
      I glanced at the cup for a couple of seconds, then at her, not
wanting to even be near that cup of… whatever. She laughed. “It
smells bad, but it‟s just a little of my best cordial; it actually tastes
quite divine,” she assured me, still smiling her motherly smile.




38
      I grimaced, making her chuckle a little. “I‟m Aivanlyn,” she
introduced herself, and, seeing as I wasn‟t ever going to drink it, she
the cup down on the bedside table.
      Looking around the room again, I noticed Seth fast asleep in a
nearby chair and snoring softly, his stomach rising and falling evenly in
his dreams.
      “He hasn‟t left since he brought you here,” explained Aivanlyn,
following my gaze.
      “H-how long have I been out?” I asked, somewhat afraid to hear
the answer. I‟d watched ER, and I knew that people could fall into
comas for decades then wake up and think they‟ve only been asleep
for a couple of hours.
      “Three days,” came the reply.
      My jaw dropped. Three days?! I shouted in my head. I groaned
verbally again. My mom had probably called the F.B.I or the N.Y.P.D
by now! She probably even started a global manhunt to search every
inch of the Earth for any sight or sound of me! Not to mention she was
probably going to ground me for life when I got back…. Or if!!
      I tried to stand up, but Aivanlyn pushed me back onto the bed
until I was on my back again, my head resting against the pillow.
“Rest, we don‟t want your wound opening up again,” she warned me.
      I blinked in confusion. Wound? What was she talking about?
Then, all the memories of our encounter with the blood wolves flooded
into my mind.
      My eyes widened before they finally fell to my arm where the
wolf‟s tooth had grazed me. I noticed I wasn‟t wearing my sweater or
shirt anymore, but something with sleeves that, when pulled as far as
they could go, reached just below my elbow. But, for now, the sleeve
on my right arm was pulled back. What had started as an open slash



                                                                          39
in my arm was now just a jagged scar from my shoulder to just above
my elbow.
      “H-how-“ I began to ask again before Aivanlyn interrupted me.
      “Shush,” she commanded. “I‟ll answer your questions later, but
what you need most right now is to heal.”
      “Alright,” I finally agreed, feeling my eyes beginning to droop as
my brain sent out distress signals to try and regain energy.
      Aivanlyn stood up to let me sleep and began to walk towards the
small door in the corner of the room, then, with a swish and a click,
she was gone, leaving me alone with Seth still sleeping beside me.
      I closed my eyes and was about to fall asleep when I heard more
footsteps.
      I opened one eye and saw Seth trying to tiptoe towards the
door, struggling to stay as quiet as possible.
      “Seth?” I hissed at him. He froze, his hand an inch away from
the doorknob. He spun around to face me, an embarrassed smile on
his face.
      “I woke you up, didn‟t I?” he asked with his weak smile.
      I managed a meek laugh and pointed out, “Who said I was
asleep?”
      He scowled playfully at me. “You were asleep for three days, of
course you can‟t sleep,” he resolved with a cocky grin.
      It was my turn to smile at him now, this time, a real one. “Well,
that‟s not what you were thinking a second ago,” I retorted, crossing
my arms, smug.
      He laughed softly and walked over to sit in the exact spot that
Aivanlyn had inhabited only moments before.
      “Why was I out for so long?” was my next question.




40
      Right when I said that, Seth seemed to find something very
interesting in the floorboards. “Well… You see…” he stammered, still
looking down at his feet. “Blood wolves have this sort of mechanism in
their fangs that injects poison…. Kind of like a snake.”
      “Poison?!” I repeated, my eyes widening in shock as I realized
how close to death I had been.
      He laughed humorlessly. “Yep.”
      My eyes flew back to the scar on my arm. It looked so innocent,
but I had been poisoned! Ok, I admit, I‟ve been stung by a bee before,
but that doesn‟t count!
      He smiled genuinely at me as he ruffled my hair. “Don‟t worry,
Aivanlyn got it all out,” he laughed.
      Then, he kissed the center of my forehead, making me blush as
his presence usually did.
      He chuckled a couple of more times at me as he got up, then he
left, leaving me alone.
      I fell back against the pillows, taking deep breaths to try and
calm my thudding heart that was beating unusually again, but I still
couldn‟t put my finger on what it was. I turned over onto my left side
and tried to get some sleep, these confusing thoughts swirling through
my mind.
      But right when I was on the brink of unconsciousness, the worst
possible person burst into the room, shouting: “SHE‟S ALIVE!”
      I groaned for the third time in ten minutes as Jaspr sprinted to
my bedside. “The others all thought you were dead, but I said. “No!
She will live!”,” he declared, striking a heroic pose.
      “Yeah, right,” muttered Edwin beside him. “You were the one
who put the thought in our heads that she might not make it, and Seth
was the one who dragged her all the way here.”



                                                                         41
      Jaspr made puppy dog eyes at his brother. “Not in front of her!”
he pouted. “You always ruin my chances of-“
      “Shut up, Jaspr!” hissed Edwin.
      “But it‟s true!” protested Jaspr.
      I sat up to see Kemris hanging around behind them, and, like
Seth, she seemed fascinated by the floorboards.
      Suddenly, I heard Kemris‟ soft voice ringing through my head as
if she were actually speaking… but… her lips weren‟t moving.
      It’s my fault! It’s all my fault she’s like this! Her voice shouted
sorrowfully in both her head and mine.
      No, it’s not I soothed her comfortingly.
      Edwin and Jaspr were still arguing, so they didn‟t notice the
glances Kemris and I exchanged.
      Her eyes were wide with awe and absolute wonder, and I replied
with a quizzical look.
      Jaspr was still ranting on and on and on about how Edwin was
always foiling his plans for showing off in front of girls, and Edwin was
fighting back with claims that Jaspr didn‟t have a chance either way.
      Kemris smiled somewhat stiffly from the fact that she proabably
hadn‟t smiled in days as she reached out and grabbed Jaspr by the
back of his neck.
      “OWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!
Alright-alright-alright-alright, I‟ll shut up!” he squealed, convincing
Kemris to release him.
      “Finally, an off switch!” called a voice from the door.
      We all looked up and saw Seth leaning against the doorpost,
acting all cool as he smirked at Jaspr, making him turn a dark, beet
red. My face followed suit, reminiscensing about the last time Seth had
visited me which had been about… oh, five minutes prior.



42
         Kemris, still smiling, walked over to Seth and started whispering
something into his ear. He nodded and opened his mouth to say
something back when Aivanlyn strode into the room, holding a black
felt box.
         The moment she saw the box, Kemris spun towards Edwin. “Get
Jaspr out of here!” she commanded her younger brother.
         “What- hey!” objected Jaspr as Edwin pulled him out the door by
his elbow.
         After they had left, Aivanlyn sat back down on the corner of the
bed and opened the box. Inside was a beautiful white crystal about the
size of a quarter that glowed with a blueish hue, suspended on a
leather string. Next to it was a gold, hand-held harp with intricate
designs carved into the gold all over it to form elaborate vines, roses,
and sometimes, just gorgeous curlicues and ribbons.
         I looked up at Kemris and Seth for an explanation, but their
faces were strangely guilt-ridden. I turned back to Aivanlyn. “What‟s
this?” I asked her curiously, unable to think of any reason she would
show me those beautiful things.
         Aivanlyn‟s characteristic bright smile turned sad. “Your mother
left these artifacts just for you,” she answered mournfully.
         I shot her a quizzical look. My mom had never, and I mean
never, gone anywhere out of New York in her entire life, not to
mention going to some crazy world called whatever! Besides, she was
back home in Brooklyn scouring the globe for me. I guess Aivanlyn
saw the confused look on my face, sighed, then began her
explanation. “Your mother, Erowynn, left you these artifacts after she
died.”
         I furrowed my brows in confusion. “My mom‟s name is
Kassandra, and she‟s not dead, at least I don‟t think so,” I corrected,



                                                                            43
hoping against hope that Aivanlyn would say something like:
“Oopsieme! Sorry, this is all just a dream, so when you wake up,
everything will be perfectly normal!” But to no avail. She just sighed
again.
      “I hoped it wouldn‟t come to this,” she muttered to herself.
      “To what?” I questioned, becoming more and more confused by
the second (as if I wasn‟t already confused enough!).`
      Aivanlyn put her hand over mine. “Close your eyes,” she
commanded gently.
      “But-” I began to object before Aivanlyn gave me an
uncharacteristic steely glare.
      “Close your eyes,” she repeated, less nicely that time.
      This time, I followed her orders and squeezed my eyes shut.
      At first, nothing happened, but then, tens upon thousands of
images flashed behind my eyelids before finally assembling themselves
to form a story.
      One minute, I was sitting in that small room with Aivanlyn,
Kemris, and Seth, but the next I was standing in the middle of a long
hallway with high-vaulted ceilings with large, beautiful paintings of
many landscapes adorning the walls. Beside me was a young, blond
girl who looked to be about ten or eleven years old. Her bright baby-
blue eyes convinced me that I was looking at a much younger version
of Aivanlyn.
      She semed to be cleaning a nearby table when a short “psst!”
came from behind the two of us.
      She spun around faster than I could hide, and I flinched,
expecting her to start screaming out an alarm, but then I noticed that
she looked like she hadn‟t even seen me.




44
      I looked down at myself and noticed that I was completely
translucent, only being able to see the smallest trace of my physical
being, but only if you were really looking.
      I followed her gaze and saw a strangely familiar raven-haired
woman, beckoning to Aivanlyn from a doorway nearby.
      Aivanlyn followed the woman into the room with me curiously
tailing her, wanting to know what was going on.
      The woman closed the door behind us and turned back to
Aivanlyn.
      “Aivanlyn,” the woman said in a very musical voice that was
gentle and caressing. “I‟m leaving tonight to try and drive the Calkora
away from here, and I want you to take my daughter and flee soon
after me. I have given extremely strict orders to Arial to make sure
that you have a horse, but she won‟t know where you are going, and,
if she asks, you are taking my daughter to my sister-in-law. Don‟t tell
anyone the truth about where you are going, the less people who
know what I‟m doing, the better, I especially don‟t want Nael to know
what I‟m planning to do.”
      “What about the Jarokai, my lady?” Aivanlyn asked tentatively,
soaking in each and every word.
      “Don‟t worry about them, Syrin won‟t waste any time on her, his
biggest goal at the moment is to kill me,” the woman answered, her
indigo eyes blazing with raw determination.
      Aivanlyn flinched. Obviously, the name “Syrin” meant something
to her. And what in the world were the Jarokai? I decided to stop
thinking and listen.
      “Where am I to take the Princess?” asked Aivanlyn, looking very
nervous.




                                                                        45
      “I have prepared a passage for you to the Otherworld in the
ruins of Beldishar‟s Hollow, and once you‟re through, take her to the
house of Kassandra Bulok. I have been monitoring her for a while,
ever since she unknowingly helped me, and she is absolutely perfect
for raising Maris.”
      My jaw dropped. Maris? How did this woman know my name and
why did she keep calling me her daughter? Was this woman my… real
mother? There must have been some mistake! That‟s when I
remembered where I had seen that woman before. She was the exact
same one who had appeared in my dream! Then, I heard the raven-
haired woman begin to speak again, so I told my brain to shut up and
listen to the rest, but before I could listen to whatever she was saying,
the scene changed.
      All of a sudden, it was nighttime, and there were trees all around
with stars sparkling above in the sky.
      I was hovering beside Aivanlyn again, who was on a beautiful
white stallion, a small bundle scarcely larger than a loaf of bread
cradled in the crook of her right arm.
      It took a little while, but sooner or later, Aivanlyn brought the
horse to a skidding stop. She leaped off the horse gracefully and
began to walk into a clearing, leaving the horse alone. I followed close
behind.
      The clearing was littered with very large bits and pieces of
masonry and columns made of marble that had obviously belonged to
something much bigger. There was a broken arch nearby with a very
small door still attached to it.
      Etched into the door were the exact same symbols I had seen on
the one back home, a large tree with a sun behind the trunk, in fact, it
was a twin to the one back in Brooklyn!



46
        I watched as Aivanlyn stepped forward, flicked her left wrist, and
disappeared in that bright flash of green light with the small child.
        I was left alone for a while, but then a felt a small tug in the
center of my chest that brought me back to the real world.
        My eyes flew open to see the others still in the exact same spot
that I remembered them.
        Kemris and Seth still looked guilty, and Aivanlyn‟s eyes were still
closed, her hand still wrapped around mine.
        “Y-you knew?” I choked out, struggling to come to terms with
what I had just seen.
        Seth smiled weakly at me in reply, being the only one who could
meet my eyes.
        Kemris was staring at the floorboards again. “Yep,” she
answered, laughing a humorless laugh.
        At that, Aivanlyn opened her eyes again, looking exhausted.
“Now do you understand?” she asked, dark circles visible under her
eyes.
        “So I‟m a-a pr-princess?” I gulped, not sure that the word really
applied to me.
        “You are the daughter of Queen Erowynn, the late ruler of this
land,” Aivanlyn answered. “and as her daughter, you are the rightful
heir to the throne.”
        “What do you mean by “late”?” I asked, catching that one word.
        “As I said before, that night, Queen Erowynn gave her life to
keep her only daughter alive, and she left these things for you,”
Aivanlyn mumbled, her eyes glazing with tears.
        I was silent. My real mom…. had died to save me. I hadn‟t even
gotten the chance to meet her…..




                                                                           47
         “Don‟t worry, Maris, we‟re here to make sure that you‟re safe,
you‟ll be perfectly fine with us,” Seth encouraged me, walking over to
the bed.
         “I should give you some time to think, Maris, and to rest, you‟re
going to need it. Kemris, I need to harvest some gensyl root, will you
accompany me?” questioned Aivanlyn, her voice choked by surpressed
tears.
         “Of course,” Kemris replied quickly before she and Aivanlyn
hurried out the door.
         After watching them leave, Seth turned back to me. “Well, now
it‟s time to fill you in on the details,” he grinned, seemingly happy for
some unusual reason.
         “Details?” I queried, raising one eyebrow.
         He laughed as he walked over and sat in the chair he had been
in earlier. “Yeah, details. You know, any questions you want to ask?
Unless you don‟t have any questions?” he asked, leaning in towards
me.
         “Yeah, I do!” I cut in quickly before my chance to finally figure
things out was gone. “So…. I can ask insanely obvious questions now
and you won‟t laugh at me?”
         “… Probably not. So fire away,” he teased, gesturing me to begin
with a wave of his hand.
         “Okay, first things first,” I blurted hurriedly. “Where in the world
are we?”
         He chuckled at my rapid speech. “First of all, we‟re not in your
world, at least not exactly. We‟re in Ecladia, it‟s sort of parallel world
to yours, but it is only accessible if they can find a Gate and if they are
either born or branded with the Ensignia,” he explained.
         “The what now?”



48
         “The Ensignia. It‟s kinda the coat of arms for Ecladia. Nobles like
you are born with it, but not everyone in Ecladia knows about the
Otherworld, especially commoners like my siblings and I. Only the
choiciest few are told and are branded with the Ensignia. You know,
mostly just loyal lords and ladies, barons and baronesses, the
occasional common aristocrat,” he paused momentarily to let me
think.
         I considered his answers for a moment.
         “Okay,” I nodded. “But… where do you guys come in if you
aren‟t supposed to know anything about it?”
         Seth beamed even more. “We are your protectors. We have
been chosen to protect you from the Calkora,” he answered.
         “The Calkora?” I queried, confused again.
         “The Calkora are agents that have orders to find and erm…. kill
any surviving members of the Ecladian Royal Family, those men that
attacked you three days ago are a part of that,” replied Seth.
         “So… why are you and the others looking after me? I mean,
aren‟t there other people who could do that? Not like I‟m saying I want
to get rid of you, I mean, I like you- I mean-” I could feel myself
growing red as I realized what I had just said.
         He laughed again. “Don‟t worry, I know what you meant… well,
there‟s this kind of organization called the Rebel Force that was formed
to protect any surviving members of the royal family, and we‟re a part
of it. We were chosen because of how close we are to your age, so it‟d
be easier for us to slip by places… get it?” he checked.
         “Kind of,” I answered. “So… what are the Jarokai, then?”
         “The Jarokai are what make up the Calkoran army because there
are only about thirteen members of the Calkora in all. They‟re these
like….. creatures that are designed for the hunt, so they‟re not too



                                                                           49
bright, but there are some that are actually smart in a ways,” he
explained. “For example, one time, we had one of them somehow
figure out that he could dip arrowtips in oil, set it on fire, then shoot it
at us, and, eventually, the others followed suit. We barely got out of
there alive.”
      My eyes widened in astonishment. “So how did you?” I asked,
being pulled into the story like a fish on a line.
      “Don‟t worry, I‟ll tell you the story sometime else. Do you have
any more questions?” he checked, raising an eyebrow.
      “Not important ones,” I replied. Most of my leftover questions
were things like: How do you fight with a sword? Who was my real
dad? You know, stuff like that.
      “Great! Now let‟s see if you can walk,” he said, jumping up from
his chair and gesturing for me to do so to.
      Slowly, I moved my legs to the side of the bed, some of my
bones cracking with the stiffness of not being moved in days.
      Seeing that I was on the brink of collapsing, Seth put one arm
around me to steady me, sending my heart racing once again.
      “Can you move everything okay?” he asked, his voice filled to
the brim with genuine concern.
      At his request, I tested my appendages, wincing a little as I
flexed my right arm, which was obviously still healing.
      “My right arm hurts a little, but it‟s not enough to kill me,” I
reported.
      I took the liberty then to finally look at what I was wearing.
      My sweater, shirt, and jeans were gone and were obviously
replaced with a white linen dress that was very soft and about as thick
as my sweater had been. The dress was more form-fitting on top, but




50
then, once it hit my waist area, the material flowed down to wear it
rested on top of twin white slippers.
      “Right,” coughed Seth, the both of us turning a bit red as we
both realized that he had been staring at me the entire time. “You‟ll
love it here, Maris, Dendris is probably the most enjoyable place in all
of Ecladia.”
      “Why so?” I asked, curious.
      “Why don‟t you see for yourself?” he answered mysteriously as
he took my hand, which made my heart skip a beat, and began to lead
me outside.
      What I saw made my jaw drop.
      Dendris was a small, ramshackle town nestled in a valley
between two large hills that towered over the houses. The houses
were made entirely out of wood, making them look like authentic
wooden cabins, and their size mostly ranged from a short, small little
dwelling to the bigger two-three stories that obviously belonged to
merchants.
      As I watched, the villagers went about their business, walking on
a small dirt road that connected the houses as they bought and sold
goods from road-side stands. Children also ran up and down the
streets, playing games or just running errands for their mothers who
were cleaning out the house in dresses such as mine, some colorful,
others not.
      “I want to show you something,” Seth cut through my reverie as
he began to lead me out of the village towards a small clearing behind
one of the two large hills.
      The clearing was about the size of a small Little League baseball
clearing, and it was covered in clover-green wavy grass, interrupted
occasionally by one of the large boulders that lined the place.



                                                                         51
      Seth brought me over to one of the larger, flatter ones and we
both sat down, Seth to my right.
      From out of the brown sweater he was now wearing, he pulled
out the black felt box Aivanlyn had showed me earlier, something I
hadn‟t seen him bring.
      He carefully opened the box and pulled out the necklace, its
stone sparkling brightly in the afternoon sunlight.
      “I can‟t show you or even begin to tell you how this works, but
I‟m pretty sure Kem will show you sooner or later,” he told me as he
undid the small clasp at its back. Then, he reached behind my neck to
put the necklace on, bringing his face close to mine, and, as his warm
breath washed over my face, I began to forget where and who I was
as I drank in his scent.
      “Got it!” he exclaimed, bringing me back to reality as he let go of
the necklace.
      Grateful for the distraction, I looked down at the necklace where
it hung low on my collar bone, winking brightly back up at me.
      “You‟re the expert,” smiled Seth as he held out the harp to me,
as if I knew what to do with it.
      “I-I have no clue how to play that,” I objected. “I only played
piano for a year, but I hated it so I quit.”
      “Just try,” he pressed, sounding absolutely confident that I
would play perfectly.
      I gulped before taking the harp gently from him, surprised by
how light the chocolate box-sized thing was.
      “Go ahead,” he goaded me as he noticed how reluctant I was.
      Shooting him a “Don‟t-laugh-at-me-or-I‟ll-kill-you” look, turned
my attention to the harp and began to play.




52
      Surprisingly, as soon as my fingertips came in contact with the
strings, a very flowing, beautiful melody filled both mine and Seth‟s
ears, and it took me a moment to realize that I was the one playing it.
      After about a minute or so, Seth interrupted.
      “You have a beautiful voice,” he complimented.
      I stopped midstroke. “What?” I queried. I hadn‟t been singing…
had I?
      “You were singing,” he said.
      “Are you sure it wasn‟t someone else? I don‟t have a good
voice,” I argued.
      “You were singing in Ancient Ecladian, very few people
remember that language, and your mother was one of them. It‟s only
natural she sang in that language to you when you were still a baby,”
he countered.
      “But I don‟t even remember what I said, though,” I protested.
“Besides, I don‟t even see how I could‟ve remembered it from being a
baby.”
      “Well, certain people are born just knowing it, like Kemris,” he
said. “Maybe she‟ll teach you.”
      I set the harp flat on my lap, watching the sun flicker on its gold-
colored strings. “When you say teach, does that mean that I‟m going
to have to learn to use a sword?” I asked somewhat hesitantly.
      He nodded solemnly. “Unfortunately yes. The Calkora want to kill
you, Maris, and if we‟re not there to protect you, you‟re going to have
to protect yourself,” he explained seriously. “But I‟ll do anything to
make sure that I‟m there, Maris, I promise.”
      Then, he reached over and took hold of my right hand,
squeezing it reassuringly in his grip.




                                                                         53
        Surprised, I looked up at him and met his beautiful blue eyes,
shocked by how close they were.
        “I promise,” he repeated with such conviction, something
unrecognizable glittering in his eyes. “I won‟t leave your side.”
        We sat in complete silence, the sun slowly beginning to descend
by a fraction of a degree, inching towards the horizon.
        Then, Seth began to lean in closer to me, and our eyes flickered
closed… but right before our lips met, a very loud, irritating voice
interrupted, saying, “I knew I‟d find you two lovebirds here!”
        Seth and I immediately sprang away from each other like bullets
shot from a gun, and I could feel him tense up as he let go of my
hand.
        “Why are you here?” I asked Jaspr, my face growing red as I
realized what Seth and I had nearly done.
        “Well, Aivanlyn sent me here to tell you something really, really,
really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really important,” he
answered.
        “And what is this important message?” growled Seth, his teeth
clenched.
        “Okay, here it goes… Aivanlyn- oops! I completely forgot-
WHOA! WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT FOR?!” demanded Jaspr, just
narrowly avoiding Seth‟s fist.
        “Seth, stop!” I shouted before they could get into a fist-fight and
Jaspr could get severly injured.
        “He started it!” whined Jaspr, but when Seth raised his hand for
another punch, he added. “Hey, hey, hey! Listen to your girlfriend!”
        I was about to leap heroically between the two when Seth froze
mid-punch, a strange grin crossing his face.
        I shot him a quizzical look, but he “convieniently” didn‟t see.



54
      “A-Aivanlyn says that she thinks that we should be the ones to
train Maris,” stuttered Jaspr, obviously fearing another punch if he
didn‟t get to the point fast.
      Seth‟s unusual smile disappeared as quickly as it had come.
“Why us? We‟re not better trained that she is,” he argued, brows
furrowed in confusion.
      “She says that if we take turns teaching her different things,
she‟ll have a better chance of learning all of it instead of just one
person who might accidentally lean too much on one certain subject,”
explained Jaspr.
      Then, Seth‟s grin reappeared on his face. “Why would you even
attempt to teach Maris? You‟re younger than she is! And besides, who
wants to learn to be an archer, anyways?” taunted Seth.
      “I‟m a marksman, not an archer,” Jaspr pointed out, putting
emphasis on the word “marksman”.
      “Whatever you say… archer.”
      “MARKS-MAN!” objected Jaspr, indicating the syllables with his
hands.
      “Sure, arche-”
      “MARKSMAN!”
      “Arch-”
      “Quit it!” I scolded unsuccessfully as I started cracking up at
their antics.
      Jaspr scowled at me while Seth laughed hysterically along with
me.
      “I‟m leaving now, but I‟ll know you‟ll miss me „cause I‟m just
cool like that!” shouted Jaspr over his shoulder as he turned around to
leave.




                                                                        55
         “Sure, sure, Mr. Archer, whatever you say,” Seth called after
Jaspr.
         “MARKSMAN!” returned Jaspr furiously, his yells getting fainter
and fainter as he moved farther and farther away, leaving me and
Seth alone again.
         Once he was gone, Seth turned back to me just as I was
regaining my breath.
         He gave me a casual wink before saying, “You‟ll love it here,
Maris, I promise you that!”




56
                       Lovesick

                                Maris


“Just try and dodge it, or, if you can, try blocking it.”
      “I am trying!”
      Note to self: Never get sucked into a parallel dimension that
you‟re the princess of again where you have to learn to sword fight.
      Seth had begun teaching me the basics of swordplay, but it was
a lot harder than I thought it would be. A lot.
      The training sessions were nerve-wracking and stressful as I
tried to figure out how to land an accurate blow, but Seth seemed to
always elude my practice sword, sometimes without even trying.
      “Let‟s take a break,” suggested Seth.
      We had been practicing for almost an hour and already I was
blanched with sweat while Seth seemed to still be in perfect condition.
      The dress Aivanlyn had given me had obviously been made for
fighting, because it was easy to move in and wasn‟t as uncomfortable




                                                                       57
as some of the things Seth had made me try on such as the full body
armor. I still shudder at the memory.
      We were practicing in the space outside the place I had woken
in, which had turned out to be some sort of infirmary run by Aivanlyn,
and I sat down (more like collapsed) onto one of the benches nestled
against the room, trying to regain my breath.
      “You‟ll get it, Maris, I started out much worse than you did,”
Seth assured me as he took a seat next to me.
      “I can‟t imagine,” I gasped, my lungs struggling to fill with air.
      He chuckled a little. “I couldn‟t even lift the dang thing, much
less swing it at someone,” he laughed.
      I smiled a bit at the thought.
      “See? Besides, from what you are, you probably won‟t even need
a sword,” he commented mysteriously before taking my hand in his
and giving it a reassuring squeeze.
      “What-” I was about to ask him when a high-pitched giggle
interrupted me.
      “Se-eth!” the voice called separating Seth‟s name into two
syllables.
      Seth and I both looked up simultaneously and saw a dark-haired
girl about our age waving frantically from outside the fence that
separated the yard from the street.
      “Who‟s she?” I whispered to Seth, curious.
      “She‟s um… her name‟s Priya, and she-well…” he stammered as
the girl somehow managed to hop the fence and hurried over to where
Seth and I were.
      “Hi, Priya,” Seth greeted her, letting go of my hand.
      “Hi, Seth! I just came over to see- oh, who‟s she?” Priya asked,
apparently just noticing that I was there.



58
      “My name‟s Maris, and I‟m-”
      “Okay!” Priya interrupted, turning back to Seth. “I came over to
see if you would like to come to the inn later, my daddy‟s going to be
throwing a party because today my uncle‟s coming over from Sarine!”
      “Oh, yeah… sure we‟ll come,” agreed Seth, seeming kinda tense.
      “Okay! I‟ll see you later… Bye-bye!” Priya gushed as she walked
away, looking over her shoulder several times as if to make sure that
Seth was still there.
      Throughout their conversation, I could feel something deep
within my heart, like there was some monster within that absolutely
hated Priya‟s presence.
      “I‟m sorry about that, Maris, Priya can be pretty overbearing at
the best of times,” Seth apologized to me, a shy smile breaking over
his face.
      “It‟s alright,” I lied through my teeth, trying to sound as casual
as possible despite my unusual urge to take up my practice sword and
chase after Priya.
      “Well, it looks like our evening training session is canceled,” he
sighed.
      “What?” I blurted without thinking.
      “Priya‟s gonna expect us to be there, so we‟re gonna have to
go… unless you don‟t want to, Maris,” he said.
      “No, no… it‟s-it‟s okay,” I stammered, not wanting to be rude.
“She invited you and you should go.”
      “Well, I‟m taking you with me, and I‟m sure the others will want
to be there, too,” he invited. “Besides, it‟s time you see what it‟s like
to be here in Ecladia.”




                                                                            59
      “Yeah, I can‟t wait,” I gulped, trying to sound as excited as I
possible could around the lump in my throat. I really was not looking
forward to that night.
      And all too quickly it came; one second Seth and I were
practicing, the next we were all walking over to the local inn, Jaspr
rambling on and on about some girl he claimed had fallen for him in
the market that day. And as we were walking, the lump in my throat
only becoming bigger and bigger with each step.
      As soon as we arrived, Priya raced up the Seth, ignoring the rest
of us completely as she blabbered on and on about mundane things
that I couldn‟t understand.
      Eventually, we made our way to a table where Priya still couldn‟t
shut up about every single aspect of our life, and I was both shocked
and strangely disgusted at the fact that Seth actually seemed
interested in what she was saying! Talk about good self control: I was
ready to strangle her by the time she got to her story about how she
fell out of a tree when she was two years old.
      Obviously as bored as I was, Edwin and Jaspr went off to dance
with some of the other girls (Jaspr was flirting with every single one
while Edwin tried to stop him) and Kemris left to find something to eat,
leaving me alone with Seth and the parrot.
      They didn‟t seem to notice that the others had left, or that I was
still there, for that matter, and Priya was still chattering on… and on…
and on… and right when I was ready to scream in irritation, she shut
herself up… by kissing Seth.
      It happened very quickly, so quickly, in fact, I barely saw what
happened, but Priya just seemed to have lashed out and kissed him,
not a simple peck on the cheek, either, but a full-on kiss on the
mouth.



