“My feet hurt.”
“We’re going, we’re going.”
“You were supposed to go many moons ago.”
“Well, we got a little distracted. Besides,” I said as I stepped over a tree root, “we already taught the whole tribe how to make fire.”
“That fire is not a blessing,” said the Oracle. “You children do not know what danger you almost brought upon us. Now hurry up, it is almost sundown.”
“Shouldn’t we stop for the night?” asked Sharun.
“Why?” said the Oracle. “There are no monsters in this forest.”
Sharun didn’t respond. We were walking through the Forest of Three, which was well known for not having any monsters in it. Noel and I didn’t meet his gaze. The whole tribe had looked stunned when the Oracle revealed we hadn’t been to the cave of The Terrible. The Oracle told the tribe we had to leave for the cave immediately, or the wrath of the Terrible would be upon us. She went on to describe storms and floods and waves of monsters, all caused by the Terrible. Most of the elves practically pushed us to the Oracle, some even blamed us for the appearance of the one starred monster and the forest fire it caused. Still, the elders insisted Sharun escort us to the cave.
Starry was still suspicious of the Oracle’s intentions. Since he thought she had sent her two disciples to face off against a dangerous monster alone, even though her magic was much more powerful. But he couldn’t be too suspicious, since the Oracle said something so shocking, both Noel and I had no choice but to say we wanted to go with her.
“Come on disciples,” said the Oracle with a sly grin, “walk faster.”
“Yes, master,” I said, picking up the pace.
Yes, when the Oracle came to the Jora tribe, she claimed to be our master. None of the other elves thought this was strange, but Noel and I looked at each other with widened eyes. How did she know we’d claimed to be her disciples? Why wasn’t she mad about it? Could she really see the future? And what was with the massive rainstorm she created? Just like with the one starred monster, it seemed like we had underestimated the Oracle’s power.
I stared at the Oracle from the corner of my eye. She was a short elf, with long, wispy white hair with large bangs over her head. A single silver eye peeked out from under her hair, like the moon peering from behind the clouds. Her skin was thin and papery, and her body weak and spindly. She was the first elf I’d seen who actually looked old.
“We’re here,” said Sharun.
I held my breath. The runes, the foreboding darkness, the clearing that looked like it had been punched into the forest; we were back at the cave of The Terrible. Night fell like a veil across the forest. The moon was nowhere to be seen. I looked up, the red star flickered like a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
“We will wait here,” said the Oracle, signaling to Sharun. “Noel knows what to do, so follow her lead, son of the outside.” She looked at me with her one visible silver eye. Now that the moon was gone, her eye was in just the right place to reflect the burning light from the red star.
Noel held my hand. I considered running away. Maybe we could convince Sharun to distract the Oracle while the two of us left the Plains of Serenity forever. But no, we’d caused enough trouble to the Jora tribe. I looked at Sharun, searching for a bit of comfort before we went into the terrifying cave behind us, but a chill went down my spine.
Sharun’s eye were glowing with a red light. His expression was listless. Moonlight streamed out from behind the clouds, washing over me like a cold bucket of water. The moon hid again. I felt a pain in my head and something came off of my eyes. I blinked, fighting through the tears, and opened my eyes. I was back in the Jora tribe’s camp. I stared at the elves: at elders Starry and Vell, and the other elves who had been fighting the forest fire only moments ago. All of their eyes burned with an enraged redness. It was fainter than the glow in Sharun’s eye, but it was there. Brighter than madness, deeper than blood. It was the color of the red star and it was the same glow coming out of Sharun and the Oracle’s eyes.
I snuck a glance at Noel and a wave of relief washed over me. Her eyes were silver and they were also watering like mine. Her face looked as terrified as I was.
“What’s the matter,” said the Oracle, with a crooked grin. Her teeth were broken and rotting, making her the first elf I’d seen who had bad teeth.
“Nothing,” I managed to say, “we just realized we forgot something at home, right Noel?”
“Yeah,” she said, “it’s really important. We’ll go grab it and come right back.” We took a step away from the cave.
“Sharun,” said the Oracle.
Noel’s uncle Sharun, the man who had raised her since she’d become an orphan, stepped in front of the Oracle. He raised his weapon, the Dragon’s Tooth, and pointed it at us. His eyes glowed red, his expression empty. I felt Noel’s hand tremble in mine.
