It began in winter with the coming of the traveller, Jairnon. He was a mysterious and secretive fellow who was clearly more at home in the woods than the strongholds, and yet when he played his old lute, he could captivate every Senian within earshot. His arrival immediately drew away the citizens’ attention and so he had already earned Kalon’s gratitude before the two met.

Jairnon approached the pale elf quietly and cautiously after he finished the performance his audience had expected and nigh demanded of him, but it was late enough for most of the inn patrons to have left or gone to their rooms. Kalon’s was the only occupied table, situated in a shadowed corner of the Flying Coin. Jairnon gave a simple look to show that he was waiting to be offered a seat and would not accept “no” as an answer. Kalon agreed, indicating the chair opposite him. He took the opportunity to observe the denizen more closely, estimating his age at around two hundred years, significantly older than himself. Jairnon’s lifestyle showed on his appearance. He had several cuts and scratches on his hands and a few on his face, dark shadows of weariness below his eyes, as well as a leather cuirass and thick cloak, all signs of a frequent traveller.

Kalon was the first to speak: “A good performance by any standards, friend.”

“Thank you,” replied Jairnon. The other realised he had chosen his words well as Jairnon’s lips curved into a smile. “I have never seen anyone like you before. What is your name?”

“Kalon,” he answered, taking no offence at the remark and adding awkwardly, “though people choose a variety of other names for me.”

“Yes, I would be surprised if that were not the case, Kalon,” Jairnon said. “It is in the nature of pureblood citizens to take on a dislike for anybody who isn’t the same – anybody with something unique about them. Even I have suffered it in the past.”

“Unique,” Kalon repeated with a grin. “I like that.”

Jairnon fell silent, touching his fingers to the side of his rounded yet somehow gaunt face, trying to recall something. “Ratheilii! That’s the word. It means ‘dark elves’. I’m not sure what a dark elf is exactly, but I’ve heard they have pale skin and dark hair, just like you do.”

“But I’m just a citizen,” Kalon objected. “My parents were both normal citizens.”

“That’s not something I can explain, I’m afraid,” said Jairnon. When he received no answer, he continued. “You must find it difficult living here. Haven’t you ever considered leaving? You know, crossing the roughest terrain, escaping death at every turn, and seeing what’s out there?”

Kalon hesitated, seeing where the conversation was leading, but he gave a slight nod in the end. Jairnon was looking at him, curiously picking up details as Kalon did the same. Jairnon seemed to have a great many pockets. The dark elf found himself thinking there could be a dagger in there, or a vial of poison, or perhaps enough gold to retire at a moment’s notice.

Jairnon noticed the subjects of Kalon’s curious gaze, and revealed all three suspicions to be true. “You’d be surprised how easy it is to earn a bit of gold as a traveller,” he explained with a faint smile. “Just doing one-off jobs here and there, selling goods where they’re in demand… some people even pay me to get up on stage. In time, you get a reputation as well. People I’ve never met see me and say ‘look, it’s Jairnon the bard!’.”

“You make it sound so easy,” the dark elf said sadly. “Perhaps it is, for a pureblood like yourself, denizen or not…”

The denizen revealed that he wanted to head westwards to Narin Erellth and that fellow travellers were welcome to accompany him, regardless of experience. He was willing to admit that the wilderness was a dangerous place, reminding the dark elf that few survived venturing too far from the strongholds, but he said confidently that Kalon must want another chance to prosper amongst the citizens and that this was the only way to seize the opportunity. It all seemed very sudden and yet both knew it was an opportunity the dark elf could not bear to miss.

It took only the slightest moment before Kalon was graciously accepting the offer. He told the Jairnon he could play the flute, prompting a satisfied nod.

“I think we’ll give it another week, alright?” said Jairnon. “You’re only the first person to agree, and I’d like to think there will be a few more.”


Jairnon spent each evening of the following week in a different inn or tavern, giving his performances all over Nirm Iriss. It was a fairly large stronghold, perhaps the largest without the title of Narin.

