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Fairy Blood: The Meeting of Five

By Shannon Mayhew All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Drama

Blurb

In a time long since forgotten by human eyes and lost tomes, there once existed an untamed land. A world of great beasts, and tiny creatures seething with magic. Join Abigail McFaoil on her quest as she battles against terrible foes, meets precious friends, and makes decisions that will shape the very foundations of her existence. Fairy Blood takes the reader into the untamed land of Starkenshire. Abigail McFaoil is a young woman who shares the sacred heritage of the pixies. When destiny calls upon her to slay one of the world's great evils, she ventures forward to smite a very personal villain. During her journey, four unlikely traveling companions join her. Together, they will aid Abigail on her journey into the unexpected. Self-discovery.

Chapter 1

Throughout the course of the twenty years Abigail McFaoil had been alive, she had always felt a harrowing sense of emptiness. Her saffron eyes locked away all visible pain, serving as the imposing sentinels who maintained the fortress around her heart. She had learned long ago, never to let the others see her falter. To keep her emotions and aspirations hidden behind tact, and duty. For the last twenty years, Abigail McFaoil had been little more than a hurting, benumbed successor.

That was, until he, had entered her life.

He had taught her to feel, encouraged her to laugh. He had seen the beauty and promise within her, where none--save her doting family--ever had before. He had built up her confidence, cherished their time together. And most importantly, he had loved her for who she was. Promises of forever, sealed with a soft, yet ardent kiss.

But forever, is more than any mortal soul can promise. Hope as though they might, none shall ever live long enough to witness its wonders. And like leaves hurried away by a savage gale, he too, had been torn from her fingers.

Desolate and bleeding, the walls of her once steadfast fortress crumbled to dust. And when that happened, Abigail’s grief began to warp and distort into an insatiable thirst for retribution. Darkness began to overshadow her once noble heart, threatening to consume her. But then, came a friend.

***

Fairy Blood: The Meeting of Five:

Her pixie bloodlines are incredibly prominent today...

Garren couldn’t have overlooked that. The golden fire which seemed to emanate from his best friend, as they commenced with their practice battle. Fog was already rolling in, the grass ripe with dewdrops. It made for both a refreshing, and difficult training ground. But the difficulty was good for Abigail, and Garren knew that. After all, this was the last practice battle they would have together for some time. The moment the sun rose, it would mark the beginning of a most arduous journey.

“Prepare yourself, Garren!” the warrior declared, sparks of lightning surging within her eyes. Crickets and moon wasps flickered and danced out of range, as Abigail hurled herself at him.

Garren deflected her axe, bringing up his steel armguards in defense. A shimmer of metallic sparks lit up the hazy moor, illuminating the tenacity upon the battle girl’s face. Although he grunted under the pressure, Garren couldn’t help but smile. Abigail was getting good, if she was able to bring him to his knees like this.

“Your strength is formidable, Abby,” he began, breaking away again.

“Thank you,” the vivacious highlander panted, her unkempt ebony tresses feathered and wild as she charged.

“You’re getting better at lunging, too,” her companion nodded, bringing up his armguard to block again. “And that’s some impressive force you’ve got there!”

“Well, yeah,” Abigail smirked. “What do you expect from the leader’s daughter, after all?”

Abigail’s latest display of unabashed pride was the perfect opportunity for Garren to lecture the girl on recovery. With an agile twist of his body, he slipped away from the axe’s imposing weight, and delivered a pinpoint jab into the back of his opponent’s knee. Not strong enough to harm her, but given the weight of her weapon, certainly enough to throw off her balance. With a startled exclamation, Abigail flailed and fell onto the damp grass.

“Waaa! What the--”

“--you were right to exert your power from above. But always remember to pay close attention to what your opponent is doing,” he began. “When you bare down with your weapon from above, you leave your legs unguarded, Abigail.”

The fledgling warrior met his pensive, feral gaze, her amber eyes reflecting the fury of her shattered ego.

“That was a cheap trick,” she grumbled, grabbing up a fistful of damp grass.

“No. It wasn’t,” Garren remarked. “It’s a standard tactic for disarming overbearing assailants, who rely on their position and weight to win a battle.”

“You sayin’ something about my weight?” Abigail snapped, brushing a strand of dark hair from her lips.

“Now is not the time to be so petty, Abigail. Keep your wits about you--this battle is far from over!” Garren barked, and rushed her. Administering a flurry of punches and swipes, he urged his best friend back into the fight.

“Okay, okay! Geez!” she panted, struggling to dodge his constant barrage of physical attacks. “I was only joking!”

“Neither is this the time for jokes, Abigail! Get to your weapon!” her mentor demanded.

Abigail released a hearty chuckle, and rolled to the side to attempt a simple retrieval. But her tutor wasn’t about to let her win that easily.

With another well-aimed, merciless jab, Garren blocked her attempt. Abigail withdrew, her hand throbbing with pain from where the side of his hand had struck. She had never been certain of just how her friend managed to concentrate so much force into such an unassuming extremity; but she admired him for it.

Being far more attuned to his true form, Garren preferred his muscles and dexterous hands in combat over rudimentary weapons. For her part, Abigail was dodging and leaping whenever possible to reach her axe.

Rolling off to the side, Abigail swerved and again attempted to take back her weapon. And again, Garren punished her with a stinging whack to her hand.

“Cud!” she cursed, once again having lost her opportunity to grasp the discarded axe.

“Come on, Abby. Are you even trying to get it?” the young man craned his head to the side.

“What does it look like I’m doing?!” Abigail panted, shooting him a dirty scowl.

“I won’t let up, Abigail,” Garren barked, “You have got to get this right!”

She knew her mentor’s words were indeed true, but this was beyond frustrating for her. Abigail was used to moving quickly, and striking hard. Agility and subterfuge, were not her strong points.

She vaguely remembered watching her father practicing with his brother when she was quite young. Her father had the greatsword, whilst her uncle brandished a giant shield. The two would fight back-to-back, sparring with other veteran fighters, whilst educating the young men and women in the clan, who would often watch these epic tournaments from the sidelines.

Colin and Callaghan McFaoil, had always made their unorthodox approach to combat appear so fluid and effortless. The two had even gone off on their Passage of Promises together, slaying a two-headed dragon as a team. When she considered what a sight they must have been, Abigail understood how the duo had earned the nickname, ‘Brothers Impervious’.

A good fighter knows when to back away, an’ when to strike, was what her father would always tell her.

Our brotherly love, is what keeps us tempered in the heat of combat, Uncle Callaghan would add. When fightin’ as a unit, you must treat every life as if it were your own.

While Abigail did not fight with a partner, she was practicing against her best friend. Thus, she wasn’t even close to giving this battle her all. Garren, being far more advanced to the art of conflict than she, realized this. Thus, he was doing everything within his power to force the girl into both guarding herself, and relinquishing that personal fondness. But in the back of his mind, the rogue was beginning to grow apprehensive. They were running out of time.

Abigail had spent the last several early mornings training like this with Garren in preparation for her long journey. And even though she was improving significantly, it didn’t always feel that way. She found that she still sometimes got dizzy when rolling, and even more so when regaining her footing. Every muscle and joint in her body ached, and this always caused her frustration to mount.

“We’re not stopping today until you best me!” Garren growled, slashing and pursuing her relentlessly. “This, is the last confrontation we shall have before your journey, so make it count!”

Abigail’s fatigue threatened to overwhelm her, but she did her best to quell it. Garren was indeed correct: There was far too much at stake for her to grow exhausted and careless now. So, she kept dodging and rolling, over and over--inching ever closer to her weapon in the process.

It eventually found its way back into her hand, and she swung it at Garren. He skipped back in surprise. The young warrior lunged at him again, and he barely managed to block her blow in time. Snarling and invigorated, she surged forward a third time. Her axe clashed with his armguard so hard, that the large man fell to the ground. Abigail straddled him. and pressed her forearm against his throat.

“That’s game, my friend,” she grinned.

“So it is. Well done, Abby!” Garren’s eyes gleamed in the receding darkness, his voice filled with pride.

