Sundust

Sundust

A Story by lily platycorn
"

Analise's world is consumed by the cruel Invaders, who control the whole world. However, when Jade, a young girl, crashes up on the shores, her whole life is changed.

"

SUNDUST

 

The one from the root

and the one of the sea

will combine with the

crash and the wind.

And so they will beat

The stealers of land,

By dreams,

By light of sundust.

Important Characters

In order of appearance:

(Name, age, race, side)

 

Jade, 18, Olympian, Rebel

Mariel, 7, Fantallese, Rebel

Song, 6, Fantallese, Rebel

Dove, 6, Fantallese, Rebel

Rosette, 17, Fantallese, Rebel

Marigold, 14, Melopian, Invader

Analise, 20, Melopian, Rebel

Digger, 10, Melopian, Rebel

Arran, 9, Melopian, None

Master Orion, 51, Melopian, Invader

Moon Spear, 56, Native, Rebel

Lily Speckle, 12, Native, Rebel

Tiger Foot, 27, Native, Rebel

Tree Legs, 29, Native, Rebel

Billy, 6, Melopian, Invader

The Leader, 37, Melopian, Invader

Heart, 14, Bond, Rebel

Tremble, 23, Bond, Rebel

Soar, 54, Bond, Rebel

Star Face, 15, Native, Rebel

Bashka Heart, 19, Native, Rebel

Jem, 21, Melopian, Invader

Joey, 15, Melopian, Rebel

Will, 15, Melopian, Rebel

Dark Echo, 11, Native, Rebel

Whisper, 18, Bond, Rebel

Prologue

One of the Sea

 

            Many miles away from her homeland, a young woman was standing on the deck of her ship, her black hair streaming out behind her.  A large wave splattered her golden tights and leather boots.  This was Jade.

            “I’ve been through worse storms than this.” she muttered to herself, still staring at the great dark purple cloud hanging over the black horizon, dangerous, huge, and threatening. 

            She hastily ran down the stairs and dried off her clothing.  Racing over her couch, she ran up the golden staircase and grabbed a leopard fur coat.

            “Oh no.” 

            Peeking up through the window, she saw a few drops trickle down the glass.  Rushing outside, she watched the ship veer wildly through the waves that threatened to engulf the ship.  Spinning the wheel quickly, she checked the compass.  No longer in her original direction, she glanced at the stars, then her map.  Where was the closest land?  Nothing was even near to her spot.  She was far away from any land.  It was all distant, and she had no chance of escaping the storm. 

            So this is how it ends.  Death by water.

            It was really horribly ironic; she had prepared her whole 15 years for her life-journey in her beautiful home world Olympus �" and now �" slam!  They were gone, the dreams were gone, down the water, the water that she had loved and respected.  The water was now an enemy and she was going to die, just because of simple, pure bad luck.  She sat back, exhausted from spinning the wheel against the current, and let the ship tumult with the waves.

Suddenly, three orbs foamed from the water, iridescent and shimmering.  They seemed to be made of the water itself, rippling, growing bigger, shivering, and suddenly they blossomed into figures �" they were human figures!

Jade leapt up, and jumped back, tumbled down in her haste.  She cracked her head on the wooden board. 

Three were small, like children, and the other looked like Jade’s own age. 

The children were tiny and she felt an overwhelming amount of sympathy for them:  One was very pale with shining blue eyes and brown hair that surrounded her face.  The second child was dark haired with rosy skin, a pretty complexion, and starry grey eyes.  The other was a tiny long, black-haired creature with nearly black skin and lovely brown eyes.  The taller one had a spectacular beauty, with brown-gold wavy hair that fell to her elbows, and warm, gentle brown eyes.  She was wearing a simple brown dress that made her glow far more than any rich dress ever could have.

Somehow Jade could tell the color of them by...  Well, she didn’t know how, but her brain just instantly accepted the colors, even in the blue of the water. 

The blue-eyed girl spoke in a high-pitched unearthly voice. 

“We are the Jade.”

Jade, head still pounding with pain from the beating her head had taken, shook her head, not understanding.

“We are the Jade.  We are four of the Jade.  There are 13 of the Jade.  You are one of the Jade.  The first person you meet the next land will be one of the Jade as well.”

            “What do you mean?” asked Jade.  She didn’t know what they were talking about.  Had she hit her head too hard?

            “I’m sorry.”  The tall, gorgeous girl spoke.  “I’m Princess Rosette.  You must be so confused.  I’m sorry.” she repeated.  It seemed that all of them had the strange voices that sounded like...  It sounded like water, rushing, crashing, rippling.  It was the strangest thing Jade had ever heard; voices made of water.

            “Time’s running out.” said the little rosy-cheeked one.  She looked frightened, and even in her fright her voice was beautiful.  It was watery like the others, but something about it was pure and golden; it made you want to worship her, fall down on knees and bow to her.  Jade had never heard anything like it.

            “Song, can’t you keep the guard under?”

            “Sorry!  He’s a tough one!  I think they’ve been trained by Him!”  She said ‘him’ like you would say the name of death, frightening and dangerous.  You could almost hear the capital ‘H’ in her words.  Jade was frightened and confused and said nothing.

            “Just �"” said the one called Rose, “Just �" Jade �" listen!”

            “Mariel �" bring her to His homeworld.  She’ll get Him there.” said the dark child. 

            “Alright.”  The blue-eyed one called Mariel nodded quickly.  She reached and seemed to be scraping something into the ground below her. 

            All of a sudden the water shivered, and trembled.  Jade could see nothing for an instant, and then the water swooped up onto the deck, not like a storm wave, but a direct splash.  Another, and then another.  The ship groaned under the weight of the water. What saved her was her training; she took a deep breath.  A final plunge of water suddenly slammed straight into her, and pulled her into the deep ocean.  It was turquoise and clear, and she could see the surface foaming with waves above her.  She panicked for a moment and let out some air in a whoosh of bubbles, and then realized what was happening; holding in the air tightly, saving it for as long as it could go.  As she looked down, the rocks stood out like sharp needles.  And yet �" there �" among the rocks!  There was something shimmering with a thousand colors, every color she could ever even think of.  It was beautiful in a disconcerting way.  As she struggled to the surface, in a strange terror of the rippling, shimmering wall of colors against the bed of rocks, she realized the four water figures had followed her down.  They were faint against the water that they themselves were made of, but Jade could see them.  She looked at them.

            What do they want?

            She waved them away with her hand and pushed up, even strokes, up towards the surface.  One of the figures pushed her back down; it was Mariel, the blue eyed one. 

            She mouthed the word ‘air’, but Mariel ignored her.  She screamed at her in fright, and the remainders of her air streamed out into the water.  She was going to drown! 

            They pushed her to the wall of colors.  Strange sounds like screams and voices came, but they were distorted by the water.  It was pulling her in.  Jade tried to swim away but her strength was waning from no air.  It was over.  Her life was over.  She couldn’t think, couldn’t speak.  The water she had loved had killed her. 

            As she drew to an inch away from the portal, she heard something.  She turned, hoping it was rescue mission, hoping to be away from these terrible water figures that killed her and the horrible shimmering wall.  It drew nearer.

            “Dove �" get ready to kill him.  He’s coming to.” Said Song to the dark child.

            “Alright.” said the dark child called Dove. “Make sure she goes to the right world, Mariel.”

            “Get ready.” said Mariel.  Then they were flipping in the air, with daggers, stabbing the foes that were invisible to Jade.

            Song paused and looked directly at Jade, who trembled.  She felt herself going unconscious.  The thought of air, of life, was precious, a gone memory.  In the background she could see Mariel smiling triumphantly, her dagger stained with blood.  Dove looked as though she had collapsed. 

And then Song spoke.

            “Kill Him.” she said, and even under the water her voice was perfectly clear and like a bell.  Her voice made Jade want to sleep but she didn’t.  Instead she nodded.  Song was right.  Song told her what to do.  She would do it. 

She, Jade, would kill Him.

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 1

The Stealers of Land

 

She glanced around.  She was all alone.  The woods were completely silent.  It was as if the birds knew to clear out.  She pushed back her almost black hair, and crouched down, dagger in hand.  Her hazel eyes darted around, and she heard a faint rustle behind a large overhanging tree.

            It came again.

            She flung the knife.   

            A loud scream came from the leaves.  The scream would alert the men!  She rushed to grab her knife from the body.  It was a young girl, almost a child.  A little dark faced girl with big scared eyes.  The child’s brown throat was stained red. 

She felt guilt welling up in her throat, but then reminded herself again.

            They’re enemies.

            Although she was not firmly in belief that what she was part of, what she was doing, she had to win. 

How dare they resist her?  They should’ve surrendered while they had the chance.  She was Trainee 1649!

She ripped the knife out of the child’s throat.  Stained with blood, she ran, fast. 

            Suddenly she was surrounded by angry men, brandishing spears.  They were savages:  dark brown skin and bright red and yellow stripes down their faces.  White dots down their bodies.  They were uncovered but for a deer fur loincloth.  She stumbled over a root, and dropped the dagger. 

            Where’d it go?

            She saw it under the foot of one of the men.

            “Surrender.” she snapped.

            “It be a little girl.  She pose no harm to the people.  We be no evil, we do not kill this thing.”  One of the men said in the rough accent typical of Natives.  They laughed roughly at her request, and they began stepping away.  She would get them, and they would all die.  Suddenly a cry broke out, and a man came forward with the little girl she had killed.  The men came forward again. 

            “She killed Sky Bird!”

            The men began wailing.

            “Sky Bird live short!  We kill the Pale One!”  One of the men stepped forward.  She inched her hand towards the dagger.  It was lying under a red leaf, and her hand moved closer.

            Just another inch…

            The man’s hard foot came down hard on her hand, and she let out a small gasp.  Her hand instinctively came to her, and she clutched it.

            They came closer, brandishing spiked spears.  She could see the spikes of the spears had been dipped in a red liquid she knew to be the poisonous blood of the sjaki. 

            She glanced around.

            She was surrounded. 

            They stepped closer. 

            They would all die!

            She ripped out her sword from her belt and stabbed the closest.  She vaulted over the closest man’s head and in the middle of her leap, stabbed down on his head.  He fell down. 

            She landed, silent as a cat, and grabbed his spear.  The remaining four men rushed towards her.  She disarmed one right away, cutting his hand.  He wailed and pulled out a tiny dagger. 

No threat.

She stabbed his heart before he had time to react.

            Only one man was left. 

            Where are the other two?

            She ran up, leapt up a tree, and pulled another small dagger out of her belt.

            Sword in one hand, dagger in other, she easily climbed up the tree without using her hands.

            She glanced behind her and saw the man following her up.

            She threw the dagger at him dead on, and he fell down fifteen feet.  His neck snapped at an odd angle and she nodded, pleased.

            If her dagger hadn’t killed him, his fall had. 

Suddenly a slight rustle came from a bush down below.

She pushed her sword back in the belt, and pulled out her bow and an arrow.  She strung it, and aimed down towards the bush. 

NOW!

            With an almost silent hiss, the arrow shot towards the bush.

            A loud cry emitted from the bush, and she strung another arrow as a man staggered out, his arm stained red.  It stayed limp at his side. She shot the arrow with the ease and silence of nothing but the best archers.

            He fell motionless, and she felt the victory. 

            Suddenly a body fell on her from above.  A live body.  She felt herself tipping, and the body was shoving her �" NO!

            She shoved an arrow in his eye, and he screamed a horrible high keening sound.  He fell, and she felt herself falling �"

            She tumbled down, hitting branches.

            Her training saved her.  She seized a branch as she fell and pulled herself up. 

            Very bruised and a large cut on right arm.  A few small cuts.  No big deal.

            She leapt down the tree.  Crumpled bodies lay in the clearing, and she stood in the middle, holding her blood stained sword.

            The Invaders had come!

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 2

The One from the Root

 

            Rays of sunlight poured through the tiny crack of a window.  She sighed with relief.

            She had survived the night.

            Snuggling in her leafy burrow, hidden beneath the rocks, sticks, and leaves, she scolded herself.

            “Get up now, no time to waste.  Digger and Arran are waiting!”

            Eating a small bowl of crunchy grains and little red berries, she cautiously crept out into the beautiful morning.

            The green and brown grass had been trampled.  There were footprints all over the mud, and the trees and bushes had been hacked aside.  There was a pile of ashes where a beautiful old oak tree used to be.

            “The Invaders!”  She reeled back, her blue eyes wide.  “It’s not that much of a shock,” she tried to comfort herself.  “They come almost every night.”

            She knew this very well, and she couldn’t imagine life any better or different.  She had never gone more than ten miles away from home, let alone go to another island.  No one could make ships, and horses were a dream for everyone but the Invaders.  Steel and metal were outlawed.  The Invaders, it was said, needed it for weapons and forts. 

            The government was far too tiny and terrified of the Invaders to do much about it.

            Lost in her thoughts, she almost tripped over a protruding root. 

            A scrawny boy popped out of the ground.

            “Oh!  Digger, you scared me!”

            “Watcha doing?” Digger asked in a nonchalant tone.  He wiped his short black hair back away from his large brown eyes.  His skin was nearly black, a combination of normal skin color and dirt.

            “Going to find some food,” she replied.  “Are you still scared of being out of your tunnel, or do you want to come and help?” she teased him.  He blushed and muttered something much less cheerful.

            “Gotta go.”  He popped his head back in the hole. 

            She peered down the tunnel.  It seemed to go on and on.  It was lighted with roots gleaming with fire stuck on the wall.  She could hear a scratching noise deep below, and then silence.

            Digger certainly was aptly named.

            “Digger, sweetie, I’m going now!  Okay?”

            A low murmur that could have been an acknowledgement

            She continued until the path was hardly there anymore.  Weeds, brambles, thistles, and tree branches stuck out everywhere at eye level, so you had to duck or cover your face.  She was suddenly standing still quietly by a massive, old oak tree, and she called out.

            “Arran!”

            A scrabbling noise sounded down from the highest branches.

            “What!  Why’d you have t’go and wake me up?”  A plump, bouncy boy climbed down the trees like a monkey.

            “Arran!  It’s cold out!  Where’s your squirrel fur jacket?”

            He leapt back up, so high that she couldn’t see him.  She looked up the tree.  It was so tall!

            “Got it!”  He bounced down and gave her some carefully stitched squirrel furs that just fit over his leaf colored outfit.  She had made them a long time ago, when the Invaders weren’t so powerful �" when you could see the stars at night instead of cowering in a little hideout.

            “I saw a really bright star last night, up really high.  I tried to pick it for you, but it was just out of my reach,” said Arran, as if reading her mind.  He glumly stared at his short, fat arms.  She smiled at him

            “That’s all right,” she said, tucking his squirrel fur around his plump body and handing him some socks made of tall, thick woven grasses.

            “Ooh, are they for me?”  Arran stuffed his bare, chapped feet in them.  Then he shoved on some squirrel fur boots.

            He was quite a good hunter with his stone and wood arrows, and he knew exactly which branches creaked or not.  Arran was never hungry unlike the others because he ate so many squirrels, and this was why he was plump.

            “Here you go!”  He handed her a dead squirrel.  It was nice and fat.

            She carefully picked it up.  The carcass was clean, but she couldn’t help the wave of nausea as the face stared up at her blankly.

            She had seen that look far too many times.

            Quickly shaving off the skin with a sharp wooden spike, she glanced at the sky.

            “Already high-sun!  We have to hurry and get some food!”  She flung the squirrel fur into her woven grass pouch.  Taking the soft meat in her hands, she could smell the tang of blood as she covered it with large leaves.  It was important to keep the meat good, it was so filling and delicious.

            Grabbing a leather pouch, she got Arran by the shoulder.

            “Be careful.  Don’t get in trouble.”  Then, she raced off into the deep winding path. 

            The leaves didn’t even rustle under her feet.  She was an accomplished hunter, although animals were scarce.  Whipping out a bow and arrow, she heard a crow caw.  As she estimated the exact spot where it would be, she didn’t realize the forest was coming to an end soon, and the coast was close by.

            There!  She was about to let the bow snap and let it fly when a beautiful young woman about her age rustled into the path.  A twig snapped, and �"

            “Caw!”

            The crow was gone.

            “You!”  She swung around.

            The girl was dressed in an impractical but extremely suitable outfit.  Her golden tights, leather boots, and a green skirt and shirt glowed in the sunlight.

            “Are you some kind of fool!  Even a seventy-two-moon-old knows how to move silently!  Food is scarce here!”

            The girl’s full lips opened into an O.

            “Oh, I’m sorry, my ship just crashed into the shore �"”

            “Ship?  You have a…ship?” she asked.

            “Yes,” she answered.  “I’m Jade.”

            “Analise.” she replied cautiously.

            There was an uncomfortable silence until Jade spoke.

            “Look, to make up for that crow, I can give you lots of food!”

            Analise was feeling a bit embarrassed; she wasn’t usually one to have outbursts.  She murmured a few grateful words and followed Jade quietly.

            Soon Analise silently stopped.

            “The spring is here.”  She stooped down and scooped up the water in three little leather pouches, and then wrapped it up with tough thick strands of grass.

            Jade stared at the little spring.

            “Why do you travel so far from your home just for water?”

            Analise sighed.  “You’re from Kulamfar, aren’t you.”

            “Where?” Jade looked confused.

            “Kulamfar.  Where the king lives.  Where the rich people live.  I can tell you’re rich by what you’re wearing.”  Analise glanced at the delicate golden flower beret in Jade’s black hair.

            “I’m going to go and get some stuff from my ship.”  Jade pointed towards the coast, not answering the question.

            “I’m going to hunt.”

            Jade walked off into the woods, staying in the path.  Analise strung her bow, and pulled out an arrow.  She was silent, and for a few moments all you could hear was Jade tramping off towards her ship.  Then it was completely silent.  A few birds were singing.

            “How can they sing knowing that the Beasts are roaming the area?”  Analise thought as she pinpointed the merry whistle of a robin.  As she held back the bow, aiming, she thought of the cheerful little bird chirping away merrily, its feathers gentle and soft.  She imagined the little speckled blue eggs in the nest that the robin was sitting on.  The happy chirp of the robin that was so happy to have children.

            She was going to take that happiness away.

            Analise put the bow away and sat down on the roots of an old tree.  She was almost asleep when suddenly a loud noise smashed into her peaceful slumbers.

            “Sorry I took so long!”  Jade burst into the clearing, her arms full of supplies.

            They were silent for the next few minutes.

            “The girl seems shy, but somehow always poised to attack or be attacked at any moment; she seems like a wild animal.”  Jade thought, her eyes inspecting the path.

            “Ooh, those are such beautiful flowers, I would love those!”  The delicate pinky white flowers lay about two yards off the path.  Jade stepped off the trail to get them.

            “NO!” Analise gestured wildly.  “Get on the path!  NOW!”  The panic in Analise’s voice made Jade listen to her, and she stepped on the path.

            “Why?” Jade asked.

            “There are creatures. 

            The Beasts.  Most people think they’re just rumors, just myths.

            But I know they’re real.”

            Jade was nervous, but determined not to let it show.

            “That’s ridiculous.” she said in a determined tone of voice.

            Analise took a shaky breath.

            “Once �" I knew a man… he lived close by �" he had a family �" four beautiful little girls… but they were starving, and his wife was pregnant with another child.  One morning, he was hunting and he saw an animal.  Past the path.  I guess he tried to catch it.”

            Analise shuddered.

            “And?”  Jade pushed her on.

            “His body was lying there, his eyes �" they were filled with terror, and his body was ripped to shreds.”

            Jade’s mouth was dry.  What was this place?

            She pressed her lips together.

            “Why are you following me?” Analise asked quietly.

            “I �" I �" I don’t know.”  Jade just felt alone, scared by this strange world.  Usually brash, brave, and reckless, she wasn’t used to being scared �" terrified.

            This place was horrifying.  Full of things, things she was scared of.

            Gripping a leather pouch on her belt that held her knife, she heard a scrabbling noise from above.  She pulled out the knife, and held it in front of her.  She had been taught how to use it.

            “Lise!”

            They both stared at the tree the cry had come from.  Suddenly, Arran came leaping down.  He beamed excitedly.

            “Look, look, LOOK!”  He pointed to some large pure white flowers close by.  Their intricate petals were the most beautiful thing Analise had ever seen.

            She realized with horror �" the flowers were off the path.

            “No, Arran, don’t you dare go near them!”

            “But I was gonna get them for you instead since I couldn’t get the star for you!  You could wear them, Lise, they’d look really pretty on you �"”

            “Arran, NO!  Don’t go off the path �"”

            “I will.”  He glared at her.  “I WILL.”

            Analise realized he was in one of his stubborn moments.  But this time, it was the difference between life and death.

            As she tried to grab him, he scampered up the tree.

            “Arran!” Analise wailed.

            “Analise.”  Jade, for the first time, was quieter than Analise.  “I may know nothing about Arran, but I think we should stay and watch him, make sure �"”

            “No!”  Analise was looking up at the darkening sky.  The sun was fading down into the hills, and a single ray shone down on them.

            “Hurry!”  For a moment she was as strong and willful as Jade.  Roughly shoving Jade, she noticed the things she was carrying from her ship: sheets of metal, a bag of something, and some clothing in a bag slung over her shoulder.  She pushed her.

            “GO!”  Running, she checked only once to make sure Jade was behind her.

            “Hurry up!”  She barely glanced behind.  Jade was panting with exhaustion.  Analise, too, was tingling with weariness, although her clouded mind barely noticed.

            Only a few words were clear:  The Invaders.





Chapter 3

Night

 

They burst out into a small clearing and Analise glanced around, seeing shadows, guns, and swords everywhere in the tall grasses behind the trees, creeping behind the logs.

            “No.”  Analise shoved it out of her mind.  The sun was still here, although barely.

            A large stump was by a boulder about as tall as Jade, close by a small birch tree that had escaped the Invader’s wrath.

            She raced to the side of a stump and gently pulled some soft green moss aside.

            Jade stared at it expectantly, waiting for a dark tunnel or some mechanical contraption.  The plain dark wood was just there, covered with knots and wrinkles.  With her hand, Analise brushed off some dirt and pressed one of the tiny knobs speckled across the wood.  Suddenly half the stump popped out like a door, and swung wide open.  As Analise crawled into the stump, Jade noticed small metal hinges and metal framing on the inside of the door.

            “Analise is braver than I thought; she said metal is illegal here!” Jade thought.  She didn’t notice the footsteps in the distance.

            “Get in!”  Analise dragged her inside, closed the door and closed a small metal latch.

            “Don’t make too much noise.” she whispered as she hastily rubbed two sticks, starting a fire.  As she worked, Jade stared at her surroundings.

            The wrinkled wood around them seemed twice as big as the outside seemed to be.

            After a moment, she realized the rock beside the stump was hollow, allowing much more room in the underground hut.  As she looked closer, she saw beautiful etchings upon the wooden walls, and the rocks ceiling was and domed smooth but for the carved kind faces smiling down on you. 

            Handing Jade a bowl of soft smoky meat in a heavy broth with plain grey mushrooms mixed in, Analise was caught up in her own thoughts.  Her mind was in turmoil, and her heart was still beating wildly.  The soup tasted metallic in her dry mouth.

            She could hear footsteps �" or where they just her imagination?  What about the loud voices �" were those just not there?  What �" what was that noise?  Her eyes were darting around.  It was impossible to discern reality and her imagination.

            The ground was shaking; a gunshot sounded far away. 

            “Analise!”  A distant yet close voice sounded through her head like a gong.

            “No, no, leave me alone, don’t hurt him, don’t hurt me!  I’ll take his place!  Let him go!  Please!”  She shuddered.  She glanced at Jade.  Jade was bloody and dead.

            “NO!”  Who was screaming?  “You killed her!”  She shuddered, and realized it was her who was shrieking.  She tried to put a stop to it.  She collapsed before she could do anything else.

 



 


Chapter 4

Analise

 

            “Analise.  Analise.”

            She was faintly, dimly aware of a black curtain around her and green jewels staring down at her.

            She tried to hold onto the curtain and get up, but the black fog in her head prevented her from doing anything but lie there, simply staring up.

            “Are you alright?  You fainted and you were screaming…”

            Analise realized abruptly that Jade was above her, frantically shaking her shoulder.

            “You were dead!” Analise whispered, her words slurring together, mixing and pushing around until they were hardly recognizable.  Her blue eyes had the look of a lost child who couldn’t find anyone.

            “What happened to you?” asked Jade, shocked and nervous.  She felt pity for the girl in front of her.

            “The Invaders…came.” she wheezed, then pulled herself up, off the soft grass floor and deer fur.

            Her blood pounded through her head, and her fingers wouldn’t stop shaking.  Crossly she clenched her hands together, and then took a few deep breaths.  Then she realized Jade was waiting, listening for the rest.

            “I’ve spent most of my life here.” she started, and put her feet on the squirrel fur slippers and wrapped a deer fur shawl around herself.

            “When I was young… I thought everyone lived like this.  My father beat us, me and my four sisters.  Roselle was the oldest, then Dove, then me, then Marigold, then Alianne.”

            “Where are your sisters now?” Jade wondered aloud.  Analise tightly pressed her lips together.  Jade recognized the look on Analise’s face: it was the expression from just before she had fainted.

            “I’m sorry.” said Jade with unusual gentleness.

            Analise visibly relaxed, her face softening and eyes coming back to life.  Biting her lip, she continued.

            “My mother tried to stop him one night.  The next morning, we found her on the floor.  Bloody.”  Jade opened her mouth, but then shut it again, remembering how Analise had reacted to the last question.

            “When I was seven, he left us.  My oldest sister, Roselle, was only fourteen.  The youngest was two.  We were utterly alone; you see, my father had no friends, only business partners who wanted his share of money.  He had no money left!”

            Jade was horrified, almost outraged, by Analise’s treatment.  In her land, children were fed every day, given lessons on sword fighting, boating, weather reading, and more, and on their eleventh birthday, given a ship and sent out to seek their fortune.  There may have been exceptions, but most children took shipping and sword fighting lessons and learned languages.

            “We hid when the tax collector came,” Analise continued.  “They almost found us when Alianne started to cry in terror.  We calmed her down with some bread.”  Analise could almost feel the little warm toddler whimpering, snuggling in her arms, and the soft cheek rubbing against her face.  The sweet face with plump cheeks and big, brown, doe-like eyes.

            “Go on,” Jade urged.

            “They didn’t find us; we hid for months, only running out to beg for food or money, but when it seemed we could possibly live in those conditions, suddenly �"”  Analise was motionless, her arms wrapped around herself.  “�" our dad found us.”

            Jade shuddered.

            “He was with a large group of men, at night, and all of the men �" I couldn’t see their faces.

            We ran.  I ran as fast as I could, I was always a fast runner.  I ran into the woods.  I’m lucky the Beasts didn’t get me.  It was dark, and I couldn’t see the path.  I ran, into here, and I’ve stayed.  But �"”

            Suddenly footsteps were above, and low voices were talking.

