The dusky light filtered through the clinic's curtains as Ularen Hope made his rounds. There were a few patients recovering from various injuries or illnesses, but none were as injured as Shaunna Nightshade. Shaunna had come in a little over a month ago gravely injured. Her injuries had been nearly fatal. It had taken all his energy to heal them.
He was nearly to Shaunna's bed when the door to the clinic burst open. A local fisherman rushed in carrying his daughter.
"Hope, please help us, she is injured." The fisherman begged.
Hope smiled as he walked over, the ever present sadness never leaving his eyes.
"Let's take a look." Hope said. He took the small girl from his father's arms and placed her on one of the beds.
The problem was quickly discerned, A medium sized fish hook protruded from her little shoulder. Hope lathered the area with a salve that would numb the area. After he was sure he was not going to hurt her, he snipped the barb off the hook and pulled it out of her shoulder.
He quickly added an antiseptic ointment to the wound. Finally he covered the wound with his hand. He closed his eyes willing the mystical healing light to flow into the small shoulder, but nothing happened.
Resigned to the inevitable, Hope bandaged the tiny shoulder so it would heal. He was frustrated that the healing light did not heed his call any longer.
The girl threw her arms around Hope's neck. "Thank you." She said.
Hope just smiled and handed her back to her father.
"No charge." He told the father. "It was an easy one to heal."
Shaunna watched Hope as the patients left the clinic. "Why do you stay here if you don't enjoy it?" She asked him.
She was sitting up now holding her ribs where she had been stabbed. She was recovering as quickly as could be expected. The blade that had pierced her chest had been poisoned, and the poison was interfering with the body’s natural healing process. She was lucky that he knew how to work around the poison, even if he didn't know how to get rid of it.
"What do you mean?" He asked innocently.
"You just healed that child, and the act gave you no joy. Why do you stay, if you do not enjoy what you are doing?" Shaunna asked.
He stared out the window, into the failing light, as he answered. "As the guardian of the healing light, it is my responsibility to help people."
"And you can only do that here?" She asked. "It sounds to me like you are hiding from something."
Hope smiled bitterly. "I am not hiding from anything. I am waiting for something."
Without another word, Hope hurried from the room, leaving Shaunna to puzzle out the cryptic meaning of Hope's statement.
Once he was in his room, Hope let the tears flow. He was tired of trying to keep up the appearances. He had run the clinic ever since his mother had disappeared thirteen years ago. He had been twelve when this overwhelming responsibility had been thrust upon him.
Tears still streaming down his face, he grabbed the long, cloth-wrapped bundle from under his bed. Carefully, he unwrapped it to reveal a very large, very strange sword. The blade was made out of a clear crystal that glowed with a white light. The hilt of the sword was gold encrusted with diamonds. The smaller diamonds rotated around the largest diamond, which pulsed with a steady rhythm that reminded him of a heartbeat.
"Maxx, is she okay?" Hope asked the sword.
The soothing voice of the sword came into his mind. "She is still alive, but she is dying. I am afraid that you will not get to see her again."
"No..." Hope gasped. "Maxx, I want to talk to her."
"I dare not." Maxx Answered.
"Maxximillian Crystalblade, let me speak with my mother." Hope Demanded.
"Think about what you are demanding, Ularen." Maxx said. "I take a huge risk every time you have me check on her. If I were to actually contact her, I would almost certainly give her location away to the Dark Lords. That would undermine the mission that she was given."
Hope paced back and forth, attempting to contain his anger. He could see Maxx's point, but that did not change the facts. He had thought his mother dead for many years after the attack on Paron's castle. He had been shocked when he found Maxx a few years ago and learned that his mother is still alive. She had gone to another world at the king's behest to protect one of the princesses from the Dark Lords.
"What if..." Hope began.
Maxx interrupted him "You are very much like your mother. Whether or not Paron was correct, your mother chose to follow the request of her friend. You would do her a great disservice if you forced me to give away her position now."
Hope could see the logic in the old sword's thinking, but he did not like it. He wanted to speak with his mother. He wanted to see her.
"I know this is hard for you, Ularen." Maxx said. "You need to think things through and stop acting like a child."
The statement stung Hope, as if Maxx had just slapped him across the cheek.
Hope hung his head in shame. His cheeks blazing red in embarrassment. "I am going to bed."
