THE PRICE OF MAGIC


PART ONE: THE OUTCASTS


CHAPTER SEVEN


     Lora was considering how to approach Dav with the information that his daughter was an Apath. It wasn't something he would readily believe, especially without proof, yet it was vital for all their futures in Heltala that he not only accept the truth, but be willing to convince the elders of the town of it as well.
     A demonstration was the most logical course of action, but Eya was so frightened by her powers that Lora didn't think she would be able to perform on demand. Beside that, it was dangerous. Any magic she unleashed would be out-of-control. The first time, she had demolished a candle. Who knew what might happen on the next occasion? Nevertheless, the only way to prove an Apath's talents was by a magical display of some sort, and one that couldn't be produced through chicanery.
     Lora had put off telling Dav. He had arrived home a half-hour ago, looking grim and dour as always, and asking if "anything new" had happened while he was out. She had told him no, and he had gone on to describe in grisly detail the scene in the center square. Then, accompanied by Reg, he went to check on the fledgling crop of fall vegetables that were sprouting in what remained of Lora's garden in the valley.
     Lora cradled her baby in her arms while Eya sat motionless on her pallet, her legs tucked under her chin, staring into space. Her silent refusal to accompany her father and brother on their daily twilight trek was unusual, but if Dav had noticed anything odd in her behavior, he hadn't mentioned it. Lora was inclined to believe that after the birth of Mora, he had given up looking after all his children. Eya's despondency wasn't something he would observe, and, if he did, it was questionable whether he would care.
     "Eya, would you like to hold your sister?" asked Lora, trying to coax the girl out of her stillness. Of them all, Lora included, Eya seemed the most taken by Mora. She was forever picking up the child, humming and singing to her, and stroking her downy hair. Not this evening, however. A fractional shake of the head was Eya's only response. Her attention remained fixed on something beyond the confines of the house.
     After a moment's consideration, Lora deposited her daughter amidst a sea of blankets, then went to sit by Eya. Draping a comforting arm around the younger girl's shoulders, Lora said, "This is not something you can run away from. You will have to learn to live with it, for good or ill."
     "Isn't there any way I can get rid of it?" asked Eya. She began chewing on her lower lip.
     "No. And there will come a time when you will be glad that you cannot. I know that is hard to believe and understand now, but there is no greater honor in all of Devforth than to be an Apath. Even kings are not so well-received."
     Although unconvinced, Eya nodded. Lora could see the tears pooling in her eyes. She wished she had some nugget of wisdom to offer her friend, but her thoughts were blank. And the difficult part - facing Dav with the truth - lay ahead. His unpredictable reaction might range from stoic acceptance to violence.
     At that moment, there was a knock on the door. It was a light, staccato rap, entirely unlike Dav's. While a visitor to the house was unusual, one coming at this hour, when dusk was descending and the streets of Heltala were emptying, was unheard of. With trepidation, Lora rose to answer the door, wondering what reason anyone could have for calling this late in the day.
     The moment the bolt was drawn back and the latch released, the door was thrown open with enough force to stagger the elf. A hooded figure crossed the threshold, then slammed shut the door behind it. As Lora moved to intercept the intruder, she was dealt a blow to the face that sent her sprawling, stunned senseless, blood oozing from a broken nose.
     The figure was human or human-like, although short and stooped. He wore typical village garb, but with a cowled cape that concealed his features in shadow. In his right hand, he brandished a curved dagger, the craftsmanship of which made it clear that it had not be fashioned in Haven, nor in any town with only a small forge and ill-trained blacksmiths.
     Three candles were lit inside and the intruder moved to extinguish two, both on a table to the immediate left of the entrance. The third, resting on the floor next to Eya, he ignored. Once the level of light in the room was diminished, he turned to the elf lying prone by his feet. One thumb scraped across the edge of his blade, as if testing its sharpness. Then, slowly and deliberately, he lifted the weapon high above his head, preparing to drive it into Lora's breast.
     Eya, who had been silent for the first part of the tableau, suddenly let out a piercing shriek. Startled, the intruder turned to her. He took two steps toward her before stopping, lowering the knife, then raising it again, as if caught in a paroxysm of indecision. He waved the blade in her direction, making several cuts in the air, but his uncertainty stripped the action of menace. Eya continued to scream, her voice powered by a pair of seven-year-old lungs.
     Meanwhile, a dazed Lora was struggling to her feet, blood smearing the left side of her face. She got to her feet as quietly as she could, then, fingers bent into claws, she attacked from behind.
     The man let out a grunt of surprise when he felt Lora's light weight impact his back. Although staggered, he did not lose his footing, but the elf had leaped upon him, like a cat riding a horse, her fingers tearing at his face, seeking his eyes.
     He flung himself backward against the nearest wall, crushing Lora between his back and the hard stone. Her head struck the unyielding surface with a thud and, once she was no longer pinned, her body crumpled to the ground where she lay motionless.
     Lora dispatched, the intruder advanced upon the baby. Eya, seeing the way he gripped the knife and realizing what he intended, leapt to her feet and rushed at him, the high-pitched force of her screams never abating. But the strength of a girl, even enhanced by fear and anger, was no match for him. He grabbed both her wrists then drove his knee into her stomach. She doubled over, gasping and choking, hands clutching at her abdomen, while black spots danced before her vision. The screaming stopped.
     Calmly, the intruder looked down at the baby, who was cooing and playfully flailing her arms and legs around. His single blow with the knife was sure and swift and Mora never uttered so much as a feeble death cry. Her eyes glazed over and her limbs went limp as the dagger sliced through her flesh and into her heart. Once the deed was done, the man removed the knife from its fleshy sheath and wiped it off on one of the baby's blankets.
     The front door banged open and Dav stalked into the room, his son behind him. "What the hell is all that yelling about! And why isn't this door..." His voice trailed off as he registered the sight in front of him: Lora struggling weakly on the floor, Eya on her knees, coughing and choking, and a cloaked figure bent over the still form of his newest child.
     The intruder took advantage of Dav's momentary startlement to flee the house, knocking both him and Reg aside as he ran outside. The boy moved to follow, but Dav grabbed his son's arm and commanded him to see to his twin. He set off in pursuit himself.

