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Aurora - Book One of the Brightstone Saga

Summary

In a dying and repressed world, a cruel and deranged king controls his kingdom with the help of his death squads. 

East, on the outer edges of the Kankor valley, there lies a small village where a strange occurrence begins.
  
Aurora, is a girl in some eyes, a woman in others. Shy but beautiful, she is unexpectedly thrust into the harsh world of men, magic and death.   
  
She will face hardship and loss on her journey to find the meaning behind an ancient evil that has arisen once again. An evil that promises to terrify and destroy all of Antar and its people. 


                                                          ***


Transport yourself into Antar, a ruined and barren world, but a world filled with the marvels of magic, the bleakness of real battle, with the realities of life and death. 
  
And only one thing; that has been buried for 900 years can save it all.

Copyright © 2017 Lee Dawson | All rights reserved.

 

-Authors Note-

Hello and welcome to the land of Antar.

Thank you for choosing Aurora out of all the other books on Writersky, I am extremely grateful.

This is my first endeavour into writing and into the fantasy genre. It is also a work in progress, so is not fully edited yet and is a massive undertaking which will probably span multiple books.

Updates will be weekly on Friday afternoon BST.

Many thanks,
Lee.

Enjoy!

 

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Title book: Aurora - Book One of The BrightStone Saga

Author: Lee Dawson

Copyright © 2017, Lee Dawson

Self-publishing

leedwriter21@gmail.com.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, stored in a database and/or published in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

 

-Betrayal-

They meet at the ancient cave of Raygor, just north of the burning plains, where the last battle of the Demon war had finally ended. The earth scorched by battle, the boots of a thousand men kick up dust filling every gap in their armour. Not a single weed can be seen growing, nor any squeaks or grunts from any animal. The only light reflects off the smooth walls, giving off a blood-red hue from the moon.

A tall, slender figure strides towards the mouth, with the smell of blood and burnt flesh in his nostrils. His armour scratched and dented, his body and mind aching from the final battle.

He sees Arrimis and Aisha inside, their blue armour reflecting the dark hues of the moon; both with broad shoulders and stocky legs, one taller than the other.

He steps inside this dank and mouldy tunnel with the blood moon and darkness at his back. He can see the ancient scripture, feel the runes, as he runs his fingers along the walls. He can smell death and blood in this wretched place of life.

'Folknor, you look tired my friend,' Arrimis booms.

Folknor lifts his weary head. 'I feel it too.' He laughs before continuing in his Kankorian lilt. 'It will soon be over, I hope. Where are the others?' He looks around not waiting for an answer. His eyes bleary, the space between shifting and swaying, he turns back to Aisha and watches as if his body follows jerkily after him as if pulled by a string. By the God's, I need to sleep. Squinting in the gloom he shudders as his senses start to sharpen again. He shuffles back and forth lifting little puffs from the ground.

Aisha looks to Arrimis with troubled eyes. 'We had thought they were with you?'

He looks up, his green eyes glowing. 'No, I saw Demitri and Dana on the far side of the battlefield at the end. But of Manu and Maya, I have not seen since the beginning of our assault.'

Aisha tilts her head, the moon reflecting a shade of violet in her blue eyes. 'Strange, they were with us at the beginning. We got separated shortly after.' She glances at Arrimis, her king. 'We heard murmurs about Freya's... end. I am sorry, old friend. She was a great woman and a magnificent queen.' Aisha bites her lip hard enough to draw blood. 'Did you find her Brightstone? You know we...'

They all hear heavy footsteps. They look into the darkness as the stench of the cave envelops their senses. They see a faint Grey glint and the sound of clinking armour. They relax, not realizing each of them had reached for their weapons.

'Demitri and Dana. They may have seen the others,' says Folknor.

He watches as the new arrivals reach the mouth of the cave. He studies them, seeing the filth and scratches from battle. Demitri carries his helm in the crook of his arm, his short red hair seeming to light his way. Dana, a hair shorter than her king, follows at his heels, her helm still on, but unable to keep her long fiery hair at bay.

They stop at the mouth of the cave, nostrils flared, taking in the stench around them. Dana whispers, 'I hate this place Demitri. It reminds me of what has been. We need to do this with haste and be done with it.'

Demitri flicks his head towards the cave. 'Yes, but we are missing Manu and Maya. And Folknor is here without his queen, where is Freya?'

'I know not, my love. Wherever she is, we must be on our guard.'

'I hope Folknor at least has her Brightstone? We need them all to finish this.'

They enter the cold, dank cave of Raygor joining the others in this destitute place of death and life.

Folknor greets Demitri, 'It's good to see you both made it. We wondered if Manu and Maya were with you? No one has seen them since the start of the assault.'

Demitri looks at Dana with small grey eyes and a troubled look. Dana turns sharply to Folknor, her fiery hair whipping around. 'Maya told me they were joining the fight with you and Freya. What have you done, where is your queen Folknor? She should be by your side.'

Aisha gasps and looks at Folknor. He blinks, taken aback with the ferocity in Dana's voice and the sudden accusation. He clenches his fists feeling the sweat run down his neck. He takes off his helm, his long black hair falling down his back. He looks up; piercing green eyes meet Dana's. Rising to her full height she stares back with defiance as seconds go by. Then finally she looks away.

'Demitri. I will not be spoken to like that again,' he says, his eyes locked to Dana's. 'As I said to the others, I have not seen them since the beginning of the assault. And of my love and queen, she fell, in battle.' He looks down at the blood-soaked earth remembering what felt like a lifetime ago. 'She was cut down from behind, I was too far away to reach her in time. She died honourably as we all should.'

'But what of her Brightstone?' blurts Dana.

Folknor looks up again, his brows furrowed in pain. 'I got carried away in the surrounding battle. I know not where she fell. The Brightstone could be lost forever.'

'That will not do, Folknor. We have to find her, we have to find -'

'Enough!' shouts Demitri. His voice echoing off the cave walls.

The silence is deafening.

'What is all this shouting about?' says a wiry voice.

They all turn to the entrance, startled that they let the footsteps go unnoticed. Silhouetted in the mouth of the cave, in their red-tinged armour, stand Manu and Maya. One is tall and slim, the other shorter and rounder. Their red eyes are the only visible feature from beneath their half helms.

'Finally, you are here and we can begin!' Folknor barks, still angry with himself. He looks into the depths of the cave and begins the walk to the Sacred well. The others follow in silence, the only light the reflection of moonlight on their armour.

'We are all here. Let us finish this,' speaks Folknor, his voice weary.

'Where is your queen Folknor? She should be here. We need her Brightstone,' Manu's voice is shrill with annoyance.

'As I said to the others, if you had gotten here on time, you would have heard. She has fallen in battle and I know not where she or her Brightstone lies.'

Manu's ears stretch up like a bat's. He looks at everyone gathered, suspicion in his eyes. 'What! How can you not know where the Brightstone is?' His voice rising an octave. 'You're keeping it for yourself, aren't you? Where is it?'

Folknor looks round, sudden anger in his eyes. 'Calm yourself Manu, or you will regret it.'

Manu reaches for his short sword, reflexes as quick as a snake. In the same moment, Folknor grabs his two hurlbats at his belt, his arms rippling in anger as his gauntlets squeeze the sharpened edges. Arrimis steps in slamming down his massive Warhammer, sending out a shockwave felt by all.

'Enough of this,' Arrimis booms. 'We have come here to fulfil a task. Let us do that, instead of bickering like children.'

They reluctantly remove their hands from their weapons, continuing to stare. Maya pulls her king in close, trying to calm him. Folknor, fists still clenched, takes a breath. Calm yourself. This is nearly over, he thinks to himself.

They carry on, Arrimis at the rear, watching with shiny blue eyes. The only sounds are the echo of footsteps and the clink of rubbing armour. They see a light ahead. Sighing, Folknor says, 'This is it, my kings and queens. We are here, at last.'

'Good,' says Aisha, nodding in agreement.

They gather around the edge of the sacred well. It spans fifty footsteps across. It is a perfect circle cut deep into the earth. With a spectral glow, it has an array of every possible colour swirling around slowly. Its background a deep black nothingness reaching down and down. They look on mesmerised.

'Remove your Brightstones,' says Folknor.

They begin to pry their precious stones from their weapons and armour. Arrimis and Aisha two blue stones; Demitri and Dana two grey; Manu and Maya two red and finally Folknor removes his green Brightstone from his chest plate. He looks at this fist-sized Gem. It's beautiful, with its multi-faceted edges. He stares into the centre, thinking that he sees movement there.

'I hope this works Folknor, for your own sake,' rasps Manu.

Folknor takes a deep breath, still staring at this marvel in his hands. 'It will, I've been assured by our historians. This is the only way to finally stop this plague.'

'Bah, your historians know nothing. My mages tell me it's more complex than that,' replies Manu.

Folknor sighs again, his head starting to feel heavy, 'It will work. Now pass me the Brightstones.' He looks to each of them as he collects the Brightstones. He turns to Manu, a fierce glint in his eyes. He reluctantly hands over his Brightstone.

As Folknor turns to Maya he sees a glint from the corner of his eye. Then a searing pain down the side of his skull, he feels the stones topple and collapses to his knees. All he can feel is the pain. All he can hear is the sound of blood rushing through his veins. Then nothing, only darkness.

He begins to hear muffled footsteps and the faint clash of steel on steel. He tries to look up, but can't. He blinks to clear the dust from his eyes, he sees bodies on the ground, scattered everywhere.

All he can see is the red of leather armour. Manu's....troops, he thinks sluggishly. Then he sees them. First is Aisha, her eyes dull, her hair matted with blood and dirt. He turns his head to see Demitri and Dana heaped together with a ring of bodies around them. Demitri's chest caved in and Dana's arm-less body still seeping blood into the ground, she twitches as he watches as the light leaves her eyes.

Folknor can still hear the crash of steel. He sees sparks fly from short sword and Warhammer. Manu and Arrimis. He tries to make sense of this chaos. He watches as Manu, quick as a snake darts in and out of range, of Arrimis' Warhammer.

Arrimis bellows a defiant cry and charges forward. A hint of a smile touches Manu's lips and he ducks under the blow missing him by a hair's length. Then he sees it: the sparkle of Manu's Brightstone on the pommel of his sword, the blade piercing straight through Arrimis' armour like butter.

'Noooo,' croaks Folknor. He gets kicked from somewhere behind. He hits the ground face first drawing blood. As he looks up he sees Arrimis fall to his knees, Manu's sword still buried in his chest.

Arrimis licks his dry lips. 'Why Manu? Why?'

Manu looks at him with those deep red eyes and rips his sword away in one vicious move. Blood spurts over his armour as Arrimis falls back. Folknor sees all this in slow motion, not really believing, watching as his blood slows to a trickle.