Maxx didn't reply.
Hope hurried through his nightly routine, hoping that he would not have any more conversation with Maxx. He didn't have to worry about that. Maxx didn't try to speak to him for the rest of the night.
The young Elf slipped into bed. He had trouble falling asleep and had ever since his patient in the next room had mysteriously appeared on his doorstep a little over a month ago. He had recognized her immediately. Her presence here was a painful reminder of what he had once had. She had been at Paron's castle on the day that his mother had disappeared. He remembered playing with her just hours before the dragon's attack had come.
Shaking his head, he rolled over on his side. Sleep came to him as he performed the exercises that would clear his mind, though it did not come nearly as quickly as it should have.
The dreams were always the same. He had been playing with Shaunna and the princesses in the gardens of night. He always had fun with them, for they were the only ones that really accepted him as a normal person. Every other member of the Elf kingdom, with the exception of the royal family and his mother, considered him marked because of the full head of black hair that he had. The Elves were very unforgiving of what they considered to be physical imperfections.
His father had died when he was a baby, so he had been raised bouncing back and forth between the castle and his mother's healing clinic. At the age of ten it had become apparent that he had inherited his mother's mastery of the mystical healing light, so he had been helping her in the clinic for the past two years.
"Ularen," His mother called. "It is time for you to be going."
He hugged Shaunna and the princesses goodbye before turning to leave. He wasn't able to say goodbye to the young prince, as he had been confined to his quarters.
"I will see you all soon." He said as he waved.
He hurried out of the castle behind his mother. Their wagon was waiting for them, the team of horses having already been hitched to it.
"Mom, can't I stay just a little bit longer?" He asked.
She smiled warmly as she looked at him. "I am sorry, my son. The clinic is unattended, and there are matters that I need to attend too here. I need you to get back to the clinic and watch over things for me."
He was reluctant to leave, but he obeyed his mother.
The trip from the castle to the clinic took about six hours. He was very tired when he reached the small building that his father had built for his mother to house the clinic. The clinic was empty as he entered, but there was a coldness about it that he had never felt before. He quickly stoked the fire, but it did little to assuage the cold.
He wandered around the building, the coldness turning into panic, as he searched for the source of the unpleasant feeling. After an hour, the answers he was seeking came to find him.
A large crowd of people, many of which had been gravely injured, all showed up at once. The wounds were of varying types, some suffered from major burns, some were suffering from frostbite, but it was clear that these people had all come from the town that had surrounded the royal palace. The tales that he heard chilled him to the bone. The castle and the surrounding town had been attacked by a flight of dragons an hour after he had left. These people were the only survivors.
He worked all through the night trying to heal as many as he could. He could wield the blue healing light, but many of these wounds would take more energy than his twelve year old body would be able to supply. He knew that many of the Elves that were under his care were probably going to die.
He went around the main room, applying salves here, using his light when appropriate, and healing as many as were possible. He was trying very hard to do as his mother would have expected if she had been there.
Morning dawned cold and clear. Several of the more seriously injured patients had passed on during the night, but he was able to save the majority of them.
"You have done well, young Ularen." One of the Elves complimented him. "Your mother would be proud."
"I thank you for the compliment, but please just call me Hope" His speech was a bit slurred as he spoke due to lack of sleep.
"Get some sleep young Hope." The man suggested. "There is nothing else that you can do here."
Hope stumbled to his bed, collapsing into it.
As soon as he awoke, he saddled the horse and hurried back towards the castle. He needed to see it for himself. He needed to make it real. He needed to find his mother's body. From the descriptions that he had been able to glean from the rambled mutterings of the wounded, the castle had been completely destroyed, and everyone in it had been killed.
The trip back to the castle was uneventful. It didn't take him as long to get there, as his horse was not pulling a wagon. As he approached the site, his heart stopped. Where the castle had stood before, there was now a pile of concrete blocks and rubble. The Gardens of Night were still smoldering from the dragon's fire that had ignited them the day before.
Hopes healer's instincts kicked in immediately, so he began to look for survivors. His hopes were not high as he began his search, and after several hours they had not improved. He had found a few bodies, Shaunna's parents and horse body of a centaur, in the gardens, but he did not find his mother, nor did he find Shaunna's body. This fact kept him looking.
