• Krista Jain

Disappearance

The vast green hills of Fairdraisha spread out below as far as the horizon, however, something was obstructing the roll of grass. The overlay of rokian camps made Rocanu's wingtips twitch upward. In utter disgust, he watched rokians building fires out of Fairdraisha's trees and eating Fairdraisha's food. There was nothing wrong with their jungle far in the south, and yet their discontent urged them to curse, kill, and steal from the humans here. There was no reason for the senseless bloodshed, and Rocanu's rising anger urged him to dive for the nearest camp.

Unfortunately, the vayen aray along with Fairdraisha and Aven Forest have been pushing the rokians back for over half a decade. Not only was their effort ineffective, but they were also losing. How can that be?! With the alliance of three peoples, the rokians were outnumbered. Rokian magic was the cause of all this. It was the strongest magic ever known and they knew they could take anything they wanted with it.

Rocanu didn't realize how intent he was staring at the proclaimed rokian territory until a figure came up beside him. The sigh that escaped from Paythel's lips disappeared in the cool breeze. "I've never seen such an awful sight in my life. Before you know it, the rokians will take over the whole world and eliminate the rest of us."

Rocanu tore his eyes off the clustered huts and backed up to look the other veteran in the eyes. While Paythel was only a few hundred years younger than Rocanu himself, he hasn't engaged much with rokian affairs before. The experienced veteran was gentle on him though as Rocanu looked him in the eye. "It won't happen. You'll see. We've dealt with them this long. There's no way we'll let them do this to the humans."

Despite the encouragement, Paythel broke contact and looked back over the camps. His darker wings, while folded, quivered with anxiety. Even darker eyes studied the horizon, though it seemed he was more staring off into the void than anything, just as Rocanu was a moment ago. Rocanu allowed his silence.

The cool breeze returned, carrying the ashen tang that lingered in Rocanu's nostrils. That, accompanied by the beat of rokian drums, only spread the taint of rokian victory again through his mind. He understood Paythel's doubt and worry, but he also knew the vayen aray were good for putting the rokians back in their place. He also understood that if there was still a chance for Fairdraisha, Rocanu's people would have to fight with all they have. Rallying forces on the camps weren't enough. They must prepare something more powerful to help them. The veterans may have to summon their strongest magic. Rocanu feared it may come to this, but they may not have any other choice. They must be careful with their next move.

Paythel seemed to be pondering as well, though he didn't move from his previous stance. Hair the color of a starless night wafted to the side of his head, obstructing his expression. Rocanu sucked in a breath and turned again to the younger man. The movement caught Paythel's attention, but Rocanu hesitated for almost a full minute before he spoke. "There's more we can do, but it'll be dangerous. We need to speak with King Brenmor and Lady Lafersia." He finished with a sudden wave of urgency and before Paythel could react to the statement, Rocanu spread his wings and took to the sky. He issued a final word before the wind took over. "Have the other veterans present at the Forest Border Trading Post for the summons!"

Paythel watched the figure grow ever distant. His uncertainty lingered in the flicker of his eyes and the way he bit his lip. He turned his head to stare again at the rokian camps for a moment before he also took off with a loud beat of wings.

◊     ◊     ◊

While Rocanu gave the message to the rulers of Fairdraisha and Aven Forest, Paythel projected his voice overseas to a veteran in their mountain home of Lyfíhana. The spell, while taking some time to create and let fly, was still worth it as the trip would have taken much longer. He would still go to Lettir in the east himself to summon the veterans there since it wasn't too far from the trading post and he could fly far in one day.

Paythel's graceful landing in the Forest Border Trading Post barely brought a glance from the others. He folded his wings and straightened his hair and spotted Rocanu further ahead, pacing back and forth and muttering to himself. Finally, the old veteran's trance broke and he approached him. Rocanu's dusty eyes were still clouded in focus, but he managed a polite smile and clasped Paythel on the back. "I'm glad you made it. The others got here from Lyfíhana a little while ago. We're only waiting on King Brenmor. He should be here anytime now." He finished his report with an intake of breath. The man was either exhausted or anxious, but Paythel couldn't decide which. Rocanu wasn't always good at hiding his emotions. Even so, it was impossible to read him in these times.

