Panting hard, the little elf race down the Tower corridor as fast as his little legs could take him, his eyes as wide as his grin as he scanned the sea of faces he sped past.
“Have you seen Thaerlin?” he asked between pants, slowing just long enough for the mage he’d asked the question to answer before racing on once more, his eyes forever scanning as he raced, and though the object of his search was nowhere to be seen, the little boy was undeterred. He was on a mission of the utmost import, and failure was simply not an option.
“Arkinall!” thundered a voice from a side room, pulling the boy from his thoughts and wiping the grin from his lips as he came to a screeching halt.
“How many times must I tell you? No running through the corridor!”
Slowly, the little boy turned to face the approaching mage square.
“Apologies, Master Stonehew,” he muttered as the mage reached him, his face as forlorn as it could get.
“Apologies nothing!” the Archmage threw back. “You’re always apologising, then off doing the precise same thing when my back is turned!”
Lowering his gaze to his feet as his shoulder’s sagged, the young boy pouted and shrugged at the mage.
“Apologies,” he mumbled at last.
The seething Archmage glared at the boy for a spell, then sighed.
“Well, what is it this time?” he demanded. “Are you and Thaerlin playing hide and seek again?”
The little boy shook his head, then grinned and stared up at the mage as a wondrous thought formed. “Have you seen him?”
The mage frowned and shook his head. “Not since his lessons.”
“Oh,” the boy muttered and lowered his gaze once more. So much for that idea.
“Well, if he’s so—” the Archmage began.
“He’s not causing you issues again, is he?” came a voice from further down the corridor, drawing the gazes of the pair, and as Arkinall’s eyes fell upon the approaching mage and the young boy by the mage’s side, the little boy’s smile returned.
“He was running again,” the Archmage beside the little boy said, and as the gaze of the approaching mage darkened, little Arkinall’s eyes drifted to his feet as his smile faded once more.
“How many times must I tell you…” the mage said as he reached the contrite child.
“Apologies, Father,” little Arkinall muttered.
“Apologies, nothing. You always apologise, then do the precise same thing the very next moment!”
The little elf move to speak, but fell silent.
“Well, what is it this time?” The little boy’s father sighed after a spell.
With his smile returning, the little boy raised his gaze to his father. “The Fayre’s returned, and–”
“What?” the young boy by the Archmage’s side cried. “When?”
“Some time after noon-chime,” little Arkinall replied, the glimmer in his eyes matching the young boy’s square. “Naeran watched them set up camp.”
“Oh, gods,” little Arkinall’s father growled. “Let me guess. You’ve come seeking permission to go to the Fayre with Naeran.”
“Can I go too, Father?” the young boy asked, turning to his father.
“Yeah!” Arkinall cried. “Can Thaerlin come as well?”
“Now, hold a moment!” the boys’ father cried, glaring at Arkinall. “I never even said you could go!”
The two boys locked gazes, then turned to their father.
“Please!” Arkinall whined.
“We’ll behave!” Thaerlin added.
“Yeah!” Arkinall said, nodding eagerly. “We won’t chase the animals!”
“Or feed them!”
“Yeah!” Arkinall nodded. “Or feed them!”
“Oh, you better bloody not,” the boys’ father growled. “Matriarch’s still giving me earache over the coin she had to part with after what you two did the last time.”
Once more, the pair exchanged glances, then, stepping closer to their father, they stared deep into his eyes with the most piteous stares they could muster.
“Draymus…” the mage behind the boys warned.
The Archmage named Draymus stared at his sons a spell, but soon sighed and shook his head. “Very well.”
“Yes!” Arkinall cried.
“Thank you, Father!” Thaerlin added, and as one, the pair hugged their father before turning and racing forth.
“Coin!” the mage named Draymus yelled.
Screeching to a halt, the pair hurried back to their father before staring sheepishly at him.
With a shake of his head, the mage pulled free a purse.
“I should have my head examined for this,” he muttered as he pulled free some coin from the pouch.
“Yes,” muttered Draymus’s friend, “you should.”
Shooting the mage a withering stare, the Archmage named Draymus turned to his sons.
“Better not make me regret this,” he growled, handing Thaerlin the coins.
“We won’t,” the boys said in unison, then turned as one and raced forth once more.
“And they’re running again…” the second mage growled.
Smiling, the boys’ father watched the pair race forth a spell.
“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” he asked at last, his smile fading from his lips.
“You truly wish me answer that?” Draymus’s friend muttered.
The Archmage turned to his friend, sighed, and turned to return to his duties.
Standing by the door of the Tower Stables, the young Mage Savant smiled as he watched the two brothers race towards him.
“So,” he said as they reached him, “I take it the answer is yes, then?”
“Yeah.” The pair panted and nodded.
The Mage Savant’s smile widened as he stared at the boys.
“Come on, then,” he soon added, gesturing towards the Stable doors. “Let’s be off.”
“Oh, yes, please!” Thaerlin cried as the pair fell in step behind their friend.
“I wonder if they brought the goats back with them,” little Arkinall mused as he hurried on behind his brother.
“Hey!” Thaerlin cried, spinning to face his brother square. “No feeding them! We gave our word!”
“Didn’t say I was going to feed them!” Arkinall threw back. “Just…pet them.”
“Gods! No! No petting!”
“No, Arkinall! Remember last time!”
“You needn’t worry, Thaerlin,” Naeran uttered, “it’s a different Fayre today.”
“Oh?” the boys said in unison, turning to the young mage.
Nodding, the mage turned to the brother and pulled free a rolled parchment before handing it to them.
Taking the rolled parchment, young Thaerlin unfurled it and held it forth so his brother could see.
“What’s a…Ba…Basik…Baskilisk?” Arkinall soon asked.
“Basilisk,” Naeran corrected.
“Yeah.” The little boy nodded. “What’s that?”
“That,” Naeran replied, the glimmer in his eyes unmistakable as he took the parchment from the boys, “is a rare, and highly prized creature of the Irunai. Owning even one is seen as some sort of badge of honour, and Master Dewfall’s been trying for years to get his hands on one, but so far, every House he’s approach has effectively told him to get lost.”
