Blood is Thicker Than Water
By Michele Elaine Wilson © 2004
Sean was late. He was suppose to be teaching a Bardic class. He had planned on being back yesterday but a fierce storm had delayed his return home. One of his younger brothers, Ian, had met him at the stables and had offered to take care of Sunset, Sean's big roan horse. Sean had gratefully accepted the offer and was now rushing through the hallway towards one of the schoolrooms in the Rainbow Castle. As he got near the room he could hear the sweet soprano voice of his twin sister, Kira, who had started the class for him.
Then look for me by the moonlight
Watch for me by the moonlight
I'll come to thee by the moonlight
Though hell should bar the way.
A hand grabbed Sean's arm as he was about to enter the room. It belonged to the White Mage. "Let her finish the song," he said softly.
Sean stopped and caught his breath. He listened to the song of how Bess, the landlord's daughter, sacrificed her life to try and save the highwayman she loved.
"Sis really gets the emotions right when she sings," Sean said. "She would have made an excellent Bard."
"At one point I thought both of you would be Bards until Kira started showing exceptional healing abilities. Rhiannon believes she will be the next head of the Healer's Guild," the White Mage replied.
"Granted she is a wonderful healer but I think Stefan had a lot to do with her desire to stay put and be a Healer rather than a Bard," Sean said.
Stefan was one of the ancient elves from the Mystic Forest. Everyone was shocked when this elegant Master Healer chose to return to the world of men, reside in Caledonia and take the vivacious red-headed Kira as his mate. The couple had four very active sons and Kira and Stefan took care of Sean's adopted daughter, Crystal, when he was away. Stefan had been heard to comment how peaceful a little girl was after the noise four sons could make. That always made Sean laugh because he was well aware of the number of questions Crystal liked to ask.
"Now that was something no one foresaw," said the White Mage. "When Stefan retired to the Mystic Forest everyone felt he would never return to the world of men. He had done more than his share in the fight against the Dark One and deserved to spend his time in peace. Who would ever have thought that a feisty little red-head would capture his heart?"
"I guess Sis does have her charms, if you like them loud and argumentative," Sean said with a shrug.
The White Mage looked at him sternly and said, "I don't think you have any room to talk young man."
"Who me?" Sean said with a grin. "I'm not argumentative."
Sean wasn't quite fast enough to avoid getting swatted across the side of the head by his father. With a chuckle he entered the classroom as his twin finished the song.
"It's about time you got here you big oaf," Kira said with a smile. "Honestly," she said turning to the class, "this guy expects me to drop what I'm doing and teach his classes but he never offers to teach mine."
"Gee Sis, think the fact that I'm not a Healer might have anything to do with that?" Sean said with a laugh.
"Another problem with him is that he always has a smart answer for everything," Kira told the class.
Sean gave his petite sister a kiss on the top of her head and Kira left the classroom giggling.
"Okay class," said Sean, "we have gone over the basics of how to write a story or a song. What I want you to learn today is what makes a story or a song memorable. As you noticed with the song you just heard it evoked a great deal of emotion inside of each and every one of you. You got caught up in the lives of the people in the song. A good story or song has to touch something inside of the listener. You can have all the techniques down pat but if ye fail to reach the soul of your listener then ye have failed as a Bard."
"The song that was done from the poem The Highwayman is a good example. You could say that it shows the meaning of the saying 'blood is thicker than water.' A phrase like that can be an excellent starting point for a story that teaches. I'll show you what I mean. This be a story about blood being thicker than water."
The man was with the White Mage in the latter's command center. It was from this room that the White Mage conducted the campaign to defeat the Dark One. The room was lit by a crystal pillar that reached from floor to ceiling and stood in the exact center of the room. It put out a bright blue-white light. The man knew that this was one of the direct conduits to the Source of Light. He also knew that anyone who had anything to do with the dark arts would be unable to stand the light. Many a traitor over the millenniums had been unveiled by this crystal. It was the strongest conduit in Caledonia and for this reason the first White Mage established the Rainbow Castle in this spot and this room had always been the White Mage's headquarters.