Paythel didn't bother asking. These disastrous times affected everyone in Fairdraisha. They were all overwhelmed. Paythel remained silent and scanned the trading post. There was a set table standing in the middle of the camp behind them, and the voices of the other veterans and Lady Lafersia and her advisors merged in a light discussion. For the split second he looked at Lafersia before he averted staring at a woman of such grace and rank, he could tell her shroud of politeness was hiding impatience. Her shining gaze met each speaker, though her soft expression remained serious. Her bright blonde hair fell like a gorgeous waterfall down the back of her chair until it almost touched the ground. Slender fingers chinked against her cup of tea.

Then a new sound caught Paythel's attention. He snapped forward and matched the clamber of horses and wheels on dirt as a fine carriage. The king has arrived. Trimmed gold and silver reflected in the sunbeams and the horses slowed. As soon as the footboy opened the door, Rocanu swooped low. Paythel followed as King Brenmor stepped out.

"Your Highness! We're so grateful you arrived!" Rocanu cried out. The resting frown didn't change on the elder human's face. He didn’t even regard the veteran as he marched for the table, his red cape flowing out behind him.

"This better be about the rokians, Rocanu! They are injuring and cursing my people as we speak." King Brenmor growled, pulling up a seat aside Lady Lafersia and her advisors.

 At the mention of the rokians, Rocanu rose and rushed to the table. Paythel followed behind, only taking a seat once the experienced veteran did also. "Actually, this is about the rokians. I believe I know how we can rid them of Fairdraisha."

The king seemed pleased the topic was brought up so quickly. He leaned back, though the other vayen aray at the table leaned in. Obviously, Rocanu has not briefed them much on the plan, if any. Paythel was too young to judge. Rocanu was among the head of the veterans. His unique and spontaneous ideas were usually forgiven. Paythel watched the vayen aray carefully, curious how he was going to handle the table. "It's not going to be easy," Rocanu admitted next. "I wanted everyone here to stress the importance of patience."

That sparked Brenmor into speaking up. He went from stroking his lush white beard into shaking his fist over the table. "Any more patience will kill my kingdom!"

Rocanu's wings fluffed out and nearly brushed Paythel. Otherwise, the vayen aray remained calm at the accusation. "You are not wrong, dear friend, but it may be all we have left."

The reassurance seemed to quiet the king at least. He leaned back again, though he drove his solemn expression away. Lady Lafersia, who remained neutral and still this entire time, finally responded. "It seems you have a rather big plan in mind, though we haven't heard of it yet." At the end of her melodic voice, all eyes turned back again to Rocanu, who hesitated. Paythel blinked. This wasn't good.

The veteran recovered and cleared his throat, his wings folding neatly once more. Paythel expected a grand recovery where Rocanu called his plan of action to the table, but instead, the veteran turned to the other vayen aray at the table and resumed with a relaxed tone. "For the sake of the kingdom, we may have to give everything we have to vanquish our old enemy once and for all. It would take all of us for this to work. Veterans, are you committed to protecting Fairdraisha at all costs?"

The winged folk was quick to agree, though they held curious and dangerous gazes. Rocanu continued, but each word came slower and less sure. "There is a spell among our people that would rid us of the entire rokian species. However, it takes a long time to prepare and there is no way we could speed it up. It's a dangerous spell and could have terrible effects if it's-"

One of the veterans leaped to his feet, his feathers bristling as he pounded the table for attention. "This isn't the spell of banishment, is it?! The consequences are too dire even for this situation. Even if it works as planned, the spell is too unpredictable and cruel for any race."

But Rocanu would not have suggested such a bold idea if they weren't desperate. He inhaled, allowing his body and eyes to fall as he released his breath. "I wish there was more we could do, but I fear we're running out of options." Finally, he turned his head up and matched the eyes around the table. Only the songs of birds filled the silence. The once-present wind hushed, waiting. Rocanu's tone was open and honest. "I would appreciate alternatives..."

The veterans broke among themselves, engaging in whispered chatter. As for the elves and humans, they glanced at those around them in confusion. Then, King Brenmor spoke. The sound of his thick voice quieted all the others. "Well, how long are we talking?"

All of the vayen aray people knew the answer, but none of them wanted to chime in. Despite there being no backing to his chair, Paythel sank, wanting to disappear underneath the table. He could only pray there would be no outbreak. When all else failed and the king turned red, they all stared at Rocanu. The old veteran almost left his pointed jaw agape, his cloudy eyes flickering cold. He must have decided to put on an air of false confidence because then he answered loud and clear. "Over a moon, sire."

