Chapter One: Something Calls From the West

Somewhere in the far northern Foregoth mountains, a horse rider raced across a valley, beneath thick clouds, and amidst a blistering cold. He stopped to catch his breath, and to wipe his face of the chill that pushed against his ride through the rocky, mountainous terrain, and he looked down upon the village of Darrael. A gust of wind chilled him, forcing a gasp from him as he turned quickly to the mountains he came from. A whisper? Some voice? His eyes searched what he could see of the mountain through the light, snowy fog, but he saw nothing, only gray, dead mountains covered in cold, lifeless snow, that peered down on him. It was like they were watching him, tracking him. He forced himself to turn around, back to the village, and after a quick ride through, he came to an inn. 

Once inside, he removed his thick hood to get a better look at the place: peace, and people. Still, there was something outside these wooden walls, stalking, like a lion in the tall grass, waiting for its moment. And yet, there were simple people within these walls, walls which encapsulated everyone inside with bliss by way of food, drink, the company of townsfolk and travelers, and a warm fireplace which dimly lit the place with a flickering, orange light. What if he brought doom on them all by coming here? The idea wouldn’t leave his mind, but he couldn’t afford to show such wild thoughts to anyone. He scanned the room in search of someone, but to no avail. He recognized no one, and there was no time to search himself. 

He turned to the bartender. “Is Ilsga here?” he asked, “I must see him.”

The bartender gave the young man a look over, “What business do you have with him?”

“I have to speak with him regarding some business. It’s urgent.”

The bartender paused, looking off for a moment as he thought. But his eyes returned to look back at the young horse rider, only with more skepticism in them. “He’s in the next room.” answered the bartender, “Having some drinks with a group. But don’t say you weren’t warned when you intrude upon his leisure time.”

“Don’t worry, I promise this will be something he’ll want to hear.”

The bartender wasn’t sure of the young man’s insistence, but sent him on his way, and he went to the next room, which was the second half of the main inn floor. After a moment of looking through the crowds, the young man spotted, in a corner table filled with men, Ilsga, a middle-aged man, speaking with them and having drinks and a few laughs. It took a moment of calming down from his own laughter for Ilsga to stop the horse rider, but when he did, his eyes and face froze, and his laughing smile shrinked. But he did not allow it to infect his entire face and manner in front of the others. “Mr. Redlic.” Ilsga said, pushing a cheerful tone through his momentary shock, “What brings you down here?”

“I believe I may have someone to buy my house, Mr. Ilsga.” the young man replied.

Ilsga swallowed, visibly, and was quiet.  The others weren’t sure what to do, as the moment turned awkward. “… I see.” said Ilsga. It was like the statement Redlic spoke sucked the laughter out of the room. “Gentlemen,” he continued, as he stood out of his seat suddenly, “I must tend to this.” He turned to look at them, putting his arm around Redlic’s shoulder with a confident smile, “Mr. Redlic here is hoping to begin some adventures as a mercenary with us out there, especially hoping to help fight for the Febian monarch pretty soon.”

“You picked a terrible time to be joining the mercenary world, young man.” said one of the men, “Going to fight for the Febian king is practically a death wish.”

“It can’t be that bad down there,” said another of them, “We’re only going to help him with crowd control, aren’t we?”

“If he has to be hiring mercenaries to do his bidding, it’s that bad. His own armies are deserting him, joining the revolution even, last I heard.”

“You hear a lot of things, don’t you?”

“Yes, and you would do well to heed them. The last time a monarch’s army began to desert him, an entire empire fell nearly overnight and engulfed all of Enussia with it, and that was only fifteen years ago. Mark my words, this revolution will be the end of the Febian monarch, and guess who will sweep in? The Enussian Union, of course, trying to collect all of the Enussian nations into one giant government.”

“In any case,” intervened Ilsga, before the conspiracy theories could continue further, “I must see to this situation as soon as possible, before the day gets too late. Time is money, no? I’ll be back in a few.”

