Chapter


Out of the thicket he burst. Sweat was dripping down his face as he forced himself to keep in pace with the stag he was chasing. He was sprinting as fast as his feet could carry him as he rounded a few trees, and effortlessly leapt over an empty creek bed. He could hear the hooves beating the ground, slowly becoming louder and he knew he was gaining on it. He was young and rather short for an elf, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in speed. As he bent his head closer to the ground, urging himself to move faster, his celadon hair whipped into his face. Brushing it quickly away, he continued. He could now see the back legs of the snow white stag as he pushed through a few thorn bushes, ripping part of his shirt and drawing blood.

The forest was thick. He couldn’t see far in front of him, but as the sun began to rise, it made it slightly easier to make out what laid ahead. He could hear the River Ahura, rushing dangerously in the trees to his left. With a great leap, he grabbed onto a vine and swung himself into the trees. Almost as though this were easier, he began to gain even more on the stag. He jumped from tree to tree as he raced high above the floor of Dendrel Forest.

He could now see the full body of the stag running directly under him as he hastened to take the lead. Knowing that a jump would inevitably slow him down, he waited until he was several feet in front of it before he leapt. Soaring soundlessly through the air he landed on the back of the stag, wrapped his arms around its neck, and brought it to the ground with a great thump. The pair skidded along the leaf-covered ground for many feet before slowing to a halt at the edge of a drop over the River Ahura.

As he looked down into the treacherous water that rushed through rocks at a deadly speed, he sighed.  He slowly pulled himself away from the edge. The river was wide and rough. It was hard to even see the other side through the haze of fog. He turned around. The white stag was still on the ground, and breathing heavily. He slowly approached the animal with a cautious step. As he reached down toward the stag, it leapt up and with a strange fire in its eyes and began to move toward him.

He straightened up, pulling his hand away as he took one step back.

“Whoa there, mate” be began, holding up both hands, trying to calm the magnificent beast. “It’s alright.”

“Mate?” The stag repeated inquisitively, in a slightly aggravated posh tone. “Honestly, Rogue, I fully understand that I have bestowed my friendship upon you, but do you really find the need to incessantly berate my noble ancestry? ‘Mate’ could not be further from the truth. I am a demigod of the forest, descended from Anatol.”

With a laugh, Rogue stepped forward. “You are too proud for your own good. I did however catch a ‘demigod of the forest.’ Now how could this even be possible? How is it likely that a lowly elf could even fathom the idea?”

“Excuse me, but I was gracefully slowing down in favor of preventing you from blundering off the edge and meeting the Goddess Ahura slightly ahead of your time. And how many times must I tell you not to tackle me by the neck. It is so belittling to a demigod. Really, Rogue, I feel as though I have bequeathed my unparalleled knowledge upon you in a way that would result in fruition by this time. I see my labors may have been in vain after all.”

“The whole point was to catch you,” Rogue replied, trying to stifle laughter. “What did you expect me to do? Politely ask you to give up the chase, Gren? If I must fight, it won’t be against a demigod of the forest. And if it is, it won’t be my friend. So it isn’t like I need to practice being nice.”

“Ah, now there is a noble way of handling things. Parlay before slay. I believe that was a sub heading of one of our studies in the art of war, if you had been paying attention. And it is Grenadin. You always shorten my name, and thus, my noble lineage,” Grenadin said serenely, and with a deep sigh he gazed into the sky as though looking for enlightenment from the heavens.

“We are not looking for a way of handling things nicely and fairly. You are supposed to be training me to be a warrior. I can’t politely request a peaceful conflict with an enemy, can I?”

“Never,” said Grenadin, in an airy voice of condescension, “underestimate the power of nobility and respe––”

An abrupt cry came from the direction of the trees from which the pair had just left. Both Rogue and Grenadin snapped their heads in the direction of the noise, and for a brief moment paused to glance at each other before hurdling off back into the forest. As they ran side by side, Rogue reached behind him and began to pull out his bow and an arrow. They reached the western edge of the forest, and peered out into the open, looking for the noise. An arrow was drawn back tight into Rogue’s shoulder. They could hear screaming and hurried talking but could not see who was making the sounds.

They walked into the knee-high grass of the plains and began to follow a small winding brook. Another scream could be heard right beside them, and Rogue jumped as the water bubbled up beside him.

“Nymphs! Humph,” bellowed Grenadin as he stomped the ground.

“What” said Rogue ostentatiously. “Nymphs?”

“Yes,” Grenadin replied, “the whole lot of them. Brooke. Sea. Even those little devils from the sky. If I could get my hooves on them.”

“You just hate everyone, huh,” said Rogue, again trying to stifle a laugh. “Don’t get all riled up. I don’t see anyone. And what do you have against Nymphs. I don’t necessarily fancy them, but they don’t do any wrong by me.”

“I most supremely do not hate everything,” retorted Grenadin, as he launched into a sophisticated tirade. “Just Brook Nymphs, and Sea Nymphs, and Sky Nymphs. Oh, and do not even get me started on Dryads. Always think they are––”

“Gren,” shouted Rogue, causing the great stag to snap back into reality. “Where are the Nymphs?”