Abigail withdrew from her threatening position, and flushed as she offered him a hand up.

“You okay?” she chuckled in a merry tone. Garren smiled, reaching for the offered extremity.

“I’m fine. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about your fighting style, Abby. It still leaves much to be desired,” her mentor critiqued.

“Oh?” Abigail raised an eyebrow, and crossed her arms. Garren elaborated.

“Not only did you fail to see my attack coming, but you weren’t at all able to avoid it,” he criticized. But the warm grin spread across his stubble-covered face conveyed that these words had been spoken out of deep care.

“If I’m not mistaken, you were the one who lost, Garren,” Abigail retorted.

The roguish shapeshifter’s smile grew tarnished by concern.

“True, but I wasn’t finished yet Abby,” he continued. “You were able to recover quickly, and your offensive style is quite majestic. However, we need to work a bit more on your overall endurance.”

“So, what then?” Abigail scoffed. “I get a talking-to from the loser?”

Garren looked her up and down. She was a tall, almost stringy little thing. Black hair framed her heart-shaped face, drawing down her back into a series of loose, wild black curls. While her stride and composure were almost masculine, there was a certain poise and grace to her mannerisms which were indeed very delicate.

Garren was slightly more reserved and tranquil in contrast. Stocky and well-proportioned for his size, not a single muscle or sinew out of place. The tight flesh of his taut jawline and lean neck gave him a very brutish appearance--as did the faint scars that framed his lively amber eyes.

Those eyes glared into his best friend now, and they were brimming with a deep unrest.

“Next time, this loser won’t be your opponent,” his warm and practical tone took on a more menacing tempo. “Next time, whoever you face will be more than happy to kill you.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t do that poorly now did I?” Abigail scoffed coolly. “I mean honestly, Garren!”

The greatwolf sighed. Already twenty, yet she still refused to act like an adult.

“Look, if you really want to do this Abby, you need to work towards constantly improving yourself. Yes, you did beat me--but this is even more reason why we must both continue this ritual. Even while we’re on the road, we must never neglect the basics. Understood?”

“Yeah, whatever makes you feel better,” the young woman grinned, wiping the grass stains from her cheeks.

“So, you’re ready then? You truly believe flailing about the battlefield will do you any favors once you get out there?” the cunning creature inquired.

Abigail’s expression darkened. Months had passed, and yet she continued to relive the entire event as she dreamt. Waking up to the scent of fire, the chilling cacophony of distant screams. Racing barefoot down the ancient trails, much to the abject discontent of her clan. Falling to her knees amidst the ashes and bodies, sobbing profusely as she held Tommy O’Wiler’s stiff remains in her arms.

“When I see the face of my adversary, when I look upon the man who slaughtered my dear friends. My beloved. When I see the baron, he will die,” she promised.

Garren said nothing, his feral yellow eyes a stark contrast against the periwinkle blue of early dawn. Battle was Abigail’s way of coping; her only chance at tranquility. But it was evident, that emotion still ruled her.

“Listen to me. If you are ever going to defeat the baron, you need to exchange feelings for fortitude on the battlefield. You must teach yourself to become indifferent to both physical and emotional pain when you fight. Focus and intelligence are great tools--no matter what sort of weapon you wield. No matter what sort of adversary you face.”

Abigail pawed at her messy black tresses, contemplating his words for a few silent moments. She did want to succeed--more than anything. If Garren’s words were indeed true, then she still had much to learn.

“Then I’ll just have to keep listening to you,” she smiled.

“I think you mean, start,” Garren retorted, shaking his head, readily displaying his dissatisfaction before resuming his true form.

The stark black beast looked up at her, his golden eyes now filled with eagerness and excitement. He was a magnificent animal, larger and stronger than any hound or wolf. He stood four feet at the withers, and his paws were the size of a chimera’s. His thick, ebony fur was longer and woollier now--a sign of the impending winter.

“Okay, fine. I’ll try to be less arrogant to your criticism,” she pouted.

“That’s a very promising--”

“--but today doesn’t count!” the warrior trilled.

Yeah. That sounds about right for you, Abby... Garren snorted, circling her with a swish of his plumed black tail. He turned his muzzle up to the eastern sky, and began to grin.

“Abigail. Look at this,” a spectral voice rang out from somewhere between the folds within Abigail’s subconscious. As with all shapeshifting beings, greatwolves could communicate with others whilst in their true forms via telepathy.

Abigail nodded, and turned around to face the large coal-black beast. But the moment she did so, time seemed to stop.

The sky was positively bursting with fire. Reds and golds coiled and played upon the endless sky, the grandstanding mountains in the distance their devoted onlookers. Abigail felt as the breath caught in her throat, the majesty of that celestial masterpiece rendering her motionless. Chilly wind rushed down into the valley below, catching her hair and pulling it away from the rest of her body.

Garren craned his muzzle upwards to try and gauge her unspoken feelings. Was she nervous, now that the moment was upon them? Or, was she brimming with unspeakable excitement for the journey ahead?

Truth be told, Abigail was simply too stoic at that moment to tell. And so instead, the sleek, graceful creature edged forward to join her.

To share in the depth of this moment.

***

As a horn sounded in the distance, Abigail’s amber eyes remained locked into the deepest part of the valley. The cold breeze whipped through her red velvet dress, causing the young woman to pull the black fur cape tighter around her lean body. She was now sitting perched upon the mossy ruins that decorated the endless rolling moors of emerald green. Garren was still with her, his thick head resting gently in her warm lap. She listened to the cheers from below, as the other young men and women from her clan prepared for their own journeys.

Garren’s thick ears suddenly pricked, and he reluctantly stood from her lap.

“What is it?” Abigail asked.

“Your grandfather approaches Abigail,” the beast spoke to her, looking over his shoulder before dashing down from the ruin.

The greatwolf gave a short, yet giddy howl before regaining his human form once more. Running his fingers through his scruffy black hair, he shot her a sly look once he’d reached the luscious grass below.

“You know you’re much better looking as a greatwolf, Garren,” Abigail chided him with a laugh.

“Heh, well that’s funny. All the other women in your clan think I’m quite the looker,” he smirked.

Abigail smiled up at her companion, knowing that he was only seeking attention through his proud words--as he often did. She rushed down to join him, and began to run her hands across his back, causing the greatwolf to whine softly. Even in his disguise, Garren could never mask the simple pleasure a canine received from being stroked by a trusted human.

“Oh, I don’t know. I like you, don’t I?” she continued, nudging him in the ribs.

The greatwolf bit his lip, and brought his fist up awkwardly beneath his chin. If beasts could blush, his face would have grown brighter than the newly birthed sunrise overhead. Instead, he just sat there with a distant expression for a while, as if waiting for that radiant eastern sky to give him some sort of closure. It didn’t.

“Yeah,” was all he managed to get out, before hunching forward and causing her fingertips to lose contact with his faded garment.

As her hands receded from his back, the young woman noticed her grandfather ascending the hillside. He wobbled towards them, his every movement reminiscent of a broken marionette.

“Oh! Good morning grandfather!” Abigail greeted the approaching elder with a smile.

Ayden smirked, his cracked purple lips contorting across a sea of time and decomposition. His cherished granddaughter seemed particularly plucky that morning.

“Good day to you too Abigail, and you as well Garren,” his fading voice croaked, “I take it that you two were up early training again, from the looks of your sweltering forehead, dear girl.”

“Yeah, well,” Abigail smirked, “I beat Garren easily today! You should have seen it, grandpa!”

“I wouldn’t say easily, Abigail McClumsy...” the greatwolf snorted, keeping his voice to a low murmur.

Ayden’s eyes lit up at her remark, his fingers trembling as they struggled to point down into the brilliant valley.

“You do know what today is, correct?”

“Yes I do!” Abigail proclaimed, rather confidently.

“Ah. Then, you would also know why it is so important for the young ones to carry on with this tradition, yes?”

“Grandpa,” Abigail tried hard not to roll her eyes, “if this is another one of your stories--”

“--then we’d love to hear it!” Garren intercepted, poking his best friend hard in the back.

“Ow! Hey!” she sneered. The greatwolf just smirked.

