Jaelyn touched the scarf that she had tied over her hair, making sure it softened her features and hid the slight points of her ears. She held her sister’s hand as they kept their heads down, looking only at the merchandise they were shopping for, and not at any of the merchants. She quietly laid her selection of herbs and produce on the counter.

“That’ll be four bronzes, dearie.” Jaelyn fingered the coins in her purse, counting them. It would be just enough. She laid the coins next to the fruit, but her hand shook and she dropped her purse. She reached down to pick it up, but another hand beat her to it. She looked up in surprise at the young man who held it out to her. With a smile.

“Th-thank you.” She stammered slightly, cursing her nerves. 

“My pleasure,” he said. Then his gaze sharpened and he looked at her more closely, taking in the jewel brightness of her eyes. She quickly dropped her gaze back to the purse, tucking it into her belt.

“Wait,” he said. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? The Ancients.”

The air in the market seemed to still. Next to her, Kyra whimpered slightly.

“No, we are not Ancients.  We are Others.”  A rustle went through the crowded market, and Jaelyn felt the shift in the air.  Anger and suspicion melted into uncertainty and worst of all, fear. “We don’t want any trouble,” she spoke softly, barely above a whisper. “We just want to eat.”

The merchant snatched up the coins and shoved the food toward the girls. “Take it and get out of here. Don’t come back.”

Jaelyn quickly put the items in her bag and gripped Kyra’s hand tightly. As they hustled away, she risked a glance back at the young man who had handed her the purse. He was still watching them. The friendly smile had left his face, replaced by … something else. Not the fear she was used to seeing. Curiosity? Eagerness? Kyra squeezed her hand, and they hurried away as the crowd parted for them. They heard bits and pieces of whispered comments: “Unnatural, they are…dark powers…secrets…they don’t belong.”

Once they passed the last of the houses that lined the road out of the small town, the sisters continued to walk quickly.  Even at that pace, it would take several hours to walk home.  Jaelyn’s heart sank at the realization that they would have to find another town, even further away, to do business.

At first she thought the pounding in her ears was an echo of her racing heart, but suddenly she realized that there was a horse approaching from behind them.  “The bushes! Hurry!” she whispered frantically to Kyra, but before they could spring into hiding, a voice called, “Wait! Please!” The voice was filled with desperation, not animosity, so Jaelyn paused. To be safe, she pulled Kyra behind her and whispered a word that surrounded her sister in a shield of protective power.

As the horse pulled up in front of them, Jaelyn recognized the young man from the market. He alighted and bowed his head at the girls, a sign of respect. “Thank God you came to the market today. I am in need of the healing skill of the Others. My youngest brother has been gravely ill for several days, and I fear for his life. Can you help?”

Jaelyn bit her lip. “My power is not very strong yet, and I have little training in healing. My mother is an excellent healer but we are several hours from home.”

“Please, for mercy’s sake, come do what you can. His color is so poor that I’m afraid he may not make it through the day. Perhaps there is no hope for him, but—” his voice cracked slightly and he cleared his throat. “But it is possible that God sent you to this town today for this very purpose.”

Jaelyn hesitated.  Her heart went out to the young man and his love for his brother, but years of keeping away from humans had taught her caution. She offered a quick prayer, asking, Is this a trap?

The answer came immediately: Go with him.

She gazed into the young man’s eyes, searching for truth there. “Perhaps you are right. I can’t make you any promises except that I will do what I can.”

When they reached the house, Jaelyn blinked in surprise and she heard Kyra gasp in awe. In a land where most people lived in simple one or two room houses, this place was a grand villa with several wings surrounding a courtyard where a fountain shot a spray of sparkling water ten feet in the air.

“My father is a man of some property and influence,” their companion offered by way of explanation. “He is away from home now, but I’m sure he will offer a handsome reward if you can help the boy.” He led them to a room where the curtains were drawn and sickness hung heavily in the air. A beautiful middle-aged woman turned to them, her face lined with worry.

“Fandin, what have you done?” she asked, eying the strangers with concern.

“They are Others. I happened upon them in the market today and thought they might be able to help.”

