NOTE: Serial prequel (distant past) to The Unknown Sun which can be found on most online retailers now. This work of fiction is for entertainment purposes only and I retain full copyrights of the following original material.
The night grew cold as a stiff wind rattled the spiny sage bushes and tossed the flames of the dying bonfire. Hissing and popping sparks trailed into the sky. Most villagers gave up waiting for the mysterious girl to return and made their way back to their huts, muttering worriedly as the wind howled.
Dawn was graying the sky to the East and the bonfire was smoldering and smoky, trailing the scent of charred wood across the desert valley. Those that had stayed at the fire on guard had since huddled close to the blackened mound of sticks and branches and had fallen asleep close to the coals for warmth.
The bonfire erupted, igniting violently with crackling sparks and curling orange and yellow flames. The guards scrambled away, crying out in fear, but froze at the sight of four figures standing near the furiously burning fire, gloved hands outstretched as if to warm them.
The men backed away slowly, unable to take their eyes off them.
“I think they have never seen an Elf before. Do you think I’ve scared them?”
The low, sultry voice came from the tall, willow thin creature on the far right. In the dim morning light all the men could now see wide blue eyes that glittered like sapphires…and the pointed, long ears that poked from dark red braids. A muffled snort of laughter from the male to her right sent blue daggers and a sharp jab with an elbow his way.
“No, they are not scared Jadeth.” Emaranthe smiled at her friend and tugged the threadbare closer around her ears as the morning breeze was still icy. Gold eyes glittered teasingly.
“But I think you’ve certainly enamored them.”
She replaced the charred staff at her back and turned away from the still gaping guards. Jadeth the Elf smiled widely at the half dozen guards and more than one swallowed thickly. Another rude snort, this time from the second male drew their attention and alarm.
He was huge. Plate armor, dull and battered from use, covered him from head to toe. Only blazing green eyes could be seen from the depths of the helm. The first male, too was clad in plate armor, but was helmless. Wise blue eyes watched the guards warily and then the women, who turned away to lead their huge stallions to the dusty desert field behind the huts.
“I don’t like it here.” Jaeger ran his glove hand over his pale hair and jammed his helm on and turned away from the stunned guards to tend to his own stallion. “These people have no idea how much trouble is coming.”
“That is what we are for, friend.” Ivo studied the desert valley with eyes that saw everything in an instant. The sheer red valley walls climbed to soaring peaks and jumbles of stone formations. Narrow trails wove almost imperceptibly up the cliffs leading to the reason they were here to protect the tiny village.
The foursome busied themselves with their horses and gear as the village awoke with the sun. The desert air was crisp and the sandstone cliffs blazed orange in the bright morning sunlight.
The villagers watched the strangers with collective unease. A mysterious little girl was one thing, but an Elf and two huge human males? The bonfire snapped and hissed as the women readied food that would last all day. Rabbits, boar, a bird or two, all cooked and served communally saved their people from starvation.
“People of Stone Hold,” Emaranthe’s firm voice cut through the clamor like a bullet. All froze, staring warily. “As you have most likely guessed, we are not here by chance.”
Gold eyes flickered in the shadows of the cloak as they studied the villagers carefully. Those eyes saw everything, they realized.
“What has happened Lady?” Igoras, the elder of the village, moved closer to the tiny girl. “We’ve lived in peace for so long, and now you say we are in trouble?”
“Not just any trouble, Madame,” Jaeger dropped the satchel he had been surreptitiously carrying. It hit the dusty ground with a clatter and the leather flap opened, spilling red tinged rocks. “I believe you know where these came from?”
Igoras stared at the pile of fist sized rocks and sighed.
“Yes.” She bent stiffly and picked one up. It was oddly heavy for its size and rough to her fingers. The red tinge was barely noticeable. “We’ve been mining it for years without problem. Why now?”
Emaranthe moved past Jaeger to stand beside the worn bag of rocks. Jaeger backed away with a silent glance at Ivo, who noiselessly drew his weapon and nodded. Ivo’s eyes glittered as he readied the sword. Behind the men, Jadeth closed her eyes and inhaled deeply as she hefted a great two handed hammer from her pile of belongings and swung it easily. The hammer began to glow an odd, iridescent green.
“What is happening?” Aggie shouldered her way through the crowd and stopped at the sight.
“We must be careful. This stone is not just any stone. We cannot be caught off guard.” Jaeger sank into a wary crouch in front of the Elf, his own axe singing as he pulled it free of its scabbard.
“What is she doing?” Aggie watched Jadeth, fighting the urge to back away. Emaranthe’s dark hood flicked around and her odd eyes pinned Aggie.
“She is going to save your life.” Emaranthe’s whisper cut through the muttering villagers.
Without warning she jerked the staff from the shadows behind her and swung it high over the pile of rocks. Flames spiraled up the length of the staff and erupted from the charred crook. The ethereal radiance backed the villagers up several steps, gasping.
The rocks began to glow, faint at first, then brighter and darker, until they were brighter than even the bonfire. Everyone but the Immortals shielded their eyes in fear.
Ivo’s gaze moved past Emaranthe to the shadows clinging to the red cliff walls. The sun was at its midmorning arc and should have dragged shadows away from that end of the valley. He jerked his chin at the oddly darkened cliffs across the valley, to the West, and felt Jaeger tense beside him.
“There.” Jaeger hissed. “There they are.”
Emaranthe let her arm fall and the flames vanished. Her small frame sagged with weariness as she put away her staff once more. She dragged the ragged hood from her head and turned to face the villagers. Her pale blond braids caught the stiff desert breeze and tangled across her mouth and eyes.
“These rocks only react to special power, but once charged by coming into contact with it, they provide an energy source unimaginable.” Emaranthe said quietly. There was no need to shout, everyone in the village was deathly silent.
“Unfortunately, the Dro-Aconi’s minions have found out where to get it.” Jadeth glided past the men and fixed her sapphire jeweled eyes on the crowd, her huge hammer draped over her shoulder carelessly as if it were a toy.
“What do we do?” Igoras fell to her knees with a sob. Her stringy grey hair tangled and trailed in the breeze. Pale, aged blue eyes fixed on the tiny girl with gold eyes the burned behind her wind tossed braids.