Then Manu turns his attention to Folknor, 'Well my old friend, look what has become of us all.'

'What have you done Manu?'

'I have claimed what is mine!' he spits.

The blood drains from Folknor's face. This king, this king of Fire, is mad and he realises he will die here in this wretched place and never see his home again. He looks around. 'Where are the Brightstones Manu?'

'Maya has them.' She raps Folknor with the pommel of her short sword. She has been at his side from the minute the chaos started, guarding.

With a dizzying head he tries to speak, 'Will you end this war? Or let them destroy our world forever? Maya? Surely you can see this is wrong.' She stays silent, only looks to her king.

'Maya is with me, she is my queen Folknor, there is no stronger bond. Now, let us finish this task.' Manu removes his Brightstone from his sword and takes the others from his queen. He then turns to the sacred well, the spectral glow illuminating his eyes. He stops at the edge, with outstretched palms.

Manu speaks in the ancient tongue of Raygor:

'Wid Saur, Vindur, Bal and Vatn I det shor minesaf tu vu, sal thi potan wi mine heartstone.'

('With earth, wind, fire and water I do show myself to you, seal this portal with my heartstone.')

The wind picks up, even though they are deep within the cave. The dust swirls into little tornados along the ground. A howling starts and it gets louder and louder until it's no longer audible.

Manu's men, skittish, exchange worried looks. One turns and runs, then another and another but Manu, he takes no notice. He can see the giant swirl moving, gradually getting faster, mesmerised. It's swirling faster and faster, this giant beautiful hole in the universe.

The Brightstones slip from his hands and zip to the centre of the well faster than the eye can see.

Suddenly, beams of light in all directions. Manu stumbles back and falls, he looks up from his back, not feeling the sudden pain in his side, to see a multitude of coloured lights bouncing off the walls, lighting up the great cavern they're in. The walls, covered in ancient runes begin to change. They seem to stretch and then they begin to disappear, carried away with the beams of light.

There is a sudden eruption, of ear splitting sound for what feels like an eternity, then nothing. Just darkness. Darkness and silence.

As their eyes adjust, they see a tiny faint glow coming from the centre of the well. Folknor tries to turn his head but can't, he can feel the blood running down his face.

Manu sits up feeling the pain in his side, he pulls his hand back, feeling a wetness that can only be blood.

Still standing over Folknor, Maya stares into the abyss, her red eyes now black and dead.

Manu moves away from the well and walks to his queen. 'Maya?' she doesn't move a muscle. 'Maya, what are you doing? Did you see that?' He moves towards her; still no movement. He touches her hand and flinches, the skin stone cold. He can't understand. She's solid like a statue to one of the gods.

Manu turns, not seeing anything other than his grief. The world spins around him and he screams, his voice cracking.

Manu falls to his knees in despair, still and silent. Folknor rises to his feet, realising this is his chance. With blood trickling down his face, blinding him in one eye, he shuffles towards Manu, who kneels alone with blood and bodies surrounding him. He releases one of his battle axes making a tiny scratching noise. Manu's ears prick up but he still does not move.

Folknor steps close enough to strike. He lifts a single hurlbat readying the killing blow. Folknor sees a sudden movement, Manu strikes. In his despair, he is still quick. He thrusts his short sword straight through Folknor's stomach, not taking any notice of his now dull armour.

Folknor gasps, still standing with a sword through his gut, 'Why? We could have done this together.' He slowly falls to his knees. Still holding the hilt of his sword, Manu stands up towering over him. Folknor can see his red eyes and the tight grimace on his face.

'I want to rule, Folknor. I wanted to rule with my queen, but you took that away from me.' He rips out his sword. It catches on Folknor's armour throwing out a bright spark illuminating their faces.

'I did nothing Manu, the Brightstones...' He coughs, bringing up blood. 'When they...fused together...they must...have.'

'Quiet,' barks Manu.

'How...could...I?' Folknor replies feeling the blood draining from his body.

Manu kicks him over onto his back. 'You will die in this wretched place Folknor. Knowing that at this very moment your royal bloodline is being wiped out with the others. Mine is the true bloodline and I will rule. Goodbye my old friend, may you never rest.' He gives out a strangled laugh and plunges his sword through Folknor's neck.

He twitches once, then lies still.

Manu lifts his sword flicking off the blood in one fluid movement. He walks from this place of death and life without looking back, not noticing the faint pulsing of the tiny light as it slowly grows.

 

-One-

Kankor - 900 Years later.

Aurora doesn't walk; she glides, or that's what people tell her. She is a tall, lithe young woman, who carries herself well for someone from Arrowedge - a tiny village, on the edge of the Kankor Valley.

The night dark, the only light coming from the broken blood moon, it shines down on her long jet-black hair. The light casts a shadow bringing out her high cheekbones, showing off her beauty. Or so they say.

Aurora walks towards Wryamt forest at the edge of her village. She looks up with big doe eyes, green as grass, turning a strange yellowy-red from the reflection of the moon. What wonders there must be out in the world, she ponders.

As she reaches the tree line, she looks back towards Arrowedge, her home and birthplace. It's a place she loves dearly, her friends, family and even the occasional stray dog. She loves it all, the smell of grass in the morning and the smell of wood smoke in the evening. She loves her little cottage she shares with her family, even though it's isolated, on the very edge of their village.

She enters the forest, surrounding herself with the smell of oak and birch. She touches each one she passes, feeling the rough bark on her palms. She brushes past the tall ferns and all the pink wildflowers that cover the ground. She loves it here with the smells and sounds.

She goes deeper into the forest where no other humans normally go. She sees the trails of the deer and foxes; she notices the occasionally floppy ear from a half-hidden rabbit. She touches everything as she passes feeling if it's warm or cold.

She can hear the animals squeaking and rustling through the undergrowth. She smells a vibrant blue wildflower; it's strong and overpowering but still beautiful. As she walks further down in amongst the trees, she listens to the sounds around her. Listening for the distinct grunt of her furry little friends.

She looks at all the trees surrounding her. She can see oak, birch, pine, spruce and even some maple trees. Her father used to bring her here. He taught her about the plants and trees, how to tell which is which from the fallen leaves. She knows what plants are edible and which are poisonous. And he taught her about the animals too, her favourite things in this world.

She's still looking for the signs and sounds, and as she rounds a grassy knoll she sees them and thinks back to when she told Matti about them.

'They're my friends, Matti. They have been forever.'

'You're mad Aurora. To get that close to them, you need to stop.'

'They've never hurt me in any way. I can't stop.'

'You're going to get hurt, maybe killed Aurora. So don't blame me when it happens.' she storms off, not even looking back.

She didn't listen to her sister then and she isn't about to start now. She almost runs to them. These majestic beasts of raw power, every bit as ferocious as people have heard.

As Aurora runs, she shouts out in greeting. They all turn with what can only be described as smiles on their small faces. They beam out below their short snouts. Their bodies huge, covered in hair with massive claws.

It's a family; five of them. Their home a little bright grove in the middle of the forest floor. A wide area covered with ferns, shrubs and flowers alike, with a small burrow into the side of the hill. As she nears, she notices the moonlight reflecting off the dew-covered leaves.

She runs to them with open arms and they envelop her in their embrace. She can feel their massive claws around wrap her waist. Rough at first, then they soften. She buries her head into this beast's chest and inhales, smelling the damp earth and the scent of crushed grass and tree sap.

'Hello again, I've missed you all,' she says, she goes to the smallest and ruffles her fur. 'And I've missed you the most, little one,' she hasn't named them; she knows it's not her place.

As she spends her time rolling around in the grass, she notices how the beasts seem to be happy nuzzling her and each other. Her favourite, the smallest one, bounds over to her, nibbling her foot and pulling at her leg.

Aurora wonders what she's doing; she's never grabbed her foot before. It doesn't hurt but she can feel her small teeth through her leather boots. The little one pulls again, a bit harder this time.

'What do you want little one?' she asks. She seems to be pulling her towards the tree-line. 'Do you want me to follow you?' She pulls again, harder this time, so Aurora follows.

Her little furry friend pulls her past the tree line and into the forest. They go past the tall ferns, scattering the rodents and smaller mammals on the way. She is being led deeper into the forest than she has ever been before. She passes the trees she knows, and then she notices everything is getting bigger. She notices the old oaks, covered in green vines; they reach five footsteps wide and as tall as mountains.

The little one lets go but carries on running, Aurora follows, even though she's not sure how to get back. She trusts her, even for a youngling. As she passes the old oaks she starts to see plants and shrubs that are new to her. These strange and wonderful flowers, so familiar but at the same time completely different. They're taller than normal, their shapes bulging, with a kind of fluorescent colouring.

Aurora suddenly loses sight of the youngling; she stops and calls out, 'Where are you Little one?' Nothing, just the faint rustle of leaves. She calls out again, 'little one, where have you gone?'

She hears a rustling from her left. She turns, seeing the youngling just at the last minute bounding out from under the shrubbery heading straight at her. She moves her body not even thinking about it and catches the youngling in her arms; the sheer weight topples her to the floor. They roll around laughing and grunting together.

When she finally stops herself, she sits up pulling grass from her hair. 'Wow, that was fun, don't you think? Even though I'm covered in grass, ha, ha, ha.' The youngling grunts in agreement, wriggling her snout.

As Aurora looks around her, she notices that it's brighter than normal. She looks up expecting to see the blood moon shining through the trees, but instead, she sees the giant branches and leaves of the old oaks. They are intertwined and push against each other, a solid wall of nature, protecting her from the outside world.

She looks at the trees seeming to glow, and at the wildflowers and tall ferns, their stems illuminating. She spins in excitement taking everything in.

'Humpf.'

She stops dead in her tracks.

'Humpf.'

She looks around at the youngling suddenly remembering she was there. Aurora flops down next to her, 'what is it my little one? Can you see it all too? It's beautiful.'

'HUMPF, HUMPF, HUMPF.' The youngling grunts.

'What is it?' asks Aurora.

The youngling turns her head, looking toward the biggest oak tree Aurora has ever seen. The trunk, bigger than her families' cottage, the top mixing and seeming to melt in with the canopy of the other trees.

The youngling pads over to it and Aurora follows. Seeing the ancient trunk up close in all its glory, the thick gnarled bark with its bright green vines stretching all the way up. She places both hands on the trunk. It seems enormous to her. She runs her hands over the bark feeling every hole and crevice. Slowly moving around, she starts to hear a faint humming seeming to come from within the tree.

As she stops moving, she takes her hands off and the humming suddenly stops. 'Interesting, I wonder if?' She places them back on and there it is again. She does this a few times just to be sure. She turns to the youngling. 'Is this what you wanted to show me little one? It's fascinating.'