“Oh grand! That’s just grand!” Ayden’s smile parted to reveal a mouthful of dark gums and little else.

The elder hobbled around the grass for a bit, seemingly trying to find a comfortable place to begin his tale. He at last settled on a partially cracked podium. The heavy layer of moss and leaves would provide a decedent support for his frail body.

“Long ago, these green and empty hills were home to a great castle. Allow me to test your knowledge of our clan’s history, young Abigail. What was the name of that castle?”

“McFaoil Palace,” she huffed, clearly bored and disinterested with this surprise lecture.

“Umm-hmm, well remembered! Now, in those days, a great war was underway. Who was the marvelous hero who led the battle against the emperor, and his wicked armies?”

“Easy! That’d be Bristle, grandpa,” Abigail smirked, seemingly growing proud at her constant correctness. Again, her grandfather smiled and nodded.

“Yes, that is correct. It was the great Bristle who secured victory, though our ancestor’s glorious castle did fall in the heat of battle. Can you please tell me why our people still remain camped around the ruins, dear girl?”

Indeed she could.

“We do so to pay homage to those we lost. That which was won, and out of a promise and duty to prevent future wars and disasters through our Passage of Promise.”

“Yes. We are the McFaoils. Wolf Warriors. We do not bend under pressure--we persevere! We dig in our blades and bite back when unjust villainy rears its ugly head. This world may not understand or respect us, but we are always there. We act as the unsung heroes of Starkenshire--receding back into these verdant hills when it is all over.”

The young woman couldn’t resist smiling as Ayden recited one of the psalms from The Book of Guidance.

“This is why we go out into the world and stop evil. If we don’t offer ourselves up selflessly for those in need, who will?” he asked.

“But why do we help them, if they don’t even care, grandpa?” Abigail twisted and toyed with a lock of her hair.

“Just because some people are ignorant or selfish, doesn’t mean that we stop doing what we can to make the world a better place. You don’t do a good deed to get noticed, young one. You do so, because it is right.”

“Grandpa...”

“Ha-ha, don’t just sit there with your jaw hanging open, lass,” the elder chuckled, his back creaking as he rocked back slightly. “Tell this washed up old warrior just what great quest you have decided to undertake, hmm?”

“I’m gonna assassinate Baron Charles Byron!” she proclaimed, without even the slightest hint of hesitation.

Ayden’s proud smirk faded, his milky eyes trembling with both fear and surprise. Most clan members chose to smite horrid monsters, or ruthless outlaws. However, being the only daughter born to the leader of the group, Abigail was destined to inherit and protect the clan in time. And so, the young woman had set her standards much higher out of pride.

Garren and Ayden McFaoil gazed upon her confident face with looks of pale stupor. Neither one was prepared for just how far the girl was willing to push herself, for the sake of revenge. Stepping forward, Garren was the first to address his concern.

“I thought when you said ‘baron’, you meant we’d be taking down some of his men. Or perhaps the commander who orchestrated the genocide?”

Abigail glared up at him, as though the greatwolf had just called her some terribly obscene name.

“He may have orchestrated it, but the order to do so came from the baron himself. That’s why we’re going to take this down at the source,” Abigail clarified, her yellow eyes glinting with a tenacious fire.

The beast offered nothing in response, for there was nothing he could rightly say that would not be demeaning or otherwise disrespectful to the McFaoil Clan and their proud traditions. Somehow, he managed to gulp down his worry, a look of lupine pride replacing his troubled features.

If this was what she wanted to do. If it would bring her closure, and banish the gloom from her vibrant features, then he would follow her through the gates of the underworld itself. Seeing her there as safely as he could muster, her net from the shadows, her fearsome protector. As long as he stayed by her side, Garren would gladly die before evil could befall her. And if this was the path they were now destined to walk, then there was much evil ahead of them indeed.

The baron was a wicked man, feared throughout the land for his murderous ways. He hailed from the capital city of Glimmerhelm, located within the prosperous west. However, for reasons unknown, the Empress did little to quell his appetites for battle and power. The Baron was a bloodthirsty tactician, a warmonger who was ever eager to engage new foes, and conquer new lands.

His most recent of conquests, had been his purge unto a neighboring clan--the fabled O’Wielers. Known for their dramatic outcry across Starkenshire in the name of vengeance for crimes left unpaid, Baron Charles Byron had silenced those dedicated souls within a single night’s purge.

From where she stood, Abigail could still see the dilapidated and charred remains of their camp. Ashes left untended, souls forever denied their peace. The O’Wielers had been close friends with the McFaoil Clan, and theirs was a loss greatly mourned--the wounds fresh and pulsing.

Especially, his...

The elder groaned as he began to make his way across the grass, his bones aching and tired.

“Abigail,” Ayden began, miasma and paternal concern causing his eyes to moisten. “Is this truly what you have decided upon for your Passage of Promise?”

“That muckdweller will pay for his monstrous doings. I’ll make damn sure of it,” Abigail snarled, dissatisfied with the horrified looks she was getting in response to her reveal.

Didn’t Garren and her grandfather believe she could do this?! She was the best young fighter the clan had, after all!

At least, in her opinion...

“Abigail. What you are about to do...it will not be easy,” Ayden looked at his granddaughter, his grey eyes solemn and full of wisdom.

“I understand. But the baron must answer for his crimes,” Abigail replied, grabbed the handle of her axe. However, an ever-cautious Ayden still fought to dissuade her. Gently, he placed his wrinkled digits against her readied hand.

“The baron lives in a well-guarded estate in the far-off city of Glimmerhelm. It is a false paradise of smoke and steel, fire and poison. I have seen it with my own eyes, many years ago. It is unlike any other place in Starkenshire--and thank the gods for that!”

“A city is a city, grandpa,” Abigail groused with cheek disrespect.

“You have never even seen a city before! So curb your tongue, child--I have more to say! The baron himself is rumored to be well-versed in all manners of combat, as are the powerful henchmen whom he employs. I understand that you’re setting your standards high, due to tradition. But even a dragon’s head, or an ogre’s axe would be more than enough to impress your father. Mayhaps you should leave vengeance to the adults, Abigail.”

“With all due respect, grandfather, I thought by embarking on my Passage of Promise, I would be proving myself as such,” the young warrior’s eyes glistened wild in the morning light. “I must do this. To set the souls of the O’Wielers at ease. To settle my turbulent heart.”

It had been her uncle Callaghan, who’d first bore witness to the uncanny behavior in the valley below. Angry, brimming clouds of noxious smoke far too early in the year for any fire pits to be created. But it was the sound of battle, which drove him from his lookout post, and into the realms of the neighboring clan. Like a tenacious beast was he, the thought of reinforcements nonexistent within his horrified mind. But one brave soul did unwittingly follow him into the very midst of unadulterated calamity that day.

Abigail watched, breathless as he fell to the baron’s armored centurions like so many others on that terrible night. She was too late to save anyone, and this served only to brutally crush her resolve as a warrior. To ravage away any hope of a just world. She would indeed take up her Passage of Promise. Not for the good of the land, but to avenge the slaughter of friends and family most dear.

What befell the highlands upon that day, was absolute wickedness. A perception of justice, stained by the blood of the innocent. It seemed like so long ago, yet the charred earth and leveled ground of the now desolate O’Wieler Clan, revealed just how fresh this tragedy actually was. Sometimes Abigail was sure she had gone mad. Time had become little more than an artificial chime unto the requiem of life, the way it often does for those who have experienced a dreadful loss.

One solitary memory urged all of Abigail’s thirst for clarity, and retribution: Holding the pallid, cooling corpse of her dear Tommy O’Wieler alone amidst a gloomy backdrop of smoke and carnage. Ashes blotted out the red sun, as it fought to rise against the leaden grey sky on that hopeless dawn.

The solemn dedication and anguish within her face caused the old man’s features to soften in resignation. After all, that abhorrent genocide had also claimed one of his dear sons. His dear granddaughter too, had indeed lost much. And as the wizened elder knew unduly well, heartache was always far more grievous for those who were still new to love.