She wrung her hands. “What can they do that our healers have not already done? They are so young.”

Jaelyn offered the woman a curtsy. “Please ma’am, I do not have much skill, but I am willing to help if I can.” She caught a glimpse of the boy who lay on the bed and her heart sank. He looked as though he might be very near death. His cheeks held a gray pallor and his breath came in labored rattles.  “What is his name?”

“Eldan,” the older woman whispered, then her face contorted with grief. “Do what you will. I am losing him anyway, so what can it hurt?”

She left the room, and Fandin turned to do so as well, but Jaelyn laid a hand on his arm. A slight current passed between them, strong enough that he could feel it, she could tell from the way his eyes widened slightly. “If you will stay, I think you can help.”

“I will do anything,” Fandin promised. “What do you need?”

“A willing heart. You have some power in you. Most humans do, but it is difficult, often impossible, to learn how to use or control it. When the time comes you will know it. Simply open yourself up to be used by God to heal Eldan, if he wills it.” She knelt by the bed and laid her hand on the boy’s head. The sickness that she felt in the room was so concentrated in his body that for a moment it nearly overcame her. She felt the throb of the fever that ravaged his body and tore at his lungs and head. She took a deep breath, allowing the feeling to subside and praying for wisdom. Holding out a hand, she nodded at Kyra and then at Fandin.

“Take his hand,” she spoke softly, and Fandin held the boy’s frail little hand in his own strong, brown one, completing the circle.

“God of all Quinerya,” Jaelyn began, and as she did she felt another presence filling the room, “We believe you have brought us together today for the sake of this little boy. He lies here ill and without hope in the world except the hope that you offer now, in this moment. For the sake of his family and your own name, we ask you to use what power we have to bring strength and healing to his body and mind. For this purpose we have joined together. We leave the rest to your will.” Then, concentrating on the boy, she brought back to mind the feeling of his sickness and imagined it leaving his body. She dug deep into the core of her being, reaching for her own power, imagining it flooding into his body, bringing health and wholeness. She knew in that moment that her own power was not enough, that she would fail. She sent a silent plea to Kyra and Fandin, fueled by the connection of their hands, “Help me.”

“Be well, Eldan,” she whispered, and opened her eyes. For a moment, nothing happened, and she felt a pang of grief. It was too little, too late. But then, just before she gave up in despair, she saw the tips of her fingers began to glow with a soft, yellow warmth. The light spread to Kyra’s hand, and the girl gasped as her eyes flew open. Then Fandin’s hand lit up as well, very faintly, and finally, so soft it was almost imperceptible, it spread to Eldan’s hand. Jaelyn poured as much of herself as she could into the connection, willing the power to spread through the boy’s body. It is not enough, she thought, as weariness pulled at her. Just as she thought she couldn’t keep the connection going any longer, a weak light spread through Eldan’s face and touched her glowing fingers. He opened his eyes slowly, and for a second they blazed with golden light. She sighed and moved her hand just moments before being drained completely..

“Am I dead?” the little boy asked, his voice weak with illness. “Are you an angel?”

“No, I am a living being just as you are. My name is Jaelyn.”

“Eldan!” Fandin cried, crushing the boy to him.

“Gently,” she cautioned him. “He is still weak.”

“Did it work?” he asked, meeting her gaze over the top of the boy’s head.

She took a deep breath, testing the air. “Most of the illness is gone, but his recovery will be slow. I could not remove it all. I don’t know everything that I should have done, but I did what little I could. I think that now he will not die of this sickness.”

“My family is forever in your debt. Please, tell me anything you want or need, and if I can I will do it.”

Jaelyn looked at her sister. The girl was weary, and Jaelyn felt her limbs trembling from the effort of healing the boy.  “Could you give us a ride home?”

Fandin’s mother insisted that the girls stay for a meal.  After checking on her son and finding him in a deep sleep untroubled by the fever or restlessness that had marked his sleep for days, the burden of care lifted from her, and she became a gracious hostess.  Although Jaelyn and Kyra were reluctant to talk about their family, they learned a great deal about Fandin’s. His mother and father were the most influential humans in the region, and their home was usually flooded with visitors. Eldan had contracted his illness from a visiting family, and the house had been closed for the last week.