* * *

     Dav lost the figure in the gathering darkness, but it didn't matter. Although he had been led along a circuitous route through the streets of Haven, he had no doubt of the intruder's destination, because he knew who he was. Dav was cursing himself for a fool - he should have had the foresight to see this coming. Jod had apparently decided to take matters into his own hands.
     Neither Lora nor Eya had looked seriously injured, but it was difficult to be sure with only a glance. Nothing more than that had been necessary, however, to determine that Mora was dead. The stain seeping across the front of her simple white frock, coupled with her slack features, had been evidence enough of that.
     Emotions churned within Dav. Regardless of how he had felt about Mora or what he had said about her, she had not deserved to die like that. As many times as he had considered eliminating the child himself, her smile had melted the impulse. But that had not been the case with Jod. Where Dav had stopped short, Jod had forged his way forward. And it had been Dav's error that had led to this tragedy. He had mentioned his desires to a man he had believed to be his friend, and that man, perhaps sensing Dav's ambiguity, had acted on his own.
     But what enraged Dav even more than Mora's death, Lora's wounds, and the violation of his home, was the injury to Eya. Eya, who was wholly human and the only daughter of his union with Sya. There could be no excuse or forgiveness for what Jod had done to her.
     Ultimately, the problem was that Dav had lost control of the situation. Jod had usurped an authority that was not his to take, but Dav's words had provided the impetus. He could not be held blameless. In some ways, Jod had been his tool, a dark spirit granting his wish, at least as far as Mora was concerned. But not Eya. He could never, no matter what, hurt his daughter. Dav was going to make Jod pay for that one action, the unpardonable sin.
     He took the direct route from his current location to Jod's house, moving carefully through the night, with only the light of the stars to guide him. By now, he was supposed to be inside, but even the watchdogs of the settlement would not be able to force him in this night. Since his arrival in Haven, this was the first time Dav had been outside after dark, and he found the experience unsettling. But the anger boiling within him would not let him turn back. The warm security of a candlelit room was far from his thoughts at the moment.
     He knocked on Jod's door, the noise echoing through the deserted streets. There was no answer, but Dav hadn't expected one. The question he had to consider was whether Jod had returned home and wasn't answering or whether he was hiding out someplace other than in his house. Either way, there wasn't much that Dav could do other than keep banging. The doors of Haven were sturdily constructed, with strong hinges and thick bolts. Little short of a battering ram would knock one down, and with no windows, there wasn't an alternative entrance.
     Dav was about to knock again when a pillar of fire lit up the night sky.
* * *