“I think I understand, child,” Ayden nodded. “If this is indeed a quest you wish to undertake, then you have my utmost respect and blessing.”

Abigail’s golden eyes sparkled in the gentle shadows of the ruins. She raced over and threw her arms around her situated grandfather’s neck, spirited and nearly sobbing.

“Thank you, grandpa. I knew that you would understand...” she sniffed.

Ayden chuckled, and hugged her back.

“And how could I not? You and I share the same virtues and spirit,” he smiled, tears in his eyes as she broke away from their embrace. “Now, come my dear. Your father is waiting.”

“Yes,” Abigail bounded with excitement, prompting her grandfather to chuckle again. Ayden turned his head with a creak, meeting Garren’s pensive gaze.

“You too, lad. As you may recall, you are also needed for the blessing ritual.”

“I’ll be there sir, you can count on me!” Garren acknowledged.

Then, with a trill of boundless fervor, Abigail rushed down the hillside.

“Come on Garren! Bet you still can’t beat me to camp!” she challenged, already several yards ahead.

“Wanna bet?” Garren snorted, and then took off with a jolt. Ayden released a final, raspy chuckle, and fell in behind.

***

Abigail was greeted by her father, and the six other young men and women who would be leaving that morning. She turned and waited patiently for her grandfather to finish his trek down the hill. But her overzealous smile diminished, when she noticed the obvious limp in his left leg.

Ayden’s arthritis had been upsetting him much lately, and even magic couldn’t keep it at bay any longer. He was getting on in years too, and Abigail feared that this might be her beloved grandfather’s last winter. The prospect only added to her mounting anguish, especially since she wouldn’t be around to enjoy it with him. As he began to stumble, she raced up to his side.

“Grandfather, how are you feeling?”

Ayden smiled as Abigail wrapped her arm around his waist.

“I am fine dear one. Do not fret over my condition,” he shifted his position, eyes warm and reassuring.

But Abigail remained unconvinced. She was about to object, when out of her peripheral vision, the young woman noticed her mother exit the leader’s tent. Sage was coated in a surreal sheen of mystery and beauty, as she always was in the early morning light. Her honey brown hair was the longest Abigail had ever seen, flowing freely down to her thighs. Her every step was gentle, almost apprehensive. Highly attuned and respectful to the smallest detail in nature.

Sage was quite small, yet she refused to view her petite stature as a hindrance. There was an unspoken danger about her--a wilderness.

Abigail moved closer as Sage’s burgundy lips shaped her name.

“Abigail, there you are! Oh, I was so worried when I couldn’t find you anywhere,” the fay scolded, her lavender eyes fretful.

“Sorry mother. Garren and I were awake before the others, so we went up to the mound to train and watch the sun rise.”

“I guess we lost track of time, Madam Sage,” the greatwolf stepped forward, coming to his friend’s defense.

“My dear boy, all is forgiven,” Sage sighed, her tone and mannerisms softening at the respectful apology. “I’m just glad to see that you’re both alright.”

Garren began to scratch behind his left ear, ruffling his unkempt mess of dark hair in the process. Like himself, pixies could change into humans at will. Yet the greatwolf had seldom seen the clan’s mistress in her true form, which baffled him. Sage, almost seemed to prefer being human.

“Oi, there’s mah gal!” Abigail’s father’s voice bellowed from behind, disrupting the serenity of that dewy morning. “Always so quick ta smile!”

Sage whirled around in time to get a faceful of Colin’s heavy red beard. The leader wrapped his burly arms around her petite waist, and squeezed her gently.

“Urm, Colin,” she began calmly, “it’s nice to see you too, dear husband.”

“Yer such an incredibly gorgeous lass. I’m so lucky,” he crooned, tucking his oversized thumb and forefinger beneath her finely-boned chin. Sage began to blush. “Ah! An’ yer even cuter when ya get all shy on me, Sagie Pie.”

“Oh, stop,” the pixie maiden giggled. “You’re going to embarrass me in front of the young ones...”

Colin turned to face Abigail and Garren, who were both trying their best not to encroach upon the happily married pair. But that was a bit impossible, because they had to remain standing there. Colin had indeed summoned them, after all. When he caught sight of the two friends, the bearded leader’s eyes grew wild with excitement.

“Whadda ya think Garren? Ain’t I the luckiest man on the moors?” Colin addressed the flustered beast, proceeding to hold his pixie bride aloft.

Both Garren and Abigail exchanged awkward glances.

“Um, yes! M-most certainly, Milord Colin,” Garren agreed, rather uncomfortable.

“Ah, don’t look so sad, mah boy! I’m sure ye’ll find yerself a lovely lass one day too!” Colin winked.

“With all due respects sir, I sincerely doubt that,” the greatwolf brooded.

“My dear,” Sage peeped, “I think you’ve tormented the young ones enough for one morning. Besides, isn’t it time for the ceremony?”

“Oh, of course!” Colin boomed, still hugging her. Sage rolled her eyes, but her gentle smile revealed her true thoughts towards her boisterous husband, and his antics. “Garren, mah boy! Go an’ find that Jonathan. We need ye both ta finalize preparations for the grand send-off!”

“Sure thing, Colin. Where is he?” the greatwolf asked, subconsciously pointing his nose towards the crowd of clan members.

The entire group had turned out for this important day, from young mothers clutching their babes, to the elders, whose eyes still mirrored the many great adventures that they had witnessed in their youth.

“Over here,” a strong male voice rang out from the crowd.

Garren snorted and turned away, whilst Abigail felt a surge of discomfort churning in her gut, as the tall red-haired young man made his presence known.

Her older cousin, Jonathan, had always despised her. For her part, Abigail wasn’t exactly fond of the boy either. But when her imposing father was about, both made it a point to practice proper form. Her father had reminded her many a time of just how important it was to take care of, and honor one another.

But the halfling knew, that once her father was gone from sight, their bitter feud would resume. It always did so.

“Ah, there ya are lad!” Colin’s voice boomed merrily. “Now, hurry! Garren must cut away some of his fur fer the ceremony, an’ ye must retrieve our sacred skull from the shrine.”

“Right away, Colin,” Jonathan shot the greatwolf a sadistic grin, “I always have loved that greatwolf skull...”

Garren sneered, prompting the feisty lad to turn his gaze once more in Abigail’s direction. The battle girl quickly averted her eyes. Something about that conniving grin of his, utterly sickened her. But it also confused her, and tore away at her young heart.

Why they couldn’t get along, despite being family, she’d never understood. Jonathan would always tease her, always try to hurt her in some way. Always look upon her, as though she were some grotesque plague. And such assumptions, weren’t too far off.

Then there was the way he treated her best friend. His words towards Garren always managed to rile her. The McFaoils were supposed to have deep-rooted respect for the natural world, and Jonathan had never been the respectful type.

“Good morning Jonathan! Did you sleep well?” Abigail greeted with enough dubious kindness to make Garren gag.

“Yes. Yes I did, and thank you for asking,” the young man bowed. And Abigail, bowed back.

The lad looked up into her intense yellow eyes, gawking rudely as he always did. It was his way of trying to make her feel uncomfortable. Ashamed of what she was. Like everyone else within the McFaoil Clan, Jonathan knew that Abigail was a halfling--a pixie/human mix.

Or, as some would more cruelly put it--an unwanted abomination.

The very thought of a human and a pixie mating, was distasteful enough; without a child being born from such a union. Abigail was indeed unlike any other, at least as far as Jonathan was aware. There had long been whispers that other halflings existed, but because these unions were so rare and shunned, the babes were either hidden, or disposed of entirely by their parents.

Jonathan wondered why the others deigned to lament Abigail’s breeding the way he did. Daughter of the leader or not, she was a disgrace to the entire clan. He just couldn’t find any logic in it. Even the beginning of this entire mess had been a very public and shameful affair. Pixies had no sense of public decency, and the wild sprite had taken it upon herself to make advances on the leader during a summer festival.

However, the inebriated state Colin had been in, mattered not in the end. He still adored his wily bride twenty years later.

