Authors: Melissa Myers
Tags: #romance, #fantasy, #magic, #dark fantasy, #epic fantasy, #socercer
The world around her slowly came back into
focus, and she didn’t recognize any of it. Everything was black.
The house was gone, the yard, the tree she had been in a moment
ago, all of it, gone. The ground around her was covered in ash, a
thick layer of it, with more falling from the sky like grey snow.
She stood slowly on shaking legs and scanned the area around her
frantically. Vast, black, and empty. No sign of her mother or her
father or even Cap. It was all simply gone. Her mind labored to
digest what her eyes were seeing. Light filled the sky once again,
followed by a heavy rumbling that actually sounded like thunder
this time. Rain began to pelt down over her. She knew she should
find shelter, but there was nothing. She felt herself begin to
tremble from both fear and chill due to the icy rain. Too cold for
this late in the spring. She scanned the horizon again, pleading
with any of the gods that would listen, to see her father. “Daddy!”
she called into the pitch, her voice quavering loudly. A low rumble
of thunder was her only answer. “Momma!” she called, her voice more
frantic. She strained her ears for anything, a bark from Cap, a
yell from her father. Desperate, she called again. “Momma! Daddy!”
Another sob burst from her chest and her tears ran down her cheeks
as much as the icy rain.
She stood for what seemed like hours sobbing
and staring, and feeling all hope drain away. She was alone, and
she didn’t even know what had happened. There had been a flash and
then this. How could an entire world just vanish? Maybe she had
been taken instead
It made more sense to think she had been
stolen by magic, than her entire world had been stolen. Easier to
believe she had been whisked off. Her mind froze.
She looked around again at the bleak, empty landscape
covered in ash. She sniffled heavily again. In all of the stories
she had ever heard at the hearth, from her father or from the
Walker boys, the only place this reminded her of was the Darklands.
Father said those who are dark and cruel of heart went to the
Darklands when they were dead. The Walker boys said demons roamed
the Darklands tormenting the souls of the damned.
She felt herself tremble again. She wasn’t
dead, though, and she wasn’t dark of heart. She might be dead if
she had fallen wrong and landed on her head or neck. She didn’t
feel dead, but then she didn’t really know how death felt. She
shook her head in dismay and sought her mind frantically for
another reason. She wasn’t dead she decided firmly. And if this was
the Darklands, Father would come and get her and fix everything. He
always fixed everything. And he had been a soldier. He had said so.
So no demons would stop him. He would cut them down and ride up any
minute. All she had to do was wait.
She sat down and tried to ignore the icy
rain, and forced herself to be brave. That itself was getting
harder to do. She couldn’t remember ever being so scared, and no
nightmare she had ever had was half as frightening as this. She
couldn’t remember ever being alone before. Even at night, she had
Cap with her.
He was trying to warn me
, she realized with a
sniffle. Blackjack had run, but Cap had stayed and tried to warn
her. She felt tears grow heavy in her eyes again and bit her lower
Be brave and wait, Daddy will fix it
she whispered to herself. Maybe if she had stayed with Blackjack
instead of climbing the tree, he would have carried her away from
whatever spell had brought her here. It had to be magic. That was
the only thing it could have been. A dark evil spell, just like in
She folded her arms across her knees and
rested her forehead on her arms. She closed her eyes and shivered,
trying to force herself to think of something other than the cold
and how scared she was. She wasn’t sure what else she could do, and
mother always said when you are lost, stay in the same spot and
someone will find you. By now, she was sure she was lost. It made
more sense than the entire world was lost. She kept her mind from
focusing on details such as why anyone would steal her away. She
didn’t want to examine closely the logic of her decision. That path
held too many options she didn’t want to consider. Hers was a
better one. In hers, the world was still as it should be, and her
father was coming to rescue her. She steadied herself and began to
piece the story together in her mind.
Her father had been a
soldier, and he had thwarted the plans of a Sorcerer. So for
revenge, the evil Sorcerer had stolen her away. As she pieced the
story together, she felt herself warming to the idea that her
father was the hero of this, and that heroes always won.