He found Shaunna's body not far from where her mother's body laid. She was buried under a pile of rubble, and she was somehow still alive. She was definitely injured and she was unconscious.
Hope held her tightly and let the healing energy flow from his body into hers. The light turned blood red as soon as it touched her body. Hope was not able to see what happened after because the energy drain was so great that he blacked out.
When Hope came too, Shaunna was gone. He was too light-headed to mount a search for his young friend at first. By the time that he was in a condition to look for her, the sun was setting. She had been gone for several hours.
"Be safe, little one." He prayed.
Shaunna was quickly lost to his thoughts as the real reason that he was here resurfaced. He needed to find his mother.
He searched all night. It was approaching dawn when he made the discovery. He had found the broken body of the king, but he had not found any of the children. He had also not found the bodies of any of the kings honor guard, his mother included. Not far from where he had found the king there was a sheer cliff. He methodically moved towards the cliff as he continued the search.
He was so tired that he could barely put one foot in front of the other by the time he reached the cliff, and the one castle wall that was still standing. Without thinking, he leaned against the wall to rest. He wasn't aware of sliding down to the ground, nor was he aware of falling asleep.
It was midday when he awoke. There were carrion birds and scavengers picking through the remains of the town. As he climbed to his feet, he startled a pair of small animals that had been scavenging something not far away.
He ignored the animals, and turned his attention to the wall in front of him. There was no way that the wall should still be standing, unless it was attached to the wall of the cliff. As he examined the anomalous portion of the castle, one point grabbed his attention. On one of the bricks, so small you would miss it if you were not looking for it, there was a figure of a black unicorn.
As he brushed his finger over the small picture, the brick shifted ever so slightly. There was a small click and a door opened silently into the cliff face. Hope hurried through the door into the passageway beyond. Natural luminescence negated the need to light a torch or provide any sort of external light. The passageway was completely smooth. The ground was covered with a thin layer of loose sand.
Hope hurried down the passageway, noticing as he went that the sand muffled his foot steps, making it nearly impossible to hear his approach.
He was moving at such a great pace that he was completely unprepared when he reached the end of the tunnel. The enormity of the cavern took his breath away. Even with the light he was unable to see the far side of the room. Stalactites and stalagmites dotted the ceiling and floor. In the center of the cave was the most wondrous site he had ever seen.
In the center of the room, stood one of the mythical WarBirds. Machines of legend, spoken of as both savior and destroyer of the world. They had supposedly arrived with visitors from the cosmos. They had come at a very turbulent time. The Drake Wars were being waged and the coalition of races was finally beginning to win the battle, thanks to Paron Elloy and Derek Fantis. They had created a new type of weapon that had turned the tide; the Crystal Blades. Things were looking up, until the visitors came.
When the visitors had entered the atmosphere, an unknown substance on their ships had interacted with something in the air, creating and releasing the techno-virus. That is when things had gone horribly wrong. The technology became infected and had become a bigger threat than the dragons had ever been. Suddenly the world was crawling with mechanical insects that were intent on the destruction of everything organic.
The two exceptions to the reaction of the virus had been the Crystal Blades and the four WarBirds themselves.
The Crystal Blades had been brought to life, but had been able to resist the virus' changing affects. This was not necessarily a good thing, as half of the race had turned evil. The Dark Blades, as they had become known, had gone into hiding. This was due to their fear of the father blade, Maxximillian Crystalblade. This, however had greatly weakened the coalitions forces, as now they had significantly fewer wielders to combat the "techno bugs"
The WarBirds, being the carriers of the virus, had been unaffected. The kings honor guard --Sareth Hope, Griffith Wolftracker, Seth Silvermoon, and Taranna Bowsmith-- had found the four WarBirds and had used them to destroy the biggest of the techno bugs. After the bigger techno bugs were gone, it was relatively easy to track down the smaller ones and dispatch them.
He had never really believed the stories that his mother had told him. He was incredulous that even she could have lived so long, the stories said that the WarBirds had arrived about nine thousand years ago. Yet here was one of them. The machine was large, and the seat in the cockpit looked to have been modified to accommodate someone very large. Someone like... a centaur perhaps.
He looked back the way he had come. He had seen the remains of, what he thought was, a centaur. Here was a lone WarBird, on the ground there were fresh tracks that suggested the other three had recently left.