     Lora, her face swollen and her left arm cradled against her body, knelt by the side of her dead daughter and wept.
     Reg, after closing the door after his father, had helped Eya to her feet. She was still in pain, but her awareness of her surroundings was returning. Her twin tried to shield her from the sight of Mora's body, but the moment she caught a glimpse of Lora, she knew something was wrong.
     With a cry, she broke her brother's grip and rushed to the baby. Before either Lora or Reg could stop her, she lifted Mora from the blankets and held the body to her breast. Instantly, her grief took form.
     Lora recognized what was happening before Eya did, but she was too late to stop it. "No, Eya!" she cried. "You do not know what you are doing! You do not know what will happen!"
     For Apaths, death had always been a forbidden barrier, an invisible wall beyond which they dared not try their talents. Magic's effectiveness in the realm of shadows and shades was unpredictable at best, and frequently it rebounded upon its user. But Eya was a novice, and she was ignorant of the potentially disastrous results of the task she was attempting.
     A soft, bluish-green halo enveloped the child in Eya's arms, an aura that suggested health and serenity. Lora took several steps away from the pair as she saw this, realizing that things had gone too far. As much as she loved Eya, she was not willing to risk her own safety through involvement in forces beyond her control. Reg stood rooted to his place by the door, mouth agape as he watched what transpired.
     The glow grew brighter, until it was so intense that the child within it was no longer visible. Lora, her eyes more sensitive to light than a human's, was forced to look away. Reg continued to stare, squinting into the brightness, while Eya, lids clamped shut against the glow, gripped the small body fiercely, her face a mask of concentration. Suddenly, with a loud popping sound, the bubble of light burst, dissipating instantly. Eya teetered on her feet and would have fallen had Lora not rushed forward to support her.
      Struggling in Eya's arms was a living baby. Its cries were weak and the simple white garment it had been wearing had vanished along with the knife wound to its chest, but it was moving and breathing. For a moment, Lora's joy and relief were such that she didn't notice the dramatic change to the child: it was not half-elf, but entirely human.
     That it was Mora was indisputable. The essence of her features was the same, or at least similar. But the upswept ears were bobbed, the obsidian eyes had blue irises, the high cheekbones had been lowered, and the coloring of the skin had lightened to the reddish-pink of newborn humans.
     Lora froze before she touched the child, regarding it with a mixture of wonder and uncertainty. Her mother's instincts told her that this was her baby, but she could not understand what had happened to it. Perhaps, she reasoned, Eya, as the engineer of Mora's recovery, had infused the child with her own racial characteristics. Or maybe it was something more complex. Either way, Lora could not deny that the most important thing was that her daughter had been saved.
     The elf took Mora from a weary and dazed Eya, who was now leaning on Reg. What happened next was so unexpected that Lora nearly dropped her tiny daughter.
     In the blink of an eye, Mora's features changed, not merely returning to their previous semi-elf state, but, the moment she was in her mother's arms, transforming into those of a full elf. The human roundness of the body disappeared in favor of an elf's slenderness and angularity. The skin's color changed, the eyes narrowed and became black, the ears elongated beyond what they had been before, and the face subtly re-shaped itself. It was almost as if Mora's flesh was liquid, somehow flowing and melting into different forms.
     "Reg," she whispered. "Take Mora. See what happens."
     They both watched as the boy allowed Lora to hand him his half-sister. Again, a change took place. Mora's form became the human she had been in Eya's arms. When Lora retrieved the baby, she again became an elf. While all this was happening, Eya, slumped against the wall, stared vacantly in front of her.
     Gingerly, Lora lowered her daughter onto the pile of blankets that served as her bedding. Even after contact with her mother was broken, she retained the form of an elf.
     "Eya? Are you all right?" demanded Reg, noticing his sister's detached state.
     Eya blinked twice, as if to bring her brother's face into focus, then, in an even voice, said, "If she'd been any further gone, I couldn't have reached her. Death is a very cold place."
     "Are you all right?" repeated Reg, who didn't like his sister's manner. The lack of emotion was alarming and unlike Eya.
     "I'm tired. Is the baby alive?" The question was asked with curiosity, but little feeling.
     "She is...fine," acknowledged Lora. "But changed. Do you know what you did to her?"
     Eya's response was a shrug.
     "What's wrong with her?" asked Reg, turning to Lora for an explanation of his sister's condition.
     "Apathy. She has used a tremendous amount of emotion. It is hard to tell how much feeling she has obliterated."
     "Will she be all right?"
     "I am not a wizard, Reg, I don't know."
     "What about her?" he added, nodding to Mora. "What's happened to her?"
     "I do not know that, either. It seems she has become some sort of changeling. I am not certain how this could have happened. Eya might be able to explain, if she understood more about what she has done." She gazed fondly at the baby, who had drifted off to sleep, her chest rising and falling regularly, only a small pinkish scar below her left nipple to indicate that the attack had happened.
     "The important thing," added Lora, "is that she is alive. Nothing else matters."
     "Except Eya," objected Reg.
     "Stop fussing," said Eya, with more animation. "I'm fine. I just have a headache. It was all that buzzing in my ears."
     "Are you still frightened?" asked Lora.
     "No. Should I be? What's there to be frightened about? I'm an Apath. There's no reason for fear." Eya spoke those words with a maturity beyond her years.
     Lora nodded as if she had expected the response. "We will have to see someone about this, Eya," she said. Then, in a gesture of support, she took one of her young friend's hands in her own.
     "I suppose we will. Father won't like it, though. He won't let me see an elf."
     "He may not have a choice," noted Lora.
     "He'll take us out of Haven," said Reg. "What's the city with the Apath king?"
     "Vorti," said Lora. "King Sor of Vorti. The first Apath king of Devforth. But Vorti is along the northeastern coast, days away from here in good weather."
     "That won't make any difference to Father," said Eya.
     Lora was about to respond when Haven's calm evening erupted into chaos.
* * *

