By T.K. Wilson (Rated G)
The first in a new series of stories about Evermore.
Eardwulf Ragnarson was considered very odd for an ogre. He was a capable warrior and a gifted axe fighter, but preferred the telling of tales and the singing of songs to battle. He loved the small creatures and was often seen in the company of elves. While the ogres as a people had been at peace with the elves for centuries, they still didn’t trust them, much less one of their own kind who liked them. It was this shunning that led to Eardwulf coming to live in Evermore.
Away from the negativity of his ogrish peers, Eardwulf thrived. He rose to the rank of garrison commander, all respected his prowess in battle and his kindness to everyone under him. He was short for an ogre, but he was still a massive seven feet tall, so almost everyone was smaller, leading him to be gentle with everyone he came across.
Part of his duties as garrison commander was to lead parties of warriors on nightly raids to rout out pockets of wraiths and track any witches or wizards. The presence of wraiths, creatures made entirely of black magic, was especially detrimental to the safety and wellbeing of humans and magical creatures alike. These creatures spread dust that could kill or drive humans to crime or self-destruction with prolonged exposure. They fed and grew strong on negative emotion and pain, and could cause them with their magic. All the beings of Otherworld knew that where there was misery and horror and pain, wraiths would be there; that was why underground cities like Evermore were created and placed under every major city in the world.
Eardwulf and his party spread out across the park where the main entrance to Evermore stood. Each member had a partner. Eardwulf himself was paired with an elf named Cullen, one of his closest friends. Cullen was nearly as tall as Eardwulf, and though obviously slimmer and lighter boned than his friend, was strong and hearty, and like Eardwulf was red haired.
“It’s one of those evenings, my friend,” said Cullen. “I have the feeling we’ll find some sort of adventure tonight.”
“Aye, the dark of the moon brings our foes out.”
Cullen set an arrow to his longbow string and began scanning the forested paths. The bow sang, the arrow dissipating a wraith.
“There’s a large concentration, nor’east.”
Eardwulf nodded and hurried off after his companion. The elf was fast and agile. Eardwulf kept as close as he could, thankful for his people’s famous endurance. When they emerged from the trees, they spotted the wraiths not far away, a large knot of them surrounding something or someone. Cullen fired an exploratory arrow, safely above the figure’s head, but giving them a look inside the cloud of wraiths. Within was a weeping woman in an overcoat.
The wraiths curved shut around her, hissing and taunting the warriors and their quarry. The duo charged, Eardwulf chopped through the wraiths and grabbed the woman out of the nest. He swept her over his shoulder and barked, “Back to Evermore!”
Cullen took a hunting horn from his bag and blew it three times, the signal to fall back to Evermore. The elf sprinted slightly ahead to make room in the underbrush for Eardwulf and his charge. Eardwulf looked over his shoulder and saw a giant cloud of wraiths chasing after them. The woman, who had been in too much shock to react before, started hitting Eardwulf in the back.
“Hey! Let me down or I’ll scream!”
“As you wish, but get ready to run!” He quickly set the woman down. She looked at the wraiths, catching up rapidly. She took off her shoes, grabbed Eardwulf’s hand without a word and hurried after him, carrying her heels in her other hand.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Somewhere safe, we’re taking the shortcut.”
They stopped abruptly at the high bank of a creek. The woman, Cullen, and Eardwulf looked down. It wasn’t a big creek, nor deep, but it was still a problem.
“A shorter cut than I anticipated,” Eardwulf joked grimly.
Cullen backed up a few steps, ran, and leaped the creek.
“Eardwulf!” he called.
Eardwulf looked at the woman, knowing she would see his face and may run. “I need you to trust me,” he said.
She was clearly scared, but said “Okay.”
He caught her around the waist and bounded across the creek bed, Cullen steadying them as they landed.
“The running water will slow them down, but not for long, come.”
The three hurried through the forest going on trails that humans would never find. Though it was dark, the woman never stumbled, following the footsteps of her companions. She had a dozen questions, but she somehow knew their safety depended on silence. One thing that she marveled at, the broad fellow that had leaped the creek with her made no more noise than the slimmer fellow walking ahead of them.
Finally, they emerged from the trees to see a drain culvert. They hurried across to it and entered it, finding a door.
Eardwulf removed a large key from his pocket and opened it. He herded his companions in ahead of him then slammed the door behind. Waiting on the other side were all manner of fantastic creatures. A wolf slid through the crowd, sniffing at the lady’s clothes. He gave Eardwulf a nod, then transformed into a human male. The lady jumped back, crying out in shock.
“It’s alright, miss,” assured Eardwulf. “Caelan means no harm to anyone.”
“Where am I? Who are you people?”
Eardwulf pressed his palms together. “The simple answer is we’re Faeries and this is our home in your world.”
“Not simple. That’s all kids stories and-” she stopped short. “Who am I kidding, I just saw a werewolf!”
“Wulver, actually…” muttered Cullen.
“We’ll argue names and titles later, Cullen. Ladies, take- goodness, I never asked what we should call you.”
“Is that your true name?”
“The one your parents gave you.”
“You should never give out your real name, names have power and there are faeries who love to play cruel games. If they have your name, they have power over you.” explained Eardwulf.
“I see. This is all rather confusing!” said Katrina.
“I understand. You’ll get the hang of it.” Eardwulf smiled. Despite his overlong canine teeth, he had a nice smile. “Ladies, show Katrina to a comfortable chamber for the night, she will be our guest.”
A few female members of the group, including an exquisite little pixie with luna moth wings and a tall woman with green skin and white roses in her green hair, led Katrina along a long hallway to a chamber with a round door. Then they were all very busy drawing a bath and finding her night clothes and hair brush and everything else she would need.
The green woman in particular was attentive, taking Katrina’s coat and shoes and bathing her cut and bruised feet in warm water mixed with a red juice and rose oil.
“Do you know why the wraiths attacked you?” she asked.
“I didn’t even see them until Eardwulf pulled me away. I’ve been rather depressed lately. Lost out on my dream job. I don’t know what to do now.”
“You seem like a bright girl. You’ll find something,” said the green woman.
“What should I call you?” asked Katrina.
“I don’t know. I can’t remember my true name, there was some kind of accident… I have amnesia, and no amount of anything we’ve tried will lift it. The name I’ve been using is Rosealba, but it’s not mine.”
“Rosealba it is then.”
Katrina looked up at the softly glowing mushrooms on the wall as she lay in the comfy bed she’d been lent. The above-city hadn’t been kind to her or her dreams of working in the literary world. But here. Here she remembered the happy, impossible, dreams of her childhood. Here, it looked like they could come true. She sighed and turned over. Somehow, things were really looking up now.