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CALDORA: Chapter 7: The Warrior Spirit

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The Warrior Spirit  

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           Lakai sat between Lianna and Keramis on the gnarled roots of an oak tree. Lianna was staring out to the left while Keramis was staring out to the right, both with their backs to him, both immersed in a gnawing silence. But Lakai had no concept of silence; he heard the whisperings of every leaf and rock. From the bliss and love which permeated his past to the pain and suffering which dominated his present, he has never known silence.

Now he sat bombarded by a torrent of emotions and memories from either side. Though he never did get a good look at Karaci, he knew the emotional storm was concerning him. He could feel Lianna radiating sorrow and rage, despair and denial, tinted with a faint understanding that Karaci would have wanted to die that way. From Keramis he could feel great sorrow as well, but it was overshadowed by guilt and self-hatred, anger and helplessness.

In the rare intervals between their emotional outbursts he could sense the oak tree sending him waves of comfort and support. This made him wonder whether it would be more painful to be either Lianna or Keramis, or to be suffering the intensity of both at the same time.

“It should have been me,” Keramis whispered.

Lianna turned to him absently.

“I’m sorry!” he fell to his knees, hugging her legs, “It should have been me! It was my fault, I was the one who messed up, it should have been me,” he tried to muffle the volume of his voice through sobs, continuing in a faltering whisper, “You must hate me now. But don’t worry I hate myself more than you ever could.”

Lakai sat quietly, watching. He knew full well that blaming Keramis never crossed Lianna’s mind in the least, and that she was only happy that they were still alive. Looking back on the incident sometime later Lakai was sure he could find a sense of humorous irony in the way people tended to project their own thoughts on others, but he found that difficult to do while experiencing it firsthand.

“What?? No!” Lianna exclaimed as she pried Keramis off her feet. Hugging him, she quickly slipped back into hushed tones, “Do you know how scared I was that Kranti would kill you, too? Do you know what miracle it is that you are still alive?” she hugged him tighter, “Do you know how happy I am that you are still alive?”

Keramis looked up at her and smiled pitifully. Though her words were sincere, Lakai could tell that they only encouraged his guilt. The ground beneath them trembled and they immediately recognized the sound of the great dragon’s footsteps. Lianna grabbed the boy and his leash and ran deeper into the forest. Keramis followed with an obvious limp.

A blue hand shot out from the bushes and caught Lianna’s arm, pulling her and Lakai into the underbrush. Keramis drew his daggers and rolled in after her, lowering them and relaxing at the sight of Lynn. They were standing in a secluded clearing, hidden from prying eyes by the sheltering magic of the forest. Looking around he saw a blond woman sitting on the ground, cradling a semiconscious Raven in her arms.

“What happened to–” Keramis took a step towards his cousin, but Lynn held him back.

“Where is Karaci?” the dark elf inquired.

Keramis paled and swayed back, the words stinging him as if they were an accusation.

“Life for life,” Lianna somberly replied, handing Lynn the boy’s chain.

Lynn frowned.

Lakai clung to him as one clings to driftwood during a flood. Though the Acora was going through emotional flares of his own, he was still the only sanity in the group.

“Raven was drained of most of his energy by Aloquin,” Lynn explained, “And he is not showing any signs of healing. His breathing is shallow and his heartbeat wavers. We don’t know what to do with him.”

“I am Trellia, the spirit of this forest,” Aurora looked up at Keramis and Lianna, “I can only heal physical wounds. These are out of my league.” She laid Raven down on a pillow of leaves and walked up to Keramis, “But I can heal yours.”

Trellia’s hand began to shine bright green as she put it on his knee, the light flowing into his leg and through his body. He felt a wonderful warmth spreading inside him, closing his wounds and healing his injuries with the regenerative power of plants.

Lynn gave a nod of acknowledgement, then turned to Lakai, “Can you try to figure out how we can help Raven?”

Lakai glanced fearfully to the dark elf, but knew this was not the time or place to complain. Reluctantly he let go of the Acora’s hand and warily approached Raven. His last attempt to search the warrior was not an experience he wished to repeat, and suddenly a four-way bombardment of depression and agony didn’t seem so bad after all. Kneeling down, Lakai took the half-elf’s hand and closed his eyes in concentration, shifting his attention from everything around him to this one target.

