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 8, Part 10)
The young wood elf was broken out of this reverie by a shouted "What did you just do?" right behind her. Meren yelped and almost dropped her bow. Turning around, she saw the scout leader standing with her hands on her hips. Behind her was Eryndir and Meren wondered how much he'd seen.
The young elf was torn. Did she explain or deny what she'd done? Maybe she could pass the globes of light off as swamp gas... in the middle of temperate woodland. And the fiery attack she'd thrown... Meren cursed silently under her breath. There just wasn't a lie that could work to explain this away. As she begun to stammer an answer, her father spoke quietly but confidently, "That was magic, was it not, Meren?"
Knowing she had no other choice but the truth here, she could only nod. Tawarthel stepped back, her brown eyes narrow. "Magic, Eryndir? But the shaman should have caught any arcane potential-"
Eryndir locked eyes with his daughter who looked down at her feet. "Not necessarily," he answered, not looking away from his daughter, "Not if Meren's is a different sort."
"A different sort? How can there be a different sort?" the scout leader eyed Meren as though the young elf was something repugnant, "Unless her mother..."
"Was simply a healer," Eryndir quickly finished, clearly trying to nip that thought process in the bud, much to Meren's relief. He then asked the young elf, "But why did you not tell?"
Meren's answer was to glance over at Tawarthel. "Because of that reaction. I know elves shouldn't be able to do what I can."
The older woman crossed her arms over her chest. "See? She admits it. Eryndir, you must send her away. We cannot have that kind of magic being hurled around, alerting outsiders to our location and setting our home on fire."
Meren had been about to retort that that kind of thing hadn't happened before when her brother stuck his hoof into his mouth instead. "She did not mean to do that, sir," he directed at Eryndir, "She has never done anything harmful to the woods before."
Except for that time I created a pit, Meren thought to herself as the two elders turned their attention to the centaur, who shied backwards at their mutual stare. "You knew of this ability?" the scout leader demanded, putting an emphasis of contempt on the last word.
Now Kryro seemed to realize his mistake and opened and closed his mouth a few times before speaking again. "... Yes? I thought it would be better not to share that knowledge..."
Eryndir did not look happy, but Meren thought she saw more disappointment than anger on his face. "Meren, Tawarthel is right." The scout leader smirked at this as he added, "We cannot have you hurling fire around, even if you were able to put it out again." For a moment, Meren thought of explaining that she hadn't in fact done as much, but quickly realized that explaining that she had no idea how the fire had diminished would do little to help her case.
"I would not allow an untrained archer who knows not how to aim to scout, so a mage destroying our trees I cannot allow here, even if she is my daughter," he continued. Meren could feel her face turn white, as though all the blood in her body was draining into her overly large feet. This rose slightly when his next words were, "No, not forever, Meren; just until you have what you wield under control. There is a village of halflings and humans to the east where I know a wizard resides. You must go to her and see if she can help."
As Meren tried to make sense of the fact that it sounded as though she were being exiled, the tribe leader spoke to Kryro, "I need you to alert your tribe that there may still be intruders in the area. Go with Meren as far as the river, then find your kin. Likely they shall need your aid more than we at the moment."
The young scouts both bowed their heads in acknowledgment, but neither were pleased about the tasks set before them. We are his kin, Meren thought to herself as they walked to her tent to retrieve the rest of her scant belongings, and he's a warrior, not some errand boy.
The centaur remained oddly silent until they were a few miles away from camp. Finally, as they were weaving their way through the last outskirts of trees, he spoke up again, "I am sorry I said that, Meer. Perhaps if I had kept my mouth shut, you would have been able to stay."
Meren shook her head. "I don't think that would have made a difference. Even if I'd been allowed to stay, Tawarthel would have found a way to convince my father that I was a danger and I would have been sent off anyway."
"You do not know that-" the centaur began.
"Even if not, they do have a point, as much as I hate to admit it. I am a danger, 'Ro." When she saw her brother shake his head and look about to interrupt, she continued, "I am. Sometimes my spells work but when they don't, they really don't... and the thought of burning through my home has me terrified."
"Why worry of that? You stopped the fire before it could spread," he pointed out.
Meren looked down at her hands, then let them fall to her sides. "No. I didn't. The fire did go out, but that wasn't from me. I couldn't even cancel the lights I accidentally placed above camp. Even if some spells do work, I don't know enough of how to stop them if they get out of control. I am a threat, 'Ro."
Kryro still didn't look convinced. "But with even the magic you have, it could be used to protect the camp. No one else can throw jets of flame at an enemy."
Meren sighed; for all that the centaur had been uncomfortable with her new skill to start, he was now the one always pushing her to use it, but he couldn't know what it was like to have that sort of wild power... "That's actually fortunate. Trust me, this is for the better. If that mage my father spoke of can help me get this under control, then I can come back and use it to guard."
"And if she cannot? What will you do then?"
"Leave and find another mage who can help." The look on her brother's face made her heart sink into her stomach. He was clearly worried about her and if she was any judge of the person she knew best, he was beating himself up inside for not being able to help her out of this dilemma.
She looked up at him, meeting his eyes. How could she convince him when she was somewhat worried herself? "I'll be fine. I promise. If this town doesn't work out, I'll come find you and you can help me locate a different mage, okay?"
The centaur looked as though he was going to complain about this plan, but finally just nodded slowly. Meren thought for a moment that she'd accidentally set off that mind control spell again, but the lack of energy surging through her hands disproved that. No, he just trusted her, which was a far better reason, but if anything it left her feeling even worse.
The two continued on in thoughtful silence until they'd reached the water. In the dim moonlight Meren couldn't see the bridge spanning the Moon River, but knew it to be just south of where they stood, having frequently used it to reach the woodlands on the other side. "Go on, 'Ro. You need to spread word like my father asked."
The centaur remained still for a moment, making her wonder if he was going to demand she let him follow her, but eventually he said, "Alright. I still do not like this, but I seem to be outnumbered in this decision." He reached down to squeeze Meren's shoulder. "Stay safe, Meer. And when you reach that mage, please do try to not hurl fire around too much. She may be more inclined to help if her home is not burned to the ground."
He spoke those words seriously, but Meren knew when he was teasing her. She stuck her tongue out at him then smiled, "Oh, alright. If you insist. I'll stick with the boring magic. Maybe I can find a way to summon butterflies instead."
Kryro smiled back at her, then after another squeeze to the elf's shoulder, turned and trotted off to the north.
The next part can be found here.