            “No one’s here.  But we should inspect the area.” said a low rumbling voice.  Suddenly a loud voice rang out.  “I’m the captain, Trault.  I say when we go.”  Mutters and leaves crunching were above, and Analise was completely frozen with terror, her face the exact mask of fear.  She could hear them slicing at the poor baby birch in their irritation of loss of people to kill tonight.

            “Alright men, let’s go.”  The captain’s voice rang out again, and the men were crunching away.  It was completely silent.  Analise visibly relaxed, her shoulders lowered and her eyes lost the look of pure terror.

            “Who… who were those people?” Jade asked, her eyes wide.  “What did they want?”

“Those are the Invaders.”  Analise lay back in the warm leaves, and a shiver rippled down her whole trembling body.

            “What were you saying?”

            “I have never seen my sisters since that run in the woods.  I was nine.” Analise said softly.  “Alianne…she was two.  Two.  She would be…seven now.”

            “So you have been alone for five years?”  Jade was shocked.  Analise’s story was like a fairy tale, when a princess was exiled.  But they were always bought back to the throne.  Analise would never get that chance.

            “I �" I” Uncertain of what to say, Jade was silent.  She considered telling Analise about the strange wall of colors and the four girls belonging to the ‘Jade’.  She dismissed it as a dream, seeing it to be

            “We must sleep,” said Analise abruptly.  “It’s important to wake up at rising-sun to collect food and water before falling-sun.”  Analise brought out two deer fur blankets.  They were her only two.  The other three were cloaks.

            Jade pulled out a lush, fuzzy, black blanket, huge and fluffy.

            “Is this okay?  We can share it.”

            Analise just stared in open mouthed wonder. 

            “You’re �" you’re rich!”

            Jade spread the blanket over them and took off her peacock colored flats.        

            “Not necessarily.”

            Analise didn’t answer, she knew that Jade was rich.  When Jade’s breathing grew soft and even, Analise crept over the knapsacks Jade had bought from the ship.  There were two changes of beautiful clothing, some nice sized pieces of metal, some strange tools, and food.  So much food, Analise had never seen so much at one point in her whole life.

            There were soft white cheeses, crispy loaves of bread, tomatoes, all sorts of berries, fruits and vegetables, meat pasties, a creamy warm drink in a metal bottle, delicious looking pastries, and a dark brown, hardish substance.  She broke of a bit of the dark brown chunks.  It was so delicious; it felt like it would melt on her tongue.  And so warming!  Already her stomach had a rich, full feeling she didn’t know could really come from a single bite, let alone a whole meal.  She tried resisting the temptation, but ate another bite.  So sweet!  She slowly crept back to bed with the rapturous feeling in her stomach.  She lay in bed, trying to push past the whirring thoughts.  Finally, when the sky was a pure black but for the thin crescent of a moon and the tiny sparkling stars, her eyes closed and she fell asleep.

Ω

Arran crept out into the dark night. 

Analise wanted him to not get anything for her.  He thought she would like those flowers.  But she knew that he wanted to give her something.  Didn’t she know that he had made birthdays for everyone?  It was her birthday.  He had to give her something. 

Maybe a squirrel… But he gave her one of those too often.  That was boring.  What about a deer?  That was too hard to catch and he hadn’t seen one for almost three moons now.  Some soft moss?  He didn’t know.  Maybe a card on birch-bark �" No.  Boring.

He decided that the star flowers were the best.  They were really pretty, just like her, and they totally looked like her.  Pretty and pale and nice.  He liked them.

Where were they?  He went along the path.  So nice and quiet and peaceful.  The stars were so shiny and glowing.  It was so nice.  He loved the night.  The Invaders were mean to take that away from everyone.  No one could go out anymore except for him, and he was supposed to stay in his tree. 

Oh well.

He found himself by the flowers. 

So pretty.

He had to stay on the path.  For some reason the Beasts didn’t go on the paths.  But he couldn’t reach them; he stretched a bit more �"

“Ahhh!”  He fell down outside of the path. 

Oops.  Oh my God.  The Beasts!

He pulled himself up, frightened, and then he realized �" they weren’t there.

They aren’t coming.

            “I bet they don’t even exist!”  Arran muttered. 

            He stood there, uncertain and a bit nervous. 

            Huh.  Weren’t any ‘Beasts’.  Analise was wrong.  Analise was never wrong though.  Guess she was this time.  He laughed and began pulling the flowers out, keeping their roots carefully intact.  Now she could plant some nice flowers in her clearing.  He didn’t think about whether or not the Invaders would notice it, marking her house.

            “There.”  He made a growly sound.  “I’m a Beast!  Ha ha!”  He made another sound. “Stupid Beasts! Think they’re rulers of the forest!  They don’t even exist!  Ha ha ha!”

            Suddenly a quiet rustle came from the bushes close to him.  He took a step back.

“Just kidding!  Whoever that is, please don’t kill me!”

Large yellow eyes peered out at him.

He yelled, and then started running. 

            Beasts?  Beasts?  Beasts?

            He didn’t know.  Suddenly he knew he had done the wrong thing. 

            Should have gone back on the path!

            Glinting yellow eyes were in front of him. 

Beasts?  Beasts?

He turned around and ran straight into something large and hairy.  He screamed.  Something growled. 

            BEASTS!

            He glanced around.  Find a tree! 

            No trees.  They had him surrounded him in a clearing.  It was as if they knew he could climb.

            “Leave me alone!”  Even to him, his voice sounded small and scared.  “Please?”  He could count seven pairs of eyes.  “I’ll give them back!”  He held the flowers in front of him.  A claw scratched him, and he could feel warm pain in his shoulder.  That’s okay.  As long as he had his life he was okay.  Good.  “Bye! Eat the bad guys, the Invaders.”

            At the word “Invaders”, a high yowl came from the one in front of him.  Growling and rumbling came from the rest.  They obviously didn’t like them.  Good.

            “Yeah, kill the Invaders!  Okay, say hi later!”  Arran backed away, feeling nervous.  “I’ll just be in my tree!”  He backed up further.  “Bye!”  The creatures growled again.  “Sorry, can’t stay!”  One more step and he’d run �" He stumbled as he hit something hard and muscled.  Something hairy.  A furious, loud sound came from his throat. 

            “Sorry!”  Arran turned and started running �" A large claw pierced his leg and he cried out in pain.  “Leave me ‘lone!”  The claw came and traced his heart.  “Don’t,” he pleaded.  “I won’t be mean to you or anythin’!”  The claw came closer.  Suddenly a howl emerged from the Beast, and the claw stabbed into him.  Cruel glinting eyes looked into him menacingly.

            Analise.

            He felt like he was floating away from his body, which looked horribly bloody and torn. 

            Analise.

            He realized �" he knew �" that he was dead.

            Analise.

 




Chapter 5

Arran

 

            Jade woke up.  Where was Analise?  She opened the wooden door and golden sunshine came pouring in.  She realized she had slept in.

            I haven’t slept 48 hours, what did I expect?

            Analise suddenly burst out of the trees.

            “It’s Arran!”  Her face was horrified, pale, as if the Invaders had killed everything.

Her face was so shocked; Jade was completely taken aback, and then horrified, shuddered.  No.  It couldn’t really have… 

            Analise ran out into the woods.  She blindly stumbled down the path and stooped down by a broken strewn body.  Trembling, she took his still warm hand.  In it was still three slightly crushed beautiful ‘star’ flowers, roots intact.  Analise was silent, her quiet tears dripping down his large terrified eyes and snarled, tangled hair.  She picked him up, his blood spattered on the wet, red soil.  She clung to the body, not caring if her carefully stitched leaf skirt got wrecked.  Her little stubborn, precious Arran was gone.  Her sweet eight year old boy was gone.  She walked into the clearing, wiped away grass, and started digging with her bare hands, her tears blending with the soft soil.

            Jade came out, her eyes widened and terrified.  Even with the bed head, she was absolutely stunning in the sunlight.  But Analise didn’t notice.  Her thoughts were spiraling out of control.  Last night, talking about her sisters bought back the old pain, and now for this to happen was unbearable.  She had dug with no emotion but the tears streaking her now grimy face.  Now, she put Arran in the small hole like a little broken doll.  She put up a fire, and burned his body.  The smell of burning flesh was so strong and acrid that Jade covered her nose with her shirt, but Analise didn’t care.  After a few minutes, he was just grey ashes.  She let a single tear drip down on the ashes, and then buried them.  She put a large grey stone by his grave and inscribed in it carefully:

ξغض

څڞ₤�"

ﺵﻻ ﻼ

            “What does it say?” Jade asked her.  Analise’s tears swelled into salty blossoms.

            “Here lies Arran,

            Loved child

            Killed by Beasts”

            She slowly went to the stump, and dropping to her knees, crawled to the underground room.  It was cool, dry, and perfect for a working day, but Analise could not stop the tears, or the strangled sobs that seemed to erupt with each breath.  She set to work, trying to ignore the thought buzzing in her head.

            “If I don’t live, no one will care.”

            She took the metal from Jade’s bag and hammered it to the door to add more support.  Who cared if she didn’t ask?  Who cared if she died?  Who cared?  She went past high-sun hammering support beams.  It had to be strong, so you wouldn’t die under an avalanche. 

            At least I can fix that problem.  It’s one of the few that I really can!

            She was dripping tears the whole day, and that night she felt a dead, dry sensation in the back of her throat.  It was almost falling-sun when Jade came in.  She had bought two more knapsacks of things from her ship, and was holding a very large canteen of water to drink.  Analise felt she could no longer eat. It wasn’t worth it.  Jade nibbled at a salad of greens, strange red fruits, tiny chunks of sweet dark wrinkled objects, red ‘peppers’ (that was what Jade said) and squirted an oily liquid on top.  Analise morbidly wondered if Jade would cry if she died.  No.  No one would care.  Of course no one would care, now that Arran was dead.  She shuddered.  She fell asleep although the sun was not completely fallen yet with sad thoughts in her mind.

Ω

            Jade sat, wondering if she should do something.  Analise was obviously broken-hearted.  She knew that the two of them had created a relationship because they needed each other, nothing more.

            But still… she felt pity for Analise well up inside her.  She had been through so much and now Arran dying was the last stroke.  She had just snapped.  When Jade blew out the torch that night, she could see the last ray of light fading through the tiny crack in the ceiling, and she lay against the leafy mattress.  She looked around herself.  So much effort had been put into the home!

            In the corner, on little hooks whittled from roots that stuck out into the underground house, was Analise’s clothing.  Her coat of carefully stitched squirrel fur, a skirt of grass lined with rabbit furs, a cotton shirt dyed green, a sweater filled with bird feathers, and soft leather moccasins.  Lying to the side of the chair were some long socks that were made of some thick coarse material.  A small wooden table with short wooden legs was covered with various foods:  a wooden plate had three small brown bird eggs (stolen from a nest) a tightly woven grass bowl filled with reddish purple berries, a bowl filled with meat of squirrel and birds, and a small plate with tiny onions and a coarse loaf of wheat bread.  In the corner, a giant wooden bowl was Analise’s bath.  Two wooden buckets were by the bath.  By that, in the wall, was a fireplace.  A large metal pot was hanging over the fire, which was still crackling to keep them warm.

            Jade looked at where they were sleeping, which was taking most of the side.  The door was wooden with metal beams �" horrified, Jade realized that the metal beams were hers!  She was about to shake Analise to wake her up.  Then she realized Analise had probably been trying to insure their safety. 

            Jade tried to relax the tension in her arms, legs, shoulders, and stomach.  She closed her eyes, and far after sun-drop, fell into a deep sleep.

Ω

“I had a dream.”

            Jade jolted awake.

            Big brown doe-like eyes rimmed with red looked down on her.  Jade, startled, popped up, her blankets falling aside.

            “I had a dream.” Analise repeated.

            Jade didn’t answer; she didn’t know what to say.

            “I saw in my dream, a bloody body, Arran’s body.”  Analise shuddered, and with visible effort, continued.  “I heard a loud, distant voice.  It said, “Mourn no longer.  You have your destiny to fulfill.”  Then I saw us, slashing at shadows.”

            What?”  Jade was completely taken aback.  “What destiny?”

            Analise shook her head.  “I don’t know.” 

            Jade felt a surge of irritation.  “How can you not know?”

            “I �" I” Suddenly Analise stood up straight.  “We must travel to Kulamfar, the King’s city.”





Chapter 6

Digger

            “Yes, bring your food.  All of it.  Don’t leave any.  And �" what?  Yes, bring those dried tomatoes.  I need a bag.  Oh, there.”  Analise hurried around, than seized a wooden trunk.  “That’ll do.”  She put in four outfits, two of Jade’s and two of hers; a cotton bag filled with food; three candles for dark nights; a fur jacket; and a down filled sweater.  She realized there was a few inches left, and looked at the corner longingly.

            No.  It wouldn’t fit.

            But still Analise picked up the beautiful portrait Roselle had made of Analise and Alianne.  It seemed to be a young, blue eyed girl cuddling a beautiful baby with adorable chubby cheeks and long eyelashes.

            Analise knew that it was impractical, and that out here in the wilderness you had to depend on being practicality and logic, but still she carefully placed the portrait in the trunk.

            “Analise if you’ve got extra room in the trunk �"”

            “No.”  Analise slammed the trunk shut.

            “Oh, okay, because I just found some more food �"”

            “Find another bag.”  Analise knew what she was done was stupid and ridiculous, but she didn’t care.  She went in the cupboards, where everything had been emptied out �" oh wait, there were some dried onions.  She nibbled on one to see if it was good.  It was crisp and strong tasting.  Perfect.  It would be lovely for a stew.  She ate a small mint sprig to clear her breath and teeth, and then heard Jade.

            “Let’s see if I can fit this in.” 

            “No!”  Analise leapt towards her, but it was too late.

            “Analise?  What…what is this?”  Jade lifted up the beautiful picture.

            “It’s mine, that’s what!  It’s…”  Analise faded off when she saw that Jade’s expression was not malevolent or obnoxious, but merely curious.

            “It’s me…  Me and Alianne.” 

            Jade’s face was filled with wonderment and delight. 

            “It’s �" it’s just like you!  That is really amazing!”  She glanced at Analise.  “Who on earth did it?”

            “Roselle.”  Analise could feel the tears blur when she thought of Alianne, Roselle, Marigold, and Dove.  She put the portrait back in the box, and to her surprise, Jade didn’t complain but wrapped a cotton cloth around it.

            “So it doesn’t get messed up.” Jade explained.

            “We were such friends,” Analise was murmuring to herself, and Jade could see little tears spilling out of her eyes.  “Roselle was the artist, and the mother… Dove was the sweetest, always singing… Marigold had a temper but she loved so much, and she was the best worker, she was the most trustworthy secret-keeper, Alianne was the most trusting, loving, adorable baby, and I was the quiet, mild one, the fast runner, the best cook.”  Analise gently sat down on some leaves.  “We were so close.  She sighed and closed her eyes.

            “Analise…Analise, we have to pack.”  Jade gently nudged her after a few moments.

            “Of course, I fell asleep.  Pass me that food then.”

            They worked in silence for a few moments, and Analise started wondering, what happened to them �" no.  She couldn’t think about that.

            Jade was still thinking about Analise’s childhood.  How could one person be so lucky and live a luxurious life, taking family, food, love, and security for granted while Analise was a shy, abused girl with nothing left to live for?  She pushed it back to concentrate on peeling the onion’s rough skin off.  And then, abruptly, she was overwhelmed by guilt as to why she had never told Analise of the wall of colors, and the four figures.  Suddenly she realized she had no information whatsoever on Kulamfar, besides the fact that it was the king’s city.

            “Analise?”

            “What?”  Analise was obviously preoccupied with her own thoughts.

            “Have you ever been to Kulamfar?”

              Don’t you come from there?”

            “No, I come from another island off the coast.”

            Analise nodded.

            “So, Analise, do you know anything about Kulamfar?”

“Of course, I grew up there.”

            “What is it like?” Jade asked.

            “Oh it’s impossible to explain.  Maybe… No, when we get there you’ll understand.”

            Jade was frustrated, and she ripped the peels off the onions, not caring if extra, needed onion flesh was pulled off too.  She knew Analise could explain, but didn’t feel like it.  She made an irritated noise in the back of her throat to hint how annoyed she was. 

            Analise didn’t notice.  How she missed sweet little Alianne!  She felt bad for not telling Jade how her horrible story ended. Jade would want to know.

            Quietly, gently, Analise said, “The ending to my little story.  My father is the leader of the Invaders.”

Ω

            They left that day at almost high-sun, and Analise swallowed but said no words as they passed Arran’s gravestone.

            Jade noticed the beautiful star flowers planted carefully by the gravestone

            They walked to the woods silently, but stopped suddenly when Digger popped out of the ground.

            “Ana, where �" Whoa, who are you?” he said, staring at Jade.

            “I’m Jade.” she said, the golden bangles on her ears dangling in the wind.  She smiled at him, and his eyes were wide open, taking in the sight.

            “You’re a lady, ain’t you?” he asked, taking in the exotic purple dress and black boots, and the glimmering gold necklace and matching earrings.  “From Kulamfar?”

            Jade just smiled again.  “Different island.”

            “Oh… you got Invaders there?  Betcha do.  They’re everywhere.  Killin’ everyone.”

            For a second Jade saw a flash of an overwhelming sadness in his big dark brown eyes.  She felt pity welling up in her, and she felt like she had to say something to lessen his pain, to apologize for his sadness.

            “I’m s �"”

            Analise quickly interrupted.  She knew Digger hated pity.

            “Digger, say bye now.  She’s going.”  She quietly gave Jade a ‘shut-up-right-now’ look.

            “Bye, Jade.”  He was still looking at her golden necklace as it glinted.

            “We’re going to hunt, Digger.  Have you run out of meat or any such?”

            “Oh… Ana, where is Arran?  He hasn’t been here to talk with me lately.” 

            Analise pressed her lips together.  “He’s gone.  Don’t ask me any more.”

            What?  Where?”  Digger persisted.

            Analise just walked away.  She couldn’t bear it.  She could feel her eyes blur, and furiously blinked them away.

            “He’s far, far away, and we’ll never see him again.” Jade told Digger softly, and she went away with Analise.

            Digger looked at them, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide.

            What the heck?  Arran �" gone?  Sure, we wouldn’t be best friends normally, but under the circumstances, there is no one else to talk to besides Analise.  Even if Arran is a pig-headed moron �" just kidding.  And how do they know I won’t see him again?

            And then suddenly Digger stopped.

            “No.”

            He was completely taken aback.  “You’re not thinking straight, Digger.  Wherever Arran is, he’s fine.  Absolutely fine.”

            Digger knew death far too well.  His father had been killed by the Invaders while his mom was pregnant, and then she had died of a serious illness when he was three.  Now he was ten.  Analise had taken care of him, when she found him half dead right by her clearing.  He had caught the raging fever and cough that his mother had had, almost as badly.  He had almost died.

  He had been alone for seven years now.

            “Shut up and get back to work.  You aren’t some reminiscing old idiot, Digger.”  And with that, he shoved the sad thoughts into a little tight box in his head. 

            I won’t ever open it again.

            He started digging again.

            Ω

            Analise bit her lip, trying not to cry.  She heard a rustle as she strode silently along the path.  She stopped, shot an arrow, and heard a loud bird shriek.  She heard the flapping of its wings.

            I don’t have enough arrows to miss!

            “The prophecy said not to mourn.  Don’t cry.  You have a destiny to fulfill.” Analise muttered to herself, and rubbed her wet eyes.  She could hear a loud crackling noise:  someone was running up behind her.  Jade.  Not even an Invader moved that loudly.  Jade ran up and hurried along to keep up to her quick pace.

            “Analise �"”

            “What?”  Analise didn’t mean it to come out as sharp as it did, and Jade looked offended.

            “What exactly are we doing?” Jade asked, matching her tone to Analise’s.

            “Finding more food.  We don’t have enough.” Analise snapped back.  Analise felt a little guilty, but Jade spoke like that all the time: forceful and snappish.

            She remained quiet for the rest of the walk, ignoring Jade’s indignant noises.  She grabbed little purple- red berries here and there from dark green spiny bushes.

            Analise had gathered all that would fit in her woven basket, and started walking home.  It took her about the same amount of time to go from here to the spring as it was to falling-sun, so she figured she had enough time to get home.

            Jade was shuffling along behind.  How strange it was how Analise had changed: from an angry hunter, to a shy child, to this sad, alone, young girl.  Jade wondered when Analise would be recovered.  Probably never completely.  Because of her cruel father, Analise now was paying the price for his crimes.

            Analise strode through the path, startling a few sparrows, a dove, and a chipmunk.  A squirrel chattered from a tree.  Always the practical one, Analise subtly pulled a bow and arrow out from her bag.  She smoothly pulled the arrow back.  The squirrel’s face peered out from behind some leaves, and she let the arrow fly.  The squirrel’s paw was trapped to the branch, and it squealed out in pain.  Feeling sorry for the pained creature, Analise pulled out another arrow and shot it in the heart.  It fell dead to the branch.  Analise wondered how on earth she was going to get it.

            “Arran would have been able to.”  Analise took a deep breath.  He couldn’t now.

            “Um, I guess I could help.”

            Analise turned around to the familiar voice.


Chapter 7

Digger

 

            It was Digger!

            “Digger!  What are you doing?!”  Analise was completely startled, but Jade could see hope springing into her eyes.

            “I though I’d…”  Digger looked terrified, but he kept up his bravado.  “I’d come out.”

            Analise found herself with wet eyes.  She felt happier than she had felt the last few days.  How sweet Digger could be.

            “Why are you so happy?”  Jade was confused to why they were so happy that he’d come outside.

            “Digger had always been scared of open spaces �"”

            “Oh, nah.”  Digger looked embarrassed

“But he came out anyway.”  She smiled.

            Analise stared at the squirrel.

            “Digger, sweetie, do you want to go back to your burrow?”  She felt sympathy towards Digger.  His brown eyes were obviously nervous, and he kept twitching and looking like he’d like to dive into the ground. 

            “You said you needed help?”  Digger asked.

            “Yes, the squirrel up there �" I can’t get it.  That’s okay, though.  We don’t need it.”  Although she did need it, he looked horrified by how high it was.

            “Yes, you do.”  Digger said.  Analise was struck by how perceptive Digger was.  Arran and Digger; they were both like little boys to her, but Digger seemed to have grown up.

            Analise smiled at him.

            “Get it then,” said Jade.

            Analise, surprised by the outburst, angrily glared at her.  Digger would take that as a challenge.

            “Fine.”  Digger said, and he looked up at the squirrel, so high up in the tree.  He scuffed his foot into the dirt.  It was too high, too dangerous.  He wouldn’t admit it, but he was absolutely terrified.

            “Jade, I’d like to see you get it!”  Analise snapped.  “I’ll get it.  Digger, you catch it when I toss it down.  Okay?” 

            “’Kay.”  He looked incredibly relieved.  “Got it.”

            Analise put her hand on the trunk and spaced the branches in her mind.  The nearest one was higher than she could reach, so she reached a knife and gently chafed out a small dent in the bark.  She made four neatly so they were in a vertical line.  She pushed her foot in the first dent, and put her other in the next dent and held onto the top dent.  She pulled herself up and climbed the dents until she had reached the bottom branch. 

            She looked at it for a moment, as if evaluating it.

            “Analise?”  Digger called.  Analise looked down.  Suddenly she was alarmed by how high she was. 

“What?”

            “Arran told me it’s easier to go up if you don’t look down and aren’t distracted.”  Analise refrained herself from snapping at him. 

“Got it.”  She grabbed the branch and pulled herself by pure muscle power.  She pulled her feet up and reached for the next branch.  Following her strange, flowing pattern, she reached the branch in what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes.

            “I got it!”  She slid out, distributing her weight throughout the branch equally.  The branch was dry and breakable, and she nervously climbed out further �" there it was �" “Gotcha!”  She pulled it back, and climbed back towards the base of the tree.

            The branch made a loud creaking noise.

            “That didn’t sound good,” she muttered. 

            Come on!  Almost there!

            She pulled her weight towards the base.

            It creaked again, even louder. 

“ANA!”  Digger shouted at her.  “Get off it!”

She quickly slid down to the next branch just as it collapsed and fell down.

“Digger!  MOVE!”  He flung himself to the right, taking Jade with him, and the large heavy branch fell with a heavy thud in the dry leaves lying on the floor where they had just been standing.  She tossed down the squirrel after they righted themselves.  Analise irritably thought that Jade was rubbing off leaves and pine needles in a rather prissy manner. 

            Didn’t even say thanks to Digger.

            After Digger had the squirrel skin, she came down even slower the same way.

            When the last branch came and she jumped down, Digger rushed towards her and hugged her.

            “Thought you were gonna fall.”  He muttered, and she could see that his eyes were filled with tears.  She clutched him tightly. 

            My little baby.

            “You okay?” she murmured.

            “Yeah.”  Digger let go, and she took several seconds to compose herself.

            “Come on; let’s go back to the clearing.”

            “Yup.”

            They ran back together, Analise running like a sleek panther, and Digger leaping alongside her as silent as she was.  Jade was struggling to keep up behind them, her boots obviously inappropriate for the occasion.  Analise rolled her eyes.  It felt like Jade was a pretty, rather prissy friend she had known for forever.

            The sky was shimmering with the last rays when they flew into the clearing.

            “Digger, don’t go out.  Stay in there.”  Analise stooped down beside the hole and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. 

            “Gotcha.”  He leapt into the hole and ran down the angled ramp.

            Analise ran across the clearing and went through the regular routine, and pulled Jade into the door with her.  They were in Analise’s house before the moon had shed its light on the woods.

            Analise went to the fire pit and started the cozy, flickering flames.  She pushed some squirrel meat in a pot filled with water, and quickly began chopping up dandelions, leaves, leeks, and wild almonds in a salad.

            Jade spread her rich black fluffy blanket across Analise’s simple deer fur beds, and began piling the trunks and bags for their trip neatly by the door. 

            “We’re going to Kulamfar tomorrow,” she said to herself.  She still couldn’t believe it.  It, despite Analise’s sorrowful history there, sounded like a magical place. 

            “Jade �" your food.”  Analise held out a steaming plate of squirrel meat and bowl of the fresh salad. 

            Jade wondered how Analise managed this every day.  Eat a small breakfast, go to the closest water source, miles away, search for animals to hunt, and then sprint back to her house before the sun came down. 

            It was the Invader’s fault.

            She vowed to help Analise win against the Invaders.  Whatever it takes, she thought as she gobbled down the food hungrily.

            “For dessert, would you like some chocolate?”  Jade pulled out her bags.  Analise had a confused expression.  “Um…  Dessert?”

            Jade began laughing.  “Dessert!  A sugary after-supper snack!” 

Analise laughed, a joyful trill.  “Like sugarcane?  I have some!”