With what looks like a smile, the youngling stands up on her hind legs and places her small paws on the ancient oak, 'mmmm mmmm.' An expression of pure joy comes over the young-ling; she closes her eyes, 'mmm, mmm, mmm.'

'I feel the same way little one.' As Aurora places her hands on again, the humming is louder. She listens, trying to pinpoint where the sound is coming from. She walks around the giant trunk again this time looking up and down. Then she sees it, a small nook about midway up the tree. She removes her hands again and the hum stops. She steps back trying to get a better look and maybe find a way up.

She sees it clearly now: a small nook with a faint green glow emanating from it. She moves further back, trying to see inside to no avail. She lines herself up with the nook and walks back to the base of the tree, looking for a way up.

As she gets there the youngling looks around with her big dark eyes. She scratches at the trunk, barking, 'Ime, ime, humpf,' she looks up towards the nook and seems to speak again. 'Ime rora, ime.'

Aurora looks at the youngling in disbelief, thinking to herself that she didn't just hear her speak. 'It's not possible, is it?' she asks herself. Her head seems to spin slightly; she sits down on the warm grass.

Finally, she turns to the youngling who's just staring at her now, and asks, 'Are you telling me to climb, little one?' the youngling tilts her head, then nods up and down in agreement. Aurora can't believe it. 'What is happening, am I going mad?'

She stands up deciding that she isn't going crazy. She steps up to the youngling stroking her fur on the way past. Aurora looks up again and starts to climb. She realises that the trunk is so big the bark seems to have natural handholds, perfect for climbing. She can feel it under her fingers, a slight sponginess when she grips. She continues her climb towards the nook. As she gets nearly halfway there she looks down to see the youngling watching. She seems to sit on her hind legs, eyes locked to Aurora watching and waiting.

She carries on up the tree, careful with each movement, she loves to climb but this is different, dangerous. As she gets near to the nook she relaxes again. Holding on with one hand she releases the other clenching her fist and wiggling her fingers. As she grabs hold again, she can feel the humming in her bones now, it's getting stronger the closer she gets.

She climbs again, the final part; she reaches the nook and grabs hold. Her fingers grow cold and she feels something slimy, her hand slips off and she starts to fall. She frantically grabs at anything she can hold on to. She finally scrambles and grabs a nearby branch. Breathing heavily, she just freezes, thinking about what could have been. She stops herself, 'But it didn't happen,' she says aloud. 'Get a grip, literally,' she laughs to herself, a short and croaking sound.

She shakes her head relaxing and continues to climb, this time to the left of the nook. She does it slowly and carefully. As she gets level she peers inside. She thinks the nook is just big enough for her to squeeze inside, it looks hollow and seems to reach far back inside the tree.

She grabs hold again making sure she has a firm grip and pulls herself inside, brushing the sides as she goes. She crouches at first feeling with her hand and then sees that it's a lot bigger than she first thought. She tries to stand up and hits her head. 'Ouch. Not big enough,' she says aloud. She moves toward the glow and sees that it's a gemstone, maybe the size of her father's fist. It looks strange, with many uneven edges, the outside seeming to be clear and the inside bright green. As she looks closer she swears that she can see movement right in the centre. It's suspended in mid-air, within some sort of liquid bubble.

She stretches out her hand and then pulls it back instantly. 'Should I even touch it?' She says to herself, 'It's beautiful.' She leans forward, reaching out her hand, it seems to glow brighter the closer she gets. She stops before the bubble. Hesitantly, she reaches inside. It's warm but not wet, as she grabs the gemstone the bubble pops and disappears. The only feeling is of warm air rushing over her body.

She turns her hand to look at the gemstone; it gives off a slight glow but nothing as bright as before. It's fascinating, this glowing gemstone. It must be worth a fortune, she thinks. She looks at it in amazement, turning it around in her hands, looking at each facet in turn. As she looks deeper she can see a slight swirl from inside, she looks closer still and sees it's a multitude of colours.

Suddenly, the gemstone flashes brighter, it begins to warm then get hotter in her palm. It fills the whole space with brilliant white light; Aurora feels a searing pain in her left palm, smells burning flesh. She realises it's her own and cries out in pain, tears coming to her eyes.

She falls to her knees feeling a sudden surge of energy fill her body. This time she screams, for how long she does not know. Her body goes rigid, her every nerve twitching in pain. She begins to shake uncontrollably still screaming, her throat raw and bloody. Finally, for what feels to her like days, the pain starts to ease, she curls up in a ball and sleeps.

 

-Two-

He looks at the setting suns on the horizon, great blue jets of light illuminating the darkening sky and wonders, just for a moment, what life could have been like if he had just stayed. But he can't think like that now; his choice has been made.

'Keep your head down,' comes a harsh whisper from behind him.

He looks around to a pair of piercing bright blue eyes as he ducks down. Squatting in the mud he awaits the call he has heard a thousand times before, his supple leather boots feeling every movement. He brushes his shaggy hair from his eyes and takes out a band to tie it back.

He no longer gets nervous, but waits patiently, slowly breathing in and out, in and out. He listens to the sounds around him, the rustle of the trees, the last remaining animals being ushered inside their pens for the night, hears the howling of the wind in his ears straining his senses.

He rolls his broad shoulders loosening his muscles, cracks his neck and hands releasing the pressure. Checks his leather jerkin is tight around his chest; that his dagger is loose in its sheath at his belt, and finally makes sure the broadsword strapped to his back is within easy reach. He grabs the hilt squeezing the familiar feel of leather and steel. He settles, happy with his routine and awaits as the final rays disappear on the horizon.

'Breeeeeeup, toowee.' Comes the call.

'Finally,' he says under his breath.

'Hush Kantos, we are all ready, keep your own thoughts,' says Blue Eyes.

He drops his head scolding himself. Fury building inside that he let something slip. 'It will not happen again,' he whispers, a determination in his heart.

'Good,' answers Blue Eyes. 'It is time, we move now.'

Blue Eyes looks to his left; a glint in his eye. 'Kantos, take Ferren and Bados to the left. Derry, you take Flinn and Garett right. The rest of you with me. You all know the plan, let's go.' He says all of this with no hint of a smile, his piercing eyes looking towards their goal, hard and cold.

They start to move, Kantos takes the left with his men. They move quietly watching their step. They move out from the trench and along the side of a small dilapidated barn. He holds up his hand and the others stop instantly taking a knee. He slowly moves to the corner, slowing his breathing, he looks around the edge squinting his eyes in the darkness.

He sees them then, the royal soldiers standing guard. Their red and black armour of house Bal reflecting in the torchlight, each carrying a short sword on their hip, a shield on their backs and a man height pike in their hands.

Kantos only counts eight soldiers, there should be twelve. Do not panic Kantos, he thinks to himself. He searches the village square for the others, his eyes darting from one place to the other. Searching the shadows, he sees a glint of armour coming from the right. Its two more guards rounding the corner of a small hut. He can hear their chatter as they move in their direction. He freezes as they pass within reaching distance not even breathing.

They pass by Kantos and his party unaware of the danger that is about to befall them. As they reach the other soldier's one of them laughs and slaps the other across his back. Now is the time! He thinks in his head, we need to move now before they carry on their patrol. But I must wait for the signal, I must be a good soldier myself.

Kantos looks from one hut to the next still searching for the remaining two guards when he hears it: 'Toowit, toowit.' A distant sound, the call to move.

He looks around at his men with steel in his eyes. 'Ready yourselves. This is what we have been training for; be calm and have faith. Now follow me.'

Kantos takes his men left and around one of the many huts in the village. They creep along the side, inching closer to the soldiers. All three step to the edge keeping to the shadows. They wait and watch only seeing the guards and no one else.

'It's eerie; Kantos, don't you think?' asks Ferren in a whisper. He is a wiry man in his early twenties. 'With all the villagers trapped inside, it feels too quiet.'

'Keep it quiet, Ferren. We must be patient. But yes, you are right, it feels wrong, we are here to do something about it right,' says Kantos. His men nodding their heads in agreement.

They hear the whistle, 'whee, whee, whee - wheeee.' The signal for attack.

'Let's move,' Kantos says in a half growl.

They silently move towards the soldiers. They brace themselves for the fight to come, hoping the element of surprise will give them victory. Kantos unsheathes his broad-sword from his back without a sound as the others follow suit. They get to within 10 steps away when one of the guards turns. They run.

The soldiers' eyes go wide, he sees three men sprinting down on him. They are so close now he can see the whites of their eyes. He sees the one in the front with broad shoulders and blond hair, bearing down on him faster than he can move. He cries out as Kantos' great broadsword slices into him, severing his shoulder and arm. He falls to his knees and topples dying as the blood pools around him, the blond warrior already onto his next victim.

Kantos slices through the first guard with all of his strength, his sword hitting bone and carrying on through without so much as a snag. He jumps over the dying guard as he slumps to the ground. He is on to the next soldier in a heartbeat; he opens him up from his neck right down to his hip spraying blood in all directions.

He gets to a third, but this one is ready for him with sword and shield drawn. A mountain of a man a whole footstep taller than Kantos, with arms the size of small tree trunks. Kantos swings for his chest it bounces off his shield, he counters to the head, Kantos skips backwards just in time as the short sword brushes his cheek drawing blood. Kantos circles around, watching and waiting for any weaknesses he can exploit. He faints left as he swings his broadsword one-handed round to the right, it catches the top of the giants' shield and bounces off his helm putting him off balance. Kantos pulls back and strikes two handed using all his strength, this time cracking his helm crumpling the giant to the ground. He finishes him off as he drives his sword through the soldiers' chest.

Some of the soldiers have rallied now, still confused as to what is happening but their training kicks in and they form a basic defensive line with pikes drawn down.

Kantos sees two guards that have been isolated, too far from the others. Ferren and Bados cut them down as they turn and run. They rejoin him now awaiting his command. He holds them back as the remaining soldiers try and hold them at bay with their pikes.

Kantos, breathing heavily now calms himself, where are the others? They should have been here by now, he thinks. He keeps his composure trying to keep his men calm. As he looks on, thinking about the best assault, he sees them creeping up from the side. He smiles turning towards his men. 'This is it now, make them pay,' he turns and charges bellowing out a war cry making the soldiers flinch.

Before his little party can reach the soldier's, blue eyes and his men attack from behind. Blue eyes' uses a short-sword in either hand cutting and slicing his way through, his men following. The remaining soldiers panic as they are being flanked, there are screams and shouts in all directions.

Kantos and his men join the attack, finishing off what remains. It takes seconds as both forces trap the guards, slashing and cutting till everything is dead.

***

A calm silence proceeds the fight as they drag the bodies into a pile in the village centre. They only count ten soldiers in total; there should have been twelve.