At first there was only silence – an absence of thought and emotion. It could not even be called a state of consciousness. It was more an absence of consciousness, a stillness Lakai only experienced from the dead. But there was still life energy there, he felt it. Listening closer, he heard it.

It was a subtle sound akin to that of rushing water. Following the current, he found that it was flowing in two separate directions. One way it flowed to the head while the other way to the heart. What troubled Lakai was that he saw astral wounds there, and saw the energy flowing out of those wounds.

The peculiar thing was that no matter how much energy leaked out from the wounds, the total quantity of energy present in the conscious self stayed the same. This made him realize that there was more energy stored away somewhere else. Lakai searched deeper through the layers of Raven’s psyche. In the subconscious he discovered a tiny stream of energy trickling from the unconscious to the conscious self. To his surprise, he felt an enormous amount of energy still stored in the unconscious.

It was no secret that the unconscious self is a wellspring of life energy in all living beings. Lakai also knew that in the case of uncontrolled astral bleeding, the unconscious self would dispatch much of that life energy, through a type of osmosis, to the conscious self in order to heal the wounds. But this was not happening here. Instead, the unconscious self looked as if it was resisting the natural healing process, doing everything in its power to keep the energy from pouring out into the conscious self.

Curious as to why this might be, Lakai attempted to go inside the unconscious self, but was pushed back by a static wall reminiscent of a psychic barrier. Undaunted, he tried again. Instantly, the vision blurred and began to change. The stream trickling from the unconscious turned blood red and the barrier flared with vicious wrath. An image of the charred monstrosity, jagged teeth bared and crimson eyes glaring, flashed vividly before his eyes and jolted him out of concentration.

Lakai gasped as his eyes popped wide open and he pulled his hand away from Raven’s on reflex. Becoming aware of his surroundings, his gaze met with Lynn’s piercing ice-blue stare.

“What is it?” the Acora asked.

“Don’t you know?” Lakai paused. Trellia, Lianna, and Keramis (who was no longer limping) gathered around him. “He’s possessed,” Lakai breathed, “By something… s-something terrible! Something that feeds on fear and pain, and revels in blood and carnage.”

Lynn nodded, “He is possessed by the Warrior Spirit,” looking to Trellia, “The god of war,” he turned back to Lakai, “But he was possessed by this entity for over twenty years. What does that have to do with him not healing now?”

Lynn, Aurora, Lianna, and Keramis stared at the boy intently.

“W-when Aloquin was draining Raven’s energy, did he finish his ritual or did you interrupt him?” Lakai asked.

“We interrupted him,” Trellia said, “When his concentration wavered.”

“Aloquin was draining energy through the head and the heart,” Lakai reasoned, “In order to do that he had to make openings in the astral body from which to draw energy. When you interrupted him, those holes remained open. They are astral wounds, and he is bleeding energy still.

“Life energy is a lot like blood,” he continued, “And just like if you are physically wounded blood will close the wound by clotting, so life energy heals and clots astral wounds. But you need a certain quantity of life energy for it to be able to clot, to heal, and to regenerate.

“And he has enough energy to do that!” Lakai quickly added, “He has much energy in his unconscious self, more than enough for him to live and to heal! But,” he hesitated, “But it is being… it is being held dormant b-by this Warrior Spirit. He is holding onto it and will not let the energy flow out so that it could close the wounds. This way the energy is flowing out little by little, just enough to keep him alive and his life processes functioning. But it is only a matter of time before every last drop leaks out.

“This entity is using Raven’s unconscious self as an anchor,” he explained, “And he guards fiercely against anything that tries to penetrate his defenses. This Warrior Spirit may have saved Raven’s life from Aloquin but now he is slowly killing him.”

“Can you negotiate with him?” Lynn asked.

“He is not very reasonable,” Lakai gulped.

“Then we’ll just have to force him out,” Trellia said with a determination that nobody dared to question. Sitting down, she lifted Raven off the ground and laid him onto her lap.

“Raven,” she whispered into his ear, but his oblivious expression did not change.

“Raven,” she upped her voice, shaking him lightly.