60
      Seth was in shock for a couple of seconds, but then relaxed and
allowed his arms to trail around her, sinking into the warm happiness
that usually came during a kiss in the movies.
      That‟s when I snapped.
      I don‟t know exactly how it happened, but, one second I was
watching them make out, the next I was outside, sitting on a bench,
crying my heart out over something I didn‟t even understand.
      “Maris?” I familiar voice called my name softly.
      “I-I‟m fine, Kem,” I assured Kemris as she came outside,
obviously having seen what I had done.
      “Well, your definition of “fine” must be different than mine,
because for me, most people who are “fine” don‟t cry,” she argued,
walking over to sit by me.
      “It‟s nothing. I‟m perfectly fine,” I denied stubbornly, struggling
to rub away any signs of tears but only succeeding in making my eyes
tear up even more.
      “Maris, I saw what happened with Priya and Seth,” she said.
      “And it doesn‟t bother you?” I asked, finally looking up at her.
      “Of course it does, Seth‟s my younger brother, but… what I feel
for my brother isn‟t the same as how you feel for him… is it?” she
inquired, then, seeing my look of absolute confusion, she added, “You
like him, don‟t you?”
      “I-I don‟t know,” I answered. Me? Like Seth? I couldn‟t imagine
myself with him, but it could explain why I felt as if someone was
strangling my heart… wouldn‟t it?
      “You don‟t have to answer that, Maris… it‟s just, well… I know
how you feel,” admitted Kemris, sounding quite sad.
      “What do you mean?” I sniffed.




                                                                         61
      She smiled a melancholy smile. “There‟s this boy, his name‟s
Corellei, and… well, I have feelings for him and…” she took a deep
breath. “But it wouldn‟t work out between us, I mean, he‟s a much
more powerful sage than I am.”
      “Sage?” I queried, happy for the distraction.
      “A sage is someone who can use magyk, like me. That‟s how I
fended off those wolves that attacked us… but Corellei, he‟s… he‟s a
special kind of sage,” she explained. “Each sage has a field of magyk
that they are born to wield. Corellei‟s a Murmngr, a kind of sage that
specializes dark magyk, a special kind of magyk that usually takes a
very dark, evil heart to control… he‟s good though, but people
misunderstand him because of the only other user of dark magyk…
Syrin.”
      “Syrin… who‟s that?” I asked, my eyes finally becoming dry at
the familiarly unfamiliar name (if that‟s even a real phrase).
      “Syrin? Didn‟t Seth tell you about him?” she checked, her brow
furrowing in confusion.
      I was about to shake my head in reply when, all of a sudden, a
loud crashing sound came from the inn before a loud torrent of insults
and curses; Jaspr‟s voice was mixed in.
      Kemris sighed. “It sounds like Jas‟s in trouble again. Come on,
Maris, it‟ll take the both of us to drag him out,” she took hold of my
hand and began to lead me inside where we found a very stubborn
Jaspr picking a fight with a rather large man whose girlfriend he had
apparently been flirting with.
      And, in the midst of this almost-fight, Seth and Priya stood
together, hand in hand.




62
                        Flames

                               Maris


I was almost glad when Aivanlyn informed us that we needed to get
back on the road so as not to call attention to ourselves.
      We had been living in Dendris for about six days, almost a week,
but we needed supplies and I was in a coma for half of it, so I knew
that, despite our willingness to stay, we had to leave. So, after we had
everything packed, we headed for the outskirts of town under the
cover of darkness.
      Aivanlyn had come along with us to say goodbye and to give us
some last minute instructions for my training.
      “Take care,” she called to us as we began climbing one of the
many hills that held the path out of Dendris, and, before too long, her
voice had faded away into the night.
      We trudged along in complete silence as we focused on scaling
the hills, each one of us stumbling at least once every minute or so.




                                                                        63
      We were just coming over the crest of a third hill, which led
down towards the thick wooded forest we were headed for, when an
image flashed across my eyes, making me stop in my tracks.
      “What‟s wrong?” checked Seth immediately, his voice riddled
with worry.
      “I thought I saw something,” I answered him rather snappishly,
still remembering the scene from the night before.
      “What did you see?” demanded Kemris, walking towards the two
of us from where she had been on point.
      “It-it was nothing, I guess I‟m just tired or something,” I
shrugged it off.
      “Maris, you can see things we can‟t, we need to know what it
was,” Kemris said gravely, not making much sense.
      “It-it was just a really bright, orange color…” I muttered, trying
to describe what I saw. “It was like-”
      “FIRE!” shouted Edwin from behind us, finishing my sentence for
me.
      Instantly, we all did a double take and watched, from our
viewpoint, in complete and utter horror as flames and rancid smoke
rose into the sky from the place where Dendris was nestled between
its two great hills. Not to mention the screams of the villagers.
      Both Dendris and its inhabitants had caught fire.




64
Seth




       65
Maris‟ eyes were wide with terror, and, instinctively, she took a couple
of steps forward, but I quickly blocked her way.
      “Maris,” I murmured to her, trying to get her attention.
Immediately, she looked up at me, sorrow and absolute panic etched
all over her beautiful face, her eyes turning red with unshed tears. But
beneath all of that, there was a flicker of something… pain?
      “Maris,” I muttered again. “There‟s nothing we can do.”
      “There has to be,” she objected. “We-we can…”
      “It‟s going to be alright, Aivanlyn will help them,” I assured her.
By that time, I was trying to convince myself too.
As she came to terms with what was happening, Maris‟ eyes began
dripping their tears onto her cheeks.
      I then did the only thing a guy like me can possibly do when a
girl that means to me as much as Maris did cried.
      I hugged her.
      In that moment, I didn‟t care if Kemris and the others were
watching; I pulled Maris close to my chest as if to shield her from what
was happening.
      I could feel her warm tears sliding down my neck in her silent
sobs, and, knowing that she would probably see even worse things
than that, I shuddered.
      Then, when she began pulling away from me, I willingly let her
go.
      She met my eyes with her brilliant and stunningly beautiful
emerald eyes that were filled with utter confusion at what I had done.
I opened my mouth to explain my actions, but immediately closed it
for fear that I would seriously offend her if I just started yapping.
      Luckily, Kemris came to the rescue again. “We have to go, now,”
she ordered, her eyes like stones as she took her place as the eldest.



66
      “Right,” I agreed, dazed from what I think was the fumes from
the smoke.
      Under Kemris‟ orders, we ran as fast as we could into the forest,
trying to get as far away from Dendris as possible for fear that
whoever had made the fire would be following us.
      The fire could only mean one thing: Syrin was on the move.
      And there was only one reason he would waste troops to burn a
perfectly harmless town:
      To find, and kill, Maris.




                                                                      67
     Maris




68
I awoke to Seth shaking me and murmuring my name. Slowly, and
very carefully, I opened my eyes, expecting to see us surrounded by
wolves again.
      But this time, there were no wolves, just Seth‟s soft blue gaze,
which, as usual, sent my heart thudding. He was kneeling over me,
and, as I gave him a quizzical look, he put a finger to his lips for quiet
and indicated that the others were still sleeping.
      “What is it, Seth?” I whispered, very confused and afraid. The
memory of Dendris burning still very fresh in my mind.
      “I want to show you something, Maris, it‟ll only take a minute,
then you can go back to sleep and I can take my turn on watch,” he
answered in a low murmur, taking my hand as he helped me onto my
feet before leading me into the surrounding woods outside of the
clearing we had camped in.
      “Wh-where are we going?” I asked.
      “You‟ll see,” replied Seth, obviously not wanting to let me know
just yet.
      We walked in complete but companionable silence, hand in hand,
until the forest with its tall trees opened up into a beautiful meadow.
      The most gorgeous fuchsia flowers swayed in the crisp night
breeze among jade blades of grass, all under the careful watch of the
full moon, the cream-colored sentinel of the night.
      “It-it‟s beautiful here, Seth,” I complimented the scenery as my
hand slid from Seth‟s grip and I walked forward in awed silence.
      “It‟s nothing compared to your beauty, Maris,” said Seth from
behind me.
      Immediately, I whirled around thinking that someone had
impersonated him, but there was no one there except for a blushing
Seth, obviously embarrassed by what he had said.



                                                                          69
      “Wh-what?” I queried, wondering if I was just so tired that I was
hearing things. Seth wouldn‟t say anything like that to me… right?
      “I-I‟m sorry, Maris, I-I shouldn‟t have said th-that,” he
stammered, looking as if he wished could just disappear. “Y-you know,
let‟s-let‟s go b-back.”
      “No, Seth… I-I- why- why are you… saying this?” I asked him
before he could slip away into the forest.
      He had turned around to face the forest, but, once my voice
began fading away into the night, he turned around again, his eyes
looking very tormented as he tried to decide whether or not to answer
me.
      “It-it‟s because…” he trailed off, still trying to spit it out.
      “Seth, it‟s okay, y-you can tell me anything,” I promised him,
reaching forward and gently taking his hand. I don‟t know what made
me do that, but I did.
      He looked down at me with his beautifully blue eyes, and, as I
watched, something clicked in those stunning eyes. He had made a
decision.
      Seth‟s grip tightened around my hand as he drew me towards
him until his hands rested just below my shoulders, his face only a foot
away from mine. My heart thudded in my chest.
      “I‟m telling you this because I love you, Maris. I always have,
with every bone in my body.”
      Instantly, I felt my jaw drop a quarter of an inch as reality hit
me. Seth had confessed his love for me…
      I could feel my heart speeding up, faster and faster as I realized
that the emotion I felt whenever Seth touched me, whenever he spoke
to me, whenever he was even around me, and especially the emotion




70
that had made me feel so much pain when Priya had kissed him… that
emotion was love.
      At that moment I noticed that I had been silent for a good fifteen
seconds or so. To you and to me, it might be a short amount of time,
but I knew those seconds were probably the most worrisome of Seth‟s
life. His eyes were filled with an obvious fear that I would run away
from him or something similar, but, instead, I just walked closer to
him and laid my head on his shoulder and letting him encircle me in
his arms.
      “I-I love you, too.”
      We stayed like that for a moment, just enjoying finally being
able to let our hearts feel what they wanted to feel (for me, at least)
and we could‟ve gone on like that forever, but then, Seth began
breaking away.
      Fearing that our perfect moment would be completely gone, I
opened my mouth to protest but was quickly silenced as Seth lifted my
chin to his face with one finger and let his lips brush ever so gently
against mine.
      Instantly, I wrapped my arms around his neck as he kissed me
again, intensifying the pressure as his arms pulled me even closer.
      Sparks flew like fireworks as my heart sped on to the point that I
couldn‟t tell one beat from the next.
      I could feel my legs turning to jelly as my heart continued to
thunder in my chest, but Seth kept me from swooning with his arms
that pulled me ever closer as he continued to kiss me passionately.
      I felt absolutely weightless as the seconds dragged on to
minutes, Seth and I still together.
      All the memories of Seth with Priya absolutely disappeared and
all that was left was this perfect heaven where Seth and I were a



                                                                          71
couple and no one could come between us. Everything just faded away
until I couldn‟t even remember my name. Just Seth, the scent of him,
the feel of his smooth, soft blonde hair. Nothing in the world mattered
to me more than he did. Nothing at all.
      Then, out of nowhere, a loud, unfortunately familiar voice cut
through our perfect moment, shattering the atmosphere.
      “I KNEW YOU TWO WERE LOVEBIRDS!”
      Instantly, Seth and I broke apart, my hands flying up to my
mouth as I looked down at the ground by Jaspr‟s feet. Embarrassment
flooded my heart.
      “This is perfect! Just wait „till I tell everyone!” he exclaimed,
rubbing his hands in malicious glee.
      Beside me, Seth had become really, really tense, and he was
already grinding his teeth in obvious anger. About what? I guessed
that it was Jaspr‟s violation of our privacy.
      Wanting to be anywhere besides the place I was now, I took a
glance at Seth before brushing past Jaspr, back to camp.




72
Seth




       73
“What do you want, Jaspr?” I hissed at my youngest brother as the
leaves that had been shaken by Maris‟ passing went still. Leave it to
Jaspr to ruin one of the most important events of my entire life.
      “I don‟t know what you mean,” he joked, obviously playing
around with me.
      “What will it take for you to shut your trap?” I clarified, getting
angrier by the minute.
      “Hmm… let me think…” sighed Jaspr playfully, pretending to be
deep in thought. “Oh! I know! How about we have a little bet!”
      “A bet?” I queried. I had expected him to demand gold or some
other ridiculous material.
      “Yeah! About Maris!” he grinned jovially.
      “Maris?”
      “Let me explain. You get all the girls, I get none. We barely met
her a week ago, and now you two are like, together. Not very fair, is
it? The wager is if I can get her to dump you and come to me, get it?”
he explained with a cocky grin.
      “What‟s the catch?” I asked. Knowing Jaspr, he‟d want to have
some sort of head start.
      “There is none, winner gets Maris,” he answered. “So are you in,
or are you in?”
      “I‟m in, but only under one condition,” I said.
      “Go ahead, be my guest.”
      “When you‟re flirting, don‟t make it so obvious.”
      “I‟m not obvious! I‟m suave,” he corrected me in his usual “I‟m-
too-cool” voice.
      “You are obvious, you idiot,” I argued.
      “Am not!”
      “Of course you are!”



74
     “Am not!”
     “Stop acting like a two-year-old!”
     “I am not!”
     “Yes, you are!”
     “Am not!”
     And it was at that moment that Maris‟ blood-curdling scream cut
through the night.




                                                                   75
     Maris




76
I was on my way back to camp; feeling the embarrassment of what
had just went on painting my cheeks a brilliant scarlet.
      I could feel absolute frustration coming off me in waves. Jaspr
just had to butt in just when I had realized my feelings for Seth! He
couldn‟t have come at a worse time.
      My senses were being dulled as my mind and heart screamed in
anger, but, despite that, I heard a twig snap right behind me, making
me whirl around with fear.
      Immediately, I forgot Seth, the meadow, Jaspr‟s entrance, and
all that mattered was the empty space behind me. But, somehow,
knowing that something wasn’t there was much scarier than the
possibility of finding a mouse or something.
      Deciding that some passing animal had made the sound, I
turned around to continue on my way, but, when I did, I came face to
face with a pair of blazing yellow eyes. Instinctively, I opened my
mouth to scream, but it the sound caught in my throat like peanut
butter, the only thing passing through my lips being a low gasp of
surprise.
      I turned around again to run when I noticed that I was
completely surrounded by a circle of snarling, snapping creatures that
looked like jackals-slash-hyenas except they walked on two legs
instead of four, and they were of all colors. I could feel my heart
pounding in my chest, but this time, with fear.
      A band of Jarokai and obviously one Calkora had me completely
at their mercy.
      Before I could execute another feeble escape attempt, two of the
Jarokai lunged forward and grabbed hold of each of my arms, whipping
me around to face the Calkoran guy who was waiting patiently as I
struggled to get free.



                                                                        77
      The man began to stalk around me in circles, like a lion waiting
to pounce on the little antelope it had just caught.
      “Well, well,” he purred in the same silky voice as the other two
Calkorans that had tried to capture me. “This is the so called long-lost
princess? The spawn of Queen Erowynn? Exactly how did something
like you and those other nuisances slip by us so easily? Well, the
Jarokai are under my command now, so you won‟t be getting away so
easily, your Highness.”
      I glared the best I could at him, but I didn‟t have enough
courage to keep it up.
      The man chuckled as he unsheathed a rather large, yet slim,
knife that he had concealed at his side, underneath his dark black
cloak. Then, very gingerly, he began to test the very tip of the blade
on the pointer finger of one of his hands, which were covered only by
gloves that lacked fingers. And, as I watched, he let a small drop of
blood drip down his arm before the cloth of his sleeve soaked it up.
      “You know, Princess,” he sneered. “I have very, very detailed
orders to take you back to Lord Syrin, but if I kill you now, he will
surely promote me… and I can leave your carcass behind for that
Rebel boy to find. What was his name again? Scott? Stefan? Oh yes…
Seth.”
      I stiffened as soon the man said Seth‟s name. “No,” I denied, my
voice sounding hoarse with fear.
      The man laughed. “Just think about it, princess! The second he
sees his poor queen‟s body, he‟ll be out for revenge… and, sooner or
later, he‟ll walked right into the blade of my knife,” he flicked his
weapon for emphasis. “I must be boring you to death, your Highness,
I‟ve seemed to have been rambling… oh well, I won‟t keep you any
longer. Say goodbye, Princess.”



78
      I screamed in absolute terror as he advanced on me, knife in
hand, thrashing about as I tried in vain to escape the Jarokais‟ grip.
      But then I noticed that a flurry of words I didn‟t understand were
pouring from my mouth like a flood and pure, absolute light began to
take over my vision, but, soon enough, the light was extinguished, and
everything went black.




                                                                         79
     Seth




80
After I had heard Maris‟ scream, I ordered Jaspr to get Kemris and
Edwin before I plunged into the woods, heading towards the place I
thought the sound had originated from.
      I was running as fast as I could, and reached a small clearing in
couple of seconds.
      At first, I thought there was nothing there, but then I noticed
that Maris was lying facedown on the ground, not moving. As I moved
closer, I saw footprints that were way too big to be Maris‟, and big,
dog-like prints with claws. Someone had followed her, and it was, from
the looks of everything, the Calkora.
      I feared that I hadn‟t gotten to her in time, that Maris was…
gone, but I breathed a long, slow sigh of relief when I realized that her
sides were rising and falling as she slept, completely unconscious.
      I walked over and knelt by her side, picking her up gingerly and
cradling her gently in my arms, feeling my heart beat with both relief
and fear that something was wrong with her.
      “What happened?” a familiar, yet groggy, voice asked.
      Immediately, I looked up and saw Kemris, Edwin, and Jaspr
picking their way towards us.
      “I don‟t know,” I answered, hoping against hope that Jaspr
hadn‟t told the other two what had happened between Maris and I. But
luckily, they didn‟t say anything about the matter.
      “Is there anything wrong with her?” checked Kemris, kneeling
down on Maris‟ other side as she examined her for any injuries.
      “Not that I can see,” I replied, starting to feel even more afraid.
      “We‟re going to have to wait until she wakes up, then she can
tell us what went on here,” recommended Edwin, being the only voice
of reason.




                                                                         81
      Seeing as that was our only option, we, or I as I should say,
carried Maris back to camp and laid her down on sleeping blanket near
the extinguished fire and, once Kemris took up her watch, I lay down
beside her and just watched her sleep, unable to calm the guilty
thoughts that wracked my brain.
      “Seth, what happened between the two of you? Why were you
out so late?” asked Kemris tentatively as soon as Jaspr and Edwin had
fallen asleep as well.
      “We went for a walk, and… well… I-I told her I had feelings for
her,” I admitted, feeling my face heat up with humiliation.
      “What?! Seth, she‟s-she‟s a princess, we‟re just commoners,
you‟re a commoner!” she gasped. “She needs to marry a prince, not
some orphaned rebel boy who rescued her a bunch of times!”
      “But Kem… I-I love her,” I objected, sitting up to face Kemris‟
accusing green-eyed glare.
      “This isn‟t right, Seth, she‟s a royal who needs to marry another
royal! Are you getting any of this?” she demanded, her dark green
eyes which reminded me so much of Maris‟ flashing with anger.
      “Yes, Kem, but I don‟t see the point! I love her, she loves me,
what does our blood have to do with any of this?!” I shot back, feeling
frustration well up in my veins.
      “Seth, you‟re my little brother, and I promised mom I would… I
promised mom I would take care of you guys,” she gulped, tears
welling up in her eyes as she choked up at her memories of our mom.
“And I don‟t want to see you get hurt if this ends badly.”
      “It won‟t, besides, Kem, wouldn‟t you do whatever it took if you
could be with the one person you loved? With Corellei?” I pressed.
      “The situation between me and Corellei is different, our magyk
abilities keep us apart, but genetics and rank keep you and Maris



82
apart, that‟s a very, very wide gap,” she argued, her sorrow being
quickly replaced by fury.
          “I don‟t care, Kem. I love her, and that‟s all that matters to me
right now,” I said stubbornly. “So you‟re just going to have to get used
to it.”
          “Seth… just promise me that, if she needs to marry some other
boy, a prince, that you‟ll let her go. You can‟t just think about yourself,
Seth, Ecladia needs a queen and a king, someone who knows how to
pass laws and make treaties and all that other stuff. You have to
understand that this is the way it was meant to be,” she pleaded, her
eyes desperate.
          “I‟ll make the decision when the time comes, Kem, but for right
now, this is how it is,” I stated. “And when she wakes up, I intend to
keep it that way.”




                                                                              83
                  Moving On

                               Maris


I woke up absolutely, and irrevocably groggy.
      My head throbbed painfully as my eyes flickered open, making
me groan.
      I was leaning against a tree in the clearing we had camped in,
but strangely, I didn‟t remember falling asleep.
      “You awake now?”
      Instantly, I looked to my right and saw Seth leaning
nonchalantly against a tree nearby, obviously awake.
      He walked over and sat down beside me, yawning a bit as he did
so.
      “How long was I out this time?” I asked. Getting knocked out
and waking up a long time later seemed to be some kind of tradition
for me by that time.
      He laughed, obviously getting my joke. “Only about three or four
hours, don‟t worry,” he reassured me.


84
        I sighed in relief, happy that I hadn‟t been asleep for something
crazy like, three weeks or something like that.
        “What happened last night?” questioned Seth, snapping me out
of my reverie.
        “What?” I queried, confused.
        “You know, after Jaspr caught us… well…” he trailed off as he
flushed with obvious embarrassment.
        I furrowed my brows in puzzlement. What was he talking about?
Then, as if from no where, all of my memories from the night before
flooded into my mind.
        The fire, the meadow, Seth‟s confession… and especially the
kiss.
        But I also remembered the assassin.
        “Well?” he pressed somewhat impatiently.
        Quickly, I told him about the assassin and the bright light and
everything else, but then I asked the question that had plagued me for
the longest of times. “Who‟s Lord Syrin?” I inquired.
        “Syrin,” he stressed the lack of “Lord”. “Is the leader of the
Calkora. He hardly deserves to be a beggar, much less a lord.”
        “So… why does he want to kill me? He‟s already powerful…
right?” I checked.
        He smiled a humorless smile. “He is powerful, but he wants to be
King of Ecladia, not just a minor lord, but as long as there is someone
else who holds a claim to the throne, he can‟t,” he answered, his voice
sounding very melancholy.
        “So… he‟s trying to kill me?” I guessed, fear beginning to pump
its icy self through my veins.
        In less than a week I had gone from insignificant sophomore
whose biggest worry was acing tests to the princess of a world who‟s



                                                                          85
the target of a mad, power-hungry lord trying to kill her. No biggie,
right? Wrong.
      “Yeah.”
      I lay my head against his shoulder in defeat, allowing him to put
his arm around my shoulders as he tried to comfort me. Then, when
he pressed his lips against the top of my head, I closed my eyes in
blissful silence, trying to come to terms with what he had just told me.
      After a small while, I pulled away. “Where are the others?” I
asked, beginning to worry.
      “Kemris and Edwin went to check out Dendris, you know, after
the… and Jaspr, well, I don‟t really know where he is, but life‟s much
better off without him,” he replied.
      “Wait a second, Seth,” I said as a very worrisome thought
wormed itself into my mind. “Did Jaspr tell the others about… what
happened last night?”
      “Fortunately no,” he answered.
      I sighed in relief, but it didn‟t last long.
      “I told them.”
      “What?!” I instantly shouted, my eyes widening in horror.
      He took a deep breath. “I only told Kemris, and she told Edwin,
but they needed to know why you and I were out by ourselves, so I
was pretty much forced to tell them,” he explained.
      I let my head fall back against the tree and covered my face with
my hands, just imagining all the taunts Jaspr would throw at us.
      “Don‟t worry, Maris, it‟ll work out alright,” he assured me.
“Besides, Jaspr promised not to tell anyone else.”
      “What? How‟d you do that?” I questioned, peeking out between
my fingers curiously.




86
      “Well, let‟s just say that I threatened to tell everyone something
about him for once,” he smirked mischievously.
      “Really? What?” I prodded, letting my hands drop into my lap as
I straightened up.
      “Well, you know Jaspr‟s an archer, right?” began Seth, grinning.
      “Yeah.”
      “Well, he was making his own bow once, you know, like,
practically turning a tree branch into a weapon? Anyways, after three
weeks of working on the thing, he had it all nice and ready, so all he
needed to do was put it to the test,” he said, stifling his laughter.
      “And what happened?” I goaded, being sucked into the story.
      “Edwin and I rigged it so when he raised his arrow to test it, it
snapped in half and hit him in the eye!” he burst out laughing at the
memory, making me laugh too at the visual that sprang into my head.
      But then, the both of us went silent as the strip of woods across
the clearing from us began to rustle as Kemris and Edwin emerged
from the cover of the trees.
      “Any luck?” Seth called to them, serious now.
      “No,” answered Edwin. “We couldn‟t find anybody. Syrin
completely obliterated the place.”
      “Aivanlyn probably evacuated some of the villagers, I have a
feeling that she knew about this beforehand,” assured Kemris.
“Besides, her water magyk would‟ve helped with the fire.”
      “Then we still have hope,” I added. If Aivanlyn had known
everything before they happened, somehow, then there was a very
good chance that at least some the villagers had survived if not most
and, if not…
      I wrenched myself out of my daydream as Kemris walked over to
me.



                                                                          87
      “We need to start your training, the sooner the better. I‟m going
to show you how to use your necklace,” she said to me, holding her
hand out to help me up.
      With a quick glance at Seth and Edwin, I allowed Kemris to help
me to my somewhat shaky feet and lead me into the forest from which
she had come.
      “Seth told me what happened last night,” she commented
casually once we were in the cover of the trees and out of earshot
from the boys.
      “Yeah,” I said. “He told me.”
      “You know, Maris, that you‟re a princess, right?” she checked as
if I didn‟t know that already.
      “Yeah, but… what does that have to do with anything?” I asked.
      She turned back to me. “We‟re commoners, Maris, and
princesses do not marry commoners. Your blood separates you and
Seth from each other,” she explained.
      “A-are you saying that I‟m going to have to…. Marry somebody
I‟ve never even met, much less love?” I asked, shocked that Kemris,
who had talked to me only two days prior about falling in love was
trying to break Seth and me up.
      “I‟m just saying that, if it comes to that, you‟re going to have
to,” she answered matter-of-factly before turning to walk away.
      “Wait, what?! You‟re saying that just because I‟m a princess that
means I can‟t be with the person I love? That‟s just-just… cruel!” I
snapped.
      She twisted towards me again, as patient as ever. “Maris, when
you think about it from the citizen‟s perspective, we need someone to
rule us, someone who knows how to handle wars and laws and things
like that. I‟m telling you right now that Seth isn‟t the kind of guy who



88
grew up learning those kinds of things,” explained Kemris. “And, quite
frankly, Maris, you may have to give him up one day, at least when
the war is over.”
      “War?” I queried.
      “Of course, a war. What did you think that attack on Dendris
was? Syrin has been looking for you, Maris, ever since you
disappeared sixteen years ago, and he‟s been making our life hell,”
she said. “That‟s why we came for you before you turned eighteen, our
situation has gone from bad to worse. You have to understand Maris,
you‟re Ecladia‟s only hope of surviving as the great country it had once
been, and if leaving Seth is the only way, you‟re going to have to do it.
I don‟t want to make you feel guilty Maris, but many people want to
kill you, and Seth will do anything to protect you. If we allow him as a
king to kill himself to save you, we‟ll be right back where we started.”
      I gulped as her words sank deep into my heart. “I-I understand,”
I murmured.
      There was a complete silence for a couple of moments until
Kemris spoke again.
      “That‟s why I brought you out here, Maris, to begin your training
so you can help us fight Syrin,” she reminded me. “Now repeat after
me: Ektra Neãlshra.”
      “Ecktra Neelshra,” I copied her unsuccessfully.
      “Try again,” she ordered. “Ektra Neãlshra.”
      Back and forth, back and forth we went as I made mistake after
mistake and Kemris corrected me time and again.
      Thirty minutes later, I finally had it.
      “Okay, next step!” she said cheerfully, clapping her hands
together.




                                                                       89
      “There‟s a next step?” I inquired somewhat jokingly, making her
laugh at my terrified look.
      “Don‟t worry, it‟s not too hard,” she assured me. “Now what I
just showed you is a spell to activate your necklace, so hold the stone
to your mouth, then say the spell to it.”
      Somewhat doubtful, I raised the stone to my lips and murmured
the words into it, and, surprisingly, the crystal jerked out of my hands
to hover before me at eye level. My mouth gaped in awe.
      “Good. Next step,” muttered Kemris half to herself as she pulled
a necklace identical to my own out of her collar. “Say my name into it.
Loud and clear.”
      “Um, okay… Kemris,” I said into the crystal, and, almost
immediately, Kemris‟ necklace started pulsating a warm, yellow light.
      After saying the words into her own necklace, she called into it,
“Can you hear me?”
      Instantly, I winced as her voice, which was strangely magnified,
screamed at me.
      “I‟ll take that as a yes,” she murmured, though to me, it
sounded like she was talking normally.
      Then, she reached out and covered the necklace with the whole
of her hand, snuffing out the light, and, when she let go, the necklace
fell limp against her collar, nothing but a necklace once more.
      “These necklaces are a means of communication between sages,
and are absolutely crucial on the battlefield. If you ever run into
trouble, Maris, just say the spell and call for me, and we will be there
before you can blink,” she explained, giving me a reassuring smile as I
deactivated my necklace.
      “So… I‟m a sage?” I asked.