“Niadia,” he replied curtly.

“Gren, Niadia has to be a hundred leagues away.”

“Rogue, Nymphs are nature,” said Grenadin quietly. “They are all around us in spirit. They are in the water and the trees. They are in the wind. They are everywhere. Literally everywhere. Always poking around in everything. Touching. Meddling. Taunting. I swear if I could get––”

“The water,” Rogue said inquisitively, turning to study the small babbling brook.

Grenadin sighed loudly as he walked over to stand beside Rogue.

“The Sea Nymphs use the water to transport to and from places, but they also use it as a means of communication. My guess is that something terrible is happening in Niadia right now. I mean, I hear them babbling all the time, but this does seem a little dire. I see that your physical training has seemed to cast a shadow upon our studies of Runa and its inhabitants. Dear me. I believe we went over the Nymphs rather thoroughly three weeks ago yesterday if my mind serves me. And it always serves me correctly. To think that I have unequivocally allowed this to happen. I fear we will be having a rather large session of study on the rise and fall of––”

“We should—”

“We should what,” said Grenadin calmly interrupting Rouge without breaking stride, “run a hundred leagues, hoping we get there in time to help the Nymphs out with some unknown tragedy they are currently facing? Come now, Rogue. Don’t be a dilly hash. We can no sooner save them than grow wings and fly there. Come, whatever is going on in Niadia is beyond us at this point.”

Rogue could not help but see the point in Grenadin’s words. He continued to stare at the water, the screams making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. The water continued to scream and gurgle, making Rouge think that someone was in pain, as they turned and began to walk back into the forest.

“I really wish you would listen to me for once,” Grenadin groaned, “why I remember when I first found you. Still wet behind the ears, and surrounded by wolves. You were so scared, that you ignored me when I told you to run. Seems as though little has changed.”

“Scared?” Argued Rogue. “Not a chance.”

“Those big bulbous eyes,” Grenadin laughed, now relishing the idea of how uncomfortable Rogue was, “I even think that your lips were quivering also.”

Rogue grimaced and began to walk faster as Grenadin continued.

“Ah, yes. You were only six, I believe. Ran away from home, no doubt in a fit of adolescent contumacy.”

At this, Rogue stopped and turned to look at Grenadin.

“As the wolves were closing in, a sudden bright light pierced the dark of the morning, causing the beasts to slow and look around in earnest.”

“And let's all guess what they saw?”

“A thunderous snow white stag leaping from the trees and into the opening, placing itself between the scared, lost little elf and the wolves. Seeing what was before them, the wolves immediately turned tail and ran, crying out in unprecedented fear. The stag, while unknown to Rogue, had been well known in the forest for hundreds of years. Grenadin. That’s me, by the way, was the demigod of the forest and he watched over it and took care of it as though he was a father.”

“Third person.” Rogue began. “Nice, Gren”.

“And, had I not taken you under my glorious wings, I doubt that you would have made it this far in life, Rogue. Really. I mean consider the other end of this story. The one where I don’t come to the triumphant rescue.”

“Clearly I am always wrong. Your worship it always right.”

Ten years later little had changed. Grenadin was beginning to get older and he had been alive for many hundreds of years already. His power was waning, and Rogue could tell that his reflexes were nowhere near what they used to be. As they trudged through the forest deep in conversation about their latest chase, Grenadin was still arguing his case.

“Indeed, Rogue,” he started in again as they came into an opening by a cool stream. “One day you will come to acknowledge my greatness as well as see the Nymphs for what they are...”

“Gren, I’m sure I will.”

“And the neck thing, I mean, really.”

“Oh, and here we go on the neck thing,” Rogue rolled his eyes. “You can’t possibly still be on that. It is a simple matter of taking you down in the most efficient way possible.”

“There is absolutely nothing efficient or glorious about bringing down a demigod by the neck. In fact, it is quite unnecessary and extremely undignified. If my father would have seen such an atrocity.”

“Father?” began Rogue, surprised, “Why have you never spoken of him before?”

“Really Rogue,” Grenadin began as he stopped and faced Rogue. “Do you honestly ignore absolutely everything that I teach you? I have on numerous occasions spoken explicitly about my noble lineage, and how I am a-.  

“Descendant of the great Anatol.” Rogue cut in. “We all know.”

They continued to carry on as they walked back through the forest heading east. Rogue lived farther north, on the outskirts of the great city of Dendrelfin. Instead of heading back to his home, however, Rogue and Grenadin continued east. Evening was falling, and Grenadin had every intention of going back through the annals of Nymphs history. Rogue had begun to catch on.

“Oh boy,” Rogue stretched and yawned loudly. “Is it late, or is it late? I think I need some rest. Gren, why are we not turning north?”

“Oh, young squire,” Grenadin sighed, shaking his head. “We have much to learn tonight. And please for the love of everything you hold dear, it is Grenadin. Gren-a-din. At some point in your life I do hope you will come to grips with the power and reverence that comes with my name. And also, don’t forget––”

“Your noble lineage,” Rogue interjected. “Your pristine, absolute, unequivocal, and indisputable lineage.”