"The information we are getting from the Red World is sporadic at best," said the White Mage. "I have no way of knowing if this Conrad Kollar is reliable or not. He claims to be on our side and says he has information that can help us. What I need you to find out is whether what he has to say is of any use to us or not."
"Do we know anything at all about this Kollar guy?" the man asked.
"Not really," the White Mage replied. "He appears to be on the fringes of society there. Brendan met him briefly and his impression is that there is something that is not quite right but he couldn't put his finger on it. He suggested a closer look. Brendan was there, remember, primarily to meet with the local dragons in the area."
"I thought the dragons from the Red World were neutral," the man said.
"They have been until now," the White Mage replied. "Brendan was that way a few months ago during the search for the bandits that had raided Baron Hartford's keep. The dragons helped him since the bandits were harassing them and of course being dragons they knew of Master Khigh. The Red World dragons sought the meeting with Brendan and Master Khigh because there is something going on in their world that has them worried. I'll know more when the two get back here in a couple of days. There is another thing I want you to do. You are one of the best agents I have at getting a feel for a place. Find out what is going on in the world of men in the Red World."
"If I find something amiss are you leaving it up to me how to handle what I discover?" the man asked.
"I know I can rely on you," the White Mage replied, "however, you will be by yourself and I would prefer that you just retrieve information this time around. If necessary we can send a larger party at a later date."
The man left the meeting a short time later and headed for the stables. It had been decided that the safest way to travel would be to take the regular interfaces and make the trip in three days.
The first day's travel took the man to the foothills of a snowy mountain range and the man made his camp for the night near a crisp mountain stream. He set the wards that would protect him as he slept by thanking the East for the gift of fire and he watched as the light flared red. He thanked the South for the gift of earth and that light flared green. He thanked the West for the gift of metal and that light flared yellow. He thanked the North for the gift of water and that light flared blue. The four lights merged and a translucent canopy covered the area defined by the wards. The man and his horse would be safe from any danger.
As the man sat and played his travel harp he felt a pulsing from the life crystal he wore around his neck. He took the crystal out and brought it up to eye level and concentrated on it and in its depths he saw Queen Niri, the High Queen of the Elves.
"May I enter your wards," the Queen asked in a voice that sounded like music.
"Of course, my lady," the man replied as he rose and reached out his hand. Queen Niri reached her hand towards the man and a moment later she was standing next to him. There are many songs and stories praising Queen Niri's beauty and grace but none could ever convey the reality. She was too ethereal of a creature for words to ever make her concrete.
The man laughed as he sat back down and she sat down beside him. "I love how you always ask if you can enter my wards. You were the one who taught me to use them and all wards are ultimately under your control," the man said.
"That is true but it is polite to ask," she replied with a smile.
As High Queen of the Elves, Queen Niri was one of the strongest practitioners of white magic who ever lived. She was responsible for the life crystals that many of the elves and unicorns wore. She could enter any magical barrier. All of the protection wards answered to her. The full extent of her powers were known only to a select few. She was one of the most loved and feared creatures in the known multiverse.
"So what can I do for you?" the man asked.
"I need you to search for something, or someone, while you are in the Red World," Queen Niri replied. "I am getting a distortion from there and I'm not sure if it is a malfunctioning life crystal or if a person in the vicinity of a life crystal is altering the crystal's resonance."
"I didn't know that the crystals could malfunction," the man said in surprise.
"It is rare," the Queen replied, "but a crystal can be damaged and that will alter its resonance. The wearer could turn rogue and start doing evil and that creates a disturbance. The crystals are a product of the Source of Light and they will fight back if anyone tries to misuse them. Whatever the reason I want this crystal back."
"How can I do that? I can't touch another crystal with the exception of my twin's since we share a crystal that split in two when we were born," the man asked.
"You find the crystal and I will do the rest," Queen Niri said. She reached over and took the man's crystal in her hand. She uttered a word in high elfish and blew softly on the crystal. "You will be able to summon me immediately. You just need to call my name out loud."
"This must be really serious for you to take such steps, my lady," the man said.
"A malfunctioning crystal can affect the other crystals surrounding it. If someone is trying to turn a crystal rogue then it gives the Dark One an advantage in attacking us. The Well of Darkness was originally formed from a rogue crystal. We were unable to get to it in time to wrestle it away. We don't want to add any more power to the Darkness," Queen Niri said.