            “No!  Like �" wait �" This!”  Jade emerged from her bags with the dark brown blocks Analise had tried the first night she had arrived. 

            “That?  Oh, that’s just delicious �"” Suddenly Analise remembered she wasn’t supposed to have eaten it.  “I would…um… love to!”  She took the small chunk Jade offered and tried it.

            “Dessert!”  She laughed.  “You people have dessert!”

            Jade smiled.  “Yes, my parents had to tempt me to eat my supper with chocolate.”

            “Chocolate?”

            “What you’re eating.”  Jade continued.  “I used to hate the greens…  Papa would say “Clean your plate or no chocolate.”  I would always eat all that food… Shove it down.”  She laughed.

            “You had to be forced to eat down your food?  Didn’t you just… eat it?”  Analise was shocked.  Jade began laughing.

            Suddenly a loud crunch came from above.

            “Why are they coming every night?”  Analise’s voice was suddenly a terrified whisper.  “They usually only come once every now and then.”

            Suddenly a barely understandable voice came from above.  Analise shuddered.

            “Don’t move!” she hissed at Jade.

            “You there!  1601!  Get off the ground.  You aren’t going to find anything doing that!  Get up!  Hurry up or I’ll speak to the King!”

Hasty sounds from the ground came, leaves and feet scrabbling.

“Pay attention now.  That means you too, 1601”Cobra wants us to find a girl, blue eyes, light brown hair; says she’s about 15.  He says not to touch her.”  A man, obviously the captain, was speaking to the group.

Quiet snickering emerged from the undergrowth above.

“Won’t say much more.  Guess the girl’s his lover.”  The captain was snickering too, now.

“And him so old?”  The insolent reply was made by a man with a remarkably low voice.  

“Eh, coulda be ‘is daughter, 1574.”  Another man spoke to the low-voiced man.

“Don’t be such a fool, 1601.  Ye ain’t got none sense.” another one said.  “Cobra ain’t got no daughter.” 

“Shut up, y’all, Captain’s tryin’ t’speak.  Now shut yer mouths.”

“Men, you know the drill…”  The captain’s voice and loud footsteps faded off as they walked away.

Jade could tell by their rough speech that the men were all commoners, with the exception with the captain, who was obviously a noble, not because of his sophisticated way of speaking, but because of the way he ordered them around.

She looked to Analise to hear what she thought, but her blue eyes were even more scared.  She looked like she would faint.

“Analise?”  Jade quietly prodded her.

“They’re…  They’re looking for me.  They’re looking for me!”


Chapter 8

1649

 

            1649 strung her bow, and pulled it back, so used to shooting that she barely felt the pull on her arm.  She let the arrow fly, and it hit the far right of the center target, good for the pitch black.

            Master Orion frowned mildly. 

            “You must try a little to the left, 1649.  You’re aiming to the right quite a bit.  That would have hit perhaps the heart of a man �" if you were lucky.  Aim to the left.  We need strong men for our Invaders.”

            She nodded quietly.  “Yes, Master Orion.”        She felt her close-cropped brown-gold hair brush against her neck.

            It was strange, how she had gotten used to having short hair.  She could still imagine her long hair.

            But she had to give up her hair, among other things far more important. 

            I’m not doing as well as I do in real life.  When you’re really fighting, it’s easier to let your instincts take over. 

            “Now that we’re done, let’s go and practice climbing trees.”  Master Orion tapped his cane, and although his crippled leg looked so pathetic and shriveled even against the black sky behind them, 1649 knew that he could beat all of them at anything they ever did. 

Ω

            As they walked over to the forest that hung over the Trainees quarters, she considered what Trainee 1651 had told her last night.  1651 was her closest friend.  He hid his feelings remarkably well, which was why the other boys admired him, but last night when they were supposed to be eating, she had found him sobbing by the underwater training pool.  He had said something about his parents selling him to the Invaders so they would have enough money to go on a ship to the nearby islands, to get away from the Invaders. 

            Selling him.

            1649 felt his heartbreak, although she couldn’t remember her family.  Faint memories shimmered now and then through her mind of a blue-eyed girl hugging her, of holding a chubby baby with big brown eyes, but mostly terrifying images of dark trees, of branches tearing at her, people yelling, someone clutching her hand, then torn away.  Screaming.  Bloody bodies. 

A cry for her.

“Marigold!”  A scream.  Then cries of pain.  She had fallen down, and could barely remember a horrible pain in her arm.

A voice, and then she woke up here.  She had been here ever since that last, bloody memory.

            She was unsure about her feelings about that period of her life was over.  She could remember love, so much, and was all gone now, but also so much horror and blood and hunger.  But the love…  She still remembered that blue-eyed girl, wavy brown hair.  And all of the love.  So much love.

            “Stop!  1649, we stopped a while ago.  Come back.  Listen better.”  Master Orion reprimanded her, and she looked back to see that the other trainees were a few meters back.  She blushed and walked back, head down.

            “Alright, boys, please come now.  See that tree?  Whoever gets to the top first gets a sugar candy with their supper.  Not yet, 1692!” 

            “Yes sir.  Sorry sir.”  Trainee 1692, embarrassed, came back to the line of boys. 

            “Ready?”  1649 looked at Master Orion.  “Now!” 

            1649 reached the tree in a few bounds.  1651 was already a few strides behind, but as he reached the tree he began climbing faster than she could have though possible.  She suddenly realized the only person in front of her was Trainee 1692.  She leapt up, a risky move, and barely clung to the branch.  She then agilely pulled herself up, past him.  The top was still about ten meters away.  She leapt, and then, the top was right in front of her.  She jumped up, and then suddenly she was there, swaying on the highest branch, feeling the wind. 

            “Come down!”  Master Orion tapped his stick.

            “Good, good, 1649.”

            1649 wondered what the other boys thought.  Anger?  Disappointment?  Fury... at her?

            What did they think of her?  She couldn’t think of it.  Did they just think of her as the boy who could beat anyone at sword fighting?  Did they think of her as the boy who never talked?  The boy with no emotions?  The boy who wouldn’t bathe or dress in front of the others?  The boy who killed a whole tribe of resisters single-handedly?

            Only 1651 knew her, and even then, he barely did.  He had barely scraped her feelings, her true self.  He knew nothing about her hatred for the Invaders.  How she hated killing.  How she was a girl.

            She was a girl in disguise as a boy.  The Invaders head guard saw that she had great talent when she fought them.  At her would-be execution, she had disarmed two of the guards with just her bare hands.  She had then killed the third with the first’s sword.  She had expected anger for killing him, but the head guard was so impressed he laughed and cut off her hair.

            “Be a boy and go and fight with the others.  You’re an Invader now.”  She could still remember his gravelly voice and his telling her to never, ever tell anyone that she was a girl.  “What’s your name, Invader?”  He had laughed again, and she replied with a made-up name, a boy’s name.

            Mariog. 

She had to or she would have died like the rest of them, the blue eyed girl and little baby.

            She didn’t tell anyone about her anger towards Master Orion.  They wouldn’t understand her fury and anger directed towards him. 

            He was an Invader.  Although good and kind, fair to her and the rest, he deserved to die like the rest of them.  They had done something that couldn’t be forgiven.  Ever.  At all.

            They had killed the blue-eyed girl.  Had they killed the baby with the brown eyes?  She felt the pain of losing someone you loved.  Even if you couldn’t remember them, you could remember the love.

            “1649, you must pay more attention.”  Master Orion frowned.  “Have you heard anything I said?”

            “I implore my bad mistake, sir.  I did not pay attention.  I made a bad choice.  I will make up for it by staying in the sword room practicing for an extra hour.  I will pay more attention next time.”  1649 bowed her head.

            “Let’s not go to the extremes.”  His forehead wrinkled.  “I just merely inquired if you had heard.”

            “No sir.  Apologies sir.”

            “Thank you.  Now, as I was saying, boys, we must �"”

            A loud thunk interrupted his words, and Trainee 1692 fell down motionless. 

            The trainees rushed over towards him, but Master Orion got there first.  He turned over the body.

            There was a dagger in his back.

            Master Orion looked at their surroundings.

            “Duck!”  His normally mild voice was loud and hard.  The trainees flattened themselves to the ground.  1649 glanced around.  There seemed to be no people in the area, but a dagger flew over where 1651’s head had just been. 

            She had been trained for this.  She was ready for this.  A slight rustle came from the bushes, and she instantly pulled a dagger out of her belt and flung it at the bush with deathly accuracy.  A cry emerged from the bush. 

            “All follow 1649’s actions!”  Master Orion called, and a deadly silence of flying daggers followed.

            Any panic 1649 had been washed away by her surge of strength and the exhilaration of fighting.  She instantly strung her bow and shot in several places in a minute, towards any slight sound or movement.  Cries were coming from the trees, from everywhere.  1651 flung a dagger towards the bushes behind them. 

            “1651! Get reinforcements!  NOW!”  Master Orion shouted, his voice barely hearable above the insanity of the battle.  1651 nodded and, throwing a dagger in front of him, sprinted into the bushes. 

            Thank goodness he’s away from the fight.  Now he won’t die.

            She wiped her mind of all thoughts.

Exhilaration poured into her, and she shouted a war cry.  This was where she belonged.  On the battlefield. 

Suddenly an arrow fell into trainee 1735 next to her.  He was young, just a boy. He had died before he even became a warrior.  

She felt more anger pouring into her.  Anger at the Invaders, the Invaders that she fought for now, for involving children.   Anger at her reflexes for not protecting 1735.  Anger at the people attacking them.  They would all die for that.  She strung her bow, and shot around her.  Master Orion was at her side.  They were the only two left.

            Red arrows came from the bushes. 

            The arrows of natives.






Chapter 9

Goddess

 

            Faint chirping came from outside, and Jade suddenly woke up.  She realized with a shock that it was already morning.  Although it was obviously very early, from the blackness outside, so she was relieved.  Knowing Analise, she was already out.

            She looked to her side.  Analise was lying under a blanket, pale and murmuring, twitching, and suddenly her hand went out and grabbed Jade’s. 

            “You must leave now.”  A terrible voice like a thousand fingernails against chalkboards came out of her voice.  It couldn’t have been Analise’s, because Analise was still sleeping.  Jade tried to pull away, but Analise’s grip was extremely strong, almost inhumanly strong.

            “Wake her up as soon as I leave,” Analise-who-was-not-Analise rasped.  Jade covered her ears; the horrible sound was hurting her ears.

            Analise-who-was-not-Analise realized her voice was literally hurting Jade, and she began whispering, gratingly, but bearable.

            “I will leave you a gift to help you.  Take it with you.”

            “Who are you?”  Jade asked.

            “Leave now!”  Analise-who-was-not-Analise hissed.  “Hurry up.  I can’t stay in the host’s body much longer.” 

            Jade suddenly realized with alarm that being controlled by the being was having its toll on Analise; her face was blue and she was convulsing.

            “Let her go!”  Jade started pushing at Analise’s chest, trying to help her breath.             

            “Leave… before it’s too late.”  The voice was suddenly gone.  Analise abruptly sat up, and in her hand were two amazing swords in sheaths.  She screamed, her face still a deadly blue and fainted dead away, collapsing on the deer furs. 

Ω

            Jade was near a nervous breakdown.  In the past five minutes (although it had felt like an hour) she had done everything she learned in first aid classes.  Analise was still as unmoving as a rock. 

            She sat back on her heels.  Her people had told her about these.  Comas: that was what they were called.  Jade hoped more than she had ever hoped.  She had even prayed to her gods she didn’t even believe in. 

            “Analise!  Come on!”  She wailed. 

            “Jade?”  Analise’s eyelashes fluttered, and she opened them.  She put up a hand, and Jade took it.  She pulled Analise up, and sighed with relief.

            “Analise, I thought you were in a coma!”

            “Nope.”  Analise smiled weakly.

            “We need to leave now…”  Jade trailed off. 

            “I know.”  Suddenly Analise looked at the swords, shocked.  “Jade, what on earth are these?”

            “The person who was �"” Jade paused, uncertain of what to say, “Was in you, she said they were for �" for us!”  Analise realized it was morning.  “Oh, come on!  Hurry along; we’ve got to be going now!” she said.  She pulled up four of the bags, leaving only a trunk for Jade.  Jade frowned.  “Analise, you know, I could carry something besides the trunk.  You don’t have to carry all of that.”

            “I’m fine.”  And she obviously was.  Jade hefted up the trunk and pulled on an overcoat as Analise pushed the swords so they were hidden in one of the bags.

            They left into the cold morning air, breathing small puffs of smoke.  Analise was carrying on with no visible effort and a face tight against the cold. 

After they had gone on for a bit, Jade felt slight jealousy; Analise was carrying four large bags and not tired a bit.  She was carrying one trunk, and was already sweating, even in the cold weather and dripping wet trees.  Jade felt nauseous and tired. 

This can’t get worse.

But, of course, as it does whenever you’re at your worst, it does get worse.  It began sprinkling, then pouring, sleety rain. 

Analise seemed to be in her full glory, under the wet skies, carrying on under four bags, pushing back dripping vines and leaves with surprising strength in her small wiry body. 

Although she did ten pushups every day, Jade felt like a weak new-born lamb compared to Analise.

Footsteps came up behind them, and Jade turned �" fingers tight �" thumb in �" and punched �" the person ducked.  Analise cried out.

“Digger!” 

Jade stopped from punching out again.  It was Digger. 

She apologized repeatedly, but Digger wasn’t having any of it from the ‘pretty lady’.

“Its fine, I’m fine, calm down.”  He waved it off.

“I could have killed you!”  She felt that she had to say sorry again.  Analise had not spoken for any of their exchange, and now finally she spoke, and her voice was terrible.

“Digger, go home.  Now.  She pushed him back towards his hole.

“No.” 

“Digger!  Go home!  NOW!”

His dark skin glistened in the wet air.  “No.”

“Digger, I’m warning you…”

“What’ll you do?  You just want to have all the fun yourself.  It’s not fair.  So I decided I’m coming too.  And you can’t stop me.  It’s too late.  I won’t be able to get home before dark.  So, you’ve got to take me.”  He finished triumphantly.

“Ten-year-old logic.  You can’t get away from it.”  Jade rolled her eyes.

“Not funny.”  Analise walked ahead.  She ignored anything they said and glared back now and then, so Digger and Jade just followed her silently.  Digger took Jade’s trunk since Analise wouldn’t let them take any of her bags.

They walked along for a time, Digger chattering to Jade, Jade smiling.  She had always loved little kids, and he was a really cute one. 

Analise strode in the front.  Her bags were weighing her down, but just a little, and she wasn’t going to admit to any weakness.

It was finally when the sleet came even harder and the sky was dark with clouds that Analise said something to them, although, of course, still glaring at Digger. 

“We should get down into the dirt.  Invaders don’t take kindly to people after dark.”  She said it with a touch of sarcasm.  They stopped after a minute of her scanning the forest.  A large bush protruded out, and Analise went to it.  It was still sleeting, pouring the hideous rain, and when she went to the bush she nodded with satisfaction. 

She went under.  There was a small hollow, big enough for two people squished.

“Digger, will you make this hole bigger?” she said.  Digger nodded, and he stepped in.  After five minutes or so, he came out extremely muddy.  Analise pushed him out into the rain and it washed him off.  Analise pushed some pieces of wood in to cover the mud in the far larger hole, and then covered it with pine needles to cushion it.  Jade and Digger went in the hollow and curled up against the edge, leaving about half the hollow for Analise and the bags.  She nodded, pushed up logs all around the hollow, leaving a small entrance, and pushed the bags in.  Last she crawled in and pulled out Jade’s big black blanket.  It was furry and extremely comfortable and big enough for all three of them, as Digger was extremely small.  Jade and Digger were asleep almost instantly, but Analise couldn’t fall asleep as easily, she kept hearing footsteps and mutters, even though she knew the Invaders weren’t really there.

            After they had been asleep for quite a bit, she finally fell into an exhausted sleep. 

Ω

            Analise screamed �" no �" a hand clapped over her mouth �" she bit it �" gasped from a slap in the face.  She looked up to see who it was, but a big rough hand wrenched her neck down.

            It didn’t matter though �" she knew who it was.

            It was the worst thing that could happen �"

            The Invaders.

Ω

They had been dragged along for the whole night.  Digger was pulled along on the rough stringy rope, his face rigid from the pain.  Analise made no sound, but Jade let out a few inescapable whimpers.

The captain looked at them.  The girl with the black hair was extremely beautiful. She could make a pretty plaything for the Leader.  He snickered quietly. 

The next one, the boy would make a good soldier.  He looked fit.  A bit wild, but sometimes those were the best.  The last one, a pretty one (though not even close to the other) could die �" she didn’t seem to serve any purpose.  He had a faint sense of recognition though, there was something about her. 

The captain suddenly realized she was the girl on the posters �" the prize was a brand new sword and scabbard, three rubies, two diamonds, and 5 gold coins.  He felt sick.  I’m rich!  He thought.  “And I was just about to kill her!  The Leader will grant me a promotion and the money!” 

Analise was nervous.  She was hoping they wouldn’t recognize her as her father’s daughter and was picking up dirt and roots every now and then to smear over her face.  Hopefully they would think she was just an ugly girl to leave in the woods.  She didn’t want to know what they would do to Jade, and she couldn’t think about Digger �" poor little Digger, terrified of blood, Digger, who had seen too many deaths, Digger �" who was to become one of them. Her miserable thoughts threatened to put her into despair over everyone’s fates. 

Her hopes of survival were shattered abruptly when the captain turned.  

“Men!  The girl’s wanted!  We’re rich!  WE’RE RICH!” 

The men surrounded her, and began cheering.  “Yeah, captain, always knew you were a good one!”  “Nice job, captain!”  “I was the tracker what found her!”  “Good work, captain.”  “Ain’t no one else who coulda found her.”  The voices, shouting, mingled together, each congratulating him, each speaking in flattery, each wanting the money.  Suddenly the captain shouted.

Analise screamed through her gag.  A red arrow was stuck from his throat, and he trembled, eyes wide, collapsed onto the ground with a faint cracking sound.  The men shouted, and began to scatter.  Red arrows sprouted from their hearts, throats, eyes, faces. 

Jade screamed and ducked as the arrows came toward her, towards the ground.  Analise had enough sense to dump the closest two bodies in front of them, and all of the arrows went into the bodies.

Finally the attackers came out, with spears dipped in the poison oil.  They were baring their teeth, faces painted red and black.

They were natives, and they outnumbered them 10 to 1.

 


Chapter 10

Soldier

 

The reinforcements leaped from the bushes, and 1649 smiled in her battle rage.  She would take them down too. 

She realized with a start that 1651, her friend, was in the front.  They were on her side, they were Invader soldiers.  She joined their ranks and 1651 followed her to the back, in the back with ten trainees she didn’t know.  They looked at her with awe.  She was the only one to survive the attack, besides Master Orion, who was wounded with an arrow in the skin of his thigh, and was having a hard time doing much.  She didn’t notice anything, and was surprised when red oozed in her eye.  It stung but she brushed off her eyes and forehead, which was sticky with blood.  She guessed that an arrow had scraped her forehead.  If she hadn’t been so high on battle energy, she would have been scared by how close she had been to dying. 

But death was not bad when it came down to it all.  She would not mind dying.  What was the point in living if there was nothing to live for?

“Your forehead…”  One of the trainees whispered.  It was a little blond-haired boy, looking like he was only six, and terrified of the arrows falling from the trees into people. She shook her head, and a few drops of blood spattered into the air, hoping that he wouldn’t die, even though she knew he would die in the end like everyone else.

Arrows emerged from the bushes, more and more.  She could hear people all around her screaming, and the little boy with blond hair fell down, arrow in his leg.  She was furious with the cowards, hiding in the bushes.  Finally she lunged into the bushes and stabbed random Natives, their faces black and red, blocking arrows with the ease of a practiced and talented fighter.  It was strange.  Normally they were all different tribes, fighting amongst each other, so it was easy to beat them when they rebelled.  Now they were all wearing the same face paint, black and red, ready to fight, all together. 

She ignored the thoughts, and focused on weak points, throats, hearts, stabbing with her sword, fending off poisoned spears, until a high war cry was called, and they all dissolved into the bushes.  She could hear them fleeing. 

“Follow them!” she shouted.  Everyone looked at her, a trainee, ordering them around. 

“Excuse me?”  The captain of the reinforcements looked at her disbelievingly.

“We need to know where their camp is.  We’ve got to find it!  We’ve got to follow them!” she said.

“Trainee 1649, I realize you’ve fought amazingly, and against all odds, you’ve survived.  However, I’m the captain, and we’ve lost seven trainees, four soldiers, and an officer.  I apologize.  Not this time.  We’ve lost too many.” he said, and she could tell that he was sincerely sorry.

She knew she shouldn’t disobey a captain, but she had to demand.  They could finish the Natives off, and stop them from killing more people like 

“Sir, please, I don’t understand!  Quick, we’ve got to go now!  Don’t you see?  We’ll be saving the lives of all those people who would be fighting them later.  Who cares if we die?  We could be saving the lives of hundreds!  We need to find where they live, and kill them all off!  Poison, sir!”

“Trainee, you are out of line.”

“But, sir �"”

“I said, Trainee, you are out of line.” he said.  Master Orion shook his head at her, frowning.

They’re all fools.  They’ve just got to understand!  They don’t want advice from a trainee!  They’re too proud.  That’s it.  They don’t want a trainee with better plans and battle strategies.  I’m sure I could beat them sword fighting.

She glared at both of them when they looked away.  The remaining younger trainees looked at her, very admiring and a bit shocked.  One was not looking anywhere but crying into his hand.  His best friend had probably died.  And more friends were to die in the future because the pride of foolish Invaders.

Some day, when she, trainee 1649, became the leader of the Invaders, she would make hundreds of new rules �" and she would send all of those horrible captains on death quests. 

            Ω

“For his valuable battle skills, amazing talents with the sword, and the second highest known assignment, Trainee 1649 deserves the honor we are bestowing on him now.  Silence from the crowd.  SILENCE!” 

There was utter silence instantly from the crowd of people below.

“Trainee 1649, do you forever swear to live under the laws of the Leader, fight true, and do your best to defeat all terrorists who go against the law of the Invaders?”

“I do.” 

“And do you swear to follow none other than the leader?”

“I do.”

“And finally �"” He paused �" “Do you swear to kill all defenders?”

“I �" I do.”

“Then from now on, you are Soldier 1649, a proud fighter for the Invaders.” 

Cheers came from the crowd.  Master Orion was stamping his cane, Trainee 1651, her best friend, hooting and jumping up and down.  The captain who had been the Speaker of the Ceremony looked relieved that she had said ‘I do’ to the questions; apparently he had had a promising Trainee who had said no to the last one.  It had been everywhere, everyone was horrified, and the Leader himself had killed the Trainee.   

But none of that mattered now.  She was a soldier of the Invaders.  And now she could be in the battles more often, kill them more often, and get rid of all the people who dared to disobey the Invaders.  She was one of them.  It was official.  But why did she feel uncertain then? 

She frowned.  It was nervousness, that was all.  The change, that was all. 

She threw back her head and laughed, the sky dark.  It was midnight, the time of all Ceremonies.  The Speaker laughed with her, and the Invaders cheered again.  She stepped off the stand and bowed. 

She ran down and hugged 1651, which Master Orion frowned upon.  Love in any form disturbed true calm, which disrupted the order of balance.

Marigold smiled at 1651 and at Master Orion and laughed at both their expressions by her outward affection in front of the public.  She beamed at the crowd and then the Speaker again.

But the only thing she could think of was how she could never see the sun again.  She had always slept in the day, like everyone else, but she had snuck out sometimes, into the beautiful golden rays of light, and blue, blue sky the color of the girl in her dreams’ eyes.  She remembered the blue-eyed girl, remembered the love.  How loving she was!  Marigold felt depressing thoughts overwhelm her, and her smile faltered.

She shook her head.  The vibrant, alive colors were not meant to be part of her life.  She was meant to give them up.  She was an Invader.

She was Soldier 1649!

 


Chapter 11

The Natives

 

They seemed not quite hostile, but very suspicious and almost scared.  The oldest introduced himself as Moon Spear, son of Fire Bow, and named them as ‘Pale ones’.  From what Analise could gather, all leaders’ last names were named after their favored weapon. 

“I am Analise, daughter of… daughter of unknown.  This is Jade, daughter of the sea.”

The Natives murmured; no one dared to dream of distant lands like the one Jade had come from.

Which reminded Jade of the fact that she still had not told Analise of her dream, which she had shunned from her mind as a nightmare.  But she could remember drowning...  She frowned.  It couldn’t have happened.

“This is Digger, son of Midnight Star.” she said.

Digger felt his eyes welling up. “Not now!” he thought, rubbing at his eyes furiously.  “Don’t think about her!”

“Midnight Star?”  Moon Spear spoke.  “Boy be one of mine.  He be ours.  Come to us, boy.  His name be Owl Feather.  Be that it, boy?”  His voice was kind.

“Uh… Digger.”  He walked towards the chief.

“He be the son of Midnight Star?”  A beautiful young girl pushed to the front.  “That be my mother!  She was said to have become nightsilver in battle against the Invaders �"” the word said with utter contempt and anger �" “but perhaps she was taken hostage!  Perhaps she be alive!  Where does she be now?” 

Analise looked down.  “She is dead.  I am sorry for her losses.”

The girl lifted her head, and wailed to the heavens.  Analise, confused, looked at the leader.  He spoke quietly.  “Lily Speckle be in mourning.  Those with no carriers �"”

“Carriers?” 

“Carriers are the ones who carried you in their bellies, ones who milk you, ones who love you.  My wife is the second carrier, the one who cares for children when they lose their carriers.  Children stay with their carriers until they turn 13 12-moons.  Lily Speckle has lost her carrier, she mourns for her.  All people: warriors, mates, carriers, children turn to nightsilver when they die.”  The chief and Analise were drifting away from the group of mourners.

“Nightsilver?”  The language of the Natives, even when they spoke like her, was very figurative and sometimes confusing.

Moon Spear pointed to the stars up in the sky, which glimmered, unearthly and seemingly distant.

“Do people besides Natives turn to sta- nightsilver?” Analise asked, thinking of her poor little baby, Arran.

“You speak much question, for such youngness.  But yes.  People you miss have gone, they are nightsilver.  And so will I join them when I die, as you, as your friend, as Digger.  It is the cycle of life.”  He smiled at her.

Analise felt a bond with the old man, his hair silver as the light streaming down on them.  He felt like the caring father she had never had.  Impulsively, although she knew you could never trust any men, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and ran back to the main group. 

Digger was staring at the beautiful girl who was quietly crying, staring at the stars.  He saw Analise and beamed.  “She’s my sister!”  He whispered.  Analise had never seen him that happy.  “Who’s your father?” she asked him.  “I don’t know, but he’s probably here somewhere…” he said.  At that moment, a huge Native, so dark he was almost pure black.  He was the strongest person Analise had ever seen, and had a hard torso, wearing nothing but short woven breeches.  He had huge muscles that rippled as he walked.