But racial tensions were far from the true reason why Jonathan loathed his younger cousin. His was a resentment, stemming back to Sage and Colin’s wedding night. More specifically, nine months later, when on an otherwise ordinary spring morning, his father had conveyed the news which would fracture the very foundations of the young boy’s self-worth. His uncle Colin, had finally been blessed with an heir.

Abigail’s very birth, had set off a chain reaction of personal destruction for her older cousin. For years, Colin had been a rogue leader. No woman had ever been able to catch his interest for very long, and it soon became more than wild speculation, that he would never father a legitimate successor. Then came the summer festival, and the curious woodland creature who’d decided to attend. Drawn in by music and pretty lights, never again return to the forest where she dwelled. Sage had found her place amidst this band of proud vigilantes, dooming the fate of a five-year-old boy in the process.

Jonathan leered up at Sage, as she continued to bound and giggle within her husband’s loving arms. He sneered at the scene, pulling at the thick leather strap around his waist. Garren emitted a low grumble from his thick throat, glaring at the distasteful boy when he noticed where his ill-contempt was now being directed.

Garren felt only scorn for Jonathan. Everything about that boy irked him in all the worst possible ways. From that repugnant and perverse smile, to the way his faded freckles expanded across his round cheeks every time he so much as grinned. Those thin eyes, containing irises which were far too green, and that mousey head of tasseled cinnamon hair. That reptilian beak of a nose, whose nostrils flared outward every time Jonathan emitted one of his signature obnoxious comebacks.

But most importantly, Garren detested the boy’s attitude.

Jonathan, was a perfect example of the ill-deserved stereotype which stalked and cursed every member of the McFaoil Clan. He had always been barbaric, rude, and self-entitled. But these ghoulish traits had only festered, once he’d successfully returned from his own Passage of Promise five years back.

After saving the maidens of Candleton from a rampaging Pewterhoof Minotaur, he’d received grand elation and honor from that dreamy little hamlet. Such appreciation had gone to his head, and now Jonathan had become an admonished, self-entitled sort of clansman. The sort who thought the rest of Starkenshire owed him for his great deed.

The sort that would demand free refreshments from an inn, or coerce women into his bed with overblown tales of heroism. The only thing now saving him from a swift banishment, were his familial ties to Colin. But the leader’s own ties to past glories and fellowship, also blinded him to his cherished nephew’s shameful behavior. And Jonathan, took full advantage of this.

Moments passed, and when Abigail bowed her head to dismiss herself from the awkward conversation, her cousin turned instead to the watchful black beast.

“Time to go,” Jonathan seethed, giving Garren a nod.

“Yeah. Sooner the better,” Garren murmured.

***

The sun had long since risen from its mountainous prison, by the time the final preparations for the ritual had been completed. Six other young adults stood alongside Abigail, their hearts passionate, and their minds focused solely upon their destinies. Colin was the last of his people to gather beneath the verdant canopy upon that significant morning. At his right, was the greatwolf, and to his left, his beloved nephew. Together, they accompanied the leader as he sauntered through the forest clearing.

His long red furs billowed in the wind as he greeted his fellow clansmen, a deep reverence present within each set of eyes that he passed. He motioned for Jonathan and Garren to halt as they neared Ayden. Colin smiled down at his father, a silent yet profound fellowship transcending both paternal bond, and time.

Their eyes met, as each began to synonymously pray for the safety of these eager youngsters. And each sent up a special prayer for their cherished Abigail, who upon this day, had become a woman.

Ayden’s leathery lips contracted wider across his face, as he bade his boy farewell. Ushering him forward towards the center of the ancient ritual site. A pewter table, long since reclaimed by mother earth. Through the overgrowth of malachite ivy and supple moss, a single phrase could still be seen carved deep into the proud stone:

“Take up your weapon, and shatter the veil of evil with a gallant heart.”

Though it had been many years, the clan elder could still recall his first time reading those ancient words. Some claimed that they had been carved upon that alter by Bristle’s own hand. Others insisted that the Celestial Artist herself had emblazoned those words there by magic, back when the world was new, and unhindered. Almost as though she was sending a message of things to come, unto those brave enough to set the world right once more.

Setting the world right again. Those five simple words reminded Ayden of his own journey; how many foes he had conquered, and how many friends he had both made and lost. And how he had chanced upon that young brunette maiden in the blue dress. His future bride. It had been seven years now since Veronica’s death, and time had offered no solace to the elder. He still longed for her every day of his lonely existence.

“Members of the McFaoil Clan,” the loud boom of Colin’s voice, shattered the perfect memory of his wife, and beckoned Ayden back to the present. “Today, we continue a tradition first established by our powerful an’ wizened ancestor--the mighty Bristle! Within the next year, these seven youths shall make their marks on Starkenshire, as well as on history. For through these seven good, honest, an’ benevolent warriors, seven of the most vile, corrupt, an’ evil entities of our land shall meet their DOOM!!”

Colin faced the youngsters, his eyes widening at the sight of his own.

Mah dear little Abigail. Ye truly are yer father’s joy, the leader fought back his tears, and continued. Yer uncle, would be as proud as I am...

“An’ one such evil, Baron Charles Byron, shall be dealt with by mah own child! Abigail McFaoil! Will ye step forward, and receive yer blessin’?”

Abigail did as she was bade, even as her ears were flooded with gasps and murmurs. She tried to hide her frown, but it grew increasingly difficult, as the eyes of every clan member seemed to drive their doubt and uncertainty further into her determined soul.

As she approached where her father stood, the forest sunlight bathed Abigail’s hair, causing it to take on the appearance of glistening black satin. Despite her decent height, standing beside the burly clan leader, she looked almost tiny. And when the young woman fell to her knees in a respectful bow, she looked even more so.

Colin nodded, and reached for the hunting knife resting on the stone pillar beside him. He passed the blade to Garren. The beast nodded, and grabbed a handful of his unkempt dark hair, slicing a tuft off. Sage approached, and took the fur from him. The pixie was carrying a large bowl of something.

Garren turned his head as she began to prepare. It was disrespectful to witness a fay’s spells before they were completed. Once Sage was confident that the others had granted her similar privacy, she uttered some melodic words, and tossed the fur into the bowl. The concoction began to bubble and steam, the scent of lily and cinnamon finding the nostrils of everyone within that forest clearing.

“It is all right. I am finished,” the pixie chimed.

The group of young warriors looked curiously upon the potion within Sage’s bowl. It was bright crimson, with flecks of gold and copper swirls. Sage poured the liquid out into the previously obtained greatwolf skull, and passed it to Colin. The skull had belonged to Bristle’s very own greatwolf companion in life, and the clan believed that drinking from it would imbue new warriors with the creature’s guile and power.

Colin McFaoil steadied his posture, and looked down at his child through diligent, lustrous eyes. Watching, as his stoic reflection took form within that enchanting carmine drink. Bearing witness to the face of a very proud, yet very concerned father.

“Abigail McFaoil. Do ye accept yer quest ta slay Baron Charles Byron?”

“Yes,” Abigail answered, her head still bowed.

“Do ye vow to see yer quest through ta the end, lest ye meet yer doom an’ never return ta us?”

“Yes.”

“Do ye understand that failin’ ta complete this promised quest, will deny ye both yer eventual leadership, an’ yer very place within this clan?”

Abigail paused this time before answering, glancing upward at Garren for reassurance. The beast nodded, his saffron eyes solemn and true. She knew the rules, and she knew that this would be the hardest promise she would ever have to make. If she failed to assassinate the baron, she would never be able to return to her beloved family.

“Yes,” she bravely promised.

Colin raised the skull to the sky, the winter sun warming the elixir generously.

“Then may the blessin’ and protection of Bristle, an’ ’is many greatwolves be upon ye.”

The leader handed his child the potion, which she eagerly swallowed. It tasted of cherries, apples, and something that Abigail couldn’t quite identify. She wiped the remaining liquid from her mouth, and rose to her feet.

The McFaoil Clan cheered and cried out in a virtuous crescendo, as Abigail thrust her axe up towards the sun.