He returned to Kalon when the week was over, with three others. The interesting thing was, Jairnon appeared to have lost his role of leader to one of them and was now following behind him. This one was a tall and strongly built citizen, the sort that nobody wanted to cross. Like the bard, he wore a leather cuirass, although his armour was covered in small rivets of dull steel. The fellow openly carried a dagger and a set of five throwing knives attached to his belt. He looked easily capable of wrestling a small bear.

“You must be Kalon,” he said, responding to the wide-eyed stare of the dark elf. They shook hands. “I am Halaon.”

“Nice to meet you,” replied the dark elf shyly.

Jairnon was quick to step in. “Halaon is an ex-hunter,” he explained, “he knows how to take care of himself, so he’ll make a good ally out in the wilderness.”

The former hunter smiled in agreement and allowed the other two to come closer and introduce themselves. One was a pretty, young lady by the name of Aitrine. There was something very pure and appealing about her voice.

The other was a strange creature called Malcrum, who Jairnon said was an aeríl-cvai. Malcrum was short, robust and well-muscled, with a beard of curly brown hair. Kalon knew what aeríl-cvaii were. They were a rare cross-species, the offspring of elf and cvai. Cvaii were a lizardlike race of people who favoured the deep underground places of the world for homes. Unfortunately, some vital part of the cvaiae diet stunted the growth of the half-elven children.

“I bought a pack mule to ease the load,” Jairnon explained, pointing to the lightly burdened animal which Malcrum led along. “But that will not be enough. You all need weapons and I’m afraid I have only a couple of hunting knives to spare.”

“Me and Halaon have our own weapons,” Malcrum said proudly to the bard, revealing a short sword and drawing it a few inches out of its sheath. “The hunting knives should go to Aitrine and Kalon.”

“Agreed,” Halaon said. Jairnon nodded his approval and handed over a hunting knife to each. They were curved and long bladed, something more than mere kitchen knives. They came inside small leather sheaths of their own with a cord to attach them to a belt. Kalon and Aitrine both thanked him and then let Halaon lead the way out of the stronghold. It was busy, despite an early start to the day, and Jairnon’s reputation brought the party much unwanted attention. Often a cold glare from the ex-hunter at the front was enough to deter the citizens, however.

“There’s the gate,” he said finally. Sure enough, the tall stone walls were separated ahead by a huge, reinforced double door.

“I used to work there sometimes, as a guard,” Malcrum told them, already walking towards the gatehouse. “Getting through should be easy enough.”

As the aeríl-cvai approached the gatehouse and Jairnon discussed their route with Halaon, Kalon took the time to speak to the remaining member of the group.

“What made you decide to come, Aitrine?” he asked. She seemed the only one with something to lose by embarking on the journey, though he thought better of saying so.

“I was bored of living through the same old thing again and again in Nirm Iriss. This felt like a good opportunity to move on to something new,” she said in that divine voice of hers. “Ordinarily, I’m not sure I’d dare to leave. But you see, by the time Jairnon found me, he’d already found the other two. If Jairnon can get from here to Nirm Seircule by himself, surely we can make it to Narin Erellth with three good fighters.”

“You’re right. But I’m sure we’ll each get plenty of chance to prove our worth.”

“Hey, the gates are opening!” Aitrine said excitedly. Malcrum was coming back now with a great grin on his face.

“And so the journey begins,” Jairnon said, quickly retaking the lead as the group put Nirm Iriss behind them. “Keep your eyes and ears open and we’ll have no trouble. With luck at least…”

The traveller set a quick pace which only Halaon could match without difficulty. Kalon and Aitrine, unused to physical strain, tired after a short while; Malcrum already needed to put additional effort in for his short legs to carry him at the speed without running. There was no road out in the wilderness, only a roughly distinguishable trail which often forked or opened out into clearings with any number of exits. The scenery was beautiful, though each had heard enough grim tales to put them off lingering in any one place for long enough to admire it. Even if these were not enough, the cheerful aeríl-cvai at the rear saw fit to add to the tales.

Ahead, there was something odd about the way Halaon moved. His gaze would wander, still attentive to his surroundings though he looked in constant thought, as if something was troubling him. Every now and then, he would dismiss those distant thoughts, shake his head slightly and continue on. He seldom looked back or made eye contact with any of the others.

