Reborn

Meylaran Moonshadow has never known her true heritage. She has lived off the streets, learning pick-pocket skills from a dear friend and mentor, until one day, her life is turned upside down when the mage, Thom Uray, shows up. What he has to tell her about who she is, who her mother was and what she has to do to fulfil her destiny will change everything.

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1. Prologue

     “Liam, wait up!”  Mila hiked her skirt up a bit higher so that she could run to catch up with her brother.  The basket she carried swayed precariously threatening to spill its contents.

     “I have to make sure the way is clear!” Liam yelled back at her while he swung the short sword his uncle had given him before they left Rowlet Village.

     Although their parents had decided on the move to Val so mother could take the position of Master Herbalist for the Mages, the rest of the family had stayed in the small village just to the west.  It was half a day’s travel, if that and the children made it frequently to visit the aunts and uncles and many cousins they had left behind.

     Today they were running late.  It would be dark soon and Mila wanted to hurry so they arrived as soon after dusk as possible.  The roads were getting harder to travel after nightfall these days.  Highwaymen had been spotted in these parts only a few weeks back.  One reason why their Uncle Garth had given Liam the sword.

     Liam swung the short sword around in front of him coming into a stance he had seen the swordsmen training in Val do.  Although he led too far with his forward foot and lost his balance, stumbling and ending up on the ground.

     “You’ll cut your own head off before you ever even see an enemy approaching,” Mila giggled.  Offering her hand she said, “Here, get up.”

     “I’ll have you know that I intend to be a great swordsman one day.”

     “You’re barely in your fourteenth year,” his older sister scolded.  “There’s plenty of time for that.”

     He stuck out his tongue.  “You’re only a year older than me.”  He took her hand anyway and let her help him up.

     Mila would follow in her mother’s footsteps as a Mage.  She had already shown promise in her classes on beginning magic.  Spells came naturally to her.  The move from Rowlet Village had been of opportunity for the family.  The only bad thing about it was that now the children had more schooling.  Mila loved learning new things but Liam would rather be running free on the countryside, slaying the imaginary enemies that had plagued him since early childhood.  The two couldn’t be more different than night and day but they both loved their family with all their hearts, so they made this trip at least once a week.

     “Let’s stop to eat,” Liam suggested as the two walked along the well grooved road that lead between the larger city and the smaller village.

     “It will be dark soon,” Mila protested.

     “We’re almost there.  I’m so hungry, Mila!  We haven’t eaten since lunch and Aunt Darla put sweet cakes in, I saw her.”

     Shaking her head, Mila knew she wouldn’t win this one.  Liam’s stomach usually won out.  She slowed her steps and lifted the side of the cloth covering the large basket.  Right on top, there they were.  Sweet cakes.  Her own stomach rumbled.

     “Fine.  Let’s sit over there, under those trees.”  Pointing to a spot not ten steps off the road, the children made their way to sit beneath the canopy of the tall oakwoods.  The large trees were very smooth along their trunks, rising at least fifteen feet before fans of gigantic leaves showered out in a perfect circle.  The leaves were easily the size of person and stayed green all year long.  There weren’t many but there didn’t have to be to offer shade on a hot day or cover from rain.

     The children laughed readily when Liam brought up their mathematics teacher and did his best imitation of the stodgy old man.  Mila didn’t want to poke fun, but the professor was rather dull.  As Liam teetered around her, Mila giggled while eating the wonderful cakes.

     After they had each devoured three, Liam stretched back against the tree and put his arms behind his head.

     “Mila, do the dancing light trick you learned!”  The sun was retreating and the dusk was creeping in making just the right setting for the beautiful colored lights.

     Smiling and letting out a sigh, Mila agreed.  “All right.  Don’t tell Master Pennybaker, though.  I’m not supposed to be practicing the spells alone yet.”

     Nodding, Liam smiled as his sister started reciting the crackling words of the spell that would bring multi-colored lights the size of fireflies to her hands.  The lights popped into existence.  Mila abruptly changed the inflection of her voice to one that sounded more like she was singing and directed the lights to spin and tumble over one another like they were dancing.