***

The vivacious and eager clan youths readied themselves for the arduous challenge ahead, leaving each of their parents frozen within a state of surreal mysticism, and affluent faith. Minds had drawn hazy pictures of a brighter, more jovial time--when these same rapscallions clothed in heavy bone armor and chainmail, wore little more than a warm wool blanket. A time when sticks were swords, and candied festival cherries were more valuable than gold. A few of the mothers graced their barren abdomens, reminiscing over these now grown babes. Children always remain so within the eyes of their parents--regardless of how large they grow.

The bittersweet pang they felt within their hearts, was only quelled by the richness and pride each of them held for the child in question. These perpetual babes, were now setting off to make the world a better place. Perhaps the only greater blessing a child can bestow upon their doting parent, is to be worthy of their guardian’s unconditional pride. These youngsters, would almost certainly succeed in thus.

For the parents of Abigail McFaoil, these strong emotions and memories were no different. Colin and Sage were right beside their fellow parents, along with Ayden as the tight-knit family bid their beloved Abigail and her greatwolf friend farewell.

Sage wept, as she handed her child a pouch full of potions, food, and raw herbs. The ever-exuberant Colin lectured his daughter on the proper way to hold her axe. He lifted her off her feet, twirling her around once before finally letting his baby girl leave the clan. It was the last time he could ever treat her like a child, and the leader did everything within his power to relish that moment.

Ayden expressed his wishes last, taking the longest out of all of them. He reminded Abigail of the intelligence and strategy that a good warrior always applied to every battle; and the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep. The elder clapped Garren on the shoulder, before hugging him with firm--yet loving--instruction to watch over his granddaughter. The greatwolf accepted this new responsibility, with a dedicated heart. His halfling confidant, was in good paws.

After bidding the last of their hopeful farewells, each of the clan youths gradually departed, scattering into different regions of Starkenshire like unassuming specks on the hazy horizon. After much inner turmoil and silent prayer, so too did their guardians depart those rolling hills. Receding back into their respective tents, their fears continuing to be quelled by prayer, hope, and hearty glasses of wine.

***

Abigail joined Garren and headed down the hill towards the mountains in the east. There was a small village a day’s journey from the moors--called Candleton--and the young woman was hoping to spend the night there. It was already late afternoon--the blessing ceremony had run over.

“Come on Garren, we have to hurry,” she beckoned with a cherubic grin. The greatwolf snorted.

“Do you really need to command me like I’m some common dog?”

"I’ll stop when you stop calling me, ‘Abby’,” Abigail giggled. Garren shook his head, strands of black fur falling into his eyes.

“Stubborn...”

The beast had since returned to his true form, and was loping beside his best friend as she left the only safety she had ever known. Colin had trained Abigail since she was ten, and the battle maiden was extremely skilled in melee combat by this point. Killing deadly beasts, and smiting horrid monsters would not be something new for her. However, these had been day trips. Mere training sessions, accompanied by her father.

The true test of her merit, lay on the daunting trail ahead. It began now.

I can do this. I must. For my clan, for my father, and for all the baron’s innocent victims. For Tommy. That muckdweller’s head will be mine!

“Abigail!”

Abigail glanced over her shoulder to see Jonathan, who was struggling with his heavy pack. She trotted up to his side, eager to assist him with the burden.

“Here. It should be strapped across your back, like this,” she instructed, pulling the leather pack from Jonathan’s hands, and lifting the strap up over his defined chest. “Surely you know this by now. Where are you off to in such a hurry anyway?”

“I know how to fasten my pack, pixie mutt!” he growled. “And where I go is none of your concern!”

Abigail froze as her older cousin tore the strap away from her helpful grasp. He shot her a ferocious scowl, brows furrowed, and eyes ablaze with wild fury. She stepped backward, equally furious. But the feisty woman shook away the feelings of burning ire, and just stared up at Jonathan.

“So, you’re back to showing your true feelings...now that my father isn’t around,” she smirked, her yellow eyes sparkling. Jonathan grinned his oily smile, the deep-set malachite of his eyes gyrating with cruel ambition.

“Now that Tommy O’Wieler is dead, who’s gonna try and stop me?”

Abigail could not contain her hitched gasp, as the memories of her late beloved tore away at her unguarded heart like a vile sandstorm.

Jonathan marveled at her pain, the way it twisted the features of her face. He loved seeing her that way, loved breaking an otherwise brave and collected spirit. Then, a rough voice shattered Jonathan’s illusion of control.

“I am,” Garren growled, stepping out in front of Abigail. The girl gaped at his emboldened display, confusion replacing the deep grief within her eyes. Jonathan emitted a derisive chuckle.

“So predictable of you, Garren,” Jonathan sneered, “one monster standing up for another.”

“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” the greatwolf smirked, countering the young clansman’s rude comment with one of his own.

“Down boy! Maybe you should save some of that bite for the journey,” Jonathan mocked. Turning to Abigail, he looked her up and down, a wicked expression creeping itself across his dogmatic face. “Abigail is a good five years younger than I am, yet I hear that she plans on dragging you through some pretty nasty territory. So tell me: Do you always do as your weedy mistress commands, dog?” The lad asked, crossing his arms in a gruff manner. The hairs on the back of Garren’s neck bristled at that.

“She’s NOT my mistress!” the beast barked. “And I’m no dog. Worry about your own affairs, Jonathan. This quest is nothing she can’t handle, I assure you.”

Garren lowered his head, fighting to keep his lips from revealing a deadly row of curved fangs. Jonathan glared down at Abigail again.

“Who said I was worried about her?” the clan hero chuckled. Jonathan circled the two friends once, before leaning down and locking eyes with his headstrong younger cousin. “Let’s be reasonable for one moment, Abigail. Even if you do succeed in doing the impossible, what makes you think that myself or the rest of the McFaoil Clan would ever follow you?”

“Because you’re her cousin?” Garren spoke up with a snarl. “Oh, and you dislike the idea of your liver being devoured...”

Jonathan merely ignored the greatwolf’s threat, and leered deeper into Abigail’s flustered eyes.

“I want that answer. Now. Why should we follow a halfling? It’s a disgrace to both Bristle, and our clan.”

Abigail shot him a bemused look.

“My, I wasn’t aware of just how serious you took your role in our group, Jonathan. Especially when you torment the leader’s daughter behind his back,” she huffed. “Come on Garren. We have a long way to go.”

Garren pranced up beside her, taking an extra moment to glance back down the hill at the messy-haired lad. Jonathan glowered up at the creature, an inaudible hiss sputtering past his lips. Despite his regal, silent expression, it was apparent that the greatwolf was mocking him.

“You don’t know the half of it, brat! You think you’re so special! But trust me when I say this, spoiled girl--you’re not,” Jonathan accused. “It should have been ME! I was chosen before you...”

Abigail whirled around.

“What did you just say?!” the young woman hissed.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised that your father never told you...”

“Never told me what, exactly?” Abigail’s eyes gleamed amidst the hazy twilight. Jonathan released a short laugh, turning away from her with a most cryptic expression written across his face.

“All my life, I have focused on bettering myself. To doing what is right for my clan. When I was but a boy, my father promised me that one day I would become the clan leader,” Jonathan seethed, before turning abruptly to look at her. The visceral contempt locked behind his dark stare within that moment, was enough to make Abigail tremble. “But then, you came...”

Abigail’s eyes widened, her spellbound irises contracting as the ultimatum tore its way through her heart. After all their years of rivalry, hostility, and frigid interactions, she finally knew the truth. She tried to speak, but a torrent of bitter tears drowned out any words she may have attempted in that moment.

“Why didn’t you just tell me this sooner?” she whispered, shaking her head. “Is this...is this why we could never get along? Is this why you have always resented me?!”

Garren watched as the confrontation intensified. This vexing reveal had disrupted any of the usual nausea and malcontent the prideful lad’s appearances usually stirred up within him. Instead, the beast was rendered taciturn, and listless.

Jonathan donned his pack, and glared down at his apologetic cousin.

“All of my dreams died the day you were born, Abigail. That, is why I will never let up with your torment. That, is why I can’t stomach the sight of you.”