“I heard that my son has come back to the tribe.”  Analise gaped.    It was Digger’s father?  “Who bought him back to me?” he said.  His voice was gentle and soft and did not at all suit his physical appearance.  Analise stepped forward quietly, bowed her head.

“You?  You were his second carrier?”  His voice was filled with gratitude, but it was for a moment that his self control snapped, and she was overwhelmed by the shocking amount of grief in his amber eyes.

.  “How would I thank you?” he said. 

Analise blushed.  “It wasn’t much.”  “Don’t talk long, Analise.  He’s a man.  And you can’t trust men.” She thought.

The huge Native laughed.  “And here we be, don’t even know the other’s name.”

“Analise.” she said.  “I be Tiger Foot.” he said, “This be my daughter Lily Speckle.” He motioned towards the beautiful grieving girl.  “And my mate was Midnight Star.  She be nightsilver now.”  He bowed his head in grief, and Analise felt sympathy for the man, obviously uncertain of what to do for his daughter and still grieving for his wife’s death 5 12-moons ago. 

“Will we be having the blacksky attack in one eighth moon?”  Tiger Foot’s voice was lowered as he spoke to the chief, and he glanced around as if he wanted no one to hear.  Analise strained her ears to hear.

“Yes,” the chief murmured, “I’ll get the little ones safe in the camp, the newcomers too.  The one from the sea looks like she couldn’t use a spear for her life.  Owl Feather be too precious.  We can’t risk our own.”

Tiger Foot was obviously relieved.  “But, chief, what of the girl �" Analise?” 

“She be too young, too innocent.  I say no.”

“But be she able to hold up her own in battle?”  Tiger Foot looked at her, as if figuring her chance of survival.

“I doubt it.” the chief said.  “She be young, she would become nightsilver in seconds.”

“I don’t want her to get hurt.  She was the second carrier of my boy,” said Tiger Foot.  Analise was glaring at both of them when they looked up at her, and Tiger Foot looked down, embarrassed that they had been calculating her odds of survival in battle. 

“I can hold up my own in battle just fine.” she said coldly. 

“I’m sure you can,” said Tiger Foot reassuringly, his sweet voice pitched to seem as though he was speaking to a child. 

“Would you like to see my accuracy with a bow?”  Although not normally a bragger, she was infuriated by the way they spoke of her as a child when, in reality, she was probably only a couple 12-moons younger than Tiger Foot.  The chief laughed. 

            “All right, if you wish.” he said.  Analise pulled her bow and an arrow from her bags.  “What do you want me to aim to?” she asked.

            “Oh, I don’t know…  That tree?”

            “I can do further than that!  How about that bird?” 

“Bird?”  The chief looked around, confused. 

Analise shot up in the air, and with a loud caw, a massive crow tumbled from the trees.  She smiled in satisfaction, and walked over to it.  By the time she had picked it up and stabbed it to save it any pain, quite a few Natives had gathered around.  They had seen her shot, seen her hit a crow with just sound alone.  And no one else had heard it. 

The chief bowed to her superior talent.  “I be taking my words back of your unworthiness for war.”

“Then I will fight in the battle.” she said.

“If that be what you wish for.  I warn you though; there be great chance of becoming nightsilver.”  Moon Spear bowed his head again, this time to the dead in the starry sky.

Analise had recognized their saying ‘to become nightsilver’ as to die.  Strangely she felt scared.  She had never been too scared of death; compared to torture by the Invaders, death was merciful.  She had always accepted death, but now, she could not. 

Is this what people always feel like?  Scared constantly of dying?

She realized with a shock that the Invaders were why she couldn’t die.  She had to finish them off first.  They had to die.  She would die gladly bringing them down to where they belonged; not with the stars like all people, but raging in fire, eternally tortured.  Ignoring her she forced herself to agree.  Death could happen.

“If you think that can stop me, you are mistaken.” 

“That do not be a reason.  But we do not have much time.  We must gather forces in the camp.  We be attacking tonight.” 

Analise shrieked a high war cry.  The chief joined her, and Tiger Foot cried the call of the ay-ay bird, ready to attack.  The Natives joined them, each with their own war cry, and Analise realized with a jolt that there were over one hundred with them now, and many had crept from the bushes to the center with their chief. 

            “Let us go back to the camp.” Moon Spear said.  Analise nodded, and they walked together.  “Cover our tracks.” he said to the last few warriors. They covered any footprints or broken foliage with dirt and leaves.  When Analise looked back, she saw no trace of human intervention. 

Although it was barely light enough to see, her eyes, so used to darkness, could see where her friends were.  Jade was near the back with a gorgeous girl with the skin of the delicious food called ‘chocolate’.  For some reason Analise assumed that they were talking of beauty supplies, as the chocolate-skinned girl pulled a small brown container and opened it to reveal beautiful turquoise eyeliner.  Jade was obviously fascinated, and at one point pointed to her own golden eye shadow, barely recognizable after the hard day, but still beautiful.  The Native girl was easily one of the prettiest people she had ever seen.

 Digger was talking eagerly to the pretty girl called Lily Speckle, his sister.  Analise noted with delight that the girl was smiling a bit through her tears.  Although Analise could not hear what he said, his comic gesticulations were enough to make her guess that he was talking about his legendary skills at digging.  She laughed. 

            “What be you laughing at, Analise?”  Tiger Foot had somehow caught up to her.  His long strides had carried him all the way from the back to the front, next to her.

            “Our young seem to enjoy each other’s company.”  She laughed again.  Tiger Foot was looking at her strangely, and suddenly she realized why.  She had spoke of Digger’s as hers, when in reality, she was no longer her second-carrier.  He no longer needed her.  He had his father now.  She felt tears welling up in her eyes, and brushed them away.  How embarrassing to be seen crying in front of this man!  Knowing men, he would tell Digger or Jade or something of that sort.  He looked at her with understanding, and she realized that he had felt this same way; hopeless, uncertain of the future, and absolutely miserable.  They walked together in silence until the camp came in view.

            Analise looked around for anything, but somehow she couldn’t see the camp, anywhere.  Her trained hunter’s eye carefully checked the surroundings.  There was nothing but old, huge trees. 

            “You Pale ones all think the same.  Right and left, forwards and backwards.”  A thin, tall man who had the glinting eyes of a cat walked up to them.  Tiger Foot looked down as if with dislike.  “Analise, this be Tree Legs.”
            “This be Analise then?”  Tree Legs smiled politely.  Analise nodded just as politely and wished that the stranger would leave.  She felt a strange connection with Tiger Foot and wanted to just be with him, quiet.  Tree Legs made it awkward, as if they couldn’t say things around him.  Tree Legs nodded.  “You must look up for the camp, Pale one.” 

            “I have a name, Dark one.” Analise snapped at him.

            “Oh!” Tree Legs laughed, “The baby bites!”

            Analise saw why Tiger Foot disliked him, and glared at him.  She was not a baby; she was not old, but she was more mature than anyone her age.  Tiger Foot gently put his hand on her shoulder and pointed upwards.  She shrugged off the hand, scared of becoming close to any man, but she looked up, and gasped. 

A huge encampment was in the trees.   
Chapter 12

Marigold

 

“Here, like this.”  She, Soldier 1649, had only been a soldier for a eighth of a moon, and already she had already been given a Trainee.  Trainee 2561, he was.  He was the smallest of most trainees, only 6, which made one on one combat difficult to teach.  But she loved him like her little boy, her little brother.  She always took care to take any arrows for him in battle; he had no scars while she had at least a thousand.  Master Orion was worried that she was treating him to kindly, keeping him soft and tiny while the rest grew strong.  But that wasn’t true.  She did keep him from getting hurt, but as she had taught him, he was alright, and very good compared to the other trainees, with bow and arrow.  That had always been her best asset, and now she was teaching him.  He was completely terrified of everyone save her, Soldier 1649, and this should have made her worried for him, but instead it made her joyful that he loved her.  To him, she was like the mother he never had; she gave him any tidbits she had found or shot, she taught him everything, not just the weapons, but she taught him something she found extremely important; hand fighting.  When you were caught by Natives with no weapon, you needed to hand fight.  She had no skill herself with it, but he seemed to have some spectacular talent.  With bow and arrow, she had had to go over the proper way to hold it, the way to string the arrow, about a million times.  But with hand fighting, where she could not do well, he did amazingly. 

He had basically taught himself to flip a dagger out of someone’s hand with not even a cut, kick a sword to the ground, and one day at practice, he had knocked Analise out by finding her pressure point.  After that he found it simple to find the pressure points on people.  Two days ago a small group of Natives had attacked them.  By then it was normal happenings for Natives to attack, but he had killed three of them with pressure points while she kept the other seven busy.  She was very proud of her little boy.

“Uh, Marigold, what about the bow?  Where do I put my hand?” 

The best thing about him was he trusted you no matter what.  He thought the Natives were just unpleasant fellow who had a bad day.  That was why she could tell him everything.  She had told him how she was really a girl, and he had just nodded and said he had thought so.  And then they secretly used their real names.  Though her name was Marigold, he called her Gold, and she called him Billy.  He was only six, and she never wanted him to be in battle.  But since was going to have to go to battle, she got him as powerful as she could.  Although he hated them, she made him do 50 push-ups everyday and 10 pull-ups.  He got stronger and stronger every day, tiny and extremely powerful.  It made her want to cry seeing his big hard muscles on his little boy body.

“Oh, yes, Billy, this is what you do.”  She gently guided his hand, and then he pulled back the bow a bit jerkily and shot.  It went about two yards and then fell to the dirt. 

“What did I do wrong?”  He frowned.

“Your bow hand was a bit jerky.  That’s okay.  Let’s try it again.”  She pulled his hand back to the proper position.  “Now listen.  You’ve got to pull it back smoothly.  Let’s try without any arrows slowly.  Now, come on, pull back.”  He pulled it back and jerked it.  “Okay.  Again?”  He pulled the bow back.  This time it was smooth enough, not as smooth as her own bow arm, but well enough.  She smiled at him and he smiled back sweetly. 

“Okay, now, let’s put in some arrows.  Pull back, that’s right, come on, a bit further, now... Go!”  She nudged him and he shot. This time it went a bit too high but she heard a squawk of an angry bird.  “Good!  You came close to a bird!  Did you hear that?”

            “Yeah!  Is that good, Gold?” 

            “Yes, it is.”  She beamed at him and then he tried again.  It went so low it skimmed the top of the shrubs and then �" wham!  It hit a tree trunk.  He looked at her, eyes wide, distressed.  It was the first lesson he had learned; how to not hit a tree trunk.

            She looked back at him, his lower lip quivering, hazel eyes nervous. 

            She laughed, at first a quiet laugh, and then a full blown laugh, and she wasn’t able to stop.  He looked at her strangely and then burst out laughing.  They sat together, arms aching from extensive training, clutching their blistered hands, laughing, dropping their weapons: bows and arrows and staffs and bags. 

            It was at that moment that moment that a group of seven Natives strode in, faces angry, bows ready.  Billy leapt up and jumped away remarkably quickly for someone of his diminutive size. 

“Gold!  Natives!” Billy shouted.

Marigold instantly pulled out one of her many daggers that she kept on her body and flung it at one of them.  The man ducked.  It grazed his head so he was bleeding, but nothing more.  She felt a heavy feeling of dread settle over her stomach.  It was then that she felt she would die.  They stepped forwards.

            “Invaders must die.”  The one in the front spoke.  Marigold took a step back, taken aback by the hatred in the man’s voice. 

            “Don’t kill him.”  She spoke quietly, but they became silent.

            “Be he an Invader?” the Native said.

            “Just a Trainee...”  She realized they wouldn’t understand what ‘trainee’ meant and quickly clarified.  “He’s just learning how to use weapons, that’s all.  He hasn’t killed anyone.”  She was lying but it sounded good enough, however Billy gave her a strange look.  Fortunately he was clever enough to say nothing.   

Suddenly she pulled a dagger from one of her many pockets and threw it.  It dropped to the front Native’s chest and he collapsed.

            “Be he dead?  You be Invaders!  You must die!”  One stayed back and leaned over the killed Native’s chest as the others leapt over his body and shot arrows towards her �" she ducked, knowing them to be poisoned with sjaki.  She knocked a spear out of one man’s hand and stabbed him, close combat, with a stab in the throat with her third and last dagger.  She vaulted herself over one man’s head and shoved down hard with the dagger.  He collapsed, scalp bloody, and she stood up.  Billy had three besides the one he’d killed circling him, and then one struck �" Billy stabbed out with an arrow �" he missed �" one came from the back �" she threw a spear from a dead Native’s body and flung it �" it flew towards the Native and met it’s target, and he trembled and collapsed.  There were three left and she grabbed her bow and a few arrows �" she pulled back, ready, and then shot �" he fell and his mouth opened as if in shock.  The last one pulled back and flew up the trees.  She smiled grimly.

            Bad move.  Billy pulled his bow from the ground along with an arrow and shot.  Marigold could hear a yell and then wild jabbering.  She assumed he was almost hit and nodded at Billy to reassure him.  Billy looked down, disappointed he had missed the Native.  She pulled back and shot.  A loud call and crunching of branches came and a stained red body tumbled down.

            It was over.  She wasn’t dead.  She slumped to the ground from pure exhaustion and relief.  The last thing she saw was Billy’s scared face and wide eyes before she fell, further to the ground, to the pine needles and dry earth, dust clouds on her face, and then �" almost as a relief �" everything went black.

Ω

 

            Was she dead?  Someone was poking her.  Was that the Gods she could see?  There were two big hazel spots in her vision, faint in the haze.  Was this a place for the dead?  She jabbed at them.  She didn’t want to go to the Gods yet!  Billy needed her! 

            An “Ow!” resounded in her ears, and one of them was covered by a stubby pink object.  She stabbed at the remaining green-brown orb again with her fingers but this God was too fast; it moved out of the way rather swiftly.  She wanted to cry at it to get away but nothing came out of her mouth.  She closed her eyes and opened them again, and suddenly everything blurred, shriveled, and fluttered into her vision.  Billy’s huge hazel eyes stared down at her; he was clutching his face and she realized she had poked his eyes and it hurt.  Billy didn’t say anything about his wounds unless they really hurt, and even then he didn’t cry.  However his eyes were watering, not because he was crying but because his eyes hurt so much. 

            “Gosh, Gold, why’d you hurt me?”  He was obviously confused by her violent actions.

            “Sorry.  I thought you were someone else.”  She felt rather foolish for jabbing him in the eye and said something off the top of her head.  “Well, they weren’t very nice Natives, were they?”

            “No, they weren’t.  I felt bad for them, though, maybe they were just hungry or something.” Billy said seriously, and this showed his major flaw:  He trusted nearly anyone; although he was scared of everyone he believed they would be kind and fair to him. 

            “Uh, Gold?” he said, “Could you show me how to hold the bow again?”

            “Sure.” she said.  They pulled at the bow and fiddled with the string until it was perfectly taut. 

            “I don’t get the method you showed me, Gold.  I mean, how do you wrap around your fingers �" like this?  Or like this?”

            He pushed his fingers in a contorted version of what she had shown him, and she gently pried his fingers off.

            “No, like this.”  She wrapped her fingers around the bow’s smooth wood in it’s natural position.  She handed the bow to him and this time he got them around neatly.

            “It feels weird,” he complained, but he tried shooting with his fingers in her method.  The arrow flew neatly through the trees and shrubs to pierce into a small sparrow about a hundred feet away.  She beamed at him.

            “Billy!  That’s wonderful!  Sparrows taste very nice, so that will be a lovely bit of dinner today.” 

            He grinned back delightedly.

            “What else is for dinner anyway?”

            “Dry cornbread.  I’m quite sure we’ve got some berry juice as well to dip it in.  And you remember, the trainees keep what they’ve shot.  Very nice job!”  It was always happy for her when he caught something.  She smiled thinking of the supper they would have this morning. 

            Billy had been confused by the concept of Invader meals when he first came; breakfast at nightfall, lunch at midnight, and dinner just before sunrise.  That was the way of the Invaders; the sun was shunned as unhealthy and terrible.

            It was the only thing that Master Orion was scared of; the sun.  It was a beautiful shimmery golden thing that Marigold was trying to forget, which was good, because, as Master Orion had said, the sun could be highly addictive.  She smiled at Billy to hide her dark thoughts.  He could stay innocent a few years longer. 

Ω

            “Let all Masters take their food!” cried the chef.  It was the way things were, in order of how high you were.  The Masters were taking their food now, Master Orion neatly taking a piece of cornbread and redberry juice on top, as well as a small helping of rabbit. 

            “Let all Advisers take their food!”  The Advisers of the Leader strode up.  It was horrible seeing everyone take their food while you waited, stomach grumbling.   It didn’t take too long for the Advisers to take their food, seeing as their where only twelve of them.

            “Let all Captains take their food!” 

            There were quite a few of these men so Marigold drifted off into quiet daydreams of the sun.  The loud voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Let all the Soldiers take their food!”  There were about two hundred of these in her bunker so she leapt up and almost ran, making it in time to be about the twentieth.         She smiled back at Billy, who was hungrily fidgeting in his seat.  Although being close to the beginning, it was still quite a while until she got her food, which looked quite delicious after the long night although being quite stale. 

            Finally they called the trainees, long after Master Orion had finished her food and when she had just finished her third and last piece of ridiculously dry cornbread, drenched in juice to make it less dry. 

            “Let all Trainees take their food!” the chef yelled over the clamor of the eating room.  Billy leapt up and made it there second by sprinting as fast as he could.  She laughed quietly at his delighted expression as he got his week-old cornbread and redberry mush.  He sat down beside her and devoured it.  She could see Master Orion silently chuckling to himself at the sight of Billy guzzling his food.

            “Take your time, Bi �" Trainee 2561.”  She made a faked laugh and reprimanded herself mentally.  If someone heard her call him Billy in public, the consequences could be seriously bad.  Although the Leader was kind to them in many ways, names flew him into a rage.  She remembered the last person who demanded a name.  She remembered his death...  Even the Leader had a number:  He was called Number 1.

            “Are we allowed seconds?” he asked.  “Or thirds?” 

            She grinned at him in relief.  If he hadn’t heard her slip-up, probably no one had.  “Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe... fourths?”  They burst out laughing. 

            Suddenly they were laughing in an empty silence.  An eerie quiet hung over the clearing for just a few seconds, and no one spoke.  They instantly stopped.  Marigold could not see much but she heard rustles �" someone was coming through the trees.

            She looked with the rest of the Invaders as if in a group motion.  Even Master Orion looked scared.  Billy moved closer to her.  She looked at the bushes. 

            Slowly, as if an apparition, the Leader came out of the shrubs and trees.  Marigold clutched Billy.

            The Leader, Number 1, stood in front of them.  He was really quite handsome; brownish golden hair �" remarkable like her own �" that swept back in the wind and piercing blue eyes.

            Any other girl would have noticed this, but not Marigold.  All she noticed was the terrified look on his face...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

The Bonds

 

Analise carefully aimed and it flew towards the tree.  It hit the tree a little on the right of the trunk.  Moon Spear nodded. 

            “That is good, Analise.  That is very good.  Now can you aim for something living?”

            They had been practicing as much as possible, ever since she arrived, and although Moon Spear did not say much, she knew he was extremely pleased with her archery.  She was good at sword fighting, something she had not had ever had a teacher for, but she was naturally good at it.  She had taught Arran a long time ago.

            This thought brought tears to her eyes, but she shoved them back quickly so Moon Spear didn’t see, or at least pretended not to.

            She was okay at sword fighting, hand fighting, and was quite good at dirty street fighting, but she excelled always at bow and arrow.  She had been waiting for all this time, an eighth of a moon, for the attack on the raiders.  This was revenge for Roselle, Marigold, Dove, and her little baby Alianne.  This was her revenge.  And she planned on getting more.

            Analise nodded and pulled her bow in a way that was so normal to her she didn’t even think about it.

            “Ana!”

            Analise jumped and the bow shot by accident and the arrow tumbled and flew up into the trees.  She turned.

            “Digger, what is it �"”

“Check it out!”  He pointed up where people were clambering around in the leafy trees.  He pointed again but Analise didn’t see anything.

“Come on up!” he said, and she followed him to a grooved tree.  She saw the tree had been made to have handles, and she climbed up the tree after him pulling up on the grooves in the wood.  When she made it to the top it was dizzyingly high, and when she looked down it was terribly far away.  It was beautiful on the top, where the sun shone down and the sky seemed close enough to touch.  There were boards everywhere, carefully nailed to trees in some way.  Some boards hung by ropes while others were held up by branches or nailed to trees.  There was one house resting perilously on two big branches, held up with ropes, gently swaying in the wind.  It was spectacular and obviously well made.  The boards were tightly placed together so that nothing could slip down to the forest floor.

She didn’t really mind heights so she followed Digger, who seemed to have come over his agoraphobia.  It was weird that a Native who lived like that, in the trees, in the open always, would have agoraphobia.  But he seemed to be alright now.

She realized Digger had almost stopped and bumped into him.  In front of them was Lily Speckle whistling gently into the sky.

“Now watch.” he said.

Lily Speckle did the strange little whistle once more and stopped.  Analise realized a beautiful, golden-brown, furry creature had come down onto the leafy boards.  It was a bit like a cat but with fantastic, long wings, very short legs, like a bat’s, and pretty, wide, bright turquoise eyes.

“Be you ready to fly, Heart?” Lily Speckle asked, her hand on the creature’s flank.  It thrummed and she nodded.  Her brown eyes were unusually happy.

“Be your right wing be bothering you still?”  The creature purred again.  It was a wonderful sound, like the essence of pure joy.  It made you want to fly, and if you fell, at least you knew what it was to be in the air, free, if at least for a few moments.  Analise couldn’t explain it properly but it was the best sound she’d ever heard in her sad life.

“Let’s fly then.”  The beautiful animal, thrummed back at her and Lily Speckle nodded.

She gently put her legs over Heart’s body, and patted his shoulder.  Its turquoise eyes were gentle when its wings wrapped around her lovingly for a moment, and then it flew up into the blue sky.  They swooped away, until they were just dots on the horizon. 

“Lily Speckle is only happy with her bond.” said Tiger Foot.  Analise jumped.  He had come silently behind them.  “She loves Heart, her bond, very much.” 

Analise loved the creatures immediately.  Tiger Foot then made the same gentle whispering whistle into the sky and a soft drift of air made them look up.  Another of the creatures landed on the boards.  This one was about twice as big as Lily Speckle’s bond.  It was a very dark brown, almost black, and had dark blue eyes.  There were a few gold glimmers in its fur that were beautiful when the sun hit them in a certain way.  Although muscled and strong, Tiger Foot’s bond was shivering as if scared.  However he tentatively patted Analise on the shoulder with in greeting.

“This be Tremble.  He is often scared of things but he is strong.”  He patted Tremble on the shoulder as if they were old friends.  “Wish you to ride with me?”

“No...”  Analise desperately wanted to but she couldn’t handle being closer to more men in her life.  Men betrayed you, always.  You couldn’t trust them.  You couldn’t get close to them because then, you’d start caring for them and then they would go away, or get killed, or not care for you anymore.  So she said no although she loved the creature. 

She watched Tremble sail away, carrying Tiger Foot, who looked disappointed that Analise would �" could not come.  Moon Spear strode up. 

“Analise.  You have seen the bonds?” 

“The mounts?” asked Analise.  “Yes.”

“NO!”  Moon Spear looked actually angry.  “They are not mounts.  They are our equals.  Pale Ones think that all others all below them.  They are our equals.  Everything is equal in this world, Analise.” 

“I’m sorry �"”

“No, I’m sorry.  I did not mean to speak to you in such harsh tones.  You did not know.”

“May I meet yours?” asked Analise.

“Not yet...  It is time for the sundown meal.”  Moon Spear led Analise across the floor in the sky, to a place where the Natives were gathered.  Lily Speckle was obviously back and she was sitting on the floor next to Digger, sister with brother.  Analise loved them together, they were so similar.  A harried-looking Tiger Foot rushed in.

“Sorry I’m late, Moon Spear.  Tremble saw some raptors...  And you know how that goes.”

Moon Spear nodded, and gestured for him to sit on the boards and strode to the center.

“I don’t like long, drawn-out speeches much more than all of you.  Let’s eat!”

Natives cheered and shoved, pushed, and rushed to the boards hanging high like counters by ropes tied to branches.  Native ladies were tending to the food and serving it out.  There was a beautiful green salad, a huge pile of delicious roasted meat, a sort of brown plant that many people took, and golden-orange nectar that Tiger Foot said was from the Bashka tree.  Everyone had some sort of scooped out bowl from some sort of bread that was coarse and thick enough to hold the Bashka nectar, and you could eat it afterwards.  Analise saw Jade with the drop-dead beautiful Native girl that had owned the turquoise eyeliner.  When the Native girl saw her, she hastily stepped back and placed her hand on her own shoulder as a sign of respect.  She spoke quickly.

“I be Dark Topaz.”

Analise felt badly for the girl, who was obviously scared of her, and she wondered why.  However she had no time to ask, because after sundown meal, Moon Spear brought her to the loft, where the bonds slept.  Moon Spear showed her Dark Topaz’s bond, and Analise was shocked to see a rather scrawny creature with ugly grayish brown-green eyes.  She wondered why such a gorgeous person would have such a... well, not beautiful bond.  It wasn’t that the creature was hideous, it was just small and had a less pretty face then the rest. 

When she asked Moon Spear why she had such a completely different bond, he nodded. 

“The bonds, they be like our counterparts.  We don’t choose them, they choose us.  We be always like the opposite of our bond in some ways, alike in others.”

Moon Spear called down in the whistle and there was no sound for a moment �" suddenly a burst of air in the warm night sky flew down on them.  A spectacular creature tumbled from the sky, wings flapping.  Analise stared at it.  It was a huge white and silver bond with gold speckles that ran down its wings.  It was the most magnificent of all the bonds.  It had kingly dark gold eyes and its fur was soft and lush.  Analise pat her own shoulder.  It was a sign of respect, to pat your own shoulder.  To pat someone else’s shoulder was a sign of greeting someone lower in status than you.  With bonds, you tapped your own, and then theirs.
Moon Spear patted his own shoulder and then his bond’s shoulder.  His bond did the same.

He nodded to Analise.

            “This be Soar.” 

            Analise patted her own shoulder again in an overwhelming amount of respect for the majestic beast. 

            Moon Spear smiled his gentle smile at her.  “Would you like to ride with me to the battle on Soar?” 

            Analise stared at him to see if he was joking.

            “Analise?  Would that be alright for you?”

            “Yes �" yes!  That would be wonderful!”  She beamed at Soar, who smiled �" smiled? back.  Analise smiled again to herself.  You could always tell if someone was truly smiling, and he was.  Soar seemed like the fellow you meet that you instantly want to be friends with, with no qualms about being majestic.  He was majestic, but he enjoyed making a joke or laughing or fooling around.  Moon Spear beamed; he could tell they liked each other.  It was, altogether, quite a good thing.