90
      “Of course, your eyes don‟t lie!” she smiled, showing me the
family resemblance between her and Seth.
      “My eyes?”
      “Yes. A sage‟s eyes will always show something of nature in
them, for example, the darker green flecks in my eyes look like falling
leaves, right?” she said, widening her eyes a little so I could get a
good look at them.
      I nodded in agreement. “So the trees in mine mean that I‟m a
sage?” I checked.
      “Yes, and not only a sage, an animagi,” she replied excitedly.
      “What‟s an animagi?” I questioned, as confused as ever.
      “An animagi is a special kind of sage that can phase into the
certain animal they represent,” she explained. “But the gene is only
passed on by blood. Your mother, for example, was an animagi
herself, so it is certain that she passed the gene to you.”
      “Then… what am I?” I prompted, curious.
      “Well, by my perspective, you‟re either some kind of eagle or a
hawk,” answered Kemris.
      “I look like a hawk?” I queried, not knowing whether to be
amazed or offended.
      “You have sharp eyes, you‟re alert, you‟re fast, you‟re like a
hawk,” she clarified, laughing.
      “I still don‟t get it,” I admitted.
      “Don‟t worry, you‟ll figure it out sooner or later,” she assured
me, smiling as ever. “Though I have to say your blood also affects
your abilities.”
      “What do you mean?” I asked.
      “Royal animagis, like you, have the ability to wield Light magyk-
that‟s the most powerful form of magyk in Ecladia besides dark. And,



                                                                         91
since royal animagis are even more rare that just plain animagis,
which are rare unto themselves, it‟s almost certain that you are the
only wielder of light magyk in all of Ecladia,” explained Kemris.
      “Wow,” I commented, not knowing what else to say in my awe.
      “Yeah, wow,” laughed Kemris. “You know, we‟d better head back
before those boys kill themselves. Come on.”
      And as we were heading back to the small clearing where we
had been almost an hour before, Kemris and I began talking about
random, meaningless things. Things you‟d talk about with your friends,
for example.
      Then, out of nowhere, an arrow sped by my face, and actually
brushed my hair back before embedding itself in the tree behind me
with a “thunk!”
      “What the heck?!” I exclaimed, my eyes widening in terror at
how close I was to death.
      “Maris, get down,” Kemris ordered me before stepping
protectively ahead of me, her hands lifting as she prepared to work
her magyk.
      “Whoa! Hold your horses, Kem, it‟s just us!” Edwin‟s voice called
from ahead of us before Kemris could start attacking.
      With a sigh of exasperation, Kemris dropped her defenses as her
three brothers stepped out of the woods. “Lyho apcr, you scared me,”
she hissed, half in a language I couldn‟t understand.
      “What was that for?” I demanded from Jaspr, who was holding
his bow.
      “Your first training exercise! I wanted to see how you reacted in
this type of situation,” answered Seth, holding out a hand to help me
up, which I took.




92
      “You could‟ve given me a heads-up!” I complained, still freaking
out as I got up on my feet.
      “Oh, so you expect an enemy soldier to just come strolling up to
you in the middle of battle and say, “Hey! I‟m going to attack you now,
so be ready!”?” he smirked, smiling a cocky smile.
      I scowled back at him.
      Then, Jaspr walked the two feet behind me to where his arrow
was still poking out of the tree.
      “Ah, man! I was going for a bull's-eye!” he whined, making Seth
whack him in the back of the head… again.
      “OW! Jeez! None of you have a sense of humor!” complained
Jaspr, rubbing the back of his head.
      “It‟s not that we don‟t have a sense of humor, Jas, it‟s because
your jokes are never all that funny,” countered Edwin.
      “They are, too!”
      “No, they‟re not.”
      “Yes, they are!”
      “No, they‟re not!”
      “Yes, they are!”
      “No, they‟re not.”
      “Anyways,” interrupted Seth before the argument could turn into
a full-on fight. “We‟re going to have to keep training, Maris. Whether
you like it or not.”
      He added the last bit as I let out a low groan. I had already
nearly chopped Jaspr‟s arm off in one of our training sessions, much
less actually getting any good hits in. The sword wasn‟t looking to be a
very good candidate for my weapon of choice in a fight.
      “I don‟t think I could keep using that sword without killing
anyone,” I grumbled.



                                                                         93
      “Oh, I know!” interjected Jaspr out of nowhere.
      “What is it now, Jaspr?” sighed Seth.
      “How „bout I start teaching Maris archery? You know, to give her
a break from the sword!” he declared.
      “That‟s a fabulous idea, Jaspr! We can totally help Syrin by
killing Maris for him!” said Seth, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
      “Yeah right, Seth. What are the chances of me skewering Maris
with an arrow when she‟s standing right next to me?” snorted Jaspr in
defiance.
      “Anything‟s possible with you, Jaspr,” noted Seth.
      They argued for about twenty more minutes about the pro‟s and
con‟s of me learning archery, Kemris and Edwin sometimes adding
words of support for one side or the other, until I decided to step in.
      “Alright, both of you. Jaspr, I‟ll let you train me, but Seth has to
be present at each session,” I compromised.
      “I can deal with that,” agreed Seth.
      “Fine! If you feel you need to eye your girlfriend all day, Seth,
then I guess I can let you,” chastised Jaspr with a cocky grin.
      “Sure, sure, Jas,” scowled Seth. “Whatever you say.”




94
      Heart-Felt Words


                               Maris



“So this is derwon… downer? I downer whether or not this is true?”
      “No, it‟s wonder. I wonder whether or not this is true.”
      “Oh…”
      It had been a day since that fateful night, and Jaspr had begun
to teach me archery which, surprisingly, I learned rather quickly.
      Of course, Kemris started cramming spells for magyk and other
things such as a sort of martial arts thing into my still confused brain
while Edwin helped me with the more academical subjects, such as
map-reading and other things. Kemris had also volunteered to teach
me the Ecladian language, but Seth had stepped in and asked if he
could teach me.
      So there we were, sitting on a fallen log at the far side of the
clearing we were still camped in, Jaspr and Edwin training in the



                                                                           95
clearing itself while Kemris read what looked like some sort of spell
book.
        The Ecladian language was by no means super-complicated, but
it did demand much concentration to keep the words the way they
were meant to be read.
        Seth had shown me that the Ecladian language was kind of like
English words, but the letters are mixed up according to a certain
system. Each letter of each word is exchanged with the letter that
comes four spaces after it until the word ends, and no letter can be
repeated so you just flip the letters if the word isn‟t big enough. For
example, the word “apple” in English is spelled “a-p-p-l-e” but in
Ecladian, it is spelled “l-e-p-a-p”. Of course if you have a four-letter
word like… well, word, you ended up just spelling it backwards “drow”,
but Seth had told me not to rely on that kind-of rule to get me by.
        “Don‟t worry, Maris,” Seth had assured me as I gave him a look
of utter confusion. “The system gets easier once you get used to it.”
        And he was right. The farther I went along, the easier it was for
me to understand the language. And, soon enough, I was reading
through the sentences that Seth was writing in a small notebook that
he had bought at Dendris‟ market for that particular reason.
        “I see you‟re getting the hang of it,” commented Seth. “We
should probably take a break, we‟ve been at this for what? Six hours?”
        I laughed. “Only two. The sun‟s barely risen,” I corrected him,
smiling at his obvious joke.
        Seth closed the notebook with his messy scrawl etched inside it
and stretched his back a little as he came out of the hunched position
he had been in. “Well, it feels like six hours,” he said, setting down the
book and the thin piece of charcoal he had been using as a pencil.




96
“What with how long it took you to figure out that I was writing,
“Where‟d that beaver go?” in Ecladian.”
      “Hey! That one was hard, the charcoal smudged and besides,
why would I need to ask someone where a beaver went? I mean, it‟s
not as important to me as some other phrases are,” I muttered the
last bit half to myself.
      “What kinds of phrases?” asked Seth, leaning in towards me, his
crystalline blue eyes quizzical.
      I blushed. “Well… um… it‟d be nice if I knew how to say… well…”
I stammered dropping my gaze as I turned a deeper scarlet by the
second.
      “Go on,” he urged me, giving me a reassuring smile. “I promise I
won‟t laugh if it‟s something funny… maybe.”
      I giggled a little at his joke before answering, “Well, I-I‟ve been
wondering for a while… how do you say “I love you” in Ecladian?”
      He gave me a broad grin. “That one‟s easy! It‟s “I evol ouy,”,”
he replied. “And you‟d better get used to hearing that, because I‟m
going to be saying it a lot.”
      I blushed furiously at what he said as I looked back up at him.
“That‟s probably the sweetest thing anyone‟s ever said to me,” I
admitted.
      “Really? I thought that other boy would‟ve come up with
something better.”
      “Huh? What other boy?” I queried instantly, furrowing my brows
in confusion.
      “You know, that boy that talked to you when we first met,”
answered Seth.
      “Justin? Justin Keindrwood? I highly doubt he could come up
with anything sweeter,” I scoffed, chuckling a bit to myself.



                                                                            97
       “Well, he looked very much interested in you,” Seth pointed out.
       I shook my head at him before he could even finish his sentence.
“He‟s no threat. He‟s been hitting on me since I was ten and hasn‟t let
up since. If he ever had a chance, we would probably be dating by
now,” I said. “And, obviously, that hasn‟t happened.”
       He laughed. “I have to say that‟s probably a good thing on his
part, if you had been going out with him, I‟d have probably had to get
into a fight for your hand,” he said theatrically, taking a firm grip on
my left hand for emphasis.
       “With your training, I doubt he would win,” I giggled, squeezing
his hand playfully.
       “Yeah, it‟d be like getting into a fight with Jaspr,” he mocked just
loud enough for his voice to carry towards where Edwin and Jaspr
were still training.
       “I heard that!” Jaspr‟s voice resonated from the other side of the
clearing, and, soon enough, its owner appeared in front of us, Edwin
trailing behind. “I could beat you in a fight easily, Seth, and you know
it!”
       “Yeah right, Jas! Name exactly how many times you‟ve beaten
Seth,” snorted Edwin with a smirk at his younger brother.
       “… Okay, maybe I haven‟t beaten him before, but I bet I could!”
retorted Jaspr.
       “Is that really a bet you‟re willing to make?” asked Seth, an idea
obviously forming in his head.
       “Of course!” leapt Jaspr immediately.
       “Please don‟t tell me you‟re gonna kill Jaspr, Seth. I don‟t want
to have to be responsible for a body, I mean, how are we going to
explain that to Kemris?” I interjected.




98
      “Easy! We‟ll just say he died of shooting himself with an arrow.
It‟s happened before,” said Edwin.
      “Hey, wait a second! You‟re thinking Seth‟s gonna kill me?! He
wouldn‟t dare!” shouted Jaspr defiantly.
      “Really, Jaspr? You really think I wouldn‟t try?” grinned Seth,
obviously having a lot of fun taunting his youngest brother.
      “I would drop you in a second!” corrected Jaspr.
      “Yeah, right,” dismissed Seth.
      “Yeah, I would!”
      “Of course, you wouldn‟t.”
      “Yes, I would and you know it!”
      “Hey, hey! No fighting! We already had one of us get mortally
wounded!” a new voice interrupted before a red-faced Jaspr could do
anything more than smolder under Seth‟s nonchalant gaze.
      “He started it!” whined Jaspr, turning into an eight-year-old
again under his older sister‟s regime.
      Seth rolled his eyes. “You‟re just mad because you know that I‟ll
beat you,” he said.
      “Am not!” hollered Jaspr, turning an even darker tomato red.
      “Yes, you are,” pressed Seth.
      “Am not!”
      “Yes, you are.”
      “I am not!”
      “What did I just say?!” shouted Kemris over her two younger
siblings.
      “He started it!” carped Jaspr to his only sister.
      “Okay, the both of you just shut up and move away from each
other so my headache won‟t turn into too bad of a migraine,” ordered
Kemris, obviously flustered.



                                                                         99
      “Fine!” agreed Jaspr before stomping away to the other side of
the clearing towards his bow and arrow.
      “Sometimes I wonder about that kid,” muttered Edwin as his
eyes followed his brother.
      “Yeah, me too,” concurred Seth, following Edwin‟s gaze.
      “And I wonder about you two! Why do you pick on him like
that?” demanded Kemris from her younger brothers.
      “Hey, he pranks us!” protested Seth.
      “I know, but that‟s only because you prank him!” countered
Kemris. “Sometimes you three just drive me insane!
      “So you two go over there and apologize to him right now!” she
snapped.
      “Do we have to?” asked Edwin.
      Kemris glared at him in response.
      “Take that as a yes,” mumbled Seth before standing up, being
an inch shorter than Edwin despite the year between them, and,
together, they walked across the clearing towards Jaspr, who was
furiously stringing his bow. I was left alone with Kemris.
      “You alright?” I checked on Kemris as her face took on the
appearance that she was ready to throw fire at the three of her
brothers.
      “Yeah. It‟s just kinda stressful being the only girl out of three
boys, not to mention being the oldest,” she explained. “Especially after
our mom…”
      When she didn‟t finish her sentence, I was about to press her for
information, but felt that she didn‟t want to talk about whatever
happened to her mom.
      “Wow,” I said, breaking the awkward silence. “I don‟t think I
would be able to handle that.”



100
      Based upon her reaction, I could tell that something bad had
happened with their mother, and I was surprised by how she handled
such an impossible situation with such grace.
      She turned and smiled a small smile at me. “Not many people
could. But I have my brother to thank for that,” she said.
      “Seth?” I guessed. Out of the three boys, it seemed that Seth
would be the most likely to help Kemris out the most. Either that, or
I‟m really, really biased.
      “No,” she answered. “Our other brother, Edmund.”
      “Edmund?” I queried. Seth, nor any of them for that matter, had
mentioned another member of the family, much less a brother named
Edmund. Whoever he was, either he wasn‟t rather important to our
situation or something bad had happened with him too.
      “He‟s our older brother, the eldest of all of us, and he left for war
a little while before… before Syrin came after my mom,” sighed Kemris
sadly, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. “Apparently he thought
she was part of the rebel force, which she was, but he killed her
mercilessly… and Edmund never came back from war…”
      By then, tears were drizzling from her eyes and down her
cheeks, leaving her beautiful green eyes bloodshot.
      I stood up and took her left hand. “Kem, whatever happened, it
happened and you can‟t change it, but that doesn‟t mean you can‟t
change the future,” I told her, using words and phrases I hadn‟t even
thought about saying.
      She smiled weakly at me before wiping her eyes with her free
hand. “Thanks, Maris. I needed that,” she thanked me, sniffing a little.
      All of a sudden, shouts emitted from across the clearing, making
Kemris and I perk up immediately to see Seth and Jaspr coming to




                                                                        101
blows over… something… while Edwin tried to break them apart. It
wasn‟t going very well.
      “We‟d better go before they kill each other,” said Kemris, wiping
her eyes dry and sweeping away the vulnerable girl she had exposed
to me and replacing it with the determined oldest sister that we all
knew very well. She smiled genuinely at me.
      “Yeah,” I agreed with an equal grin. “Let‟s.”




102
                       Morpho


                               Maris



“Dang you, Maris! You‟re too good at this!”
      I smirked cockishly. Jaspr was shouting on the account that I
had done everything he had instructed me to do with the utmost
perfection.
      Everyday, Kemris or one of the others would wake me up for
hours of intensive training, and, soon enough, the hours turned to
days, the days to weeks, and the weeks into months, my skills
improving at all subjects greatly- even the sword.
      “Stop complaining, Jaspr!” yelled Seth from the tree he was
leaning against, Edwin at his side.
      Now, three months to the day that Syrin lay fire to the peaceful
village of Dendris, Jaspr was testing me on my archery skills, which I
excelled at.



                                                                      103
         We had been moving from clearing to clearing, forest to forest,
only stopping in towns for supplies and only if we were in dire need for
them. We had learned our lesson from what happened in Dendris and
we didn‟t want any other small village suffering the same fate.
         Jaspr muttered something under his breath about how he was
surrounded by idiots before lifting his bow until his arrow was at eye
level.
         And just as he was about to send the arrow towards a small,
ramshackle target carved into a tree about five meters away, his bow
snapped in half where the arrow sat knocked above his fingers, and,
as I watched, the wood from the retaliating bow hit Jaspr directly in
the eye.
         “HOLY SNAP, THAT HURT!” cried Jaspr, covering his soon-to-be
black eye with his hand.
         Of course, I could barely hear his wails over the hysterical
chuckles that emanated from both Seth and Edwin as they laughed at
their younger brother, not to mention me.
As I was laughing my head off, I noticed in my peripheral vision the
two other boys high-fiving each other, making me remember what
Seth had told me that they had actually done the same thing to poor
Jaspr earlier. Ouch. Talk about bad karma.
         “That‟s it! I‟m taking a break! Why don‟t you fight her, Seth?”
Jaspr ordered his older brother as he stomped towards them, the
remnants of his bow still clenched in his hands.
         Seth laughed as he straightened up and walked over to me, still
grinning jovially.
         “So what are we doing, Master?” I teased him. Seth had made a
big deal over the fact that I didn‟t call him something special, just
“Seth”, but then I had retaliated that he never called me anything



104
special, so it had been a joke between us to keep making names for
each other.
      “Well, My Lady, why don‟t we start with no-weapons, no-magyk?
Just good old fists?” he told me formally.
      “Okay,” I agreed before positioning myself sideways to make
myself a smaller target and moving my hands up to shoulder-level, my
right hand slightly lower than the other.
      Seth copied my movements, and waved his hand for me to begin
once he was ready.
      Instantly, I lashed out with my hands and hit the pressure points
at his neck, like Kemris had taught me to. And when Seth went to
defend himself, I swung out with my left leg and hit the back of his
right leg, making him fall and land heavily on his back, officially
defeated.
      “Ha, Seth! You got beat by a girl!” taunted Jaspr from where he
was watching us, massaging his already blackening eye.
      “Yeah, but you got beat by a bow,” retaliated Seth.
      “Ouch, that‟s a burn,” laughed Edwin.
      I reached out with a hand to help Seth up and assisted him in
brushing off some of the dust and blades of grass that clung to his
tunic and trousers.
      “You‟re getting good,” a new voice chimed in from nearby.
      Immediately, we all turned to a small alcove in front and a little
ways to the right of me and noticed Kemris watching us from the
shelter of the trees.
      “Thanks,” I replied, smiling. Even I have to admit that I was
getting good.
      “You know, I think it‟s high time we get Neandro,” she muttered
half to herself. “Don‟t you think so, Seth?”



                                                                       105
      “You really think she‟s ready?” queried Seth.
      “Who‟s Neandro?” I asked, becoming a bit confused.
      Seth sighed playfully at my question. “Neandro‟s someone who
can help you with your goose problem,” he teased.
      “I‟m a hawk, not a goose,” I corrected him before turning back
to Kemris. “But can‟t you teach me to turn into a bird or whatever?”
      I had noticed only a few days after my training had begun that
Kemris wasn‟t even teaching me the basics of being an animagi, and
when I had asked her about it, she had only replied with, “Don‟t worry,
you‟ll learn.”
      “I‟m not an animagi, Maris, and, quite frankly, you‟re going to
need a trained professional to help you out with that,” she answered.
“Which is why I‟m hoping Neandro will accept, being a hybrid and all.”
      “Hybrid?” I queried at the new word.
      “A hybrid is a half-human, half-animal that are much like
animagi, but they are born with wings and tails and things like that
and they cannot use magyk. There are six basic clans with some
overlaps with cross-species marriages: Bird, Bat, Cat, Dragon, Wolf,
and Marine,” explained Kemris. “Of course, many of them are extinct
by now.”
      “Extinct?!” I gasped.
      “Hybrids were exiled by society because of their… uncleanness
and have been that way ever since. Not to mention that many people
kill hybrids on sight despite your mother‟s law against the mindless
murdering of them,” replied Kemris.
      “And that‟s why we have to scale Mt. Gothr to find the Bird Clan,
and Neandro,” added Seth.
      “Wait a sec. Mt. Gothr? Are you talking about mountain
climbing?!” I demanded, totally freaking out.



106
      “Yes, and no. Mt. Gothr is an active volcano that erupts at
incalculable intervals and is extremely dangerous,” explained Seth
rather awkwardly.
      “Volcano?!” I shouted, my eyes growing very, very wide. Lava
and I shouldn‟t mix. In fact, we shouldn‟t even be mentioned in the
same sentence. “You mean like, lava?”
      “Yes, lava. And, whether you like it or not, Maris, we‟re going to
have to go. We need to stop at Feeana for supplies or we won‟t even
make it to the base of the mountain,” said Edwin as he and Jaspr
walked over and entered the conversation.
      “Yep! I can‟t go much longer without my daily dose of Vitamin
G!” joked Jaspr.
      “Vitamin what now?” I queried, still flustered.
      “Girls,” he answered with a smirk, making his black eye look
even darker in the shadow of his forehead.
      “Just shut up, Jaspr,” growled Seth and Edwin simultaneously.
      “Make me!”
      “The three of you shut up!” snapped Kemris, rolling her eyes.
“Anyways, we do need supplies, but to get to Feeana in less than a
day, we‟re going to need to go through morpho territory. I suggest we
take the long way around it.”
      “We won‟t last that long,” objected Edwin. “I just checked the
food supply and the water, and we won‟t be able to survive the four
days it‟ll take us to go the long way. Besides, the likelihood of an
attack is a million to one!”
      “You do know that one out of five travelers gets attacked? There
are five of us!” protested Kemris.
      “What‟s a morpho?” I stepped in rather awkwardly.




                                                                       107
      “A morpho is a type of animal-plant-thing that kinda look like
onions, but they have these vines that cling to you and into their
mouth which as row upon row of razor sharp teeth. Sounds like a very
pleasant death, doesn‟t it?” grinned Seth as I turned pale with disgust.
      “Yuck,” was all I managed to say. “But why do you call it a
morpho?”
      “Because if you cut off one vine, five more dangerous vines grow
in to replace it. Or, to put it simply, it gets easier for the morpho to kill
you,” he explained. “Isn‟t that nice?”
      “Yes, so nice,” I said sarcastically.
      “I can take on a morpho anytime!” exclaimed Jaspr, flexing his
minuscule arm muscles. “Even with its vines!”
      “If a broken bow manages to give you a black eye, I doubt that
you could beat a morpho,” scoffed Edwin.
      “Yes, I can and you know it!” whined Jaspr. “I‟d shoot its weak
points!”
      “Jaspr, you know the only weak point is its roots which is fiercely
protected by its vines. You wouldn‟t be able to get anywhere near it
without getting killed… Well, when I put it that way… you should do it!”
encouraged Seth.
      “Ha, ha, very funny,” laughed Jaspr sarcastically. “Don‟t be such
a pessimist.”
      “Well, it‟s true,” said Edwin.
      “Stop fighting, guys,” ordered Kemris. “All we need to do is get
to Feeana alive, okay?”
      “Right,” we all agreed.
      And so we gathered our stuff, preparing ourselves for the
journey ahead of us.




108
                                   ~*~


“Wait.”
      Instantly, we all stopped, nearly bumping into each other as
Seth, who was leading the way with his sword, halted us with an
upheld hand.
      “What is it?” I asked him.
      “Can you hear that?” he questioned back at me, making the rest
of us listen to the silence of the woods.
      “There‟s nothing,” said Kemris.
      “Exactly. The forest has gone silent. Even the birds,” he
whispered. “Move very, very slowly. Something‟s around here, at it
isn‟t a kitten.”
      “A morpho?” guessed Edwin, the smallest bit of fear creeping
into his voice.
      “I don‟t know, but whatever it is, we‟re gonna have to be- wait!
What was that?” muttered Seth as a loud rustling came from our left.
      Quickly, Edwin unsheathed his sword and advanced upon the
bush where the noise had come from, and, slowly, ever so slowly,
brushed the leaves back.
      “Get back, Ed! The closer we are together, the least likely one of
us will be picked off,” ordered Seth, taking command.
      “There‟s nothing here,” announced Edwin, breaking the added
silence that had gathered after Seth‟s warning.
      “Good,” said Jaspr, his face growing very, very pale.
      We began to walk very cautiously forwards, and we went about
five feet until another rustling was heard, this time, a little ways to our
right. But again, when Seth went to investigate, there was nothing.




                                                                        109
      “Seth, be care- AAH!” I screamed, cutting short my warning as
my legs were tugged out from under me.
      I was dragged through the bushes, screaming, by my legs, the
leaves giving me paper-cuts, or leaf-cuts, or whatever, all over my
arms and across my face.
      I could feel something slimy wrapped around my legs, and knew
instinctively that a morpho had me in its clutches.
      And I was ironically proven right. As soon as the wall of bushes
ended, I came face to face with the morpho.
      It was exactly as Seth had described it. It was a very big, about
the size of two doors stacked on top of each other onion or turnip-
shaped thing with a mouth near its base that was filled with row after
row of gnashing, serrated teeth that filled the entire forest with such a
deafening sound, I could barely hear myself think. And it was then that
I saw the vine that had me in its grip.
      The morpho was going to eat me.
      Terrified, I closed my eyes and waited for my obviously painful
death, but then I felt a strong pair of hands grab my right arm from
the shelter of the bushes. “Oh no, you don‟t!”
      Seth pulled on my arm in an attempt to get the vine to release
me, but to no avail, it held on.
      “Maris, your barrier!” shouted Kemris over the noise.
      Without the energy to call back to her, I barely managed to raise
my left hand to yell out the incantation.
      Kemris had taught me how to make a wall of fire with a basic
magyk spell, and, as I look back, I realize that that was probably the
best spell to attack the creature with.
      “INAKAREI, LEMOSAN!”




110
      Immediately as the last syllables left my lips, a wall of fire
erupted from the ground, shielding me, hopefully, from more vines.
      But, unfortunately, it failed.
      More vines passed through the fire as if it were just air and
wrapped themselves all around my legs to the top of my ribs, nearly
completely encasing me in a slimy green cocoon.
      “It-it‟s not working!” I yelled to Kemris, knowing that she
wouldn‟t be able to see what was going on. The morpho tugged me
ever closer.
      “Jaspr!” I heard Seth gasp, his voice thick with exertion.
      “Yeah?” Jaspr‟s voice sounded very strained too. He was
probably the one keeping Seth from suffering my same fate.
      “Let go and shoot the vines!” commanded Seth. “It‟s the only
chance we‟ve got!”
      “That could get the both of you killed!” protested Edwin over the
turmoil, his voice very, very strained. My guess was he was holding
onto not just one, but both of his brothers.
      “Just… do… it!” pressed Seth, his grip slick with sweat.
      “Seth, don‟t. I don‟t want you to die for me!” I yelled up to him
as the vines began to cover my shoulders.
      “I won‟t let you go, Maris!” he hollered at me, and, through the
leaves, I caught a glimpse of his desperate blue eyes, filled with fear.
      “I‟m going to let go!” Jaspr cried out. “Just hold on!”
      I slipped forward a couple more dreadful inches as Jaspr
released Seth to grab his bow, and, as I moved, Seth was dragged out
from the bushes, within range of the vines. Slowly at first, the vines
began to grab onto his hands, then wrists, up to my neck now.
      Seth‟s grip was getting slicker by the second, and the slime of
the vines was making it worse. “Seth, let go! Save yourself!” I



                                                                         111
screeched at him. If Jaspr didn‟t shoot his arrows soon, Seth and I
would be dead.
         “I won‟t let you die, Maris! Not while my heart beats and I still
have even an ounce of love for you!” he yelled at me.
         “Jaspr, where are those arrows?!” demanded Edwin‟s voice to
Jaspr.
         “I‟m almost there! Just wait a little longer!” answered Jaspr; his
voice sounding very hurried.
         But he was too late.
         Just as Seth‟s grip slackened a fraction of a degree more, the
morpho tugged on me and Seth‟s hands on my wrist disappeared as I
was dragged once again towards the morpho.
         “MARIS!”
         I tried to grab hold of blades of grass as the morpho reeled me
in gradually, but I couldn‟t get enough of a grip on them.
         The vines were wreaking havoc on my body, grabbing on to my
wrists, my neck, my shoulders, any spot they could hold onto until I
was almost completely encased in morpho vines.
         “MARIS!” Seth called out to me again, and, through a tiny
peephole in the vines, I could see him trying to come after me, the
only thing holding him back being Kemris and Edwin who had him by
the shoulders and arms.
         “Jaspr!” Kemris screamed at her brother in desperation as she
fought against Seth‟s flailing.
         Everything was going in slow motion, the teeth of the morpho as
it realized that it would get dinner after all, Seth‟s anguish, and the
arrows flying through the sky…
         Arrows?




112
      Five arrows were speeding through the air until they severed the
many vines that were holding onto me... and sliced through the main
root of the morpho.
      There was a loud screech of pain from the morpho as Seth ran
forward and pulled me back into the safety of the bushes before the
morpho could lash out with its dying breath.
      We were completely silent as we caught our breath to the tune
of the morpho‟s screams as it died, and, soon enough, the forest went
silent.
      “Maris, oh, Maris,” muttered Seth half to himself as he held me
close to his chest, pure relief coming off him in waves.
      We were still on the ground, me lying there, in Seth‟s arms while
the others knelt, gasping for breath.
      “Maris… your legs,” panted Kemris.
      Immediately, I looked down at my legs, which were exposed as
the skirt of my dress had been pulled up to my shins, and saw where
the vines had cut into my skin, leaving it raw and, in many places,
bleeding.
      “I-I can heal it,” I mumbled, more to myself than anyone else.
      “Schenamei carolis,” I muttered under my breath as I traced the
wounds with the fingertips, leaving the skin flawless. Then I moved
onto my arms and face.
      “Hey… wait a second!” interrupted Jaspr. “That‟s worse than
what happened to my eye! Why didn‟t you heal me?”
      Leave it to Jaspr to make a serious, traumatizing experience into
an annoying one.
      “It didn‟t pop into my head at the time,” I answered him
sweetly, giving him a rather weak smirk.




                                                                       113
       “Well, now you owe me one!” he held out his hand to me, as if to
help me up, but then I noticed that it was pink and completely rubbed
raw.
       “Huh? How‟d that happen?” I asked him as I examined his hand.
       “Oh, so you think it‟s easy firing five arrows at once? Maybe I
should bring that up in our next training session!” he said.
       I rolled my eyes at him. “Then I‟ll fix it now.”
       True to my word, I ran my hand across his, leaving it completely
undamaged.
       “Thank you,” he thanked me with a smirk.
       Seth pulled me to my feet and helped me brush off the bits and
pieces of vine that still clung to my body.
       “Are you alright?” he checked, his eyes full of worry.
       “Yeah, I got it all,” I answered him. “I‟m fine.”
       He smiled weakly at me. “Good.”
       And, being the official ruiner-of-perfect-moments, Jaspr came
between us and draped his arm over my shoulders. “Now we‟re even,”
he grinned simply at Seth. How strange.
       I glanced at Seth and he scowled at his brother. There was
something going on, but I couldn‟t put my finger on it.
       “Nice barrier,” complimented Kemris awkwardly, bringing me
back to reality.
       “But it didn‟t work,” I pointed out.
       “But it was still good. I could see and feel it even from where I
was. I haven‟t seen any barrier as good as that besides probably
Murlina, but that‟s because she‟s the best sage in Ecladia,” said
Kemris.
       “Who-” I was about to ask before cutting myself short. “Oh,
forget it. If it‟s important, I‟ll hear it sooner or later, right?”



