Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,
Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 9)
When Meren neared camp she was greeted by the sound of raised voices. From the sound of things, Tawarthel was yelling at someone. The wood elf grimaced but was glad she wasn't on that side of the scout leader's temper for once. She'd begun to quietly move around camp towards her tent but froze when she heard the timid voice speaking quietly in reply: Kryro's. How did he get himself into trouble when he hasn't even been here? Meren wasn't about to leave him to the wolves, though.
Changing course to head in the direction of her brother, she remained out of sight in order to try to catch what was going on. From the sound of things, Kryro wanted permission to go out and find her, claiming some sort of hunch that he was needed. Tawarthel was not impressed by this and wouldn't let him leave, and from the sound of things seemed a bit confused as to why Meren was gone in the first place. Blast it. That spell that hit my father didn't extend to her. Why didn't I think of that?
But maybe she could try actively to get it to work this time? It would be worth it to get her scouting partner out of that mess he'd stepped into. Closing her eyes and focusing on the woman standing a few yards away, Meren began to softly chant. But as she stepped out, about to begin speaking with the scout leader to complete the spell, something went wrong again. Her hand grew tingly, as it had last time, but that was where the similarity ended. Instead of the woman being struck by a mind control spell, the energy flew off behind and above her, settling on top of the tents where it formed into four globes of light in the evening sky.
Uh oh... she though. How am I going to hide that? As she prayed silently that no one would notice, Kryro's head raised. Tawarthel noticed this even though she hadn't seen the lights, and turned her head, her long braid swinging around, to see what the centaur was looking at. Meren cursed under her breath as she attempted to figure out how to cancel out a spell that she hadn't meant to cast. She tried calling out a few words in elvish ranging from "dim!", "darken!" "snuff!" and a last desperate "go away!", but none worked. Tawarthel was now looking from the flickering torch-bright globes to Meren and back to the lights, her mouth agape. Kryro met Meren's eyes and shrugged helplessly, mouthing silently to her "Now what?".
Meren could only shrug in response. About to dart out of the temporary village when no other plan presented itself in her head, she froze when she heard more shouting, this time outside of camp and in a harsh, guttural language. A few yards away, the centaur's eyes widened and Meren saw his lips move. This didn't look as though he was trying to talk with her this time, however, and if the wood elf had to guess, he was trying to translate what was being said. When his face went pale, she realized he understood and that it couldn't possibly be good news.
"Orcs!" he said, turning to the blond elf and grabbing her arm to get her attention. "Orcs have found the camp and are attempting to surround us!"
Tawarthel blinked, then aimed a glare almost as fiery as the newly created globes of light at Meren before bringing her fingers to her lips and letting off a series of shrill whistles. Both Meren and Kryro recognized that alert; it was a warning that an enemy was close to camp and everyone was needed with their weapons ready now. When she saw that glare directed at her, Meren realized what had happened: her newly created lights had allowed the orcs to find a camp that was normally well hidden. But how had they gotten through past the sentries around camp? The wood elf's heart sunk into her stomach as soon as she'd posed that question. Of course. They'd probably followed her. She'd led them here.
Feeling a strong mix of shame at being so preoccupied that she hadn't noticed something trailing her, anger that something had and distress that something could happen to her kin, Meren took off running east, the direction she'd heard the orcs calling from. One elf might not be enough to keep enemies away, but she was going to try. Fear for herself was the least of those emotions right now, but she'd admit to feeling a lot better when she heard loud hoofbeats following her.
The two reached the edge of camp just as a group of orcs did. As Kryro began swinging the large club he carried, Meren held back, her hand paused above her quiver. She could trust her bow. The arrows wouldn't go astray. But... she also knew that she possessed a spell that would work far better on a troop of enemies in a time where there was no need for stealth. Magic, weapon, which should she use? What decided this for her was three of the orcs moving in formation to surround the centaur, their spears and swords raised in preparation to attack. An arrow would only be able to bring down one, but magic would have a better chance of clearing them all away from him.
Meren lowered her arm and brought her hands in front of her, her palms facedown. She began to chant again, this time calling on the fire spirits to aid her and not let this one backfire. Please, she pleaded silently, I need this to work! She felt her hands grow warm and sighed in relief, then took a step to the left to move around her brother. Keeping her attention on where she was pointing, small jets of flame shot out of her fingertips and into the band of orcs. Six gave various incarnations of yelps and shouts; two of these began beating at their tattered tunics while five fell to the ground. Three of these stopped moving but the other two slowly rose back to their feet after getting their flaming garments under control. What struck the young wood elf as odd, though, was one of the ones that was now still wasn't one she'd hit with flame.
Something worse caught Meren's eye and pulled her attention away from strangely passed out orcs. Two of her streams of fire had become errant, soaring past the intended targets and into the bushes behind them, and the plants were beginning to ignite. To a wood elf, fire is always much, much worse than any kind of enemy. Orcs may carry swords, but fire could jump from tree to tree at an alarming rate, destroying the land the elves were responsible for keeping safe. Now Meren began to panic. She didn't have any water spells and she doubted any water spirits could hear a non-shaman when this camp was so far from the nearest creek; fire, earth and air were always far more handy but she couldn't think of anything she could ask of them to help. As far as she could tell, her magic differed from that of a shaman, but as a wood elf, spirits played an important roll even to a scout. But what else could she do?
The centaur's shout brought her attention back to the small battle in front of her. In her distraction, Tawarthel and two other elves had come up next to her and had begun firing into the melee. The original orcs were still there, six still singed and smelling even worse from that, but another two had joined them, leaving six still attacking. Kryro now had a gash on his flank, probably what had caused the shout. Seeing him hurt brought Meren back to action. She unslung her bow from her shoulder and fired an arrow ahead at the orc swinging at Kryro, bringing it down. The centaur gave her a quick thankful smile before swinging the club at the next.
Aiming at a second one, Meren froze with the bowstring pulled back. The fire in the woods was shrinking, seemingly to be putting itself out. In a few moments it had all but vanished, fading into a few smoldering embers and curling leaves. There was now a burned gap there, but that was it. What? How? I didn't- Meren started to think before realizing that this was the least of her problems at the moment. Her kin had the upper hand, though, or at least more luck. When two of the orcs tripped over their fallen comrades, the elves were able to take those down, and when the remaining three tried to flee, a hail of arrows brought those down, too. Recognizing a forced slumber when she saw one, Meren opened her mouth to warn her kin that three fallen orcs weren't actually dead, but Kryro had that covered. Odd time for it though it was, Meren couldn't help smiling a little at that. We do make a good team, don't we? Now if only she could figure out why those now ex-orcs had been knocked out. In theory she could have caused it, a Sleep spell being one she possessed and having spells that infamously warped into other spells could have been another factor, but not this time. Two spells couldn't happen simultaneously and that fire one had gone off perfectly for once, even if it hadn't quite done as intended. Perhaps those orcs were just narcoleptic?
The next part of the story can be found here.