"How could something that is part of the Source of Light be turned into the Well of Darkness?" the man asked.
"Son, don't concern yourself with that," Queen Niri answered, "right now the important thing is to get the malfunctioning crystal to me. We have taken steps to ensure that the crystals can not be turned to evil again, but I need that crystal as soon as possible. I know your father has you searching for any disturbance in the world of men there. I think you will find that I am asking you to look for the same thing."
"Yes mother, you know I will do as you ask," the man said.
"I know you will dear," the Queen said as she stood up and the man stood up with her. "Be careful I don't like the feel of this."
Queen Niri gave the man a kiss and then slowly disappeared. The man walked over to his horse and patted him on the nose. "Do you get the feeling, big guy, that this is going to be one of those assignments?" he asked.
The horse gave a snort as if he were agreeing.
The following morning the man headed out. He had to make several tricky interface changes but by evening there were definite changes in the landscape. The sky was starting to show a strong preference towards the red end of the spectrum and the land was becoming more rocky. The man set up camp and again he set it up by a stream. This ensured that his horse would not try and wander away looking for water. Again he set the wards.
The man awoke several times during the night to the distant sound of dragon roars. The interface was thin here and the sounds from the Red World were bleeding through.
On his third day of travel the man reached the Red World proper. The name of the land came from the eerie sky which was blood red and frequently was crossed with black clouds. The man could see the flashes from the dragons flying high in the sky.
He rode towards a fairly good size settlement and stopped by the Inn. One of the advantages of being a wandering Bard was that he often was able to ply his trade in exchange for room and board. This proved to be the case here. Kurt was the Innkeeper and he ran the place with the help of his wife and four daughters.
"It is welcome you are here," said Kurt. "It has been a long time since we have had a Bard stop by. We are sure to have a full house tonight. Gossip is one of our favorite pastimes and it will be known far and wide that we have a traveling Bard staying with us."
"I'm looking forward to entertaining," the man replied. "Is there a school nearby? I know that often the teachers like for Bards to stop by."
"That is a terrific idea," the landlord exclaimed. "Turn left as you go out the main door and the schoolhouse will be the last building on your right."
A short time later the man was in front of the students and teachers. The head of the school had been delighted to see him and quickly gave word for all the students and teachers to meet in the great hall. Bards were not only entertainers but they were also teachers using their stories and songs to deliver lessons that had a moral to them.
"Okay this be a story about how things aren't always as they seem," the man said. He went on to tell them the story about a brave young lady named Arial who cared for a sick dragon. The man chose this particular story because the Red World's skies were frequently filled with dragons. They were known as the Masters of the Sky and the human inhabitants were in awe of these magnificent beasts but, at the same time, they were also afraid of them. The story had a two fold purpose of showing that you couldn't judge people and situations by first glances and it also showed that dragons didn't have to be terrifying. The students and teachers were delighted with the story.
That evening the man performed at the Inn. True to the landlord's prediction the place was packed. The man spotted Conrad Kollar sitting with a group of friends. The primary impression the man had gotten of Kollar was gray. He had gray hair and eyes and was quite stout. He had briefly met him during the day and the man felt Kollar had very little in the way of personality. He had asked if the Bard was going to be doing stories about humans shapeshifting into animal forms. It seemed that he and his friends were fascinated by that. The man informed Kollar that he might do some stories that had shapeshifting but only if it was integral to the story.
"I have been asked to do a story that has dragons in it," said the man. "So this be a story about a very brilliant but also very tricky dragon." He launched into a story about a rescue that led into the bowels of a fiery volcano. The audience hung on every word.
Late that night the man was in his room at the Inn. He had placed a privacy spell over the room so that no one could spy on him. He brought his life crystal out and stared into it seeking the mind of the White Mage. Slowly a picture formed. The White Mage was sitting in front of a fire looking at a parchment.
"Ah it is you," the White Mage said. "I have been going through the report from Brendan and Master Khigh. The dragons are sensing a darkness emanating from close to where you are at. They couldn't be more specific as the men are too in awe of them to give them coherent answers to their questions. Now we know that the Dark One has been trying to establish a foothold near there but we don't know if he has an agent there or not. I know you've only been there a day but give me your impressions."
