A small breakfast was made for Jed when he got out of bed. The rest of the campsite was also packed up. As he ate, the two of them looked out at the prairieland. Though it was the same landscape they had seen every morning for days, Kara hurried Jed to renew their trek.

“I feel anything is possible now,” she said.

They walked through the grass fields and by the scarecrow trees and boulder fortresses and under the blackened clouds that never offered rain. That howling wind seemed to speak to them, telling them to go back. Kara brought her head up higher and smiled as she glanced at Jed while he searched hard at the hillsides flanking them. No more wraiths were seen or heard. He sensed that they had passed the worst of it.

“It’s not quite scary anymore, is it?” Kara said. “Have you ever seen anything like this in your land?”

“Sort of. No wraiths, though.”

“It’s so strange. When we first came here, I wondered how a place so desolate could exist. Now it doesn’t bother me. Maybe it’s because I know we won’t be here forever.”

They traveled for another two days. On the third, they moved through one of the prairies when Jed stopped in his tracks.

“What is it?” Kara asked.

Jed put a finger to his lips, then looked around.

“I feel it now,” Kara said. “Something’s here.”

Jed took another step forward. With his arm extended, he pushed his flat palm out in the air, as if searching for something. He then jerked his hand back instinctively.

“Are you alright?” she said.

Jed kept staring ahead, perceiving unseen energy in the air. He put his hand out again, taking another step forward. A long breath fell from his mouth as he lowered his hand and motioned to Kara. Standing beside him, they took a step together as though walking off a cliff.

In an instant, the Field of Baldae was gone. Before them was a vast and dense forest, the air sweet and clean. Though it was dark, Forena’s three satellites shone with such brightness that felt as clear as day, their rays of light piercing through the heavy fog that permeated everything so that the trees seemed to glow.

Kara clung to Jed’s side as she looked upon the twisted, warped tree trunks bent over like an old man, the curved branches plunging into the dark, soft soil. She walked a few feet away from Jed, studying the trees before turning to a marked page in the texts. She then snapped the book shut. Solemn, she prayed for a moment as Jed watched quietly.

“The Hercerla Forest,” she said. “My people’s first homeland. We may be the first here in over a thousand years. There were no others living in the forest.”

She became distraught. “What if someone has come since?”

Jed drew his bow and held it by his side. Kara consulted the texts again and then brought them to Jed. “It says the Impora is inside the Ansele Temple my ancestors built in honor of Forena. We have to find our way through this forest to reach it.”

“Anything else?” he asked.

“The histories say there may be ancient Varexians still guarding the temple. They descend from Forena’s warrior priest class. However, not all of them left when our people departed. No one really knows why they stayed. The text isn’t as clear as I would like…after this, you’ll want to go home, I imagine.”

“Yes.”

“There is a prayer that might have been written for you. But it requires Impora’s powers. Once we get it, and stop Grancaliga, we can get you home.”

Jed thought he heard something move. He quietly prepared an arrow as Kara kept talking.

An animal cry resonated from among the trees.

“That is not the prayer of woodland spirits,” she said.

Jed saw something coming from behind. Before he could turn, the beast swooped in with the speed of a falcon and grabbed Kara before running away. It then stopped and faced Jed. He was wide-eyed as he gazed at the werewolf standing on its thick hindlegs, Kara held in its arm-like front legs. Its fur was black with streaks of red and blue running from the base of its neck down to its tail. There was a human quality to its facial expression conveying an agonizing pain that seemed to give it life.

The werewolf summoned three companions from the trees with a howl. He licked his lips as he spoke to them. “At last, you can feast on flesh again.”

The trio threw their heads back as they howled. The leader disappeared with Kara, while they began encircling Jed. With controlled breaths, he attempted to keep them all facing him, but they moved too fast. He fired at the one nearest to him. The werewolf tore the arrow out from his fur and tossed it aside as it flashed dagger-like fangs.

Drawing a tinder-wrapped arrow from his quiver, Jed lit the tip and loosed it at the same werewolf. The beast dodged it and snuffed the fire out with a deep, heavy breath.

“Your weapons are pitiful,” it said.

The werewolf then lunged at Jed. His shield came off his back just in time. Claws scratched and tore at it, but the iron-plated frame stood firm. Jed struck with the shield, pushing the werewolf away just as another attacked. His short sword got caught in its jaws, and he fought to wrestle it out. The werewolf released its grip and threw its claws at him. He rolled and hacked at its hindlegs, drawing blood. Wounded, the monster roared but moved behind the other two.

