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Author's note: Ironically, I started writing this over the summer of 2010. I wanted to create a fantasy world from my imagination, and shape it so it reflected the modern-day world. I hope people can relate to this story. AND ~ I'm not done with the novel at the moment. As I post more, things might start to change a bit because I intend to continue revising the story. Again, thanks for reading.
A single Fire flickered in the quiet, shadowy woods.
Two figures were huddled close together, a mother and her little girl. With scarred fingers, the mother wove strips of rich bark into a tightly braided necklace, a heavy ruby pendant strung at the end of it. The hard, delicately cut surface of the jewel glistened luminously under the flames, winking at every sudden flare. The little girl watched her mother braid intently until a small, dead knot tied the necklace together. Her small mouth opened.
She pointed a finger at the Fire. “What is that?”
“Fire?” her mother asked gently, but her emerald eyes darkened. “It’s a powerful Element. You mustn’t play with it.”
The little girl understood the warning to her mother’s serious voice. Still, she couldn’t shake off that inquisitive, curious feeling. She didn’t understand. Slowly, she reached out to touch the leaping flames that were licking the air like a hungry snake. She expected nothing as her finger steadily plunged into the comforting warmness of the fire. It didn’t hurt. Her mother was watching this carefully with guarded eyes and did not speak.
The little girl drew her undamaged hand out and examined the fire thoughtfully. Just for a flicker of a second, she thought she saw a face appearing within the fire – a young boy’s, with tawny eyes and a splash of honey hair. But it disappeared as quickly as it had come, and so she shook it off, still mesmerized with the Fire’s beauty. The Fire gave her a sense of capability, of unconquerable elation, of power…
“How did I do that, Mother?” Her small, childlike voice was full of deep intuition, yet she still had to ask. The Fire answered her thoughts, unraveled the raveled, understood the mysteries of beyond.
Her mother didn’t answer directly. “Come here, child.”
The little girl obliged and climbed into her mother’s waiting arms. Within the arms, she felt safe and so she smiled happily at her mother, who returned a glowing look. Her mother took the freshly woven necklace and placed it carefully around Summer’s neck, the pendant fitting perfectly into the hollow of her throat.
“There,” her mother said, “that should remind you of me.”
The little girl’s delicate brow furrowed slightly. “Are you leaving, Mother?” Her ringing voice was filled of confusion. “Stay with me, please!”
“I’ll never leave you, Summer.” Her emerald eyes were distant as she gazed the infinite darkness beyond the light of the fire. It was nothingness, just a vast, endless plain of the unknowns of her little girl’s deepest fears. Her mother was the only one she could hold onto, who she needed most desperately - she couldn’t leave... could she?
The question was answered almost immediately. The mother pushed her daughter gently back onto the black floor, and rose. To the little girl’s shocked cries, her only mother walked into the darkness.
Summer peeled open her sleep-swollen eyelids.
The emerald pendant was convulsing sharply against the base of her throat, mirroring the wild pounding of her heartbeat. Sweat beaded on her pale forehead and her vision slowly cleared the image of her tiny bedroom.
Light poured in from the small cracks in the ceiling, illuminating specks of dust and dirt floating around in the air. Summer was lying on her cot that became too small a couple years back, swathed in several layers of thin, homespun blankets. A rickety chair in a corner held the few possessions she owned in a small leather sack with a clean stack of neatly folded clothes sitting beside it. The walls of her room were darkened with browned mottling of age, the floor was of dirt and the ceiling had a fist-sized hole in one spot. It was her home.
Summer threw the patched sheets of blanket aside and shivered as the morning air raised the hairs on her legs. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation - eerie and uncomfortable. Quickly, she dressed in her full gear and slid on her worn hunting boots. There was a long day ahead of her.
She paused by the door, a hand on the knob. Her pendant had ceased the pulsing and resumed its cold, inanimate form. Picking it up, she stared into it curiously. Startling amber eyes and a waterfall of ebony hair cascading from a thin, pale face reflected back at her. Beyond that, the emerald green abyss of the pendant was obscure and unfathomable, intriguing Summer to solve its mystery. She curled the emerald into her fist and closed her amber eyes. Faint images danced behind her eyelids, forming barely visible shapes. The glimmer of the fire, a glimpse of a –
Suddenly, the door flew open and Summer yelped, the pendant slipping from her grasp. An elderly woman with bright blue eyes and elegant salt-and-pepper hair stood there, sinewy hands on her hips and looking not at all ruffled.