Jairnon slowed down after a time so that the others could all catch up and keep up, though he was clearly disappointed. Aitrine was muttering complaints about her shoes she was not the only one to long for the luxury of the short rest which their leader denied them. To add to their discomfort, a cold winter breeze had begun to run through the trees and only Jairnon and Malcrum, with their thick cloaks, did not find themselves shivering as they walked against the chill. Even Kalon, who had previously thought himself immune to the cold, felt its bite.

It was only half an hour before the group came to a halt in the centre of a small clearing at the foot of a vast willow tree. There was a conveniently shaped chunk of rock at one side before the steep slope of a low hill.

“What are we waiting for?” asked Halaon, folding his arms.

“Ahead, the way opens up to a valley, where vision is unrestricted and even the smallest sound can travel half a mile,” the leader said. “I had hoped to have crossed by now, but now we must wait for the wolves to pass.”

“There are wolves in these parts?” Halaon persisted.

“Yes. They pass through the valley twice a day, in large numbers,” Jairnon said. “But seeing as though most of us are musicians, we might as well play something.”

While Jairnon talked in hushed tones to Halaon and the cheerful-as-ever Malcrum reached for the instruments which their pack mule had obediently carted along, Kalon had the sudden fear that he could not perform to the bard’s standard, and shrunk timidly down to the natural stone seat. The dark elf’s courage was further damaged as Aitrine sat eagerly down beside him, clearing her throat, and Halaon walked away. It looked as if they were all prepared but him. A grinning Malcrum passed him his flute and broke the eerie quiet by slapping a steady rhythm on his drum. Senian drums varied in size and shape but almost always used cvai skin. Cvaii shed their scaly skin annually, so collecting the tough material was easy and caused no harm.

The aeríl-cvai’s own instrument was a masterpiece. The skin was drawn over two hexagonal frames at the top, one of which was sloped so that each face had a slightly different pitch. It was held aloft by a single leather strap over the player’s shoulder as he solemnly beat the rhythm, adding accompanying high beats to the deep thud of the top face with swift chops.

Aitrine had her eyes on Jairnon, who was quick to join in with a sweet harmony of plucked notes on his lute, emphasising all the right beats as Malcrum thumped his drum and adding his own twists, now and then, to the sound.

Kalon let it go on for a while, watching the two musicians and listening carefully. His eyes met with those of the drummer, who brought everything together with a fast rhythm and increasing volume, setting the dark elf up with one final great thud. He abruptly stopped so that Kalon was playing to only the lute and the soft, wordless singing of the woman to his left. It did not last long, but whatever fear the dark elf had had before was completely gone by the time it finished.

Jairnon’s face could not conceal his delight. “Not a single bad choice on my part,” he said proudly. He stretched, and took a step forward from the thick tree trunk he had been leaning on. “But we need to move on now and get to Narin Erellth.”

Kalon was instantly disappointed, despite the positive words of the leader. “Are we stopping already?”

Jairnon sighed and all eyes turned to Kalon. “Are you forgetting that we’re out in the wilderness, right in the middle of nowhere?” he said. “No matter, Halaon is back.”

“What of the wolves?” Malcrum asked the former hunter, who told the group of the passing of the wolves as he returned from the trees, though the tone of his voice did not suggest confidence or satisfaction.

“Eyes and ears open,” Jairnon reminded them all. “There could always be more.”

“Really, wolves’ll be the least of our worries. Further out, I’ve heard that the trees themselves come alive and wait for unwary travellers to…” and so Malcrum was already off again with his stories of the wilderness. Neither Jairnon nor Halaon denied any of the facts, both of them enjoying their entertainment as Kalon and Aitrine shared worried looks. Time passed quickly, and the group was soon halfway across the valley.

“See those tracks?” the aeríl-cvai said, stopping to point them out. “Wolves, all of them. I’d say about a hundred passed by, only a few minutes ago.”

Halaon chuckled and finally brought Malcrum’s words into question. “Actually it was more like twenty, at least ten minutes ago. There’s no need to exaggerate things that much, little fellow.”

