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THE DRACONAN MOUNTAINS

The Draconan Mountains

 

FROM BROKEN DREAMS

CHAPTER IV

 

...the wretched now cannot defend
with threefold battle at its end...”
Resyn Jarunwe Rovikya XV
1:3:3:5/5, III:IX

 

Darek loved the snow, but the crisp flakes brought him no joy as they flurried on the wind like cold embers. He hadn’t slept since it happened, fleeing night and day through the mountains, but now a vast forest loomed beyond the village on the last ridge. In the waning afternoon light, he hesitated at the edge of town. Was he safe yet? His uncle’s distant homestead loomed behind him, the stench of foul smoke lodged inside his nose. They’d died! To protect him! If those men found him then it all would be for nothing.

His rumbling stomach insisted he couldn’t starve to death in hiding, but Darek clambered into a nearby tree, instinct promising he’d be safer off the ground. The urge to flee bled out of him, and he wailed into his hands, unable to hold back his grief any longer. Where would he go? In his short nine years of life, all his family had been slain – his mother first, then his grandfather, and now his aunt and uncle! He couldn’t bring that fate down on anyone else, even if someone wanted to help him.

Nose leaking, Darek smeared his hands on his fleece trousers, the fabric wet with falling snow. Silvery vapors drifted up from his lap, like the time he’d crashed through the ice behind his uncle’s house. Galen had jumped into the frozen stream after him, choking in shock and staggering up the bank with the rosy-cheeked boy steaming in the wind. He missed them so much.

Sobs turning his stomach, he retched and tumbled dizzy from the tree. Landing with a splat, Darek watched the dazed stars dance in his eyes until a puddle of slush melted around him. He wished he could fall asleep and never wake up, but his family’s sacrifice demanded he do his best to stay alive. Biting back the wave of grief before he heaved again, the boy lurched to his feet and dragged fingers through his chaotic curls. The scent of wonderful foods in town drew him forward, and with a final once-over of forearms across his face, Darek set off barefoot and shirtless through the snowstorm.

There weren’t many people outside, but he folded his arms across his chest and pretended to rattle like he’d seen others do. Drenched and underdressed, Darek shook harder than usual, and the end result looked more like seizures than shivering. At least it masked the wisps of steam rising off his skin.

Offering one last batch of meat pies to stragglers, a lone vendor leaned over his open counter to stare at Darek’s approach, and his heavy sheepdog growled. The nervous boy snatched a pie off the counter and scrambled down the street, but the dog burst from the side door after him. “Dammit Tark, get back here!” its owner bellowed, left with too many pies as it was. Not worth the chase, the skinny kid seemed as good a mouth as any.

Around a corner, Darek plowed into someone in a green cloak, knocking them both over and smashing the pie on the ground. “Sorry!” he lamented, tears welling at the sight of the thick stew oozing onto the cobblestones. With both hands, he grasped the taller child’s cold fingers and yanked her to her feet. “Dog!” he warned. “C’mon, run!” Together they darted down the street, the older girl pulling him through a side alley and out a parallel road. The dog fell silent to lap up the pie, and they slowed to a walk. “Wow thanks, that was cl– oh! You’re blue!”

Chuckling a little, the faerie tugged her cloak’s hood back to reveal purple hair and bright green eyes. “Yeah. I’m a faerie, kid.” She resettled it to shroud her face and glanced about, afraid of elves in the human town. “And you’re welcome. Let’s get you inside. You must be freezing!”

Err... yeah!” agreed the boy, folding up his arms and shuddering for her benefit.

What’s your name, kid? Sorry about your pie,” she mothered, ushering him into the first open tavern they came upon. “We’ll get you a new one. Where’s your cloak? And your shirt? And your shoes!”

Her last exclamation hadn’t even been a question, and he worried over the best answer as they moved through the smelly room. “Uh, Darek,” he decided. “My name’s Darek. Who’re you?”

Vithril,” answered the faerie with a small smile, settling the boy onto a bench. “You wait here just a minute, okay? I’ll be right back.”

Relieved, Darek nodded and watched her make her way to the barkeep to place an order. The whole place reeked of cider, sweat and steel, illuminated by a sparse line of smoking lanterns dangling from the main rafter. Darek slumped against the wall, exhausted twice over and sick of pretending to shiver when it wasn’t cold inside.

Vithril returned with two mugs of hot cider and a plate of food for the boy, along with half a loaf of bread. “There you go,” she provided, sliding onto the bench opposite him with her back to the door. In the gloom behind Darek sat a white-haired elf, his long hands wrapped around a tankard of hot cider, which he nursed as the boy tore into his food like a starving animal. “So, Darek, why was that dog chasing you?” It seemed a good enough place to start.

Dogsh don’ like me mush,” he managed with his mouth stuffed full of potatoes and gravy. With a loud gulp, the boy expounded, “They bark at me a lot, and even chase me! Some dogs, anyway. Other dogs are nice. My mother had a dog named Sharla. She would lick my feet and never barked, except for when–” Faltering, Darek abandoned the revelation and shoveled more food into his mouth.

So... you live around here?” the faerie ventured after a troubled pause. “Where’s your mother now? She’ll be worried, won’t she–?”

The boy sagged in the low light. “They killed her a long time ago. And now, since – since Uncle and Auntie are... gone too...” He burst into tears, rubbing at his eyes and sniffling hard. “I don’t think I live anywhere now. They’ll just find me again unless I run far away! ...But thank you for the food, Vithril,” redressed the boy, lifting his chin the way his uncle had taught him to talk to strangers.

Of course, Darek,” she soothed, heart twisting in her chest. “Who’s they?”

