Authors: M. R. Mathias
“Aye,” he mumbled. “It’s only Hyden now. When I died, the link between Talon and me was broken.”
A heavy sigh of understanding escaped the goddess. It was she who’d made the mistake. All the confidence and direction she had instilled into the hawkling hadn't reached Hyden. Her expression softened.
“You’ll always be Hyden Hawk,” she reassured him. “Sir Hyden Hawk Skyler, the greatest wizard the realm has ever known.”
“Is that how they will remember me?” he asked.
“What?” She looked at him as if he were daft. “Why would you ask that?”
“Because of the balance,” he replied. “Gerard, the Abbadon, Hell Master, Warlord, whatever he was, is gone now. When the scales balance back…” He let the sentence trail off and shrugged as if his point were clear.
“Phenilous is right, Hyden,” the goddess chuckled. “Deep down, you’re still just a hick. Why the greater gods ever chose you…” Shaking her head, she put her hands on her hips in exasperation. “You paid your life forward, Hyden Hawk Skyler. To keep the balance, the Warlord had to die. You already had. The Dark One is no longer alive, but there are still an army’s worth of his hellspawn scattering across the lands. Mikahl hasn’t died, but he's been crippled. Phen’s destiny lies with his unborn child. Who else but you is there to keep the balance?”
“Mik is alive?” Hyden asked with wide-eyed hope. Out of all the things she’d said, that was the one that registered.
The goddess threw up her arms in frustration. “You’re impossible,” she said with a huff. She pinched the bridge of her nose with a misty finger before continuing. “When you regain consciousness, you’ll be under water, fool. Try to swim up instead of down.” She turned and stormed away back into the roiling steam cloud from which she’d come.
“You mean I’m not dead?” Hyden called out to her.
“Ughhh,” he heard her grunt as the mist he was in quickly turned into tepid water and closed over him.
Hyden blinked, trying to take in his surroundings. Just as the goddess said, he was underwater. Instead of swimming up toward the surface, though, he glanced down and saw a shimmering glimmer. Curiosity’s grip just wouldn’t let go of him. He wanted to give his body the air that it was craving, but whatever he could see down there was calling out to him and he didn’t think he could resist it. With a shrug at his own foolishness, he did the opposite of what she’d told him. He swam down toward whatever it was.
Somewhere in the misty heavens, the goddess chuckled to herself. Hyden, so much like Gerard, wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation of what was down there. She’d told him not to swim down so that the thought of doing it would find his mind. While he struggled to hold his breath, she restored the familiar link between Hyden and Talon. It was hard not to want to reward a man who cared so little about the powers the gods had granted him.
was the word. Hyden had barely scratched the surface of his capabilities. She wondered when he would spread his own wings and fly through the sky with Talon in a physical form. Maybe, she decided, Claret’s young hatchling would draw the ability out of him. She had a feeling that, to repay his debt to the severely wounded red dragon, he would willingly watch over young Alizarin.
A Year and a Half Later
Queen Mother Telgra held her baby girl in her arms and smiled proudly at Phen. As with the elven life span, their pregnancies lasted longer than a human mother’s. The child was half elf, half human, the first of its kind. The child’s eyes, while slitted vertically like all elven orbs, weren’t yellow, nor were they feral-looking. Her eyes were lavender, and enthralling. Phen melted for them. At only a week old, Princess Tamaerra had captured the hearts of all the elves. With the Arbor’s Heart gone from the Evermore, save for the faint residual protective power it left behind for the Queen Mother to use, the elves clung to the hope that the newborn would some day lead them back to the heart of the forest.
Phen, now properly known as the High King’s Ambassador, couldn’t wait for Mikahl and Rosa, and their son, Prince Vaegon, to arrive. Mikahl could hardly walk, even with the aid of a staff, but he could ride as well as he ever had. His knee would never be the same, but he refused to let it hinder his traveling, or his sword drills.
In the elven tradition, the whole Forest of Evermore celebrated the childbirth for a full turn of the moon. This was so that the mother might enjoy the festivities, and also to make sure that there were plenty of elves around during those critical first weeks of life.
Princess Tamaerra was strong and healthy. Both Phen and Telgra couldn’t wait to show her off to the realm. A new tradition was being started with this birthing celebration. No longer would elven society hide itself away from the kingdom folk. They would embrace each other and celebrate life. After all, Tamaerra was as much human as she was elf.
Dieter Willowbrow became known throughout the Forest of Evermore as the elf who saved their whole race from annihilation. The Queen Mother offered Dieter the position of Master of Defense, but after fighting a war and reading the stories that Vaegon had written in his journal, Dieter found that the forest couldn’t contain his curiosity anymore. He declined in order to join the great wizard Hyden Hawk and his band of demon hunters.
Bzorch, the mighty Lord of Locar, fought snappers, dactyls, and packs of Zard for months while struggling to get out of the marshes. The fall he took hadn’t killed him. He found a rise on which to rest while he healed. He lived off of snappers and small geka until he was ready. Then he covered himself with the moss that hung from the swamp trees so he looked like one of the trolls that the typical marsh denizens seemed to avoid. He spent three long months fighting his way through the treacherous shallows and swimming the snapper-filled channels. Finally, in the heart of spring, he pulled himself out of the marshes near Settsted. It was a feat of survival that might never be repeated.
Another event was being planned, besides the elven birth ceremony. King Jarrek and Queen Willa were to be married, just before Summer’s Day at the new Palace of Oktin. The wedding was to be the first of many grand events to be held in the fabulous architectural marvel the dwarves were finishing.