Malcrum turned away, his face red with anger and embarrassment, muttering something about reassuring the group and inspiring overconfidence. After that, everyone was quiet.


About an hour after the five Senians had left Nirm Iriss, there was a terrible howl from the northeast, behind them. It was a frightening sound, filled with fury and bloodlust and joined by a second and a third. All except Halaon froze in panic. The muffled noise of many padded feet touching the grassy ground came closer and closer. In a flash of shining steel, the citizen was a hunter again, throwing knife drawn out in his right hand and the dagger in his other. There was no trail to follow through the tall trees and the densely packed, colourful plant life clustering where the sun penetrated the thick canopies. They had nowhere to run to or to hide.

Jairnon and Malcrum reacted a moment later, retrieving their weapons from their sheaths. The gaping maw of a fearsome bloodwolf appeared when the first of the ferocious creatures leapt from the shadows, its dark fur rigid with the anticipation of fresh meat, expanding its size in the eyes of its prey. The knife struck its head in mid-air, knocking it off course but not killing the robust predator. A powerful slash from Malcrum’s sword saw the end of the creature before three more simultaneously bounded into view, snarling furiously.

Kalon was still paralysed with fear and it took a nudge from Aitrine to break him free. He tentatively moved towards the attackers, struggling to brave the glare of those cruel yellow eyes, holding the hunting knife out in front of him as if it might deter them.

In a cleverly coordinated movement, all three bloodwolves attacked. Flinching, Kalon saw just one, pouncing on Jairnon and wrestling him to the ground. The traveller was twisting his dagger inside a deep wound at the bloodwolf’s shoulder while he used his free hand to keep the snapping jaws away from him.

Halaon was fighting aggressively, matching his opponent in strength. Each time the wolf jumped, he forced it back and lunged at it. The dark elf saw the former hunter’s fearless fighting skills and experience come into use. He watched in awe for precious seconds and saw not a single mistake made in combat.

Malcrum, despite his superior weapon, fared poorly against the monster he faced. The bloodwolf was almost twice his height and certainly stronger than him, knocking the dazed aeríl-cvai back with powerful swipes. The aeríl-cvai fought to keep a grip on his weapon and defend himself against the two rows of razor-sharp teeth. Kalon charged towards it, yelling at the top of his voice – but the thing threw him flat on his back. It would have ripped out his heart in one quick gruesome move if Malcrum had not been there to jab it in the side of the neck. Of course, Malcrum had once been a guard. Protecting and looking out for his friends was a skill that came naturally to him.

“Jairnon!” Aitrine shouted as she summoned the courage to lunge at the bloodwolf from the side, forcing it to roll to get back on its feet. Her efforts succeeded, for Jairnon took the opportunity to get up and fight again from even positions.

Halaon killed his enemy at last, striking it through the throat as it sprang. He wheeled round to where Malcrum and Kalon fought but to his dismay, another two more wolves came out from the trees. Malcrum, in the centre of it all, found himself trapped on three sides.

“Malcrum, no! Run!” Halaon yelled as the aeríl-cvai prepared to battle. Halaon heaved another throwing knife at the nearest of the three but it was too late and then all three were atop their victim, tearing him apart with their jaws. Kalon and Halaon saw their friend reduced to a bloody mess. The wolves started to feast on his flesh.

Fortunately, Jairnon and Aitrine managed to best their opponent, who fled wounded from the scene. The latter was shocked to behold the fate of Malcrum.

“We have to run!” Jairnon said loudly. “Run while we still can!”

Halaon understood, pulling Kalon back forcefully. He looked at Aitrine, who still stared, stunned by Malcrum’s death. “Come on, they will follow the scent of blood! If we don’t run now, we’ll be surrounded!”

Thus the four Senians ran for their lives through the forest.


None of them spoke for some time after, even after they had run for long enough that all could be sure that the wolves were gone. Aitrine and Halaon were both distraught, though the former hunter showed it differently. Kalon was above all, shocked, and both he and Jairnon were depressed by Malcrum’s grisly demise.