The man told him about his walk through the town. "I heard about a stranger who had been ill," he said. "The impression I got leads me to believe that he might be of elfin kind. That puzzles me because our people have rarely come here. I'm going to try and see if I can affect a meeting with him tomorrow and see what I can find out."
"Keep me posted. If he is one of us I would be curious to know why he is there," the White Mage said. "You get some rest and report to me tomorrow night."
"I'll do that sir," said the man.
After the image of the White Mage faded the man pulled out his large broadsword. The blade was one of the ancient elfin blades and was named Nuadias. The man focused on the blue crystal in the pommel. He soon saw a glade that he knew was deep inside the Mystic Forest. Queen Niri smiled back at him.
"I see you have arrived safely," she said.
"Yes I am doing fine. I just spoke to the White Mage and he says according to the dragons they are sensing a darkness. I have also heard of a stranger who became ill and it sounds like he may be elfin. Would an illness cause the disturbance you are feeling?"' asked the man.
"Considering that our kind rarely get ill that may be a possibility," the Queen replied.
"I'm going to try and meet him tomorrow. I'll let you know tomorrow night what I find out," said the man.
"Be careful. Something is definitely wrong there," Queen Niri replied.
"I'll do that," said the man. He watched as the image of the Queen faded.
The following morning the man set off exploring the village. One of the places he stopped was Conrad Kollar's house. Kollar insisted on showing him his collection of animal paintings. He seemed especially to be taken with dragons.
"What I really would like is to be able to turn into a dragon at will," Kollar said. "I have heard that there are members of the elf family that can do that. Do you think I could get someone to teach me to do it?"
The man didn't think it was prudent to mention that he himself was a shapeshifter. "I've heard rumors," the man said, "that there are such beings but I doubt if it is something that can be taught."
"Oh I'm sure that there has to be a way to teach that. I'd give anything to learn," Kollar replied. "I’d be willing to pay."
The man turned the conversation towards the "information" Kollar was supposed to have and listened as Kollar told him how "cleverly" he had obtained this information. The man left a short while later. He wasn't really sure if what Kollar had told him was relevant or not but decided it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.
Upon leaving Kollar’s house the man headed towards a cottage on the edge of town. He had been informed that the local Healers had taken care of a patient and he might still be staying with them. An elderly woman opened the door. Her hair was a faded yellow but her blue eyes still twinkled.
"I must say you certainly look in the peak of health young man," she said with a smile.
"Healthy as a horse," the man replied.
"I saw you at the Inn last night. You are the best Bard I've ever seen. Reminds me of a Bard named Gallen from my youth," the woman said.
"Are you from Caledonia?" the man asked. "Gallen was one of my teachers."
"Come on in son," the woman said. "I'll brew us up a nice cup of tea and we can chat."
The woman introduced herself as Alice. She and her husband Tom had worked as Healers here in the Red World for many years. She had been born in Caledonia and studied healing there. She had met Tom during her studies and when they both finished their studies she agreed to marry him. They came back here to his home world and had raised a family and were now grandparents.
"I have heard gossip about an elf that fell ill," the man said. "Did he come here for treatment?"
"Aye, he was here briefly," Alice replied. "He wasn't ill as much as injured. He had bad burns on his hands. We treated him and sent him on his way. I didn't want him around."
"Do you dislike elves?" the man asked.
"Oh no, I love elves!" Alice said. "I can tell you are one. I met your brother Brendan not too long ago and I recognized you the moment I set eyes on you last night. I imagine, as with your brother, you aren't advertising your heritage?"
The man was silent for a moment and finally replied, "uh I'm not sure what to say."
Alice laughed and said, "well that must be a first for a Bard, to be speechless. Listen dear, I have sent reports whenever I could to the White Mage to keep him appraised of what is happening in the Red World. You have nothing to fear from me or my man."
"Thank you," the man said with a sigh of relief. "Could you tell me why you didn't want the elf here?"