“Oh?” Arkinall frowned. “That’s not very nice.”
“No,” Naeran sighed, “it’s not.”
“Well,” Thaerlin frowned, “if they’re so rare, why is one in the Fayre?”
“That, my dear Thaerlin, is a great question…”
The young elf beamed at those words.
“…and one I fully intend to have answered!”
“Oh?” Thaerlin replied frowning once more. Then, his grin returned. “You want it for the Pens!”
The Mage Savant grinned. “Guilty!” Then, he sighed. “What I wouldn’t give to have that old bastard owe me one.”
As the words left his lips, the Mage Savant winced and turned to the boys. “Forgive me.”
“Eh,” Thaerlin shrugged, “we’re used to it.”
“Yeah.” Little Arkinall nodded. “You can’t go a day without swearing.”
“Yes, I can!” Naeran threw back.
The brothers exchanged glances and turned to the Mage Savant to hold him in a pointed stare.
“Oh, piss off!” he snapped, then winced soon after.
“See!” Thaerlin cried.
“You just can’t help yourself.” Arkinall sighed.
“Just shut up and get in there,” Naeran growled, pointing to the Tower Stables, and as the brothers sauntered past him into the Stables, he shook his head at the pair.
“Smug little shites,” he growled, then marched in after them.
“Hurry, they’ll be starting soon!” Arkinall cried, beckoning wildly at the others as he stood near the entrance to the large tent within which the Fayre’s grandest display was to be held.
“Just hold a spell, gods!” Thaerlin threw back as he counted the coins the ticketer had given him. “Just need to be sure we’ve…uhm…”
“But they’ll be starting soon!”
“Shouting at your brother isn’t going to make him move any faster, Arkinall,” Naeran chided, then turned to the older of the two. “Do you need aid?”
“No,” Thaerlin muttered, his brow furrowed deep in concentration. “I can do this. Just let me…uhm…”
“Hurry, Thaerlin!” Arkinall cried. “They’re going to–”
“Gods, Arkinall!” Thaerlin yelled, glaring at his brother as he stamped a foot. “I’ve lost my count now! Would you please just be quiet!” Then, with a shake of his head, the young boy returned his gaze to the coins.
Pouting, little Arkinall turned to the Mage Savant, who shrugged in response, a sheepish smile upon his lips, and as Naeran turned his gaze to young Thaerlin, little Arkinall let his wander as he folded his arms, his pout depending as he did so. Soon, however, the little elf’s gaze fell upon a shadow in the distance, small and lodged between two crates, and though he hovered on it a spell, it wasn’t long before little Arkinall’s eyes began to wander once more.
But there was something about the shadow that drew the boy’s gaze once more, an unsettling call that pulled the little boy’s eyes from all else till he stood tall and stared at the shadow, his head cocked to the side and his brow furrowed deep as his young mind struggled to comprehend why the shadow held him so enraptured.
Then, it moved.
Startled, the little elf gasped as the shadow stood and a head raised up till a face came to view. It was the face of a boy no older than his brother, his features fair, his ears pointed and his skin the colour of smoke. But it was the bandage about the boy’s arm that held little Arkinall’s gaze in the end, the blood staining its centre visible even at his distance, and as Arkinall drew his gaze from the bandage to the boy’s face, he realised at last the young boy was staring straight at him.
“Are you even listening to me?”
Startled, little Arkinall yelped and leapt from the figure to his side, his eyes wide as he turned to the figure.
“What’s wrong with you?” Thaerlin frowned, staring at his brother.
Wide-eyed still, Arkinall turned to the shadow, but it was gone.
“Did you see the boy?” he gasped.
“What boy?” Naeran asked as he reached the pair.
“Over there!” Arkinall replied, pointing to the crates in the distance.
As one, the others turned, and as one, they shook their heads.
“There’s no-one there,” Thaerlin added.
“But—” Arkinall began.
“Nevermind all that,” Naeran interjected. “We’d best hurry, else we won’t get any good seats.”
The little elf stared at the crates once more, his brow furrowed deep, but soon shook his head and hurried after the others.
“And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for!”
Grinning, the brothers exchanged glances before turning to the Fayre Master at the centre of the arena before them.
“You’ve heard of them,” the Fayre Master continued, “foul creatures from the depths of the Kil’laron jungle, stalking by sight and smell…”
As the Master spoke, the boys leant forward, their eyes as wide as their grins.
“…foul creatures with eyes that speak only of death, and a breath so vile, one whiff is enough to fell the heartiest of warriors…”
In that moment, the arena floor began to part as a domed structure nearly the width of the arena floor was raised from beneath, one with a large cover over it.
“Feast your eyes on the deadliest of creatures! I give you, the Basilisk of Kil’laron!”
“A basilisk, man,” Naeran muttered. “A. There’s more than one of them.”
“Quiet!” Arkinall hissed. “You’ll ruin it!”
In that moment, the cover was pulled free and the dome beneath was revealed. It was an enclosure domed with glass, and in one side was a large, unmoving mass of scales and flesh, and as the cloth covering was hauled away, a deathly silence fell upon the crowd as they stared into the enclosure with bated breath, and for an eternity, none moved, none even breathed.
Then, a slithering hiss filled the air as the mass unfurled and the basilisk rose, the light glimmering off its scales as it stood upon webbed feet, and as it stood, the creature raised its gaze to the crowd and slowly ran its eyes about them, eyes that shimmered with an unholy light, and as little Arkinall stared into the basilisk’s eyes, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand tall as a defiling hand crept beneath his skin and clawed at his insides.
“In the wild, that gaze would’ve turned you all to stone!” the Fayre Master’s voice echoed about the tent.
“Not stone, you idiot,” Naeran growled, “just—”
“Naeran!” Thaerlin pleaded. “Hush!”
“But in here, within that dome, its gaze means little…” the Fayre Master continued.
“Lucky us…” Naeran growled.
In response, young Thaerlin turned and held the Mage Savant in a heartfelt glare, and act that brought a sheepish smile to the mage’s lips.
“…but, if you don’t believe me, observe!”