“Jonathan, if this is all that stands between us, I will gladly allow you to become the clan leader in my stead!” Abigail hollered through thick bursts of sobbing. “Would that really solve everything? If so, then just take my place! I don’t even care about becoming the leader! I just want to put things right again!”

Jonathan sighed, haze clouding his thoughts with a dense remorse. If only the whimsical notions of that starry-eyed adventurer held any truth. Maybe then, things really could be different between them. But such ideals were folly at best, and at worst, they were downright dangerous to the future of the clan. His clan.

Just when Abigail expected a semblance of comradery and hope to bud into existence between their hearts, her older cousin shattered the illusion with cruel, raucous laughter.

“What a foolish thing to say! Life is never that simple,” Jonathan hissed. “You cannot resolve twenty years’ worth of hatred with such a capricious offer, Abigail!”

“I can try!” the girl clenched her fists.

“Why do you mock me?!” Jonathan ruffled his hair, grinding his teeth behind a taut, persecuted frown. “The leader’s word is law!”

“Jonathan! I can fix this! I-It isn’t too late!” Abigail sobbed. “You were promised the position first! I-if I just go back and speak to father, then he’ll--”

“--ENOUGH!!” the brawny clansman bellowed. “You shall feign fellowship with me no longer, girl! I know who you are! Do you honestly expect me to believe that one as prideful as yourself, would ever forsake your grand future and title for the sake of kinship?!”

“I would sacrifice so much more, if it would shatter the keystone that has divided us for so long,” she wailed.

Her older cousin glowered down at her passionate expression. The sight of Abigail’s golden irises overflowing with tears burned into him like acid. He felt only scorn in response to the anguish she carried. Even now, this girl lived to ruin him. No matter what she said, no matter what she believed, there was no changing things.

Jonathan, could never forgive her for being born.

Garren, who had been silent during this entire unanticipated conversation, pranced up to his breathless, heaving companion. Abigail could search worlds, recovering lost tongues for the remainder of her days. Yet she would never be able to appease that boy, and he knew it. There was no sense in arguing with bigoted fools.

“Just leave him, Abigail. He is in no place to accept such devoted words,” Garren urged with a low grunt, nudging her away from the contemptible lad with his muzzle.

The warrior woman glanced down at her best friend, his yellow eyes shimmering amidst the opulent purple sky. Her proud, sharp features bore the guise of a much weaker woman in that moment, any faith for reconciliation denied.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Abigail muttered. She turned her gaze unto her cousin one final time, “be safe, Jonathan. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?! Devoted?! What a gaffe!” Jonathan spat at her as she turned away. “If you harbored any such devotion to honor and duty, then you would stay and resolve this matter. Even pixies do not run from confrontation so easily. Without that pervert, Tommy O’Wieler, you can’t do a thing to stand up for yourself!”

Abigail whirled around, hot tears streaming down her face. The slander of her late beloved, prompted all sadness and empathy to boil into a convoluted, fearsome rancor.

“I’ve tried to be kind to you, Jonathan!” she shouted. “But apparently, my compassion falls upon a benumbed heart!”

“Better a benumbed heart, than a benumbed head, Abigail,” the bitter young man poisoned. “Eliminating any figure of power from Glimmerhelm is courting with death. When this truth eventually finds you, when your mad quest succeeds in bringing you down, I’ll make damn sure to reclaim what was promised to me. I, am the hero! You, are little more than a pathetic afterthought!”

The greatwolf’s eyes flew open at Jonathan’s latest statement. He had endured enough slander from this worthless human, but now he was assured that this revolting boy was trying his best to emotionally break Abigail. Unable to control his fermented wrath, Garren emitted a horrifying howl, his breath wet with foul-smelling saliva.

Garren lunged forward, his massive paws slamming hard against Jonathan’s shoulders as he pounced. The weight of their impact knocked the startled young man off his feet. Jonathan frantically reached for his blade, as the monstrous paws continued to come clawing and crashing down upon him.

“Garren! Stop it!” Abigail demanded, grabbing at his bristled scruff. But this yielded insignificant effect.

The greatwolf’s body hammered into place, and Jonathan was left helplessly staring into the horrifying, predatory eyes of the creature he had provoked. Garren snarled, his two-inch fangs bared. The newly birthed twilight glinted off their ivory surface, and highlighted the twisted expression upon the aghast lad’s face.

“Please Garren, don’t hurt him!” she pleaded, pulling harder on her companion’s shaggy neck.

The beast let his gaze leave Jonathan’s mortified face. He looked over his shoulder and snorted, his curved fangs almost mimicking a smile.

"Please?! Do you enjoy having this miserable creature spew his mindless insults at you?”

Abigail’s face twisted into a look of frigid discomfort.

“No Garren. I don’t.”

“Then why should I release him?! It is HE who disrespects YOU, and the entirety of your clan!”

“Because, he isn’t not worth slandering your name over, Garren! Do you really wish to throw away your honor code for this fool?” Abigail reasoned.

Without another word, the greatwolf lifted his paws from the frightened warrior’s breastplate. A breath of balmy relief left Jonathan’s body, as the pressure receded from his chest. The young man stood, dusting himself off. Then, he shot the two friends a menacing glare.

“I’ll make you both regret that! This will not go unpunished, Abigail!” the brash highlander threatened, before scampering off into the surrounding highlands.

But the girl just stood there, her heart feeling as though it were slowly sinking into her stomach. The greatwolf took this opportunity to transform again, joining Abigail as she continued staring across the rolling moors. Watching as her cousin disappeared over the smoky horizon.

“You gonna be alright?” he asked, clasping her left shoulder.

“Yeah,” Abigail remarked, her tone lost, and far from convincing. “I’m fine.”

The greatwolf shook his head.

“No, you’re not. You’ve got that dismal look in your eyes, Abby,” he commented. When the girl answered his concerns with little more than blinking eyes and shuddering posture, he took the ultimate risk and reached out for her hand.

Abigail stared down at him as he gingerly took hold, but she did not resist. Then, in a tone far too wise for his current age, “do you want to talk about it?”

Abigail released a heavy sigh, watching as the sunset sank below the distant mountains.

“I never even knew that. How could Jonathan possibly be so upset with me, when I never even knew?!” she asked, her eyes wide and emotional.

Garren remained silent for a moment, watching as the first moon wasps began their evening rendezvous.

“I think sometimes, it’s just easier to blame people rather than circumstance,” the beast grumbled. “You cannot witness circumstances, cannot touch them. It is difficult to blame the incorporeal. That which we cannot physically touch or control.”

“But that’s...that pretty much sums up our entire lives, doesn’t it?” Abigail replied. “We’re all just trying to co-exist within a universe beyond our control.”

“Control is an illusion, Abigail,” Garren explained. “By understanding that, you’ve already proven yourself far more mature than Jonathan.”

“Thanks, I guess,” the warrior smirked. “Though I’ve never seen myself that way. I’m just trying to do what’s right, ya know?”

“Yeah. I do,” the greatwolf affirmed. “That’s all any of us can really do.”

***

Inside the leader’s tent, Colin and Sage were safe and warm. The pixie had since reverted to her true form after the ceremony. A little chestnut vulpine creature, now sat across from the gigantic clansman, her eyes aglow.

This, was yet another of the reasons why Sage’s union with Colin was taboo. Why would any pixie choose to mate with a human? What could such a weak specimen possibly grant a glorious creature of lore and legend? Pixies lived an upwards of four-thousand years, while many humans died before reaching their first century. Humans were ignorant and foolhardy, and seemingly unaware of their frail forms.

But not all pixies were so judgmental. Even as a babe, Sage had always been curious about other animals. She was the pixie who would tend to the injuries of baby rabbits, or shade new saplings from the harsh sunlight. But more than any other creature, Sage adored her human.

She now sat, transfixed upon the tired face of her lover. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days, following the ceremony that afternoon. Colin closed his tired eyes, as her delicate voice began to echo into his mind.

“So, do you miss her yet?” the fay asked, never moving her mouth.

“I suppose I do. But Abigail isn’t that messy-haired whelp I used to carry around on mah shoulders anymore. She’s a grown woman now, an’ one of these years, she’ll be takin’ mah place. It’s time fer our wee little lassie to grow up. This is fer the best. To grow up strong!”