"He gave me the chills," Alice said. "Those burns on his hands had to be made by a life crystal. I have never heard of one attacking its owner and I could see the crystal flashing under his shirt like it was angry."
"Did he give you his name or any sort of explanation?" the man asked.
"He told us we didn't need a name to treat him, nor did he give an explanation for the burns," Alice replied. "He was extremely arrogant. Like I said, we treated him and got him out of here as quickly as possible. It was physically uncomfortable having him in the room. It was like a small lightening strike was running up and down our bodies. I was struck by lightening once and that is the only way I can describe the feeling."
"Do you know where he went after he left?" the man asked.
"He went over to Conrad Kollar's place and I believe that man gave him the key to the small cabin he owns at the edge of town," Alice answered.
"You have been very helpful," the man said. "Stop by the Inn tonight and I'll do one of Gallen's special stories just for you."
The man checked out the cabin that Alice had told him about but the neighbors said that the person staying there was out until nightfall. He did get a good description of the person. Kollar was also out when he stopped back by his house to ask about the man staying at his cabin.
The man returned to his room in the Inn. He reported back to both the White Mage and Queen Niri. The White Mage remembered Alice and asked the man to give her his regards. The conversation with the Queen however was very troubling. The Queen had ordered him to stay put and said she would contact him with further instructions.
The man was practicing a new song for the evening when the summons came from Queen Niri. There was a bright flash of light from the crystal on the pommel of Nuadias.
"I need you to find this elf and see if he is this man," the Queen ordered. The image of a tall man with light brown hair and eyes flashed before him. He had a cold beauty about him. The man didn't recognize him but could immediately tell he was looking at an elf.
"His name is Roland. Do not approach him but just get me a visual confirmation," Queen Niri added.
"What is wrong? I have never seen you this angry," the man said.
"I cannot explain right now. I can only tell you not to get involved in this. There is extreme danger to you. Do not allow yourself to be alone with this man. Avoid any contact if at all possible. I only need you to get a look at him and report back to me," Queen Niri ordered.
"I'll do as you ask," the man said.
The man sat by the window and watched the night fall. He knew that something was terribly wrong. He also knew he would obey the Queen's commands completely.
Back in Caledonia, a young woman was running through the Rainbow Castle trying to find her brother. Her name was Cassandra but everyone called her Cassie. Her strongest magical talent was foreseeing. She was one of the children of the White Mage and Queen Niri. She looked just like her mother with pale blond hair and light ice blue eyes but at the moment those eyes were full of tears. As she rounded the corner she ran into Brendan. He caught her before she fell.
"Hold on there Cassie," said Brendan, "where are you off to in such a hurry?"
Cassie tried to catch her breath and hung onto her brother. Brendan put his arms around her and held her close to him. He was a tall slender man with reddish blond hair and blue-green eyes. He took after his mother's forest elf side rather than the big red-heads on his father's mountain elf side.
"Brendan you just came from the Red World didn't you?" Cassandra asked.
"Yes I did," Brendan replied.
"How quickly can a person get there?" she asked.
"Normally you can get there in three days. Why?" Brendan asked.
"No! It has to be quicker! He is going to be killed unless someone can get to him tonight," Cassandra cried.
" Are you talking about our brother who is there now?" Brendan asked.
"Yes," she sobbed. "I can't reach him. I saw the sword coming down into his exposed back. He doesn't know someone is behind him. He has to be warned."
"Have you told Father?" Brendan asked.
"He is out and I can't reach Mother," Cassandra said with tears flowing down her face.
"Cassie, can you see me reaching him in time? Is there another vision that shows that?" Brendan asked.
"Yes I can see him alive but I also see blood. But how can you reach him in time? " she replied.
"There is a way but it looks like we will need a Healer," said Brendan. "Come on I know where Kira is." He grabbed his little sister's hand and pulled her after him. They found Kira fixing a skinned knee on her youngest son.
"Kira," said Brendan, "I need your help. Can Stefan watch the boys this evening?"
"The Queen has asked for Stefan's help," Kira replied as she sent her son off to play with his brothers. "What is going on?"
Cassandra told her about her vision.
"Now let me get this straight, if we get to him tonight we can save his life?" Kira asked.
"Correct," said Brendan. "We will have to do a hellride to get there in time though."
