Gillian looked out the west facing window of the tower. The sun was slowly disappearing behind the mountain tops. The sun shot gold beams across the sky. The air was cool and smelt like pine and fresh rain. Gill breathed it all in. She stared at the suns slowly fading glow until her eyes hurt. She followed each beam with her eyes and tried to soak it all in. Nights were long and lonely in the tower. She often laid awake frightened of being found, straining her ears to hear and identify each sound. Listening for horses or wagons. She followed one beam of light that cut through the trees just right so it hit just to the edge of the wide clearing that circled the tower. The clearing was surrounded by tall thick pines. As Gill watched the beam of light she saw something move in the trees. She immediately ducked down so only her eyes were peaking over the edge. She reached down for her bow. Her aunt had just left yesterday and wasn't expected to return for at least a week. What if it was the council? She strung an arrow. Just then, a figure stepped out slowly from the trees. It was obviously a woman, her curves showed even through her boyish hunters clothing and the thick cloak that covered her head. A bow was strung on her back but she did not seem ready to attack. She moved slowly, examining the base of the tower. Gill watched as she slowly looked up. The girls hood fell back, showing shining brown hair tied back with a strap. Her aura was a fantastic bright green.
"Hello?" The girl said. Gill jumped, she hadn't realized she had stood up to look more closely. She quickly got to the side of the window where she could not be seen.
"My name is Tegan, miss." the girl called. "I came upon here by accident while on a hunting trip. I mean you no harm."
"What do you know of the council?" Gill called out, still staying hidden. There was a silence and then Tegan said,
"They burned my village and killed my brother, my only family. I wish them all dead." Gill could not doubt the seriousness and passion in her voice. Gill stood before the window with her bow aimed at the girl.
"No one is to know about this tower, especially the council. If you wish the council dead you will leave now and tell no one of this place."
Tegan didn’t know what to make of this. This strange tower in the middle of nowhere. She wasn’t even sure if she was seeing what she was seeing. The closer she looked at the tower the less it really seemed to be there. But the young lady was definitely there. She was aiming right for her. Though her stance and technique looked inexperienced, the sureness in the girl’s voice and the confidence with which she held the bow made Tegan certain that if the girl wished it, she’d be dead in a second.
Suddenly Tegan’s mind went fuzzy, or is it that it finally cleared? The world was wiped away and she saw a woman standing in front of her in a dark blue cloak with intricate gold embroidery that seemed to swirl around the fabric. The woman drew back her hood to reveal her beautiful face and long brown hair tied back tightly in a braid. She looked at Tegan intently and said slowly in a musical hypnotic voice, “Her name is Gillian. She needs your help. Protect her.” The images suddenly disappeared and Tegan was back to the circular meadow and the tower. The girl was still standing aimed to shoot.
“Gillian?” Tegan heard herself asking. The girl stiffened.
“How do you know that name?” The girl demanded. She dropped her bow slightly.
“I don’t know.” Tegan said softly, too soft, she thought, for the girl to hear.
“What do you know?” Gillian was getting concerned. This Tegan seemed to be against the council but she also somehow knew her name. It could be risky to let her leave without first ensuring that she won’t go telling her whereabouts or of the strange tower in the forest. How did she find it anyway?
“I am confused and in need of food and rest.” Tegan answered slowly. Gillian nodded.
“Come and rest in the tower weary traveller.” Gill answered and then disappeared from the window. Tegan started to circle the tower, looking for a door. She didn’t see any. She got back around to the west side and saw that a rope had been dropped from the window. Was she expected to climb up? She was already so tired. But she was intrigued by the mysterious tower and the strange vision, so she made sure the rope could hold her weight and then started to climb. By the time she got to the top, Tegan was dripping with sweat and her limbs were weak and shaking. She hoped quickly that this girl no longer intended to kill her. Tegan climbed over the window ledge and collapsed on the floor of the tower. It was one large circular room. A few small lanterns were lit to supply light for the coming night. It was obvious more lanterns were not lit as to not call attention to the tower in the darkness. There was a small bed covered in a multitude of colourful pillows and quilts. The bleak stone walls were coming alive with the most beautiful tapestries, paintings and quilts that Tegan had ever seen. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the intricate images and patterns. There were elaborate scenes of meadows with animals and flowers, villages not unlike her own filled with people going about their daily routines, dances and celebrations, breathtaking landscapes and some just filled with mesmerizing colours in various shapes and patterns.
