The wandering way

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Photo via VisualHunt.com

A quick author’s note – a fit man can walk up to 96 miles in a twenty four hour period and elves in this world only need four hours of sleep, so keep that in mind when you see the numbers in this.

Sheridan sighed as he sat down on one of the many large white rocks along the edge of the path. He rubbed his calves. His traveling companion looked at him. “You grow tired, human. I thought you had the energy of an elf.”

It was the same joke as always. Sheridan rolled his eyes. “Your body outdoes mine every time, Rauvelore. You know that. Besides, we’ve also gone, what, forty miles already?”

Rauvelore chuckled. “Fifty three. Only seven more before we reach our destination. Surely you can last that long.”

Sheridan glanced at the sky. It was getting dark. “Let’s go. The sooner we get there the more sleep I get.” They set off again.

The last seven miles seemed to take an eternity, but finally they reached their next camping spot. Rauvelore got a fire going and Sheridan helped put up the tent. He filled his water bottle with the clear, fresh water.

Their meal was simple, and accompanied by a drink Rauvelore gave him that restored everything he’d lost during the day. It was both bitter and salty, so Sheridan chased it with water.

“You should go get some sleep, Sheridan. I will give you an extra hour since it is close to midnight,” Rauvelore said.

“Sounds good to me,” Sheridan said. “Good dreaming.”

Sheridan crawled into his tent and wrapped up in his sleeping bag. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. His dreams were haunted by the face of the woman he’d loved, the woman he’d killed by his own stupidity.

Emmi was everything Sheridan wanted in life. She wasn’t that pretty physically, but her soul was so vibrant it didn’t matter. It had been her laugh that attracted him to her in the first place. That and her high intelligence. The two of them met at a party and hit it off. She’d given him her number just before the night ended and he’d called her the next day and set up their first official date.

They’d been together three years when he proposed on Midsummer, a holiday the elves had taught the humans about when they emerged from their isolation. She accepted happily, jumping into his arms and kissing him quite thoroughly. They were so happy. She started planning the wedding, which was set for the following Midsummer.

The only blot on their happiness was his alcoholism. He’d started drinking when he was sixteen, a defense against his parents’ fights. It helped him go to sleep regardless of how loud they were. Then it helped him cope with the depression after his mother killed his father and went to jail for it. He was eighteen and didn’t need to go into foster care, but his two younger sisters did since the courts considered him an unfit guardian for them because of his age and financial status.

He continued drinking heavily as he got a job in the finance department of a local bank, went to college on their dime, and graduated with honors – all while drunk off his ass. He’d risen rapidly until – at twenty four – was named the youngest bank manager for a small, newly opened branch in West Virginia, which was where he met Emmi.

Emmi was forever trying to get him to quit drinking. He would try for her, but he kept going back to it when he had a rough time. Finally, one night, he was driving drunk though Emmi didn’t know. His reflexes were greatly reduced and when a car stopped suddenly in front of him he couldn’t stop in time. They slammed into the back of it at full speed. Emmi died instantly while Sheridan escaped with a few facial scars and a load of guilt that still weighed him down. He hadn’t taken a drop of alcohol since.

Rauvelore woke him the next morning, ignoring the dark circles and the haunted look in Sheridan’s eyes. They packed up and got back on the road. Four hours later, they reached a steep hill. “What I want you to see is at the top of this. It is not an easy climb,” Rauvelore said. “No human I have brought here has been able to get more than halfway up. Do you think you can get all the way to the top?”

Sheridan assessed the grade of the path. “I won’t know until I try.” They started climbing.

Sheridan reached the halfway point and wanted to stop. But he also didn’t want to be another failure for Rauvelore. So he kept quiet and continued to climb.

It took three hours to reach the top. By then, Sheridan was exhausted. Rauvelore waited for him to catch his breath before he gently took Sheridan’s shoulders and turned him. Sheridan stood straight and looked out over the countryside.

His jaw dropped. What he saw was a beautiful, hilly land with a long, white, curvy road winding between each hill. “What is this place?” Sheridan asked in a soft voice.