Ilsga and Redlic left the men to a table for two, where they could talk one to one. He looked around, as if to be searching for anyone who might want to spy on them. “What have you got?” he asked quietly, in the midst of an inn full of loud patrons.

Redlic almost had to swallow down the impact of what he was about to speak to Ilsga. He didn’t think he would believe him. But the words had to come to light, “We have a code red.”

Ilsga nearly froze again at the words. “Gods…” he spoke with a hush, “Are you sure?”

“I checked with positions two, four and three to be sure, and we cross-examined our readings… It’s confirmed, Ilsga… We’ve found the readings we’ve been looking for.”

“I see…” said Ilsga, rubbing his beard while looking away for a moment to ponder, “Were you followed?” he asked, his eyes quickly setting back on Redlic.

Redlic shook his head, “I don’t believe so.”

Ilsga tilted his head, “That’s not reassuring, Redlic.”

“How could I have been followed? We’re alone out there–there’s no way anyone else can know about it. We need to move, now.”

“On that, we both agree… Where did you find the readings?”

“Several places pinged. One in Aorling, another in Mennix, but the most significant in Bokshaer.”

Ilsga paused again to think. “That doesn’t… make much sense.” he said, trying to reason it out in his mind and speak at the same time, “What do those places have to do with dark magic?”

Redlic shrugged, “Beats me. But you know just as well as me that this whole damned continent was overrun with the stuff not more than fifty years ago.”

“Of course, but… Why these places? Seems far too random.”

“You wanna know what isn’t random? Being out there with magic-detecting radars for months without finding anything that we were told to look for, and then suddenly, within a single afternoon, the readings we were looking for pop up in not one, but three different places.” 

Ilsga was silenced by the words. He had no way of arguing against that. It was time to change focus. “I see.” he began, “And you said the most significant was in Bokshaer? I wonder what the significance of that is.”

“I don’t know. But we need to contact Vessuur.”

Two days had passed, early before the sunrise. An open book lay upon a desk, amidst scattered papers and other books. This book took the center of the desk, and the center of the attention of Annastaria, whose eyes were fixed upon it, reading through the clean, white pages, bearing the elvish language lined across them. Every time Annastaria read from it, the style in which the words were printed was more than simple ink, but as though every line, every sentence, and every letter was a magical rune placement upon the pages. The edges of the pages were decorated with circular and spiral-like designs, and small leaves printed on some of the ends and edges of the lines, as though the book was to symbolically emerge from a tree. The same kind of art inspired the architecture of Annastaria’s room, and the home she lived in. Her caramel-colored hair was tied neatly in a bun behind her head, leaving just her wavy bangs and sideburn hairs to rest free, and she was dressed in brown, fur coating, meant to keep warm, but maintain mobility in the cold. She read the words within the book, in the ancient elvish,

“Out of the north comes my chosen one

Preparing the way out of the burning sun

In shadow and flame, out of the oppression of man

He shall unveil by fire the wickedness upon the land

My Child of Fire, she bears the tears of death

She will defeat the corruption with a new heart in her breast

But only in death can she live to defeat the darkness

To the glory of Artharos shall she be honored in Madaress.” -Edron 45:5-6.

A prophecy from the great high priest and prophet, Edron of the ancient elves. The first known prophecy of what the elves called “the Phoenix Child”, the one that they were waiting and looking for, who would destroy the curse of corruption upon magic in the world and end the dispersion of the elves, restoring the mighty kingdom. As a girl, she didn’t care much for these kinds of words; she was more interested in her duty as a member of the sacred elves. But as she grew older, the ancient words of prophecy became more real, like an ember flame that grew bigger and bigger, especially knowing what she had imprinted on her right forearm. She looked at the arm, which was covered in her fur clothing, wondering if she was that child. The thought scared her, and it was the fear of it that made her unwilling to confront anyone about her growing need to understand the passages about the Phoenix Child.