When she finally tore her eyes away from the beautiful art that lined the walls of the tower, she noticed a loom and other tools that must be used for making these creations, but little else except for a chair or two and a table piled high with parchment and inks. The young woman finally caught Tegan’s eye. She was a tiny woman, she could look like a young girl if not for the way she carried herself and the obvious knowledge in her eyes. She was small and slight with long dark brown hair tied in tiny intricate braids. She was dressed simply but in obviously quality clothing. She walked past Tegan cautiously to the window she had just climbed through and quickly but rather nervously pulled up the rope and set it on the table. Then got a flask and filled it with water from a large bucket. She handed the flask carefully to Tegan and then backed away.
“I’m willing to give you food and shelter for the night,” she said. “But I need you to honestly answer some questions for me. Agreed?”
Tegan nodded. The girl went to another large bucket and pulled out bread, smoked ham and some strange fruit. She put it in cloth and handed it to Tegan. Tegan eagerly started eating.
Gillian just watched the young woman eat. It was strange having someone other than Aunt Lowina in the tower. No one else had ever entered the tower. She had seen Tegan staring in awe at her art and tapestries. It made her both nervous and proud. She needed to get answers from the girl but she was devouring the food like she hadn’t eaten in days. It made sense. There was very little wild game in this area. Gillian decided to let the girl eat before questioning her. When the girl had drank the last of the water, Gillian refilled the flask and then began.
“You said your name is Tegan. That is a strange name. Where are you from? How did you find yourself here?”
“My village was called Kalera. It was in Burman valley. Quite far south from here. When Kalera was destroyed and my brother killed, I and the few survivors made east for the city of Creta.” Gillian nodded. Creta is the nearest large trade city. Aunt Lowina often travelled there to get what Gillian needed in the tower. “I helped an elderly woman make the journey. I hunted for the both of us and carried both our share. In return once we arrived in Creta she invited me to stay with her and her sister who lives there. I had nowhere else to stay so I accepted. I hunted, gathered, cut wood, shopped and anything else they wanted. They were very kind to me and with their small herb selling business, we got by.”
“But how did you end up here? Creta is quite a ways.” Gillian asked. She refused to let herself become interested in the girls story, she needed to remain weary until she knew the girl could be trusted.
“Joanna and her sister, Sherl, fell ill this summer. They were unable to run the shop and sell their herb mixes. Luckily they are on the mend now, they should be better by the coming spring. However, now we have little money and very little to sell this winter, and fewer tradesmen anyways, so unless I went forth and hunted myself, we would not survive the winter. Someone mentioned to me on my way out of town that there was loads of elk this far north. I stupidly listened to them and now here I am, running low on supplies and no meat to get us through the winter.”
“Whoever told you that there was large game here was greatly mistaken. There are many rabbits and small birds and a wolf pack far to the east but very little else.” Gillian knew this very well.
“Growing up in a small village has made me too trusting,” Tegan said quietly. “I should never have listened to that stranger.”
Gillian nodded slowly and looked out the window. Night had fallen. Living in the tower had made her the opposite of Tegan, weary of everything and everyone. No one could be trusted. What was she thinking? Inviting someone in to the tower. How stupid! This girl may have a well-rehearsed story but that did not mean she could be trusted. Gillian had not been around enough auras to be able to tell when a person was lying. And even if it was true, what if the girl told others about the tower with the young girl? She needed to be silenced. She was stupid to invite the girl up and stupid to even listen to her story. Gillian casually put her hands behind her back and reached for the knife she had put in the back fold of her smock. But what was she going to do? Stab the girl? Gillian had never hurt anything before. What if Tegan really was innocent? What if she promised to tell no one? What would Lowina want her to do?
Tegan saw that Gillian was fiddling with something behind her back. She guessed it was a weapon. She started to slowly stand up and back away as Gillian asked her another question.
“So you say your village, Kalera, was destroyed by the coven? How did they destroy it?”
Tegan stepped back and opened her mouth as a high pitched screech pierced the silent night. They both froze and looked up towards the roof where the sound had come from. There was a brief moment of silence. Then the screech again, louder.
