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   Lura knelt at the base of a tree. Its grand size dwarfed her. She ran her fingers along its bark. Rough edges scraped across her skin. A series of white lines appeared instantly upon her fingertips. The bark was tough and weathered but not strong enough to break through the skin.

   The trees in Wolverine Forest were aged and healthy. Their root structures had pierced the ground like a child standing at the foot of its much larger parent. They sliced their way up through the dirt and protruded out into the air. Lura accidentally kicked it with her foot and fell in pain. She rubbed her foot, scowling at the root imagining it was a vengeful tentacle from some great hidden beast below. She pulled her sword free from its sheath and hacked the limb from the ground. It landed beside her sadly. A groan sounded through the wind.

    Lura closed her eyes and tilted her head back facing the treetops. She tuned her telepathy and searched the forest for anyone hiding. She never fully understood how she did it. There had been no one in Keegan Castle to teach her. She was the only elf in her home land that had the power. Her mind seemed to stretch out around her. White lines soared out in all directions in her mind’s eye. The lines gravitated to objects that she could share a connection with. Once they were discovered, the objects’ minds opened like a door.

Her eyes popped open. She was alone.

    Replacing her sword at her side, Lura stood up once again and strode deeper into Wolverine Forest feeling better now that she had avenged her foot. She walked along a thin dirt path, worn through the grass and leaves. It was uneven and pitched slightly to the right causing Lura to lose her balance on a few occasions. She wasn’t the most agile elf, unlike her brethren. She believed that was to offset her telepathy. At either side, enormous trunks lined up along the path. At her level, it looked more like a wooden fortress than a forest. There was no foliage to be seen unless she looked up. It hung over her like a canopy. Actually, the trees weren’t in any logical pattern; the path was worn along the easiest route between them. She noticed large foot prints and scrape marks along the dirt. Wolverines. She became intrigued. The legends of these powerful beasts were told to the children of her home. They were said to be over ten feet tall with razor-sharp claws and fangs, capable of tearing off a limb that may have been too close to their bite. The Wolverines were also minions to the fallen Cadieux king, Cragon Cadieux.

   Lura followed the path without any real destination. She had longed for the opportunity to embrace the sights and sounds. The smells were strong yet pleasant to her. The drying leaves mixed with earthy scents and budding flowers reminded her of the aromas of potpourri within Cadieux Castle. The scent was one of the most pleasant and homey attributes to her new home she found. There was nothing of its kind at Keegan Castle, just the fragrance of stewed vegetables and waxen candles.

   She stopped to smell a large purple bloom. It stood all alone, growing away from the safety of a tree at the side of the path. Inhaling deeply she tried to place its fragrance. What flora family do you belong to? She wondered. It was things like this that Lura had spent much of her time pondering since arriving in Cadieux. It allowed her to forget her true reason for coming to this wondrous place. Lura closed her eyes and let her ears become immersed in a new world. The forest was something she had only seen in drawings before today. The trees sounded as though they were communicating. The cracking and swaying of the branches gave each tree an individual voice.

   Lura smiled widely.

   She felt smaller, insignificant almost, as she walked deeper into the forest. The trees surprisingly grew in size. Lura was amazed that they could get bigger than they were before. Yet, as she moved along, the spaces between narrowed. The width of the trunks increased until there was little space between them. The dirt path was all that remained between these behemoths now. She had wandered too far. There was no place left to go. She almost turned back when she discovered a stairway. Well, it was more a ladder of branches between the two largest trees within Wolverine Forest, originally disguised by the sprawling roots that were nearly the size of the trees at the start of the forest.

   She grabbed hold, tugging firmly to test if this branch could bare her weight. It didn’t budge. Once she was confident it would hold, Lura pulled herself up to the next branch and then another. The branches seemed to have grown in the perfect pattern to create a pathway into the tree line above. Interwoven, these limbs were extremely strong; however, the area became cramped periodically as she climbed. The tree trunks that sprouted these limbs inched closer in some spots, narrowing the climb. Lura noticed that the bark had been worn in a pattern from creatures that must have been close to her size. Elves? She wondered. Wolverines wouldn’t be able to scale this if they are as large as I’ve read. She looked up to see where her ascent would take her.