Kantos looks around at the blood and destruction. All for the right cause, he tells himself. He watches his party, counting them as he goes. He sees Ferren and Bados with a few scrapes and bruises, he sees his leader blue eyes' and his five men, with only a few cuts between them. But he doesn't see the last three. Where are they?

'Where are Derry, Flinn and Garett?' he asks aloud, looking at blue eyes.

'Hmm, I don't know. They should have found their way here by now,' says Blue Eyes, Kantos sees the worry on his face, then it is gone. 'Kantos, take your men and find them. Take Haden, too. Now go.'

Kantos moves, taking the three men with him. He unsheathes his sword as he starts to jog. He takes his men back to the trench to retrace the steps they took. As they reach it he takes them off to the right going wide around the outskirts of the village. His eyes searching every dark corner. They finally round the corner of a larger hut and come across carnage.

That is the only thought that comes to mind, blood-spattered up the walls and body parts scattered everywhere. He looks closer smelling iron and death in the air, he cannot differentiate between his men or the soldiers. He sees maybe four men if he adds the parts together. They seem to have been ripped apart as if by some giant beast.

'What in all of Antar could have done this?' Kantos says aloud, not really wanting an answer. He looks from an arm then to a leg and then what he thinks could be a foot, all completely shredded and destroyed. It's a massacre of pure carnage.

'Aaaahhh, heeelp,' come's a strangled voice from the shadows. Kantos spins around at the sound as it chokes off. He steps closer with sword ready.

'Hello, who is that?' he asks.

'D-D-D-Derr,' it cuts off with a hackling cough.

Kantos takes another step trying to make out any features. 'Derry, is that you?' he kneels down, sure that it's him. He sheathes his sword turning to his men, 'keep an eye out boys,' he says.

He brushes his blood-soaked hair away from his face and sees a giant gash going from his scalp to his chin, his nose gone completely. 'Derry, Derry look at me,' he asks shaking the man's head. 'What happened to you? What was it, Derry?' Kantos asks again frustration building.

He gets no answer from Derry; he searches him for other injuries. He finds a large ragged gash across his chest and his left foot seems to have been ripped off. He has lost a lot of blood, Kantos thinks. 'We must get him back to the others, NOW!'

Kantos rips fabric from his trousers and ties off Derry's bleeding stump. 'Bados, Haden, pick him up, Ferren with me. Keep your eyes peeled,' he says to them struggling to keep his voice level.

They set out towards the village centre looking to every shadow for dangers. Kantos picks up the pace wanting to get back to the others. He searches his mind for anything that could create so much havoc be it man or beast.

They turn the corner of the stables, nearly back with the others. As he turns, Kantos hears a scuffle from his left. He stops instantly, raising his sword two-handed stepping into his stance all in half a second. The others stop taking his lead. Kantos braces for the unknown. Peering into the darkness straining his eyes, he shuffles forward trying to calm his mind.

Kantos jumps back in astonishment as a pair of pure white eyes snaps open no more than two footsteps in front of his face. He shouts out as he hits his men nearly knocking them to the ground. The eyes - so bright in the gloomy darkness - just stare, unblinking back at Kantos. He looks on as fear sets in, taking a hold of his heart seeming to crush it slowly taking his breath away.

Catching a sparkle from the darkness, he looks closer trying to focus his eyes as he takes another step back. Shining in the darkness are five long blade-like claws attached to two black hands he can barely see. They seem to shimmer reflecting blood-red from the full moon. He lifts his sword high above his head, ready to strike. He can feel the sweat rolling down his face and back.

He looks on at this creature because that's what it must be, he keeps telling himself. He keeps his eyes focused on what is in front of him as he speaks. 'Keep your heads, men. We do this quickly,' he says with a slight wobble in his voice.

Kantos takes a deep breath calming himself. 'Ready yourselves,' he says, as he takes a step forward.

'You are, not yet, ready, man-thing,' comes a slithery voice from the darkness. Kantos stops, suddenly feeling drained of all energy, his head feels light as he looks around at his men falling to the floor. He drops his broadsword swaying now, he cannot focus, he tries to think of anything he can do. He drops to one knee his head pounding.

A sudden fury erupts in him at the realisation of death, his but more so his men, at the hands of this rotten creature. He forces himself to straighten up and sees the white eyes in front of him go wider than he thought possible. He tries to clear his mind searching for a way out of this, a way to kill this wretched beast.

His hands are at his sides as he feels for his dagger silently and carefully, he hears a hiss from the darkness as the creature slowly move towards him. He unclasps it waiting for his time to strike, he sees it clearly now, skin as black as night smaller than himself but wiry with muscle, it has giant claw-like hands and small horns atop its head. It smiles showing small sharp teeth the same shiny colour of its claws. It moves slowly with fluid motions, its head moving side to side. He cannot be sure if it wears clothes or not the darkness seems to cloud his mind.

It's within striking distance now, Kantos knows it too, he slowly unsheathes his dagger keeping eye contact all the while, hoping he can get his revenge for Flinn and Garett.

The creature strikes quicker than he has ever seen. He sidesteps, still feeling sluggish, and receives a gash along his ribs. He breathes hard feeling the burning in his side. He still keeps his dagger hidden, waiting for his opportunity. The creature darts forward again aiming for his head this time. He jumps back using all of his strength, his knees buckle sending him down face first.

He sees the smirk on the creature's lips as he falls, this is my moment, he thinks somewhere in the back of his mind. As he lands he rolls to the side, hoping the creature has followed him down. As he rolls, he stabs back blindly, hoping to hit something.

He feels resistance, then a howl shrieks through the air. He pulls his dagger free continuing his roll, he pops up onto his feet instantly regretting it as his knees buckle again. He watches from his knees his head screaming from the inside, as the creature gets up, it turns towards him, 'Ha-ha-ha,' it shrieks laughing at him. 'You thinks you can fool me man-thing, you thinks you can harm me?' it asks looking at him from above.

Kantos looks at his dagger, and with a smile holds it up to show a dark bluish liquid dripping from the blade. 'What is this then?' he mocks. The creature looks on the mocking laughter gone from its eyes, it looks down only now realising what has happened. It grabs its side just above where its hip should be. It hisses at him with its high-pitched voice, Kantos struggles not to cover his ears to this foreign sound.

Kantos forces himself to his feet with sheer willpower alone. He stares at this creature, standing taller, he takes a step forward seeing a hint of worry in its eyes. 'Now I will finish you,' he says gritting his teeth as pain shoots up his side. He takes another step and another.

The creature looks on with furious eyes spitting curses at him all the while. Kantos gets closer, then realises the creature has gone quiet. He braces himself for what to come whether it be life or death.

'You cannot win,' says this black daemon creature. It pounces fast and hard going straight for his throat. Kantos slashes wildly with all he has left. He hears a scream and smiles in satisfaction as he adds another mark to this thing.

'Curse you. You will die.' It hisses. 'But maybe not today Man-thing. Ha-ha-ha.' Kantos steps forward again ready to finish it off, but before he can even move the daemon creature turns and flees seeming to go at an unnatural speed. It is gone in seconds, leaving Kantos drained of energy and bleeding out. He falls to his knees finally relaxing, sucking the air as he scans the horizon wondering when the suns will rise. 

 

-Three-

Staring at the muddy and blood-soaked ground, he looks up to see the rising of the two blue suns of Antar. Beautiful. He squeezes his eyes shut feeling every ache, pain and cut on his body. Still kneeling, he opens his eyes to shouting. He wants to stand but his body will not obey him.

He looks around to see his men, still lying motionless around him. He wonders if they are dead, but he cannot move his body to check. He tries to speak but only a croak comes out. He clears his throat and tries again. 'Fer...Ferr...Ferren?' he finally gets out, throat dry as bone-dust. 'Ferren? Bados?' he asks again with no response.

He looks to where Derry now lies. A pool of his own blood surrounds him, his wounds no longer bleeding and his skin pale, he is surely dead. Kantos' head drops to his chest. Feeling ashamed he shouts, 'WHY?' His eyes close, he licks his lips. 'Why did this happen?' he asks again, one last time, hoping for something good to come from this gat.

'Flinn? Garret? Haden? Be alive...' He looks to his left hearing muffled footsteps. He blinks once, then again, trying to focus his eyes in the brightness of this new day. He sees men running toward him; he cannot discern who they are, GAT! Is this it for me? Is this how I die?

'Come on then you sons of whores,' he whispers, struggling to his feet. He manages to grab hold of his broadsword. It feels heavy in his hand but familiar, he uses it to finally stand.

'Kantos? Kantos, put down your sword, please.' He barely hears it, his sword still held high with a slight waver. But somehow the voice sounds familiar. 'Kantos please,' this time he hears, he looks toward the voice, at blue eyes, his leather armour splattered with red.

Kantos lowers his broadsword, the tip touching the blood-soaked ground. He blinks again and winces, feeling the pain in his side. 'Commander. You have found us. Thank you.' He looks down at the ground again as his head flops onto his chest. Blue eyes steps to his side to help him sit.

'What... Happened here?' he asks looking around at the carnage.

Kantos looks up with watery eyes, he swallows, his throat dry. 'It was a...Daemon. It killed them all. I... I... don't know how...' He looks up at the brightening sky, the green hues taking over from the darkness. He takes a deep breath, wheezing.

'Kantos? Are you sure?' asks Blue eyes.

Still staring at the sky, remembering the slaughter and carnage, he starts to speak. 'We found the bodies.' He stops and looks at his commander. 'Then we found Derry,' he points to the corner, the pool of blood surrounding him like syrup now. 'I didn't believe, I couldn't believe something could do that with its bare hands. Then we saw it, the daemon; black skin with pure white eyes and it moved. I don't know, I am not sure, like a snake, it was strange and slightly mesmerising.' He takes another deep breath, the wheezing sounding worse. 'It killed my men just by looking at them. It didn't work on me. I don't know why. I injured it with my dagger, but I couldn't finish it. I failed.'

'It's okay Kantos.' Blue Eyes says. Looking to the corner, he closes his eyes. 'Derry my friend, you will be missed.' He looks at the bodies scattered on the ground, his men checking if anyone is alive. He turns back. 'Kantos, my son. We will avenge this. I promise.'

Kantos blinks away the tears. 'Yes...father.' He sets his mouth in a grimace. He almost sags, feeling the weight of the night's battles. His father and commander catching him as he lands on his knees.

One of his men comes running up. 'Commander Blakos,' he says, saluting. He is a small man, with wiry arms bare to the shoulders, his long straggly hair tied back against his head.

'What is it, Kain?'

'The other men sir. Ferret, Bados and Haden, they are alive. They were only unconscious; they have started waking up sir.' He says all this with eyes darting backwards and forwards from father to son.

Kantos' eyes brighten, 'Is it true? Maybe we are luckier than we first thought.'