"There is no other way to reach him?" Kira asked.
"I have been trying but I can't reach him," Cassandra said. "Can you try? You’re his twin maybe you can reach him."
Kira pulled out her life crystal and concentrated but she could not reach her twin. "This is strange. We have always been able to contact each other," Kira said. "As twins we share a life crystal, to say nothing of the mental communication that comes from being a twin. What could be going on?"
"Something is blocking all contact," Brendan said. "We are going to have to go to him."
"I'll watch the boys," Cassandra said.
"Okay, let me get my bag and I'll meet you at the stable," Kira said.
Kira grabbed her cloak and Healer's pouch. She told her sons and niece to obey their Aunt Cassie and that if the boy’s father returned to let him know she had a medical emergency and that Cassie could explain what was going on.
At the stable Brendan had saddled a huge black stallion named Midnight. The horse was only partly tamed and there were few people who could handle him.
"I was afraid we were going to have to take him," Kira said as she entered the stable.
"He is the only one big enough to carry both of us and make it through a hellride without freaking out," said Brendan.
"Brendan before we start out I want to know if you have told me everything," Kira asked.
"You are a very suspicious person, Kira," answered Brendan. "I told you what Cassie told me. You know we can't reach either parent so it is up to us to save our brother."
Brendan had Kira ride in front of him and they set out at a fast gallop. Midnight galloped for almost an hour before Brendan started manipulating the interfaces. Normally he would switch to another space interface and go through actual lands but that would take too long. There was another way of manipulating interfaces called a hellride where you traveled through the nightmare realm of unreality. It took a lot of nerve and an unusual animal to get through. It was only used in emergencies.
"What do you want me to do Brendan?" Kira asked.
"I need you to project a calming aura directed at Midnight. He is a veteran of hellrides but it will make it easier for me if I can expend all my energy on the shifts," Brendan replied.
Elves, dragons, and unicorns were referred to as the three ancients and they were the ones credited with bringing magic into the world of men. One of the special abilities that the three magic users had was the ability to see the junction of time, space and universe as a tangible reality and that allowed them to move from place to place quickly. They were able to manipulate these interfaces, as they named them, to travel from world to world in a matter of minutes rather than days or years if more conventional methods were used. Their own world, the Mystic Forest, lay outside of these interfaces and was an eternal place untouched by the ravages of time.
Kira kept projecting calming thoughts towards the horse as Brendan manipulated the interfaces. As he reached for the interfaces that lay beyond reality the land disappeared from beneath them and the skies surrounding them swirled with lurid colors that didn't exist in a normal sky. There was only a narrow path that went through these skies and Brendan struggled to keep the horse on the path. The hardest times came when it looked like they were traveling upside down and common sense said you were going to fall off.
This realm was home to some of the most fearsome monsters that had ever existed. They couldn't touch you if you stayed on the path. Brendan and Kira were currently surrounded on both sides by huge snakes that were larger then their horse. The snake skins were changing colors constantly and it hurt the eyes to look at them. Their hissing was as loud as a waterfall.
It felt like they had been traveling through the nightmare for days when Midnight stepped onto solid ground. The sky was blood red with black clouds. They were by a glowing sea that was crashing on the rocks beside the path they were on. A huge dragon was coming towards them.
"Brendan are we still on the hellride?" Kira asked.
"No this is the Red World," Brendan replied. "I recognize the dragon coming towards us. He is a friend."
The golden dragon landed on a large boulder close to where the horse had stopped.
##We didn't expect to see you so soon, ## projected the dragon telepathically.
"Something unexpected has happened," Brendan said. "This is my sister, Kira. We need to find a brother that passed by here a couple of days ago."
##A large man with hair like our sun?## the dragon asked.
"Yes that would be him," Kira said. "We have to get to him as soon as we can."
##Your brother Brendan did us a service and you are a Healer as I can see by your Healer's blue. Follow me and I'll show you the fastest way to the town your brother is staying at, ## said the dragon.
Brendan and Kira followed as the dragon flew over the path they were to follow..
Back at the Inn the man was finishing up for the night. The pub area had been packed with enthusiastic patrons. The man had entertained all evening with songs and stories from many lands.