   She felt an uneasy churning within her gut. It was fear and excitement swirling together in the depths within her. Her mind pleaded with her to return to the ground, but her heart urged her on. She continued to climb forcing herself past any reservations until she reached the last branch. At this point, high in the air, the tree itself had flattened out like the floor in a castle. It was vast, not as large as the Grande Hall in Cadieux Castle, but nearly so. Lura now experienced a pang of exhilaration. She too eagerly reached for a broken branch that protruded nearby to lift herself up onto the platform. Her arm stretched out, allowing her finger tips to touch the branch. Struggling to give herself a few more inches, Lura felt her foot slip. She grabbed hold of the branch, but it began to give way. For the first time since leaving the ground, Lura looked down. She dangled nearly three hundred feet above the forest floor. Her heart stopped. Sweat began to run down her forehead. The branch cracked and lowered her again. She searched for anything to grab. The thin branches had all but ended this high up. Everything here was massive. She finally found another branch. When she climbed up, it had stuck out at an odd angle, like the tip of a sword pointed at its target. From this vantage point it was plainly visible, just above her. She held on tightly with her right hand, praying the only thing keeping her from falling to her demise would hold long enough to allow her to swing up. Her left arm was a mere inch shy of safety. A horrific noise echoed into her perked ears. The branch snapped free as she swung. She yelped in terror but grasped hold of the other branch. Her left hand began to slide. She clenched it with her right hand and began to shimmy up. Once high enough, Lura flung herself over, crashing awkwardly on her side, knees slamming together and head bouncing on the flat wood.  

*  *  *  *  *

   Grace was consumed by the hazy mists. They swirled around her, encompassing her winged form. As she pushed through the mists, the air became denser, weighing down heavily upon her wings and frame. She closed her eyes as her senses dulled and body tingled. Even thick eagle eyelids could barely contain the bright lights that enveloped her. When the lights dimmed, Grace emerged from the Mystical Mirror in her Elven form.

It was not a true mirror in the sense of being made from reflective glass. It was more like a portal between Greenville and Mistasia. Queen Merran had discovered its whereabouts within a book contained in the Cadieux family literature. It had been kept secret for a great many centuries. The room in which the Mystical Mirror was held had even been sealed with stone and mortar. Grace had to call upon her brother and his special talents in sorcery to level the wall and reveal this great wonder, which in itself is an abundant magical power.

Grace Tallon had been the only soul in Cadieux Castle that had entered the mirror since it had been rediscovered. There were few that were privy to its location, but the elves whispered. They whispered about the magical portal between worlds and the powerful beings that dwelled on the other side, referring to the Whizzenmog wizard twins and Phillip the Frog, who himself was a creature of many talents. The Mystical Mirror was a connection between the Land of Mistasia and a specific location within Greenville. Grace had believed it was how the Whizzenmog wizards had probably arrived long ago and became the protectors to the queen’s family. Grace had worked very hard to keep the location of the Mystical Mirror hidden, even going so far as to spread false rumors herself.

   The room she entered was poorly lit. A single candle burned along each side wall. There was no visible door either. Grace strode to her left. Upon the wall in a small cove within the stone, rested her effects hung on a thick metal spike driven into the dirt. This room was so deep within the ground that it would be impossible to find from outside the castle. Grace stood in the room wearing only a skin-tight black body suit. Her legs were exposed and her feet bare. Before entering the mirror, she had undressed, removing all unnecessary clothing. As an eagle in Greenville, the physical artifacts of Mistasia were basically irrelevant. She only wore the black suit so that she wouldn’t be completely nude upon arriving back home. She had made that mistake once, and it hadn’t turned out too well. It had been frightfully cold that afternoon.

She quickly dressed, let her white hair loose from its binding and put her sword upon her hip. Now, Grace moved to exit the room.

    The wall appeared solid. No distinguishable features were visible for a door, such as hinges or a handle. That had been Grace’s request when the wall had been repaired. It appeared to the naked eye as it had before she commanded her brother, Javid Tallon, to obliterate it. It had taken her brother a tremendous amount of energy to demolish the six-foot thick stone wall. It had compacted well with the weight of nearly the entire castle sitting on top of it. Grace smirked as she recalled his frustrations as he first rebuilt the wall…

   Darn stone should have collapsed by now, Javid said between heavy breaths as he held on to his knees for balance. He bobbed with each breath.