That was it. The king was going to break the table in half and everyone else with it. Paythel couldn't keep from trembling and he swallowed. Sure enough, the king blew steam. "The rokians will have the castle by then! There's no time to wait. It's all or nothing."

Rocanu didn't flinch and didn't back down. If anything, this was his most confident stance. "Dear friend, I have already told you we are doing everything within our power to save Fairdraisha. We are your allies. This land is important to all of us. We'll support your defenses in any way we're able." He gestured an open hand to Lady Lafersia across from him. "And I'm sure the elves will say the same."

The lady faced the human and responded. "He's right, Your Highness. I'll do everything in my power to help your people. Though I do have a question, Sir Rocanu." She finished, turning back to the vayen aray as the king settled down once more. "What is the spell of banishment?"

Rocanu sighed and ran his free hand through his hair, pressing his elbow on the surface of the table. "I-it's a terrible spell if I was honest with you." He met her questioning, graceful eyes. "It requires a lot of magic from multiple veterans over time to work. It's a complex web that snares a race of people and locks them in... Well, who knows where? A world or dimension away from our own."

The veteran who interrupted earlier continued next. "Our people never had to resort to such a plan before, and we never wanted to. If we do this right, the spell will send the entire rokian race, men, women, and children, to a different plane of existence. They may die there if it doesn't suit them. We may be sending an entire race of people to extinction."

Another breath of silence fell on the table, but this time it was more ominous like a dark cloud hanging over their heads. The breeze picked up, but the wind seemed cruel and colder. Even the king, who once roared about the safety of his people pondered with his fist to his temple.

"Would the cost be worth it?" A trembling voice asked. The table turned to Paythel. When he realized all eyes were on him, he cleared his voice and sat straight. "Can we condemn the entire rokian race over ours?"

No response. The evening sun sparkled between the western leaves, enchanting the trading post in an orange glow. Finally, King Brenmor ran his hand over his trimmed sideburns and sucked in a breath. "We must. It's either them or the entirety of Fairdraisha."

Lady Lafersia snapped her attention from the king to the vayen aray, her usual composer shattered with alarm. "Can't we warn them what might happen? Is there a way you can banish only the ones on the battlefield at least!?"

It was Rocanu who answered. "As I said before; it's not simple magic. It can be unpredictable if not prepared right, but I promise you, Lady Lafersia, we will try. As for warning them of what might be coming, that's not a wise idea either. They know the vayen aray avoid using that spell. They won't believe we're actually going to use it."

As if in denial, she turned her gorgeous head away. It was at this point when Rocanu realized there may be a bigger problem than he thought. Of course, the idea of possibly sending an entire race to their death wasn't something anyone of them wanted to do, but this may be unacceptable to the ruler among the elves.

Rocanu didn't show faltering confidence and didn't suggest anything else. He remained quiet, inwardly begging someone to either accept his idea or question him further. Finally, he had his response, and from his own people no less! Searo, a stubborn veteran, spoke loud across the table. "I still think it's the best chance. We must preserve the people of Fairdraisha, even if that means ridding the entire rokian race, as bad as that outcome may be. It's better than allowing them to rule everything we have in this world." To further prove his point, the wide man rose from his chair and looked for any to join him.

After a few decisive nods, the human king rose, followed by the rest of the vayen aray. Lady Lafersia was last, though she seemed supportive of their decision. Discussion rose among groups and Paythel stretched his tight muscles. The conclusion of the meeting left him empty. He didn't know how to think or react to the decision. Has it really come to this?

He was reaching the realization that, as a veteran, he would have to help with the spell when Rocanu furrowed a brow at him. "You doing all right, kid? You don't look so easy."

Paythel met the peer, but again Rocanu was unreadable. He wondered what those circular eyes caught because Paythel could neither deny nor confirm the question. Before he answered, he ran his hand over the side of his right wing, smoothing the feathers down, though he only did so to mask any hint of weakness in front of the other veteran. The man before him was anything but intimidating, and if it wasn't for a layer of muscle over his body, Rocanu might be seen as somewhat lanky. Perhaps it was his age and respect from the tribe that made him so in times like this.