Brow furrowed, he looked angry despite the meat stuffed into his cheeks. “I didn’t see. They come at night, with cloaks on. But they do magic! They make... fire.”

Vithril took a long drink, determined not to frighten the boy. Mages had killed his family? “That’s a real shame,” she announced, trying a different tack. “But you know, if you’re not doing anything for a while, I’m headed to the Glavi forest on the other side of the mountains, to meet my cousin. He makes armor for the empress! Would you like to come with me?” She couldn’t just leave him at the mercy of the harsh winter and the mages who’d attacked his home.

Wow, really?” exclaimed Darek, eyes brightening at the prospect of an adventure. “I didn’t think the empress needed armor! Your cousin must be really good. Is he blue too?”

He’s orange, actually,” she laughed, explaining the faerie prowess at hidecraft, and how her cousin and his fellow craftsmen in Saleavj provided for the entire imperial army. Behind them, the eavesdropping elf sipped at his cider, smiling when he detected the sound of footsteps over the wind outside.

The tavern door banged open, snow guttering past the man who entered until he slammed the door tight against the storm. The eavesdropper beckoned, and the newcomer skirted over to the table behind Darek. “Kingard!” greeted the old elf, indicating the bench across from him. “Sit down, and welcome!” The words were Allanic this time, like he wanted to be overheard.

Master Lorvelle,” Kingard intoned, fist over his pounding heart as he dropped to one knee. “It has been too long, my lord.” Following the old elf’s lead, he spoke Allanic, well aware of the children listening in from the next table over.

Lorvelle waved away the formality with a bony hand. “None of that, Kingard. If we are not equals by now, then it is for me to kneel, not ye.” Years of wrinkles sloped from the delicate points of his ancient face, his crystalline eyes far too sharp for someone so old. With his pale skin, he resembled a mountain elf, but his ears swept backward at the tips unlike the short points of the mountain races – a tree elf then, Vithril surmised, far from the river deltas where his kind was tolerated. How had he made it all the way here?

Taking the indicated seat, Kingard turned his back on the two children. “Equals? Master Lorvelle, surely–”

I am no more Master than Xolyu, as you well know. He and I are as one, Tenant and nothing more.”

Kingard spluttered. “But–”

And had you not vested thy life in trust for the whole of the Known World, and unknown beyond,” Lorvelle pressed, a fond curve on his lips, “it would have been I to call ye Master. At least until my dying day.”

Obliging the shared irony with a tired grunt, Kingard conceded, “As... you say then, Lorvelle. Down to business. My quarry?”

The old man gestured to the neighboring table. “Sit they behind ye, listening all the while.” With a gasp at being found out, Darek snatched up his mug of cider and gulped some to appear casual, sloshing the drink across the table and coughing when the spirits burned his throat.

...Great,” surmised the elf, his hooded face turned over his shoulder to survey the half-naked child and his taller companion. “You there, boy. Run and pack your things. And bring a cloak, for Mother’s sake.”

Excuse me,” Vithril interrupted, stomping across the table to stand on the bench beside Darek. “In case you hadn’t noticed, this little boy’s with me. You’re not going to just–”

But you are going too, faerie,” the old elf corrected. “I would have it no other way.”

Copying Vithril, Darek jumped to his feet and folded his arms. “Yeah, I’m not going anywhere with you! I don’t even know where we’re going.

To A’lara,” answered Lorvelle, smiling as the boy’s jaw dropped.

Darek had memorized every story his uncle wove about the magical city from ten thousand years ago. “...It’s real?”

Of course not!” Vithril denounced, slicing a hand through the air. “Is this some kind of joke?!”

The fate of the world is no laughing matter, faerie.” Dismissing her startled silence, Kingard turned to address the old elf. “So the man and faerie then. What of the nymph and mer? And... what of the elf?”

They will find their way to ye in time,” Lorvelle assured him. “But this boy is not man, Kingard. Behind ye stands the dragon mage.”

No longer listening, Vithril stilled her nerves with the last of Darek’s cider and grabbed the boy’s sticky hand. “We don’t have to go with them,” she declared. “C’mon Darek, let’s go.”

But the boy froze, gaping at the old elf in terror. “How did you know?” Had this crazy old man, nice as he seemed, sent those mages to his uncle’s house?

Tapping his sharp nose with one finger, Lorvelle winked at the boy. “We can smell our own kind. I too am a shifter, Darek.”

Vithril’s grip went slack. The boy hopped from his bench to Kingard’s, planting hands on the table to he pelt the old elf with breathless questions. Darek was a shifter? This sweet little boy? An imperial task force touted the shifters as unstable perversions of magic – and that force of potent mages had killed Darek’s mother, aunt and uncle, all for the sake of exterminating an innocent child? In over her head, Vithril stumbled off the bench.

You should go with them, Darek.” She couldn’t bring a shifter into an imperial city like Saleavj! They’d be killed, and her cousin sacked, if not incarcerated. “They’ll keep you safe, much safer than I could.” With no sanctuary to offer the boy, Vithril couldn’t risk it, and some convenient elves had arrived to take him off her hands. Perhaps they were freedom fighters, ferreting away young shifters until they could fend for themselves. She couldn’t compete with that.

Wait!” Darek howled, clutching at her cloak. “You don’t like me anymore? Are you scared of me now?”

(continued...)

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About the author

DNFrost

Bio: Hello there!

My name is D.N.Frost, and I'm a fantasy author, cartographer, and creative mentor.

My love for role-playing games and knack for storytelling drives me to build the Known World, map its lands, and tell its tales.

I love exploring culture, psychology, and language through my characters and their exploits through the Known World.

Since earning a Linguistics degree from the University of Texas, I've been happily creating realistic societies with their own dialects, traditions, and magic.

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