An energetic series of knocks came at her door. “Anne!” a female voice was heard speaking behind it, calling Annastaria by her shortened name. Annastaria recognized it without a second thought; it could be no one else but her sister Ellumar, obviously in haste to set off for the morning, minding not Annastaria’s morning meditation. “Hurry, sister! We must go now!”

Annastaria sighed, feeling as though someone pulled her chair out from under her. But she couldn’t complain entirely; she didn’t want to think about this prophecy anymore. Standing up, she went to the door and opened it to see her red-haired sister also dressed in fur-clothing, with her elven bow in her left hand, and quiver full of arrows secured on her back. “Are you ready to find us a paragott?” Ellumar said with a glowing smile.

Annastaria smiled back at her, “I am.”

The short affirmation by her was simple, yet it contained much meaning for her that Ellumar sensed when she spoke it; she saw it in Annastaria’s face as well as heard it in the tone of voice. She wanted to say something, but not now. Now they had to set out, for the sun would rise soon, and the paragotts often retreat to the caves deep in the mountains once the sun rises at the end of the summer season. 

The two left quietly from their father Clorrdes’s home, the elder and high priest of their tribe. Upon their horses they set off, going southwest, twenty miles from the clan forest into the Mugadai Hills. The air was cold, but for these elves, born and raised in these parts, they were built by the cold region. The clouds were gray and thick, and the wind howled constantly from the east. As they rode, there was an unsettling silence between the two of them, one Ellumar sensed. 

“Remember,” Ellumar said, breaking the silence, “paragotts are not the same as ordinary fawns. Their fur is lightly flaked with turquoise-tipped hair, and they bear yellow-tipped tails.”

“I remember, sister.” Annastaria replied. She pondered a moment, recalling certain stories about the paragotts, which were extremely rare creatures found mostly in the north. “I wonder if it’s true their fur radiates magic.” she said, “Like the stories say.”

“Nonsense.” Ellumar lightly scoffed, “You need to stop listening to Ghastrid and his foolish stories.”

“I didn’t get that from Ghastrid!” Annastaria argued back, with a poor attempt to convince her sister.

Ellumar giggled, “Dear sister. When are you going to learn you are a terrible liar? At least to me.”

Annastaria grew agitated by Ellumar’s patronizing attitude, which she had to put up with all her childhood, but she couldn’t deny the fact that her cheeks went warm, even in the cold.

“Ghastrid says all kinds of dumb things to try and make himself smarter than he really is.” Ellumar said, “In truth, the paragott’s fur contains myre crystals within them, highly valuable materials for anyone, whether it be elves, dwarves, kamorjien and of course the aenmen. What’s really sad is you don’t need to embellish the paragotts. They change colors in the moonlight, as well as in the dusk and dawn. During the day, they appear almost like any normal fawn, but when the sun rises and sleeps, they can change from purple, to turquoise.”

“And that’s why we’re going early, right? They’re best identified in the changing sunlight?”

Ellumar nodded with a confident smile, “Correct. Plus, they’re still basically like other deer, and usually run off into the woods somewhere during the day. The morning and evening times they’re more bold, and relaxed; most hunters are keeping warm in the early hours of the day. But not us. We’re made for the cold.”

Annastaria smiled. Confidence came from Ellumar’s words. She pondered a moment before she replied. “I just hope we’re careful enough this time.” said Annastaria, “Last time was…” 

Ellumar looked over and saw her sister pause. She knew what was weighing her mind down. “Don’t worry, sister.” Ellumar said.

“I know… I just hope your plan will work this time.”

“That’s not what I’m speaking of.”

Annastaria, as if dispelled from a trance, looked to her sister. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I know your mind right now. This is a great opportunity for you.”

“It’s not for both of us?”

“Indeed it is… But I know why for you it is especially important.” Ellumar thought for a moment on what to say next. She knew this was a sensitive area for Annastaria that she was going into. But she cared too much for her not to say it. “You must remember, sister… don’t see this as proving your place here.”

“I never said such a thing.” Annastaria said back.