   Should I call for my warriors, brother? Grace mocked.

   Javid’s head whipped in her direction. The ferociousness within him flared with great purpose. He gritted his teeth and stood straight in defiance against his sister’s words.

   I could have them bring you an axe perhaps? Grace laughed within, fully understanding that taunting a full-fledged sorcerer that had once been the apprentice to the most despicable elf in Mistasian history was probably not her most intelligent move. She had no such power. She only possessed a quick-witted tongue, blazing fast reflexes, a bow and a sword…most of which would be majorly ineffectual in stopping Javid if he chose to turn on her, especially while they were all alone deep with a hidden corridor of the castle. Yet, she found it pleasantly gratifying.

   Javid showed his discontent with the Tallon scowl. Their family was almost as well known in Mistasia for their furrowed brow as for their prowess in battle because it was the last thing their combatants would ever witness before a quick demise.

   The stone wall was in heavy disrepair, crumbling into the corridor before them. Javid, despite his sister’s barbs, was making great gains against a combatant that would have taken nearly a hundred Elven warriors to defeat.

   Javid mustered up his rage, channeling it through his strong muscular frame. Then firmly planted his back foot to steady himself against the coming onslaught. He glared into his sister’s eyes. Grace suddenly wondered if she should be taking shelter. I’ll show you, sister. I need no assistance from your warriors. He leaned back in an awkward arc and raised his front leg before opening his arms wide. A surge moved through him. He could feel the rushing winds, even at a distance, as he summoned them to him.

    Grace searched for a good place to weather her brother’s storm. She quickly realized that her only option was to back against the far wall to brace herself. I really hope he doesn’t kill us both. She worried. Then she seriously wished she hadn’t brought her bag of arrows. Grace managed only a single step toward the wall when her brother began.

   Javid expelled all his aggression towards the wall as he stepped forward bringing his hands together before him. His dark hair blew forward from the incredible blast of hurricane force winds. Grace went flying down the corridor, crashing into the far wall, breaking nearly every arrow in her bag on her back. The winds pinned her. Javid continued to yell in a focused rage that tore through the stone wall. Small pieces were thrown to the sides as a cloud of dust and debris began to engulf them. Finally, a large section of the wall gave way and collapsed into the open space beyond. Javid released the winds. The dust fluttered about him. Grace had fallen to the floor and had only now began to pick herself up. Broken arrows lay strewn all around her. She grabbed one and held it in her hand as Javid turned toward her. He held his hands toward the opening gesturing, ‘see that’.

   “I always knew you were good at breaking things, Javid.” She brushed herself off as she stood, slightly wincing in discomfort. Her back ached. She had managed to keep from smashing her head against the wall. I wonder if he did that on purpose. He can control the winds. Could he control them to a specific point? He must have. She thought as she walked up beside him. The force necessary to destroy this thick of a wall would have to be unfathomable. She ran her hand along the gaping hole, barely able to reach the opposite side with her arm fully extended.

   Javid had a very self-satisfied grin on his dirty face. “Now, that is power!” He boasted.

   Grace’s smile continued to grow as she stood in the dark isolated room, once again fully focused on the task before her. The Mystical Mirror was faintly glowing purple and blue behind her, casting a glimmer along the stone as the ocean does at night while the moon dances upon it. She had her fingers gliding along the stone searching for an exact spot. Her smile had faded. She should have found it by now. It hadn’t been that long since she had opened this door.

   She stepped back and raised an eyebrow. This could be problematic. No one knows I am down here.

*  *  *  *  *

   Lura took a deep breath and rolled onto her back, arms sprawled out as though she was taking flight. She began crying. It shortly turned into laughter. Tears rolled down the side of her face and into her ears, causing her to sit up. She placed her fingers in her ears, attempting to recall the tears that had trespassed within. Lura hated that feeling, damp ear drums. It distorted sound, leaving an elf weakened. Her power of hearing was also extremely honed, compared to other elves. She figured that too was a favor of having telepathy.