            Analise felt happier than she ever had.  It was so peaceful being with Moon Spear and Soar, and the whole world felt calm.

            It was at that exact moment that a shrill war cry emerged from the camp.  The raid of the Invaders was beginning!

Ω

Analise rode behind Moon Spear on his gorgeous bond, Swoop.  The black night hid them well.  They were leading twenty Natives with their bonds.  Only the most talented fliers were able to come with them.  Most Natives had bonds, but some hadn’t found their own yet.

The stars were bright, making Analise think about poor little Arran, and hundreds of other people who had become nightsilver, as the Natives said.  She held Moon Spear tightly as Swoop plummeted to the earth. 

Following were Tiger Foot, Tree Legs, Lily Speckle; a rather homely man named Spider Eye; a pretty girl named Sweet Fruit; and two twins named Black Foot and Brown Foot; four siblings called Red Berry, Poison Berry, Blue Berry, Bitter Berry; A quiet, sweet-faced girl named Fawn Spot who followed her mate, (who was traveling with them as well) Honey Foot; five older, clever brothers who no one could tell apart and were amazing flyers called Dark Hawk, Ice Swallow, Grey Wren, Green Eagle, and Black Sparrow; a silent boy with a sad face named Star Face; A friendly girl with golden eyes named Bashka Heart; and a girl with a wonderful singing voice named Velvet Blossom.

Analise felt like they were her little tribe; for some reason she felt like she liked all of the Natives, and she felt affection even for the horrible Tree Legs.  They hovered above in the trees, and Moon Spear gave the sign for silence.  Instantly there was no noise, and then they could hear a loud scream and then a harsh sound that rang of death. 

The first kill.  The Natives on the ground had gotten the Invaders, and they were startled, because she could hear the roars of Natives as they tumbled to the ground.  She could tell the difference between a Native’s cry and that of an Invader; the Natives had a lilting accent like that sounded like their voices were mixed with the wind.  And there were far more Invader screams.  Then she could hear the cries of more Natives.  They had surrounded the patrol so that the Invaders felt scared. 

Analise heard a familiar shout, one that she recognized.  With a shock so bad she thought she would die, she realized it was the cry of a man who she had hated, who she dreamed of killing, who had killed her mother, who had killed her sisters, who had killed her life.

Her father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 14

The Raid

 

            Analise looked down, filled with fury like she had never felt before, and whispered to Soar to fall down a little.  He gave her a funny look but swooped down to skim over the edges of the trees. 

            Swiftly, Moon Spear stopped Soar with a whisper.  He turned back. 

            “Analise!  What on earth do you think you’re doing!”

            “He’s down there.  You can’t stop me.  I’m going down.  And I,” she said with terrible ferocity, “Am going to kill him.”

            “Stop.  Analise, think about what you’re doing.  Stop.  Whoever it is you are killing, calm down.”

            Analise heard a little snigger from the back.  Tree Legs was quietly smirking into his hand.

            “WHAT’S SO FUNNY?” she roared.  Moon Spear shushed her desperately; she was destroying the plan.

            “WHAT’S SO FUNNY, TREE LEGS?”

            Tree Legs stopped smirking.  He actually looked quite frightened of the new and furious Analise.  Then he recollected his sarcasm and cruelty.

            “Beg pardon, Analise.  But you are so foolish in your youth.  You risk an entire Native civilization to kill a man.”  He sniggered again

            Analise was infuriated by her words but she calmed herself.  She needed to seem calm and mature in front of this hateful man.

            “You will be silent.” she said through gritted teeth.

            “Yes, master.” he said mockingly.

            “SILENCE.” said Moon Spear, “Tree Legs, do not taunt her.  Analise, ignore him.  There will always be someone like him in your tribe.”  He spoke the last sentence quietly.

            Analise was confused by his use of ‘your tribe’.  She had no tribe. 

            Moon Spear turned around to check on the tribe.  Soar was still hovering over the trees, and Analise saw her chance.  She leapt down from Soar’s back and released her hold on Moon Spear.  She flipped and for one dizzying moment the ground rushed towards her.  Her mind was completely absent in terror and it was her reflexes that grabbed a tree branch on the way down.  She was still hidden by the leaves and underbrush but the battle was right behind the bush she was hidden by. 

            An Invader fell into the bushes.  It was little more than a boy, and his eyes were wide with fear and sad.  He croaked “Help me!” and collapsed.  She lifted his head onto her lap.  The blood gushing from his wounds was breaking her heart.  Analise was overwhelmed with the tragedy and the evil of the Invaders, recruiting the poor little boys of her world.  She held his head and he looked at her with those sad, wistful eyes.  He dropped his dagger.

            “Guess I don’t need it any more.” He said softly so she could barely understand him over the battle raging next to them.  “Never wanted it.”  She moved her head closer so she could hear.

            “I didn’t want to kill.  Tell them I didn’t want to kill them.”  He started quietly crying, a hoarse, cracked sound that broke Analise’s heart.  Warm salty tears tumbled onto his wounds, and for a second she thought about the fairy tales she had heard, of tears of a beautiful girl healing wounds. 

But she was not beautiful and his blood came out more.

“Please!”  The hoarse tears came out more.  “Tell them I didn’t mean to!  Please, tell them that if I die, I deserve it!  I should die for what I did to them!  Let me die!  No one will care if I die!  I don’t care.”  He reached up and touched her face.

“Are you an angel?  Angel, I’m Jem... Din’t wanna ever be an Invader.”  His voice cracked and his face screwed up with pain for a moment.

“Am I dead?  Please, let them live, angel, I didn’t mean to, my angel.”  Analise saw what may have been a boyish prettiness in his face once, but then it was gone in the blood.  “Sing to me, my angel.  Can you sing?  Of course, all angels can sing.”

Analise cradled his head.  Her head suddenly filled with old memory fragments of lullabies, and she softly sang her favorite to him.

“When nighttime breaks,

It brings a new day,

Maybe by life or by death,

However it may stay.

When nighttime breaks,

It fills up your heart,

It glows with a darkness,

That ends as it starts.

When nighttime breaks,

It brings a new day,

Of joy or of suffering,

It will always stay.”

She stopped and then he smiled up at her.

“Beautiful �" Angel �" my Angel.”  She looked down at him; head on lap, and then his breathing stopped and flowed into the dark night.

Analise sat, blood on her black skirt, heart breaking over his untimely death.

He was only a boy, maybe her own age.  He shouldn’t have died.  Even if he was an Invader.

She softly touched his forehead.

The battle roared around her and she leapt up, bow in hand.  She looked around for Invaders through the underbrush.  She saw a clear target and aimed �" strung it back �" string taut �"

And then she slumped, dropped her hands.  She couldn’t kill another.

That was when she saw her father, blazing in the middle of the battle.  She could see Natives hacking at him but he knocked him off as though they were flies. 

“One shot, Analise, that’s all it takes.” She thought to herself.  She strung the bow and then shot.

It flew through the air like a bird for his heart, and everything seemed to go slow motion.  He shot to the side and then �"

No.

He caught the arrow and glanced around for the archer.

Analise felt ill.  You couldn’t be that good.  It was like a storybook, good against bad, daughter against father, but the evil was better �" stronger �" braver �" huger �" more powerful �" better than anything she could have thought.

It was at that moment when he saw her.  She strung the bow again but his piercing blue eyes seemed to knock her to the ground and she couldn’t move.  She was frozen.  It was the most terrifying thing she had ever felt.  She tried to scream or call for help or something... but he moved towards her.  Someone came down next to her from the trees but Analise did not know who it was because she could not turn her head.  She could not move.  The sight of his hateful face had moved her to something she had never felt before, even when the Invaders were chasing her or seeing Arran dead.  It was like being dead with fear.

The fear brimmed over to where she could not stand it.  She screamed such a frightening, terrible sound that it stopped her father momentarily, as well as everyone else, including the Natives.  Instantly the Natives recovered and took the extra split second to kill the remaining Invaders who had not reacted.  The only one left was Analise’s father.  She realized it was Moon Spear who was next to her and was tightly holding her shoulder.  He was saying her name.

“Analise.  Analise.”

They did not see, but Analise’s father was gone into the trees.

“Oh!  Moon Spear!”  She gasped, and she realized she hadn’t been breathing through the whole affair.  She took another breath.  “I just was startled.”

“That was the leader of the Invaders.” she said.

“Why �" didn’t you kill him?  Be you a fool?  Analise!”  His voice was angry.

“I’m sorry �" I was startled �" I couldn’t!  I’m sorry �" it startled me �"” 

“No, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have.  Why �" Analise, does he know you?  Be you acquainted?”

“Oh �" NO, no, of course not, I do not know him.” She said too quickly.

“Yes, Analise.”  His voice was skeptical but he did not ask any questions.

In their alarm, they had completely forgotten the Leader of the Invaders, and he had melted into the trees.

“FOLLOW HIM!”  Moon Spear said, his voice alarmed.  “Hide tracks behind us!  Quickly!  Scouts ahead!  Run!”

They leapt onto the trail and several warriors covered up tracks with an efficiency Analise would have thought impossible.  She ran faster than the wind with Moon Spear.      

Moon Spear gave her a funny look as they ran.  He asked while he sprinted, as if it was no effort, “Analise, are you alright?”

“Yes...No...Yes, I’m fine.” she said softly.

            “What made you go down?  Who was ‘Him’?” he asked.

            “No one... Just a faint memory... Nothing.”  She was saved from further questioning when they stopped without a rustle.  The Natives were talented in their ways of silence, and they made not a single sound.  Analise could feel her own heart pounding and hoped that the Invaders could not.

            “Kill if you must.” Moon Spear whispered, silently as a passing breeze.  “On three!”

            “One!”

            Analise looked around her to terrified faces, but prepared ones.

            “Two!”

            People tensed up, ready to fly into the Invaders and smash them down.

            “Three!”

            They leapt into the clearing.  There were about thirty Invaders, just a simple patrol.  There were twenty Natives above on Bonds as a last resort and about twenty below.  Originally there had been thirty but the Invaders before had taken down several. 

            The Invaders had no chance from the start.  They were terrified out of their wits and ran like scared rabbits.  Analise saw her father among them and angrily strung her bow.  She shot several times and took three down but missed him and hit others.  There was a young boy with goldish hair, perhaps near Analise’s age dragging a little boy who looked so young Analise felt sick.  The golden-haired boy looked so tenderly back at the little boy, and pulled him a bit harder, that Analise knew that the older one loved the other in the way that a parent loves their child.  She had a clear view of the older one but something deep within her stirred and she dropped the bow to her side.  There was something that compelled her to stop.  The little boy was so scared, she couldn’t leave him all alone, and the older was so loving...  She ran after the Invaders with the Natives.

            Although she could not kill some of the Invaders (she remembered the Invader little boy who had died in her lap and looked at the red bloodstains covering it) she could and would kill her father.  He had to die for his sins, and she would make him pay.  He was over.  He would die.

            And he would die by her hand.

           

           

 

 


Chapter 15

The Invaders

 

            Marigold ran.

            She was running faster than she could have ever dreamed of, running with the rest of the Invaders.  They were running.  There was an attack.  That was all she could think of.  And they were following them.

            The Natives. 

            Marigold clutched Billy, who was stumbling along, trying to keep up.  It was hard for him, so she helped.  He was half running, half dragged.  She looked back at him, scared, a look that told him to not stop running, never stop, until they were away. 

            There were only about twenty of the Natives, but they were far better, far more capable than she could’ve ever thought, and better than her thirty Invaders.  Suddenly the people in front of her stopped.  Billy fell down and she automatically pulled him up and held him close to her.  The Leader was in front of them.  He was the one who had stopped them, holding out a hand. 

            “What are we doing, men?”

            Analise flinched.

            “What are we doing?” he repeated. 

            “Running?  Like children?  Who are we?”  He paused and then shouted the words:  “Who are we!?”

            A few men muttered something Marigold was unable to hear. 

            The Leader, Number One, Founder of the Invaders shouted again.  “WHO ARE WE?” 

            A few men called out:  “The Invaders!”

            “WHO ARE WE!?”

            Marigold yelled with the rest of the men:  “The Invaders!”

            “WHO ARE WE?”

            There was a thunderous roar of ‘the Invaders’.  They stood strong in proud, knowing that they were Invaders.

            “Then why!  Why do we run like children, like infants wailing for their mothers?  Who are we?”

            “THE INVADERS!”  The clearing practically trembled with the force of the yells.  They pulled their swords, their daggers.  They were ready!

            It was at that moment that the Natives melted from the trees behind them, silent and deadly.  Arrows flew from the trees, and a few men ran, something foolish.  The men had run straight into the arms of the Natives. 

They were surrounded!

 




 

 


Chapter 16

The Raid

 

Analise shot into the clearing and instantly leapt up the tree.  She did not want to get killed with her mediocre sword work, so she would use her archery skills.  She pulled out her bow and arrow when she got high enough.  The battlefield lay out like a patchwork quilt; she could see an old, grizzled Invader with battered legs leaping around the battlefield.  Then she saw the golden-haired boy guarding the little boy.  He leapt around, throwing daggers with deadly accuracy.  Behind him, less noticeable, was the little boy who was just poking Natives with no weapon in places like the neck and the hand, pinching gently, and then �" then they collapsed.  Analise did not know the little boy but he was obviously he was good at hand fighting.  She knew she had to take them down; they were taking down many of her own, so she shot, missing both by barely an inch.

“There.” she said to herself, “That should scare them.” 

But the little one only flinched and continued, while the older ignored it completely.  Analise could not take them down, so she cracked a branch and flung it down.  It landed on the older one’s head, who crumpled, unconscious.  The Natives ran in for the kill but then �" they were pushed back, two fell down.  Analise could not see and she leaned in further, pausing to shoot two nearing Invaders.  Then she gasped.

The little one had knocked them down and was whirling around like he was in a dance, nimbly kicking off any weapons, smashing his tiny muscled fists into people’s chests, faces, attacking like a little hurricane.  He had knocked down six when Analise realized she had to stop him.  The gold haired one was bleeding but woke up with a large cut in his forehead.  Analise felt sick watching the battle unfold like a fairy tale battle, but real people killing and being killed, real people that she knew.

What happened next was the worst of what could happen.  The old, grizzled Invader leapt out at Moon Spear, nimble and powerful in his old age.  Both were old but both did not seem it as they began what seemed like a dance.  Moon Spear pulled out a spear dipped in sjaki.  He attacked the old Invader, who retaliated by pushing it aside and stabbing at Moon Spear.  Moon Spear was stronger but the old one was more agile.  It was a perfect match and this was a frightening thing to Analise.  She had never thought of Moon Spear �"but of course, he wouldn’t die.  Moon Spear couldn’t die.

Angrily she pulled out a bow and prepared to shoot the old grizzled Invader so he could not kill Moon Spear.  As she took aim, she realized it was impossible to get at either of them.  They were so close that it was impossible to shoot the Invader without risking Moon Spear’s life.  As they wrangled, Analise felt a surge of terror as the Invader flung a dagger to Moon Spear’s heart and missed him by less than an inch.  She started down the tree, staring at them but going as fast as she could to stop the Invader from killing Moon Spear.  As she leapt from the last branch to the ground Moon Spear stabbed a sword through the old Invader’s heart.  Analise slumped with relief �" but then her father emerged from the trees, angry and roaring over the old Invader’s death.  With a single blow he smashed Moon Spear down with his sword.  Analise screamed but she could not hear it herself over the sounds of war.  She ran to Moon Spear, slaying down anyone who came in her path.  She killed six Invaders, maybe seven, she could not count them with her anger bubbling up in her, ferocity she never knew she had in her coming out, smashing down anyone and everything, any Invader who dared to go near her.  After her rage the few Invaders left ran, but her father looked at her confusedly, and then disappeared.  She was so angry she did not care if he recognized her.

She ran to Moon Spear, who lay on the ground, blood bubbling from his chest.  Her anger ebbed and turned to sadness over his death.  He was obviously dying.

He had little breath for what he said next.

“Analise �" Analise�" I name you �" Analise �" I name you �"” He stopped and breathed, a hoarse, cracked sound.  “I name you Chief �" of us.  Chief of �" the �" Natives.”  Analise stared at him. 

“What �" you can’t, Moon Spear �" I’m not a Native!”  She could not take this responsibility.

“And �" I’m sorry �" I should �" have told you �" but now I’ve �" got to �" Analise �" there is a �" prophecy about you �" It is �" ancient �" I will tell you �"”  His voice became less jerky and harsh and now was soft and smooth.  Analise was reminded of the Goddess who had inhabited her, and he slowly began reciting the words that Analise would remember for her whole life.

“The one from the root

and the one of the sea

will combine with the

crash and the wind.

And so they will beat

The stealers of land,

By dreams,

By light of sundust.”

            The God’s voice disappeared Moon Spear was back.

Moon Spear spoke just four more words.

            “It’s you.  Sun Arrow.”

            And then he faded into the ground and his breathing stopped.  He was just part of the dirt, eyes open wide and glassy.  Analise softly closed his eyes.  She felt broken hearted over the death of a man she had wanted to know better.  Then something came tumbling from the skies.  It was Swoop.  His eyes turned terrible and huge when he saw Moon Spear.  Something horrible emerged from his throat. 

            He rested his paw on his own shoulder and then Moon Spear’s for the last time.  Swoop sat down hard on the grass and Analise saw what she thought were little opals tumbling from his eyes.  When he stood up, wings on the ground, eyes like something dead, she saw that he did cry little clear jewels. 

            A Native next to her murmured: “When a bond loses its human bond, it cries opals.”  Analise nodded sadly.  She saw many people crying tears around her and then Tiger Foot emerged from the crowd with Lily Speckle.  Lily Speckle cried tearfully:

            “Our new Chief:  ANALISE!”  There were a few mutters, a few full out sobs, a few feeble smiles, and a few mild claps.  They were all broken hearted by their long-time chief, and the turn to a non-Native and a girl was too much for them to be excited or happy.

            Analise was too faint to say anything; she just looked sadly at the stars.  Moon Spear had become nightsilver.  The Natives stood together, Analise in the center.  They all quietly looked at Moon Spear to the stars, and Analise had a feeling this was a ritual for becoming nightsilver.  She could have sworn that at that moment she saw a pale spirit rising to the stars and then �" one star appeared, shining brighter than the others.  Moon Spear.

            A few smiled.  It was beautiful, Moon Spear as nightsilver.

            Analise felt a little happiness enter her heart, the thought of Moon Spear up above, watching them all.  She was Sun Arrow, Chief of the Natives, and she felt like she could fly at that moment, fly with Moon Spear above the whole world. 

Ω

            Marigold felt horror enter her heart but she instantly forced herself to repress it.  The old Native had killed Master Orion!  She shuddered, and next to her, Billy was in tears, clinging to his final strands of toughness.  She watched the tears slide down his little-boy face and leaned down.  She hugged him tightly and stood up quickly as several Invaders came into view.  She pretended to be unconscious.  Billy, even in his tears, understood, and shouted:

            “Soldier 1649!  Are you alive?  Please wake up!”  He acted the part of a frantic trainee perfectly and the Invaders ran over, scared. 

            “Is Soldier 1649 in forgivable condition?”

            “I don’t know,” said Billy breathlessly.  “She isn’t moving and I just found her �" we got separated in the battle.”

            “You held up your own very well, Trainee.”

            “Thank you sir but please check my mentor, please, and sir?”

            “Yes, Trainee?”

            “Master Orion is dead.”

            “WHAT?”  The Invader stared at Master Orion’s body in shock.  “Oh no, oh no, oh no.

            He stood up and shouted the typical Invader call for help, two high shrieks and one lower shriek.  After a minute, while everyone knelt around Marigold’s body, ten Invaders, including the Leader, rushed into the grove of trees.

            “Is she alive?” the Leader asked.  There was something breathless in his voice as if he had saw something he was confused and frightened about.  “If not leave her.  We can’t bury them all.” 

            Billy was scared of the large, strong man who ordered everyone around and threatened to leave Marigold behind.

            “Sir, she’s alive.”

            Marigold pretended to awake groggily and awkwardly, as if hurt.

            “Where are you hurt?” asked one of the soldiers tersely.

            “I’m fine.”  Marigold put on an injured but I-am-an-Invader-and-I-can-do-this face.

            “That is a good attitude.”  The Leader nodded approvingly.

            They ran ahead and Marigold pretended to limp wearily.  Billy stayed back with her.

            “Why did you act fainted?” he asked ungrammatically.

            “They would accuse me of killing Master Orion by surprise.  They don’t like admitting that the Natives have killed their Masters.”

            Billy nodded, his eyes wide.

            “Come on, let’s not get caught behind.  And remember, don’t call me Marigold.”

            “Okay.” said Billy obediently.

            “Let’s go.”

            They ran off silently into the trees, turning their backs on Master Orion and the blood they had shed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 17

The Gathering

 

            “It’s tonight.  ‘S tonight.” Joey whispered to the other stable hand.  They watched Invader horses but they did not care for the Invaders themselves; scarcely anyone did after what they did...  They had killed the government leader after he had rebelled against them and broke a rule by not letting them kill a little girl.  A moon ago the Invader Leader had sent out messengers everywhere to mourn for the death of some Master.  Master 53, or Master Orion, something like that.

            Joey did not really care about things like this though so he did not think about it. 

            The other stable hand answered.  “Tonight?  ‘Fore sundown or after?”

            “After.  That way Invaders won’t be able to defend ‘gainst us as well.  I heard the Natives...”  Joey let the sentence drag off for absence of anything better to say. 

            “The Natives?”  The stable hand, Will, was incredulous.  “I don’t trust none of them... Their dark skin is kinda weird,” he said, forgetting that his own skin was darkly tanned from hard work in the sun.  “And I don’t like their accents.  It’s scary how they can kill so good.” 

            “You a scaredy cat?” asked Joey, who knew that Will wouldn’t be able to handle a question like that.

            “No!  I’m not!” Will retorted angrily. 

            “Then how come you ain’t comin’?” Joey baited Will.

            “I am, I’ll try to come t’your stupid Native meetin’ anyways.” said Will.

            “See y’there, than?”

            “Yup.”

Ω

 

            “They say it’s today.” he whispered.

            “Today?”

            “Yup.  I heard after sundown.  I heard that it’s the Natives �"”

            She gasped.  “What?”

            “Yeah, I heard that the Natives are hostin’ it.”

            “Well, anythin’, I guess, to get rid of them Invaders, but Natives...”

            “I know.  Ain’t done anything to hurt us but I just don’t trust them.  Kinda creepy, if you get my meaning.”

            “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

            “I’d help ‘em get rid of the Invaders.  I don’t care if they’re ten feet tall carryin’ war axes long as my body.”

            “Well, fancy that.  After years of bein’ a coward old Marty finally comes up and he wanna fight.”  She laughed.

           



           


Chapter 18

Sun Arrow

 

A moon passed. 

They got over their grief over Moon Spear’s death, although it stayed in many hearts and minds of the Natives.  However most had accepted Analise’s reign, although a few remained absolute in their belief that she was not a leader because she was a girl and a Pale One.

One of these people was Tree Legs.  He was something like the leader of the Natives who did not like Analise.  She knew she would eventually have to face off with him but right now she did not want to start a fight within them.

She emerged from her small wooden house.  It was private, on the furthest tree. The only way to get to it was through a little bridge made of boards.  She loved her little house but sometimes she was jealous of the warriors who all slept together; it could get rather lonely.

She walked down the boards to the main central area.  She walked to the kitchens.  There was Lily Speckle, caretaker and kitchen worker and warrior.  She worked very steadily each day.  Lily Speckle was the only person who woke up before Analise.  She was far younger than Analise, but was a wonderful companion; you knew she would stand by you at the worst times.  A friend is not true if they do not stand by you at all times, as most people discover the hard way.

Lily Speckle was always loyal, and Analise found wonderful strength in the girl, who seemed wilted and sad but had no bounds of strength in her heart. 

“It be a lovely sunrise, Sun Arrow.” said Lily Speckle in her quiet, pretty way.

“Yes, wasn’t it?”  Analise assumed they were the only people awake, and so they chattered like two little birds gossiping about going-ons and together they cooked huge quantities of a sort of light pancake with the delicious rich bashka tree nectar mixed with honey.  It made a delicious meal and the Native warriors ate a lot, so they managed to make what would be equal to one and one-half pancakes per person before the rush of hungry Natives emerged from their tents.  Each Native started with a pancake and sat down on the benches.  Analise sent Bashka Heart to wake up the last few sleepy Natives when the sun was almost fully in the sky and the moon was fading.  She was cheerful and bubbly enough to not be shy about shoving people awake. 

Bashka Heart whole-heartedly worshipped Analise and would not disobey her ever.  She had one of those loyal souls, and was a lovely person to laugh with; she had a laugh that overflowed and bubbled like a pretty waterfall.  She was the nicest people Analise knew here. 

Tree Legs demanded three pancakes and when Analise denied him, he angrily took three.  Tiger Foot stopped him and knocked him down, deftly grabbing his plate so it did not fall.

“The two nicest girls I know make this food for you.  If they tell you to do it, be not a fool.  Sit down and take one.”  Tiger Foot looked threatening, looming over even the gangly Tree Legs, who took one, angrily glaring in Analise’s direction.  She knew what he said when she could not hear, that she was incapable, that she was Tiger Foot’s mistress.  But she was calm and in enough presence of mind to ignore it.

As the Natives gobbled down the delicious food, Tiger Foot strode around the Natives seated on the wood towards Analise.

“Sun Arrow �" there is something I have to tell you �" I should have told you earlier but I could not �" it is a legend of our people.”

Analise sat back against the table and put her wooden cup down on the floor, almost hinting that she knew it might take a while.

“It all was a long time ago, before the Invaders and before people, when only Natives roamed this land...”  Tiger Foot began.  “There was once a pretty girl named Ice Fawn.  She was the most beautiful in the whole forest.  She had amber eyes, sparkling black hair, and dark brown skin that looked like the darkest cocoa bean.  She was lithe and gentle as a summer breeze.  Every warrior wanted her as their mate. 

“One of these warriors was Brave Heart, a powerful warrior leader of a small clan.  He was strong and brave.  His only crippling was his desire for women.  He loved all of the other gender, but he loved her the most, more than any person he had ever known.  However he had a powerful enemy in the other clan, which was bigger with a larger expanse of territory.  The leader of this tribe, Hawk Talon, was a deadly fighter and probably as good if not better than Brave Heart.  People judge about most by their appearance, and although Ice Fawn was beautiful and looked kind and generous, she was unkind and suspicious in her heart.  Not necessarily bad, but there was definitely something long lost in her heart.  Although no one knew it, she was also a healer and herbwitch.”

Tiger Foot paused.  It was obvious that he did not want to go any further.

“Go on,” prompted Analise.