Still, he was a good friend. Paythel decided to share his insecurity. "Do you think this is the best decision? We're not just trying to win a battle anymore. This will change everything. Forever." He saw it from him often, but it always surprised the young veteran to see the amount of uncertainty show on Rocanu's face. It dissolved into a frown. Paythel could almost see the world resting on top of him.

Rocanu wanted to offer a better response to the young man, but before he had the chance, King Brenmor approached and Paythel knew he wouldn't get an answer. Rocanu shifted and bowed his head before the king. The veteran's nose was much longer and pointed from this angle. The king acknowledged the vayen aray's loyalty with a hand placed on his muscled but otherwise bony shoulder.

"You've always been a reliable friend of mine, Rocanu of the vayen aray. Don't think your efforts go by unknown to me." He paused and allowed the veteran to stand straight before him. "If this works and the rokians disappear, I'll give your people anything you desire in my kingdom."

Rocanu shook off the offer with a light chuckle. "I'm honored, Your Highness, but we have everything we need in Lyfíhana already. I'm concerned about how you'll hold the rokians out in the meantime. Do you think you'll be able to handle it for that long?"

The wide smile disappeared from the king's face, and it occurred to Paythel how ordinary he looked with his taut wrinkles and solemn expression. The rage he displayed earlier in the meeting was gone, leaving only tired defeat. "We'll do our best. That's all we can do. I'm counting on your plan Rocanu. You'll start the spell and assist us as soon as you're able, correct?"

The veteran bowed his head once more. "Of course, sire." He rose and met the king's drooping grey eyes. The still grace of Lady Lafersia drifted by them. "You know you can always call upon us even as we're stationed in Lyfíhana."

"You mustn't worry, King Brenmor." Lafersia chimed in. Her long hair like a light veil behind her. "Rocanu is giving everything he has to help us. I just know this will work."

Paythel was amazed to see so much trust coming from the lady, especially considering her first reaction to the idea. Her soft, glowing features still showed a bit of unease, but understanding as well. Then, Rocanu turned and spoke to her, but the king disengaged from the conversation and stopped when he faced the younger veteran. He exclaimed and excused himself. "I've never seen you with the veterans before. Who are you exactly?"

The young man flinched and bowed his head like he forgot how to show manners before the human king. His round, puffed cheeks made him look younger than he should be. His inexperience at being a veteran didn't help much either. Upon raising his head, he brushed a black strand of loose hair back. "I'm Paythel, sir. I recently joined the veterans."

The king lit up with understanding. "I see! Well then, you have much to learn." He gestured back to the chatting Rocanu and Lafersia behind him. "There's none better you can learn from than Rocanu himself. He's a great man."

"Indeed. And thank you, sir." Paythel agreed. The king nodded and moved around him, stating it was time for him to head back to his castle at Dunverhart.

 As the carriage wheeled away into the darkening distant hills, Lafersia also bid her farewell to the vayen aray. The races went their own ways, leaving the winged folk in the shine of the early stars. At once, Searo and a few others took off, and Rocanu went after him, leaving Paythel in a rush to keep up with the others.

"Searo!" Rocanu cried above the rush of the wind. Few heard him from the deafening roar in their ears. He beat his wings harder, almost soaring above the man. Rocanu switched to an even glide. His terrific long wingspan pearl white at the tops and gradually dropping to black near the bottom. Finally, Searo turned his head, having heard a voice beside him. Searo's red beard, like tufts of fur on either side of his cheeks, ruffled and rippled in the cool night air. He pushed back against the tunnel of wind to hear Rocanu better.

"What do you want?" He barked in his usual deep and questioning tone.

Rocanu couldn't tell if he upset him or not. "You didn't seem too happy with the plan, yet you didn't object. I wanted to make sure you were all right with it."

He growled and lifted an eyebrow as tufted as his facial hair was. Maybe he was mad after all. The people who once flew behind them stormed on ahead into the deep blue sky. The trading post they left a minute ago was already indistinguishable with the rest of the earth below. "You stopped me all the way up here for that?" Came his response. It caught Rocanu off guard, but Searo spoke on before Rocanu could first. "I suppose we have to go through with it. I think our ancestors would be ashamed of us eradicating even the rokians. Do you think all the women and children who have no part in this war deserve such a sentence?"