“Now,” began Gren with a smile on his face, “that is more like it. Now, where were we? Ah yes, the year was 353 and––”

“You’re serious,” groaned Rogue.

“As I was saying before being rudely interrupted,” Grenadin said, waiting for silence. “The year was 353 of the first age and––”

The snap of a twig breaking on the forest floor echoed throughout the opening. Immediately Grenadin fell silent, and Rogue again reached for his bow as they both looked around. A soft rustling could be heard in the trees, but nothing could be seen. They remained still for a while, alert and peering around trying to see what had made the noise.

With a clicking and sniffing, a large creature slowly bumbled into the opening fifty feet from them. His head was darting from side to side. It was a reptilian beast about six feet long from head to tail. It had a round, knobby head and short snout, and was covered with thick matted fur. Rogue and Grenadin traded a confused look while, still hiding in the edge of the tree line. They watched the creature continue to grope around the opening.

Ragara, Rogue thought, but not completely sure.

“Ragara,” Grenadin whispered, as if answering his thought.

The Ragara sniffed the air a few more times, and then pulled its head back, looking straight up into the sky. The fact that they were in the middle of Dendrel Forest was something unheard of in this day and age. It gave a few yelping calls, and then returned to sniffing the air. More soft rustling could be heard in the trees as two more Ragaras moved into the opening, meeting the other to continue their search.

“Why are the Ragara here?” whispered Rogue. “I have never actually seen one before, but as I remember from you excellent training that they aren’t from around here. Nasty looking things, huh?”

“I haven’t any idea,” whispered Grenadin as he too sniffed the air, and continued to look around as though a plan was forming in his mind. “Rogue, I want you to listen to everything that I tell you.”

Rogue, sensing a strange nervous feeling move through him like he had never felt before, turned to face Grenadin. The Ragaras were still crawling around searching in the opening.

“You must leave the forest.”

“No,” replied Rogue in an angry whispered tone. “I will not. I can’t. The forest is my home.”

“The forest was your training. Listen to me. I am old and can no longer carry on in the way that I once did. There are things more powerful than me. Evil things. Things that you must live long enough to overthrow. There are also things that I must do, and I can’t do them alongside of you. Not at this time”

Rogue couldn’t believe his ears as he stared at his friend. The Ragaras were getting closer and closer as they spoke. Another two Ragaras crawled into the opening.

“I don’t understand.”

“You will not understand right now, just know that you must leave the forest. I have seen that the evil is coming. It courses from the east with a fury as I have not seen in my lifetime. I was told that this would happen, and if it is, then the time has come. If they are here. Here in Dendrel, then it is time. If evil has reached out and touched even our forest, then things are moving faster than we anticipated. You are ready. You have to leave while you can.”

“Gren, I don’t understand, who is we? Who told you these things?”

“You will understand in time. I promise. Seek out the prince from Delborish.”

“Gren. I can’t––”

“You can, and you will,” said a rushed Grenadin. “For the last time, just do as I ask. You will understand it all in time. There is no telling who might be listening or who is watching. Just know that this is the safest course of action, and all will be revealed to you in time. But I implore you to trust me as you have these last ten years.”

Rogue was still looking utterly confused as Grenadin sprang from their hiding place and charged the Ragaras. With the force of a great wind he threw two of them far, and kicked another back into the ground, breaking its neck.

“Go!” he yelled as he beat down another.

Even then, four more Ragaras jumped into the opening and began crawling toward the great stag. Rogue also jumped into the opening and began shooting down the Ragaras. One by one they fell to his arrows. As he began to run out, more and more Ragaras piled into the opening, rushing the two friends. A great cry came from Grenadin as he was being overwhelmed. A Ragara bit one of his hind legs. Bright white and glowing blood poured forth, splashing the Ragara in the face. It yelped and began beating its head on the ground, as the blood began to melt into its skin.

“Now,” yelled Grenadin. “Leave now!”

Ignoring Grenadin, he continued to shoot the Ragaras. When he ran out of arrows, he pulled a long knife out and began to kill the Ragaras as they made their way into the opening.

“You must trust me,” yelled Grenadin, now surrounded by the Ragaras.

When Rogue refused yet again, three large tree vines swooped down, undoubtedly at the command of Grenadin, and wrapped themselves around Rogue. He fought to free himself, but it was no good. Every time he slashed a vine, another would come to take its place. The vines were dragging him away so fast all he could see was the dim light emitting from the stag growing fainter and fainter. Ragara after Ragara were leaping into the clearing. Pouncing and biting Grenadin. As Rogue began losing sight of the stag, there was a blinding burst of light. An explosion so large that it threw all of the Ragaras back, and Rogue had to shut his eyes and look away.

“Gren,” Rogue yelled one last time, before he was pulled around a large tree and out of sight of the battle. He was far away, but from what he could see, there was nothing left in the forest opening. Rogue began to wrestle free of the vines, but as he did, they went limp and released him. Quickly standing up, he ran back in the opposite direction to where the fighting had taken place. When he arrived, there was nothing but a small crater where the explosion had taken place. Dead Ragaras lay all around the crater, but there was no sign of Grenadin.

“No,” whispered Rogue, as he fell to his knees, “Gren.”