“Well, Ice Fawn had a competition to see who the best fighter was.  Although Brave Heart won, after a long struggle, she was still unsure.  Finally she chose the one she liked the most, a nobody named Sun Wing.  He is still known today for his famous kindness and his loving heart.  He balanced out her unkindness. 

Sun Wing was Brave Heart’s best friend so Brave Heart felt betrayed.  So he went to the woods and waited inside a tree which he carved out for a hiding spot.  Finally when the happy couple walked by together, Brave Heart leapt out in front of them and he did it.”

“Did what?” asked Analise.

“He... He took it upon himself to slay both of them down.  And then he knocked both of them down.  Sun Wing tried to protect Ice Fawn and he took all of the blows.  He was dead before anyone could have intervened.  He died and was unable to guard Ice Fawn.  So Brave Heart killed her.  But just before she died, she just said two things.

“Curse you.”

“And that night Brave Heart realized that killing was addicting.  When people passed an itch in his fingers forced him to need to kill them.  Although powerful physically, he had no willpower and they were all dead in an instant.  He killed many innocents including children.  Native warriors searched for him but he killed them too.  The memory of Sun Wing remained in Sun Wing’s younger sister’s mind and angrily she followed Brave Heart, who was so deranged from Ice Fawn’s curse that he did not remember anything, including the kindness of people.  Sun Wing’s sister, who was called Glimmer Bird, looked everywhere for Brave Heart.  Finally she found him and, after a fight, killed him.  But that night he awoke as if from a sleep, like a human but more like a creature, covered with fur like the dirt of the earth.  It was then that he became the first of the Beasts.”

Analise was horrified by this gruesome tale.  She did not know what to say so she did not say anything.

“I’m sorry if you didn’t want to hear that...” said Tiger Foot quietly.

“What does this have to do with me?” Analise said bluntly.

“The Beasts...  They are still partly human...  They can speak our language.”

“Why do I care?”  Analise did not want to speak to any Beast.  They had killed her Arran.  She could never forgive them for that.

“Sun Arrow, I’m sorry, I know you don’t like them... Jade told me about Arran.”

            “Jade?” Analise was furious.  That stupid girl had gone and blabbed about everything.  “Did she tell you about the goddess?” 

            “Goddess?”

            Analise smothered her relief at this fact and remained angry at Jade.  That stupid girl was just too obsessed with her beauty to think of anything else.

            “I don’t...”

            “I’ll leave you to think about it then.” Tiger Foot said.  He left her with the nimble silence of a Native.

Suddenly she realized that she had been absolutely ignoring Jade for the past moon.  Just the other day Jade had said hello to her and she had said hello back like she would’ve to a stranger. 

Jade walked by at that moment with ten girls surrounding her chattering merrily.  Jade smiled weakly at Analise as if scared of her, or assuming that Analise did not like her anymore.  Analise felt bad that she had left Jade alone, but didn’t any longer when she saw that Jade was obviously popular with the more girly of the younger Natives.  She had been busy with her duties as Chief of the Natives and Jade had made friends with other girls.  Analise waved back at her.  Jade beamed, happy that Analise had noticed her.  Analise walked over and spoke to Jade.

“You like to go walking with me?”

A few girls around Jade giggled and Analise glared at them until they shut their mouths and assumed deadpan expressions.  However Analise could tell that they were giggling in their heads.  Giggling should be outlawed, she thought.

“Sure,” said Jade, obviously surprised by the sudden friendliness from Analise, but she climbed down the trees like she had been a Native her whole life.

As soon as they walked underneath the trees Analise realized how beautiful Jade looked.  Before she had been beautiful but now she was practically glowing.  Her black hair was gorgeous and dappled with sun spots, and her green eyes glimmered like the leaves in the forest around them. 

Jade looked at Analise.  Analise was louder than she had been when they had met.  She had a sort of inner beauty that hid any features that were not as pretty.  But even on the outside she was pretty, with her wavy golden-brown hair and gentle blue eyes.  She had a pretty, gentle way of moving that reminded you of a fawn, unafraid but quiet and startled easily.  She sighed.  She seemed so far away. 

Analise felt an urge to explore, so she told Jade:

“Let’s go somewhere.”  Jade nodded her head, happy to do something for Analise.  They wandered off, happy in the sweet dappled sunshine.

Ω

            “I know you all have been waiting for a long time for this moment.  I have been anyway.  I need all of you to understand:  I don’t expect you to give up your life for me, I don’t expect any of you to fight.  I just hope that a few of you will find strength in your heart to help save your land from the Invaders.”

            The crowd shouted, and a few younger men stood up and shouted.

            Analise’s eyes turned slit-like and dangerous.  “I will hunt any one of you who tells the Invader of this meeting.”

            “I know that a lot of you are scared of the Natives.  I was too, but now I’m not.  They are just like us, except with darker skin.  And when it comes down to it all, we’re all human beings.  We should all unite to fight the Invaders.”

            Analise was literally jelly-kneed.  There were more than 500 people in front of her, crowding to hear her.  The Natives stood on the side, watching, hidden from view. 

            Suddenly a young man with a handsome face and wide, cruel mouth stood up and threw a large rock at Analise.  It missed her head by inches and she could feel the breeze as it whooshed by.

            “We don’t need no Natives!  What you doin’, thinkin’ you c’n beat ‘em when we been tryin’ to for our whole lives?  You ain’t nothin’ special!  You leave!  We were here first and we don’t want you and we don’t got nothin’ for you here!”

            The Natives melted out of the trees, resulting in a few people screaming.  Analise had specifically chosen the least frightening Natives in the whole tribe: Lily Speckle, Sweet Fruit, Star Face, Bashka Heart, Dapple Leaf, Midnight Star, and Soft Eyes.  However the people were startled.  She thanked the Gods that she hadn’t chosen Tree Legs or Tiger Foot, who was kind but frightening.

            They all had dark coppery skin that shone in the moonlight and amber eyes.  They carried no weapons, something they disliked but Analise had made them do.  The farmers were still startled by the dark faces and golden eyes, and nervously glanced around.  Lily Speckle spoke, a sweet, high voice. 

            “If you wish to be violent, leave us be, and go.”

            The few men surrounding him muttered and made rude gestures at her.  They were obviously drunk on some sort of drug or whiskey.

            “Take your friends and whatever else you might have bought.  We do not want violence towards our leader.”

            The men left, muttering and cursing under their breath.

            “As I was saying before,” Analise continued, “I want to work with you.  All of you.  I don’t care if you can’t fight, if you are weak, if you have children.  We can care for your children.  We can teach you to fight.  We can strengthen you.  We can work to overcome the Invaders.”

Ω

Joey stared up at the tall rock where the chief was standing.  She was not a Native; he could tell that from the lanterns strung all over the trees so they could see everyone.  She looked like a noble, almost like what the Leader was supposed to look like, but like an extremely pretty girl with goldish-brown hair and blue eyes like the stream behind the stables.  However he did not trust the fact that she looked like the Leader.  Despite all of this he liked her instantly.  He wanted to meet her afterwards.

Will was not enjoying himself.  He was scared to death of the Natives who had joined the crowd.  They stuck to themselves but he did not trust them.  They had pretty dark gold faces but you could not tell what they were thinking.  The only one he could see himself even liking was the boy with the sad face that was uplifted to the heavens like a star.  The Natives called him ‘Star Face’ but Will found it kind of freaky that they had such weird names.  The chief was Sun Arrow, and they had names he had heard them talking about like Tiger Foot, Moon Spear, Leaf Dapple, Gold Fawn, and Lily Speckle.  Who named their kids that?  Just plain Will or Joey or whatever was fine.  When he looked at Joey to tell him this he saw Joey looking at the chief with wide eyes and an open mouth.  Will irritably shoved his thoughts off.  He would fight with the Natives but only because he wanted the Invaders to go away.

“Parents... Do you think about your children?  I have a child back in the camp.  He’s only ten and I don’t want him to have to live the rest of his life with the Invaders, or even worse, as one of the Invaders.  Our children deserve a life that we never got.  They need the life that we never got.  We need our children to flourish under the sun, yellow, lives full and never fearful!  We need our children to be free, we need our children to smile!

“We need our children to live!”

Analise stopped for a moment to catch her breath and, much to her surprise, people started cheering wildly.  She felt awkward in the spotlight but she felt like, for the first time in her life, she was doing something worthwhile.  She was living out her life.

“I love my life but I would willingly give it up to have the children in this world free!”

She leapt down from the high rock onto the ground, landing nimbly on her feet.  The Natives had taught her well.  The lanterns blew out with the wind except for one pouring golden light onto Analise.  At that moment she felt no longer like Analise, shyest of everyone, few friends, broken hearted.  She knew she was Sun Arrow, chief of the Natives, master archer, and warrior, free and wild.

The crowd cheered wildly and she smiled a beautiful, slow smile that spread across her face like a flower in bloom.  She had done it; she was Sun Arrow!  She had convinced them!  She would defeat the Invaders!

 

 

 

 


Chapter 19
The Healer

“You must do this!” whispered Tiger Foot angrily.  His placid face was alight with fury.

“You are not the chief of the Natives!” Analise hissed back with equal anger.  Her hair was unraveling from its neat braids that she had adapted from the Natives and her eyes were bright blue with tears of anger.

“I am not, Sun Arrow, but you must do this if you want to succeed!  I know this be true because we need the Beasts!”

            “Never!”  Analise glanced around and noticed that several Natives were looking at them strangely.  “In my room.” she muttered.

She stalked off to her cabin in the evening mist, Tiger Foot following her, his amber eyes dark with fury.  “Be  you foolish?” was all he said.

As soon as they got in the tent Analise closed the tent door.

“Why do you want the Beasts?” demanded Analise.

“We will lose the war without them.” said Tiger Foot simply.  He worked to remove any anger in his heart towards her, trying to calm down.

“NO!” Analise almost shouted, startling herself, and she felt tears coming to her eyes from Arran’s death.

“Sun Arrow, we will lose the war without the Beasts.” Tiger Foot repeated.

“Leave now.” said Analise, fighting back her overwhelming feelings of sadness and anger.

“Please think it over, Sun Arrow.” said Tiger Foot as he left the little cabin.  Analise watched his broad form walk down the boards, with his head hanging.  She had grown used to him standing behind her, and she missed it.

She wished the tears would come, but there was just a hard lump in her throat that hurt.  She collapsed into her bed thinking of her poor lost Arran, dead in the ground.  After falling asleep exhaustedly the tears finally came and she woke up crying into her pillow trying not to wake anyone.  By midnight the stars shone like beacons in the night.  Some women looked beautiful crying but Analise knew she was not one of them.  When she glanced into her polished bronze mirror, she saw her face distorted with redness.  After many hard scrubs she went back to sleep with the soft face and sad eyes of one who believes that everything their world worthwhile has ended.

Ω

That morning she went to Tiger Foot.

“Tiger Foot �" I believe that you may have been right about the Beasts.  I will speak to them on my own terms and listen to their own but if they speak of enjoying Arran’s death I will slay them down where they stand.”

Tiger Foot nodded and called a few individuals over to join the Beast parlaying party. 

“Star Face!  Bashka Heart!  Velvet Blossom!  Gold Fawn!  Wild Stream!”

The Natives he had called rushed over, Wild Stream still holding his breakfast in his hands.  Analise inspected them.  Star Face had a sad face that spoke of horrors early in his childhood but he looked strong.  Bashka Heart was perfect for the job, she was lovely and cheerful and she would keep up everyone’s spirits.  Gold Fawn was the Native with the burnished golden skin and hair black as midnight.  She had a quiet simple beauty.  She looked strong and lithe and able to fight.  Wild Stream had the powerful muscled body of an experienced warrior.  He had at least five cuts scarring his cheeks and chin but his face was genial and open.  She liked all of them at once and told them of their mission.  Every one of them had emotionless faces but she could tell through their masks that they were terrified.  They had heard the legends.  They knew what could happen to them.

“The Beasts will be... joining us in rebelling against the Invaders?” said Gold Fawn, cautiously.

“We need something wild, something untamed, with no qualms about killing to win this war.  They are the version of the Invaders but on our side.” said Analise.

“Sun Arrow �" I believe that we might want another person accompanying us.” said Wild Stream with a booming voice.

“Yes?”

A very small boy emerged from the trees, his face drawn in.  He did not look in any way promising and had a somewhat ugly puckered face.  If he smiled he might have a sweet little face, Analise thought.  However he did not smile even when she gave him a drink of the richest Bashka nectar.  She tried to smile at him but he didn’t smile back, even an I-am-not-really-happy-I’m-just-being-polite smile. 

“This be Dark Echo,” Wild Stream said with a flourish.  “My son.”

At this Dark Echo smiled even  less.  Obviously he was not proud of his strong, famous, warrior father.

“Wants to be a writer, my son.” said Wild Stream, even less excitedly than his son.  “But we’ll cure him of that, Dark?”

It was obviously his nickname, Dark short for his name and for his skin, which was almost black, faintly tinted with dark, dark brown.

“Yes Father.” said Dark Echo without a trace of enthusiasm.

“Dark can do some... special things.” said Wild Stream.  “He got them from his mother who’s now nightsilver.”  He added the last comment with sadness in his voice: he missed his mate from long ago.

“What can he do?” asked Analise gently.

“He can... Dark Echo can heal things... When they’re not too serious or anything, just little.  He’s getting better, though, he can take a small animal from the brink of death.”

Analise was suddenly, unreasonably scared by the gift the small, drawn boy owned.  She didn’t believe in magic and she never would.  It was not realistic or practical and she had grown up depending on practicality.  It was frightening that a small boy would have gifts that were unknown to her.

“Heal them?” she repeated.  Involunarily she stepped back and realized instantly what she had done, Dark Echo was used to people being scared of him and his face grew even more puckered and withered.  There was something horrible in his golden eyes that reminded Analise of her alone days before she had met Arran and Digger; After digging her underground home (at that time it was far smaller and much less smaller.) she had just wasted away, lying in her home, on the dirt.  She tried not to remember those days; they were too terrible and she could not speak of some of the things she had done to herself... She remembered with a shudder that she had waited outside for the Beasts, for the Invaders, for anyone, to come get her... Then she had met Digger and for some time his health concerns were the only things that kept her from letting the Beasts get her.

“Analise?” asked Wild Stream kindly.  “Are you alright?”

“Oh, yes,” she said hurriedly, “Just remembering things from my past...” she added to Dark Echo, “Your face reminded me of when I was a little girl.”

            “You still are a little girl.” said Dark Echo, speaking for the first time.  “You’re just a few 12-moons older than me.”

Analise smiled and Wild Stream chuckled, something that seemed to greatly annoy Dark Echo.  She quickly spoke, not wanting to hear any angry or snappish comments.

“Dark Echo �" will you show me how you do your... gift?”

“Fetch an animal.” Dark Echo ordered his father, who laughed and merrily flung his spear in a tree.  Down came a beautiful bird, plumage turquoise and green.  Blood tumbled from its magnificent chest of vivid blue.  Dark Echo put his small, already-scarred hands over the bird’s plumage.  His eyes became glazed and suddenly, for one moment he was beautiful, more than a little boy, magnificent and god-like.  Analise was reminded, horribly, of the Gods that had inhabited her and Moon Spear just before his death.  They were working through Dark Echo, pushing their earth magic between his fingers.  The pale green, almost white energy spilled over his fingers and splashed over the bird, like an elixir of life. 

The bird called a high, shrill call and flew away.  Just as it flapped its beautiful wing, Analise saw its chest, with no sign of injury except for a scar that looked days old.  The only strange thing was that the scar was whitish-green, the same exact color as Dark Echo’s magic.  She gasped.

“That was... beautiful...” she said faintly, for lack of better word to describe the wonderful thing she had just seen.  “Who was his mother?”

“Cloud Wing.” said Wild Stream.  He sounded sad and Dark Echo looked at his feet.  His empty eyes were emotionless and Analise wanted to help the little boy although it was obvious he would push away any help he got.

“Cloud Wing?” asked Analise.  “Where was she from?” 

“She said she was from a different tribe.  She said I would be a good father for her child.  She was beautiful.  She had long silky hair that reached the ground when she unbraided it, and coppery skin with orange-gold eyes and a beautiful figure.”  Wild Stream became distant as if remembering a time in life before his warring life.  His voice suddenly became bitter and hard.

“And then the Invaders came.”  He turned to the same Wild Stream of before, with the genial personality and pleasant openness, with a layer of sadness and hatred beneath.  He missed his wife and Analise understood the aching pain that came when you missed someone dear to you.  However, Analise’s instincts told her that his wife was a goddess who had pretended to be a human to have a half-immortal child.

Analise nodded.  She shared his feelings of hatred of the Invaders and he knew it.  She stood with him on this.  They would show no mercy on the battlefield.

“I think Dark Echo should come on the trip.” she said to Wild Stream.  She wanted a half-god child on her side and if she could teach him love and work on his healing skills he would be a valuable asset.

When Wild Stream was about to accept, Dark Echo spoke.

“I can think for myself.  I will come.”

Analise nodded.  “We’ll leave today when the sun’s at its highest.

The group disassembled and each one walked to their tents.  As most of them walked to the warrior tent for rest before the journey, Analise saw Dark Echo walk, hunched over like a sad little old man, she ran over to see him.

“I’m Analise �" but you probably know that by know,” she said cheerfully.  Dark Echo said nothing.

“Dark Echo, you don’t have to come on the journey if you want.  You’re just a boy.” she said, trying to be understanding and kind.

“It’s none of your business if I come or not.” he said.

“Well, it is,” said Analise.  “I am your leader.”

“No you’re not.  You’re just everybody’s leader except for mine.  No one rules over me.  I do what I want.” he said.

Analise sighed under her breath.

“I think I know who your mother was.”

Dark Echo paused and looked at her.

“I know she wasn’t like us.  She was a herbwitch probably.”

“Dark Echo.” Analise found her thoughts hard to put into words.  “Your mother was... a god.”

“There aren’t gods.  If there were there would be a lot more happiness in the world.”  He didn’t believe her, as expected, but for all the wrong reasons.

“Don’t say that,” begged Analise.  “There is happiness in the world if you look for it.”

“For you maybe.  Not for me.  And what’s the point of living if there is no happiness?”

“Dark Echo...”

“Don’t talk about my mother to me.  She died.  She’s dead.  Don’t talk about her ever.”  He walked to the children’s tent, leaving Analise disappointed and confused.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 20

Captain

 

“Please, sir, we din’t do nothing, please sir, don’t hurt my little babies!  Don’t hurt me!  Please, sir.”

Marigold felt pity for the farmer, who was practically on his knees, but Resisters had to be punished.

“They’re only little, sir, they din’t do nothin’!”

“Were you involved in the Resistance?” said Marigold mercilessly.

At this the man grew firmer, stronger, as if something was willing him on and giving him strength.

“I was.  I am proud to fight dirt like the Invaders.”  He was almost a different man, strong and righteous, compared to the begging, terrified man of before.

“Kill my babies.  Kill me, kill my wife.  But you scum ain’t got no honor, so when you torture me ‘til I die screaming, then after you’ll kill the little moon-olds who did nothin’ t’you and can’t protect themselves.  Then you’ll let their little mother watch them scream, and then you’ll kill her too.  You don’t go no life, you dirt!

“They’ll take you all to hell with them when they beat you �"”

“That’s enough.” said Marigold evenly.  She felt horribly sure that what the man said was true... She was evil like the rest of the Invaders... But she would not show her fears. 

“Who are ‘they’?  Tell me now.”

The man shut his mouth obstinately.

“Tell me now.” said Marigold threateningly.

The man made no movement at speaking.  He just stood still like a squirrel trying to hide, mouth closed, no sound.  His eyes darted around the room.

“You’re surrounded.” said Marigold calmly.

The man started screaming horrible things at her.

“You Invader scum you don’t got no good in you, you all goin’ to hell, shut yer mouth!  You don’t got no right to speak!  I am gon’ die but someday when I meet you when you die I will laugh and you will go to down below!  I’ll laugh, I tell you, I’ll laugh ’n laugh!  You won’t be in charge then, boy, thinkin’ you so good in yer uniform!  You’ll be dead just like the little babies you killed!  You’ll be �"”

“Shut him up.” said Marigold emotionlessly.

“Yes, captain.”

“You’re a captain?  Just a boy like you?  They getting’ desperate?  By the looks o’ it �"”

A soldier, 1631, leapt forward and closed the farmer’s mouth tightly.

“Don’t damage him permanently.” said Marigold.

“But sir, he insulted the Invaders!”

“I’m the captain,” said Marigold in a tone none dared defy.  “Do as I say, 1631.”

“Yes sir.”  Marigold couldn’t help but feel good about the power she had as a captain, having been promoted by the Leader himself.  However, she was unsure of whether it was appropriate for her to use it as she was… She did not want to kill anyone.  She had had to in the past but now it was a last resort.  She did not want to be a killer.  The Leader could not make her kill people.  She nodded at the soldier.

“Leave him.”

“SIR!”  The soldier was extremely upset.  “I cannot allow this!”

“I can.  And you will.”

“The Leader will hear about this, sir.”

“Was that a threat?” said Marigold, her eyes narrowing.  It was known across the barracks that she was unbeatable in a fight.

“No sir.” said 1631, giving up.  Marigold could sense that he was a danger to her complete power over her twenty soldiers.  They all followed her perfectly except for 1631.  She would have to deal with him later.

“Come on.”  The soldiers followed her obediently, several streaming from their armed places around the house so that it was surrounded.  “Let’s go.”

The soldiers followed her obediently, except for 1631, who straggled behind to whisper something to one of the soldiers, 1712, a younger and more gullible soldier.

“Captain?” asked 1712.

“Yes, soldier?”

“Did we leave survivors?”

“Yes we did.”

Like a good soldier, 1712 did not say anything but merely nodded his head like a good soldier.  She had told her soldiers to tell her what they thought, what they believed, what they felt.  Secrets could be a kink in the machinery of a perfect troop.  So they told her what they thought or believed.  It had worked perfectly before 1631 had come and been rude and disruptive. 

“Thank the Gods for Billy, in any case.” she thought.  And it was good that he was still her trainee.  He was wonderful support and she didn’t know who she had lived before him.  He was part of her group of soldiers, one of the twenty.  He would back her up for anything, anytime, anywhere.

“We must get back to the barracks.  The sun will come up in a half-hour.  I want everyone in the barracks with a quarter-hour to spare.”

The soldiers nodded and ran swiftly, crunching the leaves with their heavy boots, lethal swords and poison vials in hidden pockets, like dangerous predators running in for the kill.





Chapter 21

The Alliance

            Analise ran softly through the pines, leading Tiger Foot, Star Face, Bashka Heart, Velvet Blossom, Gold Fawn, Wild Stream, and Dark Echo.
            As they ran Analise noticed Dark Echo stopping several times to pick up little dried up worms, letting his earth magic wet them and surge life into them.  When he saw Analise looking, he threw the worm into the dirt, but Analise was curious why he cared about the little life forms that made no difference to his life.  She did not question, for she had learned he had a harsh tongue and few kind words even to compliments.  She knew now why she had not seen him around the camp before; the Natives there did not like him around for obvious reasons and he did not like them either.  He didn’t like humans in particular, he only like the animals.

            Analise continued running, swift and fleet like a deer, until nighttime was heavy on the gleaming horizon.  She pulled off to the side and lay down beneath a tree.  The Natives followed gladly, obviously tired.  They all collapsed on the blanket of rich feathery moss and dried leaves that made a cozy, if somewhat scratchy, bed.
            “What do we do now?” asked Bashka Heart.

            “Now we wait.”

            “For what?”

            “We cannot find the Beasts.  And if we cannot find them we must let them find us.”

            “And when they come what will we do?” asked Wild Stream, gnawing on a bone of meat he had brought along.

            “We will not pull weapons.”

            “What!?”  Wild Stream almost dropped his food.  “Sun Arrow!”

            “I’m completely serious.  That is the one way we will get killed.  They will obviously view weapons as a threat.  Then we stay calm.  No loud voices, sudden movements, and that sort of thing.  Offer our friendship to them.  If they attack us, then, and only then will we attack.  And only in defense.  Do not kill.  Is that clear?”

            “Yes.” they all spoke unsurely, uncertain of the new plan: do not approach enemy with weapons.

            “I suggest that we get some sleep.  Who’ll be first watch?”

            Wild Stream calmly nodded.  “I will.”

            “Good.  Everybody else try to sleep.”

            “Not easy to sleep when death’s at your back.” muttered Velvet Blossom.  Gold Fawn nodded but spoke in a sure voice.

            “Keep up your hopes.  We are not yet dead and Wild Stream is experienced.  I would rather die at a Beast’s hand than that of an Invader.”

            “Strong words.” spoke Analise.

            “We will find out if they are true tonight.” murmured Velvet Blossom.

            “Yes, we will.” agreed Tiger Foot.

            “Will all of you go to sleep.”  From the piles of leaves a grouchy voice emerged: Dark Echo.

            They all slowly tumbled into the realm of sleep, dreaming their foolish, hopeful dreams, their terrible nightmares, their hopes and fears.

Ω

            “Quick!  Get up!”  The harsh whisper of Wild Stream sounded in Analise’s ear.

            “What is it?”

            Dark Stream did not get a chance to answer her but she saw instantly what it was.  Ten pairs of eyes surrounded them in a tight circle.  They glinted horribly and Analise wanted to kill them instantly for what they had done to Arran.  She suddenly felt protective towards Dark Echo.  She wouldn’t let them kill another child.  She stood up slowly and reached for her dagger.  Suddenly she remembered her own instructions and dropped her hand.

            “What are they doing off the path?”  The voice emerged from one of the creatures.  Analise could not see anything but the terrible eyes and she was overwhelmed by a consuming fear.  She tried to speak but she could not move.

            Dark Echo spoke up, as everyone else was frozen with fear.

            “Who are you?”

            “We are the Beasts, as you foolish children call us.”

            “Children?  We are not children.” said Wild Stream, recovering his speech.

            “Why, you are children like all humans, only eighty years and your bones crumble, your skin rots and your brain dies.  What fools they are to think they are like us, the Beasts.  I thought beautiful creatures would share our language, clever and brave ones, but the only creatures that speak the language of our own is the puny child, the human.”

            “Who are you to speak so boldly in front of the one who speaks dreams and lets arrows fly?  Who are you to laugh at our words?  Who are you to mock us when in all rights we are your equals?  Who are you?”  Star Face said.  He was the quietest of the group but now Analise saw that Tiger Foot was right to bring him. 

            Who are you?” he shouted.  The forest echoed with his words.

            “Who are you… Who are you… Who are you…”

            Analise stepped forward, shining with unknown bravery.  She let her words hang heavy in the air.

            “We have come to ask you to be our allies.”

            When the Beasts began to jeer in a cruel fashion she pulled her bow.

            The Natives gasped.  This was the wrong thing to do, she had said so herself!