Ellumar’s smile grew as she saw her sister try to play dumb. “I know you too well, sister. You’ve been given so much in this place, despite not being fully elvish. You of all of us have the greatest privilege, and yet you refuse it more than any in all the dangers you throw yourself into. I know why you do it, and I want you to know, sister… you are one of us, you always will be.”

Annastaria looked away. “It’s easy for you to say.” she replied, “You were born here. This, by right, is your destiny. Where was I born?” 

Ellumar didn’t know what to say. No one she knew took the Celestial and Covenant Doctrine of the elves more seriously than Annastaria. And yet, there was no one she wished more would take it seriously than Annastaria. “Just because you’re not pure elvish,” said Ellumar, “doesn’t mean you’re not one of us… And just because you weren’t born here, doesn’t mean your destiny is not this place.”

“Then what is?” said Annastaria, looking at Ellumar with distant eyes.

Ellumar was momentarily more strained by Annastaria’s growing despair. But her mood turned ‘round again, and she smiled at her sister. “Let’s get to those woods,” she said, “and find out.” 

Annastaria paused, and felt her estrangement dissipate. She couldn’t tell if it was the words Ellumar spoke, or if it was simply her warm smile in the midst of the cold Sarke air. “But never forget,” Ellumar continued, “no matter what may happen, you are one of us. Don’t ever forget that, sister.”

Annastaria pondered once more on Ellumar’s convicting words. She truly spoke with concern and love for her sister. Annastaria did indeed throw herself into so much danger in her short life, risking death to prove she was not simply a privileged relic for the clans, and that what she hid under the sleeve on her arm did not make her special. But no matter how often she had to hear the words from Ellumar and her father, the spectre of this thing never went away, nor the spectre of the clan’s demands.

An hour had passed, and the sun crept through thick, cold clouds smeared across the young sky, which would often be rare for a cold region such as this, but it was in the tail end of the summer season, which granted the Sarke land more days of sunlight and warmth than normal. Its light beamed upon the gray mountains in the northwest, adding a faint, golden tint to the peaks. Out in the wilderness, where a light snow glittered in the air, young Ellumar moved cautiously, gently brushing against the wind-taken tall grass. She moved from the treeline to an open plain that stretched far to the hills in the east. There in the field, she saw it, the paragott that she and Annastaria had been hunting all morning. 

Only twenty feet away was Annastaria, moving just as Ellumar was. But her heart rate was faster than normal, even for a hunt. Something was wrong. She couldn’t control it, and the closer she got, the more she envisioned Ellumar getting even closer, with a cleaner shot than she had. Would Ellumar really take the kill? Surely she wouldn’t. Still, Annastaria couldn’t suppress the idea. And Ellumar didn’t even need to get too close; she had a longbow, while Annastaria had only her compact bow, meant for quick draw shots. Quick, but less accurate at longer ranges, and in this wind, she couldn’t risk a shot until she knew she was close. If Ellumar could kill it, and surely she could, why didn’t she? Her heart pounded even more, like a drum in her chest, ready to burst. She couldn’t risk it, and her foot-movement increased.

A few more careful steps closer to the unsuspecting paragott until Ellumar slowly drew back the arrow. She aimed for the leg, hoping to injure it so Annastaria could finish the job. Any normal, poorly-made aenman craft would croak and crack loudly at the pulling of the string and bending of the bow. But this was an elvish bow, made by the finest craftsmen in the northeast. The draw was smooth and nearly soundless. With her sharp elvish sight focused on the target, she adjusted her shot to compensate for her range and the wind, which was cold, and blew in from the east, against her face.

She took in one final breath, and let it out slowly when the paragott flung its head up. It was disturbed by a noise, a noise that she also heard. It was off in the distance, coming from the east. It was difficult to make out with the wind, as well as its distance, just barely making out from the fog of sound, but it began to sound as though gallops of some kind. Whatever it was, it was enough to startle the creature. Annastaria caught a gasp fleeing her lips–she couldn’t let the paragott get away. She threw caution, and rose up, twenty feet from the creature. 