'That is some good news indeed, thank you, Kain. Prepare them to move if they can. We need to get home,' commander Blakos says with a determined look in his bright blue eyes.

'Yes, sir. What about our fallen comrades?' Kain asks.

'We do not leave anyone behind, not even our dead.'

'Sir? We are not sure who is who though.' He pauses eyes averted to the ground. 'They are in...pieces commander.'

Commander Blakos looks at Kain with a sudden rage in his eyes. 'We will take them all! We will not leave them to the dogs. Gather the men. Make stretchers if you have to; we have a long trek home. Now go.' With that, he turns his back on the soldier and faces his son again.

'Kantos? Can you stand? We need to go and you may be our true saviour.'

'I don't know what you mean father. True saviour?' Kantos asks.

'I am not sure, but from what I remember from the stories of old, the black-skinned daemons, they are meant to be a myth. Scary stories for children. Fables. But you stood up to it, even wounded it. That is a feat in itself.' He helps Kantos struggle to his feet. 'We must consult with our elders, come now, we need to get home. Can you walk?'

He steadies himself, assessing his injuries before answering. 'Yes, I think so. I will be slow though, Father.'

'Slow or fast, it matters not, so long as you can move. Come now. We must go.'

Blakos turns still holding his son, steadying him. He looks at his men working to collect their dead. 'Time to go. Collect what you can. You have five minutes, then we move out.'

He turns to Kantos. 'Will you be okay?' He asks.

Kantos looks at his father and nods, 'Yes, I will be fine.' With that, he turns on his heel and marches towards his men. He leaves Kantos to his own thoughts, surrounded by blood and the smell of death.

 

-Four-

When Aurora awakens, she can feel every muscle, aching and sore; she opens her eyes to brightness behind her. Her tongue feels thick. She turns her head, spitting out blood. I must have bitten my tongue, she thinks. As she tries to get up she stumbles and falls bumping her head. 'Ouch.'

Aurora sits up and waits for her head to clear. She looks at herself realising it's daytime outside. She's covered in dirt and grass stains and some blood here and there. She wriggles her toes, shakes her legs and then wriggles her fingers. Feeling a stretching on her left palm she turns it over to see a small burn there. It looks like a small circle, with different length wavy lines, going to each finger and thumb, with three straight lines ending at her wrist.

As she looks at this strange burn she realises the pain has gone. She stands, avoiding hitting her head this time. She walks to the opening, looking out at the new day. She starts to climb out then stops herself. She looks back and sees it lying there, looking at the strange stone that gave her this burn. The glow has gone from it now; it's just an ordinary fist-sized gemstone, 'probably still worth a fortune,' she thinks to herself.

She scoops it up into her hand and freezes, waiting to see if anything happens. Nothing. She sighs, remembering to breathe. She puts the stone into her pocket and makes her way out of the nook.

As she's scrambling outside, she looks down to see the young-ling still there, curled up against the tree waiting for her, her furry ears twitching as she dreams. She starts her climb down, being careful with every step. As she nears the base the young-ling stirs, by the time Aurora reaches the bottom, the young-ling is awake and seems to be smiling at her.

Aurora looks at the youngling. 'Good morning little one. were you waiting for me?'

'Hello, Aurora,' says a small sweet voice.

She jumps out of her skin, her jaw going wide. 'What did you s-s-say?'

'I said, hello Aurora, you understand me now, don't you?' says the youngling.

'What is going on? I must be dreaming,' Aurora looks around, trying to process this in her head.

The youngling touches her hand, 'Aurora, it's still only me.' She looks up at her with deep dark eyes, with a twitch of her snout, she smiles.

She takes a deep breath, 'Why am I able to talk to you? This is mad. How can I understand you little one?'

'Because of the rock, it's why I brought you here,' the young-ling says.

Aurora starts to pace, looking from the floor to the youngling and back again. 'What is it?' she asks.

The youngling looks puzzled, 'I'm not sure really, it's been here a long, long time. It's the reason for all the forest here, we think.'

'Why can I understand you though? That's what's hard, little one.' She stops and looks at the youngling.

'I don't really know,' the youngling looks around. 'But there is something you can do.'

'What is that?' Aurora asks.

'You can stop calling me little one. I don't mind it, but my name is Yanny.' She seems to laugh, but it comes out more like a snarl.

'Oh sorry. It will be nice to finally call you by your true name though. Yanny, I like it, it suits you well.' She ruffles Yanny's ears.

'Yanny, why did you bring me to the gemstone?'

'I felt I should,' Yanny squeaks. 'I don't know why I just felt compelled to.'

'I'm sorry, Yanny, but this is crazy, I'm really talking to you and you're talking back.'

'I know my friend; I've been waiting to speak to you for a long time.'

Aurora smiles, finally accepting the fact she can now speak to animals, she thinks. 'Yanny, is the gemstone mine now?'

'Yes, I suppose it is,' she says.

'Well, that's good I suppose. I must show my family.' Her eyes go wide suddenly remembering that she's been out all night. They will be worried about me. 'Yanny, we must go, our families will be worried about us,' Yanny nods in agreement.

Aurora touches her pocket just to be sure the precious stone is still there. She gives the ancient oak one last look, turns and starts her journey home. 'Yanny, which way do we go?' She asks.

The youngling turns her furry head to look at Aurora. 'Back the way we came, hehe.'

Aurora smiles and nods her head as they start to walk back. They pass the giant oaks and the strange ferns and wildflowers with their bulging stems, although slightly less bright in the daytime. As they're walking, Aurora realises how far they actually came. It takes them almost an hour of the clock to get back to the little meadow. They are greeted by Yanny's family. They bound over with grunts and snorts stopping before them.

'Yanny, where have you been? Me and your father, we've been worried sick about you. You can't just run off like that even with Aurora.' It comes out with a slight growl at the end.

Aurora steps forward. 'Hello, Mother.'

She rears up on her hind legs and gives out a shout; she lands down shaking her snout. 'You can understand us?' She says to Aurora.

Aurora reaches into her pocket, taking out the gemstone. 'I think this is the reason, Mother. Yanny took me to it; she showed me the old oak deep in the forest.' She places the gemstone in front of her.

Mother pads up to the gemstone, turning her giant head to the side. Wary at first she sniffs the stone, then she looks up with a smile. 'This is a pretty stone Aurora, you must keep it safe. I have a feeling that it is very important. You must keep it with you and you must not tell anyone else. This was meant for you and you alone.'

'But how do you know, Mother?' Aurora asks.

'I can feel it. The same way Yanny knew she had to take you to find it.'

'Are you sure?'

'How else do you explain our little talk?' Mother says with what looks like a smirk.

'I suppose.' She picks up the stone. 'But what am I to do with it?'

'You must keep it safe, and learn about yourself Aurora,'

'Yes, okay.' She looks around. 'I will keep it safe, I promise. But I have to go. My family, they will be worried.'

'Go then Aurora. Be safe and come back and see us soon.'

'I will Mother, goodbye. Goodbye, little one. Oh sorry, Yanny. Goodbye.'

'Goodbye Aurora,' Yanny squeaks.

As Aurora turns she waves goodbye to her furry friends. Thinking she's still a tiny bit crazy, she starts her walk home.

As she walks, Aurora thinks about everything that has happened to her since yesterday. She tries to make sense of it all. Is it real, or is it a ridiculous dream of fist-sized gemstones, ancient oak trees bigger than her cottage, then onto the strangest part, talking animals. 'I must be mad,' she says to herself. 'This just can't be real.' She reaches into her pocket and feels around for the gemstone, she takes it out and just looks at it.

She turns her hand over looking at the burn on her palm; it matches perfectly with the gemstone. It's a fascinating shape, almost like it was drawn on. She traces the lines thinking if it means anything.

'Hello.' She stops suddenly, looking around to see who spoke to her.

'Hello,' she replies, still looking.

'Up here,' the high voice says.

Aurora looks up to see a small colourful bird, sat on a branch just above her. With smooth red feathers on its head, changing into a bright blue for the body, with sleek black on its feet. 'Hello little bird, can you understand me too?' She asks.

'Yes, I've always been able to understand, goodbye.' And with that, the little bird flies off without another word.

'Strange bird,' she says to herself.

She carries on, keeping an eye out for any other animals. She passes through bushes and shrubs, past a grove of birch trees and finally, she reaches the edge of the forest. She takes a deep breath and steps through the tree line.

She can see Arrowedge as soon as she's through; it's tiny for a village. Maybe fifty people at most. It's a quiet place unless there's a fair passing through. She can see the village square from the hilltop; it has a meeting circle in the centre. She sees the smithy with its stables, she can see the carpenter and masons place, and she also sees the trader huts too. But she's not worried about any of those places; she's just looking for one place, her little cottage she shares with her family.

Her cottage is small and tidy with a straw roof and painted mud walls. It has a small flower bed at the front. Aurora lives there with her mother, father and little sister. It's the only home she has ever known and she loves it.

She races down the hill towards it, thinking she'll probably be in trouble for not coming home. She'll apologise to her mother first and hope her father doesn't shout at her too much. As she reaches the edge of the garden she hesitates, feeling the precious stone in her pocket, wondering if she should tell anyone about it. She lets go and strides towards her home.

Suddenly the front door opens wide, banging on the hinges. Her father storms out looking furious. He is a tall man in his early forties, broad-shouldered and strong as an ox. He almost runs at her down the garden path. He stops right in front of her almost half a footstep taller. 'WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?' he thunders. 'AURORA, YOU'VE BEEN OUT ALL NIGHT, YOUR MOTHER HAS BEEN WORRIED SICK ABOUT YOU!' With that, he scoops her up in his arms and gives her the longest hug she can remember getting.

'I'm fine, Father. There's nothing to worry about. Look,' she mumbles into his shoulder.

He lets go. Looking at her, their eyes meet, brown on green. He slowly calms and then hugs her again. 'I was worried too, my child. Now tell me, where have you been, Aurora?' he asks.

She smiles at him and he softens further. 'I fell asleep in the forest.' She looks down. 'I went for a walk last night but I couldn't sleep, Father. I found-' She stops herself.

'You found what Aurora?'

'I found um,' she stumbles her words.

'Aurora, Aurora where have you been?' her mother asks, interrupting them as she comes out of the cottage.

'She was just about to tell us, Reena.' Says her father.

Looking up, Aurora smiles when she sees her mother. 'I fell asleep in the forest mother like I just told father. I went for a walk last night and I found-' she pauses, trying to think of something. 'I found a grove of strange ferns and wildflowers I've never seen before, they were beautiful and strange, with giant oaks too.'

Her mother looks at her, 'Aurora, you should know better than that. We were all worried about you.'

'I'm sorry, I didn't mean for anyone to worry.' She looks to her father with those bright green doe eyes.