            “I am a better shot than any of you.  I dare you to shoot any creature, whilst you have an advantage in the dark.”

            One of the Beasts stepped forwards, eyes glinting strangely in the moonlight.

            “I will outshoot any shot you make.”

            “You may lead.” said Analise.  “Anything living.  You may have three shots.”

            The Beast shot in the air.  Nothing came and his comrades groaned.  He shot again, this time angrily.  His arrow fluttered in the air and a large bird made a muffled thump on the ground covered with pine needles.  One more shot, and he did it beautifully, into the air.  A squirrel tumbled down from the treetops.  The Beasts jeered.

            “Surely you cannot beat that,” said the Beast.

            Analise smoothly pulled the bow back.  She shot after listening for a few seconds.  A bird came down.  The Beasts rumbled in anger.

            “A lucky shot,” spoke the other contestant.

            “Yes, a lucky shot.” the others all said.

            She shot again.  This time a screech sheared into the silent night and something �" something tumbled to the ground.  It was a another bird, magnificent in its blue-and-gold splendor.  It was huge and scarlet blood spilled out of its chest.

            Analise waited for a few moments and the breath of all creatures mingled in the air, heavy in anticipation.  She listened into the dark night and finally pulled her bow up and arrow at the string.  She pulled �" let go.  The arrow flew into the night like a stinging bird, long-beaked and lethal.  The sound of life letting go whisked through the night.  Analise ran to the place she had shot.  A huge male deer, antlers and all, lay injured in the night, his chest oozing crimson.  She shuddered at the sight and nodded to Dark Echo, who rushed over and fixed its wounds.  She saw the light energy pour out of him and into the deer, which stood up moments later, a pale green-white scar in its belly.  It looked Dark Echo directly in the eye, strange for a normal deer, almost human, and then cantered off into the night.  The Beasts behind them gasped and made low hissing sounds of approval.  After a few moments Analise spoke again.

            “Together we can beat the Invaders who destroy our land and kill our people.”

            “Wait.”  Then the Beasts disappeared into the night, shadows gone like a pastel sketch.  Analise did not move.  Moments later the Beasts arrived.  Their eyes had a feral gleam and terror flew into Analise’s heart.  She forced it back with much effort.

            “The little girl-child can fight fear.” murmured one of the Beasts approvingly.  They all hissed again.  Then they stopped for a beast with orange eyes to speak.

            “We have decided…” said the orange-eyed Beast.  “We will destroy the Invaders with you.  We only do this for him.” he said, motioning to Dark Echo, whose pinched face grew somewhat light, and then the shadow appeared again.  “He has a power we have never seen before.  We have only request if we are to be your allies.”

            “Anything.”  Instantly Analise regretted her words.  They could ask sacrifices of her, they could do horrible things.  They were the Beasts.

            “We want the bodies.  You can have the armor, the blades, the metal you humans need.  Whatever foolishness.  But we get the bodies.  Do you agree?”

            “Yes, of course.”  Analise agreed gladly, then thought of the horrible things the Beasts would do to the bodies of the dead.

            “Leave the forest before we are tempted to take your for our own.”

            “We will leave now.”

            And so they did.  The Beasts left and there was silence.  Then:

            “Let’s run.” said Analise.  And they did.


Chapter 22

The Plan

 

            Analise was scared.  She did not ever expect everyone to be ready to fight this early but the Natives were ready.  She didn’t mind dying; it was the anticipation that was frightening.  She knew that they had to fight the Invaders but she suddenly wasn’t sure about anything, and she knew that thousands of lives depended on her decisions.  Why did Moon Spear have to choose her as the chief of the Invaders?  He should have known that she wouldn’t know what to do when the time to fight came.  She reminded herself that she had done fine before.  But this was the real thing!  She did not know what to do.  Something in her sprung up in hope and whispered,

            “Get them by surprise in the night…”  And she nodded her head, some of her fears gone.  She was ready.  She did not know why this idea came to her head but it was a good, solid plan.  She would send a third of her troops, equally farmers and Natives, to the fields close by the woods they were hidden.

            She remembered her plan to go to Kulamfar, how she and Jade had set out on a journey.  It seemed so long ago that she had journeyed through the paths with Jade, then attacked by the Invaders.  She remembered that she had wanted to go to Kulamfar to learn more about the prophecy.  She had learned that right here, from Moon Spear.

“The one from the root

and the one of the sea

will combine with the

crash and the wind.

And so they will beat

The stealers of land,

By dreams,

By light of sundust.”

            It was wonderfully comforting to think of the prophecy when she was unsure of herself.  It had made itself clear to her right away:  The one from the root was her, and the one of the sea was obviously Jade.  They met each other when Jade’s ship crashed on her shores from a storm.  And they would fight the stealers of land: the Invaders.  The only part she did not understand was: “By light of sundust.”  What did that mean?  She did not know but it did not matter: it said that they would beat the Invaders.  But at what price?  She wondered if she would die, if Jade would die, if Digger… She stopped thinking about it.

            She walked down the boards swiftly.  She could never get tired of this beautiful scenery.  What would it take to win the war?  To never see this scenery, to never see the bustling activity of the Native children, to never see Tiger Foot again…  Analise paused as she saw a large person stride down the walk close by, carrying a large pack.  Tiger Foot.

            “Tiger Foot!”

            “We must do it today.” said Tiger Foot.

            “What!?”

            “We must fight the Invaders today or tomorrow.  They are getting extremely powerful, too powerful.  If we do not act soon they will easily overcome us.”

            “We aren’t ready �"”

            “We must make ourselves ready, then.”

            He pulled a large, beautiful sewed piece of leather.  Analise could not make out what it was.

            “What is it?”

            He just held it up.  It was a beautiful suit of armor, to cover the whole body.  It was made of black leather that had a faint glimmer in the morning’s splendor.

            “What on earth?...”  Analise could not breathe for a moment.  “Who will wear it?”

            “You.”

            “How in the world did you get that?”

            “A little bit of trading… You know.  Custom made, you know.  Gentle Heart is an excellent seamstress.”

            “Tiger Foot…”  Analise had a loss of words. 

            “And then there’s this.”  Tiger Foot lifted another parcel from the bag and unwrapped it:  It was a complete golden suit, gleaming magnificently in the morning’s splendor.  It was perfectly made for a woman.

            “This is for Jade.”  It was beautiful, almost like the sun itself.

            “That’s beautiful!”  Analise loved both pieces of armor, but the leather one spoke to her; tough, powerful, beautiful and yet far less flashy than the golden armor.

            “It’s a bit small for Jade so I made some readjustments… Hopefully it will fit her perfectly.”

            “Tiger Foot… How did you ever get that?”

            “Oh…  I found it in the pack of some Invader scout.”

            “The Invaders are only men, though…  I wonder what they were doing with a girl’s armor.” Analise said thoughtfully.  It was rather strange.  She dismissed the thought from her head and spoke quietly to Tiger Foot.

            “I know how we can attack the Invaders.  In my tent.”

            Tiger Foot followed Analise to her tent.

            “At nighttime.” said Analise.  “Nothing is awake except for us.  They might be making their daily routines, or eating.  They won’t expect it.  They think they rule at nighttime, but we’ll soon prove them wrong.”

            “That is good.” said Tiger Foot.  After a pause he spoke again.

            “Analise.” said Tiger Foot quietly.  “Will you die?  Did it say in the prophecy?”

            “I don’t know.” Analise would not cry.  “I’m sorry, Tiger Foot.  I just don’t know.”

            Suddenly Lily Speckle burst into the tent.

            “Tree Legs!”

            Analise jumped up, with Tiger Foot at her heels.

            “Sun Arrow, I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t!”  She was out of breath, her breath in ragged sobs, and tears came down her cheeks.  “You have to stop him!”

            Analise burst out of her tent and ran down the boards, Tiger Foot right behind her.  Tree Legs was on a large ledge made by three large tree branches.  Tree Legs was holding up Dark Echo triumphantly, who was still, with a silent, horribly sad expression on his face.  Then Tree Legs put him to the branch roughly and pulled his dagger �"

            “NO!”  Analise furiously sprinted to the tree and flung Tree Legs to the side.  She quickly checked Dark Echo for slashes.  There was a slash down each arm, long and shallow.  They weren’t deadly but they would scar him for the rest of his life.

            “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” Analise furiously screamed at Tree Legs, who just lay on the ground where Analise had shoved him, looking smug and superior.

            The Natives scattered quickly, having never seen their chief this angry.

            “Why, I’m sorry, Sun Arrow, I didn’t realize it was a crime to hurt animals.” drawled Tree Legs.

            “DARK ECHO IS NOT AN ANIMAL!  AFTER THIS I CAN BE SURE HE IS MORE HUMAN THAN YOU ARE!”

            “Why, chief �"”

            “YOU’RE BANISHED FROM THE TRIBE!  LEAVE NOW BEFORE I GET TEMPTED TO KILL YOU!”

            Tree Legs did not speak, he was taken aback by the ferocity in Analise’s voice and he was obviously shocked by the harshness of her decree:  Banishment from the clan meant almost certain death.  Dark Echo lay weakly on the ground.

            “Are you alright?” she asked him quietly.

            “It’s alright; you don’t have to banish him, Analise.  I am really like an animal to all of them.”

            “Don’t you dare say that, Dark Echo.”

            Wild Stream came walking groggily down the boards.  He had obviously just woken up.  When he saw Analise kneeling over Dark Echo, he broke into a sprint.  He knelt down by Dark Echo.

            “Dark Echo!  Are you okay? Oh God, is he dead?” he said when Dark Echo didn’t answer.

            “No.  But you can blame Tree Legs for the cuts on his arms.” 

            When Wild Stream saw the long, deliberate cuts down from his elbows to his wrists, his face turned into a stormcloud, the scars on his own face darkening to look like they had been cut yesterday.

            “Tree Legs?” he asked quietly.

            “Yes.  I’ve banished him.” Analise did not know what to say, she would not stop Wild Stream from killing him, but she knew that that would cause some of Tree Legs’ friends to become angry and possibly rebel. 

            It felt like her whole world was falling apart, just this morning she had planned for a rebellion against the Invaders, and now her own people were rebelling against her.

            Analise called for every Native to join in the meeting place.

            “Anyone who watched Dark Echo be savaged may leave with Tree Legs.  Anyone who lets a fellow human be tortured is no better than an Invader.  Leave or forget your ways of evil.  In this tribe I want everyone to be joined, no hatred among us.  If you hate one of your own for being different, then what are we?  Conformists like the Invaders?  Is that what we are?

            “Are we fighting conformity or are we part of it?  Are we fighting for our own freedom, which will turn to nothing but worse then Invaders?”

            Analise held up Dark Echo, holding him tightly so he wouldn’t fall.  She showed his horrible long cuts, dribbling blood.

            “This is what Tree Legs has done.  I ask you, is this what we will do in the future?  Tree Legs, leave us.  Anyone who is with Tree Legs can leave with him.”

            Tree Legs left slowly, disappearing into the trees.  Four Natives followed him: Copper Heart, Green Leaf, Ice Wing, and Crystal Eye.  Analise watched them go with a heavy heart, but thanked to herself that there were no more.

            “Are we one?  Are we together?  Are we fighting for our freedom?”

            The Natives nodded, and a healer ran up to Analise.

            “May I take him, Sun Arrow?”

            “Please do.  Thank you.”

            Tiger Foot nodded to Analise.

            “That was the right thing to do.  His followers would hold a grudge to us if they stayed.

            “Dark Echo is not an animal,” said Analise through clenched teeth.  She felt the anger coming back up her throat like a tight lump.

            “I know that.  He knew it.  He was just making a demonstration about what happens to those who are different.”

            Analise felt the anger wash over like an ocean wave, and she quickly retired to her tent.  She was so high she could see Tree Legs, small, like an unimportant spot in the tapestry of life.  She was glad to see him gone but she never thought she would ever forget the horrible look in Dark Echo’s eyes; the look of lost hope and misery.  She would never forgive Tree Legs for what he had done to the little boy.

            “He won’t ever come back,” Analise comforted herself.

            As she lay on her bed, she thought about what had happened.  She wondered about the golden armor, what the scout had been using it for.  She suddenly needed to know.  Somehow the girl who had lost golden armor was important to her.

            “Tiger Foot!”  When he rushed into her tent, she spoke quietly.

            “Tiger Foot, what did the scout say?  The one you stole the armor from?”

            “He was very upset.  I killed him quickly but he was very upset.  He said something about the Leader needing it, I don’t know, Analise.  Why are you asking?”

            “The Leader needed it?”  For a second Analise could not breath, and she didn’t even know why.


Chapter 23

Whisper

 

            Analise ran through the forest, bow cocked, ready to shoot.  She shot up once, twice, and a smallish squirrel fell down.  She shot again, and again, and another squirrel came down.  She ran to them and put them in her pack.  That was four squirrels.  She had to have her warriors energized. 

            She needed to breathe.  It was to hard now, and she needed to stop or she would panic, and that would be a terrible mistake that could cost the whole battle.  She left the pack tightly tied to a tree and climbed a tree.  She had done it her whole life as a child to let out her tears and hopes and fears and dreams.  Now she did it, and the instant she reached the near top branch she felt herself relax.  As she gazed into the blue sky, bright in the afternoon sun, she calmed and lay against the branch.  She felt herself falling asleep, and tried to stop.  But it was too late.

Ω

            Analise woke up to her face being gently nuzzled.  She was about to jump up when she realized she was in a tree.  She felt like she was going to fall and she straightened herself firmly, clutching onto the ragged bark.  She opened her eyes and almost screamed.

            Two warm golden eyes gazed back at her.  She scrambled backwards and hit her head on the trunk.

            Then she saw the whole creature. 

            It was a magnificent bond.  It was huge, as big as Moon Spear’s bond Soar.  She stared at it, her eyes hungrily taking in the sight of the beautiful bond.  It was perfectly gold, like the color of Jade’s armor.  It was smoothly muscled and had flecks of crimson all down its back, from nose to tail.  Its wings were long-feathered and beautifully golden, the same color as its pelt.  It had kind golden eyes.  It was the most beautiful bond Analise had ever seen.  It made a loving whispering sound at her.

            “Who belongs to you?” she murmured.  She put her hand to its flank.  Its lovely eyes shimmered with delight and it smiled �" smiled? �" smiled.  When she leaned forward, she felt the tree slip under her and she felt herself slip down off the branch.  She reached wildly, grabbing out randomly and desperately.  She could not find any branches with her hands and closed her eyes, waiting for the impact.  She had climbed so high she knew she could not survive the impact. 

            Suddenly something came underneath her, knocking her breath with a heavy whump.  Analise opened her eyes.  Something delightfully warm and soft was underneath her.  She put her hands down.  It was the bond, making the lovely warm cooing, whispery sound.

            “Do I belong to you?” she murmured quietly in his ear.  “Are you Whisper?”

            The creature nodded his magnificent head.  She looked closely at him, and saw his beak smiling with delight, his smoky golden eyes wonderful and kind.

            “Whisper.”  She tried it out with her tongue and it suited her perfectly.  They were Sun Arrow and Whisper.  She had never known what it was like to have a bond.  It was nothing like she had ever experienced before; she felt like she was never alone in the world, and together they could beat anyone. 

            “Come on,” she said quietly to Whisper.  “Let’s go back to camp.”

            And so they did.

Ω

             After several spins around the sun with Whisper, full of energy and wonderfully alive, she called every Native warrior to the meeting place.

            “I want you all to find every farmer in the area.  Go everywhere.  Find everyone before sundown comes.  Hurry!”

            The Natives split in search of farmers and stable boys.  They were ready to fight, but several were unsure about fighting alongside ‘Pale Ones’.  Analise and Jade were like one of them, despite their pale milk-white skin, but they weren’t sure about other Pale Ones..  The farmers did not realize that the Natives viewed them with as much fear as they did them.

            But most of the Natives would do anything for their beloved chief Sun Arrow, so they melted into the trees to find the Pale Ones. 

Ω

            A quick rap on his door woke Joey up instantly.  He was with his roommate, Will, in their small cabin by the stables where they worked.  He tip-toed to the door, trying not to wake up Will.  Probably Invaders telling him to clean the stables better.  And him spending at least three hours there everyday!  He grunted and opened the door quietly, head bowed, like he’d been taught.

            “I’m sorry, my lord,” he said, using the name the Invader captain made him use.  “Are the stables unsatisfactory?  I’m sure I can fix them tomorrow.  Is it okay if I sleep now, my lord?”

            “My lord?”  The voice sounded amused, and it was nothing like the rough, gravelly voice of the Invader.  It was high, a girl’s voice.

            Joey looked up in shock.  There was a beautiful girl, dark skin like satin sheen, glowing amber eyes, and magnificent black hair that tumbled about her shoulders and waist, undone from the braid from her heavy run.

            “Who are you?” he said in complete absence of anything else to say.  “I’m going crazy, that’s it.  That’s it.” he thought.

            “Bashka Heart.  Native.  It’s tonight.  We’re going to get the Invaders tonight.”

            “What?”  Joey was in shock.

            “Wake up your roommate,” Bashka Heart said, glancing at Will.  “Come on, we’ve got to go.  I’ll show you back to the camp.”

            “Sure,” said Joey willingly.  He would do anything this girl asked.  It didn’t matter if she was a Native.  He woke up Will.

            “Will, come on.”

            “Uhhhhh…” Will grunted.

            “Get up already!  Come on.”

            Will slowly creaked out of bed.  He did not like waking up ever, they went to bed early in the evening when most people were eating their supper.

            “What ‘zit?  I don’ wanna wake up.  Shut up.”

            “It’s tonight!  We’ll beat them Invaders!”

            Quick as a flash, Will was out of bed.

            “What on earth?  I thought we swore to not get high on drugs or any of that stuff.  It aint’ good for you.”

            “It’s tonight!”

            “Oh Lord,” said Will in shock when he saw Bashka Heart at the door, the fading sun making a golden halo around her dark head.

            They got their wooden staffs.

            “You know how to fight?” asked Bashka Heart.

            “Street fightin’, ma’am, that’s it.”  In an instance he regretted calling her ‘ma’am’.  It wasn’t right to call someone that pretty ma’am.

            “Handfighting?” she asked. 

            “Yup.  Just ‘bout every stable boy know it.”

            “Okay.  Let’s go.” she said, checking the area for Invaders.  I gotta go before they spot me.  They don’t like Natives.”

            “Indeed they don’t,” thought Joey.  The other night his Invader master had been screaming about what they’d done. 

            He followed her out the door, Will right behind.

            He didn’t look back at the stables he had lived at his whole life once.

Ω

            “You heard?”

            “I’m goin’.”

            “What on earth are y’sayin’, Greg?”

            “I’m goin’.”

            “Doncha dare.  Y’know Mom’ll kill us if we fight.”

            “Don’t care.”

            “Greg!”

            “I said don’t care.  I don’t wanna sow fields no more.  I’m gonna fight, and if I die, what do I care?  I wanna have freedom for my lil’ sister Belle.”

            His mother bustled in.  “Why, Greg, that was the longest speech I have ever heard you say.  What on earth are you two plottin’ ‘bout?”

            “Greg’s goin’.  He’s fightin’ with them Natives.”

            “What was that you said, Sal?”

            “Yup.”

            “You’re goin’ nowhere ‘cept bed, mister.” she said.  Something told her that she could not stop him but she had to try.  Her baby Greg!

            “I’m goin’.”

            “You can’t even fight!” she said, knowing fully well that he could.

            “Hell, I can.  What you talkin’ bout?”

            “Don’t!  You know yer mommy would miss you if you weren’t ‘round.”

            “Yeah, Greg,” said Sal, trying to get on his mother’s good side.  It didn’t work: she gave him a pointed glare.

            “I’m goin’.”

            “Greg!”

            He stood up and opened the door to show a Native in the door.  His mother gasped.

            “I’m goin’.  If anyone else is comin’ they can come.  Y’can’t stop me.”  He walked up to the Native.  “See you, Mother.”  She burst into tears. 

            “I guess I’ll go, fight for little Belle too, Greg.” said Sal.  They ran out the door, following the muscled Native.  Their mother watched them run.  When Belle came to the kitchen she scooped her up and hugged her tightly until she wriggled free.

Ω

            Analise stood tall at the tree.  Thousands of people below watched her.  She spoke quickly, as the sun was slithering down below the hills.

            “We are all alike.  Everyone.  Dark skinned, Pale skinned, farmer, stable boy, Native, boy, girl.  It doesn’t matter.  We have to be united if we are to free our country from the Invaders.  Now we go by the closest Invader barracks and we find them.  If we make enough of a disturbance and kill enough they’ll send for reinforcements.  We have to beat them.  We have to.”

            She stopped and there was an eerie silence.  She was not offended.  She had a feeling that no matter what she said she would not get applause.  They were too nervous. 

            “When we get there we must be ready.  If you cannot fight don’t fight.  If you are good at sword fighting, fight below.  If you are a good archer, go in the trees.  I have weapons for everyone.”

            Each person grabbed their favored weapon, and Analise took a deep breath.  She was really doing this.  She was really doing it.  She knew she could take down many of the Invaders with a bow so she took arrows and a bow.  She was ready.  She was ready!

Chapter 24

The Final Battle

 

            “Ready?”  Jade was in the huge tree with her.   They stood together on the massive branches that made nearly a floor. 

            Jade was struck by how strange this warrior looked.  She was used to the sweet, quiet Analise, not Sun Arrow, Chief of the Natives. 

            Analise stood ready in her tough leather armor.  Her whole body was covered with the black leather, and Jade, although knowing of the hidden weapons, could still barely make out the seven pockets in the black leather, each filled with a dagger. 

            “Analise?”  Jade felt ill.  She herself was dressed in the glowing gold armor that looked absolutely stunning.  A ray of moonshine, shivering and apprehensive, came down on her, and suddenly, for a moment Analise was reminded of when they had first met.  It was less than two moons ago, but it seemed distant, years ago.  They had gone through so much together.  Would they be blown apart in the final battle?

            “Will it be all right?  Will you live?”  Her voice was almost unbearably sad, a whisper.  Analise stood by the rope ladder, her eyes unreadable. 

            “Sun Arrow!  Where are you?”  The sweet voice of Lily Speckle was high and could be heard easily above the low mutters and scared murmurs. 

            “I’ll be right there, Lily Speckle.”  It was time.

            “Jade.  If I…”  She trailed off, unable to say it.  “Take care of Digger with Tiger Foot.”

            Jade nodded, and felt her eyes almost overflow. 

            I must not cry.

            She watched Analise climb down, fast and smooth as a cat.

            Analise was ready, but she couldn’t guess that they could win, maybe weaken them, but…  The Invaders weren’t prepared, she knew that.  But their forces were far mightier than hers.  She thought of the prophecy, which clearly said that they would beat the Invaders.  But… she could not trust the prophecy, and she was wholly confused by the whole ‘sundust’ matter.  Another thing �" did that just mean that they would beat the Invaders in one battle?  And what the price for a victory?  She could not breathe for a moment when she thought of her friends who could die, some of whom would die.  That was the price for freedom. 

            She did not mind the idea of her dying nearly as much as the thought of Digger dying.  But she found herself loving life far more than she had before she had met Jade, before she had met the Natives.  She had people to live for now, a whole massive tribe of Natives, all joined together to fight.  She had Jade and Digger and Tiger Foot and Lily Speckle.

            She had Whisper.

            She knew she had the Natives and their bonds, thousands of farmers, and she could �" possibly �" have the Beasts on her side.

            She stood tall in the clearing.  Around her about five thousand people were almost silent, a few talking quietly, a few muttering to themselves, a few praying.  She felt like getting down on her knees and praying herself, too.  But she didn’t.

            “Oh, Sun Arrow, there you are!”

            “Yes, Lily Speckle?”    

            “I believe that we should have three waves:  First, we’ll have the swordsmen.  They can fight the Invaders on foot.  Second we should have every archer.  They need time to hide in the trees while the swordsmen fight.  They can shoot down below and cause chaos.  Finally, when the swordsmen are getting overwhelmed, when several waves of Invaders have come, we’ll go, every person with a bond.  Attack in a final wave.”

            “Yes,” agreed Analise promptly.  It was a good plan.  “That will scare the living daylights out of them; we will be flying on the bonds.  We’ll be unbeatable, fighting them with the creatures they have never known.”

            “Not quite.” said Lily Speckle.  Her voice became quieter unconsciously.  “There are about a million of them.  Invaders.”

            “Two to one?” said Analise in shock.  She had hoped the odds of survival would be a bit better.  “And they’ve been fighting since they were children!  The only accomplished fighters we have are the Natives and a few farmers!  The rest probably don’t know what they’re doing!  What are we doing, sending them to their deaths?”

            “We have a chance, Sun Arrow.”

            “Yes.  I suppose we do.”  She sighed wearily.  What was she doing?

            “What are you two talking about?” asked Tiger Foot, striding up to them.

            In a quick whisper, Analise told Tiger Foot the plan.  Lily Speckle nodded, and he looked pleased.

            “They’ll never know what hit them.” Tiger Foot said.  But he saw the stressed look on both girls’ faces.

            “What is it?”

            “They outnumber us.  Badly.”

            “Numbers?”

            “Two to one.  A million to five thousand.  We have advantage in the sky, but honestly, that’s the only place.  The ground will be torn to bits by the Invaders and our own blood.”

            “That’s not very optimistic.  We may have the Beasts.”

            “Shh.” said Analise.  “I want them to be unknown, a last resort.  Last second, if you know what I mean.”

            Tiger Foot nodded and they both glanced up at the moon.  It was full and high in the night sky.  It was time.

            “Come on, let’s go!” shouted Analise into the silent clearing.  Everybody stopped and looked up at her, except for one man who kept on steadily praying.

            “I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.  I want all swordsmen to follow Gold Fawn and this fellow.”  Analise’s sharp eyes picked out a strong young man with a sword.  And Gold Fawn was perfect; she was strong and optimistic, but she had no bond so she would not be with the bonds.  “What I want you to do is this:  First, knock out the two guards at the door.  Silently.  If you make a sound it’ll make your job a whole lot harder.  If you have not made a sound, I want you to enter the barracks.”

            A gasp came from the farmers.  It was like she had ordered them to enter hell; the barracks were the source of many folk legends of evil.

            “You’ll find a whole bunch of Invaders eating.  This is their time for eating.  While they eat, I want you to enter and kill them.  Leave only one or two.”

            A few people were confused by this command but they just nodded.  They would do anything she asked them to do; she would help them overcome the Invaders.

            “I need one of you to report back to me.  Everybody else:  Hide in the shrubbery around the barracks.  Wait.

            “Shortly the Invaders will come; a whole load of them.  Watch out for them.  They haven’t got any honor.  Be ready for whatever they’ll do.  When there’s too many of them, I want two of you to run back to camp and tell me.  I’ll send in the archers.  Keep the Invaders busy while the archers get ready.  When you think that you’re not going to live, even with archers, send one more person back to tell me.  I’ll send in another wave.  Are you ready?”