     “Wow, Mila!  That’s five lights!  Last time you could only get three!”

     She smiled and concentrated on the shining orbs, letting her words and hands direct them along their paths.  A sharp snap behind the trees made her gasp and look around.

     “What was that?”  The lights shimmered and disappeared, her concentration broken.

     “Probably just some animal,” Liam answered, but his hand moved to his sword anyway.

     “We should probably get going, Liam.  Mother and father will be worried that we’re not back yet.”  They started gathering the remnants of their snack and packing the basket so they could be on their way.  Another snap behind the trees made them freeze.  It was louder this time, like it was closer.

     Liam looked at his sister.  She swallowed the knot of fear that had suddenly formed in her throat.  Her mouth felt dry.

     “Forget the basket,” he said.  Sword in one hand, he grabbed Mila’s arm with the other and pushed her behind him as he faced the trees.  “Back away slowly.  In case it’s a wild cat or something.”

     Mila took only two steps before the monster burst from the trees, a shower of wood falling over them as it landed right in front of Liam.  She couldn’t even scream.  Every part of her body, including her voice, had locked itself in place and she could only stare wide-eyed at the creature before them.

     It’s huge head was the most dominant part.  Standing upright on two legs that ended in three clawed toes, it’s bulbous arms hung to the ground and its dragged it’s knuckles as it slowly moved to Liam’s right side.  When it turned, Mila could see three large razor-sharp boney protrusions along the spine.  It opened its mouth, revealing teeth the size of her own fingers but pointed and sharp enough to rip her limbs from her body in one bite.  Shaggy hair ran along the top of its head, between the tusks, around its face and under its chin.  That was the only hair on its body, the rest was a leathery brown skin that pulled taught over the bulging muscles that ran over every inch.  But the most frightening thing about this creature were its eyes.

     Mila locked her gaze with the snarling beast in front of her and couldn’t tear her eyes away.  Pure white orbs sat just above its cat-like snout.  When it cocked its head to the side, as if considering the two of them, they glinted in the last light of the falling sun.  The short snout curled back as it let a scream erupt from deep in its throat.

     A Gnor!  She had only ever seen pictures in books of this beast.  It was a myth; a story told to bad children to make them behave.  A made up tale between siblings to see who could frighten the other more.  But this thing was real and it was right in front of them and it looked for all the world to be very hungry.  Saliva dripped from its open mouth.  This creature was not supposed to exist!

     Liam raised the sword in front of him but his arm shook so badly that he couldn’t keep the weight of it up for long.  His arm fell again to his side.

     “Liam,” Mila whispered.  “Run!”

     It would be their only chance, she knew.  She didn’t think they could outrun this thing, but what else could they do?  The two of them turned as one and darted toward the road in the direction of home.     Pushing off the ground with a massive leap, the Gnor landed right in front of them before they had gone even a few strides.  They stopped short.  Tears ran down Liam’s cheeks unchecked.

     “Mila,” he whimpered.

     She began a chant; one she remembered seeing some of the master Mages practicing.  They had summoned small dots of light shaped like a throwing dart, then sent them flying into a target placed at the end of the room.  When they had hit, the wood of the target had sizzled and popped as the electricity from the darts had struck.  Two tall glowing darts appeared in front of her outstretched hand.

     They wouldn’t do much good, so she had to make them count.  She aimed for its eyes.  Changing her voice to make the lights fly at her target, Mila stuttered over the words.  The darts wavered.  In that instant, the Gnor charged her brother, Liam letting out a scream that tore through her heart.

     “Liam!” she heard herself yell as the monster pinned him underneath its massive hands and dove in, biting at his neck.  Her knees went weak and she sank to the ground, hurling screams at the beast as she fell.

     Looking up from its fresh kill, the Gnor snapped its head around to focus on Mila.  Blood ran from its chin, mixed with spittle and fell in drops to the dirt.  Her breaths came in short gasps but one thought hit her.  Get away.