114
     They smiled at me. Kemris, Jaspr, Seth… but Edwin wasn‟t.
     “Has it occurred to any of you that we‟re still standing in the
middle of morpho territory?” he checked, raising a darkened eyebrow.
     The rest of us stopped grinning stupidly before we began running
towards the edge of the forest.
     Towards Feeana.




                                                                       115
                        Laiyah


                                 Seth



We stood catching our breath on the edge of the forest, still freaking
out about the morpho attack.
      I was about four to five feet ahead of the others, and, as I
looked up from my heavy breathing, I could see the silhouette of
Feeana stationed only about a mile away from the base of Mt. Gothr,
which towered over the entire valley that shadowed it, it‟s peak
piercing the sky like a mighty hero‟s spear.
      As I was thinking, Jaspr appeared behind me, still panting.
“Seth?”
      “What is it, Jas?” I questioned, too tired to be sarcastic.
      “We haven‟t eaten anything since like, the crack of dawn, and I
don‟t think that‟s good for someone as important as Maris,” he
explained.



116
      I looked at him. “Are you sure it‟s Maris you‟re worried about
and not yourself?” I asked him slyly as I heard his stomach growl as if
confessing Jaspr‟s crime to me.
      “Fine,” he admitted. “I‟m hungry, but who can blame me?”
      “I can‟t,” said a new voice that I would recognize anywhere.
      Both Jaspr and I turned slightly to welcome Maris into our
conversation, Edwin and Kemris coming up to her flanks.
      A smile appeared on my face. “Okay. How „bout a little contest?
Last one to Feeana‟s buying all of us lunch,” I stated before taking off.
      “No fair!” whined Jaspr, his voice getting fainter and fainter as I
ran farther and farther away. “You‟re the fastest!”
      “Exactly,” I mumbled to myself with a grin.
      I had been born with the natural ability to outrun anyone and
anything at anytime. Jaspr was born with the ability of being
impossibly annoying! What a surprise.
      But as I was running, my cockiness turned to utter shock as
Maris sped by me, laughing.
      I skidded to a hard stop, coming to rest about three meters after
I had started. “What the…” I trailed off, my mouth gaping wide with
surprise.
      “Whoa,” commented Jaspr as he and Edwin both came panting
up to me, Kemris coming up a short time later.
      “It‟s her animagi blood. She‟s genetically more advanced than
us,” explained Kemris.
      As we watched, Maris came to a complete stop about half a mile
ahead of us in front of Feeana‟s gates and, without skidding, turned to
look back at us, still giggling. “I can‟t believe I outran you, Seth!” she
shouted to me, obviously knowing that I wouldn‟t be able to hear her if
she talked normally.



                                                                         117
       “Not I see why you like her,” whispered Edwin to me, a face of
equal awe etched on his face.
       I grinned up at him. “You don‟t know the half of it.”
       Quickly, Maris walked all the way back to us, still smiling. “Looks
like you‟re buying, Seth,” she laughed, smiling her dazzling smile.
       I scowled playfully at her. “Right.”
       “You‟re my hero!” yelled Jaspr theatrically, running the last few
feet towards Maris. “Now I won‟t have to spend all my money on
food!”
       “Wait a second,” interjected Maris. “You always lost?”
       “No… Okay, a couple of times… a lot of times… fine, yeah, I‟ve
always lost,” he finally admitted.
       Maris laughed her sweet, melodious laugh.
       “Guess I‟m the fastest now, Seth,” she boasted, still beaming.
       I tried to scowl at her again, but ended up with a wide grin from
ear to ear. “Yes, I guess you are,” I agreed.
       Then, Maris turned and led the way past Feeana‟s gates, which
were always open to travelers such as us during the day, and into the
city itself.
         Feeana was not unlike Dendris with the likes of the people,
though it was a bigger town and one of the many villages among a
very important trade route that led to Castle Ecladia, the castle that
Maris would someday preside in despite the fact that Syrin dwelt there
now. And, as we walked along the cobblestone street that was worn
down by centuries of travelers, people began to stare at Maris,
something the citizens of Dendris hadn‟t done. From what I could see,
I guessed that word of Dendris‟ plight had reached the ears of Feeana
through the many passers-by. Whispers could be heard being uttered
from the mouths of the villagers.



118
       “… Princess Maris isn‟t dead after all.”
       “Syrin is looking for her…”
       “Burnt down Dendris, Syrin did, looking for the Princess!”
       Instantly, I sped up until I was standing at Maris‟ side. I placed
my hand on her shoulder, making her stop.
       “Keep close and make sure they don‟t see your eyes,” I
instructed her.
       “Why?” she whispered to me.
       “They know about what happened to Dendris, and your eyes will
betray you as a sage, not to mention us. They‟ll recognize you,” I
explained.
       All of a sudden, a voice shouted out from behind us. “Hey, wait
up!”
       Immediately, Maris lowered her eyes as she heeded my warning.
       I took a quick glance behind us and sighed in relief as soon as I
saw who it was. “Don‟t worry,” I murmured to Maris. “She knows.”
       The rest of us turned to meet Laiyah, the girl who had been
calling to us.
       She was running as fast as she could, her curly red hair flying
out behind her like a cape and her dark, short-sleeved dress flapping
in the breeze.
       The people who had been muttering things about us were
gradually leaving, and, once they saw Laiyah, they must‟ve regarded
us as nobodies. Laiyah was a very well known girl in Feeana and was
notorious for housing many worn travelers.
       Laiyah was a girl about my age, a little older than Maris but
younger than Edwin, with dark, scarlet-colored hair and fetching blue
eyes. She was a part of the Rebel force that stood against Syrin and
was Vice- President of the Force‟s Magyk Squadron.



                                                                         119
      Laiyah stood gasping for breath in front of us, a crooked grin on
her face as she looked up at us. “I‟ve been waiting for you guys since
forever! Did you have a nice trip?” she asked, coughing a little as she
straightened up.
      “We ran into a morpho, but, obviously, no one got seriously
injured,” I reported to her.
      “So that‟s how you got that black eye?” Laiyah questioned Jaspr
as she noticed the damage.
      Jaspr blushed before touching his fingers to his eye as if to hide
it. “No… my bow snapped and it hit me, so…” he trailed off, turning a
dark red with embarrassment.
      “Nice! Though couldn‟t you have healed it, Kemmy? Or couldn‟t
she have?” inquired Laiyah at Maris and Kemris.
      “What? How do you know about me?” queried Maris, obviously a
bit lost over this new turn of events.
      “Oh, sorry! That was pretty rude,” fussed Laiyah. “My name‟s
Laiyah and I‟m to be your guide here. I work with Kemris in the erm…”
      “The Rebel Force,” I muttered to Maris under my breath so no
one else could hear. Syrin had spies absolutely everywhere. Even in
the smallest towns, there was evidence of Syrin‟s invasion.
      “Oh,” she muttered back in acknowledgment.
      Then, Laiyah brushed past all of us and began to lead the way…
somewhere. As she noticed that we didn‟t follow right away, she
glanced over her shoulder. “Come on!” she coaxed, beckoning to us
with her hands.
      We followed and, as we were walking down the street, I took a
look at Edwin. He had gone paler than he usually was, and his eyes
followed Laiyah. I pulled up to his shoulder, Jaspr trailing behind to




120
look at all the girls that we passed, Kemris and Maris walking side by
side with Laiyah.
         “You okay?” I checked Edwin. Ed and I got along very, very well.
So well in fact, we hid barely anything from each other. Not Jaspr,
though. Definitely not Jaspr.
         “Yeah, I‟m-I‟m fine,” he answered me very unconvincingly.
         “Laiyah?” I guessed, and, judging by the look on his face, I was
right.
         Edwin had been in love with Laiyah for the longest of times, and,
despite his many chances, he always failed to admit his feelings for
her.
         And his chances were running short.
         Jaspr, being Jaspr, hit on every pretty girl in sight besides
Kemris… and if he hit on Kemris, he‟d officially break the record on my
“weird” scale.
         “I‟ve told you a billion times, just ask her out,” I prodded him in
a whisper, being very careful so the girls, who were talking to each
other, wouldn‟t hear us. “You have nothing to lose!”
         “Nothing except maybe she gets so upset that we can‟t work
together, let alone be friends anymore!” protested Edwin in a raised
whisper.
         “How do you think I felt about telling Maris, the princess of this
whole dang country that I loved her when we‟d only known each other
a couple of weeks?” I countered. “And we‟ve known Laiyah for years.”
         “But you and Maris… you two seem… made for each other,” he
argued, turning a bit red as he spoke.
         I rolled my eyes at him. “How are you even sure that Laiyah
doesn‟t like you back?” I pointed out. “I mean, maybe she‟s waiting for
you to make the first move!”



                                                                          121
      “I highly doubt that,” snorted Ed.
      Well, Seth does have a point you know a voice resonated in my
head, and, according to Edwin‟s reaction, in his too.
      Immediately, we both glanced around for the culprit.
      Then, Maris, who was still at Laiyah‟s right flank, gave me a
sideways glance out of the corner of her eye.
      Is that you, Maris? I checked with my mind.
      Yeah. Kemris taught me how to read other people’s thoughts
and to send my own. It’s convenient, but annoying she said. But
Seth’s right, Edwin. I can see something in Laiyah’s heart that I can’t
really describe…
      Did you just say you saw something in Laiyah’s heart? I queried,
thinking I misheard… or misthought… or whatever.
      That’s another animagi ability I have, I can read the colors of
people’s hearts, you know, red for anger, indigo for sad, the such
explained Maris. And right now, there’s a weird, magenta-purply color
in her heart that I can’t decipher.
      Do you think it’s about Edwin? I asked her.
      Probably She answered, but then, she rolled her eyes at
something.
      What’d he say? I questioned immediately, guessing that Edwin
had said something. Or thought.
      He says Laiyah’s too good for him responded Maris.
      Tell him he’s an idiot. From me I added the last sarcastic bit.
      A couple of seconds later, Edwin gritted his teeth, which told me
that he had gotten my message.
      “Anyways,” said Maris, a couple of seconds passing by before I
realized that she was talking out loud. “Where are we going?”




122
      Laiyah smiled at her. “We‟re going to my place. It‟ll only take a
couple more minutes of walking,” she answered.
      We walked for about fifteen more minutes, talking to each other
about rather meaningless things before we came upon Laiyah‟s house.
      It was a small, ramshackle two-story house built out of wood
with about four windows on each wall.
      Laiyah led us inside, through a small hallway until leading us
around a right turn and into her parlor which was basically a thick
woolen rug, a couple of armchairs, and two tables.
      “Make yourself at home,” invited Laiyah as she walked ahead
and turned to face us finally.
      Laiyah‟s parents had died years ago about the same time that
our mom had, so she had the entire place to herself, and, thanks to
her job at the local in, she managed a good enough salary to live
without anyone supporting her.
      Then, she turned to me, snapping me out from my memories.
“Does she know about… her lineage?” she checked.
      I nodded. “Yeah, Aivanlyn told her,” I replied, choking up a little
as I remembered the kind woman who had so generously offered
quarters to many of the Rebels.
      “Great,” she sighed in relief. “That takes a lot off my mind. So,
how is Aivanlyn? She still lives in Kraeda, right? It‟s been a while since
I‟ve seen her.”
      Silence descended on all of us as we thought about how we were
going to break the news to Laiyah.
      “Is… Is everything alright?” she asked, her brows furrowing with
concern.
      Kemris took a deep breath in, breaking the silence.




                                                                        123
      “We-we don‟t know. Aivanlyn was with us in Dendris when
Syrin… burnt it down.”
      Instantly, we all turned towards Maris, who had explained.
      Abruptly, Laiyah‟s concerned look turned into one of pure,
absolute horror.
      “He-he must know she‟s here, then!” she cursed loudly. “Maybe
even before she came!”
      “He did try and capture her when she first came,” I added in a
solemn tone, remembering when Maris had first come through the
Ecladian-Otherworld gate.
      “And, if we‟re not careful,” murmured Edwin. “Feeana‟s next.”




124
Maris




        125
                   Five Hours Later…


“No! I won‟t do it!”
      “Maris, it‟s the perfect cover-up!”
      “Are you serious?! Tell me how it‟s perfect, then!”
      Seth had informed me that both him and the others wanted me
to disguise myself as a singer so as not to rouse any more suspicions
with the villagers, but, as usual, I stubbornly refused.
      “Maris, it is absolutely full-proof!” he argued with me.
      “How is that?” I demanded.
      “Three reasons,” he stated. “Number One: You have a very good
voice whether you admit it or not. Number Two: We‟d be able to get
more information much more easily from everyone in town- everyone
talks with loose tongues to entertainers. And, Number Three.” He
grinned before continuing. “You‟re pretty enough for the job.”
      I rolled my eyes at him. “But I don‟t know any songs at all
unless you have songs like “Ode to Joy” or “Row Row Row your Boat”
or something like that,” I snorted.
      “What?” he queried, obviously confused by what I had just said.
      “Never mind, but I really don‟t know any songs, much less how
to sing!” I disputed.
      “Laiyah can teach you the songs, but you have to be willing to
learn them, Maris,” he said simply, smiling encouragingly at me.
“Besides, it‟s only for a couple of days until we get the supplies we
need, then we‟re out of here.”
      There were a couple of moments of silence as I thought about
his proposition.




126
        “Fine,” I finally agreed. “But I‟ve seen those old Westerns. If
some guy starts hitting on me, I want permission to use my magyk on
him.”
        He grinned mischievously at me. “No problem there.”
        I rolled my eyes at him again, making him laugh.
        “Really, Maris,” he chuckled. “There‟s an evil warlord following us
who is intent on killing you, but no! You‟re not afraid of him! You‟re
afraid of some boys how share my opinion about you.”
        I narrowed my eyes accusingly at him. “You just don‟t get it,” I
told him.
        He laughed jovially again and ruffled my hair. “I promise I won‟t
kill anyone over you, Maris, I‟ll probably just give „em a black eye or
two,” he promised.
        I tried to scowl at him, but just ended up smiling.
        “Okay, then. Just please don‟t hit Jaspr too hard,” I joked,
making him laugh even more.
        “Don‟t worry,” he snickered. “I‟ll only rattle whatever brains he
still has in that head of his.”
        I cracked up at his joke. “Yeah, we wouldn‟t want to give him
any more brain damage than he already has,” I teased.
        Then, as our laughter died down, silence wrapped itself around
our shoulders like a thick woolen blanket let out to dry after a good
soaking, leaving it heavy in the air. Seth was gazing deep into my
plain green eyes and I into his glorious, crystalline blue ones.
        Finally, after about a minute just watching each other, Seth
moved and cupped my face in his warm, callused hands before
bringing my mouth to his, planting a kiss on my lips.




                                                                          127
      I could feel love rolling off both him and I in large waves like the
ocean crashing against a weathered cliff as I closed my eyes and
twined my arms behind his neck, letting his arms move to my waist.
      Then, after about thirty seconds, we both pulled away at the
exact same time, drifting into the awkwardness that seemed to always
follow a kiss.
      “Wh-what was that for?” I asked him.
      He smiled slyly at me. “It‟s been a while,” he answered
nonchalantly. “And I wanted to remind you how much I loved you.”
      Subsequently, I let my eyes pierce right into his heart until I
could see the colors of emotions swirling around.
      Inside, there was a swirl of a beautiful magenta, the color of the
sky when the sun first rises, but, in the background, there was a dark,
peat-colored brown. Protectiveness.
      I blinked my eyes to erase the vision as I pressed my face into
his chest, feeling his arms wrap securely around me and his heartbeat
quicken ever so slightly.
      Then, almost out of nowhere, Seth began to hum a very smooth,
riveting melody that sounded like the sort of song you would hear on a
music box.
      “What is that?” I questioned him, not opening my eyes as the
song pulled me in.
      He stopped humming to speak. “What‟s what?” he queried.
      “That song you were just humming,” I clarified.
      “Oh. It‟s a song I wrote for you,” he replied, a smile creeping
into his voice.
      “Let me guess,” I said. “The words are something along the lines
of: “I‟m so in love with this girl I‟m driving myself insane trying to
keep other guys from stealing her away from me.”



128
      He laughed at my joke. “Of course not, those words would never
fit in with the song!” he chuckled.
      We both laughed simultaneously at his joke, but as our laughter
died down, he told me the real reason. “I can‟t sing, much less write,
so there are no words for it,” he replied finally.
      “Just make it up as you go along, then,” I murmured as I
listened to his heart‟s even throbbing.
      “Why don‟t you do it?” he whispered to me, his smile still very
prominent in his words.
      “I‟m not sure I can,” I muttered back to him.
      “You can do anything when you put your mind to it, Maris. You
just have to have faith,” he said, letting his lips rest against my hair.
      As he did that, I broke away just a little so I could reach up and
kiss his mouth.
      Immediately, I felt his arms pull me closer to him as he allowed
his lips to press even more deeply into mine.
      The kiss was so perfect, almost as perfect as our first, yet… now
it was much more bittersweet.
      After about fifteen seconds or so, I pushed him away from me
until I was out of arms reach.
      “Maris?” checked Seth, sounding concerned.
      “Seth,” I murmured the name that meant so much to me. “I-I
can‟t… I won‟t do this to you.”
      “Won‟t do what?” he questioned. “What is it, Maris?‟
      “Seth, don‟t you understand how much danger you‟re in when
you‟re close to me? You could‟ve gotten killed if we‟d walked back
together if Jaspr hadn‟t walked in on us!” I said forcefully, tears
beginning to fight their way into my eyes. “I can‟t let you die for me!”
Kemris‟ words from that next day still resonated so very, very clearly



                                                                            129
in my head: Seth will do anything to protect you. If we allow him as a
king to kill himself to save you, we’ll be right back where we started…
      He smiled lovingly at me. “You know I understand, Maris, but
you also need to know that I will do anything to keep you safe from
Syrin,” he vowed. “Even if it means my death.”
      “No!” I screeched, grateful that the others had left shopping so
they wouldn‟t hear me. “Seth, I won‟t let you! If-If you were to… go, I-
I wouldn‟t be able to live.”
      “Maris,” he soothed as he walked closer to me. “Maris, I can‟t
live without you either, and that‟s why I will not allow you to kill
yourself if I give my life protecting you. Wouldn‟t you do the same?”
      As his voice faded away, he reached out and traced the top of
my cheek with his thumb, and, when he pulled it away, it was moist.
      I could feel my tears run freely from my eyes and down my face
as we both realized what my answer would be.
      Finally, Seth reached forward and pulled me into his arms,
comforting me as wracking sobs engulfed my body.
      He was murmuring small phrases of condolences as his hand
rubbed up and down along my spine reassuringly.
      “I won‟t let anything happen to you, Maris,” he swore. “And may
God strike me dead if I do.”
      And somehow, what were supposed to be words of comfort only
made my heart fill with much more dread.




130
                        Discovery

                                Seth


Maris‟ voice rose higher and higher up the scale until I was absolutely
sure it would crack… but of course, it didn‟t. She was singing a song
called “Tall Trees” written by some man who had supposedly traveled
all over Ecladia before writing a song a about its namesake.
      We had only been living in Feeana for about three weeks, some
of the supplies we needed had had to be imported, and Maris was
already famous for her “angel-like” voice and was extremely popular
among the locals.
      But, of course, with popularity came admirers.
      I had lost count after thirty with how many boys had flirted with
Maris, but I had only had to punch one boy so far, which had made
Maris sigh in relief.
      It had happened about two weeks after we had arrived in
Feeana, and Laiyah had convinced her boss to allow Maris to sing at
the inn. Once Maris and I had arrived (the others had been haggling in



                                                                        131
the local market) and she had sang (she sang very, very beautifully,
but, of course, she said she had sounded terrible) a group of about
five boys about Kemris‟ age came waltzing over to talk to her.
        “„Ello,” one of them, this one with sharp hazel eyes and straw-
colored hair, greeted Maris.
        “Um, hi,” Maris had said back to him. “Is there anything I can
help you with?”
        “Why yes, of course!” the boy had smirked. “I need a question
that is in dire need of answering.”
        “Alright… what is it?” questioned Maris curiously.
        “Is your name as pretty as your face?” asked the boy with a
grin.
        Instantly, my teeth gritted and I took hold of her hand
underneath the table we had been seated in, and I noticed her face
become a beautiful scarlet-color with modest embarrassment.
        “My name is Kavryn. Kavryn Ara Brade,” Maris had answered
with the false name we had agreed upon. We had chosen the name
based off of her birth name, Maris Neaveh Braithe, and off of the name
her surrogate mother had given her, Maris Amelia Bulok.
        The boy‟s grin became even more prominent, this time; his
friends grinned along with him. “A beautiful name for an even more
beautiful girl,” the boy had complimented with a sly smile. “Isn‟t that
right, boys?”
        His buddies had nodded and muttered their agreement.
        Maris blushed even more and squeezed my hand ever so
slightly. “Why, thank you,” nodded Maris, biting her lower lip,
something she always did when she was stressed. “Would you mind if
I asked you your name?”




132
        The boy smirked even more broadly. “The name‟s Themes (he
pronounced it Thee-muhs) and you could say that I‟m the local
heartthrob, or so I‟ve been told,” he gloated. “And let‟s just say I find
you very interesting, Kavryn Ara Brade.”
        I felt the adrenaline pumping through my veins as my muscles
longed to lunge at Themes and strangle him. But, as usual, I did all I
could to keep my cool. Jaspr wouldn‟t be around if I weren‟t a master
at that.
        “Well, that‟s, um… very nice of you,” Maris had replied shyly, still
blushing.
        Obviously misinterpreting Maris‟ uncomfortability for
infatuatedness, Themes slid into the empty space beside Maris and put
his arm around her.
        “You know, Kavryn, I don‟t believe in love at first sight, so would
you mind if I walked past here again?” flirted Themes, making me
become even more and more tense as he brought his face close to
Maris‟.
        Maris was rendered speechless, obviously unused to boys flirting
with her, and, taking that as a “go ahead”, Themes went in for the
kiss.
        He began by merely stroking her face with his left hand before
sliding it behind her head and bringing her mouth towards his.
        I snapped.
        Immediately, I had leapt over Maris and connected my fist with
Themes face before knocking him to the wooden floor of the inn,
pleased that no one was there besides us.
        Themes‟ buddies were in an uproar, cursing at me what rights I
had and didn‟t have to punch and slam their friend down like that, but
I blocked out their voices as I kept down the struggling Themes.



                                                                         133
      All except for Maris‟.
      “Seth,” her soft voice cut through my reverie as she placed a
delicate hand on my shoulder. “It‟s alright.”
      Reluctantly, I had stood up from Themes and watched him
clamber up onto his feet with a little help from his partners. Already, a
large purple bruise was sprouting from his chin to his lower eyelid.
      “So this is your boyfriend?” Themes calmly asked Maris as he
looked down at me from his height mere centimeters taller than I was.
      “Yes,” Maris had gulped in response, still shaken from the
violence that had taken place over her.
      “You know, boy, with a girl like that, it‟s only a matter of time
before you lose her, and, when you do, men like me will be waiting,”
Themes had cautioned me.
      “I know,” I coolly agreed as he turned around and stalked out of
the in with his gang. Sometimes I saw them around in the market,
and, each time my eyes met Themes, his seemed to remind me of the
warning he had given me.
      And, like Themes that night, most of the young boys in the room
now were glancing at Maris before turning to whisper to each other.
Chances were they were saying the exact same things Themes had.
      I sighed and put my face in my hands. So many other men
wanted Maris; it was tough to see myself actually holding onto her. In
fact, there might even have been a chance that Kemris‟ prediction
would come true and I would have to give Maris up to some arrogant,
snot-nose prince who cared nothing about her besides her royal blood
and beauty.
      I kept my eyes closed for so long; I didn‟t hear the end of the
song. I only heard the usual applause and soon felt Maris‟ warm body
pressing against my left arm.



134
      “You all right?” she checked, obviously seeing my distraught
demeanor.
      I opened my eyes and gave her a reassuring smile. “Yeah. I‟m
just tired,” I lied, and, by her quizzical look, I could guess that she
didn‟t believe me.
      “You did great,” I complimented her, changing the subject as
quickly as possible.
      She rolled her eyes. “You always say I do great,” she protested.
      “That‟s because you always do,” I countered, draping my arm
around her shoulders and smiling gently as she lay her head against
my chest.
      “Um… you-you did great tonight,” praised a new voice.
      Maris and I both looked up to see a young boy about my age
with ruffled copper colored hair and light gray eyes like pigeon‟s down.
      “Thank you,” Maris replied, flashing her gorgeous smile.
      The boy smiled back, obviously gaining confidence. “My name‟s
Jesse, what‟s yours?” he asked innocently, reminding me all too
painfully of Themes.
      “Kavryn,” answered Maris smoothly, as she straightened up. Her
voice made it seem as if her name really was Kavryn Brade. “And this
is my… boyfriend, Seth.”
      Not smiling, I met Jesse‟s gaze once, showing him with my eyes
what I was capable of.
      Immediately, he seemed to rethink whatever he had been
planning. “Well, I just came over to say hi… so I‟ll see you around?” he
checked, almost as if she had said yes to a date.
      Maris nodded at him. “Sure.”




                                                                          135
      Then, Jesse stalked away to the other side of the inn where he
had obviously been sitting beforehand, leaving Maris and I completely
alone.
      “He likes me,” stated Maris as soon as he was out of earshot.
      “I‟m not a sage and even I knew that,” I snorted.
      She scowled at me, but ended up smiling instead. “You‟re right,”
she giggled laying her head on my shoulder once again.
      I looked down at her. She was so beautiful, so perfect… I kissed
the top of her head ever so gently, feeling my love for her coursing
through my veins like a wildfire.
      Still smiling, Maris moved her head until her face was buried in
my chest before closing her eyes.
      I felt my heart flutter unevenly, and I pulled her closer with the
arm that was still around her. “You know how they say angels are the
most beautiful creatures in existence?” I murmured affectionately in
her ear.
      “Yes,” she replied in a whisper.
      “Well, I can‟t imagine anything more beautiful than you,” I
muttered.
      “Oh, shut up,” she ordered me, though she was smiling.
      I glanced up right then and noticed Jesse staring at Maris and I,
a desperate longing crowding his eyes. Just by looking at him, I could
see that he really wished he could be with Maris instead of me.
      I smirked rather cruelly at him (wouldn‟t you, too if someone
else was flirting with the love of your life?) and saw his cheeks flush a
brilliant scarlet. I laughed a little, making Maris open her eyes at the
sudden movement.
      “What are you laughing at?” she asked curiously. That‟s Maris,
always asking questions.



136
     “Nothing,” I lied, still grinning at Jesse who was obviously still
thinking about Maris, the girl that every boy wanted.




                                                                          137
      Maris




138
I was still pondering what Seth had been laughing about when two
young men about twenty-five years old appeared with instruments to
the middle of the floor in place of me.
      One man, this one very clean shaven with curly brown hair and
quick blue eyes held what looked like a two-feet high harp that, once
he was sitting on a small stool, held between his legs and resting his
fingers against the strings.
      The second man, this one shorter and with blonde hair and dark
eyes, had a clarinet-like instrument with a large bell at the end and
seemed to be made of a crystal-clear blue material. The end that the
man put in his mouth seemed to be made of a very long reed, if that‟s
what it‟s called in Ecladia, that was about two inches long.
      And, as we all looked on, the musicians began to play.
      The harpist began the harmony before the flutist, intertwining
smooth notes and phrases to weave together a very beautiful tune.
      But when the flutist joined in, the piece transformed altogether.
      And so did the scene.
      One minute I had been watching and listening in absolute awe to
the obviously talented musicians when, all of a sudden, I watching a
beautiful, black-haired woman singing to a small baby in her arms.
      My mother. Queen Erowynn.
      Her voice was so melodious, so perfect, it blended in so
flawlessly with the sound emanating from the flute.
      The melody weaved through my head, reminding me of all the
good things that had happened in my life…Seth…
      All of a sudden, I was yanked rudely back to reality by Seth‟s
whispering in my ear.
      “Maris?”




                                                                         139
      Immediately, I blinked and the vision of my mother disappeared,
and the inn reappeared in my mind.
      It took me a couple of seconds, but then I noticed that the music
had stopped.
      Complete and utter silence.
      And everyone was staring at me like I had grown another head.
      “What‟s wrong?” I murmured to Seth.
      “You were singing,” he answered.
      “So? Why are they staring at me like they‟ve seen a ghost?” I
asked back.
      “Because they have,” he replied.
      “What?!”
      “Maris… they know who you are. You were singing in Ancient
Ecladian, and, even though many sages know that, that song you were
singing… that‟s a Lament, it‟s a special song only animagi‟s know. A
special song that only you‟ll know,” He responded.
      “So do we fight our way out of here?” I checked. I was scared of
his answer. There were many people in the crowd I had grown to like,
even that boy, Jesse, who had flirted with me a couple of minutes
earlier, but that already felt like a lifetime ago…
      “Probably not, most of these people hate Syrin, so we might
actually be able to recruit troops from here for the Rebellion,” he
replied. “But they might just turn us in, too.”
      “What? Didn‟t you just say they hate Syrin?” I queried.
      “They do, but Syrin has made threats that, if any of us were to
harbor you, he would slaughter their entire family,” he answered.
“Many of them would turn you in to protect themselves.”
      My jaw dropped, appalled. “Then what do we do?”




140
     “We have to get out,” he responded. “But we need a
distraction…”
     All of a sudden, as if by divine intervention (which I think
probably was) everyone began to shout out theories on how I was
alive and that they knew all along that Kavryn Ara Brade was Maris
Neaveh Braithe.
     Then, slowly, but surely, Seth and I slipped out the back door
without anyone noticing.
     Or so we thought.




