Authors: Lana Axe
Morning in the Vale brought a beautiful
sunny day. The weather was mild, the birds were singing, and the smell of
flowers filled the air. Lenora waited patiently on the bank for her life mate
to finish his ritual. A yellow butterfly floated lazily and landed upon her
shoulder. She smiled at it and turned her gaze back to River, who was emerging
from the water.
Helping him don his robe, she said, “I
need to gather some healing herbs. Would you walk with me?”
“I'd be delighted,” he said, and he kissed
She grabbed her basket from the silver
bench nearby and slipped her arm in his. The two walked slowly along the bank
of the river.
“Perhaps we should speak with the dryads.
They may have helpful information for us,” he suggested.
“I'd enjoy that. I haven't visited with
the ladies in some time now.”
Smiling, she turned her face toward the
sun. She enjoyed the warmth for a few seconds and then laid her head on River's
shoulder. He kissed the top of her golden head, and they continued on along the
She stopped at a small bunch of
heart-shaped leaves growing on a vine. Clipping two leaves, she placed them
inside her basket. A fallen log offered a few brown mushrooms that would serve
nicely as medicines. Ahead of them in the forest, they spotted Rogin on his
“Good morning, Mother, Father,” he said,
waving to them.
Lenora hugged him and kissed his cheek.
“Good morning, son,” she said. “How is everything today?”
“We haven't noticed anything unusual. Are
you heading out into the forest?”
“We are going to visit with the dryads,”
“I haven't spotted a single dryad since we
found the one injured. Please don't travel too far.”
“We'll be safe,” Lenora said, brushing
Rogin's dark hair away from his eyes.
River knelt to the ground and placed a
hand on the soft earth. Closing his eyes, he sensed the water deep beneath
them. Following it, he detected the deepest roots of the trees in a nearby area
of forest. Dryads are creatures of the trees, and their roots run deep as well.
He could feel their presence as well as the source of water they were using to
“I have located them,” he said, returning
to his feet. “They've moved a little more south, but it isn't very far.”
“I will bid you good journey, then,” Rogin
They continued on their way, stopping
occasionally for Lenora to gather leaves and flowers. Her basket was nearly
half full, and she was quite pleased at the abundance of the herbs she needed.
She glanced over to her left and saw an almond tree in full bloom. Smiling at
her life mate she proceeded toward the tree. Almonds were his very favorite
food, so she picked a handful and placed them in her basket.
“That's very thoughtful of you,” he said.
A few miles through the forest, the trees
became more dense. River stopped and raised a hand in the air, listening.
Opening his eyes, he peeked around a tree to the right. He caught a glimpse of
a dryad observing the two of them.
“Greetings, sisters,” he said. “We've come
to speak with you.”
Four dryads emerged from their trees and
approached them. They were each tall and slender with bright green eyes. Three
had silvery skin, while one was tawny. Their hair matched their skin, with
strands of leaves woven throughout it.
“Greetings, River and Lenora,” the tawny
dryad spoke. “We are pleased that you have come here.”
“We are so sorry about the loss of one of
your sisters. It was an unspeakable evil,” Lenora said.
“Your condolences are appreciated,” the
dryad replied. “It was a great loss.”
“Did you witness the attack?” asked River.
“I did not, sadly. I wish with all my
heart I could have been of assistance. None of us here saw what happened, but
we felt it.”
“We found the body of the creature
responsible,” River said. “It was a hybrid created using a human and a wolf.
Someone had bound their essences and ordered them to kidnap a dryad.”
“I pray to the Earth that the person
responsible is stopped. Free creatures live on in agony once their souls are
A loud growl thundered through the air,
startling them all.
“Behind me, ladies,” River commanded.
Lenora and the dryads obeyed, moving close
behind River. The roar sounded again, this time followed by footsteps. Three of
the wolf creatures were running towards them.
Extending his right arm, his palm facing
outward, River created a shield wall of water between them and the creatures.
They ran into his shield, attacking it wildly. Despite their best efforts, they
could not penetrate it.