“I have been so worried,” Sheril confessed. “We prayed that this illness would pass, but Eldan grew so weak. He has not eaten in two days, and I had lost all hope. Praise God you arrived when you did.”

“He is merciful. I am glad we were able to help. I hope that Eldan’s recovery is swift.” She glanced at Fandin before continuing. “You have been very kind, and I thank you for the meal. However, our home lies several hours away on foot, and the work of healing has quite drained our strength. Would it be too much trouble for Fandin to give us a ride home?”

“Not at all! Fandin, please go prepare the horses.” Sheril turned back to Jaelyn with a question in her eyes. “Why did you travel so far from home to come to our simple market? Surely there are other towns nearer to you.”

“There are, but the Others do not find a warm welcome in the world of humans. We have no quarrel with humans, or with any of the races. Still, we bear too much resemblance to your enemies, the Ancients, and people do not understand our powers. They fear what they do not understand. Many of the towns we have visited have asked us to take our business elsewhere. Your market was no exception. My mother and father have both been asked to leave, and today Kyra and I were told in no uncertain terms that we should not return.” She gave a helpless gesture. “We have a small farm and can take care of many of our own needs, but when we must buy or sell something it can be a challenge to find friendly folk. The price of being different, I suppose.”

Sheril leaned forward, a fire in her eyes. “Well, that will change today. My husband will spread the word that you and your family are welcome in any of the towns where we have business. After what you have done for us, how could we do any less?”

“Thank you, but we have not done so very much. We only acted as God willed.”

“Not everyone would have done even that.” Sheril grasped Jaelyn’s hand. “Perhaps this is his will, also. He provides for his servants, yes? Now you can go where you will, without fear.”

Tears pricked Jaelyn’s eyes at the thought. “Thank you, truly. That would mean a great deal to us.”

Fandin appeared in the doorway, and Jaelyn found that her heart beat faster at the sight of him. “The horses are ready.”

The Orphan

 It was in the days when the Ancients and the dragons were at war. The King had come across a great golden dragon and her young, a half-grown blue male and a tiny female, only a few years old, who glowed with the soft purple of the amethyst. The mother dragon heard the King coming and warned her son, who immediately took flight, but the baby was too young to fly well. Quickly, the mother hid her baby beneath a huge gold wing and turned to face the King of the Ancients, who was armed with a bow and arrows designed to pierce dragon armor. She tried to Speak to him, to tell him she was not an enemy but a Servant of the One as he was, but he would not listen. As she reared up to defend her baby, he shot the bow with the skill of the master, piercing her heart. She fell, and as she did, her wing knocked the baby’s head and she fell too,unconscious, one leg trapped beneath her mother’s dying body. 
     Hours later, the baby awoke in confusion. Her leg hurt terribly, crushed underneath her mother, who by that time had grown cold. She keened in pain and mourning, a terrible, lonely sound that only dragons can make. Her brother had fled, her mother was gone, and she knew she would most likely die there, orphaned and injured in one of those terrible twists of fate that sometimes happen when the servants of the One pursue their own crusades instead of paying attention to His desires and interests. The little dragon did not know much, but she did know that her mother had fought against the evil dragons and did not deserve to die. The keening continued until her throat ached almost as much as her leg. She was so distraught, she didn’t hear the rustling in the nearby undergrowth.
     “Hush, little one. Do not be afraid. If you let me, I will help you.” Despite the gentleness in the voice, the baby was filled with terror when she recognized the language of the Ancients. She choked and looked around in horror, but her vision was blocked by her mother’s wing. Then the wing was lifted, and she looked for the first time into the face of the King’s daughter. Tears filled the girl’s eyes and tracked down her cheeks.
     “Oh little one, I am so sorry. Please let me help you. My father does not know that I followed him on his patrol. I was pretending I was one of his warriors, strong and able to help him if he should need me. But at the first sign of trouble, I hid. I heard your mother try to speak to him, but he was filled with fear at the thought that a dragon had found its way so near to our home. He reacted without listening. I tried to stop him, too, but I was too far away and he still does not know I am here. He is gone now, and I swear I will not hurt you. You do not have to fear.”
     With strong arms and gentle hands, the girl lifted the dead dragon’s body enough to free the baby’s leg. “It is broken badly. I do not have a gift for healing, but I will do what I can,” she promised. As she worked, the baby was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that only grew as the days went by. The King’s daughter hid the little dragon in a clearing miles from the city but came to visit her every day, bringing food and herbs to help with her injured leg. Unfortunately, she had spoken the truth when she said she did not have skill in healing, for the leg developed a twist and the dragon never could walk without a limp. However, with the guidance and encouragement of her friend, she did learn to fly well. Once she had grown strong enough to fly away and make her home wherever she chose, she insisted on staying near her friend. Long after the dragon war ended, their friendship continued as an enduring symbol of the truth that the One an take even the worst of circumstances, the most bitter enemies, and make something beautiful from the pain.