'I'm just glad you're safe,' says her mother. 'Go on inside and see your sister. She missed you last night.'

'Yes mother,' Aurora says, as she rushes inside.

'What do you think Alfric?' Reena asks her husband, a worried look on her face.

He turns to her, folding his arms. 'She was about to tell me something when you came out, and it wasn't about ferns or wildflowers. She stopped herself. She's lying to us, Reena. I don't like it.'

'Do you really think so? What is this all about?'

'I don't know, but I intend to find out. One way or another. We do not keep secrets in this family.'

'Alright, but don't be too hard on her Alfric.'

'Hmm, we'll see. Let's go in, shall we?' He asks.

'Yes,' she replies as they walk towards their small cottage.

As they enter through the door into a brightly lit hallway, they can hear their two daughters. They are laughing about something. Reena heads towards them, entering the small living area, she sees Aurora making funny faces at her sister. She's rolling her eyes, poking out her tongue and making funny sounds with her mouth.

'Ahem,' Reena coughs, looking at Aurora.

'Mother,' Matti laughs. 'Aurora was making me giggle again.'

'I can see darling, could you let me speak to your sister alone please?'

'Owww, do I have to?' Matti whines.

'Yes you do, now off to your room please.' Her mother tells her.

Matti stomps out of the room. Still hearing her footsteps in the hall, Aurora stands up to face her mother. She looks down as she stands, but finally, she meets her mother's eyes. They're kind eyes, a dark shade of brown that seems to see right into your soul whenever she looks at you. Reena is shorter than her daughter, but not by much. She has the same shaped face long and slightly pointed but her mother has the straw-coloured hair like her sister.

Reena looks at her daughter with those deep eyes, then smiles, relaxing a little bit. 'Aurora. You need to tell me the truth now. Don't worry about your father, I will deal with him. But he is right; we do not keep secrets in this house, young lady. So, tell me now or tell me later, it's up to you.'

Aurora looks away not able to keep her mother's gaze any longer. 'Ok, I will tell you, mother. This will sound very weird at first but let me finish ok? I'll start with this.' Aurora lifts up her palm, showing her mother the strange burn.

'Aurora,' she says quietly. 'Who did this to you? Ow, it looks painful, does it hurt?'

'No, not really, it did when it happened but not now. Sit down Mother and let me tell you what happened.'

Reena sits down looking at her daughter anxiously. She starts to bite her nails as Aurora begins to tell her tale. She tells her about her furry friends, which her mother is definitely not happy about. She tells of her run through the forest, of finding the giant oaks, and then she tells her of the gemstone, of how it shone in the darkness, beautiful. She speaks about it burning her then waking up the following day. She does leave out the part about speaking to animals though; she thinks that might be a little too much for now.

Her mother stops her. 'Aurora, this all sounds fascinating. Although a little odd. Where is this stone you talk about?'

Aurora reaches into her pocket and grabs the stone; it feels strange in her hand. She takes it out and places it in her left hand, 'yes, that feels better,' she mumbles.

'What did you say?' Reena asks.

'Oh, nothing Mother. This is it, the gemstone I found.' she says, holding her hand out. 'Beautiful isn't it?'

'Yes, it is Aurora; it seems to be white and green at the same time.' Reena marvels at this strange glowing stone. 'And this is what burnt you?'

'Yes,' replies Aurora.

'Can I touch it?' her mother asks.

Aurora nods and puts the stone in her mother's outstretched hands. The stone suddenly starts to fade and dull. 'That's odd, it's always been bright for me,' says Aurora.

'It just looks like any old rock now, even the colour has disappeared,' remarks Reena. 'Very strange. Here have it back, it's yours.'

Reena hands back the now dull stone. As Aurora takes it she turns it around in her hand. With a brilliant flash of light, sending both mother and daughter stumbling back in astonishment, it starts to glow again. 'Wow, that's what it did before Mother.'

It starts to slowly dull again, but not completely. It keeps that slight green glow, pulsing. It's fast at first, but as Aurora calms her heart, it gradually gets slower and slower until it seems to beat at a steady pace.

'It's wonderful Aurora, just wonderful. You must show your father. I'll just go and fetch him.'

'No mother, I'm not supposed to show anyone. Don't tell...' Aurora stops, her mother not listening as she rushes out the door.

'What am I going to do?' she asks herself. 'I promised I wouldn't tell anyone.' She can hear her mother's footsteps followed by a heavier set. Anxiety creeping in, she thinks, 'I will make them promise. I will, I will, I will.'

She can hear her father's voice now, 'What is it, Reena? What do you need to show me?' Aurora freezes, not sure what she will do.

Her parents enter the room. Aurora, standing in the centre looking nervous, smiles at her father. 'Aurora?' her mother asks.

'Yes,' she mumbles, with a terrified look on her face.

'Show your father, Aurora. It's magnificent, Alfric. Just wait and see,' Reena says excitedly.

'Mother, I promised I wouldn't show anyone,' Aurora says, frantically looking from one to the other.

Alfric looks at his daughter. 'Who did you promise? And what am I supposed to be looking at?'

Aurora takes a deep breath and relents. 'I promised a... a friend, I wouldn't show this to anyone,' she opens her hands, showing her father the glowing stone.

'I told you Alfric, it's beautiful,' says Reena, her cheeks pulled up in a smile. 'Can I hold it again?'

'It is beautiful, Reena. That is a very big gemstone Aurora. Where did you get it?' Her father asks.

'Aurora, please can I hold it again, please?' Her mother asks again, this time even louder.

'Ok mother, you know what happened earlier though,' she hands the gemstone to her mother and it instantly goes dull.

'Interesting. Does it only glow for you Aurora?' asks her father. 'Now tell me where you got it from, daughter?'

'Make it glow again Aurora, MAKE IT GLOW!' demands her mother. They both look at Reena, wondering why she's acting strangely. Aurora takes back the stone; it starts to glow again instantly. She looks at her mother, she's shaking. She notices her eyes are bloodshot. Aurora looks at her father and sees he has noticed too.

He asks, 'Are you alright, my wife?'

'Mmm, yes I'm fine Alfric. I just want to see it glow. Yes, to see it glow.' She replies as if in a dream, staring at the gemstone in Aurora's hands. 'Very pretty, yes, very pretty indeed.'

Alfric looks at his wife, a troubled look on his face. He looks at Aurora and the glowing stone, then back to his wife. 'Reena, you need to snap out of it.' He clicks his fingers. Nothing. He clicks again to no effect. He claps his hands, right in front of her face. Again, nothing. Reena continues to stare at the gemstone.

He glanced at his daughter in a panic. 'It's not working.'

'Try shaking her Father. MOTHER, MOTHER!' she shouts.

Alfric grabs her by the shoulders and shakes, shouting her name, 'REENA. REENA. SNAP OUT OF IT!' He continues to shake, her hair coming loose, seeming to fly around everywhere.

'What is going on Aurora?' Aurora turns to see her sister in the doorway, she looks terrified. 'What is Father doing?' she asks.

'REENA, LISTEN TO ME!' their father shouts still shaking their mother.

'It's ok Matti, it's the stone, I think. I'll tell you everything later, ok.'

'Stop! What are you doing Alfric?' the voice comes from their mother.

Alfric stops himself and stares at his wife. 'Are you ok Reena?' he asks her. She just looks at him. 'Reena, can you hear me?'

'Of course, I can hear you, what were you shouting about Alfric, and what happened to my hair?' She asks.

'Thank the gods. Do you feel okay?'

'Well yes, I think so. I do feel a bit dizzy though,' she says.

'Mother, it was the stone. Don't you remember?' Asks Aurora.

'The stone? Oh yes, I remember you showed me. It was glowing green,' she replies.

'I let you hold it mother, do you remember?' Aurora asks again.

'Why no, my daughter. Did I?' she replies, puzzled.

'It doesn't matter now Reena. You were acting strangely, but you're fine now, I hope.' says Alfric affectionately. 'Aurora put the stone away.'

Aurora looks at the stone, then up at her father and nods, 'Yes father.' She turns to go. 'Come on Matti, we need to give mother and father some time,' she says looking back over her shoulder.

She takes her sister down the hall towards their bedroom that they share, she can't quite hear her parents mumbled words, but thinks her father must be telling her mother what just happened. She's not sure herself, but it must be to do with the gemstone, she thinks.

 

-Five-

Aurora can't hear anything now as they enter their bedroom together. It's a small room, bare for the most part, with a few drawings on the wall. There are two beds and a tiny dresser where they keep their small amount of clothes.

'Aurora, what was wrong with mother?' asks Matti.

'Nothing Matti. She's fine now. It was something to do with this.' She pulls out the gemstone from her pocket, showing Matti the strange glow emanating from it.

'It's pretty,' she says mesmerised. 'Can I hold it Aurora?' she asks.

'NO,' Aurora shouts, not realising until she'd done it. 'I'm sorry Matti, but mother touched it and she started to act strangely. I don't want that for you too.'

'Ok, I understand, I think. But what is it?'

'I'm not quite sure. But it's some sort of glowing gemstone. Though it seems to only glow when I hold it. I found it in the forest. Yanny showed me it.'

'Who's Yanny?' her sister asks.

'Yanny is my friend. One of my furry friends.' She says bashfully.

'What? One of those monsters? You can't be serious, Aurora. They're dangerous, and I've told you this before,' Matti snaps back.

Not taking any notice of the telling off Aurora carries on. 'There's more, Matti. After the stone burnt me -'

'The stone did what?' Matti interrupts.

'Yes, after it burnt me. I climbed back down the tree to where Yanny was waiting. And I talked to her Matti, I really talked to her. The stone changed me somehow.'

'Wait, just wait a second. What are you saying? You actually spoke to that beast? Are you going mad?' asks Matti in astonishment.

'That's exactly what I'm saying. Yanny took me to this giant oak; I climbed it and found this stone. And when I touched it, it burnt me leaving this strange mark, and now it seems I can talk to animals.'

'I don't believe you Aurora, this is crazy. You can't talk to animals. Nobody can. It's ridiculous.'

'Fine, don't believe me, Matti. But believe that this stone is somehow dangerous. It changed mother when she touched it, and I was told to keep it safe. And that's exactly what I'm going to do.'

'Told by whom?' asks Matti.

'Yanny's mother. She told me to keep it safe. I promised I would and now look what I've done,' Aurora says in despair. She starts to pace up and down their tiny room. 'What shall I do?' she says aloud. 'I need to find a way to keep it safe and away from my family.'

'You do know you're talking aloud right? Maybe I can help. You may be going mad but you're still my sister, okay?'

'I'm not going mad Matti. This is all happening. Look at my hand,' she almost shouts it in frustration. 'I need to do this on my own.'

'No, you need your family Aurora. That's what we are for, to help each other,' says Matti.