He blinked.

“Raven if you want to live, listen to me now,” Aurora told him, taking his hand. Raven fought to focus his vision. She knew she had gotten through to him when his eyes locked onto hers.

“Raven this may not make much sense now but you have to trust me,” Aurora tried to be as clear as possible, “The Warrior Spirit inside you – we have to get it out. Do you understand that? We have to get the Warrior Spirit out of you. Blink if you understand that.”

Raven blinked.

“But for us to get it out we need your consent,” she insisted, “Do you willingly give us permission to do this? It will not work otherwise. If you allow us to exorcise the Warrior Spirit, blink.”

Raven blinked again.

Aurora nodded, closed her eyes, and motioned for everybody else to leave. She then began to glow with power, joining her innate strength of will with the firmness of her intent. Soon she sat within a beacon of white light rimmed by a spiraling vortex of energy. Slowly opening her eyes, Aurora started chanting an invocation:


I invoke the Warrior Spirit,

Who lives in a castle made of half- elven bones,

Which is decorated with half-elven entrails,

Surrounded by a moat filled with half-elven blood,

Which is strewn with half-elven body parts,

Who wears clothes made of half-elven skin,

Which are sewn with half-elven hair,

I invoke the Warrior Spirit!


            Raven’s eyes turned crimson as another force made itself known, creating friction between contrasting energy fields – Aurora’s shining white-green and the Warrior Spirit’s fiery black-red.

            “Why do you call on me?” he hissed, using the half-elf as a medium for communication.

            “I call on you because you need to leave this host,” Trellia said calmly.

            “What? He is mine!” the Warrior Spirit growled, his aura struggling fervently against Aurora’s.

            “You can not fight me!” Aurora shouted back, “I have your host’s permission to banish you! By his will and by my power, in the name of Life I cast you out!!”

            “No!! You can’t do that!” the Warrior Spirit snarled, but he could not deny that the vortex was sucking him into its spiraling whirlpool, upwards and out of his host’s body.

“NO!!” he kept howling, his voice becoming a string of demonic screams. The Warrior Spirit resisted vigorously, sending the half-elf into a series of violent convulsions. Aurora wrapped her arms around Raven, hugging him tightly and rocking him back and forth. His heart was beating faster than she thought was possible for a mortal, and indeed she knew that not everybody survives exorcisms, let alone the exorcism of a god. Trellia kept her intention clear and strong in her mind and heart, willing the entity away. The shrieking of the Warrior Spirit saturated the air, throbbed in their ears, and sent involuntary tremors through their bodies. And then, with a final cry of protest, he was gone.

            The forest was quiet again. Aurora could tell by Raven’s rapid heartbeat and breathing that he was still very much alive, though not surprisingly unconscious again. She noticed that the ritual had taken a toll on her as well, leaving her incredibly fatigued. Laying Raven on the ground, she curled up around him and drifted off to sleep.

*          *            *

           Kayintas resembled an untamed jungle more than a cave. Walls of thorns and twisting vines entangled the main chamber. What remained of the resident Kayintas army stood among the brambles, recently returned from scouring the forest for the fugitives. There was no talking, not even murmuring; all had their heads bowed and their eyes to the ground.

Aloquin bent down and picked a flower off one of the bushes, “Tell me again how you managed to let Lakai and Raven – and Aurora! – escape?”

“They ambushed us!” Kranti answered hastily, “But we got one of them!” he pointed towards the wall where Karaci’s corpse hung impaled on a spike.

Aloquin took a deep breath, inhaling the flower’s fragrance.

“They broke my staff,” Kentabri smiled uneasily, presenting his cracked staff as evidence.

Aloquin eyed him with suspicion and smiled back threateningly, “I see.” The flower burst into flames in his hand and he hurled it into the midst of the overgrowth. The crowd wailed in terror and ran for the forest and inner tunnels as the foliage around them bust into flame. Aloquin watched them run, glowering at them through the inferno all the while.