“I wish I could tell him how sorry I am,” Halaon said sadly. “This was all my fault after all; I made a mistake before…”

Jairnon abruptly spun around, stopping the whole group in their tracks. His annoyance at Halaon’s explanation was clear. “No, the wolves picked up our scent later on, otherwise they would not have howled to bring the pack together, or opted for a head-on attack instead of an ambush. Shut up and keep walking.”

“How can you just go on like this, knowing we’ve left a friend to the wolves?” Halaon said angrily, seeming to stop only just short of lifting the leader up by the throat.

“We have no choice!” Jairnon said, raising his own voice. “Out in the wilderness, you can’t delay or risk yourself more than you have to. Fighting on would have gotten us all killed!”

“Fighting on would have given a friend a proper burial! Does that not matter to you?!”

“No it doesn’t!” Jairnon replied. Both were shouting now. “The creatures here will dig for food! And we’d all be dead before we could bury him!”

“Calm down,” Kalon said. “Look, if we stayed, we would have died. Died honourably perhaps, but still died. Let’s just carry on; we aren’t exactly going to forget, so please let’s discuss this when we get there, instead?”

All was tense for a moment, but then the two of them made brief eye contact then nodded and conceded the dark elf’s point. “Let me tell you something though,” Jairnon said. “Away from civilisation, honour goes unrecognised. If the rest of us are to make it, survival must come first. You understand?”

“Aye,” they said.

“I think we’ve been moving for about two hours now. We’ll be walking for another two more before we reach the river, and then we can go straight downstream from there,” Jairnon told them. “So you could say we’re halfway through the hard part already. Eyes and ears open, as always.”

Aitrine was still silent, sat down against a magnificent silver birch, head in her hands. While the two dominant males had become moody, quick-tempered and aggressive, she only kept quiet and to herself, upset as she was. It was difficult to imagine that beautiful voice communicating anger. Perhaps with age it might happen, but for now she was still young, only a hundred and thirty-four. With Malcrum gone, she was second youngest, Kalon being barely past a hundred.

“Come on, Aitrine,” he said softly, offering his hand which she took and pulled herself up. When she replied, it was in a melancholy tone, almost a whisper.

“Okay,” she said. “Thank you.”

“When are we eating, Jairnon?” Kalon asked.

“Ah… About that,” the leader said. “Malcrum was leading the pack mule. We no longer have any supplies now.”

The three others were suddenly alarmed. “What?”

“I’m afraid I forgot all about that in favour of running from the wolves,” he explained. “We don’t have time to risk going back now unless you are all giving up.”

None of them were.

“Malcrum’s drum was the only thing of worth that it carried, at least. We can easily buy another lute and flute. Don’t worry about that.”

“Actually, it might be quicker without the poor beast to guide,” Halaon pointed out. “At least the journey will go faster from now on.”

“But what of food?” Kalon persisted. “How long must we go without it?”

“Five or six hours at worst,” the leader said grimly.

“We might find something along the way,” Halaon suggested. “There are plenty of animals that aren’t vicious killing machines, and plenty of berries that won’t poison you, if you know what to look for.”


After that, there was little conversation, for Halaon was the only one who gained any comfort from talking at that point. He was no less distressed, however, and he seemed to drift randomly from the subconscious state of his, to an optimistic, resolved mood, to sorrow. The party trudged through thick woods, over steep hills and across open plains. To the untrained eye, it was all the same, and incredibly easy to become lost. It was wild, untouched nature with few, if any, landmarks. Only Jairnon knew the contours of the land well enough to maintain his sense of direction and find the way to Narin Erellth.

Kalon walked just behind Halaon. Aitrine was at the rear of the snaking single-file formation. The day was darkening quickly. In the wilderness, nightfall never came at the same time or for the same length in any two days, sometimes even occurring more than once per day. The Great Ether, the flowing sea of magic which druids could call upon, dictated the passing of days and seasons, and the druids controlled it within the strongholds but not without. It was said that Senia had worked this way, different from anywhere else in the known world, since when the Sea of Senia became a gateway to death.

Daylight made the wilderness relatively safe, serving as a barrier for prey against the nocturnal predators that stalked Senia in the darkness. Dusk was reason enough for worry to swiftly overcome grief.