“This is the Long Road, something every Wanderer follows at least once in his life,” Rauvelore said, his voice equally as quiet. “He does not do it alone, though. He goes with a companion, a friend to keep him from feeling the weight of loneliness.” He paused. “I have tried to bring other elves here with me, but none of them have felt right. I am unique among my kind because I am more comfortable around humans. So I started bringing your kind with me. You are the first to reach this place.”

It took Sheridan a minute to process everything. “You consider me a friend?”

Rauvelore nodded. “I know your grief, Sheridan. I too lost a loved one to a terrible mistake.” He paused, his eyes the color of the ocean meeting Sheridan’s. “Will you walk the Long Road with me? To see what’s on the other end?”

Sheridan closed his eyes, thinking of everything held left behind to take up the life of a vagabond, following Rauvelore all over the world. They’d been together for the past three years, and the connection between them was very strong. Sheridan opened his eyes. “Yes, my friend. I will walk the Long Road with you.” Rauvelore smiled and the two of them took their first steps on a brand new adventure.

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A gift of freedom

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Photo via VisualHunt

Aleesia flattened herself behind a small rise in the ground. The herd was still grazing, though the grass was limited. The branches and dead trees provided a hazard to Aleesia and her team as they prepared to attempt a capture. Her client had specified which horse they wanted. She’d already located it and her team had a plan how to separate it from the rest of the herd.

“Jessa, Liesel, are you ready?” she whispered.

The elven twins flashed her a gesture, indicating their readiness. They didn’t speak the human tongue though they understood it. They considered it too crude to even attempt. Aleesia found that opinion amusing and accepted their peculiarity with good grace. Few other wranglers would have done so. But the twins made capturing animals much easier so she dealt with all of their odd habits.

Breton squirmed closer to her. His dark skin was a blot on the terrain and he was keeping himself even farther down the hill. “Are you sure you know which one it is?” he whispered.

“Yeah. It’s pretty distinctive, considering it’s the darkest one there,” Aleesia said. “Are you ready?” He nodded. “Jessa, Liesel, go.”

The twins slipped over the hill and vanished, using their magic to turn invisible. They would be moving into place on either side of the dark mare. Aleesia called her magic to her hands. She took a deep breath and gestured at one of the dead trees. It shattered with a loud noise.

The horses screamed in terror and took off running. The dark horse lunged after her herd but suddenly found herself unable to move. She strained against the invisible bonds holding her but couldn’t break them.

“My turn,” Breton said. He scrambled over the hill, the halter and rope in his hand. He approached the horse. The twins’ magic held it in place as he slipped the enchanted leather over the mare’s head. He attached the lead and took a good hold of it. “Okay, I’ve got her.”

The twins shed their invisibility and released the mare. The horse tried to rear but Breton’s great strength held her down. She snorted and struggled but he stood fast. Aleesia climbed over the hill and joined the others. “She’s beautiful,” she said.

“She’s really spirited too,” Breton said.

Aleesia felt a pang. The client who’d demanded this horse was brutal when he broke them. They were truly broken when he was finished. She’d be utterly without spirit or personality. “I hate turning her over to him,” she said.

Liesel made a few hand gestures. “Liesel has a point,” Breton said. “If we don’t we’ll lose our reputation and we won’t have work.”

“I know,” Aleesia said. She put a hand on the proud beast’s neck. “I’m sorry sweet lady.”

Don’t be sorry. Don’t do this. The voice echoed in all of their minds. All four of the wranglers jerked back and stared at the horse.

“You can speak?” Breton asked.

Yes. All of my herd can. The horse snorted. Did you think we were the ordinary dumb creatures who roam the plains to the east? They could not survive in these lands.

Jessa looked at Liesel. They spoke in their own language for a moment. Then Jessa made a face before turning to Aleesia. “This is not a horse,” she said, her words heavily accented. “This is a sithana.”

“What’s a sithana?” Aleesia asked.

We are kin to the elves and fae, the sithana said. We have existed in this world for millennia. We can take many forms, from gentle creatures such as my herd to those beasts you call imaginary – dragons, gryphons, and chimera to name a few.

“We should let her go,” Liesel said. “We will lose reputation but we will save a life as precious as our own.”

“How will we eat if we don’t deliver?” Breton asked.

Should you release me you will be granted good fortune, the sithana said. That I swear.

