Note: Disclaimer in prologue. Thank you for reviewing!
She could hear their cold, beating hearts as they pursued her.
She chanced a look over her shoulder, her one hand steadying a grip on a tree while the other clutched a book to her chest. Her eyes widened when she saw how close they were coming to her, and she was to have the higher skill. Cursing under her breath in a language long since lost, she turned on her heel to continue the run.
She knew they would overtake her before she reached the cavern where her protection rested. She tossed the book aside, glancing around the dim light until she saw a rotted log resting against the live foliage. With a grim smile, she lifted the log, unsurprised at its weight. As the demon rounded the corner, she struck out, the log catching it in the face and the impact pushing it back fifteen feet where it smashed into a tree and sank, unconscious, to the ground.
She dropped the log with a small smile of triumph and spun around, knowing that her way would now be clear. Bending down to retrieve the book, she rose and her body went slack; the other demon had caught up and was behind her. Without thinking, she pushed the book into the demon’s face and watched as it recoiled before she kicked at it, sending it spiraling into the shadows.
Before she could get away, two blue arms wrapped around hers and pulled her backwards. Crying out, she pressed her elbows into the ribs of her assailant. As it reeled backwards, she flipped her body upwards and around, her legs wrapping tightly around the demon’s neck as it crashed backwards to the ground. The demon struggled for only a few seconds before she gave her legs an almighty wrench and heard the resounding crack.
Panting, she pushed herself away, throwing locks of red hair over her shoulder as she scampered to her feet, dragging the book up with her by nudging the dead demon away. Glancing around the dimly-lit trees, she took off running towards the city, towards her haven.
After only a few steps, she gave a sigh of resignation as two demons appeared from nowhere in pursuit. She continued to run, drawing on her speed as she weaved in and out of alleys and onto the sidewalk. She drew to a stop and pressed her back to the wall of a brick building, still warm from the sun. She heard the demons approaching and heard their guttural cries as they alerted others in the area that one of the women was free.
Pushing herself free, she judged she had less than a mile to go. But the book was important to retrieve from their old protective haven. For the past few months, the four had been running for their lives. Only now had one chanced to re-enter the living world in order to obtain their one instrument with instructions on how to get out of it.
She had only gone a few more steps when a clawed hand reached out from an alley and snatched her arm. She cried out as she was spun around, an awkward hand taking her by the back of the head and pushing her face into the wall. She blinked stupidly as she was dragged back before she was dumped onto the sidewalk, the book clattering from her arms.
The demon stood over her, its blue teeth bared in a cold, unsettling smile as it withdrew a blade of silver and ran her through.
She gasped inwardly as the blade sank through her abdomen and touched the concrete underneath her. With a sickening twist, the blade was pulled out. She could feel the poison inside of her, entering her blood and spreading quickly.
The two pursuant demons suddenly appeared over her head and joined their master, their feral grins sending ripples of fear through her body for the first time. She attempted to move, but the poison rooted her to the spot.
Two demons reached down to pull her up into a crouched position. She saw the crimson-fleshed demons behind them, their long chains dragging the streets behind them.
“You will tell us what you know,” the master said, giving her an appraising sort of look as she was forced into a subservient position on her knees. Her reply was to spit at him. He cackled evilly as he swept the spittle aside before his clubbed hand reached out and three razor-sharp claws ripped through her face, sweeping down her neck. She could taste the blood as it trickled down her cut nose and lips. But her eyes remained defiant. She felt her arms pulled outwards, though she could no longer feel them. She watched as large cuffs were placed on her wrists and her arms were yanked outwards.
“Where are the others?”
She did not reply, her eyes holding the demon’s for as long as she could. After a long moment, his hand swiped her face again from the opposite direction, six jagged lines sending tiny rivers of blood down her pale face.
“You know that even if you do not speak, you will be destroyed.” At her defiant stare, he continued, cruelly, “Even if you wanted to seek the others, you will never find them. The others are dead and you are quite alone in this world.”
Again, she held her silence. And, again, he cut into her. She heard the click of metal as her legs were pulled sharply backwards, her face smashing into the concrete. But she never uttered a cry, even as they took her by her hair and pulled her back to her knees.
“And the child? How can you protect her when all of you are dead?”
She would not hold her silence any longer. With a cold smile of her own, she snapped, “The child you seek is dead and is no longer a threat to you.”
“You lie!” He backhanded her this time. As she recovered, she spit out a stream of blood to the concrete, wondering since when it had become so red.