“Uncle Sharun,” said Noel, “it’s me, Noel. What are you doing?”
“He can’t hear you, child,” said the Oracle.
“What have you done to him?” I said.
“Me? My hands are clean, outsider,” said the Oracle. “And I have no obligation to explain our world to you.”
I blinked. “Your world? You—”
“Yes,” said the Oracle. “I know you are not from this world, outsider. I know you are not even an elf!”
“What do you mean he isn’t an elf?” said Noel. “You said something like that when we came to your haunt, but look at him. He looks just like one.”
“He may be in an elf’s body,” said the Oracle, “but his soul is that of another being, a creature so savage it was considered a monster by our ancestors. His soul is that of a human!”
“It’s true,” I said, “I was born a human. A human from another world.”
Noel looked at me. She didn’t let go of my hand. “So what?” she said as she quickly looked away from me and at the Oracle. It was a little hard to be shocked by what the Oracle was saying since the dangerous red glow from her eye, and Sharun’s empty expression were much more confusing.
“So what?” the Oracle said with a chuckle. “Child, you do not understand. Not only did he lie to you, he has stolen from you, your destiny!”
“My… destiny?” whispered Noel.
“You were to be blessed by The Terrible,” said the Oracle. “Your blessing was to be the greatest blessing in centuries! You…” she pointed at Noel with a thin, bony finger, “were going to be my successor.”
Sharun pressed forward, the tip of the Dragon’s Tooth inches from my chest. “And then,” continued the Oracle, “this idiot led you astray. My master was watching, he says the outsider practically turned you away from your inheritance, and polluted your fate with his feeble, heretical magic.”
Heretical magic? While it was true that I helped her develop our magic spells, I wasn’t the one who taught her magic. If anything, Noel was the one who showed me the tree where the birds taught us the fundamentals of magic. It seems this ‘master’ the Oracle was talking about didn’t know everything, which was a relief.
“My inheritance?” said Noel.
“Yes, child, you are of my blood,” said the Oracle. “Your mother should have prepared you for your future, but other forces intervened. My master’s enemy—the enemy of all elves—interfered with your mother’s fate, and killed her. He drove your father to madness and forced your uncle to kill him!”
Silence, again. Noel’s eyes widened. My heart skipped a beat.
“Oh, did you not know?” said the Oracle. “Did you think your uncle took you in only because you were family? No, it was the guilt of having made you an orphan that pushed poor Sharun here to accept you as one of his own. It was his way of atoning for his sins, wasn’t it, Sharun?”
Sharun didn’t move. His face was still frozen, his eyes glowing.
“Well, I suppose he can’t answer you right now,” said the Oracle.
“Uncle Sharun… killed my father?” whispered Noel.
“Oh, don’t get so upset,” said the Oracle, “your father was infected by my master’s enemy. He would have done something even stupider than fighting a Carica Serpent on his own. And even if he survived the enemy’s influence, my master would have destroyed him. In fact, my master was so happy with little Sharun’s actions, he gave him the strength he currently wields. Sharun would not have become a great hunter without my master’s power, even if he doesn’t know it.” The Oracle touched the corner of Sharun’s face, right next to his eyes. “Although this power, came with a price.” She grinned.
“So your master controls the elves,” I said, “and I’m guessing he does that through whatever is in this cave behind us.”
“You are perceptive, outsider,” said the Oracle, “perhaps that is why you failed to fulfill your destiny. But you are wrong, my master does not control the elves, he merely guides us, and gives us strength. Outsiders like you would not understand. You are meant to fulfill your role, that is all. None who came before you have troubled us before.”
Wait. What? “There were others?” I said.
“Of course there were others, haven’t you been listening? Your presence is necessary for the blessing of my successor. If things had gone to plan, you would have followed little Noel inside the cave like those who came before you. You would receive your judgment from my master, blessing Noel with great power and knowledge,” said the Oracle.
My heart was racing. I didn’t realize until now just how much danger I was in. Until now, a tiny part of me was ready to cast every spell I knew and make a break for it. Now, I didn’t dare. “You summoned me to this world,” I said.
“No, child,” said the Oracle. “You came to this world on your own. You, who lacked direction and sought purpose, followed the guiding light of my master on your own. You are here because you wanted to be, now fulfill your destiny and walk into that cave!”