Suddenly the air was filled with screeches. Then a crash and a squeal as something tore at the slate roof. The sound of claws scraping was unmistakable. Tegan and Gillian backed into the center of the room, their eyes glued to the ceiling. Tegan unsheathed an arrow and drew her bow. All of a sudden a crash on the west side shook the tower. At that moment, a large claw broke through the ceiling. Gillian screamed and drew her small knife. Another crash at the wall and the stones started to crumble away from the wall. Then more and more crashes. The tower shook. It seemed to rock. Through the window they could only see black shapes moving in the moonlight. With another bang, the corner of the ceiling was torn off. Gillian screamed again as she saw the creatures for the first time. The bony winged creatures were black as night and had long hooked beaks almost the size of their bodies. The beaks and the claws shone white as masses of the creatures tore at the tower. Tegan quickly put her arrow in its sheath and strung the bow over her shoulder. She grabbed the rope that still had an end tied to one of the lamps on the wall. She started to tie the other end to her arrow. Gillian stood shaking in the middle of the room. With another crash, the hole was now big enough for one of the creatures to get through. It tore in to the tower, knocking over lamps which set fire to the tapestries and paintings on the walls. It dove at Gillian who ran under a table. The creature landed on top of it and one of its long thin wings draped over one side. Without thinking, Gillian stabbed her knife into the wing and into a crack between stones. The creature screamed even louder and pulled at the wing, which only made the knife tear through it in a long gash all the way to its claw like hand. Gillian rolled out from the table and ran towards Tegan. Tegan had shot the arrow to the closest pine tree. The tower was trembling now as the creatures crashed and tore at it. More creatures were coming through the hole in the ceiling now. Thinking fast, Tegan tore two strips from her cloak. She took one and put one end in Gillian’s left hand. She put the other over the rope and in Gillian’s right hand.
“Hold on tight!” She said and then pushed Gillian out the window. Gillian went flying down the rope in to the trees. Tegan was just about to go herself when one of the creatures jumped on her back and drove its claws into her arms. Tegan quickly backed herself in to one of the burning tapestries and the creature released her. Tegan then jumped for the rope and started to slide towards the trees when she felt the rope start to slacken. She quickly grabbed the rope tightly as the end in the tower snapped and Tegan swung towards the ground. She hit the ground hard. Her breath left her lungs and her vision clouded. She blinked and Gillian was standing over her, pulling her towards the trees. She was saying something.
“Get up! Hurry! Run!” She screamed. Tegan looked, the tower was going to collapse on top of them. She got to her feet and ran towards the trees behind Gillian. The ground shook as the stone tower fell and it sent them both to their knees. The sound of stone crashing slowly faded. As did the screeching.
The two girls remained frozen on their knees, trying hard to keep their breathing quiet. Tegan and Gillian strained their ears, the creatures screeching had stopped. The forest night was silent.
“What were those things?” Gillian whispered. She was still frozen on her knees. Living in the tower, she didn’t get to see much, but Lowina gave her many books and told her many stories about the outside world. However, she had never heard of such creatures.
“Skraphl,” Tegan said quietly. Then louder, “Those were Skraphl.”
Gillian looked up and stared at Tegan. She was on her hands and knees. Her fists clenched at the grass beneath her. Gillian noticed the girls change in aura before she noticed the blood. Tegan had changed from a vibrant green to a dark misty jade. Blood rolled down her arms on to the grass.
“You’re hurt!” Gillian said. She got up on shaky legs and moved towards Tegan who stayed frozen in place. Gillian pulled Tegan in to a sitting position and then examined the wounds. There were six puncture wounds on her arms and shoulders. Three on each. Obviously from the claws of the Skraphl.
“They’re deep.” Gillian said. “Tell me how to bandage them.”
Tegan was quiet for a moment.
“Scraphl claws and beak inject a poison. I’ll be dead in an hour.”
Gillian stared again at the girl. She was sitting in the green grass staring straight ahead. Her aura flickered and dimmed in and out. So that’s what a dying aura looks like, Gillian thought. Then something strange happened. The aura called out to her. It was obviously just in her own head but the call was unmistakable. It was filled with fear, pain and despair. Gillian felt an ache deep inside of her. This was her fault. Tegan got hurt saving me, she thought. She’s selfless. And brave. She could have just saved herself. A tear ran down Gillian’s cheek.