“I speak the truth,” she replied bitterly. “Her death may have set us back, but it won’t hold us forever. There is always the offspring of—“ Her words were cut off as the master demon leant forward, his hand cupping the back of her head as his terrible face bent towards her ear. As it whispered into her ear, her eyes closed and her soft crying brought a smile of vicious triumph to his face.
“I will never,” she said, no longer caring that her boldness would lead to her death. She was not afraid to die, not if she could get a glimpse of a world she’d left behind. “I will never trust your words. They are as poisonous as the wounds in my body and not even they will obey you.”
“Brave words from a coward,” he said dispassionately as her eyes scanned the periphery, two red-fleshed creatures moving outwards. She felt a great weight around her neck as a ring of metal was also cuffed there. “The world will fall and your sisterhood with it. Who has the power to stop you now?”
“The others will avenge me,” the redheaded lady assured them. “That, I promise you.”
“Your promises mean nothing.” He lifted his hand, glancing at the three demons as they moved outwards, two moving in the shadows.
“Kill me now and your terrible secret dies with me,” she replied.
“I believe that your death will serve a warning enough,” he replied, grasping her face, clawed nails brushing aside the rivers of blood and a single, frosty star that fell from silvery eyes.
“I die free,” she whispered.
“So be it.” The demon motioned and the five demons gave a quick burst of speed. As her body was ripped to literal pieces, the demon’s smile faded and was replaced by a look of utter boredom.
As the demons swept into the night, they ignored the scarlet vapor that floated lightly over their heads.
Valley of Rivendell
With a groan, the woman stopped her horse but not before she nearly keeled over the side.
“Help her up! Send for lord Elrond!”
Gilraen uttered a soft cry and nearly fell off of her saddle and into the arms of Elrond’s twin sons as their father rushed down the steps, taking in the scene with an expression of utmost calm, though his heart was beating anything but calm. Both twins caught her with an agility that no human was able to possess and quickly set her back on her feet. She blinked wearily at them before she slid towards the ground, groaning. Her arms cupped her full stomach as the shooting pains of labor rendered her utterly helpless.
“Take her into the house,” Elrond commanded his sons. They both gripped Gilraen under her arms and led her to the house, growing impatient as she waddled up the wide steps. As she disappeared from sight, he turned to the maiden that had ridden into the valley with her. Inside the woman’s arms was a tiny bundle. Elrond gave a soft sigh as he pushed down the edge of the blanket and stared at the silvery eyes blinking curiously up at him. A hand pushed itself from the covers to tap against his face as the small boy uttered soft baby noises.
“Take him into the houses and keep him safe,” Elrond said, pulling the blanket back over the child. “Has he a name?” he asked, as though an afterthought.
“Aragorn, my lord,” the maiden replied, inclining her head. “He is the son of Arathorn.”
Arathorn. The last leader of the Dúnedain. Judging by the size of his son, the death of the leader would have ramifications if his son was only a toddler. Elrond turned back to the houses when he heard a loud, anguished cry.
“I must return to do what aid I can,” Elrond told his guards as they came forward at his gestures. “Send for Arwen.”
In Gilraen’s room, the woman lay in misery as the Elves bustled around her, making her as comfortable as they could. But the rest was up to her. After what difficulties she’d had with Aragorn, she had no intention of delivering another child into this world. But such things were not her fate.
She released another cry as the daughter of Elrond laid a cool, damp cloth to her forehead. She struggled to breathe as she stared up at the blurry face. “I wish this child out of me,” she pleaded, her tone desperate as another wave of pain nearly overwhelmed her. “Ai…”
“Hush, now,” Arwen said softly, placing the cloth on Gilraen’s forehead and reaching down to touch the well-formed stomach. She could practically feel the strength of the infant inside.
“The child will be born with their father’s stubbornness,” Gilraen snapped through gritted teeth.
“You will give birth tonight,” Arwen advised as her father returned. “Father, she is ready.”
As the straps were placed and as Gilraen bit onto a piece of tack, she found herself using all of her energy to force her child into the world. It was only when she heard a soft cry and a feminine laugh did she collapse into her pillows, weakened. She turned her head to the bloodied form and reached out with a single hand, brushing the pale hand that hovered in front of her face.
“You have delivered a daughter,” Elrond said, holding the naked infant to her before it was wrapped and carried away.
“Arathorn’s legacy will be one of each gender,” Gilraen sighed as she struggled to stay awake, if only to listen to her daughter cry again. “Let her name be Anariel.”
“For she was born under the sun,” Arwen said, gazing at the gaps in the woodwork over their heads, allowing streaks of sunlight to filter down on them. She handed the infant to an attendee and turned back to Gilraen, who lay there with her eyes closed.