     Scrambling to find her feet, Mila felt a stinging pain slide down her left leg.  Sparing a backward glance, she saw the Gnor had raked one of his massive clawed toes down her leg in an attempt to catch her before she got away.  Searing pain shot up her leg into her thigh, leaving the leg limp as she managed to crawl out of its grasp.

     The monster left her brother’s broken body and turned to her.  Her eyes clouded with tears she could only see a blurry image of what was once her brother lying on the dirt path, a red pool spreading out beneath him.   Frantically trying to gain her feet, her hand came over something solid and round.  Instinctively curling her fingers around it and bringing it before her, she saw it was her brother’s new short sword.

     The Gnor lunged at her.  Closing her eyes and holding fast  the sword, she thrust it out.  A cry like a wounded pup came from the Gnor.  Mila’s eyes flew open just in time to see that she had wounded the beast, right in it’s chest.  It snarled its defiance at her but did not lunge again.  Taking a step back, Mila saw droplets of blood fall from the creature onto the ground.  She had stuck it deep.  It growled again, then turned quickly and sprinted back into the trees.

     Shaking uncontrollably, Mila’s arms fell to her sides and sobs wracked her body.  Her only thought was getting home to her mother and father.  They could come get Liam and help him back, there was too much pain in her leg for her to do it alone.  Her leg burned so badly.  There was no way she would be able to rise to her feet, so she started crawling along the road that had been well used by travelers up until the last few years.  As she dragged herself down the path she kept one thought forefront in her mind.  “Home, home, home…”

                        *********

     Magister Artiese sat with his hands folded over his eyes.  He was so tired and the late nights he found himself keeping lately did nothing to help.  White wisps of hair fell around his hands, framing his deeply wrinkled face.  The words on the parchment in front of him blurred and swam together, making it hard for him to decipher the report.

     Standing in the far corner, the messenger, a young apprentice, just coming into his twentieth year, watched anxiously as the Magister rubbed his eyes, brought the parchment close to his face and silently read again.

     “Do you know what this says?” Magister Artiese asked without looking up.

     “Y-yes, sir,” the young man stammered.  “Trouble in the Rachnor Pass.  The dwarves claim that a band of goblins attacked their three main cities.  They state that it was a calculated raid, sir, but…” he trailed off.

     “Come, come.  But what?”

     “Well, Magister,” the man said, taking a step in.  “Goblins have never done anything calculated.  They are not intelligent enough to bring themselves together to form a community, much less an army.”

     The Magister waved a spotted hand at him.  “Of course, you are right.  There has to be some other explanation.  Perhaps the dwarves embellish the telling of a small tribe of goblins attacking a traveling caravan.”

     “The dwarven Provicaries would like to know if we are to send magical aid.”

     Taking in a long breath and then letting it out in an audible sigh, the Magister shook his head.  Everyone wanted magical protection these days.  He had already dispatched four representatives of Val to investigate suspicious activity on the Faery Isles.

     Tales from the inhabitants of the island included sightings of sprites and nymphs, creatures that were forbidden to cross the barrier into this world.  A barrier that dragons, another creature that the newest generation was regarding as myth, had held in place.

     “Send Master Dorange.  She’s been aching to leave the city again.”  Dorange had only been back at Val, the magical hub of Cantor, for a month.  She was a restless sort, though, and if the Magister had been a younger man, he would not have hesitated to investigate strange and exciting lands.

     No sooner had the young messenger left him to finish his daily reviews from the University, a frantic knock sounded on his office door.

     Waving his hand and murmuring a few words, the door swung open to reveal one of his Circle.  Master Forth strode boldly in and positioned himself directly in front of the Magister.  He was grave and a sense of urgency flowed about him.  Forth was always grave, however and urgency seemed to be the norm as of late.

     “Yes, Master Forth, what can I help you with so late in the evening?”

     “You must see this, Magister.”  Forth held out a small parchment, folded and tied with a dark blue ribbon.  Artiese cocked a fluffy white eyebrow.  It was from a priest of Sirrah, given the color of ribbon used.  His eyes were much too tired to read another missive.  He gestured for Forth to proceed.