“Thank you for saving me.” Gillian said and she put her hand on Tegan’s. “Those were the creatures that destroyed your village and killed your brother, weren’t they?”
Tegan just nodded. Gillian didn’t know how she knew. She just knew.
“What was he like?” Gillian asked gently. Tegan was quiet for a moment.
“He was my best friend. We did everything together. After our parents died, I took care of him. But soon, he started taking care of me. He learned so fast, he was so smart. He followed me hunting and always kept up. We helped each other to survive. He saw the best in everyone and was always so happy. I asked him why once and he said ‘Why not? It’s better than being sad’. He worked so hard for us. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think I could have made it this far.”
While Tegan talked, Gillian was watching a shred of her aura. It was unaffected by the jade mist. As Tegan spoke, it got brighter and bigger. It wandered over to Gillian.
“What was his name?” Gillian asked.
“Dayton.” Gillian whispered. As she did, the sliver of aura looked at her. Gillian smiled at it. It flickered back. Gillian looked at the place on the ground where the blood had pooled from Tegan’s arms. Not thinking, Gillian slowly reached out and touched the sliver of aura. She motioned it towards the pool of blood mixing with the bright green grass. The aura dove in to the ground, bringing the blood with it. Gillian then took her hand and put it over the spot where the blood had been. She could feel the energy beneath the earth. She took a deep breath and pulled her hand up. It was heavier than she expected. As she slowly pulled her hand up, swirls of glowing bright green energy flowed out of the ground. Gillian used her other hand to clumsily guide the energy. Some of it spilled out of her fingers and fell on to the ground which surged and sprouted wild flowers. The rest, Gillian guided to Tegan’s wounds which greedily soaked up the new aura. Gillian took a step back. She watched in shock as the new green aura absorbed and destroyed the dark jade mist. When it was finished, Tegan’s aura was shining a spectacular green again and Gillian sat down contentedly exhausted on the grass.
“What in hell was that!?” Tegan exclaimed, jumping up. She examined her wounds, which were still there and painful, but had stopped bleeding and the poison was obviously out of her system. She could feel the difference.
“You saw that?” Gillian was surprised.
“Of course I saw it! I was right here!”
“Oh? That’s all? What’s going on?” Tegan reached for her bow but her wounds made it too painful. She groaned.
“Tell me how to bandage the wounds, please.” Gillian said. Tegan sighed and gave Gillian instructions. Gillian began wrapping Tegan’s wounds in a bandage of cloth and some strange herb Tegan had in her sack.
“It’s strange that you saw the energy because most do not see auras.” Gillian said pensively.
“Auras? Like a person’s energy?” Tegan asked, wincing as Gillian tightly tied the bandage.
“Energy, spirit, soul, essence,” Gillian said. “You don’t normally see auras?”
“No. I don’t even know of anyone who can. Well, obviously you can.”
“Tell me exactly what you just saw.” Gillian said, trying to figure out what had just happened.
“I told you Dayton’s name and then you reached out and all the sudden this green thing was in the air. You sent it to the grass where my blood was and then it went in to the ground. I thought it was gone until you put your hand over it and even more came pouring out of the ground. It was the most beautiful thing. Some of it fell on the ground and flowers started growing and you put the rest on my wounds. I felt like someone had woken me up and I was fresh and I could feel the poison leaving me. Then it was done and you sat on the ground looking like the happiest person in the world. What the hell did you do?”
“I’m not exactly sure.” Gillian said quietly.
“You mean you’ve never done that before?”
Gillian was getting nervous now. She had never done something like that before. She had done a few simple energy conjuring’s but nothing like that! And certainly nothing without thinking about it first. And now a stranger had witnessed it. What if she told people? What if the council heard and tracked her down? And the tower!
Gillian suddenly took off running back towards the tower, not thinking.
“Wait!” Tegan yelled and took off behind her. Gillian came to a stop at the edge of the clearing. The tower lay on the ground a heap of stone and some lingering flame. Some Skraphl lay squished between stone. Everything was destroyed. Her only home was gone. She slowly walked towards the wreckage.