“She needs rest, my daughter,” Elrond said, laying a gentle hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “The infant—“
“I will care for her until the child’s mother strengthens,” Arwen replied quietly, slipping away from Gilraen as other attendants quickly made for the Dúnedain lady’s bedside with cool cloths and beverages. She walked to the one attendant who cradled the newborn girl in her arms. Arwen gently relieved her of the baby and stared curiously at the young face, for she had never seen a human so young. Green eyes blinked up at her and the tiny mouth spread into a soundless wail. Arwen caressed the girl’s cheek with long, pale fingers, enjoying the way the infant blinked at the sensation.
Four Years Later…
Gilraen let out a long breath as she rested against a tree, a hand clutching a stitch in her side. Barely visible ninety feet before her, swallowed by the enormous trees, was her son. Even in the darkness provided by the shade, Estel stood out.
“Estel?” she called softly, pushing herself from the tree. She had been following him since he left Rivendell. She had no idea that a boy just six years of age could be worthy of so much trouble and yet, there was her son. “Estel, please return here, it will be growing dark within the hour…”
But the mischievous child had disappeared again. She could hear his small laughter as it wafted from the trees. With a huff, Gilraen turned to her left, half-expecting to see her daughter. “Elia?” she asked, her tone growing impatient. It seemed that both her son and her daughter had inherited their father’s rebellious streak. “Elia?”
Gilraen gasped and swung around, clutching at her heart as a small, dark-haired and green-eyed bundle of energy and apparent lack of fear leapt from the woods. That wasn’t the only thing that held her sight. Estel was standing not ten feet away, a large stick in his hand as he attempted to ward off his tiny sister’s blows.
“Elia! Elia, what is this?” she gasped, her hand moving from her heart and laying dumbly at her side. “Estel, you know better than to encourage her!”
Estel was laughing as his sister practically jumped on top of him, holding the stick she carried at his throat. “Do you yield?” she asked, her childish voice out of place for such war games.
“Never!” Estel shouted gleefully as he pushed his sister aside. Elia was back on her feet before Estel could begin to scramble. Before Estel could even stand up, Elia was on his back and had driven him back to the ground with a loud war cry that would have put the men of old to shame.
Gilraen managed not to clap her hand over her eyes. She was really going to have to talk to the Elves, for they had taught Estel such games as these. In turn, he had taught his younger sister. Even in the dim light, Gilraen saw Estel bouncing around with Elia clinging to his back, twirling her stick as though a flag of victory.
Her moment of triumph ended as soon as she felt arms around her waist pulling her off of her brother’s back. With a squeal, she kicked at the air, squirming in the arms until she heard her mother’s irritated voice in her ear. “Ai, Elia, will you stop twisting like a baby kit?”
Elia immediately went slack as her mother pushed her to the ground before taking her hand fiercely. Gilraen then turned to the other guilty subject, her eyes flashing. “And you, my son! Have you no decency?” As she turned to scold Estel, Elia let go of her hand and, giggling, dashed off into the woods.
With a cry, Gilraen turned to the woods, hearing the child’s laughter dissipate as she ran further away. “Estel, remain where you are. I will come for you,” she said in a hurried rush as she took off after her daughter.
If only Arwen had remained! But Arwen had taken the easy path, choosing instead for her grandparents’ uncomplicated lives. It was nothing she could blame the Elvish lady for, except the rapport her daughter had with the Elvish princess. It seemed that since Arwen had left, her daughter’s behavior had grown… well, Gilraen could hardly blame her. Estel was taught how to hunt and this was the lesson he passed onto his sister.
She was hardly surprised as she heard his footsteps behind her, a wary eye on his mother’s back. He paused, smiling, when his mother scooped up his sister into her arms and reached back, taking his hand. “Come,” she said firmly, leaving no room for argument. Disappointed that their time in the woods was over, Estel took her hand as their mother led them from the woods.
For once, it was a silent morning as Gilraen packed her things into her traveling bag. The time had come for her to return north as Arathorn’s affairs still needed tending to. Her eyes took in the small room she had come to covet, but nothing could erase the deep lines of sadness from her face.
She heard voices that floated into the room from the wind. Turning back to her bag, she hummed under her breath as she continued along. That was, until she heard a masculine voice rise calmly and the sound of two children arguing with him.
“Ai,” she sighed, turning from her pack and slipping from her room and out of the halls of Elrond. Her eyes quickly spied the source of her distraction: two small children covered in sticky red paste standing with their heads cast down and their arms held limp at their sides while a tall figure in silver robes stood before them.