Aurora looks at her sister; she sees the concern on her face. Her shoulders slump as she walks the small distance and wraps her arms around her. She stays like this for a while not moving a muscle.

'It's ok, Aurora,' says Matti, patting her back as Aurora starts to whimper, finally starting to feel pain in her palm. 'Shhh, everything will be fine, I promise,' Matti says trying to sooth her.

They just hold each other, waiting for Aurora to calm herself. She starts to cry, letting in the pain. Her whole body shakes and shudders. She tries to take a breath but cannot. She cries for what feels like hours, she cannot say how long, but her sister tells her later it was not that long at all.

Aurora finally lets go of her sister, still shaking slightly. The pain slowly ebbing, she steps back taking in a deep breath. She steadies herself trying to relax; she tries to focus on what's in front of her. She touches the stone from inside her pocket, the remainder of the pain instantly vanishing. She turns it, rubs each face, feeling energy pour into her body and into her veins.

She feels better, stronger. She looks up and smiles at her sister, relaxing completely. She clenches her fists, stretching her muscles; she rolls her neck feeling every vein and sinew pull against each other.

Aurora looks to Matti. 'Thank you for that. I feel better now Matti.'

'Are you sure? You do look a lot better, I think,' says Matti, looking and thinking that she's glowing slightly.

'Yes, I am. I feel better than I have done in a long time. I feel like I'm bursting with energy,' Aurora says excitedly.

Matti, still looking at her sister, is sure she is glowing.

Your skin is brighter and I can see the hairs on your arms clearly. Your hair looks smoother and your eyes - your eyes are glowing, it looks like little green flames. What is going on?

She turns her head still staring as it starts to slowly dissipate. She blinks, trying to focus clearly, 'Aurora, I think you were glowing. I don't know how but...'

'What? Don't be silly Matti.'

'I'm sure of it Aurora, although it's disappearing now.'

'Was I really? Maybe that's why I feel so good,' she says with a beaming smile from ear to ear. 'I feel stronger somehow and lighter, it's hard to explain.'

'I don't like this Aurora, it feels wrong somehow. Not a minute ago, you were crying and shaking and now you're practically glowing. What is that stone?'

'I don't know Matti, but it's my responsibility to keep it safe. I have to keep it safe.'

'But why? Who told you, you had to?' Matti asks.

'I promised I would keep it safe. It's all down to me now, it was meant for me.' She says running out of breath.

'How do you know? What makes you so sure?' Matti almost shouts.

'I just know okay. And what just happened with mother helped confirm it. It can only be me, and me alone who holds it,' she says, feeling drained from this argument, tears beginning to form in her eyes.

She looks away, wiping her eyes as she turns. Facing her narrow bed, just wanting to crawl inside and curl up, shutting out the world. She hears a movement and turns faster than she ever has before. Shocking herself and her sister.

'WOW,' Matti shouts, stumbling backwards, not believing her eyes. 'How?' she asks, her mouth going dry. 'How did you - wait, what happened with mother? What do you mean?'

Aurora blinks. She sees her sister, but at the same time sees the shadow of her bed slowly fading in her eyes. Wow. That was strange. How did that happen? she wonders. 'I'm sorry Matti, I didn't mean to scare you.' she says, her mind thinking about how she just did that.

Matti looks at her sister, her mouth still dry as she tries to process what just happened. 'How did you do that?' she asks again slowly. 'How, em, how did you...'

'I don't know Matti, I just did it,' she says, exhilaration in her voice. She turns again trying to replicate the speed; she's as slow as normal. She tries again, nothing.

'What are you doing?' she asks thinking her sister is still mad. Even thinking she may be going mad too after what she just saw.

'What does it look like Matti? I'm trying to do it again,' she says, turning as quick as she can to her left, then again to the right.

'You don't know how you did it?' she asks in disbelief.

'Of course not. That's why I'm trying to do it again,' she replies turning again and again.

She finally stops, feeling dizzy; she tries to steady herself, throwing out her hands in different directions but she starts to fall anyway. Her sister reaches out but she's too late. She falls heavily looking like a new born calf on the way down. With her legs and arms flailing, she lands with a loud crash hearing the sudden snap of a bone breaking.

'Ahhhhh,' she cries out in pain as she lands. She can feel the pain as sharp as any knife. She doesn't want to look down. She feels the scraping of bone on bone grinding against each other. Tears begin to blur her vision as she feels the blood slowly trickling down to her hand.

She sits up crying out in pain again; she's sweating now. She finally looks down to see the wreckage of her wrist. She looks not believing what her eyes see at first. It's bent to the opposite side at an abnormal angle, she can see bright white bone protruding from her wrist, their broken edges piercing the skin. Her hand hanging limp, every nerve ending screaming at her.

She gives out a whimper trying to hold back her tears. She starts to shake again the blood draining from her now pale face. She just stares at the blank wall of her darkening room as she slowly takes in the pain. She can hear the beating of her heart as loud as a drum. She sees shadows in front of her eyes and the faint mumble that may be a voice; she's not sure.

Then the pain and darkness take her; she seems to tumble into darkness. The last thing that she sees is a faint green hue in front of her eyes then nothing. 

 

-Six-

Somewhere in the long-abandoned Natori province, a tall robed figure drifts through a tunnel seeming to float in the air. It reaches the end and comes out into a huge damp cavern. Darkness looms in every corner, the only light in the distance, a pale glow, creating teeth-like shadows from the stalactites dropping from the ceiling. It walks across the wet slimy ground, wearing only a simple black robe covering it entirely from head to foot.

It walks towards the strange light in the centre of the cavern, the only sound, of dripping water. It starts to mutter to itself, low and slow at first then gradually getting higher into a sharp chittering, unrecognisable to any human ear.

It stops suddenly, wrenching its head around and stares with round golden-flecked eyes into the blackness from where it came. It wonders if it's being followed. It turns back, slowly focusing on what's ahead, on what it has to do. It seems to float again graceful in its movement, ethereal some would say.

It comes to a new section as the cavern opens up even more. It weaves in and out of the huge calcium formed stalagmites punching up from the ground. As it carries on towards the glow, it starts up its muttering again. This time, with a human word here and there, even a fookton word dropped in amongst the chittering.

The robed figure stops, it looks around and sniffs the rancid air, searching for something. It turns to the right and smiles, showing a small toothless mouth.

'I can smell you,' it says in a garbled tongue, the sounds coming out thick even in its high-pitched voice.

It moves around another stalagmite sniffing all the while. It peers through the darkness looking for any sign of his prey. Its movements faster now, shifting from one place to the other through the temporal boundaries of this world. It stops and sniffs a final time, the scent even stronger. It blinks slowly, closing its eyes, searching with one thought: to kill.

'Mmm, you smell rather good, for a hu-man,' it says again in its garbled English.

'Shut it you whore of a beast,' comes a deep gravelly voice. 'You are an abomination, a scourge of Antar.'

'We shall see. Now stop hiding and let me kill you, pitiful man. I do hate to chase,' it says, as it nears ever closer.

The robed figure stops, looking straight ahead, seeing something in the darkness with its strange gold-flecked eyes. It starts to murmur again and this time it's long sleeves start to roll back on their own to show small decrepit grey hands, sprouting long dirty nails. Its fingers twitch as if moving for the first time in a hundred years.

It rolls its wrists in a slow smooth motion, fingers twitching more and more as its murmurs become louder now, the high-pitched chittering seemingly with thrown in words from other races. It now chants aloud fingers twitching even faster.

It closes its eyes, taking a deep breath, trying to summon the power it seeks. Sparks begin to fly from finger to finger, then from hand to hand as it continues to rotate its wrists. It sucks in the damp air around and focuses its mind on harnessing the energy; it pulls it in, creating a ball of deep red light in its palms.

It spots a movement, as its prey tries to escape only ten footsteps away. You can't hide from me, it thinks as the human goes from one boulder to the next. It takes a step forward, the concentration making beads of sweat run down the sides of its face. It closes its eyes again, focusing. Its head follows the human's movements perfectly.

With a command unrecognisable to the human ear, it thrusts its outstretched palms forward releasing the harnessed power. It cuts through everything in its path, through small rocks and boulders, through the calcium stalactites and straight through its prey, creating a fist-sized hole through his chest.

There are no more sounds; even the dripping water has stopped. It chuckles, a strange sound in the enormous cavern, as it glides over to its latest victim. It pauses its laughing as it looks down on the ruined corpse. 'I told you it was futile hu-man, ha-ha-ha.'

It reaches down into the smoking cavity which was whole thirty seconds before. It scrapes past the scorched skin, past the ribs brushing different organs on the way to the heart. It still beats slowly, as the robed figure grabs hold squeezing, with a mighty pull it yanks it free as the body arches pumping out the last drops of lifeblood onto the grimy floor.

The robed figure places the heart inside its robes. It turns around with a smirk and floats towards the tunnel, pleased with its days' work. The only light now comes from its glowing gold-flecked eyes.

 

-Seven-

A face fills her vision. Her dark, dishevelled hair blocks out any light from the surroundings. A pale face with sharp-angled features almost touches her nose, making the finer details blur. 'Aurora?' she shouts, her voice melodic. 'Aurora?' she shouts again. 'You must protect the Brightstone. You must protect it with your life.' Aurora can only watch and listen. The vision fades, going dark.

She hears the clamour first, then her vision brightens. She is atop a hill, saddled on a grey-dappled destrier, the twin suns shining in the morning breeze. She feels the breeze against her skin but cannot move. She stands transfixed watching a battle below. Not a battle, a slaughter, she thinks. The armour-clad soldiers charge down a ragged group of men holding rusty swords and hoes. They clash together, a crescendo of noise attacks her ears. She goes to flinch and cover her ears but cannot move.

Then suddenly, brilliant white-blue light flashes. It envelopes her senses, encapsulating her completely. Then as suddenly as it appeared, it is gone.

She now sits cross-legged in a forest, watching the last rays disappearing behind distant trees. Her head moves making her vision swim. Stoopp! she shouts. Nothing. Her head moves again, she tries to shut her eyelids to no avail. That is when she sees it: a large gemstone sits in front of her. It pulses a warm glow emanating from it as it sparkles. The sound of a breaking twig catches her attention and she manages to follow the head movement, only a little dazed this time. As her vision clears, her eyes beginning to focus, she sees them emerge from between the trees; skin as black as the great well of Shifa, their eyes glowing a pearlescent white and finger glinting from the last vestiges of light.

They attack. She blinks, her vision stays dark and a voice repeats: 'Protect the Brightst... You must protect the... With your life.'

Aurora awakes in her bed, her back aching from the hard mattress she now lies on. She stares at the grey ceiling above, wondering about the strange dream she just had. She tries to sit up and instantly feels the pain in her wrist; it's unbearable as it shoots up her arm setting fire to every nerve it passes.