Just then, two attendants stepped forth, their hands gripping the horns of the billy goat between them tightly as they led it towards the enclosure, and as they reached the enclosure, a part of it slid to the side. Then, with eyes averted, they hurled the goat through the opening and hurried back as the opening closed shut.
Enthralled, little Arkinall watched the bleating goat leap and race about the cage, desperately searching for an exit. As for the basilisk, its gaze was upon the goat, its body hunched as if poised to strike. Then, at last, the goat stopped and turned to the basilisk, and as the two creatures locked gazes, the goat stood rigid, its lips agape as if frozen in time, and as a deafening silence fell upon the tent, the basilisk stepped forth.
“The goat’s frozen!” Arkinall gasped, glancing at his brother. “Thaerlin, the goat’s frozen!”
“I know, I know!” Thaerlin replied, waving his brother to silence as the watched the scene before him with the same awe as his brother. “Hush!”
Then, as it neared the goat the basilisk opened its maw and breathed towards the goat, a vile miasma that floated towards the hapless creature before engulfing its entire head, and as the audience stared, they watched as the hair about the goat’s head began to shrivel and twist as the goat slowly fell to its side.
“The breath!” Arkinall cried, grabbing his brother by the arm. “It just did the breath thing!”
“I know! I know! Look, the goat’s fur is whitening!”
“Those of you with a fairer disposition,” the Fayre Master called out, “I advise you look away…now!”
In that moment, the basilisk charged forth with such speed as to draw a gasp from the crowd, and as the crowd watched, the creature descended on the goat, its sharp teeth rending the goats flesh as it gorged on its meal.
“I think I’m going to be sick…” Arkinall muttered.
“Ugh…” Thaerlin replied, his complexion as green as his brother’s.
“Oh, don’t be such babes!” Naeran chided. “You two watch familiars gorge all the time in the Pens!”
“Not while the thing they’re eating is still in one piece, we don’t!” Arkinall cried.
“And that makes a difference?”
“Well, yeah!” Arkinall cried, rounding on the Mage Savant.
The Mage Savant stared at the little boy a spell, then shook his head. “You’re just acting the babe, Arkinall.”
“Arkinall, look!” Thaerlin cried, grasping is brother’s arm.
“Hunh?” The little elf frowned, turning to the cage once more.
As he turned, the little boy’s eyes fell upon the small figure standing before the cage’s entrance.
“And now!” the Fayre Master continued. “With courage to rival the very gods themselves, young Jiren shall now step into the cage and attempt to tame the infernal Basilisk before your very eyes.”
“Here we go…” Naeran muttered, a smile upon his lips as he learnt forth.
The brother glanced at the Mage Savant, then exchanged glances as a smile parted their lips before returning their gaze to the sights before them, and as their gazes fell upon the irunai, they watched as he raised his hand, one whose arm was bandaged tight.
“Gods!” Arkinall cried. “That’s him!”
“What?” Thaerlin frowned as Naeran turned to them.
“That’s him! That’s him!”
“You know him?” Naeran asked.
“Yeah!” Arkinall nodded, turning to his companions.
“Well…” he soon added. “I saw him outside.”
“Hrm…” The Mage Savant frowned.
“Look!” Thaerlin cried, pointing to the enclosure. “They’re letting him in!”
“Hunh?” Arkinall frowned and turned to the scene at the centre of the tent.
“Woah,” he added as he watched the glass door slide closed behind the dark-skinned youth, and as his breath caught in his throat, he watched as the young boy stood tall before the basilisk.
It was as if every other spectator felt the same dread course through them, for in that moment, a heavy silence fell upon the tent, one as crushing as it was suffocating, and leaning forward, they all watched as boy and beast began circling one another.
It was the beast that struck first, a sharp gasp escaping from many elven lips as it darted for the boy, its hiss unmistakable as it lunged forth, but in the last moment, the young boy darted out of danger. Once more, the basilisk darted, its teeth bared as it rushed forth, but once more, the boy flew out of its reach. On and on, the dance continued, the beast desperate to sink its maw into the boy’s flesh, but the youth keeping out of its reach as an electrified silence kept the audience at the edge of their seats, till at last, the basilisk gave one almighty hiss, then turned and walked back into its corner, where it remained unmoving, its eyes upon the boy and its fury unmistakable.
Standing tall, the boy raised his chin at the creature, then backed away to the glass door. As he neared it, it slid open, and without a break in stride, the young boy stepped through, his gaze locked with the basilisk’s throughout, and as he stepped free of the enclosure, it slid close, its creaks echoing louder than ever.
Then, it snapped shut, and in that moment, a thunderous applause rang out as all those in attendance sprang to their feet, their throat crying out in rapturous praise as they clapped and cheered at the young irunai who’d shown such courage in the face of so vile a creature. Even the brothers could not help but clap, their grins wide as they clapped and hollered, showering praises upon the young hero, who bowed at the crowd before turning and sauntering from the tent, the crowd’s cheers ringing out even as the curtains fell behind the child.
“And did you see when he slipped on the goat’s blood!” Arkinall cried, his eyes wide as he grinned at his brother.
“Yeah!” Thaerlin replied, nodding eagerly. “I thought for sure he was done for!”
“Yeah, me too! Then, woosh, he jumped to the side and got away again!”
“I take it you were impressed, then?” Naeran asked, grinning at the brothers.
“Impressed?” Arkinall said, turning to the Mage Savant. “It was awesome!”
“Yeah.” Thaerlin nodded. “Truly awesome!”
“Well,” the mage continued, glancing at the large tent behind them before carrying his gaze about him till he stared at the brothers once more, “if you’re interested, I think I saw where he went.”
“Oh!” Arkinall replied, the glimmer in his eyes unmistakable. “You think he’ll let us see the baksilisk?”
“Well…” Naeran replied, a soft smile upon his lips, “no harm in asking, is there?”
Gasping, little Arkinall turned to his brother, his eyes pleading, but Thaerlin’s gaze was locked upon Naeran, with nary a smile upon his lips, and as Naeran turned to the elven boy, the smile upon the mage’s lips began to dim as he stared at the elven youth.
“What?” Naeran asked at last.