The weight in his heart lifted. If the stories were true, and he was beginning to think that they might have been, then his mother was still alive. She had taken her WarBird to somewhere else.
He turned around to head back to the clinic. As he approached the entrance to the exit tunnel , a pulsing light caught his eye. As he approached the light he saw that it was emanating from a very large sword.
He recognized the sword. It was the crystal bladed sword that his mother had carried. He hesitantly reached toward the sword, pausing before actually touching the golden hilt. The large diamond was pulsing with a steady rhythm. His mother had told stories of this sword. How it was the one that held the Dark Blades at bay. This was Maxx, the Father Blade. The first Crystal Blade forged by Paron and Derek. This was the sword that his mother had been the wielder of.
He was tall, even by Elven standards, standing six and a half feet tall. The sword was easily as tall as he was. He reached out to lift the sword, expecting it to be very heavy. As he hefted the large sword, he was not prepared for how light it was going to be, and the overcompensation caused him to fall on his backside. As he sat dazed a warmth ran up his arm, across his shoulder, and into his head. He remembered his mother telling him about when she had first bonded with Maxx. Now, it seemed, Maxx had chosen him.
"You are much like your mother." Maxx told him.
He was not surprised when the sword spoke to him. He was, however, disturbed that he had been chosen as the next wielder.
"What do you want with me?" He asked.
Hope wasn't sure, but he could have sworn there was amusement in the swords voice when it answered him. "Is it not it clear what I want? I am a sword, swords require a wielder."
"Why me?" Hope asked tersely.
"I have already answered that question, young Hope." Maxx answered. "You are very much like your mother."
"But..." Hope started, but Maxx interrupted him.
"I am not going to give you any more information at this time." Maxx said. "You have all of the information that you need for now. It is time to return to the clinic."
Sensing that he was not going to persuade Maxx to divulge any more information, Hope strapped the large sword to his back and headed back up the passageway towards the castle ruins.
Hope was groggy when he awoke the next morning. He always felt as if he had not slept after having that dream. He missed his mother terribly, and the fact that he knew she was alive, but could not speak with her, tore him up inside. He could see Maxx's point, as painful as it was. His mother would never forgive him is he compromised her location out of a selfish need to speak to her.
"Maxx," Hope said quietly. "I am sorry for last night."
"All is forgiven." Maxx answered.
"Maxx, do you think Paron was right? About his children, I mean." Hope asked.
"I knew Paron longer than most. I think the only person that knew him longer was Derek. Paron understood things in ways that no one else did. It was his genius that is responsible, not only for my being but for the ability that I have to combat the virus that destroyed so many others. So yes, I believe that Paron knew exactly what he was talking about when he claimed that his children were the four parts of the prophecy." Maxx paused momentarily. "The better question is, do you think he was right?"
Hope considered for a moment. "I know that my mother differed in opinion on many things that Paron claimed. I also know that she has lived for almost as long as he did. I remember seeing the marks on the princesses. I also remember the wings on the prince." He paused to gather his thoughts. "The marks are special in and of themselves, but the fact that they were located on the only quadruple birth in the entire history of the Elves makes them that much more special. Whether or not the kings children bear the marks of the prophecy, I don't know, but they are definitely destined for something important."
"Your mother did agree to that logic, even if she did not subscribe to the claims that they were the children of the prophecy." Maxx explained. "It was this, above all else, that lead her to accept the charge from the king to protect his daughter. Now her life is coming to a close, and the mantle of Guardian is to be passed to the next generation."
"Passed... what...?" Hope stammered.
"Yes Ularen Hope, you are to take up the title of Guardian of the Balance. Your patient in the other room is also a replacement. The vacancy she fills has been empty the longest. You will meet others that have been chosen, and together you will take up the charge that your ancestors before you cherished. The balance must be maintained, at all costs."
Hope's head spun as he tried to assimilate the information that had just been thrust upon him. He was not sure he wanted to accept the calling that was being forced on him. He was less sure that he didn't want to accept it.
"I... I need to think about this." Hope said after many minutes of pondering.
Maxx just stayed silent. He knew that Hope must decide on his own whether or not to don the mantle of Guardian. He knew how important it was for him to accept, for the severing of the mindlink between them would be most unpleasant for both of them. Besides, Maxx did not know to whom he could turn to take Hope's place.
Hope's head was still spinning as he stepped through the clinic door to go check on his patients.