"Ashamed?" Rocanu voiced, ponder evident in his tone. The shock took a wing beat which left Rocanu flightless for a second. He came back up with harder beats. The dip left him weighty with the reminder of how far the ground was below him. "I do agree that I wish we could do something else. This is too serious for any of us to take the possible outcome lightly, but I don't think anyone would be ashamed of us." The alarm in his wide eyes and curled eyebrows didn't back Searo down. "Even the ruler of the elves wants to go along with the plan, and you know how she feels about all this!"

Searo shook his head and drifted ahead. Rocanu followed. "You know, sometimes we don't have a choice between good and bad. Sometimes we have to make the better of two decisions. We all expressed our distaste for the plan." The message reached him, and Searo hovered once more. "I care about what you think. If you want to do something differently, then just tell me."

"We-I..." Searo stammered. Rocanu waited as seconds ticked by. The others were small shapes disappearing in the south. From here, they looked like the flock of birds that cooed as they parted around the two vayen aray. The night was growing colder.

Then, all the fight left Searo's broad shoulders and he slumped. "I suppose you're right, Rocanu... But it would be better justice to engulf the ones involved in the battle."

The thinner veteran nodded. The moon glinted white on his spiked brown hair. "That's what Lady Lafersia wanted as well. You know the spell's power; it controls itself for the most part. Yet again, I told her we would try. That's all we can do. So you'll help with the plan then?" He finished with his palms open for an answer.

Searo answered with a smile in the corner of his lips. "Sure."

◊     ◊     ◊

The vayen aray started on the spell right away. It was such a delicate, arduous process. A group needed to work on it at all times or it would unravel, which meant shifts each hour day and night. The veterans who weren't stationed in the shifts at Lyfíhana were in Dunverhart with King Brenmor, watching the progress of the rokians and supporting them and the elves if they needed to.

Time in the mountain home of Lyfíhana ticked by slower and slower while the rest of the world continued at its normal pace. In the quiet meeting hall at the top of Lyfíhana, veterans focused in a ring around where their large table used to sit while rokians pushed closer to the castle each day. The frustration sat in thick fog over the rest of the vayen aray like a terrible curse. Morale suffered. Tempers raged daily even from non-veterans.

Rocanu drew his mind in the spectrum, building up the others emotionally as they supported the destructive nature of the banishing spell. He didn't realize how much his head pounded until someone else took his place. Rocanu backed away, nearly tripping over his own wings. Nothing seemed different about the ring from when he joined it several hours ago. Only the falling evening outside the open archways told the time. The wind spoke a soft whistle even from here, but there was no effect of it inside the open walls, almost like the focus of the veterans asked the wind not to bother them. Rocanu groaned and pressed a palm to his head. He left the meeting room as silent as the wind inside the hall.

One slow step after another and he stopped on the balcony of a much lower level. He knew between his muscles growing stiff from still focus in the circle would ruin his attempt at rest. Instead, he faced the silver moon and spread his wings as far as he could.

"You don't seem to be doing well." A soft voice appeared behind him. "Did your shift just end?"

Rocanu withdrew his wings and looked behind him. It was Daelyn, a non-veteran and dear friend of his. Despite his discomfort, he couldn't help but chuckle. Of course, she had to stumble upon him in a moment like this. But to her, the response looked deprecating and sad. "Yes, well. I was just stretching my wings. It gets tiring after the first several hours in." He glanced back at the bright night sky and held a tone fitting for a joke. "The worst of it is when you finally come to. During the support of the spell, you become too focused to realize the stiffness."

She nodded in agreement and approached. The silver light illuminated her face and shone on her skin like crystal. Every stripe on her profile and sides of her arms were clear. The light revealed all the colors in her straight choppy brown hair that fell at her neck. Rocanu met her again only for her to flicker away with a trace of despair. "I know. You're working really hard. You always work hard. You care too much about people that you lose sight of your own self."

The direct response tossed Rocanu back. "They rely on me, and it's my-"

Daelyn committed to her speculation. "How much longer can you fight? Why won't you make them realize they need to stop relying on you so much?"

The veteran recovered from his shock and shifted. "We'll all fighting, and that includes the humans and elves of Fairdraisha as well. As I am among the elders of the veterans, it is my duty to be responsive in situations like these. Do you not understand the importance and the honor in my role?"

Finally, he drove the message through her in all seriousness. "I understand. I just wish you weren't constantly buried under all these veteran responsibilities all the time. What do they think of you outside of your work?"