*          *            *

Troubled dreams invaded Raven’s sleep that night – visions of raging fires and screams of the dying. Running through the trees towards the conflagration, he saw Gaisa dashing to her elderly father’s side. She turned to face Kranti, his face lit up by flickering flames. Clutching a shovel, she held it before her defensively. Kranti’s toothy grin widened as he drew his sword to meet it. With tears in her eyes, Gaisa dropped the shovel and fell to her knees, pleading with him to spare their lives. But Kranti only sneered at her, running his sword through her father’s stomach and yanking it out in one swift motion. Gaisa threw herself over her father, sobbing uncontrollably and trying to stop the gushing blood. Smirking, Kranti brought his sword in a downward arc on her as well, walking away as their bodies became enveloped in flames.

Raven stood amidst the rubble of the lifeless Elcorian village, grasping at the ashes of his best friend with his hands and watching them seep through his fingers. There were times when he fantasized of him and Gaisa being more than friends, and knew that she had shared his feelings. But it was too late for that now – he was too late to help her. All that remained was an all-consuming thirst for revenge, for all who sided with Kranti to feel his pain by the edge of his sword.

The raven flew past his face as the scene changed. A desolate field scattered with bodies stretched beyond the scope of his vision. Looking over the magnitude of the slaughter made Raven feel strangely nauseous.

Then something on the horizon caught his attention. Though he could not tell what it was, he saw that it extended from horizon to horizon, and knew it was getting closer. The ground beneath him rumbled ominously. It was a crimson tsunami, a tidal wave fueled by the blood of those he had slain, gathering the idle corpses in its path. It hurtled towards the half-elf, threatening to swallow him in its murky depths. Raven tried to run but was swept off his feet and picked up by the swift current. He found himself submerged in an ocean of blood, tossed from side to side between the mutilated bodies and gasping for air where there was none.

Raven awakened breathless and sweating, sitting up on the ground to reaffirm that he truly was on dry land. When he looked down he saw Aurora sleeping soundly at his side. Not wanting to wake her, he carefully moved her hand from his waist and walked to a nearby clearing. There he sat down on a boulder to sort out his surroundings and, more importantly, where his sword was.

“Couldn’t sleep?” someone asked from behind him.

Raven jumped up and twirled around to see a young blond boy sitting on a branch.

“You were having bad dreams,” the boy said, jumping down, “I couldn’t sleep because of them either.”

Raven recognized him from the Kayintas dungeon.

“I am Lakai,” he smiled, sensing Raven’s recognition, “And you? Would you rather I call you Trellion or Raven?”

“Trellion,” Raven relaxed a bit.

“Well, Trellion,” Lakai used Raven’s more formal name, “I felt that you needed to know some things. For instance, why you were having bad dreams.”

Raven stared at him inquisitively.

“You know that Trellia exorcized the Warrior Spirit out of you,” Lakai told him, “But you don’t know it was because he was inadvertently killing you. He was anchored onto a chunk of energy stored in your unconscious, thriving on the pain and fear that you did not want to face. He hung onto it, not letting that extra energy heal you of the astral wounds inflicted by Aloquin. Now all that energy is flowing freely through you.

“It will heal you,” he explained, “But it will also force you to deal with issues which you thought were long behind you. Not the least of which are guilt and remorse. Yes,” the boy peered at him, “You will feel remorse when you kill now. It won’t be quite as easy.”

Raven flinched.

“Do you remember?” Lakai laughed, “You vomited the first time you saw real blood in battle!”

Raven scowled at him.

“Oh you had the ability but you didn’t have the guts to act on your impulses. That is why you called on the Warrior Spirit, to numb you to the consequences of your actions. So you can massacre whole armies without–”

“How dare you pretend to know who I am?” Raven hissed, “If I had my sword I would make you think twice about your words.”

“Oh, did I hit on a weakness?” Lakai teased, “You have many weaknesses, we all do. But those weaknesses keep us in check. You now know what happens when somebody with your talent is unleashed on the world unrestrained. It is your qualities of remorse and compassion that make you a good warrior, not how many lives you take. I bet Gaisa liked you for that.”

Raven glared at him.

“I am not here to judge you, Trellion,” Lakai said, “Only to warn you. You are very vulnerable right now; all your weaknesses are exposed. Many will try to take advantage of that, so be careful.”

“Where are the others?” Raven asked after a pause.