With his left hand, River sent a blast of
blue energy into one of them, knocking it unconscious. He did the same with the
other two. When all three lay unconscious, he lowered the shield.
“Can you release them from this spell?” a
silvery dryad asked.
“I can try,” he said, placing a hand on
one creature's forehead. He leaned in close, placing his ear near the
creature's face. He listened as the essence trapped within began to tell him
“Once this creature was a young man from a
village called Enald in Na'zora,” River began. “He remembers his village being
attacked, and he tried to help the women and children escape. He grabbed a hay
fork and charged at the attackers. They were sorcerers. He remembers a flash of
light and then waking up in this form. He was taken far south and placed on a
ship. After a few days, he was released with three others upon this coast and
commanded to bring back dryads, nymphs, and any other creature of magical
design. He does not know the name or location of his true master. He begs for
the release of death.”
“Is there any way to save them?” Lenora asked,
kneeling next to the pitiable creature.
“Both man and wolf are already dead. I
cannot release their souls on my own. The enchantment is far too strong.
Joining powers with a second elemental could help, but I do not sense any
“Fire lives in a tower only a few days
from here,” offered one of the dryads.
“He will not help. I know him far too well
to ask. None of my more benevolent brothers are near enough. Our only chance is
to give them to the river. There, they may find peace with the Spirit of the
Three more dryads appeared from their
trees and helped carry the sleeping bodies to the bank of the Blue River.
Slowly, they placed them on the surface and watched as they sank and
disappeared. A gentle rain began to fall as the Earth mourned. The evil that
had corrupted the creatures held no more sway. The river had freed them, and
the wind carried in it a sense of relief.
“We should head back,” Lenora said.
“A gift, Lenora, before you go,” a
russet-colored dryad said. “Take this bark for brewing as tea. It is difficult
to find and has excellent medicinal qualities.”
Lenora accepted the gift and thanked the
dryad. With all four creatures accounted for, the dryads would be safe for now.
They said their goodbyes as the dryads returned to their trees.
Together, River and Lenora walked along
the river bank back toward the Vale. The sun was setting, and the sky was
filled with orange and pink. A few birds still sang, hoping to get in one more
song before nightfall. Fireflies blinked in the distance.
As they arrived home, Alyra waved and
called out to greet them. She ran to River, who picked her up and hugged her.
“It's bedtime for you, little one,” he
“I know, but I was waiting for you.”
“Outside in your nightdress,” Lenora
River carried her inside and tucked her
into her bed. Once she was settled he sat at the edge of her bed and sang
softly to her.
The sun has gone down,
and the birds cease to peep.
Let the sound of the
water drift you to sleep.
The stars shine
brightly, and the moon sends her beams.
It's time to enter the
world of dreams.
I'll keep you safe
throughout the night
and wake you again at
morning's first light.
Alyra yawned and
drifted off to sleep. River kissed her forehead and took Lenora's hand. Outside
under the stars, he held his love tightly in his arms. A cool breeze blew in
and rustled the leaves as frogs sang softly to the night.
“Fool! Idiot!” Ulda shouted as he slapped
the cowering Soulbinder across his face.
“Mercy, master!” the elf cried.
“Mercy? For you? You were supposed to
await orders! You were never supposed to command your own attack! You may have
wanted to gain glory, but all you've brought is ruin! Four ruined souls you've
given me, not to mention the loss of two spiders, a wildcat, and a very
Ulda was far beyond angry. Not only had
this attack been a waste of lives, it had given the humans the impression that
they were easily defeated.
“Wild Elves, no less, alongside a handful
of useless human guards! Not a sorcerer among them, yet you were driven back
with heavy losses!”
“Please, master,” the elf pleaded. “Let me
make this up to you, please!”
“Oh you will. Restrain him!” he commanded
the other Soulbinders.
Immediately, they all unleashed their magic
upon the cowering form. He was held frozen in place, his face twisting in
Ulda placed a gem into his glowing orb and
unleashed a bolt of lightning on his former Soulbinder. The elf screamed in
pain and contorted his body despite being held in place by the other sorcerers.