Not long after the Summer’s Day Festival, Lady Trella’s baby would be due. With his new post as the High Lord of Westland, Lord Gregory had been enjoying the free time his position gave him with his wife. He was more than happy to turn over Lake Bottom Stronghold to Zasha and her husband Wyndall. Their son would enjoy the title and benefits Lord Gregory previously held. In this new age of hope and peace, it was a grand title to have.
Mikahl Collum, the High King of the realm, sat atop his old horse Windfoot in the saddle his father had once given him. The jarring and swaying of the royal carriage aggravated his wounds. Besides that, his grunting, groaning, and complaining kept the baby from sleep.
For the most part his body was healed, but the pain of the wounds never left him. He could never forget. It was a small price to pay to be alive. He decided, when he’d opened his eyes to find a great wolf, a hawkling, a lyna cat, and the beautiful, teary eyes of his wife all staring down at him expectantly, that life was the most precious thing. He would gladly suffer the pain for the joy Rosa and Prince Vaegon gave him.
Mikahl was anxious to see Hyden Hawk and Phen, and especially Talon. After hearing the story of the brave bird’s dangerous flight back to the Leif Repline, Mikahl declared that the Unified Kingdom’s banner would be a green-bordered field of gold with the silhouette of a swooping hawkling centered on it. The bird had Ironspike clutched in its claws. Lord Gregory would always be the Lion of the West. He had earned the right to call that banner his own.
When Mikahl looked up at the new banner, it was flapping proudly in the wind. He remembered Hyden standing in the fountain pool wet and dripping, looking more like a wizard of old than the carefree man Mikahl knew. He was holding Ironspike high over his head like a trophy and was smiling broadly as he came wading across Whitten Loch toward them.
Mikahl had been lying in the bloody snow then, feeling the Leif Repline’s power slowly rejuvenating his lightning-blasted body. Talon had lifted from his chest and flown to Hyden’s shoulder, and in that moment of triumph the image of the new banner had taken in Mikahl’s heart.
Hope and glory.
They had banded together: men, elves, giants and dwarves. Even dragons had joined with them, and they had beaten back impossible odds. Mikahl knew this feeling of unity wouldn’t last forever, but it was his hope that it would last an age. Hopefully his son Vaegon could use Ironspike to rule men in peace, instead of having to constantly defend the realm with the blade. Mikahl glanced at the carriage carrying his wife and child. He shook away all those concerns and smiled broadly. He couldn’t wait to see Hyden Hawk and Phen.
Hyden was growing accustomed to feeling older. He decided to look the role of a great wizard and kept the long beard. He started wearing fancy, high-collared cloaks too. He didn’t feel all that great. Seeing Oarly die, and knowing that Gerard was gone, left him hollow. Then the process of moving Claret’s huge body to a cavern hidden in the hills north of Jenkata took its toll on him and the rest of Xwarda’s wizards. Claret had a ruined wing, and both her foreclaws were swollen to twice their normal size. She’d extended them to cushion her crash, but only managed to break her own bones. Queen Willa assigned a whole brigade of rangers to hunt food for the dragon. At least the old red wyrm was able to mother over Alizarin when the growing young dragon was at the lair.
Seeing Dostin cry like a babe when they buried Corva near Vaegon’s Glade hadn’t been easy, either. Now Dostin and Alizarin were Hyden’s charges and the only interesting conversations he found were with Claret, or Talon.
Phen was a man grown, and as capable as they come, but he was in the Evermore more often than not, these days. Hyden couldn’t believe the boy had fathered a child with the Queen Mother, and even though a lot had transpired, leaving the elves in a new, weaker situation, he couldn’t believe they were getting along with the kingdom folk.
A great expedition into the Wedjak was looming, but Hyden worried little about it. They would hunt demons on the way. Dieter helped prepare, as did Durge, and a trio of young dwarves strived daily to live up to the drunken legend Oarly had become.
Jicks eventually became known as the Hunter. His enchanted sword, the sparkling blue wyrm he rode, and the ice dragon that did its bidding, took seriously the chore of ridding the world of hellspawn.
Hyden’s body was older, and his mind was expanded so greatly that he was sometimes on the verge of getting lost in his own head. He was also struggling with the fact that all that magic passing through his body had changed him in other ways. It was likely that he wouldn’t age anymore. That bothered him, too, but not because he looked older. He’d lived only twenty-one summers, but looked like he was twice that. He just didn’t like the idea of living longer than a man should.
He found that the long beard, with its few gray hairs, lent to his credibility among the Xwardian wizards and scholars. There was a group of them studying, notating, and cataloguing everything they could find about the side effects of channeling so much raw, arcane power. Several times over the course of recorded history, a wizard had misspelled, or gotten a potion wrong, and ended up bathed in power. The ones who’d survived their mishap lived far beyond their expected time. Hyden had taken in and then released more than a thousand times as much as any three of the wizards they were reading about.
The births of Prince Vaegon and Princess Tamaerra were welcome distractions. Hyden was proud and happy for Mik and Phen, but on the whole he wasn’t feeling anything more than content. Not even planning for the upcoming journey could pull him out of his melancholic mood. He’d been to the Wedjak already and had since learned from Claret that it wasn’t much different than anywhere else men dwell.
There was something missing in his life. He thought about it often, but couldn’t pin down the issue. It itched at his curiosity like one’s nose does when it can’t be scratched because one’s hands are full. No matter how hard he pondered, he couldn’t figure out what it was. Then one day he was going through some of the texts in Dahg Mahn’s private study and everything changed.
He came across a volume titled: “Harthgar – Observations”
After reading only the first page, where he learned that Dahg Mahn had once visited the fabled city and had taken these notes himself, he began to feel a tingle of anticipation. After reading about some of the strange creatures and locals who waited there, he had half a mind to climb on Alizarin’s back and go.
Maybe he did.
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