     Untying the ribbon and unfolding the smudged parchment, Forth cleared his throat and scanned the document.  “It is from Sarga, the Temple of Sirrah. ‘We have experienced the most unusual of circumstances.  The spirits of the Dahrst Hills, bordering the city of Sorga, have become most unsettled.  Never has there been cause for alarm in their presence, as they have ever been only quiet observers.  However, on the turn of the new moon, a group of priests traveling to the port city of Mor were attacked by these spirits.  Only two of the seven priests survived and told of a frightening occurrence.  The ghosts attacked without warning and the fallen priests rose at the behest of these spirits to fight alongside them.  Please advise if arcane assistance can be provided to calm the citizens of Sarga and investigate the cause of such a sudden change in the demeanor of normally docile spirits.’”

     Chewing a thumbnail, the Magister regarded Forth with a critical eye.  “Do you have thoughts on this, Master?”

     Forth shrugged his boney shoulders and his maroon sash, trimmed in gold that delineated him as a member of the Circle, billowed with the movement.  “Spirits are always unsettled.  To realize you are dead would be a most unwelcome bit of news, I would imagine.”

     Artiese tapped a slender finger on the dark black wood of his desk.  As of late, these reports of strange incidents and creatures had become much too frequent.  He was sure the world was going mad.  Of course, after as many ages as he had lived - one hundred and three - perhaps it was he that was going mad.

     Only yesterday he had pulled out the old prophecy that was now regarded largely as myth as well.  It fell to reason that these unusual things were happening because the dragons were no longer here to stop them.  The evil creatures that had been banished and kept at bay were figuring out that no one was stopping them from running rampant throughout Cantor.  A shift in the balance of the world had started when the dragons left and had continued to teeter ever since, or so the old scholars had wrote.  In these times, Magister Artiese would agree that something was amiss, but was it time to seek out the Descendant?

     Just as that thought crossed his mind, a flurry of activity at his door caused him to look up.  Two more members of the Circle had arrived in a breathless frenzy.  The Magister stood, his bones creaking with the effort it took.

     “What is the meaning of this intrusion?”

     “Sir, come quickly.  There has been an attack.”  As an afterthought, the man bowed.

     “An attack?”

     “Yes, Magister.  Children.  One is dead, the other has lost a leg.”

     “What in the name of the gods attacked them?”  The Magister had made it around his desk and Forth reached out to help him steady his steps.

     The two men cast uneasy glances at one another.  Neither wanting to answer the question.

     “Well,” the Magister raised his voice, “has anyone called for the healer?  And why is this news of such import that you would need to burst unannounced into my office?”

     “The healer has seen to the surviving child.  They are the children of the new Master Herbalist, Jessa Broom,” one of the men told the Magister.

     The other coughed and hesitated until a stern look from the Magister spurred him on.  “Sir, the girl claims she and her brother were attacked by a Gnor.”

     “A Gnor?”  Another creature that had not been allowed to venture into this world for hundreds of years.  And this one right at his own back door.  He contemplated only a moment, before telling them, “Let’s get there quickly.  We will use the roads of magic.  I don’t think these old bones could make the trip any other way.”

                        **********

A blur of images came to her as she floated in and out of a sleep-like consciousness.  Voices were ever present each time her focus came to her surroundings.  Did she hear her mother?

     “Have the found him yet, Richard?”

     There was only silence and Mila felt as though she was floating above herself.  Her leg itched.  Gods, it itched so badly.  She tried to reach for it but gentle hands stopped her every time, then soothing words would follow but she couldn’t remember what they had said.

     She dreamed that someone was screaming; calling her brother’s name over and over as if they were searching for him.  But he’s right here, she tried to tell them.  She reached down to scratch that annoying and persistent itch in her leg.  She and her brother must have gotten into a mess of biting bugs on their way home from Rowlet.  Restraining hands again.  Then she fell back into a deep, peaceful slumber.

     The last time she came awake, the room around her came into focus.  She heard someone crying and low, deep voices.

     “But what could have done this?” someone was saying.  “What kind of creature could take off half a boy’s chest and rip the girl’s leg from her body?  No highwayman did this!”