His cries lasted several minutes as Ulda had planned. He did not intend for
this one to die in peace. He would serve as an example to the others. Any
disobedience would be met with severe punishment.
Finally, the lifeless elf slumped to the
ground. Ulda removed the gem from the orb and handed it to one of the
“Take this to the master jeweler,” he
ordered. “I want this gem set into a necklace. I will add this one's power to
my own.” He kicked the former Soulbinder's corpse as he spoke. “Get rid of
that,” he said casually.
The others rushed to fulfill his commands.
No one else wanted to risk facing his anger.
Storming into the throne room, Ulda sat
down hard upon his chair. Tu'vad, who had been waiting within, bowed low.
“What news?” Ulda asked sharply.
“Your majesty, gems have been sent up by
the cartload. At your request, the smallest have been ground into dust. We
still have not located any very large stones, but the miners are working very
hard under my supervision.”
“Very good,” Ulda said, sounding bored. “I
need to strengthen the defenses of our hybrid creatures. Apparently the runed
swords and bows of the Wild Elves have been able to penetrate the spiders'
exoskeletons. Normal human weapons have proven just as useless as before.”
“Perhaps steel armor could be runed, and
your sorcerers could combine the strength of souls to the dust.”
“Dust cannot hold an essence, and spiders
cannot move freely in steel armor. Your idea may benefit our troops, however.
Perhaps the dust could be enchanted through the same process and be
incorporated into the runes. That just might work!” Ulda's eyes became wide
with excitement. “As far as the spiders, though, we need something else. A new
process for grafting the dust into their exoskeletons must be found.” Ulda
hopped from his throne with a newfound vigor. “I'll be in my laboratory. See
that I'm not disturbed!”
* * * *
Hours passed and Ulda still stood bent
over his table staring into his orb. He was pondering the idea that dust could
indeed hold a soul. These dark gems were very strong, however, they still had
to be cut properly in order to contain the essence. If they were fractured,
they were useless. He had already tried restoring broken gems, but he had no
Before turning his immense talents to
mysticism, Ulda had been a master of potion-making at a very young age. Perhaps
returning to his roots held the answer. Quickly, he grabbed a phial from a
nearby shelf and placed a handful of gem dust inside. His alchemy equipment was
rarely used, but it was of a very high quality. He moved over to the cabinets
and began grabbing at different ingredients. A smile crept across his face as
he realized this could actually work.
After combining a number of ingredients
and setting them to cook over a flame, he started to become anxious. He chewed
at his lip impatiently, waiting for the concoction to finish brewing. Once it
had changed to a pale peach color, it was ready. Now, he needed to test it on
“Slave!” he called, turning his head
towards the door.
A young boy peeked inside the lab.
“Have a spiderling sent up immediately,”
Setting the potion aside to cool, he began
to pace across the room. If the young spider could ingest the concoction
without dying, it would be a good start. Testing on a fully grown spider was
too much of a risk. He had already lost two and didn't want to lose another
without very good cause.
After a few moments, the slave boy
reappeared with a spiderling in a jar. Ulda snatched the creature away.
“Stay put, slave,” he ordered.
He drew a small amount of the potion into
a dropper and fed it to the tiny spider. It was still for only a second before
a glow spread over its entire body. It gave one shiver followed by a high
pitched squeak, and then it stood perfectly still.
Ulda could tell it was still alive, but
the results seemed a little disappointing. All of a sudden, the spider's
exoskeleton took on a shine. Excited that his potion was working, he opened the
jar and spilled the spider onto the ground. The slave boy jumped back, his eyes
wide. Ulda stomped on the spider as it fell to the floor. Moving his foot to
see under it, he realized that the spider was still very much alive.
“Wonderful!” Ulda shouted.
He picked the spider up from the floor and
examined it. It appeared to be completely undamaged. His potion had truly
worked. Perhaps it would work for his wolf hybrids as well. It might work for
his troops, but their souls would need to be bound first. He couldn't risk an
indestructible elf or human running around that was not fully under his
control. Perhaps he would need to hybridize his entire army.