Ellumar’s eyes widened as her heart rate spiked. Annastaria blew her shot. But it wasn’t lost yet; as Annastaria drew her arrow to fire, Ellumar adjusted, grabbing hold of her breathing. Just as the creature flew past Annastaria, who couldn’t get a shot in her panic, Ellumar held her shot, and held it.

“Ellumar!” Annastaria shouted, “It’s getting away! Shoot it!”

Finally, Ellumar released the arrow. It whistled through the air, slicing through the grass, striking the beast in the rear left thigh as it ran. It stumbled, and yelped but recovered and darted into the woods. “I got it’s leg!” Ellumar shouted, “Go after it!”

Annastaria raced into the woods after it, quickly fleeing into the trees, using her elvish hearing to triangulate the wisps of the creature as it flew through the trees. With the elevated vantage point, she spotted the paragott just for a second and dashed through the trees after it, with Ellumar somewhere behind. Annastaria spotted it again, and with her short bow, meant for quick, short-range releases, drew an arrow from the quiver on her back, setting herself upon two branches in a tripod stance, pulled and let loose. The arrow whistled through the air and struck the paragott in the rear left leg with Ellumar’s arrow. “I got it in the leg!” she shouted for Ellumar to hear.

Ellumar heard her sister’s words, and continued her pursuit, knowing it could only slow down from here. Annastaria channeled through the trees and their branches, like water finding its way around any obstacle in its path. In her eyes, moving about the trees was slow. She got close enough once more, and noticed the paragott losing speed due to the arrows. She was ahead of it now, and saw her chance to finish it off. Father would never forgive her for such a brash move, but she couldn’t let her prize and reward get away. She dropped from the trees to shoot it through the heart. Father would surely be angry with her for this if he found out. But he didn’t need to know, nor did Ellumar for that matter.

Once she dropped, the paragott tilted its head forward to charge into her. Annastaria fired, but was too late as the antlers came down and deflected the arrow; nothing prevented it from mauling Annastaria faster than she could get another arrow. She panicked and blasted the creature with an airburst, a magic-based, elemental attack that sent a burst of air outward from her proximity. The blast managed to blunt the creature’s charge, but spun it around, with its rear coming counter clockwise and slamming into Annastaria, knocking her off her feet and tumbling down a small slope.

The paragott recovered from the airburst and continued sprinting ahead. Annastaria shook off the daze, looking up, and saw it moving quickly to escape. She sprang to her feet, shaking off the small whiplash, gripping her bow again and was up in the trees once more within seconds to catch an overhead view of it. Ellumar had caught up, and looked to cut the creature off. “It’s moved west!” shouted Annastaria from the trees. Ellumar heard and adjusted her direction accordingly, listening carefully to the sound of the paragott moving through the trees.

Annastaria leaped through a gap in the trees, catching a branch with her hands and swinging herself to a taller tree, climbing up and through it just in time to see the parragott run down a bluff that went north into a deepened canyon, which made it more difficult for the two of them to track it, especially in its alertness. They both knew this place, which had an energetic river running through it towards the far end of the canyon, with water from above creeping down in multiple places from the mountains above. 

“It went into the canyon!” Annastaria called out to Ellumar.

Ellumar stopped to listen to the faint echoes from her sister. “Anne!” she called back, “Do not go in there alone! Please for the love of Kai, wait for me!”

Annastaria faintly heard her sister’s plea, obscured by the echoing river below, and the echoes from her voice conflating together. But she still heard her, and tried to convince herself she didn’t. She turned back to the canyon, feeling the pull to go in, but knowing it was unwise to. The paragott, if she knew anything at all, was attempting to hide, and possibly ambush its hunters, as they often do, especially when injured. Each passing second felt like a minute. She couldn’t lose the creature after having come so close. She could no longer tell where it was, as the river at the bottom, and the trickling of small waterfalls from above overtook the paragott’s own sounds. It was disappearing into the noise. She looked back once more. She could feel the need to hunt pull her down from the tree, and yet the need to heed Ellumar’s warning holding her within it. She began to scan the slope and the bluffs beneath her for a safe place to fall into. It went down about thirty feet, filled with luscious foliage throughout, and it was still dark in this area; the sun was nowhere near beaming light into this place. 