“She has the power to do that,” Jessa said. “She has more magic than us. She can do what the fae do.”

Aleesia was silent, thinking hard. “Breton, take off the harness.”

“Aleesia, we’re going to lose out on a lot of money,” Breton said.

“I won’t enslave a sentient being,” Aleesia said. “Release her.”

Breton scowled but did as he was told. The sithana shook her head and reared up on her hind legs. Good fortune is yours, wranglers. You will find it as you pursue your future. Farewell. She took off chasing after her herd.

Aleesia sighed. “Let’s go tell our client we couldn’t catch his horse. At least if we lie we can save some face.” The other three nodded and the wranglers headed back to their own mounts, each lost in their thoughts of the beautiful being they’d just set free.

A land unknown

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Photo via Visual Hunt

Jordan guided the drone over the valley. He marveled at the images the camera was sending back. “This is amazing,” he said, glancing over at his business partner.

Braedon just grunted. “How is this going to make us money?”

Jordan rolled his eyes. “Virtual tourism is the new big thing, Braedon. You know travel is just too damned expensive these days.”

“It wouldn’t be if there wasn’t the ban on fossil fuels,” Braedon said.

“Airlines and ships can still use them,” Jordan said. “You know that.”

“Yes, and they get to set their own prices,” Braedon said. “The cost for them is astronomical so that gets passed along to customers.”

“True, but you notice that doesn’t stop people from traveling. Why do you think the new infrastructure projects have been put on high priority? The president is determined to make life in America better for all of us,” Jordan said.

Braedon grunted again. Jordan shook his head. President Samantha Harrison was an amazing woman. She was one of those rare politicians who made moderate promises and managed to keep most of them. Jordan was a realist. He knew there were things she wouldn’t be able to do because of circumstances beyond her control, but still she was doing a very good job.

Braedon jabbed the screen. “What’s that?”

Jordan frowned. “I’m not sure.” He guided the drone down closer to the treeline as another flash of red and gold too large to be an animal moved into view.

A young woman dressed in a bizarre costume stepped into the light. She was followed by several other young men and women. Jordan was astonished by how tall they all seemed to be as he compared them to the trees behind them. They moved with the grace of dancers. “Who are they? I thought this place was supposed to be undiscovered,” Braedon said.

“It is, and I have no idea,” Jordan said. He moved the drone a little closer.

He was now able to see more details of their appearance. Jordan couldn’t help but stare. They were the most attractive people he’d ever encountered. They were slender, with the build of the dancers they moved like. Their faces were perfect ovals. They had almond shaped eyes that were the deepest blue he had ever seen. Long hair was pulled back and he could swear they had pointed ears.

“Bloody cosplayers,” Braedon groaned. “They think they’re elves.”

“I don’t know that they aren’t,” Jordan said. Unlike his partner, Jordan still believed in magic. He’d always held out hope he would see a faerie, an elf, or a dragon. Braedon was far more down to earth than he was, which was why they made good business partners, but his lack of imagination sometimes dragged them down.

“You’re insane,” Braedon said. “Elves don’t exist.”

“Braedon, look at their hands,” Jordan said.

They watched as something sparked around their fingers. They went to the pool beneath the massive waterfall and knelt beside it. The elves – Jordan couldn’t think of them as anything else now – dipped their hands into the water. Light erupted from the pool, spreading up the waterfall and into the ground surrounding them.

The waterfall split and a gate opened. A beautiful land filled with wonders Jordan couldn’t identify appeared. The elves lifted their hands from the water. The light remained. They walked across the water as if it was a hard surface and one by one filed through the opening. The first woman to enter the valley paused and looked back. She fixed her gaze on the drone. She frowned and made a gesture. There was a burst of static and then the words “no signal” appeared on the screen.

“What the hell was that?” Braedon asked, his voice full of confusion.

“That, Braedon, was an alternate dimension,” Jordan said. “Those were elves. And that woman destroyed our drone with magic.” He turned to face his partner. “I think we’ll leave this valley as undiscovered.”

“I agree,” Braedon said. “Not because I think those were elves, but because there is definitely something dangerous there.”

“I’ll go set up the next drone,” Jordan said. He stood and walked off into his garage where the spare drones were sitting on a shelf, his mind still on the elves.