Rocanu didn't try and dodge that one. He saw her concern for what it was, and it was entirely innocent. The moonlight he inhaled carried the life of lush vegetation and flowers from the ground floor through his lungs. "I don't allow them to bury me without need, and they understand this. I do what I do because I love our people, and I also love the races of Fairdraisha. Right now, they need our help."

As if in defeat, Daelyn sighed and turned to the stars stretching far over the reflecting sea. In the corner of his eye, Rocanu thought a tear rolled down her cheek, but when he looked at her, he wasn't sure. 

She knew he looked at her, but she remained on the horizon. Finally, she whispered. "Is what we're doing right?"

At first, Rocanu missed the statement. Then, it made sense, yet he was too tired and unsure about it himself to answer. The question remained on his heart since the day he knew they would have to resort to it. He tried to answer it from many viewpoints, but it still lingered beneath his skin, eating him from the inside out. 

Rocanu followed Daelyn's gaze into the void and never said another word that night.

◊     ◊     ◊

Meanwhile, Dunverhart was almost completely surrounded. Searo soared outside the city gates, staring down at the damage the rokians wrought the last few weeks. Like locusts, they destructed homes and belongings, cursing people who weren't willing to give their land to them. Those who managed to get away came to none other than the king, who gave them shelter and protection within the city, but now the city was sorrowful and tight. 

The numbers in the human military suffered. Because of the tide of destruction, Lady Lafersia sent a few of her personal advisors to the castle in her place. She feared the rokians might attack the forest next if she wasn't there to protect it, but there was only so much they could do to help.

A gathering outside the gate of Dunverhart caught his attention. What were they doing out here? Among what remained of the human army stood officials of both humans and elves. Are they sending even more men to protect the few remaining settlements?

Searo knew he couldn't fly on after he saw King Brenmor himself stepping out into the clear next, dressed head to toe in armor. The veteran turned on his side, allowing the rush of wind to push against his feathers and turn him around towards the ground. 

Despite the concern, he wanted to land smoothly so he wouldn't interrupt or startle those on the ground, and yet it was impossible to do so with the barrier of wind and wing flaps. Searo thudded on the sweet green grass and the men held onto the spooked horses while the others stared. Even the king stopped speaking, though he seemed more angry than startled. Searo excused himself, folded his wide wings, and bowed low in respect. "Pardon me, Your Majesty. I was patrolling around the area and I couldn't help but notice you by the gate. What's going on?"

One of Lafersia's advisors, a tall and thin male elf, answered his question as the king didn't respond. "Thank the heavens! Would you please knock some sense into the king? He's sending his men to their death!"

That notion angered the king and he snapped back at the elf. "Better that we die trying to defend Fairdraisha! We have no choice now. If we wait any longer, the rokians will be at our doorstep. I've seen too much suffering from those within the city walls already."

This was more serious than Searo realized. He took a hasty step forward. "But sire! The vayen aray have not returned yet. We need to wait until they're ready. They may even be on their way here now."

King Brenmor almost roared in response, backing the elves and Searo back again. "It's too late. The spell took too long. They have a hold on everything in the south. They took control of all of our watchtowers and garrisons. The Limedia Estate already surrendered. All that we have remains in the north and the east. Dunverhart will come next."

Searo stuttered to support their original plan, but he had no words to say. He didn't expect the human king to sigh and grow soft. He met the veteran's eyes. "I must apologize to you, my friend. Don't hate me for making this decision. We waited as long as we were able." In a blink, he returned to a strong mask of determination and he called to the armored men. "Off to Taleena Hills, men! We fight for all of Fairdraisha!" 

Searo and the elves could do nothing as the king climbed up a midnight stallion and led his army away. Throughout the clamber of hooves and whinnies, Searo found himself drowning in these still surroundings. The city outside the walls was like a ghost town. The roads were bare and the homes untouched, but left behind. It was almost as if the rokians already cleared this part of town. Between the deadness and the terrible event he witnessed, Searo wondered if he stumbled in a nightmare. What can he do? By the time he would reach Lyfíhana, it would be too late to help the king. He feared to think of the consequences if he chose to do nothing. Could he send a message through a magical barrier there in time?

His mind was twirling to the point of making him sick he forgot Lafersia's advisors were still beside him. When he realized, he wondered if they asked themselves the same questions he did a second ago. Searo, alarmed as he was, barked at the two. His tipped wings fluffed out from the formal fold. "What are you doing!? They need help. Bring together the elvish military and support them!"