     Even though no light from within Jod's house could escape outside, he still doused the candles the moment he had locked and bolted his door. Doffing the hooded cloak he had worn on the mission to Dav's home, he sat down in his favorite rocking chair and waited in the darkness for what was to come.
     He knew that Dav would be angered by his actions of this evening, but, during his conversation with his friend, he had sensed an unwillingness to take an action that was necessary. The Dav he had met today was not the same man he had known a year ago.
     The child, which should have been destroyed before birth, was an abhorrent thing whose survival could not be countenanced. Jod understood Dav's reluctance to kill it - no matter how misbegotten it might be, it was still his daughter - so he had acted in his friend's best interests. Some day, he was sure, Dav would thank him for what he had done.
     He had been tempted to kill Lora too, but his personal knowledge of the sexual frustration her death would cause Dav had stopped him. He hadn't planned what he had done this evening, at least not in detail, but after reflecting on his conversation with Dav in the center square, he had realized that some of what had been said - the necessity of the deaths looking like accidents - had been Dav's silent plea for help in accomplishing something he couldn't - or wouldn't - do on his own. More than that, before they had parted, Dav had even gone so far as to tell Jod that he and his daughter and son typically went to the valley at dusk to check on the crops growing there, leaving Lora and the baby all alone in the house.
     He wondered if it had been a mistake for him to come back to Haven. Certainly, things hadn't worked out the way he had expected in Vorti, but he might have been better off going somewhere new, where there weren't elves and the threat of an attack by dwarves. There wasn't anything to hold him in this little hamlet. He didn't like it here any more, at least not the way he had on that afternoon when he had first arrived years ago. Contrary to what everyone believed, he hadn't been born in Haven, but in Vorti.
     He had met the "real" Jod, or at least the man who had been born with that name, years ago in his home city shortly after the young man had entered Vorti. They had become friends and during their time together had shared everything from women and tankards of ale to unlawful jobs and the risks they entailed. In the process, they had learned much about each other - enough that, after Jod had died and his own future plans had fallen apart as the result of the wrath of a certain guildmaster, he had been able to adopt the other man's identity. That hadn't been his original intention upon arriving in Haven. He had come in the hope of settling in the "idyllic" paradise his friend had reminisced about, but when he'd learned there was no one who remembered Jod well enough to brand him as an imposter, he had adopted the name and the property and citizenship that came with it. No one in Haven had questioned his identity.
     It had seemed like a good idea back then, and it had satisfied him for a time, but now, after years of living in this stagnant backwater village, he was tired of being Jod. The only one in Haven he had any warm feelings for was Dav, and, after what he had done tonight, it would be a long time before those feelings were again reciprocated. Yet, even after more than a year in one of Devforth's great cities, this place had drawn him back like iron to a magnet.
     His ruminations were interrupted by a loud, insistent banging on the door. He made no move to answer it. This is what he had been waiting for. Let Dav pound as loud and as long as he wanted to - he would never get in. And, until he'd had at least a day's time to cool off and consider what had been done for him, Jod wouldn't face his friend. That was assuming the dwarves allowed the village that much respite before the attack came.
     After the initial flurry of banging, there was silence. Dav was not the kind of man to give up that easily. In fact, Jod had expected the noise to go on for the better part of an hour, or until some member of the night watch ordered him home. It could have been a trick, a ruse to lure him to open the door, but... Jod was aware of a chill creeping up his spine, the premonition of an approaching danger. He reached for his knife, which, still stained with the baby's blood, was resting on a small table next to his chair.
     The commotion started almost immediately. Although muted by the stone walls and thick door, the shouts and screams from outside were easily heard. Jod's grip on the dagger's hilt tightened. Somewhere, beyond his house, it had begun.
     Suddenly, there was a thump against the door, accompanied by the sound of splitting wood. This time, the visitor was not Dav and he was not knocking to be let in. Jod dropped into a crouch, the knife held ready. The door shuddered under a second assault, then a third. Finally, as the fourth blow struck home, the gleaming blade of an axe broke through the door, chopping away a sizeable chunk of wood at the same time.
     From outside, voices were hooting and shouting gibberish. There was enough light pouring through the hole to make it seem more like midday than early night in the village streets. The thudding continued as more axes bit into the door. Jod knew it couldn't last much longer, and there were too many of them for him to fight. For the first time, he cursed the design of the houses. One way in meant only one way out.
     He ran to the ladder leading up to the second story. Once through the small hole in the ceiling, he drew the ladder up after him. That would hinder the animals at his door once they got inside. Of course, if the little bastards were really determined, they wou'd find some way up, but he doubted they would make the effort. Then again, he hadn't expected them to take the trouble to break down the locked doors of village houses. In fact, he had counted on them not doing that.
     At that moment, there was a crash from downstairs, followed by the sound of objects, both wooden and glass, being smashed. Jod peered through the opening and saw at least seven or eight creatures running around his house, screaming and hooting, overturning furniture and breaking everything in sight. Long, distorted shadows cast by the light from outside capered across the floor and walls, making Jod's house look like a play area for demons. Then another dwarf entered the house, this one carrying a torch.
     Jod stifled a gasp, but couldn't stop the cold sweat that broke out on his forehead. The frame of the house might be stone, but the entire interior, including the lower floor's ceiling, was wood - dry wood that would burn healthily. He was sitting in the midst of a tinderbox, the floor beneath his feet the most potent fuel for any fire.
     He watched in horror as the torch-bearing dwarf touched the flame to one of his tables, then to a chair, then to another table. Fire leapt up hungrily, lapping at the wood and seeking to spread. Then, as the creature and its fellows fled the growing conflagration, the burning brand was hurled upwards, through the opening to the second floor, and Jod's world exploded in flames.
* * *