“Is that why you invited us?”
“Eh?” Arkinall frowned, his confusion plain.
“What?” Naeran cried, his smile returned, though with less warmth than before. “Of course not! I invited you because I enjoy your company! Nothing more!”
A heavy silence fell upon the pair as they locked gazes, the coldness within Thaerlin’s eyes refusing to abate.
“Thaerlin…?” Arkinall asked at last, his voice soft as his eyes darted from his brother to his friend and back.
“Hrm?” Thaerlin muttered, turning to his brother.
“What is it?”
Smiling at last, the young elf shook his head. “Nothing. Do you wish to see him?”
“Yeah!” Arkinall replied, a wide grin upon his lips as he nodded eagerly.
“Very well, then,” Thaerlin replied, his smile widening, only for the smile to fade as he turned to their mage friend. “Which way?”
Forcing his smile wide, Naeran gestured behind him. “This way.” But as he turned, Thaerlin gripped his arm.
“You owe us for this,” the young elf growled, then let go of the Mage Savant’s arm.
The young Mage Savant stared at the young boy a spell, then sighed.
“Very well…” he muttered, then turned and stepped forth, young Thaerlin falling in step behind him, with a confused Arkinall following close behind.
Sitting upon the empty crate, the young irunai clenched his fist, his gaze upon the bandage about his forearm. Then, wincing, he unclenched and straightened his arm, only as he did so, he winced and sucked in breath through gritted teeth.
“So much for the healing moss,” he growled. “What a waste of coin.”
Just then, footsteps reached the young boy’s ears, and turning, he frowned as he watched two young elves approach.
“You shouldn’t be back here,” he called out, pulling their gazes to him.
In response, the pair smiled and headed over, with the younger of the pair waving as they approached.
“What part of you shouldn’t be back here means you should bloody come over?” the irunai snarled, then sat tall, his gaze as fierce as he could make it.
“Greetings!” the younger of the two said as the pair reached him.
“You shouldn’t be back here,” the irunai repeated.
“Yeah, apologies,” the older elf replied, a sheepish smile upon his lips, “but we wished to come say how much we enjoyed your performance.”
“Yeah, you were rather awesome back there,” the younger elf gushed.
“Yeah! And you didn’t even seem scared! You even–”
“You shouldn’t be back here,” the irunai interjected, the barest traces of a snarl upon his lips.
Falling silent, the pair stared at him, then turned to one another.
“Come,” the older elf said, shooting the irunai a cold stare before smiling at the younger elf, “let’s go.”
“But…” the younger elf began.
“Let’s go, Arkinall. He doesn’t want us here. Let’s go.”
The younger elf stared at the irunai once more, and as the young irunai locked gazes with the child, he unleashed his snarl, staring hard at the little elf as he did so, till at last, the little elf pouted and turned.
“Thank the gods for that,” the irunai thought as the pair began to leave, and turning, he lowered his gaze to his bandaged arm.
“Was it the baskilisk that hurt your arm?” came the younger elf’s voice.
“Eh?” The irunai frowned, turning.
“Was it the baskilisk that hurt your arm?” the little elf repeated.
“It’s not baskilisk, Arkinall,” the older elf said before the irunai could draw breath,” it’s basilist.”
“It’s basilisk,” the irunai corrected.
“Ha!” The little elf grinned pointing to his companion. “You got it wrong too!”
“Oh, shut up, you!” the older elf growled, the barest traces of a smile upon his lips. “I was closer than you.”
“Come,” the older elf soon added, his smile breaking free at last as he placed a hand upon his younger companion’s shoulder, “let’s go.”
But,” the little elf replied, shrugging off his companion’s hand as he turned to the irunai, “was it the bask…basikli…was it the thing that hurt your arm?”
The young irunai stared at the little boy, his frown returned. “What difference does it make?”
The little elf shrugged, staring at the bandage.
“Looks painful, though,” he soon added, returning his gaze to the irunai.
“I can manage.”
“Thaerlin can heal it, though,” the little elf replied, turning to his companion.
“What?” the irunai said, turning to the older elf with his brow furrowed deep.
The older elf shrugged in response.
“You can do magic?” the irunai asked at last.
“A little,” the elf replied.
“Don’t be modest!” the little elf chided. “Master Treedew’s always talking about how well you’re doing in lessons!”
“What, you’re training to be a mage?” the irunai pressed.
“In a manner of speaking. I’m training for my Birthing.”
“Birthing,” the elf repeated. “We’re of the Tower.”
Frowning, the pair exchanged glances.
“The Tower,” the older elf repeated.
“The Shimmering Tower,” the little elf offered.
But both phrases meant nothing to the irunai and it showed.
“Oh, nevermind,” the older elf said before stepping forth, holding out a hand as he did so. “Here.”
“What?” The irunai watched him near, but as the elf reached for his forearm, he darted back.
“It’s alright,” the little elf said. “It doesn’t hurt. Usually.”
“Usually?” the irunai cried, rounding on the boy. “What do you mean, usually?”
“Ignore him, he’s jesting,” the older irunai said, smiling as he stood before the irunai. Then, he reached out his hand again. “Here. Let’s see.”
The irunai stared at the boy a spell longer, then stared at the bandage, but moved his arm not one inch.
“If I can’t see it, I can’t heal it. I’m not that good yet.”
“What’s going on here?” boomed a deep voice, startling the boys and drawing their gazes to what lay behind them.
“Mister Cranthon!” the irunai gasped, hiding his bandaged arm behind him before staring wide-eyed at the elves.
“I…” he began, turning to the tall human. “I didn’t… I mean these two are—”
“What did I tell you about allowing people back here, Jiren?” the human growled, his eyes narrowed to slits.
“I…I didn’t mean…it wasn’t—”
“Don’t talk back to me, boy!” the human thundered. “I ought to feed you—”
“Hey!” the little elf yelled, his face flush and his gaze fierce. “You leave him alone!”
Slowly, the human turned to the little elf, the fire in his eyes stealing the fight from the little boy, and as the man’s gaze darkened, the little elf began to cower.