The Rift

“This time, we have them,” Daevan reported, mopping his brow as he handed his lathered horse off to a groom. “They are holed up in a cavern at the Tendaer/Kaderya border.  We have word that they intend to launch their strike on Tendaer from there.”

“What do you propose?” Chandellan asked.

“Proceed with the plan.  We have been too cautious in the past, and they escaped.  We must strike now!”

Tenga stood, stretching as he pulled himself to all fours.  “I agree,” he Spoke with a growl.  “Much has been lost at the hands of this enemy.  He is ruthless, powerful, and hungry.  His accursed Dragon allies have defiled our land.  The land of Kaderya no longer speaks to us, and we have lost an entire pride.  Killed or stolen, we do not know.  We have suffered much at the hands of the enemy.  He caught us unawares.  Even yet, no one knows how he grew his power and influence so quickly.”

“What do you think, Chandellan?” Someone spoke from behind, beyond the field of vision.  “He is one of your kind, the Others.  Where does all this power come from?”

“He is partly of your people, as well.  So much power in someone who is only half-Other is unnatural.  We believe he has turned to forbidden magic,” Chandellan frowned, “But no matter how he has done it, the deeds of this enemy and his powerful allies are unpardonable and dangerous.  They must be stopped.  I agree with Helnadaran.  We must move quickly and decisively, while we still have power and surprise on our side.  We have a united army of races assembled and ready to move at any moment.  Send the word.  Let us stop this enemy while it is within our power to do so!”

Helnadaran’s daughter and her dragon friend, Amethyst, rode with Chandellan and his partner in many a battle, Meeresha.  The plan was for groups of Others and Power Keepers to gather together and combine all their magical forces to defeat the enemy and chain the mighty dragon who had joined forces with him.  Chandellan gathered his troops together near a waterfall just north of the entrance to the cave where the enemy and the dragon were reportedly hiding.

“Are we ready?” He asked each of them, using thought speech to maintain silence and communicate with the nonverbal members of the group.  Idira, the great golden-eyed lioness, nodded.  Meeresha stamped a foot and tossed his proud head, the watery image of Teak the Dolphin did a somersault in the waterfall, and Amethyst hissed out a low, “Yesss…”

Chandellan glanced at Helnadaran’s daughter.  She was young and untried in battle, but the King of the Ancients claimed she was well trained as a fighter.  She looked up at him, her large emerald eyes glittering with resolution.  In that moment, she reminded Chandellan of his own daughter, only twelve, but with the same fierce spirit.  His heart ached as he thought of his family, wondering if he had seen them for the last time.

“I am ready,” the princess interrupted the mighty warrior’s thoughts, her musical voice filled with quiet determination.

He held up a hand.  “We wait for the signal.”  

And so they waited, tense, ready for the moment when they would all strike together.  The roar of the waterfall drowned out other sounds, but Chandellan could feel the presence of other creatures, neutral in this fight, as they fled the scene of what would soon become an epic battle.  He looked down at his hands, where he held the chains, forged by both Others and Ancients, which they hoped to use to magically bind the dragon, trapping him in the cave for the rest of his life.  Closing his eyes, he sent up a prayer that the One God would guide and bless their actions this day.

Suddenly, the signal came.  They all heard Helnadaran call out, “Now!” and they burst into the cavern with the others.