But the elves were helpless. The thin one shrugged while the other, a dark-haired woman, answered. "This isn't something Lady Lafersia would want us to follow through. She told us to support the king only in defense."

Searo gawked at them. His voice raised higher and higher with each word. "You think the Lady would want us to sit here and watch the humans kill themselves? Don't you realize this is their demise? Once the humans fall, the rokians will take Dunverhart, and then it's just them and Aven Forest."

His reminder of the threat didn't bring the action he hoped for as the two slumped. The woman turned to the first. "The Lady won't be happy, but we have to let her know. We must contact her at once and ask her what we should do."

◊     ◊     ◊

Paythel was the first in Lyfíhana to sense a disturbance. He stopped by the dining hall, annoying the people having to walk around him. He closed his eyes, quieted his mind, and listened. Searo's desperate voice echoed in the abyss. Paythel sucked in a breath. This was the worst imagined outcome. A panicked mind scattered the magical message in pieces and Paythel darted for the open arches and leaped, taking flight.

He had no choice. He must interrupt the spell preparation. They wouldn't be happy about it, but there was no other way. Though he had to land in the top room where it took place, he tried to do it quietly. As he swooped in and folded his wings, he might have well been nothing but a breath of wind. No one around the ring stirred.

Paythel tiptoed to Rocanu and tapped on his shoulder until he responded. The dull anger in his eyes threatened to strangle him upon seeing him, but he took the hint and followed him out into the hall. Paythel didn't know how to explain what he heard, but he stuttered as clearly as he was able.

He could almost smell the hot anger rising off in response. The news shook him. "The spell isn't done!" Rocanu cried as he stormed about the hall. Paythel worried it might have been too loud as they were still next to the preparation room. Despite being the oldest, most respected veteran, Rocanu couldn't act any more than they can. He continued to stomp around like he searched for answers written in the stone walls. Seeing the trusted elder pace back and forth helpless made Paythel tremble more and more. If Rocanu didn't know what to do, they will be doomed indeed.

The fire in his reaction finally settled and he pondered out loud for the first time. "We may not be done with the spell, but we may be close enough to finish it."

 His thought broke the veil of anxiety gripping Paythel. He shook and yelled back. "What do you mean?! King Brenmor is going to Taleena hills right now!" He told him that a moment ago, but it seemed he forgotten in the midst of panic. 

Rocanu pressed a fist to his forehead and stopped. He met the younger veteran's eyes. "What do we do?" His question met silence until he elaborated on his own, one word at a time. "The spell may be ready enough. It's risky, but we might be able to pull it off in time if we leave now."

Paythel's brow furrowed and he broke contact, more muttering to himself than anything. "It's either that or we leave Fairdraisha to its fate."

That was the deciding factor. Rocanu returned to the preparation and stirred each veteran from their task, leaving the festering magic at a standstill. The alarm ripped through the mountain as they all prepared for an immediate departure. The vayen aray all agreed losing this fight was no option. The rokians would only grow stronger with each success, especially over the humans.

◊     ◊     ◊

The distance between Lyfíhana and Taleena Hills was much greater than Dunverhart to Taleena Hills, but with the rushed flight, the vayen aray arrived in the midst of an ongoing battle. The rokians had a clear advantage over Brenmor's men as these lands were the very campground of the tribal people. The silver-skinned race battled using unnatural abilities. Dunverhart had nothing against the raw power of rokian magic. No matter their power in countering or weapon arts, their strength didn't measure up if they couldn’t see the enhanced speed and strength of their foes.

Rocanu called to action. If it was encouragement for the ongoing battle or a call to use the unprepared spell to the rest of the veterans, no one knew for sure through the beating wind above. As the shadow fell over the campgrounds, a slight hesitation stirred the fighters. King Brenmor himself almost took a spear to his side due to distraction. "The vayen aray..." He breathed before sidestepping and returning an attack on his foe.

The veterans didn't join the fight that day. Instead, they glided down out of danger where they rejoined with their remaining members from Dunverhart. Immediately, they grouped together as they did in the preparation, but instead of building the spell behind it, they woke it.

 Even the veterans didn't expect what came next. The magic ripped in an explosive flash and crack as a whipping tornado hovered over the battlefield where it sucked up whatever it desired. The huts and towers tore into pieces and the storm muted the screams. 