“Mira.” Summer shook her head and clutched her faintly beating pendant. “Mira, you scared me half-dead. You could knock next time.”
“And you could get up earlier next time,” Mira replied, calmly. “It’s nearly noontime.”
Summer groaned. “I’m sorry about that. Is there any breakfast?”
The old woman chuckled lightly. “You’re lucky I even saved you any, my dear.” Mira glanced at Summer’s clothing, and those sky-blue eyes narrowed, her wrinkled mouth opening. “You’re not –”
“Well,” said Summer loudly. “I’m starving. I think I smell cornbread.” Summer ducked out her room and into the immediate next, the kitchen. Sure enough, on the wooden dining table was a plate of freshly baked cornbread. Her stomach rumbled.
Mira was still narrowing her eyes as Summer plopped down on a hard wooden stool and chewed on a slice of bread. Avoiding it was no use; Mira would somehow nudge it into conversation before Summer left.
“Good day, hmm?” Summer said in between hungry bites. “Sunny, I think.”
Mira raised her level gaze toward Summer and leaned on a wall. There was no anger or annoyance in those honest blue eyes, just frustration.
“Summer, are you going to those woods again?”
There was no point hiding it. “Yes.”
Mira sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t go in those woods. It’s dangerous in there. You know that.”
“Somebody needs to hunt for the fresh meat for tomorrow’s feast.”
“Not you.” Mira hesitated. “Women aren’t supposed to be doing men’s work.”
“All the men in the village are chickens. None of them would dare hunt out there anyway.” Summer ripped the remaining piece of bread into pieces. “I’m the best hunter here. And you shouldn’t go discriminating women either.”
Mira looked up at the cracked ceiling. “I see I can’t convince you either way. I’m not going to force you,” she added, seeing Summer’s look, “but please, Summer. Be careful.”
A faint smile made a way onto Summer’s pale complexion, a flicker of amusement.
“When am I not?”
Mira threw her hands up. “Oh, for the love of Nature – when you walked through that doorway with half your arm missing?”
Summer rubbed her forehead, recalling. “That was only a scratch. Believe me, it could have been worse.”
If eyes could ever look more like knives, it would Mira’s blue ones right now. She turned away and stalked off to the kitchen, muttering to herself.
A wooden pot clanged loudly. “Rolfe should know better than to give you that bow.”
“It’s my bow. You gave it to him without my consent.”
“For the standard of safe-keeping, not for dancing with monsters whenever you please.”
“The only monsters alive are the Kingdom men.”
Summer had struck a pressure point. Mira’s teeth clenched.
“Don’t mention those names here, please,” Mira said, quietly. “We’ve had enough of them for a lifetime.”
It was silent a moment. Summer cursed herself inwardly.
Mira shook her silver head slowly. “Never mind. Do you want some more cornbread? There’s more here.” Her eyes were hidden as she held out the chipped plate of more cornbread.
“I’m fine.” Summer stood up. “I should be going, anyway.”
Mira set the plate back down.
“I’ll see you, then.” Summer glanced back once more.
Mira’s lined face seemed exhausted and aged, not like the Mira seven years ago. Was she eating enough? Probably. The crops were growing exceptionally well this year. But Mira had the most years in the village, after all. She should retire, Summer thought, but she would never in a million years. Mira would still be trying to help out even if both her legs were broken.
But what could Summer say? Mira acknowledged the fact that it was Summer’s duty to provide the village with meat in all seasons, yet it still seemed to ring an uneasy bell. The Thanatos Forest was dangerous enough.
Knowing the only words that could possibly be comforting to Mira, Summer muttered, “I’ll be careful, Mira,” and dashed out the door.
Until seven years ago, a single Kingdom ruled.
Until seven years ago, the people were united as one.
Until seven years ago, the Celestials still lived.