“You’ll pay for this, intruder,” the wounded one said. “We’ll let you live as we consume you, piece by piece.”

He felt no fear, not because of some great courage. He simply could not fully accept that it was all real, and a part of him believed were they to get him, he would wake up from a deep dream.

The two unharmed werewolves leapt in the air together above Jed. He raised his shield once more, but the impact knocked him down. They went for his legs, but he kicked the beasts before they could sink their teeth into his flesh.

He tried to raise his sword, but one of them ripped it from his hands. Sniffing at Jed’s leg, the werewolf salivated.

“Time to feed.”

As it went to bite off his foot, Jed frantically yanked the longsword from his back and with a loud cry brought it down hard with both hands. The werewolf blinked at him, then dropped as its body split apart.

The remaining two werewolves jumped back in shock. They howled sadly at their fallen companion, then turned their black eyes on Jed and ran straight at him. Striking from high twice more, Jed then lowered his sword as he stared at the two lying dead together. When he turned to the third, he found it was no longer a werewolf, but a well-built man dressed in brightly colored embroidered military garb. On the clothing was a crest featuring a wolf surrounded by trees, bordered by the same red and blue color on their fur. Moments later, a similar transformation occurred with the other two.

He inspected them closely and found thick scale-like chainmail underneath their garb. Removing it from one of them, he put the chainmail on beneath his tunic. It felt weighty, but didn’t impede his mobility as he had expected.

Gathering his things, he went to where the werewolf who had taken Kara last stood. Noting the tracks, Jed followed them closely as he moved through the forest.

Beyond sight, he heard the far-off sound of wolf howls. Taking a deep breath, he trudged onward. Terror sought to grip his heart, but he knew that to give in would be to condemn Kara. He would not fail her, or Telman—even if they never saw each other again.

***

Telman heard a terrible roar as he woke up from his spot against the mountain wall. Grabbing his sword, he felt a blast of wind, followed by a blinding whirl of ice and snow. Throwing his hood on, he stood ready for an attack, calling to the Varexians in front of him. No one replied.

Wiping his dry mouth, he moved through the gust toward the ledge. Before he could see his men, a dark, imposing figure emerged.

Telman immediately went to attack. In one incredible stroke, a great sword knocked his weapon from his hand back into the passageway.

Grancaliga appeared, a large smile apparent. “You thought you could stop me? Better yet, you thought your pathetic band could withstand my powers?”

“Delay was more like it.”

“You hardly succeeded.”

“When they have Impora, you’ll feel different.”

Grancaliga approached Telman, his great sword held in readiness. “You and I know they’ll never find it.”

Telman laughed. “Have you read the manuscripts?”

“No one can read them—except the girl. She’ll know the Divinity Prayer.”

Telman glanced at the Varexians unconscious near the ledge. The mist dissipated temporarily. The bridge had been obliterated. A rope in hand, Grancaliga tossed it over the ledge to the other side, where a soldier snatched it and tied it down. One by one, soldiers began a deliberate crossing.

“Why destroy it?” Telman said. “Your entire force can’t possibly make it across.”

“At the Battle of the Five Lagoons, I lost my entire navy in the morning. I still accepted a surrender that evening. My entire fleet was easily rebuilt, as will this bridge.”

“You waste your time. The girl will never deify you. She’ll die first.”

Grancaliga chuckled. “I don’t doubt it. She wouldn’t do it to save her own life. But I have a feeling she will do it to save yours.

“You’re wrong.”

“You’re not very convincing.”

Telman took a small knife from his hip, pressing it against his abdomen. His chest rose and fell rapidly. “Is this more persuasive?”

Shaking his head, Grancaliga gestured at the Varexians behind him. Soldiers had crossed and now stood watch over them.

“They won’t enjoy the swift death you pretend you’re willing to take,” the general said.

Before Telman could respond, Grancaliga confronted him and kicked the knife out of his hands. “Give up your pretenses. You won’t kill yourself. Why, I don’t know. My only concern is bringing the girl back. To that end, you’ll live.”

***

For all installments from The Legend of Forenia: The Twilight Kingdom, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Prologue
  2. Chapter 1
  3. Chapter 2
  4. Chapter 3
  5. Chapter 4, Part 1
  6. Chapter 4, Part 2