“Looks like I’m going to have to teach you some manners, you little shite.” The human sneered, then stepped forth.
“Arkinall!” the older elf barked, his fists clenched and his gaze upon the human. “Behind me! Quickly!”
“Get back here,” the human seethed as the boy hurried towards his companion, and with his sneer now a snarl, the human stepped forth.
“You would do well to consider your position carefully, human,” came a voice from behind the human, one whose deep chill froze the man where he stood.
“Eh?” the human growled, spinning to the utterer, and as an elf sauntered out of the shadows, the irunai couldn’t help but smile as he caught the grin upon the younger elves’ lips.
“Those boys are Wards of the Tower, Cranthon,” the elf continued, his voice soft but the steel within then unmistakable. “If you so much as harm a hair on their heads, you will die here, and it will not be pleasant.”
Swallowing hard, the human stood tall.
“You can’t scare me,” he said at last. “I’ve got protection!”
“Whatever deal you’ve brokered with Merethia doesn’t apply to the Tower. Now, step aside, we’re leaving.”
The human glared at the elf a spell, then turned to the true objects of his rage, and, kissing his teeth, he stepped aside.
“Well, piss off, then!” he snapped.
The two little elves glared at the human, then wandered past him before stopping before their protector and turning to the irunai once more.
“We’ll see you tomorrow, then?” the older of the two said.
“Get out!” the human thundered.
Glaring at the human as one, the three elves turned and, giving the young irunai one last glance, left the pair be. The young irunai watched them leave, a soft smile upon his lips still, but as he turned to the human, his smile faded.
“Come here, you…” the human snarled and stepped forth.
Wincing, the irunai cowered from the human and tensed in readiness for the blows to come.
“Who was that?” Arkinall asked as they wandered on.
“That,” Naeran sighed, “is Louis Cranthon, owner of the Fayre.”
“A human owns the Fayre?” Thaerlin frowned, turning to his friend.
“Yeah.” Naeran nodded.
“And nobody in Merethia tried to stop him setting up here?”
“Oh, they didn’t just not stop him, he was invited.”
“What?” the brothers said as one.
Shaking his head, the Mage Savant sighed and stopped. “I haven’t been truly open with you two.”
Stopping, the boys exchanged glances before turning to their friend square.
“There’s more to this than you know.”
Such as?” Thaerlin replied.
“Such as… The basilisk is nursing some young.”
“What?” the boys cried.
“Yeah.” Naeran nodded. “Well, they’re still eggs, but yeah, she’s nursing. And that human’s been bartering her children. He’s managed to sell some to the King, and some to those in his inner circle in Court. They’re the ones who arranged for him to be here.”
“Oh?” Arkinall replied.
“Hm.” Naeran nodded, then glanced behind him before turning to the brothers once more. “What’s more, we now have guards posted on the edges of the Fayre.”
“What?” the boys gasped.
“Mhm.” Naeran nodded. “The ruse is they’re here to protect the Fayre from any who takes issue with it being allowed to camp here even though its owned by a human, but in truth, they’re here to ensure the safety of those eggs, and to ensure the human doesn’t run off in the dead of night.”
Then, the mage sighed. “I’d thought they wouldn’t be here till tomorrow, but now…”
“If they want the eggs so bad, why don’t they just take it?” Arkinall asked.
“Because Cranthon didn’t sell eggs, he sold basilisk hatchlings. Home-worthy basilisk hatchlings.”
“Yes.” Naeran nodded.
“But they haven’t hatched yet.”
The mage shook his head. “They haven’t no, but as soon as they do, and they become home-worthy, the nobles get their prize.”
“We tried to buy some as well, didn’t we?” Thaerlin added. “But he said no.”
“No,” the Mage Savant shook his head, “he was willing to sell, but for the price he was demanding for a single hatchling, we can procure two roc hatchlings and still have gold left over.”
“Woah!” the boys gasped.
“Yes.” Naeran nodded, sighing. “And then there’s the training. Home-worthy familiars are of little use to us, and even if they still wild, without a trainer, there’s little point to begin with. We don’t know enough about these creatures to raise them safely as familiars.”
“Ah, now I see.” Thaerlin nodded. “You needed us to befriend the irunai so he would join the Tower, and then we could buy some.”
The young elf held his friend in a slow sideways glance. “Well…what?”
The Mage Savant grinned. “I was…well, I was hoping he’d aid us in…procuring all the eggs. Along with the basilisk.”
“What, you mean steal?” Arkinall gasped.
“No!” Naeran hissed. “Procure! Procure!”
“He means steal,” Thaerlin growled.
“No, damn it, I meant procure!”
“Of course, you did…”
“Gods damn it, Thaerlin, I didn’t—”
“Father said stealing is bad, though, Naeran,” Arkinall interjected.
“Of course, it is, but–”
“And, if he’s already sold eggs to people the King and we steal it, we’ll be in a lot of trouble with Matriarch,” Thaerlin added. “And Father!”
“Well, yes, but–”
“It’s wrong, Naeran,” Arkinall added. “We shouldn’t steal.”
The Mage Savant moved to speak, then fell silent, staring at the pair.
“Even if it’s to save someone in danger?” he asked at last.
“What do you mean?” Arkinall frowned.
“The bandage on the boy’s arm, did he tell you why it’s there?”
The brothers exchanged glances, then shook their heads.
“The human gave it to him. Cut his arm deep with a dagger.”
“What?” Arkinall said as Thaerlin stared hard at their friend.
“Yeah.” Naeran nodded. “He gets beaten often here. Kicked and punched. Not just by the human, but by everyone else at this blasted Fayre.”
“You’re sure.” Thaerlin pressed.
“Yeah.” Naeran nodded. “I watched them beat and kick him while they were setting up the Fayre, then laugh about it.”
“You saw that man cut his arm too?” Arkinall asked.
“No,” Naeran shook his head, “but I heard him threaten to do the same to his other arm.”
A tense silence fell upon the three as the boys stared hard at their friend. Then, once more, the boys exchanged glances, only this time, an accord passed between them, an unspoken voice that steeled their gazes, and with a nod, they turned to their friend.
“So, what’s the plan, then?” Arkinall said.