                                                                      141
      Seth




142
Once we were back at Laiyah‟s place, we began our interrogation of
Maris.
      “What happened?” Laiyah demanded Maris.
      “I saw something,” answered Maris simply.
      “What did you see?” asked Kemris.
      No answer.
      “Well?” I coaxed her. “Maris, we need to know what you saw, it
may have some important information.”
      She bit her lower lip like she had with Themes. “I saw my
mother… Queen Erowynn,” she muttered in response.
      “Was she doing anything? She might be trying to tell you
something,” said Kemris. “Spirits are known for that.”
      “Well, she was singing… to me… when I was a baby…” she trailed
off, not meeting any of our eyes.
      “That song probably triggered some sort of memory,” theorized
Kemris.
      “Probably,” agreed Maris in a barely audible whisper.
      “Either way,” I said, changing the subject as I sensed Maris‟
uncomfortability. “We‟re leaving tonight.”
      Looking obviously grateful for my changes, Maris gave me a
quizzical look, and I answered her unspoken question.
      “It‟s much too dangerous for you here, Maris,” I explained. “We
have all the supplies we need, so I don‟t see any problem.”
      Kemris nodded in agreement. “And we need to get you to
Neandro. I have a sense that the war is catching up to us… fast,”
predicted Kemris.
      “Right,” said Laiyah. “I‟ll stay here and try to get you some
troops. I‟m well-liked here, so I‟m less likely to be turned in if I get
caught.”



                                                                           143
      Edwin immediately went rigid. “What if the Calkora show up?” he
choked out, obviously tense.
      “I‟m not stupid enough to face them alone Edwin, and besides, I
much less important than any of you. You need to protect Maris,”
argued Laiyah.
      “But-” Edwin began to say before Laiyah interrupted him.
      “But nothing,” she interjected. “I can cover your tracks just fine
and I have a few tricks up my sleeve if the Calkora do decide to knock
on my door.”
      Edwin still seemed unhappy about the whole plan, but he didn‟t
say anything else.
      “So we have to go see the hybrids! What if they try to eat me?!”
demanded Jaspr.
      We all stared at him. Here we were, worrying about Syrin getting
his hands on Maris and killing her, and he was worried about the
hybrids eating him.
      “Jaspr, would you rather be executed for high treason and torn
limb from limb by Syrin or die a quick death from the hybrids?” asked
Kemris.
      “… So when do we leave?” leapt Jaspr after thinking about his
options.
      I rolled my eyes at him. “Anyway,” I said. “We can‟t say here
much longer. The sooner we see Neandro, the better. And the less
chance of Syrin catching up to us.”
      “Hopefully,” mumbled Laiyah.
      None of us argued with her.




144
                        Visions


                               Maris



According to Seth, we had until dawn the next day to make it to the
base of Mt. Gothr, which would be very easy, and to begin scaling it.
      Thankfully, we only had to make it about a third up the actual
mountain to stop any locals from Feeana from following us because of
their hybrid superstitions, but, of course, the Calkora were unafraid of
such superstitions from creating about twenty of them without even
trying.
      And so we began our journey to meet the mysterious Neandro,
my future shifting teacher.




                                                                        145
      Seth




146
We were climbing up the mountain on a small, well-worn trail that had
been created by the many villagers throughout the years who had
scaled the mountain in search of wild game, fruits, or, sometimes, just
for enjoyment.
      The trail was a small, dirt track with foliage lining either side of
it.
      Kemris was leading the way with a map unfurled in her hands
with Jaspr and Edwin walking behind her, arguing about something or
other.
      I was strolling beside Maris a bit behind them as I asked her
questions about life in the Otherworld, a place I had only ever
experienced in the weeks that we had been observing her, waiting for
the signal to bring her back to her home in Ecladia.
      Then, as we were walking, her eyes glazed over for a split
second, making her stop abruptly.
      “Maris, are you alright?” I asked her a soon as she didn‟t start
walking again.
      “There‟s a… umm…” she answered unclearly.
      “Maris? What are you seeing?” Kemris‟ voice intervened as soon
as she noticed what was happening.
      “I see this place… it has stone walls and… wait… who is that…
Such blonde hair…” she muttered half to herself as she was gazing into
the past, present, or future. “There‟s a girl… she‟s… um…there‟s a
light… Syrin? He-he‟s falling! I-I think he‟s… dead.”
      “What?! Is she seeing the end of the war?” demanded Edwin
from Kemris.
      “I don‟t know,” replied Kemris.
      “No! Wait… he‟s-he‟s casting a spell and… NO!” screamed Maris
suddenly, clutching the base of her ribs in invisible pain.



                                                                         147
       “Maris!” I cried, putting my arms around her to try and support
her.
       Maris was screeching in pain and, soon, she fell onto her hands
and knees, dragging me down with her until I was kneeling.
       All of a sudden, her eyes started flashing rapidly and her gaze
came in and out of focus as they glazed and unglazed.
       “She‟s getting too many visions at once!” exclaimed Kemris over
Maris‟ screams as she joined me at Maris‟ side. “Something‟s going to
happen in the future and…”
       I stared at my older sister. “Is-is she d-dying?” I stuttered, panic
engulfing my heart. Maris… my darling Maris…
       Kemris didn‟t answer.
       Maris‟ breath was ragged as she fought for every breath of air
and I could feel her heart accelerating faster in her neck beneath
where her head was cradled in my arm.
       “Maris!” I spoke into her ear, not even sure that she was hearing
me through her reverie. “I promised you I wouldn‟t let you die! Not
while my heart still beats! I won‟t let you die!”
       All of a sudden, Maris‟ eyes stopped their fervent actions, and
she slumped into my arms as she lost consciousness.
       “Kem… what‟s happening to her?” I demanded from Kemris
desperately.
       “Her-her body‟s going into a temporary hibernation state to
regain energy,” she explained.
       “How long?” I asked in a whisper.
       “I-I don‟t know,” answered Kemris. “Could be a couple of
minutes, hours, days… years.”
       My heart quickened in horror at the word “years”.




148
      Taking a deep breath, I slid my arms around Maris‟ body and
stood up, cradling her gently in my arms.
      “Whoa, déjà vu,” muttered Jaspr as he tried to crack a joke from
his spot beside Edwin where they had watched the whole ordeal. I
glared angrily at him.
      “Seth….”
      Immediately, we all looked at Maris, who had uttered my name,
thinking rather foolishly that she was awake, but, of course, she
wasn‟t.
      She was murmuring things in her sleep, muttering my name
over and over again, and, every once in a while, a “no” would slip its
way out from between her lips. My uneasiness grew.
      “Seth, are you all right?” checked Edwin, who had apparently
picked up on my feelings.
      “Of course I am,” I lied rather defiantly.
      “You said that last time,” pointed out Jaspr.
      “Shut up, Jaspr,” we all said in unison.




                                                                         149
      Maris




150
Seth.
        He was lying alone on the ground, bleeding to death from a
horrific wound in his stomach.
        He may not have been able to see me, but I could definitely see
him… and the dreadful hole in his stomach.
        “Seth…” I murmured, feeling my heart beating with panic. “Seth,
hold on…”
        I knew I was seeing the future, I could just feel the power of the
universe weighing on my shoulders whenever I looked ahead, but it
still felt like a dream to me.
        “Seth… you have to survive… I love you…” I muttered half to
myself. “Seth… please…”
        As I watched him clutching the hole that had engulfed his
stomach, I could see his breath become more and more labored… until
it stopped completely and he lay his head back before closing his
beautiful, crystalline blue eyes.
        “Oh, God… Seth… wake up… please…” I begged, feeling tears
streak down my cheeks as soon as he didn‟t wake up right away. Seth
couldn‟t die! He couldn‟t! He couldn‟t leave me all alone! Not now, not
ever!
        Instinctively, I began to run forward to do anything I could to
bring him back. “SETH!”
        But before I could lay a hand on him, I felt someone‟s arms
encircle my waist, holding me back from the corpse of the love of my
life.
        “NO!” I screamed, tears streaming down my face. “LET ME GO!
SETH!”
        “Ssh, it will be alright, child. It will all be alright,” a familiar voice
murmured in my ear.



                                                                               151
      I froze as I realized who was with me. “M-m-mom? Er-
Erowynn?” I muttered incredulously.
      “Yes, my darling. It is I, Queen Erowynn. Your birth mother,”
sighed Erowynn in her beautiful voice.
      I looked back and up at her, into her beautiful indigo eyes.
“Mother… why are you showing me this?! Why?!” I pleaded from her. I
could sense that she was the one who was giving me these visions,
she was the one showing me Seth‟s… demise.
      “You must understand, Maris, once you have seen the future,
everything changes,” whispered Erowynn in response.
      “So… he‟s not… dead?” I queried, my bloodshot eyes stinging
horribly as I looked back at Seth‟s body.
      “He may, he may not. Anybody can keep the future as it is now,
my child, but it takes much work to change it. It is possible that Seth
and you shall live long and happy lives together, but, if nothing is
done… he will die,” breathed Erowynn.
      “But I saw myself dying… I was dying… so why… why is he?” I
questioned my mother.
      “He promised to always protect you, my dear, and his oath
lasted, and he will die so that you could live on,” answered Erowynn as
she removed her arms from my waist.
      “What do I do? I-I- He-he can‟t die, he just… he just can‟t,” I
cried, sensing that she was about to leave.
      “You will know when the time comes. I must go, my heart, but
you must know that your love for Seth is so powerful, I am so very
sure that the future will change, but you must work for it,” she
murmured, her figure already beginning to dissipate. “It brings me
such joy to see my daughter again after so many years, but in such
sad times…”



152
      “Mother… will… will I ever see you again?” I asked her.
      “Yes, this war is not over yet, and I will always be at your side,
just as Seth will,” she answered with a melancholy smile. “Until we
meet again, my daughter.”
      I blinked, and, when I opened my eyes again, my mother,
Queen Erowynn, was completely gone.
      I turned to look back at Seth, but the vision of his body had
disappeared and I was left in a blank darkness, and soon, that began
to fade too…
      All of a sudden, my eyes flew open and I was once again on Mt.
Gothr.
      “Maris?” a voice checked.
      I looked up instantly and saw Seth sitting against a tree as he
cradled me in his lap.
      Once I had laid eyes upon his healthy face, I threw my arms
around his neck and wept bitterly into his chest, my vision of his death
still very fresh in my mind.
      “Maris? What‟s wrong?” he asked me, worry in his voice as he
held me close in his arms.
      “I-I saw-I saw-” I blubbered, still crying.
      “It‟s alright, Maris, I‟m here. Tell me what‟s wrong,” he
comforted me, stroking my face reassuringly as he met my eyes. “Just
tell me.”
      “I-I was dying Seth, but then… you were,” I said, choking back
my tears. “You-you killed yourself to save me and-and I couldn‟t help
you.” Again, I buried myself into his chest, remembering the horrific
vision.
      “Maris, look at me,” he ordered, and, slowly, I lifted my face to
his again.



                                                                        153
        “Maris,” he murmured. “I promised you that I would do anything
for you to stay alive, and if that means dying, then I will, but you have
to know that my heart will always belong to you, and so I will never
truly die. Just like your mother.
        “Maris, from the moment I first laid eyes on you, my heart was
yours, and it will always be yours,” he continued. “Even after death.”
        “But Seth… I-I won‟t be able to live without you… I just can‟t,” I
confessed, feeling fear strangling my heart.
        “I know, Maris, nor would I be able to live without you. And I
promise you that I will only choose death if absolutely necessary.
Heaven isn‟t Heaven to me without you,” He answered romantically.
        I smiled weakly at him. “Really?” I checked rather stupidly,
sniffling a little.
        He smiled genuinely at me. “Of course, Maris,” he replied,
planting the smallest kiss on my cheek.
        “Great, now I‟m the proud owner of someone else‟s heart.
Fantabulous,” I sniffed.
        “Fantabulous?” he queried, raising an eyebrow curiously at me.
        “I just made it up. It‟s a mix between “fantastic” and “fabulous”.
Fantabulous,” I explained to him, wiping away excess tears from my
eyes.
        He chuckled. “You scare me sometimes, Maris,” he said.
“Sometimes you really do.”
        “Not as much as Jaspr scares you,” I pointed out, making him
laugh again.
        “No one scares me as much as Jaspr,” he agreed, and, soon
enough, we were both laughing.
        All of a sudden, I could hear the soft “pluffs" of footsteps. “I
think they‟re coming,” I informed Seth.



154
      “Who is?” asked Seth.
      “Kemris, Edwin, and Jaspr, I think. They‟re coming,” I clarified.
“Can‟t you hear them?”
      “I repeat: what?” he questioned again, furrowing his eyebrows in
confusion.
      The footsteps rose in volume as they came closer and closer,
but, strangely, it took almost seven minutes before the others
appeared from the lichen.
      Edwin was leading Kemris and Jaspr into the clearing, and, as
they approached, they seemed to notice that I was awake.
      “Wow,” exclaimed Kemris. “You‟re awake! Thank God!”
      I cocked my head curiously, but no one answered my unspoken
question, though Seth did seem a bit uncomfortable after Kemris‟
statement.
      “We can get down to business now, can‟t we?” checked Edwin.
      “Of course! With Maris awake, we should be able to plan
everything effectively now… and to get some answers,” responded
Kemris mysteriously.
      “Answers?” I queried, confused.
      Still, no one answered my question until the others had been
seated in a half-circle around Seth and I.
      “Maris, while you were asleep, you were muttering things about
“destiny” and “will”. Was there anything in your vision about that?”
explained Edwin.
      “Destiny and will?” I questioned, getting more lost by the
second. “I don‟t know what you‟re-”
      Before another word could leave my mouth, the scenery
vanished only to be replaced by another vision.




                                                                       155
         There was a valley with rolling green hills with beautiful jade
colored grass, and, as I looked more closely, there was a girl and a
boy standing, alone, on top of one of the highest hills.
         The girl was a bright blond with streaks of pale brown shining in
her hair, and her eyes were a pale, sky blue that sparkled like
dewdrops on a cool autumn morning.
         The boy was a dark dirty blond that was more brown than it was
yellow and had beautiful gray eyes flecked with a brilliant, crystal-clear
blue that looked like wind-slashed raindrops in a storm.
         But before I could see anything else about them, I was brought
back to reality by Seth squeezing my hand. I blinked instinctively, and
the vision was erased.
         “Maris?” checked Seth concertedly, obviously remembering the
last vision I had had.
         “Destiny and Wil,” I murmured partially to myself.
         “Yeah? What do those things have to do with anything?” asked
Jaspr.
         “They‟re not things… they‟re people,” I corrected him in a
whisper.
         “What do you mean, Maris?” questioned Seth.
         I closed my eyes and concentrated. Kemris had told me how to
let other people see my visions. All I had to do was concentrate very
hard on everyone‟s mind and force my vision into their heads. But,
unfortunately, she had only been able to tell me in theory. Apparently,
regular sages can‟t see the future.
         Thankfully, I was successful.
         The boys blinked in surprise (Kemris wasn‟t very shocked by
what I had done) as they were obviously seeing my vision of the girl
and the boy. Destiny and Wil.



156
         I was only able to keep the picture their head for a couple of
seconds before I was forced to drop it, exhausted by my endeavors.
         “Destiny… Destiny looks like you, Seth,” I murmured to him,
panting with exertion.
         “Who‟s Destiny?” queried Edwin.
         I looked him in the eyes. “The girl,” I answered him. Call me
crazy, but as soon as I had seen the girl and the boy, I had instantly
known their names. Maybe it‟s just an animagi thing.
         “You probably had a vision of the future, Maris,” said Kemris.
“Your mother probably wants you to know what‟s going to happen.”
         “Awesome!” exclaimed Jaspr out of the blue. “Seth and Maris are
getting married! I call dibs on best man!”
         “Wait, what?” I queried, hopelessly lost by Jaspr‟s outburst.
         “You said Destiny looks like Seth, right? Kids resemble their
parents, and Seth would only ever marry you, so I called dibs on best
man,” explained Jaspr in rush.
         “Jaspr, you took something that made sense, then completely
warped it,” said Seth, rolling his eyes at his younger brother.
         “Besides,” added Edwin. “I‟m already locked in as best man.”
         “What? Okay, fine. I call dibs on second best man!” declared
Jaspr.
         “There is no second best man, you idiot,” pointed out Seth.
         “Don‟t worry, Jas,” I joked. “You can be one of my bridesmaids!”
         “What?! I ain‟t a girl!” yelled Jaspr.
         “You sure act like one,” muttered Edwin to himself.
         “If you don‟t want to be a bridesmaid, Jas, then feel free to be
the guy in the crowd mopping his eyes every few seconds with a
tissue,” I taunted him, grinning.
         “HECK. NO!” enunciated Jaspr.



                                                                            157
         We all laughed simultaneously at Jaspr.
         “Maris?” muttered Jaspr through our laughter.
         “Yeah?” I asked him back.
         “If Seth were to propose to you right now, would you or would
you not say yes?” he questioned, sounding very curious.
         I pretended to think, though we all knew how I‟d answer.
“Hmm… I don‟t know…” I acted.
         Seth smiled at me. “I really want to hear this,” he said.
         “I‟d probably say yes,” I answered finally, putting in a shrug for
added effect.
         “Now what would you say if I proposed to you right now?” asked
Jaspr.
         “I‟d call you a weirdo and whack you over the head with a tree
branch before casting a spell on you from which you‟ll much suffer
severe pain and become crippled for life from,” I replied in one breath,
smiling mischievously.
         “Okaaay then,” trailed Jaspr, scooting a little farther away from
me. Seth laughed at his actions.
         “She‟s already taken,” he said to Jaspr, holding me a little closer.
         “So says you,” countered Jaspr.
         “I‟m not causing a family feud, am I?” I asked nervously.
         “No. Besides, everyone knows which one of us would win in a fist
fight,” said Seth.
         “Thanks for the compliment,” thanked Jaspr.
         “I was talking about me, you idiot,” corrected Seth.
         “How are you so sure that I was talking about myself while you
were talking about yourself and not me talking about myself when you
were done talking about yourself, because I was talking about myself
once you were done?” asked Jaspr in one breath.



158
         “What the heck?” I queried. “You lost me at how.”
         “I got it!” exclaimed Edwin all of a sudden, making us all turn to
look at him.
         “Jaspr can walk Maris down the aisle!” he declared.
         “I don‟t know if that‟s such a good idea,” I argued. “I can already
guess that he‟s going to say: “It‟s still not too late for us, Maris”.”
         “Okay, I might say that, but you can‟t blame me for trying,”
protested Jaspr.
         “So said all those other boys,” pointed out Seth.
         “Guys, don‟t start another fight! We don‟t need to have this sort
of conversation for the billionth time,” interjected Kemris with a giggle.
         “Wait, they‟ve had this kind of fight before?” I queried.
         “Of course! Though, most of the time, they‟re arguing over
something very small,” answered Edwin.
         “Hey! That biscuit was mine and he took it! That‟s a cause for
argument!” snapped Jaspr. “It looked so delicious… and you ate it!”
         “What? You were complaining about it! I only ate it because I
couldn‟t stand your whining for another second!” argued Seth.
         “Seth! Jaspr!” interrupted Kemris. “That was two years ago, let it
go! We need to focus on the future, so that means going to see
Neandro.”
         “I‟m still scared by those half-bird freaks, though!” complained
Jaspr.
         “They‟re not freaks,” corrected Kemris. “They‟re hybrids.”
         “Same thing,” countered Jaspr. We pretty much ignored him
after that comment.
         Kemris gazed up at the mountain looming above us, casting its
shadow over us and into the valley in its lee. “If we‟re going to make it




                                                                            159
to the summit before sundown, we‟d better hurry,” she murmured. “Or
the Calkora will definitely figure out where we are.”
      No one argued.




160
                   Mt. Gothr


                              Maris



“We made it.”
     Seth‟s announcement rang through the still mountain air as we
came to a small cave about two or three miles below the mountain‟s
summit.
     “How can you tell?” I asked him. I had thought we would have to
get to the peak of the mountain, but apparently we didn‟t.
     “The hybrids wanted to create alternative routes of escape in
case humans came to attack- out the top of the mountain or a handful
of tunnels leading away from the mountain,” explained Seth.
     As we were talking, Edwin peered into the gloomy darkness of
the cave, struggling to see through the dark blanket that seemed to
envelop the inside of the mountain.




                                                                      161
      “I can‟t see how far we have to go before we hit the lava,” he
reported back to us.
      “Lava?” I queried instantly.
      Seth smiled reassuringly at me. “Don‟t worry, Maris. You‟ll make
it through alright,” he soothed me. “After one near-death experience,
I‟m sure karma will allow you to go another ten minutes before
another one.”
      I scowled at him. “Remember the last time you said that? I
nearly became lunch for a bunch of wolves,” I snorted.
      “Quite frankly, I don‟t think I ever said that, and, besides, there
aren‟t any wolves around here- the air is too thin for them,” pointed
out Seth.
      “Nope! Nothing except for a huge lake of molten lava!” added
Jaspr. Thankfully, Seth didn‟t hit him in the back of his head again.
      I walked up to the mouth of the cave. “I can‟t see anything
either… so that must mean that the lava‟s deep, deep down… right?” I
checked, hoping against hope that I was right.
      Seth walked up to my side. “Of course. So there‟s nothing left to
do except head on in,” he said.
      “Great then! O-Older brothers first!” invited Jaspr anxiously,
backing away step by step from the cave.
      “What happened to your so-called bravery, Jas?” asked Edwin,
smirking.
      “I don‟t think it‟s safe to assume that the lava‟s- WHOA!” yelled
Jaspr as Edwin shoved him into the cave.
      Jaspr fell head over heels into the dark abyss, disappearing after
a couple of rolls.
      It took a lot of clattering and clanking, but, soon enough, the
noises stopped. “I‟m okay!” cried Jaspr from somewhere deep inside.



162
       “Great! Now we know it‟s safe!” exclaimed Seth as he began to
lead the way inside with Edwin, Kemris and I following close behind
him.
       We had only walked in a couple of feet when the light of the
descending sun disappeared completely and we were left in complete
darkness.
       “Maris, light a fire,” ordered Kemris‟ voice.
       “Why don‟t you do it?” I asked. I had had some bad experiences
with fire already, and who knows what kind of explosive rock lay within
Mt. Gothr.
       “Just do it,” chuckled Kemris, a smile prominent in her voice.
       And so I did. I murmured the small spell for a basic flame, and,
immediately, I had a miniature, chocolate-bar-sized fire in my hand.
       I held the small flame in my left hand, and, obediently, the fire
floated about an inch above my palm, flickering occasionally.
       As soon as the light had been produced, the entire cave was
thrown into focus by the glimmering flame.
       The walls around us were made from what looked like some sort
of gray rock, like graphite, but there were different colored chunks of
rock poking out from the walls at different intervals- the most
abundant being a dark, brownish-mustard color.
       And, sitting on a nearby rock, was a very dazed looking Jaspr.
       “Give me a warning before you do that!” whined Jaspr to Edwin.
       “Don‟t be such a coward, Jas! Suck it up,” said Edwin in
response, making Jaspr turn a dark, beet red with anger.
       “Guys, let‟s just keep going. And no more playing tricks on
Jaspr,” commanded Kemris as she began to lead us deeper and deeper
into the volcano, my fire being our only source of light.




                                                                        163
      Fifteen minutes went by where the only sound being heard was
the crunching of our feet on the loose gravel underfoot, and, at the
end of that interval, I heard a soft, barely audible bubbling sound. I
stopped walking to listen.
      “Maris?” checked Seth uneasily, obviously remembering what
had happened earlier in the day.
      “I can hear something,” I answered him.
      “I don‟t hear anything,” said Edwin, looking confused.
      “Being an animagi, Maris is genetically more sensitive than we
are,” explained Kemris. “So she can hear things way before we can.”
      “So what do you hear?” asked Seth.
      “I sort of… bubbling sound,” I reported, my head cocked slightly
cocked to one side to hear better.
      “It‟s probably the lava,” guessed Edwin, turning towards where I
was facing. “So we must be getting close.
      Again, we began walking in complete silence, the noise
becoming more audible with each and every step.
      “Is it just me, or is there a light up ahead?” said Jaspr.
      “Knowing you, Jaspr, it probably is just you,” mocked Seth.
      “No, I‟m serious! I think there‟s a light up ahead!” pressed Jaspr.
      “You‟re probably just imagining it,” dismissed Seth.
      “There is a light!” prompted Jaspr stubbornly.
      “Actually, Seth,” I intervened in Jaspr‟s defense as I noticed the
dim, golden light up ahead. “There is a light.”
      Seth squinted into the darkness, trying to see past it to where
Jaspr and I had spotted the light.
      “Well, I can‟t see anything,” he argued.




164
      “I can see it, too,” nodded Kemris. “Maris and I are sages, our
senses are heightened, though hers more than mine, and Jaspr‟s an
archer-”
      “Marksman!”
      “And he‟s trained himself to be able to see farther distances with
his bow,” finished Kemris after Jaspr had interrupted.
      “Ha! I told you so!” exclaimed Jaspr.
“ItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyo
usoItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyouso-”
      “Alright, you told us so, we get the point,” grumbled Seth, rolling
his eyes. “But let‟s just see who‟s going to be protecting you in the
next fight. Certainly not me or Edwin.”
      Jaspr paled as he imagined facing a herd of Jarokai by himself.
      “Guys, what did I say about picking on Jaspr?” scolded Kemris,
her three younger brothers finally shutting up. “Maris, do you think
you can see far enough ahead to see when we‟ll arrive at the light?”
      Following Kemris‟ orders, I let my eyes pierce through the cloak
of darkness that surrounded us. “Um… we should meet the light in
about… five to eight minutes,” I answered her.
      Immediately, Seth started forward, the rest of us falling into
step behind him.
      My estimate was almost on the mark, if I do say so myself, as
we reached the light in about nine to ten minutes.
      What we saw, however, completely shocked me.
      Once we had stepped out of the shelter of the tunnel that led
outside, we were met with a huge lake of molten lava that spanned in
a wide circle about two miles by two miles. Spanning the lake was a
thin (it was probably only like, eight feet wide), naturally made bridge




                                                                        165
that was probably made by the water dripping from the ceiling over
millions of years that was made out of cool, volcanic rock.
      But the thing that frightened me the most was the thousand-foot
drop from the bridge to the lava, and, of course, there were no rails on
the bridge.
      From the looks of everything, I half-expected the “Indiana-
Jones” theme music to start playing (you know, the whole bum-ba-
dum-dum deal) and Indiana Jones himself to pop out of nowhere with
his whip and fedora and to lead us running across the bridge while it
collapsed behind us and for a whole bunch of looters or bandits or
whatever to try and chase us before falling, screaming, to their deaths.
But, of course, those crazy things only happened in my imagination.
      Seth bravely stepped onto the bridge to test its stability. “It
seems like it could hold our weight,” he reported back to the rest of
us, shifting his weight between his feet to test it.
      “L-L-Ladies f-f-first!” stuttered Jaspr, motioning for me to go.
      “You big baby,” insulted Edwin under his breath.
      I gulped, still freaking out, as I stepped out onto the bridge.
      As soon as I had lain my foot out on the rock, I instantly flinched
and closed my eyes, waiting to plunge to my death. Nothing
happened.
      I opened one eye cautiously scared that the tiniest shift in
weight would spell out my doom. Again, nothing happened.
      “Come on, Maris,” encouraged Seth, holding out his hand to me
from where he was about three feet ahead of me. “Everything will be
fine, you won‟t fall.”
      I took another step, this one more confident than the last as I
started to believe that nothing would happen.
      I was dead wrong. Emphasis on “dead”.



166
      The remarkably small space I had stepped on collapsed from
beneath me in a large chunk, spreading to my other foot in a wide,
two-foot circle around me, and I fell, letting out an instinctive scream
as I went.
       Luckily, I only fell about two feet before Seth‟s rough, callused
hand grabbed hold of my wrist.
      In less than two seconds, I had gone from walking confidently
across a lake of lava to dangling for the edge of a small cliff, staring
my death in its blistering red, lava eye.
      “You. Jinxed. Me,” I gasped, struggling for breath as the
volcano‟s fumes hit my lungs.
      I heard Seth give out a strained laugh. “Yeah. I gotta stop doing
that,” he chuckled half to himself.
      He grunted in exertion as he lifted me back up onto the bridge,
helping me lift myself out of danger.
      Then, when he had brought me back up onto solid rock, he put a
hand on my waist for support while the other still held tight to my
hand as we both backed away from the small cliff I had just created.
      Once we had made it back to safety where the others were, I
waited for Seth to let go of my waist. Two minutes later, he still had
not budged.
      “Seth, you can let go of me now,” I reminded him.
      “Oh… Sorry,” he apologized as he finally took his hands off me.
      “I bet you five coins she‟s gonna have another near-death
experience before the end of the week,” whispered Jaspr to Edwin
from behind us.
      “You do know I can hear you, right Jaspr?” I said to Jaspr,
making him turn a dark red when he realized he had been caught red-
handed.



                                                                           167
          “Er-um-well-I mean-” he stammered, obviously trying to come
up with some excuse to justify what he had been saying.
          “Just shut up, Jaspr,” ordered Edwin as he brushed past his
younger brother.
          Kemris rolled her eyes at their antics, taking a quick glance at
the lava before striking out fearlessly across the bridge. Jaspr followed
a lot more reluctantly.
          We trod across the bridge much more carefully, not wanting a
repeat of what had happened to me. But, when we were about halfway
across, Jaspr cried out.
          “Ouch!” he exclaimed from behind us.
          “What happened?” I instantly checked, expecting to see Jaspr
burnt to a crisp, but, of course, he was all right.
          “Stepped in a puddle of lava,” replied Jaspr nonchalantly. “No
biggie.”
          Immediately, we all looked down to see Jaspr‟s ankle covered
with a large red burn that was quickly blistering.
          “Jaspr! We need to get that cooled down, now!” panicked
Kemris, murmuring the small spell for water before dousing Jaspr‟s
foot with water.
          “Does it hurt?” asked Edwin curiously as he noticed that Jaspr
hadn‟t so much as even flinched.
          “Nope! Not at all!” answered Jaspr rather enthusiastically. “I‟m
spiff!”
          “Okay. Then let‟s keep walking,” said Seth as he began to walk
again, obviously bored by the whole ordeal.
          “Wait a second! Edwin, you owe me twenty copper pieces!”
accused Jaspr, making Seth turn back to his voice.
          “What?” queried Edwin, obviously confused.