“What have you to answer to?” the Elf asked again, his voice deceptively calm.
“What is this?” Gilraen asked, drawing her children’s eyes. Her eyes widened at Elia’s face, for it was covered in deep scratches and a bruise on her jaw. Estel fared little better with scratches on his forearms, his trousers torn and his left knee bloodied. “Where have you been?”
“They will not speak,” the Elf told her calmly. “Shall I leave their punishment to you?”
The thought of lashing her children brought out an instinctive motherly streak. Her dark eyes held the Elf’s as she stepped forward. “I will not seek out that punishment,” she told him coldly as she turned to her small children. “What has happened?”
“It was my fault, Nana,” Elia said, her lower lip trembling. “They looked so delicious so high in the trees.”
Gilraen sighed, suddenly realizing what her children had done. “It is no fault of your own, Elia,” she replied softly, reaching out to gently touch her daughter’s chin, seeing the blood on her face.
“They were wandering again, my lady,” the Elf said pointedly.
“They are children; they are bound to play,” Gilraen told the Elf as she turned to him, her gaze moving upwards.
“There are dangers in the forests. They must not be allowed to wander. If they are caught, the dangers they face—“
Gilraen’s eyes widened at the implications of what the Elf was hinting at. “They were not caught and even if they do wander, they are safe within the realm. We do not wish to frighten their very active imaginations now, do we?”
“That is for time to tell,” the Elf replied, reaching down for Elia. He was quite surprised when Estel leapt forward, pushing the Elf’s arm away.
“You will not lay a hand on my sister!” he snapped. Elia hid neatly behind him, peering over the edge of his arm with her open face. “She has done nothing to hurt you.”
“Please, come with me,” the Elf replied, attempting to force some warmth into his voice. “I do promise I will not lay a hand on her.” Estel finally gave a nod of consent and stepped aside. Elia, however, was less than willing to believe the Elf’s words. As he tried to reach for her, she stomped forward and kicked him in the shins. Gilraen clamped a hand over her mouth in horror as the Elf squinted down at the defiant four-year-old.
“Elia, do as you are told,” Gilraen finally gasped out. Elia poked her tongue out at her brother, but put her small hand in the Elf’s and blinked up at him. Walking with an Elf was quite like walking with a glowing tree.
As they left, Gilraen held her son back. “Estel, you must promise me that no harm will come to your sister when I leave.”
“Why must you go?” Estel asked curiously.
“Your father has things that must be seen to,” Gilraen replied, a gentle hand cupping her son’s face. “Do stay out of the trees when I am gone. When I return, you can climb as many trees as your desire. Am I understood?”
“You are understood, mother.”
“I must see to my packing. Will you watch your sister?”
“That is my good son,” Gilraen replied, rising and kissing her son lightly atop his head. She then watched as he ran off, shouting gleefully for Elia.
It had only been a matter of hours when she heard the sound of Estel calling for her. She quickly left her room behind and found a panting Estel waiting for her near the gardens. “What is it?” she asked, seeing the stricken look on her son’s face. “What has happened?”
“Elia is missing,” Estel gasped, clutching at his side. “I have not seen her for hours. When I ask for her, they tell me she is resting.”
Gilraen turned slowly towards the woods and felt her spirits plummet. She was less than a day from departing this peaceful realm, about to leave her children in the hands of the Elvish lord that dwelt here and, as of yet, they could not control her children. “I will find her,” she said, turning to her son. “Remain here with the others… they will look after you.”
Elia had wandered off after she decided she did not want to rest. Being locked in her room was not an easy feat to escape from, unless one knew how to climb from the window and land a story below into the soft grasses.
The woods offered her more mystery and adventure. Her light footsteps and happy hums were all that could be heard. She finally stopped at a small pond with an outcropping of rock and rested there. She had only been there for a few seconds, gazing at her reflection when a second reflection appeared over her shoulder. Elia gave a startled gasp and whipped around, seeing a figure standing behind her.
“Who are you?” she asked, pushing her dark hair from her eyes.
“I will not harm you,” the woman said, calmly gazing at the pond again. “I, too, come here to rest and to think.”
“I have come to rest, not to think,” Elia snapped back. Her eyes curiously sought out the woman’s curved ears and yet they weren’t pointed as the Elves were. “Who are you?” she asked again.
“I am neither foe nor friend,” the woman replied, sitting down behind the girl, who scrambled to get away from her. For the first time, fear flashed in Elia’s eyes. “You must be very brave to come out here on your own. Is your mother not worried?”