A slow smile parted the Mage Savant’s lips. “I knew I could count on you two.”
The brothers grinned as one.
“But understand, though,” Naeran continued, stepping forth, “if we do this, we’re going to be in big trouble. With everyone.”
Once again, the boys exchanged glances, then smiled.
“Eh.” Thaerlin shrugged at the Mage Savant.
“We’re always in trouble anyway, so…” little Arkinall added before shrugging himself.
The smile upon the Mage Savant’s lips grew, and breathing deep, he leant forward.
“Alright, then, listen close,” he whispered, then began telling them his plan.
Lying upon his pallet, the young irunai sniffled and squirmed as he sought a means of rest that didn’t aggravate many of the welts and bruises upon him, but it was no use. Try as he might, peace eluded him, till at last, sniffling still, he sat up and rested against one of the bar of his cage before staring out into the darkness, his heart heavy as he rubbed his eyes.
He needed sleep, and desperately. Tomorrow would be another gruelling day, and though Reine cared for him, all it would take would be a moment’s lapse in concentration and his life would be forfeit.
“You need sleep, Jiren,” he muttered, “for your sake and hers. Try again. Just try.”
And so, sighing, he lowered himself to his pallet to seek slumber’s embrace once more. But then, as his head touched his pallet, movement in the dark caught his eye, and with his breath caught in his throat and every muscle in his body tensed, the elf slowly rose his head and stared out into the darkness.
But he could’ve sworn he—
Then, he saw it again. A flash of grey, then green. Scurrying forth, the young elf made his way to the door of his cage and, gripping the bars, stared hard into the darkness.
“Who’s there?” he hissed after a spell.
“Who’s there?” he yelled.
“Don’t worry, it’s only us!” came a hushed voice soon after.
“Hush!” hissed another. “We’re supposed to be stealthy!”
“Well, just thought perhaps he was scared, that’s all.”
Frowning, the irunai rested against his forehead against the bars. The voices sounded familiar, but the faces his mind’s eye showed him to be the owners of those voices made little sense to him. Why would they be here at this hour? But then, as he moved to speak once more, two figures stepped out into the open, hunched over and hurrying over to his cage, and as the light of the pale moon touched their faces, the irunai’s eyes went wide.
“It is you!” he cried.
“Hush!” the older of the elves hissed, a hand to his lips as he fell to his knees before the irunai’s cage.
“Yeah!” added the younger elf, his face solemn, “we’re supposed to be stealthy!”
“What’re you doing here?” the irunai hissed.
“Rescuing you!” the little elf cried, grinning.
“Hush, Arkinall!” the older elf hissed.
The little elf winced in response, covering his lips as he did so.
“Though, in truth,” continued the older elf, turning to the cage, “I didn’t believe Naeran when he said you lived in a cage!”
At those words, waves of shame crashed against the irunai, but shaking his head, he placed a hand upon the older elf.
“You need to leave,” he said. “Now. Soldiers patrol this area, two of them. With longbows. You don’t want to be here when they return.”
At this, the elves grinned.
“Oh, you needn’t worry,” the older elf replied, the glimmer in his eye unmistakable, “just be ready to run when things get…interesting.”
“Oh…?” the irunai replied, his brow furrowed deep.
“Mhm.” The younger elf nodded.
Unsure what to make of it all, the young irunai stared at the pair, but as he did so, a most unsettling thought formed in his mind, and as it grew, he slowly sat tall.
“Why’re you saving me?” he asked.
The older elf frowned at those words. “You like living like this?”
“Of course not!”
“Then, we’re saving you.”
“She has a name?” the younger elf gasped.
“Yeah,” the irunai replied, nodding to the younger elf before turning to his companion. “What about her?”
“Well, she’s coming, too, of course.”
“Ah.” The irunai nodded, a bitter smile upon his lips. “So, that’s what it is.”
The elves exchanged glances at those words.
“That’s what what is?” the younger one asked.
“You’re not saving me. You just want Reine.”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“Well, she’s not yours, alright!!” the irunai spat, then leant forward. “Basilisks don’t belong to people. We irunai understand that! We don’t try and turn them into pets—”
“Yes, you do!” the younger elf threw back.
“No! We don’t!” the irunai snapped.
“But what about all those nobles Places that have them running around and things?”
“Places? What places?”
“He means Houses,” the older elf corrected.
“Yeah, well…they’re idiots! A basilisk is a proud creature! And smart! Frightfully smart! Do you know how many of those Houses end up killing their basilisk after only a few months? Well, do you?”
The elves shook their heads.
“And do you know why?”
Once more, the elves shook their heads.
“Because basilisks hunt! If it’s not their gazes, it’s their breath! You need a special hand to make a basilisk feel at home and make it not hunt you! And they always find a way to hunt you! You elves, you don’t understand! You never understand. They’re! Not! Pets!”
“But we don’t want them as pets, though,” the younger elf replied.
“What?” The irunai frowned.
“Look,” the older one added, “we can sit here and talk, or we can get you and Reine out of here? Which would you rather?”
The irunai fell silent, staring hard at the elf.
“Or you wish to tell me you’d rather let her watch her children get given away?”
“How do I know you’re not going to do something just as horrible?” the irunai threw back.
“Would we be rescuing you if we were?”
The irunai stared hard at the pair once more, then sighed at last. “What do I need to do?”
The older elf smiled.
“Get ready for things to get interesting,” he replied, then stared up at the night’s sky.
Sitting at his table, the lord of the Fayre snickered and giggled as he stared at the stacks of gold before him.
“Ah,” he sighed, “have you ever seen such a glorious sight.”
“I wouldn’t call it glorious,” muttered the elf standing in the doorway behind the seated human.
“Heh,” the human grinned, “I’m sure you wouldn’t.”
“That coin belongs to the boy.”
“Gods, woman, don’t you know any other tune?” the human growled. “It’s not my fault his father was an idiot.”
“His father was your friend. You talked him into stealing that basilisk. You promised to share the proceeds with him.”
“Like I said,” the human smirked, “he was an idiot.”