168
        “You said that I would scream in pain the next time I got hurt,
so pay up,” demanded Jaspr, holding out his hand for the said money.
        “You wait one second! You did scream in pain, you idiot,” argued
Edwin.
        “I said “ouch”, I didn‟t scream it,” corrected Jaspr stubbornly.
        “He does have a point there, Ed,” I nodded, not very much
helping the situation.
        “Thank you!” exclaimed Jaspr happily. “See! I have royalty on
my side!”
        “Just drop it, guys, we don‟t have time for this! Remember,
we‟re in a volcano that can erupt at any second,” intruded Kemris
wisely.
        “Fine, but the moment we‟re out of this volcano, I‟m going to be
breathing down your neck until I see my twenty copper pieces!” vowed
Jaspr, walking past Edwin to where Seth and I were standing together.
“Fine, fine, do what you need to to do, Jaspr,” said Edwin, rolling his
eyes.
        “I will, thank you very much,” responded Jaspr rather snootily,
still shuffling towards Seth and I.
        “Then let‟s keep going,” concluded Seth, turning around, again,
to lead us towards the cave that yawned at us from the end of the
bridge.
        Again, we walked in silence for a while, but this time, it was me
who broke the silence.
        “So… who is Neandro exactly? Is he some sort of… diplomat or
something?” I asked curiously. I had been wondering about the
mysterious hybrid for quite some time, so I had decided that then was
the best time to get answers.




                                                                           169
       “Oh… well…. He‟s the… erm….” Seth almost answered, obviously
put off at my question.
       “He‟s what?” I queried, not wanting to lose this lead.
       “He‟s the king of the Bird Tribe,” answered Kemris in Seth‟s
stead.
       “So is that a bad thing? I mean, why wouldn‟t you want to tell
me?” I shot at Seth, very, very interested in why he had been so
reluctant in telling me that Neandro was a king. My equal, you could
say.
       “He… well, let‟s just say he doesn‟t very much like us humans for
exiling his people to a life of hardship,” replied Seth awkwardly.
       I stopped in my tracks. “So now you tell me?” I said
sarcastically. “How nice.”
       Seth chuckled humorlessly. “You never asked,” he muttered.
       Before I could come up with another sarcastic remark, however,
we noticed that we had made it to the entrance of the cave.
       The cave turned out to be a small tunnel that only extended
about five feet in an ascending manner, so we trudged through it
rather quickly.
       As we stepped out of the darkness of the tunnel, we walked into
a large cavern that was engulfed in the dying rays of the sun, and, for
a moment, we were blinded as our eyes adjusted to the light. Once I
could see again, I looked up and saw a large, gaping hole above us,
holding a small circle of a dark, bloody scarlet sky. Just by looking at
the hole, it was easy to see that it had been human-made.
       Or hybrid-made.
       Ahead of us, there was another tunnel/cave about three feet off
the ground with slopes like stairs leading up to it on either side.




170
         And, as we neared the center of the cavern, I heard a peculiar
noise.
         The noise sounded very familiar, even to me… it wasn‟t
footsteps, it was much to crisp and short, but it wasn‟t a gliding sound
either…
         Then, I had an epiphany as I finally recognized the sound.
         Wing beats.
         “Stop,” I ordered in a whisper as the sound became louder and
louder as the source, or sources, grew closer. Immediately, the others
stopped, Seth, for once, not questioning me.
         The sound was coming closer… and closer… until it was replaced
by a strangely youthful, yet powerful, voice.
         “Who dares enter our domain?”




                                                                          171
                      Neandro


                               Maris



      As the voice echoed through the stillness, unanswered, three
men emerged from the tunnel… That is, if you can call them men.
      Just like Kemris had informed me, the three men had wings
protruding from their backs and slicing through the air as they hovered
in front of us in a line, one in the middle, and two on each side.
      The one in the middle looked about eighteen to twenty and was
about a head shorter than the men at his sides and he had dark blue
hair that looked like it hadn‟t been combed in weeks, its color
matching those of his enormous wings that, when fully stretched out,
could probably reach a maximum of fourteen feet across.      Matching
his otherwise dark complexion, the man‟s clothes, an ankle-length
robe with a cloak to match, were jet black, a color that enhanced the




172
paleness of his snow-white skin. From what I could see of his feet,
they were encased in dark black boots.
      The other two, however, were complete polar opposites of the
man in the middle.
      The one to the left of the dark-clothed man was almost two
heads taller than the man at his right. He was wearing a dark, forest
green jerkin whose sleeves looked like a cougar had gone after them
with a hacksaw. His hair was a pale, corn-yellow that was messed up
like the other man and looked even more yellow when compared to
the cardinal-red bandanna tied around his forehead. And, much like
the middle man, his wings, whose wingspan looked to be about
seventeen feet were the exact same color of his hair, if not a couple of
shades off. I assumed it was he who had spoken- he had the right
atmosphere.
      The last man was wearing a battered, neglected-looking dirt-
colored shirt that had many rips and tears in it- some sewn up, others
not. This man was taller than the one in the middle, yet still shorter
than the blond one. He had dark, chocolate colored hair that was even
darker than Edwin‟s, but his wings were a couple of shades lighter-
more of a tannic shade than a cocoa and looked like they could stretch
a good sixteen feet.
      As I was thinking, the man with the blue hair began to speak,
and, shockingly, it turned out that it was his voice we had heard, not
the blond hybrid.
      “Noenbloods?” the man said, his black eyebrows arching in
surprise as he realized who we were… or what we were.
      What did he say? I quickly asked Kemris in my head as I
contemplated the new word.




                                                                         173
        That’s the hybrid’s word for us humans- noenbloods. It means
that we have no hybrid blood dwelling in our veins explained Kemris.
        Almost immediately, the man‟s surprised look turned to one of
pure scorn. “So the oh-so-intelligent-and-superior noenbloods show up
to demand something more from us then they don‟t say anything?
What do you want? More land? More rivers? My people are already
impoverished enough without you coming to demand even more from
us! Oh well, at least some of you can provide us some food,” smirked
the man. “Especially you, my dear.” Right then, the man had turned
his gaze onto me, a hungry glint in his eye.
        Instantly, I sensed Seth‟s anger flare up and knew that he was
ready to step forward to defend me. Don’t move Seth I ordered him.
Let me see into his heart… maybe I can get something useful from
there.
        All right grumbled Seth mentally.
        True to my word, I allowed my eyes to pierce into the blue-
haired man‟s heart, but was met with wave after wave of burgundy,
the color of contempt.
        Dang it I growled. Looks like he really does hate us that much.
        Well, can you get anything from what he’s thinking? Demanded
Seth, anger still very prominent in his thinking voice.
        Immediately, I blinked and tried to read the blue-haired man‟s
mind, but was met with the very same thing in his heart. Pure and
utter contempt.
        Nothing I reported, then, a brilliant idea hit me. Wait, I have a
plan.
        Executing my plan, I breached the man‟s mind once again.
Maybe we’d be willing to talk if you’d be more willing to listen I
murmured in his head.



174
      His reaction was instantaneous- the blue-haired man jerked in
surprise, making the two next to him tense up.
      “Lord Neandro?” checked the brown-haired man tentatively.
      That guy’s Neandro? He’s barely older than Kem! Mocked Jaspr.
Man, and here I was expecting someone like-
      Shut up, Jaspr! We all thought simultaneously.
      Neandro looked down at me from where he hovered about a foot
off the ground, looking as if he had just noticed me. He had pure
shock etched all over his handsome face. “She‟s an animagi,” he
whispered. “Of course… the eyes, the pendent, and that smell…”
      “Forgive me, Lord, but animagis were wiped out with the passing
of the Late Queen Erowynn,” the blond-haired man pointed out.
      Neandro took a few steps, or wing beats, whatever you call
them, towards me, ignoring the blond-haired man completely. “Yes,
that smell… that beautifully alluring smell…” murmured Neandro half to
himself. “Can‟t you smell it, Tarn?”
      “Milord, I cannot smell a thing besides the scent of these
noenbloods,” answered the brown-haired man, who I took as Tarn.
      Kemris gave me a sideways glance from where she stood slightly
to the right of me.
      What’d you do? She asked.
      I sent him a little message I answered. And apparently, he
knows that only animagis are telepathic.
      Just then, Neandro quit beating his wings, allowing himself to fall
the few inches towards the ground, and, from there, he walked over to
me before stopping (he towered a good five or six inches above me) to
let his fingertips stroke my face. Seth stiffened instantly. “Your smell
tells me you‟re one of us, but you have no wings… Who are you?” he




                                                                           175
asked me in a smooth whisper, locking his gold eyes with mine as he
cupped my face in his hands.
      I was silent for a couple of seconds, not knowing what to say.
What do I tell him? I polled my friends.
      Tell him your name answered Kemris.
      Kavryn? I checked.
      No. We can trust him, tell him your real name responded
Kemris.
      Kem, I don’t know if that’s a good idea- thought Seth before
Kemris interrupted.
      Seth, if we can’t trust him to teach Maris to shift, than who can
we? Just calm down and let us handle this ordered Kemris.
      Seth looked like he wanted to argue, but he didn‟t open his
mouth.
      “My name is Maris Neaveh Braithe, and I am the daughter of the
late Queen Erowynn,” I said to Neandro.
      Neandro blinked in surprise, taking his hands away from my face
before stepping back to inspect me. “We haven‟t been visited by other
royals in years, though you do bear the resemblance of Erowynn…” he
trailed off.
      Next, he stepped back towards me, taking my left hand in his.
He began stroking it, his face contorted with concentration as he
looked for… something. Just then, he stroked across my hand with his
thumb and, instantly, a glowing tree and sun sign leapt into sight- it
was so prominent, it was hard to believe that my hand had been clear
only seconds before.
      “Yes, your emblem bears too much resemblance to those born
with it to be set aside as someone who had their hand branded later in




176
life… it‟s even on your left hand,” he muttered half to himself before
looking up at me and releasing my hand. “Why are you here, Maris?”
      I was curious for a second at why he hadn‟t called me “Your
Majesty” or something insane like that, but then I remembered that he
was a Lord, my equal.
      “She hasn‟t yet discovered how to shift, Milord,” answered
Kemris formally. “And we humbly come to you to ask for your help.
We know of no other animagis who share her gene.”
      “She‟s a bird, isn‟t she?” said Neandro, his golden gaze shifting
to Kemris. “Her smell indicates that.”
      “Yes, milord,” nodded Kemris. “And we ask that you grant us our
wishes.”
      Neandro closed his eyes, obviously deep in thought. And, after
about two minutes of contemplation, he opened his eyes and spoke
again. “I believe that I will teach the young princess,” he agreed.
      “ARE YOU MAD?!” shouted the blond-haired man suddenly.
      Neandro glared back at him. “Let me speak, Koto,” he glowered
before turning back to me, all signs of frustration erased from his face.
      “As you most likely know, us hybrids were driven out by society
some years ago, and now we are forced to live in the desolate
wastelands the noenbloods have “allowed” us to live in,” said Neandro.
“But your mother fought to bring us back in to the human world, as
equals, but she was killed before her plans were finally fulfilled. All I
ask of you, Lady Maris”- he took my left hand into both of his- “is that
you would complete your mother‟s work and bring us out of this
poverty.”
      I was rendered speechless for a while at how tenderly this
obvious predator spoke as he talked about the suffering of his people,
but after a deep breath, I was able to speak again. “I-I can‟t make



                                                                            177
you any promises, L-Lord Neandro,” I stuttered, not exactly knowing
what to call him. “But I‟ll try my best.”
         Then, Neandro moved back towards his entourage so quickly, I
didn‟t even see him move. One second, he had been holding my hand
respectfully, the next, he was five feet away, hovering again. “So long
as you try, Lady Maris, I will help you. Until then you and your… team
will be allowed to stay with us in our Roost,” smiled Neandro solemnly.
         “S-Sire? Letting… noenbloods into our Roost is-is… preposterous!
What if one our males, or females, were to accidentally… dispose of
them?” asked Tarn. I had a feeling “dispose” was interchangeable with
“eat”.
         “We are perfectly capable of defending ourselves,” growled Seth,
appearing at my left side almost magically. Up until then, he had been
stationed behind the rest of us with Edwin to make sure that no one
tried to attack us from behind, and, somehow, he had snuck up behind
me unnoticeably.
         “I assume you intend to use your swords? You see, it would be
most unfortunate on my part if another one of my tribe were to be
slaughtered by noenbloods, and you would only cause more trouble for
your princess if you were to do so,” said Neandro to Seth, who already
had a hand at his sword. “And besides, my tribe is very self-disciplined
when it comes to the hunting of noenbloods such as yourself, for the
reason that if one noenblood were to be killed, a whole village would
come after us. You should also assume that it will be the same for
you.”
         Seth looked like he still wanted to argue, but couldn‟t fine any
hole in Neandro‟s logic. Thankfully, I was the only one who heard the
curses he was shouting in his head.




178
      “But sire, these noenbloods can seriously endanger our
fledglings! What if one of them were to-” Koto began to say before
Neandro quickly interrupted him.
      “I have already made my decision, Koto,” snarled Neandro, his
eyes still looking at me.
      Koto, like Seth, still looked like he wanted to complain, but he
kept his mouth shut. And, strangely enough, he was cursing loudly in
his head, too. It‟s crazy how similar we actually are.
      “Tarn, would you mind fetching Loracle and Lorali,” ordered
Neandro. Despite asking a question, he had said it like a statement.
      “Why, milord?” asked Tarn curiously.
      “To take them to their lodgings. I believe the caves in the upper
part of the Roost would suffice,” said Neandro. “That way the smell will
bother the Tribe less.”
      “With your permission, I will fetch the females, sire,”
volunteered Koto.
      “Is the smell getting to you already, Koto? Has your seven-
hundred-odd years done nothing for you? More self-restraint in the
future, if you please,” sighed Neandro.
      “Y-yes, milord. Understood, milord,” said Koto like some soldier
before ducking into the cave.
      “I will go help him look- that Loracle is a rather elusive female,”
said Tarn, quickly following Koto. It was obvious our smell was
bothering him, too.
      Neandro‟s eyes followed them at the two large hybrids fled in
terror at our smell. “I cannot believe them at times,” he chuckled
before turning back to us. “Loracle and Lorali will make sure you get a
good night‟s sleep- they‟re two of my most trusted females, but I am
not sure that many of the other birds will like the idea of noenbloods in



                                                                         179
the Roost. It would do you well if you avoided contact with any of
them- most of us have grudges against every and all of the
noenbloods.”
         “I understand,” I replied tautly, forcing a smile.
         “As for our lesson, milady, we start at dawn tomorrow,” he said.
“Don‟t be late.” He winked broadly at me before flying quickly into the
cave after Koto and Tarn.
         “Wow! I thought he was going to eat you for a second!”
exclaimed Jaspr as soon as Neandro had disappeared.
         “So did I,” I admitted, laughing.
         “He‟s lucky he didn‟t try anything or I would have had to draw
my sword,” Seth joked, an undertone of seriousness lurking in his
voice.
         “I‟d pay to see that fight!” cried Jaspr enthusiastically.
         “Me too,” agreed Edwin. “Noenblood versus hybrid… sounds like
an event that should be publicized.”
         “No offense Seth, but Neandro probably has a hundred year
head-start when it comes to training- I think he would win,” said
Kemris.
         “He would have to shift, wouldn‟t he? He‟s probably like what, a
foot tall when he‟s in his bird form? I think I would win,” argued Seth.
         “A hundred year head-start?” I queried.
         “Hybrids live about forty to seventy times longer than an
average human, and that‟s not counting the outliers,” explained Edwin.
         “The same goes for halvenbreeds, though most of them live only
about twenty to fifty times longer than an average human,” said
Kemris.
         “What‟s a halvenbreed?” I questioned, getting confused all over
again. There were so many things about Ecladia that were still a



180
mystery to me- it was hard to imagine me sitting on a throne in the
nearby future having to plan things for a country I knew barely
anything about! I hoped that I would learn everything… soon.
      “A halvenbreed is someone who is half-hybrid, half-human.
Some can shift, some can‟t. They‟re kind of like the step before an
animagi- in fact, some animagis are actually halvenbreeds that are
able to use magic. And a lot of sages actually have a bit of hybrid in
them without them even knowing,” explained Kemris.
      “So you might be a halvenbreed?” I asked somewhat stupidly.
      “No! I don‟t see wings or anything on me!… or maybe they‟re
invisible!” exclaimed Jaspr, craning his head to look at his back.
      “Jaspr, there‟s no amount of hybrid at all in our blood, you can
calm down,” assured Kemris.
      Jaspr narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his sister. “So you say…”
he said incredulously.
      “No, Jaspr, this isn‟t some conspiracy by the hybrids to see how
long you go without noticing you‟re a halvenbreed,” I chuckled as I
read Jaspr‟s thoughts.
      “How do you know? Maybe you‟re one of them!” he accused,
jabbing a finger at me. “Maybe you‟re all in on this!”
      “I highly doubt that our Lord would do something like that to a
human- he doesn‟t like to watch anyone suffer, and everyone knows
how much halvenbreeds are hated by society,” a new, young, feminine
voice said.
      Immediately, we all looked up to see two women- one that
looked about seventeen, the other about twenty.
      The seventeen-year-old (or whatever age she really was) was a
brilliant blond- so blond, in fact, her hair was almost white. Her wings,
however, were a beautiful, polar bare white that matched her pale



                                                                         181
brown eyes and looked to only stretch about ten to twelve feet. She
wore a loose, fishtail dress that came down to her ankles before
fluttering above twin silver slippers.
      The twenty-or-so-year-old was a dark red-head-slash-brunette
with crimson eyes that were tinted pink to closely match her hair, but,
strangely, her wings were a brilliant, amber shock whose wingspan
looked to be about thirteen feet across. The dress she was wearing
was a deep black that brought out the red tones in her hair, eyes, and
wings.
      The blond grinned at us. “This is soooo exciting! I‟ve always
wanted to observe noenbloods up close, but Neandro never let me!”
exclaimed the blond, practically jumping for joy- or as close she could
get when she was hovering.
      The brunette smiled at us also, but much less enthusiastically
than her companion did. “My name is Lorali, and this is my younger
sister, Loracle,” she introduced both herself and the blond- her soft-
spoken voice marking her as the one who had spoken earlier. “And our
Lord Neandro has invited us show you to your lodgings.”
      As Lorali‟s voice faded away, Loracle flew over to me before
taking a quick breath. “Mmm… you do smell good!” she exclaimed.
      “Lora, don‟t get any ideas. These noenbloods are personal guests
of Lord Neandro,” scolded Lorali, sounding distinctly like Kemris.
Maybe all older sisters acted the same way when it came to their
younger siblings.
      Loracle grinned at her sister. “Don‟t be silly, Lory! I wouldn‟t
even dream of eating a noenblood!” said Loracle, rolling her eyes.
      “If you please, just follow us,” instructed Lorali, gracefully ending
the conversation with her sister.




182
      Then, Lorali and Loracle turned to lead us into the home of the
Bird Tribe.




                                                                        183
                     Learning


                                Maris



Loracle and Lorali led us through the tunnel (which was sloped just as
the other one was) Neandro and the others had gone into until we
emerged into a cavern even larger than the one we had just been in.
      The ceiling was so high in this cavern, the only sign of a ceiling
was a dark, blackened mass looming above us, and the coolness of the
air indicated that there probably wasn‟t even a ceiling at all- just an
open hole to the sky.
      At regular intervals, other tunnels branching out from the main
cave split the walls of the cavern, and it was obvious that every tunnel
lead to somewhere important by the hustle and bustle that was going
on.
      From where we were standing, looking at a place most humans
had probably never seen before, the Roost, as Neandro had called it,



184
looked just like any other village in Ecladia- even some cities in the
Otherworld acted distinctly like this.
      There were many bird hybrids flapping about, taking care of
whatever business they had, ranging greatly I color from dark
obsidians to pearly whites and everything in between.
      And, as we were watching, some of the hybrids noticed what
was going on, and soon enough, growls of disapproval and other
obscenities were being glared down upon us. Neandro hadn‟t been
exaggerating when he had said that most of the hybrids despised us.
      Acting quickly, Loracle and Lorali turned to the left to lead us
down another tunnel, and, soon enough, we were well out of sight of
the hybrids.
      At the end of the tunnel was a small, well-furnished room that
looked almost exactly like one of the rooms we had stayed in in the
towns that we had previously visited. With the exception of the
granite, cave-like walls, that is.
      Within the room were about seven or eight pieces of furniture
including six beds, a small sofa and a table made out of pine with thin,
pastel-colored sheets and pillows. It was obvious the hybrids weren‟t
too worried about the cold- they lived in a volcano.
      Loracle and Lorali stood by the door to let us pass them and
walk into the room.
      “Lord Neandro has made me your guard for the night, and I will
be posted here at the door to make sure that none of the birds will try
anything, so you do not have to worry,” assured Lorali in her soft
voice, giving us a small smile. “As long as our Lord wishes it, no harm
will come to you.”
      “Thank you,” thanked Seth. “You don‟t know how much it means
to all of us that the Lady Maris is safe.”



                                                                         185
      I was shocked by the official title he had just dubbed me, but I
had a feeling it was just a show for Loracle and Lorali.
      Lorali smiled at him in response, but didn‟t say anything. Our
smell was obviously getting to her.
      Just then, Loracle yawned and flexed both her wings and her
arms simultaneously. “I soooo tired!” she sighed tiredly.
      “Then go to sleep- I can check and see if Koto will guard the
mountain tonight,” said Lorali.
      “But I never get to guard!” pouted Loracle. “You know how Tarn
gets if I ask if I can guard!”
      “Then stop complaining,” recommended Lorali. “And maybe then
Tarn would let you guard more often.”
      “Fine. But maybe I wouldn‟t be so tired if Koto would lay off a
little on our scouting missions,” complained Loracle under her breath.
      Lorali rolled her eyes, but said nothing more.
      After that, the two sisters left us alone to sleep, Lorali staying
just outside the cave entrance, past a small, closed door that had
obviously been opened to let us into the small space.
      As I was lying in my bed, I couldn‟t stop thinking about my
shifting lessons… and of Neandro‟s reaction to my being an animagi.
      Sooner or later, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.


                                      ~*~


“Just focus, and you‟ll get it.”
      “Um, I can‟t really focus when you‟re yelling in my ear!”
      It was the next morning, and Neandro had begun teaching me to
shift, but, if that morning was anything to go by, I wasn‟t going to do
very well as an animagi.



186
      So far, I had only successfully shifted once, but hadn‟t been able
to keep my hawk form for more than about thirty seconds.
      Just then, Neandro had been trying to get me to concentrate on
my form and, somehow, from that core concentration, I would change
shape. Unfortunately, the amount of concentration needed seemed to
be more than I could handle.
      Neandro rolled his eyes at me. “Just take a break, then. We‟ll tax
your noenblood brain again once you‟ve rested,” he sighed, looking
rather disappointed.
      Relieved, I slumped onto a surprisingly convenient rock that just
so happened to be stationed upon the small cliff we were on. Neandro
had said that the view of the valleys and rivers below would calm me
down and help me concentrate, but so far, it hadn‟t helped me all that
much.
      That day, I had changed into a pure white form-fitting fishtail
dress that was supposed to help my body shift and Neandro was
wearing a dark black linen shirt with trousers to match- his dark black
boots showing through.
      Neandro flexed his wings and looked longingly out at the
horizon. It was obvious that he wanted to fly, but couldn‟t because of
me.
      “You know, milady, sometimes I wonder what it‟d be like to be a
noenblood- always grounded, never being able to touch that beautiful
blue sky…” he trailed off, still gazing out at the pale blue sky.
      “Well, it doesn‟t make that much difference when you‟re born
like this- when you don‟t know how something feels, you don‟t really
worry about it,” I rationalized, crossing my legs.




                                                                        187
      He laughed. “Of course. Like the situation between mates. When
you don‟t very much understand their bonds, you don‟t see the point.
Though I think you would understand,” he said.
      “What do you mean?” I queried, confused.
      “Your mate. The tall blond noenblood male? The one who
obviously wanted to kill me in the Entrance Hall last night?” he
reminded me. “The one who threatened to fight one of my hybrids if
one of them so much as touched you.”
      “Seth?” I guessed, half-hoping I was wrong.
      “Yes! Him!” exclaimed Neandro, smiling slightly.
      “What about him?” I asked.
      Neandro chuckled mysteriously. “I could tell by his face that he
would do anything to keep you safe- and I sense that most of that has
nothing to do with the fact that you‟re to be the new Queen,” he
chortled.
      “Wh-what do you mean?” I stuttered, fear beginning to make my
heart beat faster. Was Neandro really as trust-worthy as Kemris said
he was, or was he really in league with Syrin?
      “From what I‟ve been told, mates will do anything to keep harm
from each other- the greater their bond, the greater their obsession
with protection. I believe that… Seth‟s bond with you is rather strong.
Do you know how much he is willing to do to protect you?” he
chuckled.
      “Of course I do,” I answered. “But how can you sense that?”
      He rolled his eyes a little at me. “I part bird- part animal, if you‟d
like. I have instincts. And besides, it was obvious by how furious he
became when I mentioned your positively alluring smell,” he smiled a
bit creepily.




188
        “He‟s always been like that,” I said, choose my words very
carefully.
        “But if there is one thing that nags in my mind, it‟s your feelings
for him. How does that male make you feel, milady?” asked Neandro.
        My mouth fell open ever so slightly at his question, and I was
rendered speechless.
        “It‟s a simple answer,” he assured me, smirking. “But be careful,
milady- I can sense liars.”
        I gulped. Neandro would be able to sense if I lied- I didn‟t deny
his ability of that, but if I admitted my feelings for Seth, Neandro could
easily turn on us and tell the Calkora about him and Seth could get
hurt over my stupid slip up. There was only one obvious choice.
        “I‟m-I‟m sorry, but I don‟t know you enough to give you details
of my personal life,” I replied finally. “I may or may not hate or love
Seth, and it is none of your concern which is the truth and which is a
lie.”
        Neandro grinned. “Marvelous. I didn‟t think you would ace your
first test,” he muttered half to himself.
        “Wait… what?” I queried.
        “I was testing to see how you would answer me, and you gave
me such a perfect answer,” he explained, still grinning.
        “But what does that have to do with shifting?” I questioned,
becoming lost all over again.
        “The better question is, milady: what does this have to do with
war?” corrected Neandro, side-stepping my question.
        “Huh?” I asked, completely lost.
        He laughed at my obvious discomfort. “Calkoran spies are
everywhere these days- in every town, forest, barn, farm, ditch- and
they will do anything to find out anything about you milady, and you



                                                                          189
must be prepared to give incorruptible statement at a moments‟
notice,” he explained.
        “Oh, I see,” I nodded, finally getting what he was saying… kind
of.
        He was still laughing softly as he walked over to me, and, before
I could blink (he moved very quickly for someone burdened with what
looked like very heavy wings) he had placed a hand under my chin,
and lifted my face to his and letting his beautifully golden eyes pierce
mine, his face a mere four inches from mine.
        “Question,” he murmured, his warm, sweet-smelling breath
wafting across my face. “Exactly what does that male, Seth think of
you?”
        “I think you already know that,” I answered him, fighting not to
take a deep inhale of his breath which smelled like a rich, rosy
perfume.
        “Humor me,” he said, smiling.
        “Is this another interrogation test?” I asked.
        “No,” he replied. “I‟m just curious.”
        I sensed that he was being honest. “Well, he thinks I‟m pretty,
which I don‟t agree with, and he‟s always telling me how much he
loves all the perfect mistakes I make. Kind of an oxymoron if you ask
me,” I told Neandro, not exactly knowing why I was spilling the beans.
Something deep within me was telling me that I could trust him… in
fact, that same feeling had appeared more than once in my life- it had
also been the feeling that had encouraged me to follow Seth into the
forest that one fateful afternoon so many months before.
        Neandro chuckled again. “I don‟t agree with him on the pretty
part either- I believe you‟re beautiful,” complimented Neandro, making
me blush a brilliant scarlet.