Mira had told Summer this story once some years ago, but Summer had committed it to memory. It was the only time Mira openly talked about the Kingdoms.
King Alastair had just inherited the royal crown. He was a rather plump man, with tiny eyes and a stubborn set of lips. He carried his magnificent four hundred pounds with great pride and of course, a bejeweled crown.
Alastair was also a jealous man. He wanted unlimited power and riches all to himself. Whatever he couldn’t have, he desired and went to great lengths to receive it.
The Thanatos Forest, thick and unforgiving, separated his land into two perfect halves. Communication was difficult. As a result, one of his advisors suggested another minor ruling system be established on the western land, as the Alastair Kingdom was on the eastern side. Alastair calculated the odds. Another ruling system meant another ruler to govern the land. “Absolutely not!” King Alastair said firmly, slapping down the proposal. Another Kingdom? The very idea was outrageous to the selfish King. The Kingdom was his, and only his to rule. The advisor was dismissed immediately.
This trait of King Alastair’s was trouble when it came to Celestials.
Celestials were descendants of ancient human beings blessed by the Creator before the beginning of time. Beautiful and pure at heart, they commanded any of the four natural Elements: Water, Earth, Air or Fire. They were not common, and could only reproduce within their race. Many had seen a Celestial; few had ever seen their Element in use. They preferred solitude, whether it was up in the highest peak or deep underground, no one knew.
Nonetheless, the people of Alastair worshipped them. Celestials were assets to villages. One blessed with Water let rain fall on the village, one with Earth let the soil remain rich, one with Air let no ravaging winds come to harm, one with Fire let the people remain warm even during the coldest winters.
It occurred to King Alastair one day that the Celestials could be plotting against him. With their immense power and his own peoples’ worship to them, the Celestials could easily seize his crown. It couldn’t happen. The frightened King was convinced that the Celestials were plotting against him.
Within a week, he paid a group of skilled assassins to kill the Celestials. King Alastair could go to sleep restfully that night.
Rumors of dead Celestials reached the Kingdom not long after that. The villagers were frantic, desperately searching for a reason why. Alastair simply sat back in his golden throne, reassured that his crown was secure. Celestials were gone from the world, either dead or in hiding. It didn’t matter to the King anyway.
The crops in the villages slowly began to die. The soil hardened into crusty dirt, Nature revealing her harsher, truer side. Winds whipped the farms and coldness settled into villages. The people were not accustomed to such conditions and blamed it all on the King. He was the only practical reason for the disappearance of the Celestials. Rebellions struck out. War arrived.
King Alastair was shocked. What had he done wrong? Quickly, he assembled his own army to fight the villagers. He needed to restore order and show them who held the power.
The following months were grueling.
Farmers marched out with their blunt swords, pitchforks – anything possibly harmful they could get their hands on to fight the King. Men of households desperately attempted to fend off bandits, the women trying to keep their children alive. Anyone lunged for a scrap of meat or a strip of cloth in sight. Prices in markets rocketed sky-high, taxes rose and families went broke. Children went three or four days without eating. Skeletal bodies lay motionless on the dirty, unkempt streets.
Meanwhile, Alastair was adamant on winning the war. The villagers outnumbered the troops, but with no military training and weapons whatsoever, they perished, many dying. Alastair sent out more and more troops to fight his own people, ignoring his advisors’ frantic words. When he realized what he had done, it was too late. He’d crushed his entire Kingdom by his own hand. No one had won.
An ambitious young lord took advantage of the empire’s broken condition. His name was Slade.
Gathering the remainder of strong men, Slade set out to finish King Alastair once and for all. Once the King was killed, Slade proceeded to restore peace in the Kingdom. He reorganized the government and ordered the Kingdom troops to renovate farms. Quick and clever, Slade had the Kingdom back on its feet very soon.
He knew communication played a major problem in the Kingdom. So, he made a decision. Slade would rule the eastern half of the land, and his brother Lance would be given the western half of the land to rule. And ever since then, they still rule together peacefully.