“The very least you can do—”
“The very least you can do is not spend so much time with that stupid boy,” the human interjected before starting work upon another tower. “His stupid sob stories are rotting your brain.”
“Have a care, human…”
“Have a care nothing, woman! I have protection! You can’t so much as harm a hair on my bloody head, so take your insults and shove—”
Just then, an almighty blast tore through the night, rattling the windows of the makeshift home and quaking the earth beneath it with such violence as to send the towers of gold spilling every which way as human and elf scrabbled to keep from falling to the earth.
“What in the bloody hells was that?” the human cried once all was still.
“We’re under attack, what does it seem like?” the elven woman threw back, gazing into the darkness. “Stay here! Lock the door behind me!”
“Attack?” the human replied. Then, his eyes went wide. “Oh no, my basilisk!”
Springing to his feet, he darted forth, racing past the elf before rushing off into the night.
“Hey! Get back here!” the elven woman yelled.
If the human heard her, he made no show of it, racing on without care or pause.
“Damn it, human, you’ll ruin everything,” the elf growled, then raced forth.
“Push!” Thaerlin cried.
“I am pushing!” the irunai yelled.
“It needs to roll faster than this! Push! Both of you, push!”
“We didn’t have to bring the bloody cage, though!” Arkinall snapped
“Yes, we did!” Thaerlin threw back.
“No, we don’t!”
“Jiren said we do, so we do!”
“You wish to be eaten alive?” the irunai snapped. “No? Then, yes, we do!”
Gritting his teeth, the little elf chanced a glance into the cage before him, and as his gaze fell upon the snarling basilisk, his heart froze once more as he dropped his gaze and shoved his shoulder as hard as he could against the cage.
“Push!” the little elf shrieked.
“Stop telling me to push and you bloody push!” the irunai barked.
“What the bloody hells are you doing?” thundered a voice from the shadows, drawing the children from the cage to the shadows.
“You we supposed to get him to coax the basilisk from the cage!” Taeran continued, stepping into the light. “Not bring the whole bloody thing!”
“Jiren said if we allowed her out, she’d eat us!” Thaerlin cried.
“What?” Naeran frowned.
“Your scent is foreign to her,” the irunai added. “She thinks you’re here to steal her babies. If you open the cage, she’ll come for you, for sure of it.”
The Mage Savant stared from the cage to the children and back again, then turned to Thaerlin.
“Why didn’t you use a haste spell?” he demanded.
“I tried!” the young elf replied. “But I couldn’t maintain it. The cage is too big.”
“He made us stronger, though,” the irunai added. “The cage wouldn’t even budge before.”
“But at this speed, it’ll take us a week to get it to the Tower,” Arkinall muttered.
“But you can teleport us,” Thaerlin added, his eyes bright, “can’t you?”
The Mage Savant turned to the cage once more, then shook his head. “I can’t teleport something this big, and all of us at once. Only way would be multiple trips, or a portal, and both will take too long. Guards will be here any moment.”
Then, he turned to the children. “Hug the cage.”
“What?” Arkinall said.
The little elf turned to the cage, but swiftly turned his back to the snarling basilisk and pressed his back against the glass dome about the cage, and as the others did the same, the Mage Savant breathed deep and whispered words of arcane. As he did so, a bed of air billowed into being beneath the cage and grew till it lifted both cage and children clean off the earth.
“Woah!” the irunai gasped.
“Hold tight!” Naeran yelled as he stepped into the bed of air, and whispering once more, called forth a gust that blew them forth.
“Wheee!” little Arkinall cried as they sailed off into the night.
“It’s gone!” the human shrieked. “They took everything! Even the bloody cage!”
“Yes,” the elf behind him snarled through gritted teeth, “I can see that.”
“You promised me you had people guarding this place!” the human continued, rounding on the elf. “You gave me your word!”
“And I had!”
“Well, where are they? Hrm? And how in the hells did they let his happen?”
“I…” the elf began. “I don’t…”
Then, footsteps reached the pair.
“Is that them?” the human yelled, turning to the soldiers that emerged from the darkness.
“What?” the elf replied, turning about.
“Is that bloody them?” the human shrieked. “Are these the bloody bastards that let them steal my basilisk?”
“Will you just—”
“Oh, shut up, you!” the human snapped. “Just shut up!” Then, he rounded on the soldiers. “You’re useless, you are! You’re all useless. When I tell the King what happened, you’ll be lucky to—”
“We found tracks, Arine,” interjected one of the soldiers, tuning to the elf who’d accompanied the human. “They’re odd, but they lead north.”
“Odd how?” the elf that was Arine replied.
“Flattened grass,” another soldier replied. “In a straight line, of sorts.”
“You think it’s the cage?”
Both soldiers nodded.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” the human cried. “Get the bloody horses!”
“No!” the elf named Arine said as the others moved to turn. “You four secure the area, then rally the others and follow the trail after us. The human and I shall hurry on ahead.”
“Understood,” the soldiers replied in unison, then turned to do as ordered.
Then, the elven woman turned to the human. “Shall we?”
“About bloody time!” the human spat and hurried forth.
The elven woman watched the human in silence for a spell, then breathed deep.
“Soon, Arine,” she muttered. “Soon.”
Then, she hurried on after him.
“Look!” Thaerlin cried. “Arkinall, look! We’re almost there!”
“Where?” the irunai asked.
“Tower grounds,” Naeran replied. “Once we’re on Tower grounds, we’re safe.”
“Yes!” Arkinall gasped. “Then we can…”
Just then, the sound of horse hooves reached the group, and with it, all joviality drained from their faces.
Then, they saw the riders.
“Oh gods,” the irunai gasped. “it’s Master Cranthon!”
“Naeran, hurry!” Arkinall cried. “Making it go faster!”
Breathing deep, the Mage Savant whispered words of arcane once more, and as he whispered, the gust of wind blowing them on grew in strength, filling the children with hope.
But the riders remained in view, and soon, it became clear to all that they were gaining.
“Faster, Naeran!” Arkinall yelled. “They’re gaining!”
“Any faster and we’ll be blown off the cloud!” Naeran replied, his face whitening as he stared at the approaching riders.