190
      “Well, you‟d better get in line- a lot of other boys apparently
agree with you, too,” I said, making him chuckle again.
      “Really, it‟s impossible not to think you‟re beautiful. Your ebony
black hair that looks so much darker with your pale skin- especially
your absolutely mesmerizing green eyes…” Neandro trailed off.
      We stayed in complete silence for a while, Neandro‟s melted gold
eyes boring into my green.
      Then, Neandro began to lean closer towards me, closer and
closer until I could feel the small wisps of air coming from between his
slightly parted lips. The space between us was becoming increasingly
slower, my conscience screaming its disapproval at me, but I couldn‟t
bring myself to move.
      Neandro was about three millimeters away from kissing me
when he stopped. “No,” he murmured half to himself.
      Then, before I could even blink, he was five feet away, hovering.
      “I-I‟m sorry, Lady Maris. I shouldn‟t have put you in such a
situation,” he apologized, not meeting my gaze.
      “N-no,” I said, turning a very bright scarlet. “I-I‟m sorry.” I
couldn‟t believe how I couldn‟t move to stop Neandro from kissing me,
I mean, I loved Seth! Was I really that shallow that I would let any
boy just kiss me?!
      Neandro lifted his eyes to me. “You shouldn‟t be the one
apologizing, milady. You don‟t realize what could happen if I lowered
my guard for a single second around someone like you.”
      “No… I-I don‟t realize that,” I agreed. There was so much I still
didn‟t know about hybrids except for their tragic past. How much more
would I have to learn before I became Queen?
      He laughed humorlessly. “ I could easily kill you, milady- even
the weakest hybrids are twenty times stronger than any noenblood as



                                                                        191
yourself,” he chuckled. “Though, even if you hadn‟t known that, you do
realize that I‟m quite smitten with you.”
      “Like I said before- get in line,” I said, my face decreasing in its
redness little by little.
      He laughed again, this time; he actually seemed to have
regained his old humor. “Of course, milady, if I were to try anything,
your mate would come after me with that sword of his,” he chortled.
      I laughed with him this time. “I completely agree.”
      “Besides,” continued Neandro. “I‟m very, very, very much older
than you.”
      “Yeah, Kemris mentioned that earlier. You live longer than us
humans do, right?” I questioned, hoping I was right.
      He nodded. “To you, I may look eighteen, but, in reality, I am at
the ripe young age of one-hundred-eighty-two.”
      “Wait, WHAT?!” I queried, my eyes widening in shock.
      He immediately burst out laughing at my expression. “Yes.
Though my father is around seven-hundred-twenty-six I believe, now.”
      “You‟re dad is that old? Are you pulling my leg?” I demanded,
still awestruck. When Kemris had said they lived longer than we did, I
hadn‟t expected anything so extreme.
      “Yes, Koto is that old,” confirmed Neandro.
      “Koto? He‟s your dad?” I queried. Koto had seemed to be only
about thirty! How in the world could he be seven-hundred-twenty six?
      “Of course. Can‟t you see the resemblance?” he asked, rolling his
eyes like it was the most obvious fact in the entire world.
      “No, not really, but if Koto‟s your dad, than shouldn‟t he be
Lord?” I questioned.
      “He stepped down from office shortly after we were exiled. He
was devastated after my mother was killed by the noenbloods who



192
drove us out- he couldn‟t take running the Tribe,” explained Neandro,
a snarl creeping into his voice.
      “That‟s… that‟s horrible,” I sympathized. “My mother was killed
by Syrin, and I never even got to meet her…”
      “Death is a daily occurrence here, you might as well get used to
it, milady,” He said, still looking rather mad.
      We were silent for a while until, finally, Neandro broke the
silence and recommended that I keep practicing.
      After another hour or so of unsuccessful shifting, Neandro and I
headed back into the volcano. It was rather close to noon by that time.
      “Maris!” a voice called out to us as we entered the cavern that
the others and I had first met the hybrids.
      Immediately, Seth came running towards us, panting in exertion
and looking like he had just run a marathon.
      “Are you alright?” he checked in between deep breaths as he
skidded to a stop in front of me.
      “Of course I am! But what about you, Seth? What happened?” I
asked back. “I mean, you look like you-”
      I was cut off as Seth abruptly cupped my face in his hands and
planted a kiss on my lips.
      I taken aback by his sudden action and my face turned red as I
realized that Neandro was watching rather resentfully. I sensed certain
urgency radiating from Seth, and I was on the brink of breaking into
his heart when Neandro cleared his throat very, very loudly.
      “Sorry, to interrupt your… *Ahem* moment, but I noticed that
Loracle wasn‟t guarding, but her scent is still rather fresh around the
entrance. Did she come by here?” asked Neandro.
      Finally, Seth released me before answering Neandro with a
steely glare. “She didn‟t come by me. I haven‟t seen her all day,”



                                                                          193
replied Seth in a low growl as he stepped protectively in front of me
like Neandro was going to lash out and try and hurt me or something.
      Neandro‟s eyes went wide. “Are you sure? Maybe you weren‟t
paying attention or something, are you sure that she didn‟t pass by-”
      “I. Didn‟t. See. Anything,” snapped Seth.
      “Seth, don‟t be rude,” I scolded him, reminding myself of Kemris
as I stepped in front of him. “What‟s wrong, Neandro? Maybe she just
wandered off or something.”
      Neandro shook his head. “Loracle wouldn‟t wander off like that.
She‟s very, very diligent when it comes to her duties. And that only
leaves…” he trailed off, deep in thought.
      “What?” I pressed, feeling my heart beginning to beat with
worry.
      Neandro looked up at me, his eyes twin gold pools of worry.
      “Noenbloods took her.”




194
                          Trials

                               Maris



      “What?! Are-are you sure?” I queried, panicking. “If humans
came that means they… do you think they came because of me?!”
      “Unfortunately so, milady. They must believe we abducted you
or something similar- it‟s happened before, but not to such extremes
where they‟ve taken one of my Tribe hostage like this,” sighed
Neandro with much dread. “I will go alert the troops, in the meantime,
see if you and your coven would like to come up with a plan to subdue
them. Either that or we fight. I won‟t let any one of my Tribe be
hunted again.”
      “I think we‟re perfectly capable of defending Maris ourselves,
thank you very much,” snarled Seth very, very disrespectfully.
      Neandro gave him a furious look. “Of course you noenbloods do!
What do you think my people have to go through every single day?! I
allow myself to give you this one favor of helping your queen and you



                                                                       195
won‟t even help me when your own people are obviously going to try
and kill us?!” growled Neandro, his golden eyes hardening.
      “Neandro, I really appreciate what you‟re doing for me, and we
will do what we can to help you. It‟s my fault Loracle‟s in this mess- I
should‟ve done something to let them know you didn‟t kidnap me or
something, and I will take responsibility. Just please, do what you
have to do,” I said, shooting a furtive, and mad, glance at Seth.
      “Thank you, milady. Your humility is much appreciated,” thanked
Neandro, still glaring at Seth. “I will go and make sure our troops are
ready in case of an attack. Do whatever you think is best.”
      “I don‟t see why you need to apologize Maris, we can just-”
recommended Seth just as Neandro disappeared.
      I instantly rounded on him. “What the heck was that for?!” I
interrupted him, letting my bottled anger out.
      “What do you mean?” he queried innocently, a startled look
flashing across his face.
      “Why did you feel the need to say all those things to Neandro?!
Do you know how much he‟s going through trying to teach me how to
shift?! One of his Tribe has been kidnapped because of me!” I
snapped.
      Immediately, Seth‟s startled face turned to one of fury. “That‟s
absurd! The human scent he smelled could‟ve been just you- and
besides, whatever went wrong couldn‟t have anything to do with you,
Laiyah would have stopped them long before they had come anywhere
near us! Whatever‟s going on with Loracle, it‟s of her own doing, not
ours,” he snarled.
      “What?! Neandro would‟ve known if it was my scent or not, and
if he thinks that Loracle was kidnapped, then it‟s a fair bet she was!” I
yelled.



196
      “I don‟t see why you trust him, Maris! He‟s a hybrid! If he lets
his caution slip for just a second, he could kill you! You heard what he
said about your smell!” Seth shouted back at me, his crystalline blue
eyes as hard as stones.
      “For your information, Seth, he is perfectly cautious around us,
and you weren‟t like this last night with Laiyah and Loracle! Why do
you hate Neandro so much?” I demanded, furious.
      “It‟s-it‟s-” spluttered Seth, obviously too mad to speak clearly.
      “It‟s what?” I prompted, feeling pure anger exploding in my
heart.
      “It‟s because I saw what he almost did to you while you were
learning to shift! I saw how he almost kissed you! How can you expect
me to shrug that off?!” snarled Seth.
      “Wait, you were spying on me?! You can‟t trust me enough to
even go outside with someone who has sworn not to hurt me?! How
stupid do you think I am?!” I screeched, becoming more furious by the
second.
      “I don‟t think you‟re stupid, Maris! I just don‟t think you‟re ready
to fight alone yet- especially against a hybrid! I wanted to make sure
you would be safe,” his yell dwindled to a low growl.
      “Seth, can you just stop trying to protect me for one second?!
When are you going to get it through your head that I can take care of
myself and will take care of myself if need be?! Isn‟t that what you‟ve
been training me for?!” I snapped.
      “Just listen to me, Maris! I‟m trying to do what‟s best for you!”
he pleaded, his voice thick with unshed anger.
      “Well, it doesn‟t seem like that to me! To me, you seem like
some possessive jerk that won‟t let any other boys around his




                                                                          197
girlfriend without him being there! I know how to take care of myself,
Seth! I know things you could never even understand how to do!”
      “You don‟t understand, Maris, I-”
      “Actually, I do understand! I understand that you‟re a selfish
jerk who‟s jealous of someone that is my rank, has royal blood, and
knows most of the same abilities I know! You‟re just jealous that you
can‟t be like him!” I screamed.
      “Me? Jealous? Of that stupid hybrid?” he scoffed incredulously.
“Don‟t make me laugh.”
      “He is not stupid! He‟s been through things you couldn‟t even
imagine!” I defended Neandro.
      “Oh, so you‟re protecting him? Then why don‟t I just leave you
to him since you‟re such a perfect couple? Then it wouldn‟t be my
problem when he eats you!” he shouted in my face.
      “Just go ahead then. Leave. I don‟t care if anything happens to
you- in fact, I wouldn‟t even blink if you burned in hell for the rest of
your life,” I snarled back, equally in his face.
      Seth was silent- his flaming blue eyes searching mine, looking
for a chink in my armor. Then, he found one. “You can‟t live without
me, Maris- you know you can‟t,” he muttered hotly.
      “You can‟t live without me either,” I shot back.
      We stayed in a very angry, tense silent for almost ten minutes,
the two of us glaring daggers at each other.
      Then, little by little, I began to feel my anger siphon away.
      At last, Seth let out a deep sigh- I could almost taste the anger
hidden in his breath.
      “You‟re right Maris. As usual,” he sighed, eyes tightly shut.
      “About what this time?” I demanded, still a bit angry.
      “I am jealous of Neandro.”



198
      “What?” I queried, surprised at our argument‟s drastic turn.
      “I-I want to actually do something Maris! Neandro‟s doing to so
much for you, I mean- why can‟t I?!” he demanded rhetorically.
      “You are doing something, Seth! You‟re-you‟re protecting me!” I
argued.
      He opened his eyes, the beautiful blue looking very, very
tortured. “But Maris, you said it yourself- you can take care of yourself
now. In a couple of days, you won‟t need me and…” he trailed off.
      “And what?” I questioned, my eyes probing his for answers.
      “Neandro is the perfect guy for you, Maris. He‟s everything you
need- he‟s of royal blood, he grew up with politics, he obviously likes
you… I‟m nothing like that,” he sighed. “I-I‟m afraid of losing you.”
      “Oh Seth,” I choked up, lowering my head and closing my eyes.
“You don‟t have to worry about that- I love you more than I‟ve ever
loved anyone in my life. How could you think I‟d run off with some
other boy just because we supposedly compatible?”
      “But Maris…” he murmured, placing his hands on each of my
shoulders and making me look up at him, opening my eyes. “I don‟t
want to lose you… I love you and… I want to be with you… forever…”
As he trailed off, he closed his eyes again and let me feel the flood of
emotions contained in the small space of his heart.
      So many colors swarmed my vision, I closed my eyes to let
myself drink them in. There was a dark, smoky gray, the color of
fear… a soft azure blue, the color of desperation… but above all else,
there was the beautiful color of the sunrise, the gorgeous pearly
orange-pink that is completely indescribable… the color of love. I let
my mind connect with his.
      Do you really feel this way? I asked him.




                                                                         199
      He opened his eyes to me at the exact time I did. “How can I
not?” he replied verbally in a whisper.
      I gazed into his beautiful blue eyes, and, almost immediately, a
thought passed through his head that shocked me. “Seth? Do you
really want to… isn‟t that a bit… extreme?” I checked, completely
caught off guard.
      He smiled reassuringly at me. “I told you I love you, Maris, and
of course I want to,” he answered.
      “But you don‟t have a ring,” I pointed out.
      “We don‟t exactly need one since it‟ll be a while until we can
actually get around to it,” he said back.
      “And also because we don‟t know what might happen between
now and then,” I murmured, fear creeping into my voice as I
remembered my terrible vision.
      “Don‟t worry, Maris,” he soothed. “I will do anything and
everything to make sure that we‟re together.”
      I chuckled humorlessly. “So do you want to tell the others?” I
asked.
      He shrugged. “Are you sure it‟s a good idea? I mean, Jaspr
might not be able to accept the fact that we‟re-”
      “Ah! Please don‟t say that word!” I interrupted. “I don‟t know
why, but it just bothers me!”
      He laughed at my reaction. “Alright, Maris, whatever you say,”
he chuckled. “Besides, there‟s nothing in the world more important to
me than you are, Maris.”
      “But really, Seth. Let‟s be logical right now. Marriage? Are you
sure all that sword-fighting hasn‟t screwed your brain up or
something?” I checked.




200
      He laughed again. “It‟s archery that screws people‟s brains up-
Jaspr‟s proven that, and I told you already, Maris. I love you and I
want to be with you for as long as we both shall live- even beyond
that,” he said romantically.
      “Bet you won‟t be saying that when we‟re ninety-two,” I joked,
rolling my eyes and making him laugh again.
      Then, he pulled me in towards him, wrapping one arm around
my waist before brushing back a stray strand of hair. “I don‟t think I‟ll
ever stop feeling this way for you, Maris. You‟re an animagi- you
should be able to tell whether I‟m lying or not,” he said.
      “But Seth, why me? I mean, half the girls in my class probably
hate me now that I sat next to you when we first met!” I complained.
“Not to mention the situation with Priya…” I winced inwardly as I
remembered the pain I had felt when Priya had kissed Seth right in
front of my face.
      He smiled at me. “Really, Maris? You think so little of yourself,
don‟t you? None of those girls mean anything to me- my heart has
belonged to you since the day we met,” he assured me.
      “But think about it Seth- I mean, what do you see in me? Plenty
of those other girls were a billion times what I am! I don‟t even have a
four-point-oh GPA!” I argued, not even sure he knew what a GPA was
or exactly how high a four-point-oh is on the scale.
      “You really don‟t see yourself clearly, Maris do you? You‟re
beautiful, smart, understanding, strong, and, above all, you‟re really
modest when it comes to everything! You‟re everything a guy like me
could ever dream of,” he murmured.
      Slowly, I slid my own hand on top of the one he had on my
cheek. “But I‟m nothing against you, Seth. It‟s me who should be




                                                                          201
worrying of losing the other- I mean, you‟re funny, handsome, caring,
loving, you know, all that other stuff,” I listed quickly.
      He arched an eyebrow characteristically. “Handsome?” he
queried.
      “Yes, you are handsome,” I repeated, biting my lower lip as my
face reddened.
      “And what exactly makes me “handsome”?” he asked.
      “Well… your hair, your eyes, your face, your actual personality…
um… your eyes…” I guessed, trying to list some of the reasons for why
I felt what I felt for Seth.
      “You said my eyes twice,” he pointed out, smiling.
      “Well, I guess that‟s the main thing… they‟re like a trap, but in a
good way,” I muttered, trying to describe the indescribable way his
eyes were so captivating.
      “A trap?” he queried, his eyebrow still arched.
      “Well, I guess because they‟re so… so… blue,” I answered,
sounding like a total idiot.
      “So it‟s my blue eyes that make me handsome?” he questioned,
still smirking.
      “Kind of…” I trailed off, not getting my point across at all.
      “What do you mean by “kind of”?” he queried, smirking even
more broadly.
      “That‟s it! I give up! You‟re asking way too many questions!” I
finally concluded, flustered.
      “Hey, I‟m just curious!” he defended himself in mock horror, but
his smirk made it very unbelievable.
      I laughed at him. “Just shut up, Seth,” I giggled, unconsciously
laying me head on his shoulder.




202
        He pulled me closer to you. “Do you want to know what I really
love about you, Maris?” asked Seth, still grinning.
        “Sure, though I think I might already know the answer,” I
replied, a very good idea in my head.
        “I really love that you‟re so easy to tease!” he said somewhat
romantically before bursting out laughing.
        I made my face as straight as humanely possible. “Knew it,” I
muttered, but I couldn‟t keep up my act for long and, soon enough, I
was smiling along with him.
        He stifled his laughter enough to speak. “Really, Maris! It‟s
pretty hilarious how you react to my jabs,” he said.
        “And exactly what is so hilarious about my reactions?” I asked,
doing an impression of him as I arched my eyebrow. It didn‟t have the
same effect though.
        “Your actions, I guess,” he shrugged, making me roll my eyes
again.
        Just then, he pulled away ever so slightly, not letting go of my
hand which he still had trapped under his before getting down on one
knee.
        “Maris Neaveh Braithe, future Queen of Ecladia,” he murmured,
locking his beautiful blue eyes with mine. “Will you marry me?”
        “Of-of course, Seth,” I replied, stuttering quite a lot as I realized
what he was doing. “I really do love you.”
        As he began moving back into a standing position, he kept his
eyes connected with mine and, soon enough, I had completely lost my
senses in the beautiful labyrinth of crystalline blue that was his eyes.
        Then, when he finally stood erect, he began to lean in towards
me.




                                                                           203
       Instinctively, we both closed our eyes as we came closer and
closer together… but right before our lips met, I interrupted.
       “Shoot,” I muttered, obliterating our perfect moment.
“What is it?” asked Seth, opening his eyes and pulling his face back.
       “How are we going to break the news to all my not-so-secret
admirers?” I questioned.
       “Don‟t worry, Maris- we‟ll just let them vent their anger. I‟m
pretty sure I can take a black eye or two… or three… or a hundred
depending on how many guys like you,” he chuckled, enticing me to
laugh along with him, which I did.
       And, as our laughs died away, he began to lean in towards me
again, but, this time, I didn‟t interrupt.
       As I felt his lips press into mine, I immediately felt love course
wildly through my veins like a billion volts of electricity let loose into
my body.
       Unconsciously, I felt my arms moving like they had a will of their
own around Seth‟s neck before tangling my fingers in his soft, dirty-
blond hair and I could feel Seth‟s arms pulling me ever so closer to
him.
       Our argument seemed a million lifetimes ago even though only
about five minutes had passed us by.
       Then, all of a sudden, Seth‟s arms tightened around me and he
dipped me. You know, like in those chick flicks (most of the time it
happens at weddings) the guy leans over the girl until she‟s like,
impossibly bent backwards. I was surprised I didn‟t break in half right
then and there.
       It took a lot of my strength to keep myself from swooning, but,
thankfully, Seth brought me back up after about fifteen seconds, his
lips still locked with mine.



204
      Then, after a long while, we both pulled away simultaneously.
      “W-what w-w-was th-th-that?” I spluttered, my heart still
thudding at a thousand miles an hour.
      He grinned nonchalantly at me. “Aren‟t guys supposed to give
their new fiancées a romantic kiss after they propose?” he pointed out,
raising an eyebrow.
      “Oh, yeah… I forgot about that,” I blushed, just realizing how
much I had forgotten in our perfect moment.
      He chuckled and took my hands into his.
      “We‟d better go find Neandro,” he suggested.
      “Who?” I queried idiotically.
      He raised an eyebrow quizzically at me. “You know, Neandro?
Remember- Loracle?” he questioned.
      “Dang it, I forgot about that, too!” I exclaimed, feeling more and
more stupid each second.
      After my obviously dim-witted response, Seth‟s laughter rang
out like a never-ending song in the hollow cavern, giving the illusion of
forty Seths all laughing at once.
But the one thing that kept resonating in my head was the fact that,
now, I was engaged to someone I had met only about three months
before. My old life in Brooklyn was just a very dim memory now…
      How much more would change before that flicker of a memory
disappeared altogether?




                                                                       205
                Compromise


                               Maris



      The Bird Tribe was in turmoil.
      When Seth and I had stepped into the cavern we had been lead
into only the night before, the frenzy of activity had escalated to an
uproar.
      Birds were flying every which way- some in their natural form,
others in their bird form. But one thing that was the same about all of
them was that their eyes were all wide with panic.
      Then, out of nowhere, a beautiful, brunette brown-winged hybrid
appeared in front of us- her normally striking hazel eyes red and
bloodshot from crying.
      “Where is she?! Where did they take my daughter?!” she
pleaded from me, tears pouring down her face.




206
      “Loracle?” I asked her, praying I was wrong as I felt the wave
upon wave of despair coming from her heart in floods. No mother
should ever have to feel the horrible pain of losing their child to
someone who might kill them.
      “Yes!” she shrieked. “What are they going to do with her?! What
have they already done?! Where is my daughter?!”
      I was rendered speechless and before I could compose myself,
Tarn appeared from the mob, taking the crazed woman‟s hands into
his own as he attempted to stop her hysterics.
      “Calm down, love- we‟ll get her back,” he comforted her
unsuccessfully as his eyes were also blotched red. I took a guess that
Loracle and Lorali were his daughters and the woman was his mate.
      Then, finally, Neandro appeared beside me.
      “Everything will be alright, Myrrellia! I promise you we‟ll do
everything we can to get Loracle back from those blasted noenbloods,”
assured Neandro, though his voice cracked in several places.
      “They took her?” I asked, frightened.
      Neandro‟s panicked eyes turned stone cold. “I sent a couple of
my birds to investigate, and they found that about fifteen noenbloods
were around the volcano last night, and, from what they saw, there
was a struggle between them and Loracle, and she lost,” he reported
coldly. “You attract quite a crowd, Lady Maris.”
      My heart thudded in my chest. “We have to convince them that I
came here of my own free will,” I said.
      “But how would we do that? The noenbloods are prepared to kill-
if you went out there by yourself, they could kill her before you could
explain, but if we went with you, they‟d kill her thinking we‟re holding
you hostage,” pointed out Neandro.




                                                                       207
      I closed my eyes deep in thought for almost five minutes as I
thought of what to do, and, finally, it hit me.
      “I have a plan.”


                                   ~*~


      “Seth, you have to stay in the back until the right time!”
      “But what if something happens?”
      “Nothing. Will. Go. Wrong.”
      My super fantabulous plan involved me and a couple of hybrids
walking out of the volcano first, Neandro and I side by side, but Seth
and the others would take up the back, to show that we had some
control over the hybrids if not all.
      But, of course, Seth wanted to be with me.
      “But, Maris!” argued Seth from where we stood apart from the
mob, the others figuring out who would come and who would stay
behind. “What if the hybrids were to lose control with all those humans
around? The scent could drive them crazy!”
      “Stop worrying about it, Seth. Neandro won‟t let them lost
control- I‟ve seen it,” I assured him. In fact, I had looked as best as I
could into the future to see what would happen and, thankfully, it
seemed that everything would go rather smoothly. But my mother‟s
words rang in my head now more than ever.
      Once you have seen the future, everything changes
      “Maris, I really don‟t know about this…” muttered Seth, concern
glittering in his eyes.
      “I promise you, Seth, if anything goes wrong, I know you‟ll be
able to protect me- everything will be alright,” I soothed him.




208
     He looked like he still wanted to argue, but he clenched his jaw
and said nothing more on the issue.




                                                                    209
      Seth




210
We had left the main cavern and were finally on our way over the
bridge- headed for open air.
      Maris was in the lead with Neandro, Tarn, Koto, and some other
burly, yet supposedly young, hybrid named Kest who looked to be
about twenty-seven years old with dark honey-blond hair and dark
brown eyes that matched his wings. Despite never having seen him
before, he was the one I trusted most to protect Maris- he had vowed
that much to me before we had left.
      Unfortunately, Kemris, Edwin, Jaspr, and I were secluded to the
back of the group to show the other humans that we had a mutual
agreement in place between Maris and the hybrids. But I itched to be
by Maris‟ side, just to make sure she was safe but, as usual, she
wouldn‟t hear a word of it.
      I was still clenching and unclenching my hands thoughtfully as I
contemplated a way to sneak up to Maris‟ side when, finally, we
neared the main entrance and, strangely enough, I could hear a loud
droning noise- like a hive of bees were waiting just outside ambush us.
      The sound of voices.
      Then, at the end of the long, dark tunnel (Kemris hadn‟t allowed
us a fire) there was the brilliant light of day looming ahead of us.
      We all blinked rapidly a couple of times as our eyes adjusted to
the radiant light that streamed through our eyes, but, soon enough,
we were able to see the mass of people waiting just outside the
entrance of the volcano.
      We hadn‟t arrived a moment too soon. Outside was a huge
amount of people about a hundred strong, and it looked like they had
been just about to launch a rescue mission- many of them were
carrying pitchforks, swords, lances, maces, whips, torches, or, in a
couple of cases, tree branches.



                                                                       211
      Those idiots.
      As Maris stepped out into the light, no one seemed to notice that
their so called “damsel in distress” was right in front of their noses-
probably because they were too infuriated to even think straight
(which was why they were in that situation in the first place).
      I could almost taste the vibes of shock emanating from Maris as
she realized how many people had been willing to kill and die to save
her. Oh, how I longed to run up to her, take her hand, and tell her
everything was going to be alright, but, of course, I wasn‟t allowed.
      Finally, one of the men cried out, “Your Majesty!” before falling
to his knees before Maris. The rest immediately following suit as they
kneeled before Maris in reverence, making Maris blush attractively as
she usually did in these sorts of situations.
      “We, the Unofficial Army of Feeana (feel free to call us UAF)
have come to rescue you, milady!” one man yelled as he stood up, the
rest of the “army” following suit.
      The man had a dark chestnut colored hair and looked to be
about forty-two years old with a scruffy mustache and small, silver
glasses that perched crookedly on his nose, reflecting the color of his
azure blue eyes.
      How stupid can these people be?! I snorted in my head.
      Maris arched an eyebrow, telling me that she had received my
message.
      “And who says I need rescuing?” she asked smartly.
      “Er…. Well, we all do milady. That‟s why we are here now,”
replied the man.
      He’s obviously been voted “Official Spokesperson” I muttered to
myself in my head, relaxing a little as a small peal of Maris‟ laughter
rang in my mind, saying she had heard my joke.



212
        “So you believe I‟m not strong enough to take care of myself? I
do have a small guard of my own, you know- do you think they are
not capable of protecting me after the three months I‟ve been in their
care?” questioned Maris quizzically, turning back to the matter at
hand.
        Ah, the magic of reverse psychology.
        “Er, no my lady, we‟re just saying that-”
        “Saying what? That you think people our age can‟t fend for
ourselves? Let me ask you then why you‟re so eager to rescue a girl
who‟s supposed to be queen when you believe those my age are
incapable of holding down such a rank?” demanded Maris.
        “N-no, milady! We‟re not saying anything like that! We just
believed that we might be able to assist in your escapade from these
filthy half-breeds!” protested the man.
        As soon as the last words left Mr. Spokesperson‟s mouth,
Neandro let out a low growl just audible enough to make a lot of the
men shy away from him with fear and superstition.
        I have to hand it to the guy; he knows how to charm a crowd.
        “Well, you‟re wasting your time- I came here completely by my
own will,” said Maris.
        “What?!” repeated the man, his eyes going wide with shock- the
other men beginning to mutter amongst themselves.
        In fact, some of the people in the crowd dropped their would-be
weapons (thankfully, none of them were torches).
        “Y-you came here of your own free will?” queried Mr.
Spokesperson incredulously.
        “Yes,” confirmed Maris.




                                                                       213
      “But what about the others you were traveling with? How do we
know the half-breeds aren‟t keeping them captive in order to convince
you to lie to us?” demanded someone from the crowd.
      As if some great director had cued me in, I strode forward, the
others quickly following suit.
      “You see? I had them stationed behind the hybrids in case any of
them tried anything,” explained Maris, half-lying as I came to her left
side and slipped my hand into hers.
      “But then… why are you here?” questioned Mr. Spokesperson.
      “I obtained the animagitic gene from my mother, but I needed a
teacher to help me to learn to shift so, naturally, I called upon Lord
Neandro to help me,” she replied, adding emphasis to “Lord”.
      “So… you‟re not trying to escape from the half-breeds?” checked
Mr. Spokesperson.
      “No.”
      There was a rather awkward silence interrupted every now and
then with a grunt of uncomfortability or a cough, until, finally,
someone shouted out, “So what do we do now?”
      “I believe it‟s obvious… Pernan!” I suddenly called out into the
crowd.
      “What did you say?” Maris instantly queried, sounding confused
as she always did.
      “It‟s a secret word used to identify other members of the Rebel
Force- I wanted to see how many of these men are on our side,” I
explained to her, watching as every single person in the crowd
answered with, “Orus”.
      “The words “Pernan” and “Orus” means “Who comes calling?”
and “Thine comrades true” in Ancient Ecladian- the leaders of the




214
Intelligence Branch of the Rebel Force came up with it shortly after a
conspirator had been identified within our Force,” I continued.
        “Oh, all right,” she muttered, still sounding lost.
        “Don‟t worry, Maris. You‟ll know these things and more soon
enough,” I assured her, though she didn‟t look convinced.
        “I believe, as many of you should, that this would be the perfect
time to come out of the shadows and finally challenge Syrin- with the
return of our princess, we can win back Ecladia!” I exclaimed to the
crowd as they answered with a turrendous “Huzzah!”
        “I shall allow you to do so, but under one circumstance,”
interjected Maris elegantly, taking her rightful place as princess.
        “Whatever you wish, your majesty,” said Mr. Spokesperson as
he gave her a very eloquent bow.
        Suck-up.
        “I believe it is time you return the hybrid Loracle to her family as
I see that this has been one huge misunderstanding,” ordered Maris.
        “Yes, milady,” said Mr. Spokesperson has he commanded the
troops to bring Loracle from wherever they were keeping her. He went
about it somewhat reluctantly, but he wouldn‟t dare defy orders from
someone has highly ranked as Maris.
        A group of five men emerged from the crowd, carrying a bound,
gagged, and blindfolded Loracle.
        Tarn looked like he was ready to rip them apart for what they
had done to his daughter, but, thankfully, the men hurried with her
release and, soon enough, Loracle was running back into her father‟s
arms.
        Tarn was clutching Loracle to him so hard, I was surprise he
didn‟t crush her delicate-looking body with his muscular arms.




                                                                         215
      Neandro also had a slightly tearful reunion with Loracle- he gave
her a small hug just as Tarn had, but luckily, not as hard.
      “Alright. We need to make sure our force is well equipped…
about how many of you are swordsmen?” I called into the crowd.
Weapons were one of the most crucial things about an army.
      There were a lot of shouts as people identified themselves as
swordsmen, and I took the count at about forty percent of the people.
      “Lances?”
      Again, many yells, and this time, the count was about forty
percent.
      “Archers?”
      And there was the remaining twenty- percent.
      “Wait a moment,” interrupted Neandro, forcing everyone to stop
in their tracks (they probably thought he was going to eat them or
something). “Any halvenbreeds?”
      The crowd‟s reaction was immediate- eyes went wide and many
accusing glares were shot. Halvenbreeds were almost as hated as
hybrids- sometimes even more.
      And, this time, only one person stepped forward.
      Laiyah.