Alice had come with Tom and had introduced her husband to the man. She had been thrilled when he had done one of Gallen's most famous stories. It was a story about mistaken identities and people running in and out of various tents at a large fair. The audience had laughed so hard that many of them were holding their sides as they left.
The man had been approached during a break by Conrad Kollar who wanted him to visit after the entertainment was over for the evening. The man told him he was going to be busy afterwards and that it would be very late when he was free. Kollar insisted that he had something to show him that would not keep. Reluctantly the man agreed to met him.
Back in his room the man donned dark clothing and slipping out of the Inn by a side door. He headed for the cabin where the man who might be Roland was staying. He had a long wait. Finally the man he was waiting for came walking towards the cabin. The moonlight was very bright and the man got a good look as the door was being unlocked. It was definitely Roland.
The man walked over to a large tree and stepped behind it. Taking his life crystal out of his shirt and cradling it in his hand he softly said, "Queen Niri."
There was a soft "pop" sound and standing next to the man was the High Queen of the Elves. The man was surprised to see that she was accompanied by another person. He was the Master Healer Stefan.
"I take it that Roland is inside?" Queen Niri asked.
"Yes my lady. I saw him quite clearly and there is no doubt he is the person you showed me," the man said.
"Good. I want you to stand guard out here. Let no one enter. Under no circumstances should you enter yourself," said the Queen.
"I'll do as you ask," said the man.
Inside the cabin Roland was putting salve on the burns on his hands. He was startled to see a tall slender woman with silver blonde hair and pale blue eyes appear in front of him. She was dressed in a white gown and a gold coronet encircled her hair. He recognized her as the High Queen of the Elves. He reached for his life crystal only to find his arm had frozen in mid-movement.
"Halt," said a deep male voice. Stefan walked around and stood in front of Roland.
Anger flashed in Roland's eyes. "You dare to come after me?" Roland demanded.
"Silence!" commanded Queen Niri.
Roland found that he could no longer speak.
"Unlike you, Stefan would never betray his people," said the Queen. "You could never accept that my daughter Kira would have nothing to do with you. She had fallen in love with Stefan and your ego could not accept that."
Stefan walked over next to the Queen. He was a tall slender man with fair hair and green eyes. He was an elegant man and was one of the most brilliant Healers in the multiverse.
"Kira sensed in you," Stefan said, "something she found very disturbing. You frightened her. I had nothing to do with her rejecting you but you refused to believe the truth. I had not planned on returning to the world of men but I felt it was imperative to protect Kira from you. In the course of doing that I fell in love with her and she with me."
"You have betrayed me haven't you Roland?" asked Queen Niri. "No don't try and answer because your tongue speaks lies. Let us ask something that can not lie." She raised her arm and pointed to Roland's chest. A flashing life crystal rose up from inside Roland's shirt and floated towards Niri. It only stopped when it reached the end of the chain.
"Reveal!" commanded the Queen.
The crystal flashed a scene of a meeting between Roland and furtive man.
"Artides, my Queen and he is a known agent of the Dark One," Stefan said.
"Well Roland it seems your allegiance has changed," said the Queen. "It has been a very long time since one of us has gone over to the Dark One. If that is what you want then I release you from your vows to me. In fact I release you from being an elf."
Roland's eyes widened in terror. He watched as Stefan took out his life crystal and focused his attention on it. A white light shot out from the crystal and hit Roland. He was soon enclosed in the light. He felt as though something was gripping every part of him. He could feel his heart slowing down and he could tell when it stopped. The only thing that was still functioning was his consciousness.
"He is in stasis, my Queen," Stefan said.
"Thank you, Stefan," said Niri. "Roland you were of high elfin birth and as a member of one of the ancient races you were blessed with a life crystal. You were given a manifestation of the Source of Light. When you became of age you swore your allegiance to me as the High Queen of the Elves. You swore to uphold our laws and join in the fight against the Dark One. Your life crystal has been crying out to me as it saw you turning towards the darkness. The life crystals are in my domain. I give them out and I can take them back."