            A few nods, a few yeses, most people to scared or nervous to say anything.

            She paused for a few seconds, then spoke one word:

            “GO!”

            The three thousand swordsmen ran to the barracks fast as the wind.  They were ready, they could bring down the Invaders.  The adrenaline surged through their veins.

            Analise watched them run.  They were a strong group, she could tell.  Still, something in her told her that she was doing the worst thing possible…  She shook her head.  It was just before-battle stress.  She always got very stressed before anything like this.  This was the most important thing in her life that could ever happen, and the slightest wrong move could end it now.  She would not make a wrong move, then.  She would make it out to the last, and then she would kill her father.  She shuddered for a moment at the thought of killing her own father, but then she knew he deserved it.  Analise could not move for a moment, thinking of her father’s ice blue eyes, cold and treacherous.  What motive was behind them?  She could not think of anything…  Then a blurry, terrible memory came rushing back to her.  She had been sobbing in her little room, listening to her father yell at her quiet mother who never spoke back.  Finally after her mother had left to make breakfast for the morrow, he came in the room, and she had quickly dried her tears.  He had sat down on her little hay mattress and quietly spoke.

            “Do you want a bedtime story?”

            “Yes, Papa.” she had said obediently.  She did not want to get hurt so she lay down under her beloved small woven blue blanket.  Analise remembered that blue blanket very well; it was the most distinct thing in her memories; it was woven and there was some dark purple and creamy embroidery in the shape of flowers all over it.  She had loved that wonderful blanket.  She held it tightly when he began speaking.

            “Long ago, there was a little boy who had very overpowering parents.  They forced him to do whatever they wanted him to do.  When he would not his father whipped him.  The boy always did what his father wanted.  He never had any friends, because they did not like him.  He smelled like the animals, because he worked with them day and night.  He did not like people because he thought they were all like his parents.  One day he ran away with his parents.  He never came back until he had made friends.  He wanted to kill them but he thought it would be too harsh a judgment.  So he let them go.  He got a pretty little wife and had five children.  After a while nothing was good enough anymore though.  He did not love his pretty little wife anymore and his five children were not hard workers.  His household was not perfect.”

            He had stopped abruptly and left the room. 

            Analise had not understood then but now she did:  The boy with overpowering parents was him.  That was the reason her father was the Leader was because he needed the power to feel good about himself; he had been a sad little boy.  She could just think of the little blue-eyed boy sitting in the stables all by himself, cleaning the horses’ bridles.  It was horrible how his parents had caused the Invaders; how they, in their selfishness, they had caused thousands of deaths.

            She repressed a shiver and stood up.  She called to Whisper.  For a moment the night was silent.  Then a gold speck in the black sky came and a velvet wind from his flapping wings caressed her cheeks.

            “Are you ready?” she murmured to him.  They nuzzled. 

            She did not know how she had lived before the Natives and Whisper.

Ω

            Joey had a huge adrenaline surge as he raced through the trees.  Sun Arrow, chief of the Natives, had chosen him to lead the troops with the Native Gold Fawn.  He wondered why the chief herself hadn’t come.  She was probably an archer.  Still, it was strange. 

            Gold Fawn pressed her hand to her lips in the universal sign for silence.  They were behind the Invader barracks.  He felt horribly nervous but the exhilaration blew it all away. 

            Gold Fawn climbed up the wall onto the roof of the barracks faster than anything Joey had ever seen.  He peeked around the wall to see her draw two lethal-looking daggers.  She flung them at the two guards at the same exact time.  They fell to the ground, making a muffled thump against the pine-needled ground.  She nodded at Joey at waved her hand at her, pulling her now bloody daggers from their bodies.  She crept into the door, and called quietly for only three hundred of the three thousand to enter.  The rest could stay outside.

            They entered the barracks, glancing around as if looking for people hiding.  Most of them were frightened to death.  It was like entering hell itself.  Joey was scared himself but the instant he saw the Invaders all eating their delicious meat and bread he became angry.  How dare they, when they knew farmers were starving because all their food was being taken!  That was made or grown by farmers: that bread, those tomatoes, that lettuce!  He furiously drew a dagger and left his sword in its sheath.  He would save that and he wanted to see the surprised expressions on their ugly hateful faces.  He closed his fist around the dagger.  His whole life, with stable boys, they had fought with daggers, not lethally, but enough so that it was not impossible.  He looked at Gold Fawn, who nodded.  Yes.  They would kill them now. 

            He threw his hand forwards and let go…

            Ω

Analise paced nervously at the camp.  No one had come back yet and she couldn’t breathe.  The anticipation was driving her crazy.  She wanted to scream at someone and for one fleeting moment she wished Tree Legs was here so she could yell at him.  She kicked a tree.  People were dying while she paced!  What was she doing?  Did she know what she was doing?  She kicked another tree.  Whisper nervously eyed her.  Was she okay?  She smiled reassuringly at him but she could feel her nerves fraying. 

            “I’m fine, just nervous.” she assured him.  He looked at her like ‘I’m not stupid’. 

            “I know you’re not.  Stop it.  Stop looking at me.  I’m fine.”  She kicked another tree and a piece of bark snapped off.

            She collapsed on the ground, leaning on Whisper.  He nuzzled her golden-brown head. 

            “I can’t stand it.” she said, and ferociously kicked the nearest tree while she sat on the dirt.  It was getting her leather armor dirty but what the heck.  It wasn’t like she was using it any time soon.  She couldn’t take it.  It was driving her crazy.  When were they coming?  They had left a while ago.  She stood up and started frantically pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

            Gold Fawn rushed into camp, and almost fainted from running so fast.  She had to take several breaths before she could speak.

            “Archers �" need them �" now �" Invaders got �" reinforcements �" we got them but �" there’s too �" many �"” She gasped for breath to speak again but Analise was already on the rock shouting for archers.  The archers leapt from all directions, bows ready and arrows tightly enclosed in a pack on their backs.  Gold Fawn gasped for a final breath and readily accepted the drink of water Dark Echo offered her.  He put his hand on hers and Analise could see white-green energy soaring from his hand to hers.  She was newly energized and she shot out of the camp to lead the archers to the camp.  Dark Echo was still holding both arms heavily due to the pain they were enduring and every minute Analise couldn’t stand the long scars on his arms, reminders of Tree Legs’ treachery.  She sat down heavily on the ground and Whisper trotted over quietly and lay down next to her wearily, feeling her exhaustion in the terrible people in the world.  They lay together, her head on his side, and she felt like it might be okay hearing his steady heartbeat.  It wasn’t so bad anymore.  She felt herself going to sleep, and Dark Echo watching her from his dark unreadable eyes.  She let herself tumble into the ream of sleep.

            Ω

            “Sun Arrow!”  Someone was shaking her and a man’s voice woke her up.  She jumped up, her nerves a tight wire of scared energy.  It was Tiger Foot.

            “The bonds are going now.  We’re going now.”

            Analise jumped onto Whisper and patted his head. 

            “Please forgive me,” she whispered to him.  He looked at her, head cocked, his eyes questioning.

            She soared up into the sky on Whisper, feeling like the sun itself, blazing gold in the velvet black night.  Tiger Foot was right behind her, strong and loyal.  He was the only person she felt she could really trust, besides Whisper.  It was comforting knowing that he was right behind her.  She looked behind her and saw five hundred bonds, spread across the starry sky, all colors: brown, white, black, silver, red, orange, grey, and several turquoise and green bonds.  Whisper was the only golden bond, like a blazing sun leading an army of rainbows.  It was magnificent. 

            She nodded to Tiger Foot, and in a tight arc across the sky, every bond and rider swooped down to the barracks.

            What they saw next was the most horrible thing Analise could have ever imagined.  The dirt was stained red, arrows steadily raining down on the battlefield.  Invaders all in black fighting farmers and Natives.  Analise saw Jade in gleaming gold armor smashing down an Invader and Gold Fawn lying on the battlefield �" dead?  She did not know.  She automatically looked behind her at Tiger Foot for support.  His face was grim and unsmiling. 

            Jade looked up, and an expression of relief spread across her face.  Analise was here.

            The roars of Natives spread across the clearing in triumph and they knocked down the Invaders.

            “Sun Arrow!”  “Sun Arrow!”  “Sun Arrow!”

            The Invaders glanced back, forwards, right, left, and saw nothing.  In their confusion the Natives blew many Invaders down and Analise was reassured.  Her mere presence bought hope to the Natives.  The farmers looked up in shock and saw the beautiful bonds, covering the whole sky, like a rainbow of hope.

            Analise let out a whoop and pulled out her bow and arrow.  She nodded to Whisper, who instantly swooped down in a tight curve, allowing Analise to pass by several Invaders and stab them.  They gazed at her in disbelief.  What was she on?  She let out an exhilarated shout and shot down several Invaders.


Chapter 25

The Leader

 

            Marigold slashed, stabbed, pulled, ducked, as Natives came at her from all angles.  What was going on?  It was a massive rebellion!  She could hardly believe it.  How did they get organized like this?  She saw farmers in the mix.  What were they doing?  Her thoughts were a mass of confusion.  The moon was high in the sky, heavy.  For some reason this struck her as ominous.  She stabbed her sword into the face of a leering Native.  What were these monstrous people doing outside of their rightful place in the trees?  She felt hatred for the people but at that moment something struck her: they were fighting for their freedom against Invaders.  She was one of the Invaders and therefore a killer, a horrible person.  Perhaps it was right that the Natives killed her, for all her bad deeds.  They were a wise, ancient people.  She let herself be trampled momentarily by the crowd and tried to slash her way through to a safe spot where she could hide until it was over.  A splash of fear shocked her and left her paralyzed.  Invaders did not feel fear!  What was she doing, an Invader, frightened like a deer in the light of a lantern.  She reprimanded herself.  She could not stop now.  It was too late to regret her actions as an Invader.  She let herself be engulfed in fear.  Suddenly someone stepped in front of her and knocked down all of her enemies: Billy

Ω

            “Tiger Foot!” Analise shouted into the screams and blood.  She circled high above the battle and looked everywhere below.  Suddenly she saw an Invader beating his club down on Jade.  She shot down and stabbed his neck through a small crack in the black metal.  He fell down and Jade glanced at her in relief, then shock.

            “Analise, I hardly recognize you �"” Analise glanced at herself reflecting in the parts of Jade’s armor that wasn’t covered in blood.  Her face was covered in blood and she looked like a barbarian warrior queen.  Whisper abruptly jerked up, and a dagger flew through straight where Analise’s face had been seconds ago.  She flew up, Jade watching.  She didn’t know herself; now a killer.  Analise brushed off her fears of a ruined soul.  It would be worth it if she could free her country.  She swooped down and shot arrows into Invaders.  An arrow came at her and missed her by inches.  Then another, that poked into her leather armor.  She flew up and pulled it out.  She was scared by her nearness to death but determinedly ignored it.  She saw Tiger Foot instantly afterwards; he was on his bond high above shooting down at Invaders with deadly aim.  Her people were in a tight circle, attempting to fight off Invaders that surrounded them on all sides.  Suddenly Analise threw down a white kerchief that she had saved for the most desperate situations: the sign of surrender.  She did not quite mean it that way, though.  The kerchief floated down and landed on Jade’s head, who scooped it up disbelievingly.  However, she held it high, and the Invaders stopped killing.  There was an eerie silence.

            Analise shouted from above:

            “I want the Leader!  Where is your Leader?”

            The Invaders parted, and in the midst of blackness, a small space was cleared to show one man dressed in pure crimson.  The Leader.  Analise saw a smaller figure, dressed in crimson as well.  Analise wondered who was so important as to wear the same color as the Leader.

            “What do you want, little rebel?” he asked in the deadly, quiet voice that Analise hated.  “Who is your leader?”  Analise let Whisper come close to the ground and drop her.  She landed crouched like a cat and slowly stood up.  She lifted her black leather hood.

            “I am the one they call Sun Arrow.”

            The Leader looked at her closely and then stepped back.  The figure next to him could not be seen through the dark shadows of the red hood.

            “Analise?”  His voice was a whisper.

            “Father.” she said coldly.  Above, Tiger Foot nearly fell off his bond.  Analise was his archenemy’s daughter?  The girl he had thought bravest and strongest his daughter?

            “What do you want?” he whispered.

            “I want you dead.” she said ferociously.

            “Analise” he said quietly.  “My daughter?  I’ve been looking for you.”

            Analise looked at him, his terrible icy blue eyes flickering with sympathy and love.

            “Analise, my dear, I’ve been waiting to meet you to tell of a wonderful happening, you’ll not believe who I have with me.”  The figure next to the Leader had not spoken up to this point slowly lowered her hood.

            It was a beautiful young girl, big brown eyes and long goldish brown hair in a tight braid.  Her hair was the same color as Analise’s.  Her cheeks were red from the effort of fighting, but she was not even breathing hard.  She looked only the age of Lily Speckle, twelve or so.  She had the look of a gentle creature forced to fight, but her eyes were as cold as the Leader’s own.

            “Analise, my dear, this is Alianne.”

 


Chapter 26

The Final Act

 

            Analise could not breathe.  She wanted to tell him he was lying, but she knew he wasn’t.  His eyes widened in delight as he saw horror fill her eyes.

            “Alianne?” she whispered.

            “Who are you?  Are you my older sister who left me to die?” the girl said in a pretty, high voice. 

            Analise could not breathe.  Her poor baby Alianne.  What was her father doing to her?  She could hardly believe it.  She had loved her baby so much.

            “I didn’t leave you to die!  My poor baby, what did he do to you?  What are you doing?” she asked quietly.  “He brainwashed you!  I loved you so much!”

            Something in Alianne’s eyes caused them to mist.  Instantly she wiped her eye on her sleeve and stood rigidly.

            “Remember the bread?  We were hiding, and I gave it to you, don’t you remember?”

            Faint recognition flared up in Alianne’s eyes, but the Leader cut her off.

            “Oh, my dear daughter, I’ve missed you.  Now we can have a happy family reunion.  You are my daughter, after all.”

            “Don’t you ever lie to me.  I am not your daughter.” she said.  She had been waiting for this moment for her whole life, but something wholesome had been taken out of her.  Her poor baby at his side!  Her eyes were cold again.

            “Oh, but you are, my dear, you are.” he said lovingly… like a snake baiting its prey.

            “No more fighting amongst our people…  I don’t want anyone else to die.” Analise said, looking at Alianne with the hopeless eyes of a mother who has lost her child.

            “I couldn’t agree more.” said the Leader smoothly.

            “One on one.  You against me.”  She looked away from Alianne, not caring if she died.  There was no hope left.

            “My dear!  My lovely daughter, you surely don’t believe �"”

            “I do.  Are you a coward?”

            There was a deadly silence.  All eyes were turned towards Analise and her father the Leader.  Alianne turned her cold, inhuman eyes towards them, her eyes showing a spark of interest.  The coldness seemed to be barely holding.

            Something in him snapped.

            “I am not a coward.”

            “Too scared to fight a little girl?” she said mercilessly.  He stood up tall.

            “I do not want to kill,” he said righteously, like a slithering serpent, “But if I must…”

            “Then fight me now.”

            “My little daughter!  Are you that foolish to believe you can fight me?”

            “Anyday.  Are you a coward?  I thought you bad, but not a coward!”

            He furiously drew his sword, and turned behind himself, murmuring to the archer behind him.

            “Choose your weapon, daughter.”

            Analise drew a sword, shining and black, thin and lethal.

            Tiger Foot drew his breath.

            “Let the fight begin…” said the Leader of the Invaders.  Analise held her sword in the way she had been taught.  Wrong move and she would die.

            Alianne watched the fight with no more than a cool stranger’s expression, uncaring.  Something in her eyes wavered for a second but she kept up her horrible coldness. 

            They slashed at each other and Analise made a quick lunge.  Her father smashed his sword down on her wrist.  She jerked out of the way in a few seconds, causing him only to make a nick on the side.  The first blood was her fathers. 

            They stabbed, slashed, blocked, lunged, but nothing happened.  They were too evenly matched. 

            After a few minutes that seemed like hours to the riveted eyes of the watchers, Invader and Native and farmer alike, Tiger Foot wanted to intervene and help Analise destroy the Leader.  He couldn’t though.  It was killing him, watching Analise blocking nimbly, stepping aside.  She was wonderful at sword fighting ever since he had taught her in their free time.  She had soon become better than him.  Analise and the Leader were perfectly matched.  All she needed was a small advantage, or they would kill each other.

            He watched as Analise missed him by inches and he slashed at her at the same time.  He had a small cut on his face and she had a nick on her wrist.  He made another small slash on her leather armor.  It made a small nick in the leather and Tiger Foot was relieved that her armor was helping.  Perhaps she could beat him…

            Suddenly his arm flipped up and her sword was flung to the side.  She made no sound but he laughed victoriously, bearing down on her with his sword.  Suddenly she pulled her dagger and stabbed him in the chest, sticking in his own crimson leather.  He could not move and she couldn’t let go from the dagger, it made a good advantage for her.  She pulled out another dagger from her leather.  He gaped and tried to stop her with his sword.  She held the dagger firmly at his bare neck.  The Invaders gasped.  Alianne’s eyes became less cold and she moved closer, looking inquisitively at her father.  She made no move to save him though.  Analise looked at her and for some reason tears came to her eyes.  She mouthed ‘sorry’ at Alianne, whose eyes suddenly became wet with recognition. 

            “Analise,” she whispered.

            In the moment Analise looked away at Alianne, the Leader signaled at the archer, who drew his bow and pulled the arrow up.

            “NO!” Alianne screamed.  She knew what she had to do…

            Analise gasped in shock.  What happened next would replay itself in her head for the rest of her life.  The arrow flew �"

            Alianne leapt in front.  The arrow flew straight into Alianne’s neck.  The archer had been true, but his mouth opened with shock.  He had never wanted to get the Leader’s daughter and fighter Alianne.  Alianne sank to the ground, her mouth open.  She made no sound as she crashed against the stained dirt, a crimson flower spreading across her chest.  Analise screamed.

            “Alianne!”

            She turned to the Leader, whose eyes were still icy blue, no feeling for his lost daughter.

            “Analise, my daughter, be reasonable �"”

            “GO TO HELL!” she screamed.  He opened his mouth to speak �"

            She stabbed the dagger into the Leader’s throat.  His eyes were wide with shock as he fell to the ground, as if he had never expected defeat.  She gasped with aftershock as if she had not believed she would really do it.

            Whisper swooped down and caught her on his back just as she fainted.  He flew up into the sky with his beloved Analise draped across his back.

 




Chapter 26

Sundust

 

            Analise felt herself lying on a cold, heavy slab of rock.  Energy was steadily pulsing into her.  She could not believe what had happened.  She wanted to lie there forever asleep and never wake up but the energy flowing in her could not allow that.  She groggily sat up.

            Dark Echo had his hands on her hand.  His face looked drained from the effort he had gone through to heal many Natives, and now restore all of Analise’s energy.

            “Good.  You’re awake.” he said roughly.  His drawn-in eyes brightened for a moment with relief.  Whisper slowly trotted up to the rock and nuzzled her face lovingly.  She stood up, wobbled for a moment, and as the energy surged through her from Dark Echo, she hugged Whisper tightly and let herself cry a few tears into his shoulder where his fur blended into feathers.  Finally she wiped her tears and got on his back, clutching his smooth fur tightly.

            “The battle’s still going.” said Dark Echo.

            What?”

            “The Invaders wouldn’t give up.”

            “So that was for nothing.”

            “I don’t know, Sun Arrow.  I don’t know.”  It was the first time he had spoke her name.

            “I’m going.”

            “Tiger Foot is waiting for you.  He’s frantic with worry.”

            “Okay.” said Analise wearily.  “Thank you, Dark Echo.”

            As she soared up on a warm updrift, she gazed at the starry sky, she thought of the gold armor.  The Leader had wanted it for Alianne.  Poor Alianne.  She looked up at the skies again.  Was that another star?  She was reassured slightly by the thought of Alianne as moonsilver.  She was good at heart, just the Leader had brainwashed her.  He was down below.  She would leave his body for the Beasts.  They could eat him alive for all she cared.

            She came to the barracks and saw the battlefield below.  More Invaders were pouring into the battlefield.  How was it possible?  How could they not be down?  She realized that there were a million Invaders in all.  They were still horribly outnumbered.  She shot at every man in black she could get in her sight of view.  As she gave up hope for any win against the Invaders, a faint shadow emerged from the trees.  There were five hundred shadows, it looked like.  She looked closer.

            Beasts!

            She never thought she would be happy to see a Beast but it was at that moment that she almost completely forgave them for killing her little boy Arran.  They roared and the Invaders jumped. 

            The Natives cheered wildly, hope filling their hearts.

            “BEASTS!” shouted Analise.  Tiger Foot flew over on his bond.          

            “Analise!  You’re back!”  He knew better than to ask her if she was okay.

            “The Beasts are here, Tiger Foot!” she said.

            He looked below and let out a whoop. 

            They looked like the creatures of nightmares, terrorizing the Invaders.  A large, red-eyed Beast leapt out of the shrubs onto an Invader, who screamed. 

            Analise had never seen the Beasts well, but now she did.  They were terrifying.  They were huge, as tall as Jade, when on all four feet.  Their feral eyes ranged from yellow to orange to red.  They had long shaggy black fur.  They looked like werewolves with scythed tails and huge fangs that extended to their chins, like saber-toothed tigers.  She herself was terrified by them, despite the fact that they were on her side.  When they had defeated almost all Invaders on the field they let out a huge roar.

            At that moment a huge wave of Invaders came in.  Analise gaped.  There were more than a million Invaders!  The numbers were overwhelming.  She shot at every Invader she could see.  The Beasts tore them to bits.  The bonds swooped through the skies like furry dragons.  Arrows rained down like deadly sleet.

Ω

            Marigold was scared.  What was going on?  There were thousands of bizarre things she didn’t understand.  There were huge wolf-like creatures that tore people to bits and flying animals that soared above everyone else carrying Natives.  She fought on but uncertainly.  She had seen the Leader but she did not see the Native chief who killed him.  Thank God he was gone.  She did not like the Leader and his evil ways.  She stabbed a Native automatically then looked at her face.  She was young and beautiful.

            “Why am I killing?” she wondered.  “What am I doing?”  The sky was dark purple.  The Invaders fought on.

            She kept her weapon merely for survival, no longer interested in killing.  It was no longer important.  “Why am I killing?”

            She spotted Billy.

            “Billy!”

            “Gold!”

            Together they fought back the Beasts and the other horrible creatures that were attacking them.

            “Don’t kill, Billy!”

            What?

            “Don’t kill them!”

            “Are you insane?”

            “We’re Invaders!  We’re killers!  Stop!  It’s over, Billy.”

            What are you talking about?  Billy was seriously scared.

            “It’s not worth it,” she said, her voice becoming a sob.  “Why are we killing?”

            “Because they’re rebels.”

            “No, this is their land.  Oh, Billy, why did I teach you to kill?”

            “You had to.” said Billy.  What was wrong with Gold?

            “I didn’t!  Stop!  Don’t kill them!  Just defend yourself.  We’re killers if we’re Invaders!”

            “Gold!”

            “Don’t kill them, we’re killers!  The Invaders are evil!”

            “Gold, you’re going against everything you taught me!”  He believed her in that they were killers, but what was she doing?

            “I know!  I had to teach you that!  But, Billy, if I die, I deserve it!  Do you know how many people I killed?”  She stabbed out at a Beast and knocked him unconscious.

            Stop it, Gold!

            “Don’t kill them!”

            The sky was a pinky-purple.  Billy had never seen the sky colored.

            “Is the world ending, Gold?”

            Marigold started crying.  “No, Billy, the sun’s coming out.”

            He looked up.  It was beautiful.  He gave up all thoughts of killing.  Why did they have to kill?  A faint gold line was coming up the horizon.

            The Invaders fought on, coming in huge hordes.

Ω

            Analise looked up.

“The one from the root

and the one of the sea

will combine with the

crash and the wind.

And so they will beat

The stealers of land,

By dreams,

By light of sundust.” she murmured.

            Suddenly she understood.  Below the ground was almost completely black.  You couldn’t even see the scarlet-stained ground, only the black of Invaders. 

            By light of sundust.  Sundust.

            She looked up.  The sun was coming up, hidden by the faraway hills.  The golden orb shimmered and she looked down at the battlefield, giving up all thoughts of killing.  It was over. 

            The sun came up, a beautiful shining circle of light.  Its light shone down on the bloody battlefield.

            The Invaders crumpled to the ground, crying out.  They shivered, shimmered eerily in the morning sun, as if they had never seen the light of the sun.  Nothing happened �" all black bodies were on the ground, heaps of black armored bodies.

            A scream grated through the morning and the Invaders were ashes.  Smoke billowed up and Analise could not see anything except for the radiant light streaming through.  She looked down and the smoke cleared.  The whole battlefield was covered with piles of gray ashes.  The few remaining Natives and farmers gazed at the soot.  All was silent.

            “By light of sundust.” murmured Analise.  The bonds hesitantly flapped their wings in the blazing sun.

            In the middle, a bewildered girl, dressed and done up like a boy, but a girl, held a little boy by the hand.  They were in black armor, like Invaders.  The girl shaded her eyes but the little boy gazed up at the sun, with an expression of pure joy on his tiny face.

            Ω

            Marigold was in shock.  Every Invader was ashes but her and Billy.  She and Billy held hands tightly.

            “How come the others can’t see it?” he asked her quietly.

            “They were out of the sunlight too long with evil thoughts.  We were the only ones to let go of killing and our weapons.”  She couldn’t explain it to him properly but she knew it was because they had given up their evil that now they were alive while the rest had been turned to ashes.  Suddenly she was overwhelmed with beautiful relief.  It was over.  She was free.

            “Gold, it’s beautiful.” he murmured.

            “I know, Billy.  I know.”

Ω

            Analise looked down and saw Marigold, her sister.  She gasped.

            “Marigold?”

            Marigold looked up.  Analise?

            “Analise?”

            Analise shot down on Whisper and jumped off. 

            “Is that you?” she whispered.

            “Analise!”  Marigold started crying.  They hugged tightly, tears coming down on each other’s shoulders. 

            Billy gazed up at the beautiful sun and tears like diamonds came down his own tiny cheeks.  It was so beautiful.

            Analise’s voice echoed throughout the ashy battlefield. 

            “By light of sundust.” 

© 2011 lily platycorn


Author's Note

lily platycorn
Please ignore any grammar problems, please please comment i have worked on this for so long and i want opinions. PLEASE COMMENT!:)

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Added on January 26, 2011
Last Updated on January 27, 2011
Tags: sundust, sun, analise, jade, natives, fantasy, novel

Author

lily platycorn
lily platycorn

stroudsburg, PA



About
i am a thirteen year old girl. i love writing novels and poetry. i have written one novel (150 pages) and lots of poetry. more..

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Flyaway Flyaway

A Story by lily platycorn