216
                            Unite

                               Maris



      “What blood runs through your veins?” asked Neandro over the
gasps of shock that were reverberating through the crowd. Laiyah was
very much well liked by the citizens of Feeana, and it was obvious that
none of them had suspected even a single drop of hybrid blood in her
veins. And, from the waves of emotion being emitted from my friends,
they hadn‟t noticed anything either.
      “My mother was a hybrid within the Cat Clan, my lord,” replied
Laiyah formally, something many of the regular citizens had
“accidentally” missed.
      “Are you able to shift?” questioned Neandro.
      “Yes, my lord,” answered Laiyah.
      “Then you‟re hired. You can work with us,” smirking Neandro,
giving her a wink. I could tell by looking into his heart that he was
enjoying the Feeanians‟ discomfort at his every move.


                                                                        217
      “As you say, my lord,” agreed Laiyah, giving him a small nod
before turning back to the crowd. While she walked back to wherever
she had been before, the people scooted away from her, leaving a
wide path for her to walk in.
      “Move into your positions,” commanded Seth into the crowd. “I
would like to see each group of professions with their commanding
officer.”
      But, as his voice faded away, no one had moved a single
muscle- they were obviously still in shock over Laiyah‟s revelation.
“Well? You heard General Seth! Hop to it!” shouted Neandro. “Either
that, or my officers and I will have a nice feast tonight.
      Immediately, everyone leapt to their groups and, through the
confusion, I saw Laiyah standing in the middle of the mass. Her heart
showed many levels of fear, but there was still a raw determination
grasping most of the space in her heart.
      Meanwhile, Seth arched an eyebrow at Neandro. “General?” he
queried.
      “I was tempted to spice your name up a little,” shrugged
Neandro. “I mean “Seth” is such a common name. I have three
cousins, an uncle, and a great-grandfather named that.”
      “But really, spice my name up?” laughed Seth, sounding
incredulous.
      “Of course! “Seth” doesn‟t spell honorable war hero who loses a
limb every other day! And besides, if you don‟t take the position of
General, someone else would have to be by Maris‟ side every hour of
every day and night,” said Neandro matter-of-factly.
      “That is true,” I agreed from my spot between the two of them.
      Seth nodded in agreement. “Yeah, you‟re right. I wouldn‟t want
to have to fight any of our own soldiers,” he said, making me laugh.



218
      “I‟m sorry to interrupt, my lord, but the scent of the noenbloods
is close to unbearable at this point,” intruded Kest in a soft, yet
obviously battle-hardened voice.
      “Right,” I muttered half to myself before turning back to the
crowd. “If I may have your attention-”
      “Yes, milady!” a chorus of men‟s voices interrupted me before I
had even finished my order. I blushed modestly. I would never, ever
get used to that.
      “I have only just started my training here, and I would like to
ask your cooperation in setting up a camp nearby,” I commanded.
      “We have a camp set up about two kilometers below, milady,”
Mr. Spokesperson replied with a condescending grin. He obviously
loved thinking of something before anyone else did. “We will
accommodate ourselves there until you‟re ready to begin, milady.”
      “Alright,” I smiled. Things were starting to work out, though
there were still other things I still needed to work on.
      “But just so you know,” added Neandro. “If any more hybrids
disappear, my search party is coming straight for you, and I will give
them personal permission to eat on sight.”
      “W-w-w-we u-u-understand, s-sir,” stuttered Mr. Spokesperson
stuttered as his face turned ashen white.
      I stifled a laugh as I realized that there was no such order as
“eat on sight” in Neandro‟s vocabulary of commands.
      “That‟s Lord to you, noenblood,” corrected Neandro, his posture
obviously showing he was trying to stop himself from cracking up.
      “Y-y-y-y-y-y-y-yes, m-m-milord,” stammered Mr. Spokesperson.
      “Stop torturing the man, Neandro, I think he‟s had enough of a
heart attack for today,” I giggled.




                                                                        219
      “As you wish, milady,” chuckled Neandro with me, his slightly
sarcastic tone making me roll my eyes.
      “With your permission, milord, milady. I believe it‟s high time we
return to the Roost,” suggested Tarn, sounding much more cheerful
now that he had his daughter back in safe hands.
      Once Neandro and I had given last-minute orders, we trooped
back inside.
      The situation could have gone a lot worse, but, thankfully, my
prediction had been correct. Maybe my mother was over exaggerating
a little with “everything changes”… but I wasn‟t sure.
      But our glee was short-lived. As soon as we arrived back at the
Roost, there was an even bigger frenzy than what had originally been.
      The hybrids were crowded around a single, black-haired woman
who was trying to calm the crowd in what I guessed was Ancient
Ecladian It would make sense for the hybrids to know- they‟d been
cast out from society for many, many years.
      “That‟s Celeste, my sister… but, what‟s happening?” Neandro
muttered half to himself.
      Just then, the hybrid, who I guessed was Celeste, looked up and
her panicked face turned to one of pure relief. “Milord brother, they‟ve
heard of our newly made alliance with the noenbloods, and they don‟t
feel that we owe the noenbloods anything,” reported Celeste.
      “Thought this would happen… Alright, all of you, silence!”
boomed Neandro, his voice echoing all over the cavern. Immediately,
the crowd went silent.
      “I‟m pleased to announce that Loracle is back within our
custody, and we have formed an alliance with the noenbloods,” said
Neandro.




220
      “But it‟s their war! Why should we have to risk our lives for the
very same people who exiled us?” demanded a tall, thin hybrid with a
dark complexion.
      “I know we‟ve had fallouts with the noenbloods, but his is our
war too. Think of what would happen if Syrin were to gain power of
Ecladia. He‟d treat us even worse than how we are now! You know
what kind of experiments he‟s been performing on our brothers and
sisters,” reminded Neandro, though neither my companions or I knew
what he was talking about.
      Complete silence.
      “Now nothing more will be said on the issue. As Lord of the Bird
Tribe, I make decisions, and I am sure that this course of action will be
better than the alternative,” said Neandro.
      There were low rumbles of disgruntled voices muttering amongst
themselves, but no one spoke up.
      “Now that that‟s cleared up, I want all those capable of fighting
to report to Tarn at sunrise tomorrow morning. Are we clear?”
demanded Neandro.
      “Yes, milord,” chorused the crowd, still very melancholy.
      “See this as an opportunity, my brothers and sisters, to finally
show the full might of the Bird Tribe to not only our adversaries, but
for the noenbloods stationed outside. Fear of us rules their hearts, and
nothing rules ours. We have the advantage,” encouraged Neandro
before adding to me, “Not that we‟re planning on attacking anyone, of
course.”
      “Of course not,” I muttered back to him. “You promised.”
      He rolled his eyes at me as he realized that he had.




                                                                         221
      “I will go and prepare, and I expect the rest of you to get plenty
of rest,” ordered Tarn as he flitted in front of Neandro and I to capture
the attention of the crowd. “At sunrise, we train.”
      Immediately the crowd began to disperse, and Celeste fluttered
over to us.
      “Thank, milord brother,” she thanked Neandro. “I would never
have gotten them under control.”
      Celeste had dark jet-black hair and golden eyes exactly like
Neandro, but she looked to be about twenty-five. Her wings were a
powdery, sugar white.
      “Don‟t worry about it, sister. They wouldn‟t dare rise up against
you because of your lineage with me,” assured Neandro modestly.
      Celeste smiled shyly. “Milord brother, I was wondering if you
could help me with the planning, it seems that Raven is-”
      “Yes, I already know about Raven. She seems to have shifted in
order to send me the message that she will be working with us,”
interrupted Neandro in a hushed tone. “And I believe we should speak
of this matter elsewhere.”
      Celeste nodded in agreement and, soon enough, she and
Neandro had swooped out of the main cavern to a separate cave some
meters to the right and above us.
      “Well, I‟m bored!” exclaimed Jaspr out of nowhere. “I think I‟m
gonna go shoot some trees!”
      And, right when he turned to leave the cave again, he ran right
into the back of Kest.   “Watch where you‟re going, noenblood,”
growled Kest angrily as he turned to face Jaspr. There was something
bothering him, though I didn‟t quite see what…




222
      “Ah, come on, Kest! You don't have to look at everyone like that
when you first meet them, you have to wait „till they betray you first,”
a voice giggled.
      Immediately, a girl appeared from where she had been standing
on the other side of Kest (I guessed that she was the one he was
angry at). She looked to be about twelve or thirteen and had short,
brunette hair that was slung back into a ponytail and dark, chocolate
brown wings that brought out her hazel eyes.
      “Hey!” argued Jaspr. “That‟s my line!”
      “Oh really? I don‟t see your name on it,” shot back the girl with a
cocky grin.
      “Holy snap, it‟s another Jaspr!” exclaimed Seth, his mouth
dropping open as his eyes went wide.
      “Yea, but she‟s a girl!” added Edwin with an equal reaction.
      “Time to head for the hills, guys!” I laughed.
      The girl chuckled with me at my joke. “Yeah, that is if the hills
don‟t run away first, and, with your faces, I‟d say that‟s highly likely,”
taunted the girl, still laughing.
      “She is like me!” agreed Jaspr.
      “I assume you‟re going to waste more of your time with these
noenbloods? I believe I‟ll leave you to get acquainted then,” snarled
Kest before he flew away, the air of frustration leaving with him.
      The girl watched as Kest left. “Sorry „bout my daddy, he‟s just
mad that I spend most of my time exploring when I‟m supposed to be
hunting or fetching bedding material,” explained the girl.
      “Kest‟s your father?” I asked curiously.
      She nodded fervently. “Yep, though he can be a real jerk
sometimes. Oh, my name‟s Lute by the way!” she introduced.




                                                                          223
      Just then, Neandro reappeared, looking a bit excited about…
something. “Lute, your father told me I‟d find you here! I need you to
go hunting so we can accommodate another… guest of ours. You can
take Kain with you if you‟d like,” said Neandro.
      “Okay!” agreed Lute. “Nice to meetcha, anyways! Bye-bye!”
Then, she quickly flew away to find the person named Kain.
      Neandro chuckled at Lute‟s retreating form. “Lute‟s always ready
to do anything to help the Tribe. Especially when Kain‟s by her side.”
      “Who‟s Kain?” I asked, being the asker of questions as always.
      “Kain‟s one of my nephews, and, unless I have a fledgling
myself, his brother, Arthur, will be the next Lord. I‟ll make sure to
introduce you to the two of them sometime,” answered Neandro. “But
in the meantime, the war continues, and so do your lessons in shifting.
      I groaned instinctively, making both Neandro and Seth laugh in
unison.
      “Come on, Maris, it‟ll be fine! It took me quite a while to fully
learn to shift just as you have, and I do know that you‟ll understand it
sooner or later,” encouraged Neandro.
      “Really?” I queried, hope creeping into my voice.
      “No, it took me all but an hour to figure it out, but I‟m forty-five-
percent sure that you‟ll get it in the next four years,” taunted Neandro
as he grinned from ear to ear.
      “Great. Thanks for the awesome pep talk,” I thanked
sarcastically.
      “You are very much welcome, Lady Maris,” laughed Neandro.
      “Don‟t worry, Maris, this is just like your sword training! You‟ll
get it after nearly killing Jaspr twice! But this time, I‟ll pay you three
gold coins if you can really kill him,” bribed Seth.
      “Ahem! I‟m standing right here,” pointed out Jaspr.



224
       “I know. But seriously, Maris! Think about it- three gold coins!
You can buy yourself something really beautiful for that kind of money,
and all you have to do is kill Jaspr!” continued Seth.
       “Seth, I am not going to become a murderer for a couple of
coins!” I protested, making Jaspr sigh in relief.
       “But,” I carried on slyly. “I can paralyze him for life…”
       Instantly, Jaspr turned a very, very pale, ashen white, making
us all laugh hysterically.
       “I was just k-kidding, J-Jaspr!” I chortled. “You don‟t have to be
so scared!”
       “Yeah right! When I get paralyzed from the waist down, you will
pay!” he threatened.
       “I‟d like to see you try,” I dared Jaspr.
       “Really? We‟ll fight right now!” challenged Jaspr.
       “Really, Jas? You can‟t pin down a leaf and you really think you
can beat Maris?” questioned Edwin.
       “Um… never mind, Maris,” Jaspr backed down, making me laugh
all over again.
       “Don‟t worry, Jaspr,” I assured him. “I wouldn‟t kill you for the
world.”
       “Because you love-”
       “Don‟t push it,” I interrupted him before he could finish the
sentence I had heard in his head.
       “Hey, I was gonna say Seth!” he protested.
       “No, you weren‟t Jaspr. I can read minds you know,” I reminded
him.
       “I was going to say Seth!” pressed Jaspr.
       “Give it up, Jas, you weren‟t,” argued Seth.
       “Yeah, I was.”



                                                                           225
      “No, you weren‟t.”
      “Yeah, I was!”
      “No, you weren‟t!”
      “Just drop it Seth,” I ordered.
      “I was,” said Jaspr.
      “Just shut up, Jas,” commanded Seth.
      “No.”
      “Yes.”
      “No!”
      “Yes!”
      “I thought I told you two to drop it,” I repeated more forcefully
this time.
      “Fine, as you wish, Lady Maris,” said Seth formally.
      “Fine,” agreed Jaspr a… little less formally.
      “You know, Maris, maybe if you were to keep working on
everything else while you‟re learning to shift, you might be able to
balance it all out so you can get done with everything at once,”
suggested Kemris.
      “That seems like a good enough idea to me,” agreed Seth.
      “Right, Seth. Now you can stare at your girlfriend all day again!”
enthused Jaspr.
      “Shut up, Jaspr,” we all said simultaneously.
      Who said we couldn‟t all get along?




226
                Conversations


                                Maris



      “Maris! Fire on your left side!”
      “Crap!”
      Apparently, I had accidentally lit another sapling while practicing
my magyk with Kemris.
      “Sorry!” I apologize rather meaninglessly as I stomped out the
fire, but all I got in reply was a couple of chuckles from Seth, who was
standing a few feet away, watching.
      “Come on, Maris,” he taunted. “It can‟t be that hard, can it?”
      “Really? I‟d like to see you try it,” I snapped back at him, the fire
finally going out.
      Seth raised both his hands in a mock surrender. “I‟m not a sage,
remember? I‟d only succeed in looking like a complete moron,” he
reminded me.



                                                                        227
      “Then stop complaining,” I ordered as I turned back to Kemris.
      “Why don‟t we test out your shield, Maris? We‟ve been at work
with your fire magyk all day, I‟m not surprised you started throwing
sparks,” said Kemris.
      “Good idea,” I agreed.
      Immediately, Kemris and I both took our stances, and both
began to breathe out our spells.
      My shield was a dome that was created entirely out of light with
I projected with my magyk, and it was able to absorb any attack of
any shape or form, but, of course, my body would pay the price, as
usual.
      Finally, a ring of flames erupted from Kemris‟ position, and I
projected my shield with perfect timing, a small, thin golden film
glazing over my eyes as the spell took over.
      As the flames advanced on me, I concentrated with all my might
on keeping my shield strong and indestructible.
      Of course, I failed.
      As soon as the fire hit my shield, the magyk snapped back into
my body, throwing me backward into the surrounding forest.
      I hit a tree, snapping a tree branch in half before I collapsed on
the ground; my breath had been knocked painfully from my lungs.
But, despite all that, I was all right thanks to the breastplate Kemris
had insisted on my practicing with so I could get used to armor.
      Yet I couldn‟t resist playing a rather cruel trick on Seth.
      I pretended to have trouble getting onto my hands and knees
from where I had been lying face down on the ground, but then I
flopped back onto the dirt like I didn‟t have the strength to get up.




228
      I have to say that I was a little too obvious with my charade, but
apparently it was enough to fool Seth because, once he had seen me,
he gave out a loud, worried cry.
      “Maris!”
      I heard his footsteps thumping closer to me before he knelt by
my side, placing his hands reassuringly on my shoulders.
      “Maris? Are you alright?” he asked, fear creeping into his voice.
      I didn‟t answer for fear I would start cracking up.
      Obviously thinking I was unconscious or something, Seth rolled
me over onto my back and, just as I predicted I couldn‟t help but
laugh at the look of pure panic on his face.
      “I-I‟m fine, Seth,” I laughed hysterically, just barely able to get
my words in between giggles. “I have a b-b-breast plate!”
      “God, Maris! You scared the hell out of me!” exclaimed Seth,
getting to his feet before holding out a hand to help me up. In the
background, Kemris was laughing along with me.
      “That was probably one of the cruelest jokes I‟ve ever seen, but
it was soooo funny!” chuckled Kemris. “You should‟ve seen your face,
Seth! Maris, you should do that more often!”
      “Really, Kemris. Don‟t encourage her. Who knows what other
“give Seth a heart-attack” plans she has in store for me?” said Seth,
obviously holding back a grin.
      “Come on, Seth, you have to admit it was pretty hilarious,” I
goaded.
      Finally, he smiled. “Well, that‟s true,” he agreed.
      “Maybe I should try that out sometime- who knows what kind of
things I could get away with!” mused Kemris.
      “Yes! Come to the dark side, mwahahaha,” I joked, still
beaming.



                                                                        229
      “Do you wanna keep going, or has all this joking around tired
you out?” asked Kemris, still giggling every now and again.
      I looked up at the ever darkening sky. “I‟m not so sure,” I
answered. “It‟s getting pretty dark.
      “Yeah,” agreed Seth. “Kemris, you should head inside.”
      “Me? What about you two?” queried Kemris.
      “I just want a word with Maris, here.”
      “All right, then. Maris, be careful, don‟t have any more near-
death experiences while I‟m gone!” teased Kemris as she turned and
walked back towards the small cave that was the entrance to the
volcano. I rolled my eyes at her retreating figure before turning back
to Seth.
      “So what is it you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked him. “Is
it about our recent decision to… well…" - I whispered the last words-
"you know.”
      Seth nodded. “About our engagement, yes. This may seem kind
of stupid to you, but I‟ve been wanting to ask you this for a long
time…” he trailed off, turning slightly red in embarrassment.
      “What is it, Seth? I promise I‟ll only laugh a little,” I smiled
encouragingly.
      "Well... erm... I was wondering why you did this," he asked
vaguely.
      "What do you mean?" I queried, confused.
      "When you first showed up her in Ecladia, you were attacked by
agents until I rescued you, but exactly why did you choose to follow
me, someone you barely knew, into a place you had no knowledge
of?" he questioned.




230
      "Um, well... I don't really have an answer for that, Seth. I just
had a feeling that told me to follow you," I replied, chewing my lower
lip thoughtfully. "Maybe it was intuition or instinct or-"
      "Fate," finished Seth.
      "Fate?"
      "Yes, Fate. You know, sometimes I wonder if were just meant to
be together like in one of those stories. Maybe it was Fate that told
you to follow me," he concluded.
      "But what if it wasn't Fate," I blurted all of a sudden. "What if we
aren't supposed to be together?" I shuddered at the thought of trying
to leave Seth.
      "Maris, there hasn't and will never be anyone else in the world
that means as much to me as you do. I may have had past girlfriends
and you may have had past boyfriends-"
      "I haven't."
      "But they don't matter to me now. I love you, Maris, and if we
aren't meant to be together, then why would i propose to you so early
in our lives?"
      "I-I don't know," I answered. "But what I do know, Seth is that I
love you, and I can't bear the thought of having to leave you for
someone else- no matter what Kemris says."
      "I'm guessing she told you too that we would probably have to
split up so you could marry some prince?" he guessed.
      I nodded in confirmation.
      "I don't care what Kemris says, Maris, I would never give you up
to some pompous, snot-nosed prince who thinks he's better than the
whole wide world. You deserve someone so much better than that," he
smiled reassuringly at me. "Even if I have to fight for your hand.




                                                                          231
      I smiled up at him too. "I can just imagine you going up against
Justin, and I have to admit, it looks like a really unfair fight," I giggled.
      "Justin?"
      "You know, the boy from my class who practically worships the
ground I walk on?" I reminded him. "But he's as far from a prince as
anyone can get."
      "I believe you," chuckled Seth, taking my hands into his and
lowering us both to the ground until we were sitting.
      We sat in absolute silence for a while, until I decided to break
the silence with something that had been bothering me for a while.
      "S-Seth?" I began uncomfortably.
      "Yes, Maris?"
      "You don't have to answer if you don't want to but... exactly
what happened to your mom?" I finally forced out.
      His reaction was instantaneous. His eyes immediately began to
fill with what were obviously painful memories, and the echo of despair
lurked deep within his heart. I was convinced he would refuse to tell
me the dreadful story, but soon enough, he took a breath, and began
to speak.
      "It was a couple years back, when I was about then years old,"
he started. "Our mother sent us out to the woods to find some herbs
for her- she was a healer like Aivanlyn- but she didn't send us out for
the usual herbs. She told us to get the sort of herbs that grew in
secluded areas far from our house. It would've taken us hours to find
and collect the amounts that she needed, but we went without
complaint.
      "Kemris was what you would say was the leader of our group,
being the oldest at that time, Edwin was the tallest, even back then,
Jaspr was the smallest and actually kind of cute at age eight, and I



232
was the muscle. My mother had allowed Edwin and I to take sword
lessons when we had each turned nine, you see," he sighed in content
at the memories. "Our little venture took us about six or seven hours,
as we had thought, but when we returned, we found our home
engulfed in flames and we could not find our mother.
        "Kemris tried again and again to try and destroy the flames with
spells, but she was only an apprentice back then, and her spell
vocabulary was minimal. We were forced to wait until the flames died
down themselves and it was then that we found her," just then, Seth's
eyes began to fill with tears and his breathing became a little more
labored as he struggled to push them back.
        Without a word, I reached and took Seth's left hand into my
own. "I-I'm so sorry, Seth. That's something that no one should ever
have to go through," I murmured, shudders beginning to run through
my body as I realized that the same thing had probably happened to
my mother.
        Seth looked back up at me, a small smile beginning to brighten
his face. "You shouldn't be apologizing, Maris. What happened was
horrible, I know, but someone wise once told me that the love of
someone never leaves you heart, but is reborn in the form of new
love, and I found you," he said, taking my other hand. "I know now
the full extent of my mother's love for us because I feel it ten-fold for
you."
        I was rendered speechless by the sincerity of his words, and I
could feel my heart beginning to beat just a little bit faster.
        He chuckled softly at my expression. "You don't have to worry
anymore, Maris, as long as I'm alive, nothing will kill you, not wolves,
a morpho, lava, a twig, a pebble-"




                                                                         233
      "Hey, that's just plain rude!" I shoved him playfully, laughing as
I did so.
      Soon enough, a cacophony of our laughter began to fill the night
air in unison with the chirps of crickets, the evening songs of the birds,
the mere sliver of a sun on the hori-
      "Oh crap, Seth! Look how late it is! We have to get back!" I
exclaimed, pulling him up after me as I leapt to my feet.
      "I'm very glad we had this talk, Maris, very, very glad."




234
                         Flight
                              Maris



          Four Months Later...

     "No, I am not going to commit suicide!"
     "It's easy, Maris, as long as you keep your cool, you'll be fine."
     "You can't really lose something you've never had, thank you
very much," I argued.
     It had been four months since our arrival at Mt. Gothr, and
through that time, I had been rapidly improving in my shifting lessons.
     Word had spread throughout Ecladia that I was alive and the
Rebellion began to recruit more and more troops until our army had
swollen to hold nearly seven thousand soldiers.
     But of course, some days were worse than others. Like that day
for example.




                                                                      235
      As a sort of final exam, Neandro wanted me to jump off a
particularly high cliff, shift in midair, and then continue flying to some
area he would lead me to.
      I was soooo gonna die.
      "It's really easy, Maris! How 'bout this- I go first, then you
follow. That way, if you fail, I could just fly in and catch you before
you're just another stain on the mountain," compromised Neandro.
      I rolled my eyes at him. "Well, when you put it that way, fine," I
said half sarcastically.
      Neandro laughed. "Don't worry, Maris. I promise I'll try my best
to catch you!" he assured me, a wide smirk still spread across his
features.
      "Well, that totally makes me feel better," I said completely
sarcastic now.
      "But in the case that I don't..." he trailed off mysteriously, a
thoughtful glint twinkling in his eyes.
      Too anxious to attempt a break-in into his mind, I just asked.
"What are you talking about?"
      "There's one thing I wanted to do before you died," he explained
vaguely, inching closer to me.
      "Wh-what do you-"
      I was cut off as Neandro swiftly crossed the ground between us,
gently took my face in his hands, kissed me full on the lips for a good
five seconds, then made a break for the cliff edge, front-flipping of the
edge (show-off) before disappearing from sight.
      Instantaneously, I ran after him and stood, awestruck, at the
cliff edge as he disappeared into a low-lying cloud for almost a minute
before emerging in his raven form.




236
      Most humans would think that hybrids were tiny when they
shifted depending on their animal side, but, even being a relatively
small bird, Neandro's raven form was about three and a half feet tall.
      Finally, he came to a stop about five feet in front of me,
hovering.
      Okay, now that I'm safe, I can take your fury he chuckled in my
head. Hybrids have a sort of telepathy-type thing between them, so
they can project words as easily as speaking them, except in their
minds.
      "WHAT THE HECK WAS TAHT FOR?!" I demanded, completely
losing it. Who was I if I were the type of girl who cheated on the guy
they were otherwise engaged to by allowing other guys to kiss her?!
That was just wrong!
      Hey, I wanted to kiss you at least once in my life if you died he
answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world. So just get
over it and jump. Then maybe you can invoke your wrath upon me.
      I gulped and stepped back from the edge, my nervousness
completely extinguishing my anger. "I-I'm not so s-sure," I stuttered.
      Come on, Maris! It's fun! coaxed Neandro with as close to a grin
as he could get to in his hybrid form.
      "Yeah, if you call jumping off a cliff and plummeting to your
death fun," I snapped, a little bit of frustration still penned up inside
me.
      Look, if I said I'll catch you, I'll catch you. You don't need to
worry about a single itty-bitty thing. I promise vowed Neandro
somewhat seriously.
      "Fine, but if I die, you know Seth's going to kill you both
hypothetically and literally speaking," I finally gave in, backing away
from the edge to gain more momentum.



                                                                            237
         You're making it sound like he's actually a threat to someone like
me observed Neandro cockishly.
         "Believe me, when Seth gets mad, he can be a huge threat," I
said, bracing myself both physically and mentally for my jump.
         Well, when you put it that way... Neandro trailed off, nodding his
raven head in agreement. He may just be a threat. A little one.
         Still preparing, I closed my eyes in concentration, took a deep
breath, and tried to swallow the lump in my throat.
         We don't have all day, Maris. Remember- you're not gonna live
forever like I am taunted Neandro.
         "Don't pressure me or I'm gonna take even longer," I ordered
him.
         Fine, fine. Be that way said Neandro.
         "Oh shut up, I'm trying to concentrate," I snapped again, my
eyes still squeezed shut.
         Very well then scoffed Neandro. Be a human and don't face your
fears.
         "I thought I told you to shut up," I pointed out for the second
time.
         Finally, Neandro did shut up, and I took a couple more steps
back before hurtling towards the cliff edge. I theorized that if I went
fast enough, I could forget my fear altogether.
         Soon enough, the ground disappeared beneath my feet and I
was free-falling sky-diver style, just barely remembering to
concentrate on shifting knowing that, in the case that I messed up, I
could easily die.
         Thankfully, I succeeded.
         I could feel my body changing into my hawk form as I
plummeted through a puffy, we cloud- my arms and hair disappeared,



238
shrinking back into my body before being replaced by feathers and
wings. All pure white except for the dark black tree spread across my
underbelly and my exact same ugly green eyes. Overall, I was a good
three feet tall- only six inches shorter than Neandro.
      I could feel raw power beginning to fill my shoulder blades as I
began to pump my wings, lifting me up back into the cloudbank that I
had sunken into.
      Nice job! You didn't die! complimented Neandro.
      Yeah, go me I said sarcastically, though I did have as close to a
stupid grin as I could get in my hawk form.
      Well, come on then! Let's fly! he exclaimed enthusiastically.
      Fine, but if I crash into a tree again, you're not allowed to laugh
I said quickly, remembering my past experience with flying. If you do,
I'm going to go Armageddon on you.
      I have no clue what 'Armageddon' is, but I can't guarantee that I
won't laugh. It's quite funny when you run into things he chuckled,
obviously remembering the event too. I never knew that a hawk's
wings could contort that way-
      Oh shut up I interjected, rolling my eyes as Neandro began to
lead me east towards the rising sun.
      Come on; look on the bright side- there's nothing like a warm
breeze to fluff up your feathers mused Neandro aloud.
      You and your bird logic I said a smile beginning to creep into my
thought-voice. Even if he had kissed me, I would've had to kiss him
back for it to be wrong, wouldn't I? All these questions were making
my head hurt.
      Hey, don't be speciessist exclaimed Neandro.
      Speciesssist? I queried.




                                                                       239
      You discriminate against birds and others not of your kind
explained Neandro, flapping his wings every now and again despite the
current that chugged us along effortlessly.
      You're very strange, you know that, right, Neandro? I giggled.
      It comes with the territory grinned Neandro.
      We flew in silence for a while until Neandro decided to start the
conversation again.
      Hey, I was wonder... are you and that male really going to get
married? he asked out of the blue.
      I faltered. What? I instantly queried.
      When Loracle went missing, you and that male, Seth, had a
fight, but then he proposed to you and you said yes. So does that
mean you and him are going to get married? clarified Neandro.
      Wait- what-how do you know about that?! I demanded.
      Us hybrids have very acute senses- you're lucky I was the only
one paying attention to your conversation he answered.
      So you were listening in on our conversation?! I accused.
      Yes and no. I couldn't help but hear you two, but you never
answered my question he said.
      Why do you even want to know? I shot back. Are you planning
on asking me out or something?
      No... I don't believe so he taunted.
      I gave him my best birdie glare, making him roll his eyes. You
do understand that whomever you marry will become King, so that
means that if you marry him, he will become King of Ecladia he
explained. I'm just a bit concerned on your choice- he isn't exactly the
kingly type.




240
         It was my turn to roll my eyes now. I've already had this talk
with Kemris, thank you very much, I don't think I need to hear it again
I complained.
         You may not see it as very important, milady, but your decision
could influence Ecladia’s destiny he said mysteriously.
         Look, I’ve been closely monitoring the future, and, as far as I
can tell, he and I are going to live happily ever after, okay? I lied
         If you say so he finally agreed, though his tone told me the
truth.




                                                                           241

				
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