Tegan understood the urge to see the remains of what you’ve lost. After her village was destroyed and her brother died, she insisted on walking among the rubble to see the remains of her home. She saw pieces of all the places she had been, places she had grew up. Streets her family had walked together. She had had to see it. To know for sure it was gone. So Tegan drew her bow, just in case, and followed Gillian as she walked through the rubble. She felt strangely protective of Gillian. She thought again of the strange vision she had seen before entering the tower. The woman had said to protect Gillian, and so she had. But really, Tegan would have got Gillian out of the crumbling tower first anyways. It had been clear that Gillian was terrified and had no idea what to do. Tegan had dealt with the Skraphl before and so she knew the only thing to do was get away. Tegan had always been good under pressure. When the Skraphl attacked, she knew how to quickly assess the situation and figure out what to do next. Tegan remembered when her and her family went to Iroque Lake during hot summer days. There was a tall rock ledge on one side of the lake. Her father had tied a rope from a tree on top of the ledge to a tree on the other side of the narrow lake. Then Tegan and Dayton would both slide down the rope using a cloth and then jump in to the lake. Just like Tegan and Gillian had done to escape the tower.
Tegan shook her head. Gillian was looking at burning scraps of parchment. Tegan needed to focus on the girl. Gillian had saved her life by ridding the poison from her body. Tegan had heard legends of Elven creatures that supposedly lived to the east. The legends say that Elven could manipulate the elements in magical ways as well as see and influence people’s energies. The tales also say that Elven looked different than humans. Taller, more slender, pointed ears, strangely coloured skin, stunningly beautiful. Tegan looked at Gillian. She was slender, but small. No pointed ears. Pale creamy skin. Very beautiful but definitely human. Tegan had heard rumors of some people who could do some simple spells, or just see auras, but nothing like she had seen Gillian do. Either way, she felt she owed Gillian.
“Do you need a place to stay?” Tegan asked. The night sky was clear and calm. The moon and stars lit the clearing. The night was turning cold.
Gillian looked up. She stared at Tegan. Her aura still shone brightly. Gillian didn’t have much choice.
“I suppose I do.” She replied quietly. She started walking away from the rubble. She stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked back. She needed to leave a sign in case Lowina came back and thought she was dead. Gillian took a deep breath and centered herself. She closed eyes and concentrated. When she opened them the clearing was glowing. She could see the aura of the trees, the grass, even a faint glow from the stone. She could sense the birds in the trees and the rabbits in their burrows. She reached out in front of her and saw her own hands glowing white and blue.
“Bryophyta” she whispered and pulled her hands up. A thick green moss appeared at her feet. Once she felt she had it under her control, she pushed her hands forward. The moss grew and spread until it completely covered the remains of the tower and the Skraphl. Gillian then lowered her hands and released the aura.
“Incredible.” Tegan said. Gill turned quickly. She had forgot that Tegan would be watching. She had to stop making these mistakes! She took a deep breath. She needed to take control of the situation. She quickly refocused and called on the wind.
“Aria” A large gust of wind took Tegan off guard and pushed her against a pine tree and then released her. It was obvious that Gillian was controlling the air around them. It caused leaves and pine needles to swirl around her, lifting her hair and making her look fierce and powerful, just as Gillian intended.
“You will tell no one about what you’ve seen.” Gillian said in an icy cold voice. The moonlight shone on her and made her look enchanting.
“Miss Gillian,” Tegan said quickly. “I have no intention of telling anyone. You saved my life and now I see that you may be in need of assistance. I wish to help you. And I promise, I will tell no one of what I’ve seen here.”
Gillian stood frozen for a moment with the wind swirling around her, staring at Tegan. She had been watching Tegan’s aura as she spoke and saw no change to make her think that she had been lying. Maybe she could trust the girl. She was definitely in need of her help. She released the energy of the wind and as she did, she felt a wave of her own energy leave her. She had done too much already this night. She swayed and felt Tegan grasp her shoulders to steady her. Then Tegan flinched. Her arms were hurting badly.
“You’re tired,” Tegan observed. “We should set up camp for the rest of the night. I suggest we do so away from here though, in case the Skraphl return. I doubt they would though. There are only a few hours until sunrise and the Skraphl have a disinclination to sunlight.”