“Stay close and keep walking, no matter what,” Jairnon ordered. He took out his weapon, as did the others. Darkness fell over them in seconds, and then every shadow was a potential hidden enemy. They hurried forward, packed tightly together. It felt like there were eyes all around them, watching, glaring and threatening. What had been a quiet day had become an eerie night, adorned with scratching, screeching and rustling sounds at every edge of the rough psychological trail which the leader created for them with his confident stride.

After a short time, another set of footsteps joined them, out to the right and behind.

“Halaon!” he called. The man was almost as strongly built as the ex-hunter, with the same armour. He carried a readied bow, however, plus a short sword and dagger, with a meaner look in his eye.

Halaon wasted no time in throwing another of his knives at the stranger, who retaliated in surprise, launching the arrow into Halaon’s left arm. Kalon and Aitrine panicked; this was a person, just like them, and Halaon seemed to have made the first move. Jairnon, though, rushed between his friend and the archer, speaking defiantly. “Back off! You want to fight Halaon, you’ll damn well have to go through me first!”

The archer recognised Jairnon then, and released his next arrow, striking him in the chest. The traveller fell to the ground, gasping for breath. That was enough to reassure Kalon of the side he was on and then his dark elven instincts took over. He quickly drew back his arm and threw his own hunting knife at his target as the man retrieved another arrow. The small weapon managed to pierce the armour, and as Halaon recovered, the archer fled into the night.

After removing the leather cuirass and painfully ripping out the arrow, the three found Jairnon’s wound to have been almost fatal, having narrowly missed his heart. The projectile had snapped a rib but stopped before it could cause a mortal blow, though he was still in need of healing. Aitrine hurriedly cut off a piece of his shirt and used the fabric to bandage him. She managed to stop the bleeding and Jairnon stood up carefully, weakened but alive. He led them on slower than before.

“Halaon, how did he know you?” the denizen asked. Halaon opened his mouth to speak but then both were distracted by something elsewhere. A new noise showed itself up above in the canopy. It was a harsh chittering and scraping that sent shivers to the spines of the party of four. The ground became softer and stickier with each step.

The denizen froze in horror when he recognised the sound, and the substance beneath them. He took a step back but found one foot to be fully caught. Thin black legs reached down, then a vast set of black eyes stared out from above the chittering pincers. The forest spider lowered itself from the dark canopy in front of them. Legs outstretched, it was much larger than any bloodwolf. Jairnon shrunk back in fear; it was Halaon and Kalon who came to the front, pulling free of the web. Halaon threw his fourth knife.

Daggers were almost useless against the armoured carapace of the spider, and the small reach of the weapons was almost pitiful to such a creature. It moved quickly, attacking its resistance with rapid slashes from sharp, scythe-like external bones on the inside edges of its front legs. Judging Halaon the juicier target, it tore open the ex-hunter’s armour with ease, shallowly cutting across his torso in the process. The entire group scattered outwards in those first few moments. With Jairnon weakened and stricken by terror and now Halaon wounded, staggering and fighting for his life, there was nobody to direct each other and nobody who knew quite what to do.

Kalon lost sight of everyone for a moment as everything was abruptly plunged into complete darkness. He edged forward, weapon in front of him and then his foot found a root and he fell to the ground. He saw a ray of light burst through the canopy and illuminate the many gleaming eyes. It was dazzlingly bright, enough to make the spider retract its legs defensively and cower away from the intense light. It was a much-needed miracle of nature or wild magic.

Halaon looked round, seeing the opportunity. “Run! Everyone run!”

They scrambled across the shallow webbing and into darkness once again. They continued to flee for some time, unwilling to stop. When Halaon finally slowed, Kalon was ready to collapse. They looked around and back where they had come. Neither Jairnon nor Aitrine were anywhere to be seen, and everything was still. In that desperate rush to escape the spider, the four had been divided in half.

“No, no, no…” Halaon was saying in disbelief. He sat down and sighed, letting his arms fall loosely to his lap. “We’ve lost them.”

“You’re a hunter. Perhaps it’s not your profession but you’re a damn hunter at heart,” Kalon said. “You can’t give up or we’re both done for!”