     “An animal of some sort?”  It was a question from another.

     The image of a creature came to Mila, eyes stark white and blank, opening a huge maw to let out a scream so wild it froze her blood.  She screamed with it.  Suddenly hands were all over her and she saw the monster’s claws coming for her.  She thrashed and kicked to get away but she was held fast.

     “Gnor!” she yelled.  Why didn’t they run?  Why were they just standing there.  “Run, Liam!  Mother, father, run!  Gnor!”

     “Hush, child,” someone said as a hand found her head.  “You’re dreaming.”  The voice was soothing and calm and the hands were warm.

     Her breathing evened out and she opened her eyes.  White hair wisped around the most wrinkled face she had ever seen.  Shining honey-colored eyes looked down at her from the folds of skin around the eyes and a smile so full of compassion broke through, revealing a set of perfect teeth.

     Of course she recognized him instantly.  But she had never been this close to him.  “Magister,” she whispered.  Her whole body had relaxed and the only thing that existed was his face and his soothing smile.

     “Your parents are here, child,” he said to her.

     The faces of her mother and father appeared above her.  Her mother’s eyes were red and puffy as if she had been crying and her father’s face was crumpled with worry and sadness.

     “Oh, Mila!” her mother sighed and fell over her, hugging her the best she could while Mila lay prone in a bed.  She looked around the room.  This was her room but she didn’t remember how she had gotten here.

     Her brow wrinkled with confusion.  “Liam?”  Where was her brother?

     There was hesitation on her father’s face and her mother continued to sob over her chest.  “I…I can’t breathe…mother.”  She looked for the Magister again but he had moved to the side and was circled by three other men.  She couldn’t see their faces.

     Her father spoke then.  “Mila, your brother…he didn’t…he didn’t get away.”  Sorrow broke his words and understanding came slowly to her.  A memory of the monster that had burst from the trees flitted through her mind.  She gasped and all heads turned toward her.

     “We were attacked,” she said.  Tears burned her eyes as the memory flooded back.  “A Gnor.”  She looked to the Magister.  “A Gnor, Magister!  It wasn’t supposed to be real.”

     He moved closer and laid a hand upon her brow.  “Easy, child.  Are you sure?”

     “Please, I’m not lying!  My brother is dead, isn’t he?”  She looked at them one by one, each one breaking their gaze, eyes trailing to the floor.  “He is,” she whispered.  Tears flowed freely now.  Oh, Liam.  He had tried to protect her.

     Then she could no longer ignore the stinging itch in her leg.  “Gods, my leg itches!  Why won’t it stop?”  She was yelling and it was complete madness but it just itched so badly!  She pushed her mother and reached down to dig her nails into the flesh and scratch away.  Her hands met with the soft coverlet of the bed.  Moving her hands about trying to locate the spot that itched, she became more frenzied.  Her father caught her hands in his iron grip.

     “It’s gone Mila.  The leg is gone.”  His voice was full of sadness but it was final.

     She shook her head vigorously.  “No, no, it itches!  I can feel it!”  Trying to break her father’s fathers grip, she heard voices rise again as her heart thudded in her chest.

     “She’s losing her mind,” her mother’s worried voice said.

     “Just the mind’s way of dealing with the trauma,” the Magister said softly.

     “Mila,” she heard the old man say, “Mila, calm now, child.”  Again she felt a wave of warm cover her from head to toe and her heart slowed and her body started to relax.  Her breath came easier and she just wanted to lay her head down and sleep.  “What did you see on the road home?”  The voice was so sweet.  She could let it just lull her into slumber.      “Gnor,” came her soft reply.

     A flicker of something passed through his ancient eyes.  Fear?  Gods, this man had to be at least two hundred years old, she thought.

     It’s just a dream.  All of this is just a dream.  But as she felt herself drift back to sleep she parted her eyes just a bit.  She watched the Magister move to the other three men that were with him.  She heard them talking.  The last words flitted through her mind before she slept again.

     “It’s time,” the old man said.  “Find Thom, bring him to the castle and convene the Circle.”

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