She’d convinced herself completely by the
time she heard the voice. Her head came up quickly, and she scanned
the rain for the source of it. It was too distant to tell if it was
father or not, so she stayed silent. Mother had warned her about
strangers too, but she wasn’t really sure if that warning applied
right now. Anyone would be better than no one, unless of course it
was the evil Sorcerer, she reasoned.
“There is nothing out here.” It was a man’s
voice, and not one she recognized. She could see two figures dimly
through the rain. One large and white, a huge horse, far bigger
than Buck even. The other was a smaller, darker beast. She could
barely make out the riders and other than they were both cloaked,
she couldn’t make out any details. The smaller horse could be Buck,
she supposed. He looked darker when his coat was wet. She stood
slowly, and some part of her mind noticed how numb she had become.
She shrugged the thought off as quickly as it had come, and moved
slowly toward the horses. In this weather, it wouldn’t be hard to
get close enough to them without them noticing her.
“Just a bit farther, humor me.” A second
voice called back, thickly accented with a bit of a musical
“A bit farther of cold rain and ash for
nothing,” the first speaker grumbled. She was close enough now to
tell he was the darker horse’s rider, and that was definitely not
Buck. The horse was black with no sign of white on him at all. And
by the set of his ears he was in a mood as dark as his coat. She
took care not to approach too closely, and turned her attention to
the large white one. He was bigger than even father’s plow horses.
He was coated with bright and shiny metal coverings from the nape
of his neck and shoulders to the chain mail across his back. She
had never seen a warhorse before. In the stories they were fierce.
This one didn’t look fierce, though, because his ears were forward
and his gait lively. She was still trying to decide if she should
call out or not when the white horse stopped and turned his head to
regard her. She stared back at him in shock. She hadn’t moved nor
made a sound since she had crept closer. He shouldn’t be able to
smell her through the rain. And yet there he was, staring at her
with ears pricked forward. He gave a soft nicker, and she heard his
“And there we are. Avalanche has found
something.” He swung lightly down from his horse, and Jala noted
the metal that flashed beneath it. He wore armor, as well. He must
be a knight. Only knights had warhorses and armor. Maybe father had
sent him to find her.
“What has he found, would be the question,”
the second rider growled back.
“A child, and a lost one, so don’t be snide,
Havoc.” He knelt down a few feet from her as he spoke, and pulled
his cloak down despite the rain, so she could have a look at his
face. He gave her a moment before speaking and her eyes traveled
over his face. He was handsome with smooth features and large green
eyes the color of spring leaves. His hair was cut short in military
fashion, and his ears were slightly pointed.
“You’re an elf!” she blurted before she could
stop herself. His companion gave a snort of amusement and smiled at
“No elf would be caught in this weather or
place. They have better sense than that,” the man on the dark horse
“I’m not exactly an elf, but I can explain
that later.” He glanced back toward his companion and shook his
head in silent rebuke. “My name is Victory, this is Avalanche.” He
motioned toward the horse and then to his companion as he
continued. “And that is Havoc, my traveling companion.” He offered
his hand to her in greeting.
“Did you really just introduce your horse
before me?” Havoc asked in a tone of disgust. “You know most people
don’t even introduce horses.”
“In order of importance, my dear friend, so
yes, Avalanche comes first,” Victory replied smoothly. Havoc gave a
grunt in reply and Jala felt herself relax a bit. Neither of them
was acting much like an evil sorcerer.
“My name is Jaladene,” she replied, trying to
sound older by using her full name. It sounded odd to her, though,
so she hastily added, “Mother and father call me Jala, though.” She
looked around at the bleakness and looked back to Victory. “Did my
father send you to find me?” she asked hopefully.
Victory frowned for the briefest of moments.