She stood up shaking her head and slapping one ear, hoping to drain the other. A pain in her side caused her to double over. I hope I haven’t broken a rib. She felt around with her finger pressing against each rib until she found the affected area. Wincing in pain she pushed harder. Thank the heavens; it isn’t broken.  She stood up straight and took a few short breaths for calming. Then, she proceeded to test the limits of her aching side and inhaled deeply, but slowly. Filling her lungs with as much crisp air as they could handle, Lura exhaled after a moment. Her body had suffered more than just a bruised rib. Her right knee was cut; blood trickled down to her boot. She removed an orange cloth from her side pouch and dabbed at the wound. It was nothing serious, but it would leave a nice scar. Lura frowned. Well, maybe I can tell everyone I got it battling a Wolverine. She heard a laugh in her head. She had actually made herself chuckle. She turned toward the direction she had entered the forest.

   From here, Lura could see across a vast majority of the forest. At her sides, the trees she had climbed stretched higher. Before her, they washed away toward the ground, like a massive green and red tide. It was mesmerizing as the trees swayed with the winds. Her Elven eyesight allowed for her to see all the way to Soder Blue. The setting sun kissed the horizon. Cadieux Castle was cast in heavy shadow. Its silhouetted figure stood beside the glowing yellow orb. It was a completely different world from up here. Winds swirled around her, tugging upon her shirt, tossing her messy black hair. It was amazing. Her pains melted away.

A strange and unfamiliar sound perked her ears, now dried from the wind. Is that what I think it is? She took two steps forward before being greeted by the rising figure of a dragon. The sound had been the distinct cracking of the wind as the burnt orange dragon’s massive wings fought their battle to rise this giant. Each flap brought a new crack and gust of wind to Lura’s face. She turned away to avoid its pressure. The beast didn’t screech. It only hovered, bobbing against the wind.

   Lura didn’t hesitate. She walked straight up to the multi-horned creature. It tilted its giant head as her outstretched hand glanced across its snout. Lura focused upon its eyes, which shuddered nervously at first but quickly returned her gaze.

   That’s it. You belong to me now. Lura said using her telepathy upon the dragon. I think I’ll call you Ashen. She continued to pet the dragon’s snout. You’re not alone.

A pair of dragons circled the tree tops far below, one dark green and the other a leathery brown. Ashen pulled back and flapped his wings to break free. Lura ducked; her hair stood straight out against the breeze like a pointed arrow. She lost focus and telepathic connection. An orange blur zoomed away joining the other two below.

   Lura moved to the edge of the wooden platform. Her feet inched to the side to allow the proper view to watch. The dragons flew about playing with one another yet didn’t flee. I wonder. Lura didn’t have creatures of this size to control back home. In Keegan Castle she had once controlled nearly a thousand rats using them to perform a coup on the kitchen staff after a rather poor stew had been delivered to her table. Could she do this? Control a dragon that was nearly ten times her size?

    Lura walked to the back of the platform and closed her eyes. She felt a stirring within her mind’s eye. The white light began to illuminate within her mind. She could sense the lines sparking out into the dusk. She easily found all three dragons, as well as, a few wolverines far below that had become interested in the activity above them. Locating Ashen, she felt the beast struggling against her. She wasn’t quite sure if she could even explain the feeling she had when she took control of another animal. She had never been able to control an elf; however, she had only tried once. Creatures of Mistasia, especially the weak minded, had never been a match for her. She didn’t really control them, but telepathy seemed to allow her an access to their wishes or, maybe a better way to explain it, was that she spoke to them in their minds and they just listened. They did as she willed.

   She spoke to Ashen. Fly to me. Spread your wings and show me your brilliance. With that, Lura opened her eyes in a flash and turned in a full sprint, leaping into the air. Soaring far above the trees below, yet falling at an alarming rate with her arms out like wings, her face and hair rattled against the force of the wind. She screamed, not in fear, but sheer excitement. Wind rushing past her ears was all she heard; yet, she remained supremely focused upon Ashen, ignoring her impending impact.

    The great beast moved underneath her, wings outstretched, mimicking Lura. The elf tucked her head down, forcing herself into a roll and landing on Ashen’s neck just before the dragon folded its wings and shot into the fading daylight.

    Lura let loose a boisterous cheer, arms skyward after Ashen leveled off. The other dragons followed in a v-formation already leaving the forest behind them. Ashen roared in displeasure. Lura comforted her new pet with a calming hand along its head. Now, they headed straight for Cadieux Castle.