Rocanu folded his wings against the unforgiving wind, but his feet skid along anyway. A cry from another of his kind spiked his heart like a knife. As Searo lost his footing and swooped toward the tornado, they all realized this spell was worse than they thought. Some of the others tried to fly or run away, but the pull strengthened until it was too much. Paythel, Rocanu, and all the others fell into the spinning twister with the rokians. The whipping wind grew stronger and carried them far away.

 Just as it came, it disappeared, leaving the destroyed camp windswept. Silence fell, but not all disappeared with the tornado. King Brenmor sat up, brushing back wired hair and picking a leaf from his beard. He didn’t take notice of his men rising and regaining their composure. He almost forgot to breathe. The storm left his mind in a blank void of confusion.

Two men rushed to his side, each taking an arm and helping him up. When they asked if he was all right, he responded with another question. "What happened here?" None of his men could explain beyond the roaring of the storm. 

Silence settled yet again as they all scanned the grounds. "Where are the rokians?" The king asked. "I thought I saw Rocanu and the veterans. Did they do this?"

"Sire," A man stammered. "I think... we're the only ones here."

◊     ◊     ◊

The deafening roar in his ears halted into peace and quiet, and yet Rocanu drifted in a light subconsciousness. He wasn't quite sure what happened, how long ago the tornado swept him up, or if he lied in the afterlife or not. He was sure of his dizziness and rattled body. The grass wasn't as soft as it used to be either. It was more like sharp razors on his back. No wind and few insects stirred. The air itself seemed dead. He finally dared a peek around him as he heard the voices of others. At first glance, he recognized the other veterans who got swept up with him, and the second had him up on his feet. 

There were too many people for them all to be veterans. The rest of the vayen aray race followed in the spell somehow as well. The crowd of winged people mingled with confused tones that continued to raise in alarm. Rocanu moved around the people in his own crisis state, trying to understand what happened. 

Already, many of them took to the sky to check their surroundings. Rocanu remained on the feather-covered ground, staring up at the unfamiliar clear sky and wild-growing landscapes. This world wasn't as alien as he thought it would be, but it was in the little details that made it so different from home. The land was dry and brittle. There were no familiar green rolling hills, but flatlands that sometimes broke into cliff-like plateaus. The trees weren't soft or lush, but spiral-like, and so were the spreading thorn bushes all around.

Finally, he heard Daelyn calling his name. He stopped to face her, and in the crisis, a relief to see her blossomed. "What's going on?" She cried out with her thin arms outstretched in front of her. "A massive tornado appeared by Lyfíhana out of nowhere! Where are we?!" 

The spell indeed had enough power to vanquish an entire race for sure, but the vayen aray wasn't supposed to be sucked up into it as well. Because it wasn't complete, he worried it wouldn't work at all, but in the end, it worked too well. As far as where they were and what they needed to do next, Rocanu didn't know. He could only comfort her.

A wing flap above him interrupted his thoughts. It was Paythel. "Rocanu! We've spotted a massive field of rokians a few miles away. We made it here with them."

 At that point, Rocanu knew he had to step up, for his people's sake. Without a word, he gave Daelyn a gentle pat and backed up, launching just above everyone else. He buffeted the crowd with gusts of wind and called for their attention. When they calmed enough to look up at him, he roared. "The spell we've prepared for the rokians wasn't fully prepared when we used it, and now we may be another world away from Fairdraisha." Worried murmurs broke loose before he finished, but the surrounding veterans hushed them. Rocanu continued. "Because we don't know much about the nature of the spell we used, we may be here for a while before we figure out how to return home, but I can assure you we'll all be fine. All that matters is that we have each other. Together, we will build a temporary home. We will hunt, live, and grow together like we always do. We have survived and we will continue to do so!"

 He didn't change their mind about their condition, though they brightened after the plan. They wouldn't be able to make another mountain home or anything like Lyfíhana, but they found suitable clay within the brittle dirt to make their city. Over time, food also became easier to find. The rokians became stronger as well and also marked the borders to their tribes. 

They all missed their home in Fairdraisha. King Brenmor and Lady Lafersia always lingered on their minds, especially Rocanu's. Were they worried? Did they also seek a way to release them? The days turned to years. They all knew beyond their established plateau clay city they had nothing quite like the now empty Lyfíhana had, but they always had hope, and that's all that mattered.


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