     Dav was running through streets alight from fires and congested with panicking people. The dwarves' attack had come so swiftly that, despite the increased vigilance, Haven was unprepared. There had been no advance warning from the elves on watch and since there were too many dwarves to have slipped through the perimeter, it was a safe bet that the best fighters in the village lay dead just beyond Haven's outer limits.
     The light poles that had been erected for just such a situation were quickly ablaze as men came running out of their houses, carrying torches and the sharpest weapons they could find - often shovels. Someone - probably the invaders - had lit the center square gibbet on fire and a bonfire blazed there as a pyre for the hanged dwarves.
     Dav hadn't encountered any of the invaders yet, but he had heard their howling and animal-like sounds, and the terrified looks on the faces of people running past told him that others had seen them. Haven was in chaos. People, instead of staying inside where their houses provided a measure of safety, were fleeing outside to their deaths.
     Having abandoned his desire to confront Jod, Dav was racing home. His youngest daughter might be dead, but he was determined to save the twins. Reg and Eya were Sya's children. He didn't much care what happened to Lora. She could come with him or not, but his family was getting out of Haven. They should have done that earlier, before the attack had come, but Jod's words had blinded him.
     If anything, the pandemonium outside his house was worse than anywhere along the way. He banged on the door, shouting and screaming who he was until Reg, with a fork in his hand and a fierce look on his face, opened the door.
     Dav didn't go in, but instead shouted, "Reg, get your sister! Hurry! We've got to get out!"
     At that moment, Dav saw his first - and last - dwarf of the day. Out of his left eye, he caught a blur of movement, and, as he turned to see what was happening, one of the shrieking creatures launched itself at him. The dwarf's athletic leap, executed as it brought its weapon to bear, took it two feet off the ground. Its axe whistled through the air in a wide arc that came to a jarring halt when it split open Dav's skull.
* * *