“No, he didn’t send me, but now that I have found you, I would like
to help.” He offered his hand again, and she took it hesitantly. He
squeezed her fingers lightly and frowned again. “Far too cold,
child! Let’s get you on Avalanche and out of this rain.” He stood
gracefully and lifted her onto the massive horse. “Havoc, give me
your spare cloak,” he called over his shoulder before mounting
Wordlessly the other man dug through his pack
and produced a dark bundle of cloth. “Not sure how dry it is Vic,
not much is dry in this mess,” he said, tossing it lightly to the
knight. Victory caught it easily and wrapped it around her. It
smelled of horse and sweat, and reminded her a bit of her father.
She felt herself relax further and realized how cold she truly was.
Her teeth chattered lightly, and Victory pulled her back against
him. She tried to ignore the cold metal of his armor as he gathered
the reins and urged his horse into a walk then to a trot.
“We need to get north as quickly as we can,
for she is near frozen and needs shelter and a fire.”
“Nothing I’ll argue with,” Havoc replied
turning his own horse to ride alongside them. “I’ve seen enough
devastation and ash to last me a lifetime.”
“Would be that we never see it again,”
Victory agreed. She felt herself drifting a bit as they talked, her
mind becoming as numb as her body.
“I’d love to know how a child her size
survived it, and no one else seems to have.” Havoc spoke quietly,
and she fought to ignore what he was saying. “Didn’t Badger settle
somewhere in these parts with that girl he saved? What was her
name? Molly, Martha…” his voice trailed off.
“Maggie, her name was Maggie, and yes he did
if I am judging the area right. It’s hard to tell with no
“Hope to the gods he moved before the
property value dropped.”
“He wouldn’t have. He was from Merro. I
remember him talking of it often. He loved this land. The last that
I heard, he was doing well for himself.” Victory spoke softly, and
silence followed his words for a long while.
“Well then I hope his life was a happy one
before this. He deserved it.” Havoc’s words were the last she heard
before she drifted into sleep, trading one nightmare for
She awoke later, bundled heavily in blankets,
and for the first few moments, she didn’t remember. In her
sleep-fogged mind, she was at home in bed, and everything was
normal. Then reality set in and she recognized the sound of fire
cracking lightly and another sound of metal being sharpened. She
could smell smoke and the scent of food cooking.
“She’s awake.” It was Havoc that spoke,
though it took her a moment to recognize the voice. She felt her
stomach clench and wanted desperately to wake up again and discover
this new reality to be just another nightmare.
“I know, her breathing changed, and she isn’t
tossing anymore. Give her a few minutes.” Victory’s voice was calm
and quiet and almost as soothing as her father’s.
She slowly sat up and surveyed the small camp
they had made. A few trees surrounded them, and the horses had been
tethered to a picket nearby. Havoc sat leaning against one of the
trees sharpening a sword. Victory was crouched near the fire
tending meat on a spit with his back turned toward her. Neither
wore cloaks any longer, and she could see them better in the fading
daylight. Havoc had dark red hair trimmed short and was dressed in
leathers. He had a slender build and deeply-tanned skin. Victory
seemed a bit bigger with a thicker build throughout the shoulders.
He had shed his armor and wore only a tunic and breeches now, but
still seemed formidable despite the normal clothes. Both of them,
she silently noted, had tattoos snaking up their left arms, just as
her father had. The story she had made about this horrible day
began to unravel as the truth became clearer.
She turned her attention back to the scenery
and felt her heart sink further. She knew this place. It was the
road to Brannaford. She’d been this way when her parents went to
the market. Her eyes roamed toward the south, toward home. It was
black and dark in that direction. At the border, where Merro met
the Greenwild, a line seemed to be drawn. One side the country was
dark and ash covered, and the Greenwild was still lush with deep
grass. Where the road crossed the border it simply disappeared into
blowing ash. It was as if Merro had simply been erased. “My family
is dead, aren’t they?” She spoke quietly, just above a whisper. She
didn’t want to hear the answer. She didn’t want to admit that the
black wasteland was all that was left of her home.
“Most likely, Jala. Havoc and I rode most of
Merro before we found you, and you were the only survivor we
found.” Victory was watching her now with eyes full of sympathy.
With a guarded expression, Havoc had stopped sharpening his blade
and watched her too.