*  *  *  *  *

    She held her hands out at her waist, fingers touching and palms up. Grace pushed the air from her lungs in a long steady breath, clearing her frustration. Taking short bursts of air at first, Grace removed all thoughts. She waited for the ‘Glowen’ to appear in her mind’s eye. It was how the elders had explained it to her when she learned how to use her telepathy. The Glowen would appear just before you could reach out to your intended target. Grace had only ever used her power to communicate with others in secret. It was rather common among the gifted elves in Cadieux. Nearly a quarter of the population here had a degree of telepathic power. Grace always believed she was not one of the strongest. That, however, was not true. Grace was quite powerful, but her temperament had always thwarted her telepathy. One had to have a stoic mind in order to truly employ this power.

   Grace opened her eyes. Disappointment shown within them.

   “I failed?” Her voice was shaken. I have never failed to produce the Glowen before. What could be causing this? Without her mind’s ability to reach out, she wouldn’t be able to locate the proper stone. Her mind quickly began to wander, again thinking about her brother and the creation of the wall that held her prisoner.

   Grace and Javid had reconstructed the wall after discovering the Mystical Mirror. This wall would be its own self-defense. It could only be opened by a telepath. This provided an effective measure of security against the majority of Cadieux’s population. It would be the final stand against anyone attempting to locate the mirror. That was if they had already discovered the location.

   Javid created the wall himself. He had spent nearly three months painstakingly crafting these special stones. These blocks were solid, yes, but held together not by normal means. The sorcery he had been taught for destruction was now used for creation. He gleaned a confidence during this time that his sister would once again trust him. He poured his heart and soul into every ounce.

   When he brought Grace and Queen Merran into the depths of Cadieux Castle to witness his creativity, he hoped for redemption. With this, he proved his worth to Cadieux and his sister.

   “The use of telepathy will allow those to find the correct stone in which to begin,” Javid began to explain. He spoke too quickly, unable to contain his excitement. “Once the Glowen allows you to find that point, you place your hand upon it. Then the real magic begins,” Javid smiled at Queen Merran. He was really quite proud of this accomplishment.

    “Oh, brother,” Grace exclaimed.

   “Go ahead, Grace.” Javid motioned eagerly. He wanted to see if it worked as well as he imagined.

   She prepared herself, closing her eyes and emptying her mind as taught. The Glowen took hold and her mind’s eye searched out, finding a stone in the upper right section of the wall. Javid couldn’t see, but all telepaths would easily find the glowing circle hidden in the middle of the stone. It pulsed with a light blue hue. Grace placed her hand over it, and the stone shifted from its place, separating from the others. She stepped back, startled. Javid giggled like a boy. Grace gave him a half-hearted smile, curious as to what would happen next. She had been down here when he blew up the wall in the first place. I hope he doesn’t make it explode again.

   The stone had continued to move forward and then slid to the left, melting into the stone beside it. Queen Merran gasped in astonishment. She covered her mouth with a hand, ever demure.  The wall began to take a new shape around the hole that appeared where the first stone had vacated.  As the shifting continued, a door emerged.

   “That is quite impressive, Javid,” Queen Merran applauded.

   “Yes. Yes it is, brother,” Grace sounded more surprised than congratulatory. And I thought he was going to blow up the wall. This is much better.

   “And the pulse will change every time.”

   Queen Merran and Grace turned.

   “That way the door will not appear where it did the last time.” As he spoke, the stones began to shift back into place, closing the hole and remaking the wall. “And there is a time limit for the door to remain open. That way no unwanted visitors will be awaiting your return.”

    Grace grew angry, standing in the darkness. The Mystical Mirror had begun to fade. It would never fade out completely but dimmed shortly after it had been used, like the embers of a fire. She gripped the hilt of her sword, pulled it free, and slashed at the stone letting loose a ferocious growl. The sword clashed against the wall, sending sparks flying. She raised her weapon to strike again but stopped. No! She barked at herself. This will solve nothing. The clang of metal versus stone still resonated through the room. As it died, like her hope, her arms collapsed to her sides in surrender. Grace laid her hand upon the stone. Her head joined it along the cold rock wall. She sighed deeply in disappointment.

Beyond the magical wall Grace was not alone.

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