Queen Niri said something in high elfish and the chain holding Roland's life crystal shattered. The crystal flew into the Queen's hand. It immediately stopped its angry flashing and glowed a soft blue. Niri stroked the crystal and murmured softly to it. After a few moments she placed the crystal in a silk lined bag at her waist.
"I have isolated his powers, my Queen," said Stefan.
"Thank you," replied Queen Niri. "Roland you have betrayed what it means to be an elf. I cast you out from our midst. You will no longer have those skills which our people posses. Your magic will be taken from you. Your immortality will be taken from you. You will have all knowledge of the Mystic Forest taken from you. Our home is no longer accessible to you. You will spend the rest of your days as a mortal man. I think you will find that the Dark One will have no further use for you."
Queen Niri walked up to Roland. In her hand she held the master life crystal. Roland could feel Stefan's hands holding him up. He watched in horror as the crystal flashed and he felt the flames inside of him burning out everything that made him an elf. After what seemed like an eternity the flames died. Stefan released Roland's arms and Roland slipped down to the ground. He curled up into a ball and didn't see Queen Niri and Master Healer Stefan disappear from the room.
The man watched as the Queen appeared in front of him. "It is over. Finish what you have to do here as quickly as you can and leave," she said and then she disappeared.
The man walked over to Kollar's house. He found himself wanting to leave this place as soon as possible. Kollar opened the door to his house and seeing the man he looked surprised.
"You do remember asking me to come see you don't you?" the man asked.
"Of course," Kollar replied. "Uh, are you alone?" Kollar tried to look around the man to see if anyone was with him.
"Of course," the man snapped. "Whom did you expect?"
"Well my tenant had mentioned that he wanted to see you and I thought he might be with you," Kollar said. "I thought you might had gone to see him first."
"I don't think that man will be up to visiting any time soon," said the man.
"Actually he is an elf," said Kollar.
"Not any more," the man replied.
"What do you mean?" Kollar demanded.
"Let's just say that you don't want the High Queen of the Elves as an enemy," the man replied. "Now look it has been a long night and you claimed that you had a paper to show me. I want you to just show it to me so that I can get going."
"Of course," Kollar replied, "this way please. I'm not sure what to make of it but it looks like it might be plans to invade this land."
Kollar led the way over to a table and showed the man where the paper was. It was difficult to read and the man moved it closer to the light.
"Where are my manners?" Kollar said. "Let me get you some wine while you study that." He left the man looking over the paper.
"Hurry Brendan, he is very close," Kira said. "I can sense his presence."
Brendan and Kira rushed through the street towards the house where Kira sensed their brother was. Brendan signaled for silence as they reached the door. Quietly he tried the handle and discovered it was unlocked. He opened the door and the two of them slipped in. They could see their brother bending over a table looking at a piece of parchment. It was just then that they saw the sword a moment before they saw who was holding it.
"Look out!" Brendan cried as he dove for the sword. Kollar spun around and plunged the sword into Brendan's chest. The man grabbed his brother as he started to fall.
"No!" Kira cried as she gestured towards Kollar. Kollar gasped as he felt a sharp pain in his chest. His heart burst as Kira's hand clenched together in a fist.
Kira and the man got Brendan to Alice and Tom's place. Between them, the three Healers got Brendan stabilized. Later that evening with the help of the White Mage they moved Brendan to the Rainbow Castle.
The White Mage found his daughter sitting in the window seat watching the storm. "You did an excellent job, Kira. Brendan will live," he said as he stood next to her.
Kira looked up with a tear stained face. "Is this how my life is going to be father? Am I destined to keep trying to heal those I love until one day they will be injured beyond my skills? I don't think I can stand to watch them die."
"It is the worst thing about the evil that the Dark One has wrought," the White Mage said. "The possibility of death coming to those we love."
"Brendan knew this was going to happen didn't he?" Kira asked.
"According to Cassie, Brendan asked if she could see his death. Cassie says Brendan's future is blocked from her sight," the White Mage said. "So the answer to your question is that Brendan didn't know for sure whether he would survive the attack on his brother or not but was willing to take the risk."
Sean looked around at the future Bards. It was so quiet in the room you could hear a pin drop. "So ye see," he said, "the ties that bind people together are strong. Blood is thicker than water."
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