Lakai pointed up into the trees where Keramis, Lianna, and Lynn slept supported by the branches. Raven saw his sword securely fastened to Lynn’s belt.

“Where is Karaci?” he asked.

“Killed by Kranti,” Lakai muttered.

Raven sighed heavily and sat down on the boulder. He was hardly prepared for such a succession of bad news. Karaci was a good friend, and not the first good friend to be killed by Kranti. But Raven was more concerned about Lianna. He had learned to see them as inseparable. Though both were quite formidable alone, when working together their techniques complemented each other’s so perfectly it rendered them unstoppable, striking fear even into the likes of Kranti the half-were. Seeing one without the other would take some getting use to, and would always be a poignant reminder of yet more blood on his hands. Restless, he got up and went back to where he left Aurora.

Laying by her side, Raven lost track of time. Everything seemed perfect. The forest was alive and welcoming, it almost looked brighter. Through all the turmoil, he knew he could come to her for comfort and be accepted for what he was without judgment. Raven loved Aurora more than he ever thought himself capable of. What was it then that still made him feel ill at ease here? Looking up at the forest canopy, he saw the dark form of his raven flutter onto a branch overhead.

“Gaisa,” Raven whispered, then sat up and shifted a few steps away from Trellia who stirred at the noise.

Opening her eyes, Aurora’s gaze fell on him and her countenance flooded with joy. “You’re alright!” she tackled him to the ground in an embrace that filled his nostrils with the fresh scent of wildflowers, “I was so worried about you!” She tugged on his sleeve, “Everybody will be so happy to see you.”

Trellia led him to the clearing where Lynn, Lianna, Keramis, Elvina and Lakai were sitting on the floor, talking. Upon seeing Raven, Keramis and Lianna leaped out of their seats and surrounded him in a group hug. Elvina flew off Lynn’s shoulder as he awkwardly approached Raven and handed him the sword. After each expressed their respective gladness about Raven’s alive-ness, they settled down to discuss more pressing matters.

“Any of you manage to learn anything of Aloquin’s plans?” Lynn asked Trellia, Trellion, and Lakai.

Raven shook his head.

“He could block those thoughts well,” Lakai conceded, “I did, however, pick up on thoughts indirectly related to his plans, and on his emotions. But I am sure you all know about them already and it won’t be of much help.”

“We need to gather every little bit we can,” Lynn encouraged him.

“He is obsessed with revenge at Queen Dinictis,” Lakai explained, “He is very proud, and feels that she has humiliated him. He is outraged and angry. He sees this as a competition, he wants to prove that he is better than her once and for all. He is very ambitious, he craves manipulative power, and he is ruthless.”

Lynn nodded.

“He is not looking for superficial power,” Lakai elaborated, “Aloquin understands that that kind of power is unstable and ultimately useless. He wants to establish supreme authority over all aspects of his subjects’ minds, bodies, spirits, and emotions. His servants are loyal, brainwashed slaves.”

“Not all of his servants,” Aurora grinned, “Kentabri is my servant. He will not blow his cover by doing anything against Aloquin; he is there only as an observer and a spy. But though Kentabri is on very good terms with him, Aloquin trusts no one with any truly relevant information.”

Lakai felt a sharp surge of hatred and pain coming from Keramis’ direction.

“The only thing that Kentabri had managed to pry out of him was the reason he needed Raven’s energy,” Aurora added, “Apparently Aloquin needs more energy because he is using so much of his own to keep up some psychic barrier.”

“Heh, Kentabri can’t be trusted with anything,” Keramis scoffed, folding his arms and leaning back, “He has betrayed Kranti, he has betrayed Aloquin, and he will betray us just as easily. He manipulates everybody to his own benefit and then sides with the winner.”

“Why do you think you are alive now?” Lakai reminded him, frustrated by the elf’ stubborn dislike of Kentabri.

“Does it matter?” Keramis mumbled, staring at the ground, “We’re all dead. Aloquin’s troops will find us and kill us on sight.”

“Nobody else is going to die,” Lynn cut in.

“Are you so sure of that?” Keramis looked up at the dark elf, the spite in his tone diminishing out of respect for the Acora.