“I’ll try a haste spell again!” Thaerlin offered, then breathed deep.
“It’ll make no difference,” Naeran replied, his eyes now darting every which way, as if scanning for something, “We’re not moving, the cloud is, and it’s not solid enough for a haste spell to take effect.”
“So, what do we do?” Arkinall asked.
The Mage Savant fell silent, his eyes scanning still.
“Perhaps you can hobble their horses?” the irunai offered.
“No!” Thaerlin cried. “We can’t hurt them!”
“What? Why not?”
“Because they’re sovereign wards of Merethia,” Naeran replied. “Attacking them outside Tower grounds after what we just did will be seen as an act of war.”
“Oh!” the irunai gasped. “Oh.”
“So, what do we do?” Arkinall asked.
No words were said, but none was needed, for there truly was only one answer.
And so, the group fell silent as Naeran steered them towards safe haven, the children’s gazes glued to the horses.
“Almost there!” Naeran soon cried.
But the riders were now close enough for the boys to see the whites of the riders’ eyes, the hate within the human’s eyes chilling even little Arkinall’s heart.
“Get them!” they heard the human shriek. “Draw your sword, woman, get them!”
The children turned to the woman, their eyes wide as she neared striking distance of Naeran.
“Draw it, damn you!” the human yelled. “Cut that bastard down! Draw the bloody—”
“Oh, will you just bloody shut up, man!” the woman barked, pulling the reigns on her horse and bringing it to a halt. “Will you please, just shut your blasted mouth! I’m not going to kill them, alright? Alright, human? So shut your blasted mouth before I ram my fist down your bloody throat!”
It was difficult to say who was more stunned, for the outburst froze even Naeran, breaking his concentration enough to end his spell and send the gust pushing them forward to peter out to nothing.
“What did you just say to me?” the human said, his eyes ablaze as his steed pulled abreast the woman’s.
Snarling, the woman leant forward. “Shut. Your. Mouth!”
Snarling, the human moved to speak, but the fire in the woman’s eyes seemed to still his tongue, and instead, he turned and nudge his steed forth, but as he did so, a single sound from the woman brought the steed to a standstill.
“What?” the human said, staring at the horse before nudging it forward once more.
The steed moved nary one inch.
“Move, you blasted animal!”
The horse did not.
“Ah, gods damn it!” the man thundered, then leapt off the horse to storm toward the floating cage.
But as he took his second step, the woman made another sound, and the steed leant forth and clasped its teeth about the human’s hair.
“What?” the human gasped, reaching for the steed. “Let me go you blasted animal! Let me go this—”
“Human, if you do not shut up right this instant, I shall order her to eat your damn head!”
Freezing where he stood, the man turned to the elven woman, and as he locked gazes with her, he slowly withered where he stood.
Satisfied, the woman turned to Naeran and the others.
“I’m quite disappointed in you, boy,” she said, her gaze upon the Mage Savant. “All that aid, and still, you couldn’t make a clean escape.”
“Hunh?” little Arkinall frowned.
“Naeran, what is she saying?” Thaerlin asked.
Slowly, the Mage Savant stood, his brow furrowed deep as he shook his head. “I have no idea.”
“Of course, you don’t,” the woman replied. “You still think all this was down to your careful planning and simple good fortune. Tell me, did you stop to ask yourself why there were no guards at the basilisk’s cage of all places?”
“What?” the human cried, rounding on the woman. “You said you had it guarded!”
“I lied.” The woman sneered, then returned her gaze to the Mage Savant.
“The patrol,” the irunai added, drawing all gazes to him as he stared into the ether. Then, smiling, he turned to the woman.
“I’d been wondering why they never returned. Or, how we were so lucky they didn’t hear us arguing. They heard everything, didn’t they? They knew, didn’t they?”
Smiling, the woman shrugged, then turned to the brothers. “You’re better off learning spellcraft, my dears, than stealthing.”
“Bloody hells, they truly knew?” Thaerlin gasped.
The woman’s smile was the only answer they got.
“So…you were aiding us?” Arkinall asked.
“No, child,” the woman replied, her smile gone, “I have never been aiding you. Should anyone ask, I chased you all the way to your border, but I was never close enough to see you clearly, or what was inside that cage. Understand?”
The little elf stared at her for a spell, then shook her head. “No.”
“I mean, yeah,” the little child swiftly added as the others drew breath, “you want us to lie, I understand that. But why, though?”
“Yeah,” the Mage Savant added. “The King will surely have your head for depriving him of his prize.”
The woman’s smile returned as she stared into the ether.
“How to put this,” she muttered, then returned her gaze. “The King may be eager for a basilisk pet, but the Queen has other ideas.”
“Ah…” Naeran smiled, nodding as he did so. “I see.”
“Do you, now?” The woman’s smile widened.
“Why would she care?” Thaerlin asked.
“Well,” the woman shrugged, “I could tell you, but then I truly will have to kill you.”
“And now we’ve spoken long enough. Get going. The others will reach us soon.”
“Others?” The irunai frowned.
“Other soldiers. Not all of them claim loyalty to their Queen above loyalty to their King.”
“You’re not going to get away with this, woman,” the human said at last. “When the others get here, I’ll tell them everything you said! By the time I’m done with you, you won’t be fit to wipe my arse!”
“Hrm,” the woman said, turning to the elf with the most innocent of smiles. “Sadly, you’ll soon be missing one simple ingredient, human, without which you can never make good on those words.”
“Which is?” The human sneered.
A chilling silence fell upon the group as the human’s eyes went wide, and with a start, he reached for the horse once more and began fighting for his freedom.
“Get going,” the woman added, turning to the others. “Now.”
“You heard the woman,” Naeran said before going on one knee.
“Hunh?” the irunai replied, turning to the woman.
“I bid you go to your new life knowing your father will be avenged.”
The irunai stared at the woman a spell, but soon, his eyes glistened as a smile parted his lips.
“Thank you,” he said at last.
“You’re welcome, child.”
Then, as the cloud began moving once more, the woman dismounted, pulled free her blade and sauntered towards the human.
“Now, human,” she said, “where were we?”