It was unbearable anymore; she could not return home empty-handed again, and with the shame of once more losing a paragott to the mockery of the others, who always saw her as a half-blood, pampered relic, an invalid royal, only accepted into the royal family of her adopted father because of her special abilities. It gnawed at her mind. Ellumar couldn’t be far behind; she dropped from the tree, and made her way down the slopes, sliding down even at certain points until she came next to the river that ran southwest. She prepared her small bow with another arrow, ready to pull fast and release. There was no turning back now. 

She had entered an arena, enclosed by the natural formation of the canyon and steep bluffs. The only way was forward now. She moved steadily through the canyon walls, going north, trying to control her breathing so as not to be heard too loudly, but also so that she might herself be focused on hearing whatever anomalies she could.

The paragott, if indeed it had gone this far, was going to attempt to hide due to its injuries, which meant that it was cornered, and that was when they were most dangerous. She swallowed once as she began to steadily realize what she had done. The tables between hunter and prey could change at any given moment were she not careful.

She was fortunate at least that the persistent sounds of trickling water bouncing off the canyon walls muffled her own footsteps, but it did not help her battle the insistence her mind bore on her, making her hear an unnatural trickling of rocks and thumps, and the sound of birds that startled her. It was just the world around her, she told herself, and she had to stay focused. Yet at the same time was a battle against tunnel vision that would prevent her from seeing an ambush. She reached the end of a narrow closing of two boulders, where the stream ran between, going past her, and she knew upon stepping out into the open area beyond them, where there was tall grass growing from the shallow stream, she could step out directly into an attack that could come from any direction. 

She would have to step through the narrow opening between the two boulders before her and drop into the water below, which would create a splash that would most surely, no matter how soft she attempted to make it, be heard throughout the canyon. She climbed through the opening, holding the arrow and bow together with her left hand. Apart from her current situation, it was a beautiful place, with the small, yellow-glowing fairies still fluttering about, illuminating anything they came within four feet of with a combination of blue, red and green colors. Ahead the canyon went deeper, and a waterfall to the left canyon wall was seen beyond a pile of fallen rocks. But in front of that, was the tall grass just seven feet in front of her, utterly obstructing her immediate field of vision. Anything could be hiding in there, even a frightened and panicking paragott.

She looked to the right, where a small shore of wet sand was steadily going up to the right and dry ground. It was best for her to try and leap towards that, to lessen the splash. She would have to be ready, within a second, to stretch her bow and arrow for a fast shot. She took in a deep breath and leaped off the jagged rock and struck the damp sand. It felt loud, it sounded loud, and within the second she struck the sand, she drew her bow once more and the arrow in place, ready to fire, looking all around herself for danger coming anywhere. She turned so quickly, gasping as she did, sinking in unstable nerves, that she lost track of left and right for a moment.

What was that? Waterfall? No–it was rising in a noise, and rapidly, closer and it rushed from behind her, like a wave from the ocean about to ambush. A gasp half-escaped her mouth before she choked it down, flipping around as she drew back the arrow and aimed to the right, where the sounds seemed to come from. It was a small group of bats. Just bats. Annastaria’s heart, for the first time since she fired the first shot, found a moment to rest. She took control of her breathing, and slowly relaxed her shot. 

Thundering hooves sprang her senses back to focus, and out of the shadows of the cave, the paragott came roaring out into what light she had to see it, charging her with its antlers ready to bludgeon. Annastaria had only a second to react and she jumped to her right as the creature roared past her, like a tumbling boulder. She was immediately confronted with the blow of the wind carrying the creature’s distinct smell. Annastaria leaped up and pulled her arrow back to fire, but even as fast as she rose up, the paragott was nowhere to be found. She heard it moan somewhere beyond the tall grass. She looked down briefly, and saw a trail of its red blood leading into the tall grass.