“We can’t afford to think that way! Once we get out of the North Forest I am giving you all sanctuary in the Crystal Castle,” Lynn declared, “But you are right, they will find us. That is why we have to keep moving.”

Warily and watchfully, they once again began walking north through the woods. Many dangers lurked hidden by the forest shadows. One had to be mindful of them all, never trying to anticipate the unpredictable.

*          *            *

Their days passed quickly, consisting of creeping carefully through the underbrush. They spent their nights in the treetops, enfolded by Aurora’s leafy protection. The outskirts of the forest were nearly in sight.

Raven felt as if he existed in the twilight world between fantasy and reality, confronted by lucid visions from his past. Disturbing dreams plagued his sleep, bathing him in the bloodied waters of his own guilt. Deep-rooted memories of loss, sorrow, and ridicule burned him with reminders of his own vulnerability.

Unable to rest, he wandered off to think things through for himself. Raven was never one to involve others in his problems, because that was equivalent of asking for help, and asking for help was equivalent of telling somebody that you were somehow dependent on them, and being somehow dependent on them would mean that they had power over you which they could eventually use against you. In short, it meant revealing a weakness. It did not have to make sense, it was just the way things were.

Raven sat down on a dry log, determined to resolve at least some of his inner chaos. Letting his thoughts drift where they will, he found himself thinking about Gaisa. But instead of remembering the cheerful times they shared while she was alive, he dwelled on the gloomier times after her death. Of how, touched by his mourning, her soul chose to bridge the separation of life and death by taking on the form of a raven. Of how he surrendered his body to the Warrior Spirit and led a war in her name, a bloody retribution to avenge the deaths of the innocent and free the forest from Kranti’s tyrannical ambitions. Though he now understood that she probably disagreed with his methods, Gaisa in no way condemned him. She still remained his best friend.

But Raven was having feelings towards Aurora that rivaled his feelings for Gaisa. Though he would not dare admit it, they were deeper and stronger than those he had for Gaisa. He had turned to the forest for solace long before he met her and never stopped coming back to the forest for nurturing ever since he met her. Gaisa and he had played around with the notion of being more than friends, often laughing at the concept afterwards, but there was no question in Raven’s mind on the kind of relationship he wanted with Trellia now that he knew she could materialize as a tangible being.

As much as he would have loved to pursue a more personal relationship with Aurora, he felt uncomfortable about the idea. He believed that by doing so he would somehow be abandoning, betraying, or even cheating on Gaisa, and that was simply unthinkable. Ever alert, Raven noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye.

Glancing up, he saw a pair of familiar hazel eyes peeking out to watch him from behind a tree trunk. Tossing her hair back, the woman flitted off between the trees, deeper into the woods. On impulse, he ran after her through veils of mist, striving to keep up with her by sight alone for her feet made no noise.

Little by little her visage faded away, leaving Raven searching frantically for the slightest hint of her presence. Then a raven fluttered onto his path, magically transforming into the shape of a beautiful woman with wavy chestnut hair. Raven immediately recognized her as Gaisa and couldn’t help but smile at the true form of his old friend.

“Am I so easily forgotten?” she asked bleakly.

“Never!” the half-elf’s smile faded, “I needed to talk with you about–”

“I know what you needed to talk about!” she retorted, “What right do you have to even consider your own happiness after you ruined mine? After you butchered and brought grief to so many?”

Raven felt a sickening nausea swell up inside him.

“I don’t know what I ever saw in you!” she said contemptuously, “You never did anybody any good your entire life. You are a curse to all who know you. Maybe if I hadn’t met you I’d still be alive now. Maybe Karaci would be, too.”

Raven tried to swallow past the knot in his throat.

“Do you know why you never knew your father?” she asked derisively, “He wanted nothing to do with you! You were an embarrassment, an accident, you were never meant to exist.

“You don’t deserve to live,” she said slowly, emphasizing every word. It was then that Raven noticed something odd about her tongue: it was a forked tongue. “It would be better for you to die,” she said through a scornful grin.

In that same instant the half-elf’s keen hearing picked up the sound of a snapped rope behind him. Without looking back, he dove out of the way, but not before the swinging boulder brutally grazed the side of his head. The blow sent him spinning briefly before collapsing lifelessly in the grass.