“She… she knows not where I am,” Elia admitted in a low voice.
“Perhaps you should run home to her,” the woman continued with a soft smile. “Mothers worry when their daughters wander and vanish.”
“I am not afraid, if that is what you are asking,” Elia continued in a low voice, though her eyes spoke that she was very much afraid.
“You have much to see, little one,” the woman replied, turning back to the water. She missed the irritated flash in Elia’s eyes. “You have a great future ahead of you, even for a princess.”
“I… I never told you what I am,” Elia whispered. Even at four (or four-and-three-quarters as she so happily called it), she was insightful.
“Only one who is a princess can live in this realm,” the woman explained, glancing around.
“Are you a princess?” Elia asked, her tone hushed and awed.
“Nay,” the woman replied, waving a hand. “I am only a simple maiden, sent on a simple task.” Her silvery eyes looked up as shadows fell across the water. Elia felt a tingle to her spine, yet her body remained frozen, lost in the trust that this woman would not harm her. “That task, little one, is you.” Before she could utter a sound, she felt a cold hand grab her arm and pull her backwards. As the hand reached towards her mouth, she uttered a single scream. It echoed only seconds before the sound was muffled and she found herself immersed into darkness.
Gilraen had just summoned the help of Elrond’s sons when a bloodcurdling scream echoed through the halls. Gilraen immediately turned on her heel, her eyes scanning the horizon. “Elia?” she gasped out. “Elia!” As she ran towards the woods, her words became more and more frantic. “Elia! ELIA!”
But there was no answer. She heard footsteps behind her and was soon overrun by Elves rushing to aid her. As they swept into the woods, she lifted her skirts and followed.
She found them at a pond, several Elves removing their cloaks in order to submerge into the waters. When she reached the clearing, she swayed when she saw the splash of crimson on the white rocks.
“Oh, no,” she murmured under her breath, a hand clutching her mouth and the other her heart. Already she could feel the panic settling in. “No, no, no…” She collapsed into the arms of Elvish women that had accompanied her and they slowly lowered her to the ground, even as the fervent search continued.
Hours later, the search abandoned, Gilraen found herself at her son’s room. His face hopefully peered from a window before he was in her arms. She held him for a moment, her heart breaking. As he turned his face to hers, he saw that she was pale and drawn, her eyes lost in a sea of tears. “Mama?” he asked.
She slowly bent down until her eyes were level with his. She reached out to grasp his shoulder. “Estel…”
“Where is Elia?” he asked, his tone half-accusing. Gilraen blinked to force the tears away. “Where is my sister?”
“She is gone, my son,” Gilraen whispered. “She….” How could she explain to him that they had found blood both on the rock, the ground around the pond and in the water itself? How could she tell her son that the chances of Elia being alive after whatever had taken her were so slim that not even the Elves would attempt a rescue? How many times would she have to tell her children… her child … that these lands were perilous?
“Mama?” She felt his hand on her face. “Where is Elia?”
Feeling the comfort of Elvish women behind her, she slowly rose, her heart shattering at the broken look on Estel’s face. “She is gone,” Gilraen whispered. “She is gone and she will not be returning.”
“Nay!” Estel shouted, pulling away from her. The anger was raw in his voice; it gave him power. “She is not gone! You will not leave her!”
“Estel, it is too late,” Gilraen pleaded, watching as her son stormed away from her. “Estel?” She would not lose both of her children, one out of grief and one out of a grave mistake. “Estel!”
As a Buffy-in-shock was led around the house by her sister, blank green eyes glanced over large stacks of research books. “What else?” she asked vacantly, her brows furrowing at the stacks.
“Oh, this? This is for research,” Dawn replied quickly, releasing her sister’s arm and heading into the living room. “It’s for this,” she continued, opening the weapon’s trunk and removing a large, black book. The book looked ancient, covered in old golden runes that had mostly worn away. “We’ve been trying to decipher this for months, but I—“ Already, Buffy had lost interest and had wandered away. “It’s actually not that boring,” Dawn said in a rush of words as Buffy retreated into the dining room. “You should have seen how long it took us to find it… we had to beat of these demons. It was a real riot.”
Her next words froze at the look on her sister’s face as she blinked in the dining room. “It’s almost the same,” Dawn said quickly. “Except we eat here now. Me and Willow and Tara.” Before she could continue, Buffy had walked on and Dawn found herself growing frustrated as she tried to keep up with her sister.
For some reason, her sister was back from the dead. And she was going to make it her mission to find out why.