“Come here and sit down, Kalon,” Halaon said, beckoning him with a gesture. “There’s something you should know.”

“What? What is it?” Kalon said, suddenly feeling afraid once more. He sat down and eyed the ex-hunter with curiosity and a newfound suspicion which sprung out in him.

“I’m sorry; I have lied from the very beginning…” Halaon said slowly, and Kalon was drawn to him by the difficulty with which his friend spoke. “I can’t play an instrument. I can’t do anything except fight, and kill. I’m a pureblood citizen and had no personal reason to go anywhere. I am a hunter – have been for most of my life.”

Kalon stood up again and Halaon stood up with him. “I don’t understand!” the dark elf said in frustration and fear.

“Half the circle of Nirm Iriss is corrupt. They’ve adopted new ways, new interpretations of the old scriptures. I’ve known that for a while but never dared speak of it.”

“What are you saying? What scriptures?”

“The old scriptures, the writings that taught the druids the right way to rule, the right way to think and act and the way to control civilisation. The scriptures dictated how the world should be built, written by the prophets before properly recorded history began.”

Kalon was silent.

“Well, these druids began to take the ideas further. Instead of preserving nature as was always the way, they argued that elvenkind should not interfere or even be allowed to interfere with nature at all. The scriptures said that the druids should preserve nature to protect Senia and its inhabitants, but these people decided that nature could not truly be natural until we – the Senian people – stopped our involvement with the balance.”

“I don’t understand!”

“They decided that it was the people who needed to be preserved as they are, as people are a danger to Senia. They feared that if we continued to travel and to tamper, we would adapt to life in the wilderness and expand out from the strongholds. Kalon, they hired me to follow Jairnon, find out if he has other denizen friends or family, any other travellers even, and murder them all.”

Kalon stared in shock.

“I already did jobs like that, but always they told me the targets were criminals and I never questioned them. I persuaded Jairnon to take me to Narin Erellth to give myself some time to think things over. After Malcrum died because of my lies, I finally realised I could not go through with the task they had thrust upon me. Well, the druids sent another hunter to finish the job.”

“The archer…” Kalon said, and Halaon nodded.

“The druids forgot how to distinguish right from wrong as their methods became more and more extreme. What had been only crazy ideas against elvenkind itself, became a spreading fear and even hatred of the public. The druids reasoned that they themselves were exempt from the new ideas, that they could interfere and travel as much as they liked because they knew more. A druid elder, Elder Alranell, tried to remove some of the corrupt druids from power, but it ended in a violent confrontation. Alranell was never seen again.”

Kalon stepped forward, regaining his confidence. “But the archer is still out there. What about the others? And what if those druids send more hunters?”

“We need to get to Narin Erellth and win the support of the High Elder. We can only hope that Jairnon and Aitrine can make it without our help.”


They reached the river not long after and built a raft out of loose branches and an unidentified sticky vine. The current was fairly fast-flowing but not deep and with few obstacles downstream, so it was easy to see why Jairnon had named this the easy part of the journey. Kalon thought it was a good idea until it suddenly dawned on him that it was the most obvious route to take.

It was then that the arrow struck. Halaon fell off the raft. It had pierced his skull. The other hunter retrieved another arrow, but the river was too fast-flowing so Kalon was a much more distant target when he released it. A streak of red followed in the otherwise clear water. The dark elf heard a voice calling to him now, reassuring him. The dark voice had haunted him in his childhood until he learnt to contain it, but now it had returned, an unknown phantom. Kalon spoke out loud, not knowing whether or not it could hear him.



After reaching the stronghold, he tried again to fit into society, and tried to speak to the circle, but his efforts were all for nothing. Without Jairnon’s reputation, he was worse-off than he had been in Nirm Iriss and had no way of overcoming the people’s prejudices against him. The druids refused to hear him, let alone to help him. In a month, he had made no progress and had not heard from Jairnon, though he received news of Aitrine’s death. Like Halaon, she had been killed stealthily and from afar, presumably by that same hunter.

By that time, when the dark voice came, he was ready to welcome it.

“What must I do?” he asked. “What must I do to bring change? What must I do to defeat the evil within, forever?”

He chose his path and could not look back.

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