“If you say so...” the pixie stretched, digging her tiny paws into the sides of her pillow, “but I saw the tears in your eyes at the ceremony today.”

She rolled onto her back, still staring up at him, her deep dark eyes demanding a response.

“Ha-ha, I don’t know what yer talkin’ about, dear Sage,” Colin chuckled nervously.

“I think we both know that Abigail will always be your tiny pixie princess. Blood-hungry McFaoil champion and leader, or not.”

Colin’s stoic exterior melted away at these memories like a snowflake to a flame. His child--his baby girl. That tangled mess of black hair and over-exuberant energy that would always accompany him to the training ring. Cheering for her daddy from the sidelines. Wearing his turtle shell kneepads as a hat, or spilling juice all over his prized cloak by accident. His little cohort, his cherished daughter and student.

The epiphany hit the strong man like whiplash from a wyvern’s bladelike tail. She was off on a dangerous journey now, and he wasn’t even sure if she was ready. Defeated, the leader threw himself down onto the fur-covered floor of their tent.

“Oh, mah darling daughter...” the leader grieved. “What have I done? Has tradition truly blinded me so? Why, she’s not even ready. Not fully, anyway!”

Sage got up from her pillow, and flew to his aid as the large man cupped his hands around his face. Landing with a dainty fluff into his lap, the pixie placed her paw upon his knee with a soft trill.

“I know that our Abigail is a strong woman. Perhaps too strong. She doesn’t understand patience, and that is why I worry,” Sage tried her best to comfort him.

“My words exactly,” an ancient voice creaked from the shadows of the outer tent.

Sage and Colin jumped, then looked towards the entrance of the tent. Only to see Ayden standing outside.

“Forgive my intrusion, but I couldn’t help but overhear. May I come in?”

“Of course!” Colin nodded gruffly.

The leader stood, and opened the flap of the tent for his father. Ayden smiled as he entered, bowing respectfully before Sage. The elder took a seat on the floor where he knew both the leader and his pixie bride could see him. Colin followed suit, and watched his father with keen intrigue.

“I have to talk to you about Abigail. Let me just say, that it is such a relief that you too see the flaw in her character, my dear son.”

“Aye. Far too late, it would seem. The wily lass is probably out on the Jade Highlands by now, an’ even if it were allowed by our laws, there is no way to call the wee one back.”

“Perhaps, now would be the time to mention the promise my sister made me when Abigail was born,” Sage piped up.

Both men looked at the fay in surprise.

“Promise? Ye’ve never spoken of such things before, Sage! Tell us more of this promise!”

The pixie sighed, and returned to her pillow. There, she stretched her thin legs against the plush surface.

“Daphne agreed to aid Abigail during the journey. I first asked her, because I sensed that my daughter would be more human than pixie in her blood. I was right.”

“But darling. It is tradition that all clan youths must depart on their own private odysseys, only to return having completed their Passage of Promise. Denying her the right to choose her own companions in this, would taint and destroy hundreds of years chivalry! We cannae do that, my love.”

“Oh, you humans really are such indecisive creatures! Why, not five minutes ago you were cursing tradition for endangering your daughter. Now, you return to it with your tail between your legs,” Sage closed her dark eyes, and made the small trill she used when condescending her husband.

“I...have no idea what yer talkin’ abo--”

“--Now you listen here, Colin, and you listen well,” Sage interrupted, as her eyes began to gleam in the firelight. “Our Abigail is as stubborn as you are, only nowhere near as skilled in combat. She may not even last a week on such a quest--even with Garren by her side.”

Colin opened his mouth to argue, but closed it just as quickly. As much as it both shamed and worried him, Sage’s wisdom was clear, and her words valid. Allowing Daphne to accompany Abigail, would be an excellent plan to help safeguard his daughter from the dreaded baron, and his wicked henchmen.

The clan leader wiped some distressed sweat from his forehead and turned to Ayden.

“As ye say...” Colin acquiesced, as he continued to stare at his father, knowing that the ancient warrior knew the old laws far better than he. “Have ye any thoughts on the matter?”

The elder’s weathered face bloomed with elation. It had been years since his son had asked for any advice, and Ayden was delighted to give it. He pondered the pixie’s words, searching his mind for any part of her suggestion that might offend tradition. But the old man could find none.

“Such attendance...would not be considered a shortcoming; if one indeed requires the help,” Ayden replied.

Colin nodded, watching as his pixie bride rolled onto her back, pinning her translucent dragonfly wings against the pillow.

“Are ye certain then luvvie; that ye can convince that sister of yers ta help our wee little lassie?”

“I wouldn’t speak with a confidant tongue of things that I could not ensure. I’m not my sister...” Sage smirked.

Ayden discharged a protracted sigh, his eyes lustrous again for the first time in many days.

“Thank you, kind Sage. This pact of yours does indeed calm my turbulent thoughts.”

“Of course,” the pixie chirped like a small songbird. “I’m always content to assist the clan in any way that I am able.”

Colin smiled, and leaned in beside her. The pixie looked up at her husband and purred as he began stroking her long, delicate ears.

“There’s mah gal...” he crooned.

Sage nuzzled herself deeper into her pillow, and placed a tiny paw against his stomach. Together, they watched as Ayden turned to exit the tent. However, as the elder pushed back the leather tarp to reveal a breathtaking sea of stars, he looked over his shoulder with a worried expression.

“Ah! I nearly forgot! Have either of you seen Jonathan this night? He went missing shortly after the ceremony.”

Colin stood from the floor, Sage fluttering from her spot as he did so. The leader faced his father with a look of genuine concern.

“No, I haven’t!” he looked at his hovering pixie bride, “what about you, luv?”

“Can’t say that I have,” Sage shrugged, her wings beating faster in reaction to her unease. Though she couldn’t be certain as to why, the chestnut creature suddenly felt an intense sensation of dread overtake her small body.

Ayden shook his head, and rolled his shoulders in some meager attempt to remedy his aching joints.

“Aye. It’s probably nothing to fret over. Goodnight, you two,” he winked, then exited the tent without another word.

Once he was gone, Sage shot Colin a worried look. One reason had come to mind which would explain her awkward shift in demeanor, and the very idea chilled her blood.

“Dear, about Jonathan...”

“Oh, aye know!” the leader chuckled, pouring himself a cup of mead. “Could never sit still, that one. Bet he’s just eager ta be gettin’ back to adventurin’, what with all the festivities an’ all. Can’t let the new blood have all the fun!”

Sage feigned a slight smile, before massaging her favorite pillow with her paws.

“You don’t...think he’ll do anything to sabotage Abigail’s quest, now do you?” she asked, her voice trembling as though a butterfly were caught somewhere within her fine throat.

The leader nearly choked on his drink at her outlandish inquiry.

"What?! Now why on earth would ye assume THAT?!”

“Well, there was the incident two Summers ago for one thing,” Sage replied sardonically, turning around three times before nestling back into her pillow. She tucked her fluffy tail up over her muzzle, continuing to gauge the boisterous human’s reactions through her rich, dark eyes. “You do know that the boy harbors a vendetta against her, yes?”

Colin only looked at her for a few seconds, before shaking his head with raucous laughter.

“Oh, have a little faith in yer clan, luvvie! Jonathan’s a reasonable sort’o bloke. Why, I’m sure he’s long forgotten all about that wee little wrinkle...”

Sage sneered at her mate’s casual and optimistic words, her tail flicking away from her face in an irksome manner.

“Are you referring to their fight, or the fact that Abigail’s birth basically shattered his aspirations of becoming clan leader someday?” the fairy creature interrogated.

“Both, me dear. Both. He’s fine with it all! I mean, that was so long ago, Sagie...”

“True. But if I’ve learned anything about humans, it’s that they almost require something to disparage. It’s almost as though such hatred fuels your kind with some sort of twisted ambition.”

“Methinks yer readin’ just a wee bit too deep inta things, me dear,” Colin smiled, pouring himself another drink. “It’ll all work out just fine in the end. Trust me."

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