     Lora didn't stop running until the howls had faded not only from her ears, but from her memory as well. Her arms, which had so recently held her daughter, felt empty without the baby. Eya and Reg were sobbing, both from exhaustion and grief, but at least three of them had survived the dwarves' attack.
     All of them saw Dav fall, an axe opening his skull. Eya tried to use magic to save her father, but it didn't work No power came and Dav collapsed in a shower of blood and brains, beyond anyone's help, his killer moving in with a twisted, hungry expression on its face.
     Lora, bearing the light burden of her daughter, and accompanied by the twins, fled, abandoning the house and Dav's body. But three dwarves ran them down in the street, jumping up and down and spewing gibberish. Something thrown at Lora's legs tripped her, causing her to lose her grip on the baby as she fell. The swaddled child skidded away from her, right to the feet of one of her tormentors. Before Lora could react, the dwarf snatched up the baby, axe ready to strike. Lora let out a despairing cry.
     But the blow never fell. The snarl contorting the dwarf's features metamorphosed into an expression of puzzlement as it gazed upon the child. Then the axe was lowered. Although Lora couldn't see Mora, she had a suspected what had happened. The sight of a hairy, stick-like arm reaching out from among the blankets confirmed her fears. Mora had changed form again.
     That was the last Lora saw of her daughter. Reg chose that moment to stick his fork into one of her two remaining assailants. Although the weapon was blunt, it did enough damage to send the victim running howling into the night. The other dwarf backed away, melting into the chaotic press of humans, elves, and dwarves that surrounded them. By the time Eya pulled Lora to her feet, Mora and the dwarf who had taken her were gone.
     There was no time to search for the vanished baby, not as long as they retained a desire to survive. Their only hope was to get as far north of Heltala as they could, away from the Green Mountains and the horrors they had unleashed.
     Dawn was hours off when Lora finally called a halt to their frantic flight, but the escape seemed to have lasted forever. The terrain along the way had been uneven and all of them had fallen more than once. Only Lora's night-vision had kept them from falling prey to one of the more deadly geographical features of the northern range.
     Where they were now, the ground was grass-covered and flat. They had reached the Southern Plains, onto which the dwarves would never venture. They were safe, at least from the terrors of the mountains. There were, of course, different dangers to be faced out here, not the least of which was the unknown. Never in her life had Lora ventured more than ten miles from her home village, even after she had been cast out. Now, Heltala - or at least the Heltala she had known - was no more.
     Reg and Eya, worn down by fear and exhaustion, were asleep within seconds of their halt. Despite her physical weariness, however, Lora's mind was too active to allow her the peace of oblivion. Recent memories played through her thoughts, and, each time she saw her baby taken away from her, she cursed herself for not having done more to retrieve the child.
     But the past was not the only thing to occupy Lora's mind. There was also the future to consider. She and the twins were alone now, in a world that was hostile to wanderers. Eya might be an Apath, but she was inexperienced and her magical powers would be of little use in obtaining simple necessities like food and water.
     The tears that welled up came from deep within Lora. They were for Dav, now probably part of a larder; for Mora, who might be masquerading as a dwarf baby; for the twins, who had lost a home and a father; but mostly for herself, because she was frightened and alone. The safety of Haven was gone, a pleasant illusion shattered, leaving in its wake another realization of the injustice of life. There was no one to comfort Lora, no one to hold her hand or stroke her hair the way her mother once had - a mother who was probably now as dead as everyone else she had ever known except the two sleeping humans by her side.
     Lora did not know or understand the world, and to be a stranger out here was a terrifying prospect. She and Eya and Reg were not equipped to survive on their own. Even as outcasts, none of them had severed their ties to the settlement. Lora had lacked the courage to strike out away from Heltala, and Dav had been there for the twins. But courage was no longer an issue, and Dav was dead. They were three children, alone and lost. Unless they found help somewhere, from someone, their fate looked as bleak as those who never made it out of the place called Haven.


© 2005 James Berardinelli

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