She was losing control of her breathing again, able to see her own breath in the cold air, which seemed thicker than she was comfortable with, obscuring her sight. She moved slowly towards the grass, arrow at the ready, but was prevented from going any farther by a pure fear of the paragott. This creature was in full-fighting mode, it wanted the fight now. As she stepped backwards, she allowed her panic to subside enough to notice through the grass, the glowing fairies were moving abnormally, as if to be avoiding something. They must’ve been reacting to the paragott moving in the grass. She didn’t need to go inside, she could use the fairies’ dispersing from the paragott to locate it. She drew back her arrow and took a moment to focus, and released it. It whistled into the grass, slicing through until the paragott yelped. A critical hit.

She froze as silence seemed to still the whole area, but only for a long, grueling moment. The area erupted to the sound of thunderous gallops which followed as from before. The fairies scattered almost out of the tall grass entirely as the paragott burst from them, straight towards Annastaria. Her eyes went wide, daring not to blink, and all she could think was to try and fire an airburst at it again. Like before she blasted the creature, blunting its charge, but this time her panic caused her airburst to miss a direct hit; the creature recovered, driving its antlers at her. She dropped her bow and grabbed two of the series of antlers to prevent them from completely mauling her as the creature threw her from the solid ground, and slammed her against one of the fallen rocks within the shallow pool. She gasped and grunted as the creature jerked up, left and right to rip her apart. The world around her disappeared; up and down, left or right didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered in her mind was the strength in her hands, and these jaws for antlers. 

Finally, it gave one powerful jerk to the left, throwing Annastaria like a ragdoll over ten feet away, tumbling across the dry ground. She struggled to her feet as fast as she could, drawing her belt blade as the paragott charged at her once again. She prepared herself for another terrifying and merciless battle with the jaws of the paragott’s antlers, her arms weak and shaking. But her hyper-focused eyes caught an arrow coming from the left, curving with the wind, straight into the paragott’s temple and out of its forehead just as it came within striking distance. Annastaria leaped to her left, out of the way, plunging her blade into its left cheek.

She fell once again, letting go of her blade as she did, and the paragott slammed to the ground. On her buttox, Annastaria backed up, taking the moment to remember how heavy she was breathing. She backed far enough until she felt safe enough to pick herself up. Ellumar came racing towards her with her bow in hand, also breathing heavily. “Anne!” she cried out, “Are you alright–did it hurt you?”

Annastaria looked at her for a moment, as if she had to take in the fact that her sister was really here, then at herself, “No… I-I don’t think so.”

The air calmed, like a pile of leaves blowing up and finally settling down, and the two of them looked at the dead paragott, approaching it slowly. It wasn’t breathing, nor moving in any way, and it’s blood began to contaminate the water. Another few seconds followed as they listened to each other’s breathing. And then, Ellumar let out a breath of excitement. “That was amazing!” she exclaimed, gripping Annastaria’s shoulder, “We’ve finally slain a paragott!” She retrieved her hand, looking at their dead trophy, and brushing the hand through her own hair. She could hardly stay still.

Annastaria smiled, but didn’t seem as excited as Ellumar. “That was quite a kill, sister.” she said calmly, “You are truly the best shot in the whole clan.”

Ellumar could sense the disappointment in Annastaria’s voice, and her own excitement came down slightly. She put a hand on Annastaria’s shoulder, now more calm. “Hey,” she said to her, “don’t think that way. See your blade in the head? You killed it.”

“I saw the arrow before my blade, Ellumar. I only struck the creature with my blade in the last second. It was dead before my blow. Plus, mine wasn’t a killing blow, I just pierced its cheek.”

“How can you know that?” Ellumar asked, chuckling slightly.

But Annastaria looked her in the eye, “I’ve killed many beasts before, Ellumar, and with my bow. I know what it’s like when they die. Your arrow killed it instantly.”