The enemy was not alone, but the cave was small and only about fifty warriors guarded the entrance.  Side by side, Chandellan and the princess fought their way through the ranks until they stood behind an outcropping, watching the great red dragon defend himself with claws, teeth, and flame.  

“What now?” she asked, panting.  A drop of blood trickled down her cheek, evidence of a blow that would have killed her if Chandellan had not severed the arm of her attacker at the last moment.

“A shield,” he muttered, “We need a shield.  Amethyst, Teak, Meeresha, and Idira, help us!  What can you do?”

A moment passed, and another, before Chandellan heard Meeresha’s voice echo through his mind.

“This!” the Power Keepers cried out in unison, and a glittering, rainbow-coloured shield burst into existence before quickly fading from sight.  Although invisible, it was there, and Chandellan felt all of the elements protecting them from the dragon.  Without a word, he and his companion sprinted toward the dragon’s hind feet.  She looped one end around a rock formation, and just before the dragon noticed them and turned, Chandellan slapped the cuff around on a giant, scaly foot.

“The spell!” he cried, and they both chanted the words, together directing the flow of magic into the chains, which began to glow with all the colors of magic.  The dragon roared, and the place shook.  Screams reverberated through the space as rocks fell from the ceiling onto Allies and their enemies alike.  And then the spell was finished.  The chains melted into the rock and the dragon’s scales.  He was bound by a power stronger than anyone could have managed alone, one that would hold him until the end of his life.

“Nooo!” the scarlet giant screamed.  “Curssse you!  I curssse all of you!  Kill them!”

The enemy stood before them, evil in his eyes, and prepared a spell that would bring the mountain down on all of them.

“Idira!  Tenga!  Stop him!”  Chandellan shouted.  The lions spoke to the stones of the hills, and they stood fast.  When the enemy tried to raise the waters of the stream through the cavern to drown them, the Dolphins held the water back.  The red dragon bellowed fire, but Amethyst and the other good dragons created a fire shield.  Frustrated and enraged, the enemy screamed, and used the pain of the dying to gather a blast of magic that would destroy the Allies and everyone with them, but they gathered together and met his dark magic with their combined powers, natural and elemental, in a stronger shield than anyone had ever created before.

And then it happened.

When the two forces struck each other with so much power, something occurred which no one could have anticipated.  The force of the Power Keepers’ shield would not give, but faced with so strong an attack, it reacted.  With a blast of power that threw everyone to the ground in confusion and dismay, the shield exploded, throwing up a magical barrier that incorporated all of the elements.  Chandellan, Amethyst, Meeresha, and the King’s daughter were trapped with the enemy and the dragon on one side, and most of the other allies had disappeared.  Chandellan was the first to react.  With a cry, he launched himself at the enemy and almost struck a killing blow before he was able to react.  At the last moment, he raised his sword in defense.  The clash of the weapons brought Meeresha out of his daze and into action.  Together, Chandellan and Meeresha fought the enemy, delivering blow after blow until all three were panting with exertion.  Chandellan could hardly feel his sword arm.  He had to draw on his dwindling supply of personal magical power to continue swinging his weapon.  The enemy was tiring, too.  The strain in his eyes was obvious.  Chandellan and Meeresha shared a glance.  They knew each other so well that no word or thought was needed.  They struck at the same moment, as two parts of the same whole.  The enemy fell.

Silence filled the chamber for an eternal moment.  Then the great dragon screamed.  Pulling all the power from the body of his dying partner, he attempted to break the chains, but the power that held them fast was too strong.  He roared again and reared, beating his wings in futile anger.  Leveling a great red eye at Chandellan and Meeresha, he cried out, “You!  You have done this, you miserable creatures!  I curse you!  Do you hear me?  I curse you and your kind forever!  As long as I remain chained in this tomb of rock, you will wander, lost!  Your mates will die in childbirth, or languish in ill health until claimed by an early death.  You who have enjoyed long life and fame in this world will have your lives cut short, and your names will fade from memory.”  He focused on Meeresha, “And you, especially!  No one will even remember your race existed!  I curse you until the end of time!”