'AHHHHH!' she screams. 'Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow,' she says, bringing tears to her eyes.

'Be calm Aurora,' says a voice by her head.

'It hurts. It hurts so much. Ow-ow-ow.' says Aurora. Tears now blinding her as she tries to cradle her broken wrist.

'Shhh, my baby. It's okay, shhh now. Keep breathing and sleep now my darling,' says Reena, stroking her daughter's hair.

'Mother? Help... me... please,' she mumbles.

'Sleep now my daughter,' she says, soothing her. 'Mother is here.'

***

Matti peers into the room she shares with her sister, just to see if Aurora is awake yet. It's still dark, so she creeps in, trying not to make a sound. 'Creek' goes the floorboard as she steps in. She winces waiting for the shuffling movements of her sister. Nothing, she breathes a sigh of relief. She steps over to Aurora, trying to avoid the other creaky boards. Kneeling down beside her, she watches. She notices the beads of sweat forming on her head, then watches as they slowly roll down to her neck. She wrings out a damp cloth and places it on her forehead attempting to cool her fever.

Aurora can feel and hear everything. Her ears pick up somebody coming into her room, she hears the creak of the floorboard just inside the door and she can feel herself burning up as the sweat runs from her head down to the back of her neck pooling there, irritating her skin. She wants to scratch at it but cannot move as waking-sleep keeps her still. Ah, that's better, she thinks, feeling a damp cloth across her face, cooling the effects of her burning skin.

She can hear her sister soothing her, she's singing an old lullaby their mother used to sing when they were babes.

'Hush little darling, don't make a sound.

When you grow up, you'll be big and proud.

Sleep now little one, to help you mend.

A new day is dawning, I'll be with you then.'

She smiles and tries to move again but nothing happens. I need to get up and move. Her sister sings to her again repeating the lullaby of old. Aurora focuses all of her willpower and strength on waking up. Her body tenses and strains against it, not wanting to obey. Her fists clench and a grimace appears as her smile fades. She screws up her eyes as beads of sweat begin to run down her face in spite of her sister's efforts. Fighting herself with every fibre of her being she manages a small groan and her eyes snap open. She lets out a groan, breathing deeply as her body slowly relaxes. She opens her hands stretching her fingers and uncurls her toe. Sweat still dripping, she turns her head to look at Matti.

'Water,' she asks her throat as dry as the Aldreda desert.

Matti runs from the room, shouting as she goes, 'She is awake! Aurora's awake! Come quick - she needs water.'

Aurora blinks a few times and rubs her eyes trying to rid herself from the after effects of sleep. She looks at the ceiling again. How long have I been out? she wonders. She assesses herself, waiting for the pain to hit as she moves her wrist. She feels nothing. She rotates it and shudders, waiting for the after effect - still nothing. She sits up to look and sees no broken skin, not even a scar. Her brows furrow as she looks around the room seeing Matti's bed and the small dresser they share.

She pulls her legs across the bed, trying to stand. She steadies herself on the bedpost as her legs try and betray her. She slowly makes her way to the window and looks out at the emerald sky she loves so much. She can see the twin blue Suns high in the sky shining brightly. It must be around noon, she thinks.

She takes a step back almost tripping over something. She looks down to see a fist-sized stone; a pale sandy colour. She bends down to pick it up nearly falling as her vision fills with stars. She drops to the floor, landing on her backside now seeing dark spots in place of the stars.

'Woah there. That was bad.'

As she tries to focus on the wall in front of her, she reaches down and picks up the stone. She turns it in her palm as it starts to change. Its colour changes and becomes more transparent. It gives off another bright flash as it changes into the gemstone that her heart says she must protect.

She stands, suddenly feeling rejuvenated. She walks around the small room in circles as she checks her wrist again, like brand new. She places the gemstone on her bed to get dressed into something more suited for outside.

As she finishes putting on her fur-lined jerkin, her mother bursts into the room. 'Aurora! You're awake, thank the gods.' She rushes over to her daughter, picks her up off of her feet and smothers her in an embrace.

'Oh Mother, I'm fine... And I can't... breathe,' she croaks.

Reena puts her down, still holding tight but eventually, she lets go. Reena looks up into her sparkly green eyes and a smile spreads across her face from ear to ear.

'Thank you, Mother.'

'Wait. Why are you dressed Aurora?' she asks, stepping back.

'I need to get outside, Mother. I have been in here for too long.'

'It has only been two days Aurora, and your wrist... you can't go anywhere until that's healed at least.' she says, her voice wobbling slightly.

Aurora clenches her left hand, she looks down and then raises her arm to show her. As she rotates her wrist her mother gasps. She just stares in disbelief, mouth agape.

'Aurora... how... did you... how is it... fixed?' she asks, not believing what her eyes show her.

'I'm not sure, Mother. It might have been the stone, I think. Yes, it was probably the stone that helped me.'

'But... how, Aurora?' she asks.

'That I do not know. It must be some sort of magic and I must keep it safe,' she says with a steely determination.

'It has to be dangerous. Look at it there, just shining away...' Reena drifts off looking on with a twinkle in her eyes. 'It is... beautiful... though.'

'Mother! Snap out of it!' Aurora almost shouts as she pulls her attention away from the stone. She picks up the Gemstone from her bed and safely tucks it into the hidden pocket of her jerkin. Looking down into her mother's eyes she smiles. Beautiful and radiant she is, with her high cheekbones and button nose.

Her mother smiles back. 'I do hope you are fine, Aurora, but I still do not trust that stone of yours.'

'It is my responsibility now, Mother. Like I said before, I must keep it safe.' She stares at the floor. 'I need to go, Mother, I need to get out in the fresh air, okay?' she says, hoping not to get any argument.

At that moment her sister bumps into the room with a glass and a jug of water in her hand. 'I have a drink for you, Aurora,' she says with a beaming smile. She stops dead in her tracks, staring at her sister. 'You should still be in bed. What about your wrist? You need to rest!' she blurts out all at once.

Aurora looks up at her sister and grins. 'I am fine, Matti, don't worry. Look, my wrist, it's fine.' She twirls it to show the fluid movement.

'But...but...you were just sore and asleep for two days.'

'Stop. I'm okay little sister. And Mother, do not worry, I'm going out now. I need to breathe some fresh air and feel the wind on my cheeks.' With that, she bounds out of the room, down the short hall and out through the front door before another word can be said.

 

-Eight- (new)

 

Aurora flies out the front door, down the garden path and into the morning light of Arrowedge. She passes through the village centre, past the blacksmiths forge with the smell of molten iron in her nostrils. She sprints past the stables hearing a nicker and stamp from an impatient stud waiting to be let out. She goes past cottages of all sizes and finally comes out on the other side with the wind whipping at her hair sending it astray.

Brushing it from her eyes, she climbs a small grassy hill and stops, she turns around, looking at her village. The buildings and cottages all bunched together, but still enough room for the yearly festivals she enjoys so much; the dancing and eating and a little bit of flirting with the butcher's son. Oh, Ronan. She swoons. With his short cut blonde hair and his big puppy dog eyes. Oh, he is adorable. That night we had. She remembers - 'Stop it Aurora!' she chides herself. It was a good night though, even if he was scared the whole time. She shakes her head, tossing her hair back and forth, and smiles. 'A good memory.'

She takes one last look seeing smoke billowing from the many chimneys, turns around and heads towards Gilda Lake. She starts to walk, breathing in the fresh air. She smells the trodden grass and freshly cut wheat. She spins around in circles, feeling her excitement rising. A laugh escapes her making her smile.

Not able to contain it any longer she breaks into a run, she rushes through the wheat fields and the small orchard the village claims as if in a dream. She runs faster, feeling the burning in her legs. While she runs, she breathes in and out, quicker and quicker trying to get the oxygen around her body like her father taught her, slowly bringing calm to her heart. Her breathing slows as she sprints even faster.

Her body tingles from her core to the tips of her fingers. She runs on, feeling the power surge through her. She tries to push herself even faster but cannot. There are limits, she thinks, only able to keep her current pace.

Stopping, she skids in the dirt from a sudden lack of movement. She looks out at a beautiful green lake, surrounded by grassy hills and the snow-capped mountains in the background. She wonders how long it took her to get here. Must only have been five minutes; it normally takes at least twenty, she thinks, looking down at her slightly smouldering boots. 'Oh no! I need to remember that in future.' She twirls around in a circle, 'But this is extraordinary!'

Her eyes take it all in - the glistening lake with the mirrored reflection of nearby trees. She can smell the tall grass and the colourful flowers dotted around her. She takes another deep breath relaxing her muscles.

'Just what I need.'

She strolls down to the water's edge as it laps at the shore. Reaching down, she takes off her boots and buries her bare feet into the soft dirt feeling the grains in-between her toes. She takes off her leather jerkin and puts it aside, careful to hide the stone hidden within. She unbuttons her shirt and drops it onto the dirt exposing her skin, a slight breeze gives her goose bumps across her body, she shivers wrapping her arms around herself.

'It will be warmer when you get in Aurora,' she tells herself. Finally, she takes off her trousers. Undoing the buttons, she slips them off and throws them on top of her other clothes, excitement building inside.

Wrapping her arms around herself again as she feels a slight breeze, she starts to wade out into the water. First the water laps at her feet and as she goes deeper she feels the clear water stick to her. It's cool but not ice cold; just right for a swim. As she wades deeper, it reaches between her legs. She shivers but keeps going. As it reaches her waist she jumps up and dives under the crystal water. She swims underwater until her breath leaves her. She holds on a little longer as her lungs burn for precious oxygen then finally, she bursts from the surface, the droplets spraying in all directions.

Opening her lungs she takes a long deep breath taking in the sweet air around her. She pulls back her long hair and tucks it behind her slightly elongated ears. A laugh escapes her and she covers herself with a hand muffling the sound.

Leaning back she floats on the smooth current of the lake, kicking every now and again to stay afloat. She thinks back to the last few days trying to process all that has happened. Her mind wondering, why her? Why now?

Fed up with floating, she turns around realising she has ended up in the middle of the lake. She starts her swim back to shore changing as she goes from above to below the water. Swimming like a fish, she reaches the shore and stands. The water drips from her glistening naked body, the two suns reflecting from each bead turning her skin a strange shade of blue.

She grabs her clothes and boots dripping water all over them and walks up to a small clearing with some shade. She looks up at the cluster of trees towering above her. She sets down her things, stretches out on the soft grass and relaxes, waiting to dry off in the day's heat.

Thinking about nothing in particular, she just lets her mind wander for what seems like hours. Her body relaxed she slowly drifts off into a deep sleep, naked as the day she was born, her hand resting on the leather jerkin, feeling the edges of the hidden gemstone. This is my responsibility. She dreams.