However, some villagers did not trust Slade. Something in his eyes seemed slightly unpleasant, they said. He wasn’t to be trusted. Those villagers gathered and decided they would save themselves before the Kingdom would begin hurtling downwards – again. Together, they journeyed across many leagues and into the Thanatos Forest in search for refuge. It was risky business; if any Kingdom men caught them, they would all hang from the highest tree.
They lost half their people during the first week. The journey was rough, the terrain unforgivable. Sudden ravines and mudslides killed many, others taken by the deathly creatures living there, and some even gone delirious from the mysterious fog shrouding the forest. The group began to lose their motivation as their numbers lowered into the double-digits. How could they survive? Where could they go? Doubt entered peoples’ minds.
Just when all hope seemed to be lost, the forest opened up into a large glade. There, the soil was moist and dark and the air was fresher and breathable. The Creator Himself had blessed them with this glade.
Work immediately began the following day. Despite the people’s haggardly conditions, they worked. They constructed crude housings, furnished bows and arrows to supply themselves with food. The first year was the most difficult. Numbers dwindled lower and lower, until less than twenty still breathed.
Mira was among the survivors. Summer knew this part of the story now.
During that coming winter, Mira was searching for extra firewood in the forest when she came upon a little girl huddled in a small bush. The girl’s eyes glowed the strangest amber and her hair was blacker than night. Mira still took her in. The villagers argued with Mira, saying this was a Kingdoms’ ploy, and the girl should be killed. But Mira had responded calmly, “No child of the Creator will ever be forcibly put to death.” Mira took the little girl as her daughter.
The little girl was Summer. She would not speak of her origins, no matter how many times Mira pressed. Mira finally left the girl to her silence.
Summer proved no hassle to the village. She sang sweet songs while helping the women cook and gather edible plants in the glade. The villagers had to grudgingly admit she was not the Kingdoms’ property.
On the village’s third year, they were discovered by a group of merchants, who were all well off enough to fend off the war’s disastrous effect.
The merchants saw this tiny village was a refuge for runaways. The villagers always had food in their stomachs, a roof over their heads. Any sane man still living in the Kingdoms would kill to live here. The merchants decided to strike a deal. They wouldn’t expose the location of the village to the Kingdoms unless the villagers would trade with them every year. It was a deal gladly accepted.
The merchants then unloaded their cargo, the grandeur was revealed.
Summer had never seen so many foreign items before. Gold sculptures, exotic food, and porcelain dishes were all laid in front of her. The villagers were equally astounded. Examining all the items, Summer took a liking to the bows. One of the merchants was kind enough to teach her how to notch the arrow and let it fly true to its target. Summer was a natural.
The bow she liked the most was elegant and yet simple. The wood was silky and polished, nothing like the twisted, gnarled branches in the Thanatos Woods. Strange black, swirling designs were carved artfully onto the bow, almost seeming to thrum under her touch.
When Summer inquired about the price, her excited demeanor evaporated. Thirty gold pieces was more Summer’s savings tripled. She returned home, hands empty.
The next day, Summer had rose early with high hopes, but the merchants were already gone. Mira was watching her the whole time.
“Looking for this?” Mira had said, a smile playing on her face, and held out that beautiful bow.
Ecstatic, Summer ran up to hug the old woman, who stumbled back in surprise.
“Don’t expect to get off so easily,” Mira had warned, still smiling. “That bow was cost more than I would have liked it to. You will return it to Rolfe when you aren’t out shooting.”
Summer was gone for the rest of the day, shooting arrows in the woods. Each arrow whistled through the wind sharply and was stunningly accurate. It was almost as if the bow was designed for her.
Then the villagers found out. A woman hunting? None of them had ever heard of such a thing. They all were shocked and disgusted.
But Summer brought back meat from then on. The villagers calmed down a bit and did not complain anymore, but the message in their eyes was clear enough to Summer.
She was different from them, like a bright wildflower sticking out from a sea of orderly tulips. She’d never be accepted by any of the villagers other than Mira. If Summer didn’t have Mira, one could only wonder where Summer would be right now.
Mira didn’t tell Summer that – she didn’t need to. It was painfully obvious; wherever Summer walked, whispers goaded her back to Mira’s hut. But Mira acted oblivious to the villager’s intolerance toward Summer.
But even seven years later, nothing had changed.