Ellumar paused, and her excitement was deflated by Annastaria’s loathing attitude. Annastaria was once more beating herself unnecessarily for things not going how she hoped. Especially given that Ellumar took the shot to save her sister. But Ellumar wasn’t about to let it ruin this. An idea came to mind. 

“You shall be the one who slew it.” she said, raising her spirit again. Only the two of them had witnessed it, and it could easily be said.

But Annastaria shook her head. “I can’t let you do that.” she replied.

“Why not? No one has to know.”

Annastaria smirked at Ellumar and said, “It’s against the creed, sister–you know that. You killed the paragott… You deserve the honor for it.”

Ellumar struggled for words. It didn’t matter to her who took it, even if she lied against the creed. She smiled again. “Okay then.” she said, “You shall be honored as the only reason I was able to slay it, sister. I was only able to do this because of you.” The words stung Ellumar in the heart. Annastaria was the one who struggled with the paragott, and her clothes had been torn by fighting bare-hands with it. Even to those that were able to kill a paragott, few could say that.

Annastaria smiled, looking at Ellumar, one Ellumar saw with more life. With the attention and focus taken off the dead paragott, both Annastaria and Ellumar now turned their focus to the galloping horses from before. The two girls would grow worrisome if the gallops were not accompanied by a special clanging of metal upon the buckles and straps. These were elvish riders and they were probably looking for the two of them.

Annastaria and Ellumar knew they would not be able to carry the paragott out. Luckily, they only needed some of its fur, which they took with them, out of the forest and to the plains they came from, where they began to hear the gallops again, and saw three riders approaching them from the eastern hills. Both girls waited patiently until they had arrived. 

“Hello lord and chief Uramuun.” Ellumar formally said to the lead rider, “What urgency brings you out here?”

“We have an urgent report from our agents in the west.” he said.

Both Annastaria and Ellumar looked at each other, and back at him. “With respect, lord chief,” Ellumar replied, “for what does this concern us?”

“It is in regard to Dredok Skies.” The girls once more froze, first to make sure they knew what they had just heard. 

“You mean… the call is made?” Annastaria managed to say.

“Yes.” Uramuun said plainly, “Something calls from the west. And we shall answer… The council has been summoned at once.” Uramuun continued, “Your father will be there, and he requests that you two be present.” Uramuun then took a moment to look at the fresh fur Ellumar had over her horse’s back. He almost couldn’t believe what he was looking at. “Is that a paragott hide?” he asked. Ellumar smiled and confirmed it. He couldn’t help a smile himself, even in this urgent situation, and a smiling Uramuun was a rare sight, and indeed, a sign of great favor. “And to whom might the glory of the kill go to?” he asked.

A short hesitation came from the two girls until Ellumar spoke, “It was Anne, lord chief.” Annastaria froze, yet again. Her heart rate, which was previously dropping as she caught her breath, made a sudden rise again, and she nearly blurted out to correct her sister. But something pushed it down until the moment passed. Ellumar looked at Annastaria and said, “She struck him with an arrow to the head. His carcass is at the end of the river in the Durdenne Canyon.” Looking back at Uramuun she was now more emboldened, “It was an amazing shot, lord chief! You should have witnessed it!”

Uramuun looked at Annastaria, who was wet and covered in dirt and torn clothing, and with a smirk on his face he said, “Well, young Annastaria… It appears the aenman blood has not completely crippled your abilities after all. Well done, child; you shall be rewarded mightily for this. And in no less a greater time than now. We shall be sure that your father knows of this before the end of our meeting.”

Annastaria hesitated again, realizing what had just been done, but feeling unable to speak her mind on it for some reason. It was easy to get away with; the only witness was more than willing to make the lie true, and it surely must raise her status among her peers and the other elders. But Annastaria didn’t know what to think about it anymore. “Thank you, lord chief.” she said. 

Uramuun nodded. “Come now.” he said, more serious once more, “We must leave for Ill’karren at once.” With the orders given, the group saddled up, and they rode a half-hour’s journey northeast to their clan’s main city, Ill’karren.

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