Gaisa’s form shriveled up into the shape of a diminutive trickster being hovering in mid air. A band of tree dwellers chattered excitedly from above while jointly tugging on ropes to pull up the pendulous boulder.

“Good work!” Beyati stepped out from behind the bushes, “Who ever thought a trickster could help bring down the first rank of the North Forest!”

“I do what I can,” the trickster smiled, though it looked more like a sneer. And indeed it was already plotting to repay the orc for his poor excuse for a compliment.

“Is he dead?” Beyati yelled up at the tree dwellers who were coming down from the branches.

“Don’t know,” they chanted, “We don’t know! We don’t know!”

“Well go check!” Beyati growled.

“I’m not touching him!”

“Not me!”

“I’m not coming near him!”

“Your prey! You go check!”

Beyati looked around nervously.

“I’ll check,” the trickster said irritably, materializing a wooden pole. It landed on the ground and cautiously nudged the inert body with the end of its stick. Raven remained still as death. The trickster prodded him harder, so that his head rolled the other way, revealing a ghastly wound leaking blood over the side of his face and onto the ground. “Dead,” the trickster declared.

“Dead?” Beyati echoed doubtfully, “Are you sure?”

“Why don’t you go see for yourself?,” the trickster asked mischievously, then shrugged, “If he’s not dead now, he will be soon enough.”

“Dead,” Beyati decided hastily. Signaling for the tree dwellers to withdraw, he marched back towards Kayintas to share the good news with Aloquin, and no doubt be handsomely rewarded or even promoted.

*          *            *

The raven cawed loudly into Lynn’s ear and pulled on his hair with groping talons. In no time at all he was out of the tree, standing vigilantly at its base. The raven kept cawing in alarm, beating its wings and flying from tree to tree, leading the dark elf farther into the forest. She stopped in a clearing, where she spiraled downwards and settled in the grass.

It took Lynn several seconds to realize that there was something in the grass, but it did not take him long to react once he did. Running up to Raven, Lynn hastily bent down to check for breathing or a pulse, and fortunately found both. He scooped up the body and held it close, stifling his tears in the half-elf’s tattered tunic.

“Oh Raven, Raven, Raven,” the Acora whispered softly, cursing his own negligence. Rising from the grass, he hoisted the body up and treaded back to the camp site through billows of fog. There he laid Raven on the floor and woke up Aurora, staying awake with her as she attempted to heal the gash. They stayed up all night, until the rest of their company began to stir at dawn.

“I healed the physical wounds,” Trellia told the gathered group, “But his soul is not here. His body is healed but he has to decide if he wants to return. The only thing we can really do is let him rest and see what happens.”

“We have to get out of this forest before something else happens,” Lianna remarked.

“Yes you must,” Trellia agreed, “But I’m afraid here we will have to part. I am the life of this forest, I can not leave,” she forced an encouraging smile, “I wish you all the best of luck and pray that you will someday return to cleanse my forest of Aloquin’s control.”

“We will come back,” Lynn assured her, glancing at Raven, “All of us.”

Before they could see the beginnings of a blush color her face, Aurora changed into a pillar of green light and sank into the earth. Lynn, Keramis and Lianna stepped across the forest boundary into the Open Field. They walked for several days, sometimes taking turns carrying Raven, sometimes making a group effort. Lakai, Elvina, and the raven tagged along behind them.

*          *            *

The Warrior Spirit whirled through a twisting tunnel between time and space, screaming and resisting the momentum all the while, until he was enveloped in a blinding flash of light. He plummeted through the clouds and hurtled through the treetops before crashing into the forest floor like a flaming meteorite.

The ground sizzled and smoldered from the impact. As the smoke cleared, the Warrior Spirit rose up from the ashes. To his dismay, he found that he was not etheric anymore, but encased in a very solid and tangible body. He noticed that his skin was not burnt but pale and, feeling at his silky hair, observed that it was black instead of fiery red. Dazed, he walked unsteadily on new feet and came to the edge of a puddle of water. He staggered backwards in shock, seeing that he looked like an exact replica of Raven.

“Bitch,” the Warrior Spirit snarled, clenching his fist in rage.



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