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CHAPTER FOUR
Fragments of Memories

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Fragments of Memories

      Emmelyne awoke, aching and exhausted. It felt as if her lungs had caved in. She gently felt her ribs. Every thing was intact. She sat up carefully, taking in a few painful breaths, and looked around. The night was eerily quiet. Only a few spindly rays of moonlight filtered through the cloud cover. The campsite had been cleared of the skeletal remains of their attackers, but the stench of the undead still lingered on the air. She wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and she found Raven sitting by the embers of the campfire. He sat on a large rock, staring into the remains of the fire. She felt a rush of images and thoughts flash through her mind as watched him.

      She now felt closer to this stranger who had entered her life only a few days earlier. Though bull-headed and reckless, she now knew she could trust him in battle. But there had been more than that... for a brief moment she had seen into his thoughts. While he had strove to revive her, and her body had struggled blindly to live, she had had no control over her telepathy. Her mind had reached out, grasping at the only mind close enough to anchor her to the land of living. Raven's thoughts and memories had poured into her mind, and what she had seen had drastically changed her opinion of him. The thoughts had been nothing more than a jumble of images of people and places she had never known. Despite the vagueness of the memories, the emotions linked to them were that of anger, guilt and inner torment. She realized that her first impressions of her new travel companion had been misplaced.

      "Emmelyne, you're awake!" She looked up at the sound of Raven's voice, shaking free her somber thoughts.

      "Barely," she replied. In the dim light of the dieing embers, shadows lined his face. He looked tired. "You stayed up this whole time?" The elvin girl asked. He nodded wearily.

      "Didn't know if those creatures would return." He replied, poking at the fire. Emmelyne nodded and reached for her staff. It was well past time to put distance between themselves and this dark battleground. Using the staff for leverage, she pulled herself to her feet.

      "Well, we'd better get moving then." She said as she stood. "Can't stick around here and wait for... those things... to finish us off." She leaned heavily on her staff. He watched her with concern.

      "You sure? Are you up to it?" He asked.

      "We should get as far as we can before morning... I'll rest then." Every fiber of her body protested, but she knew if they didn't start moving now, they may not live to see the next morning. Raven quickly gathered up their supplies and stomped out the remnants of the fire. He went her and offered a shoulder to lean on. "Thank you." She told him, and smiled. He said nothing.

      Emmelyne couldn't help but think of the anguish she'd seen behind those blue-violet eyes earlier that evening... She pushed the thoughts back down. I wasn't supposed to see his thoughts... It's not my place to pry into his past. She had learned long ago that it was the ultimate act of betrayal to use her telepathy to look into another's mind unless she was invited to do so. Though what had happened was hardly her fault, she should have never seen what she did. They were his thoughts, his memories, and his alone.

A Short Wagon Ride

      As the sun was rising in its daily progression across the sky, the two bone weary travelers reached a well-traveled road. It had seemed like the barren, silent landscape would stretch out forever before them, never changing. They stopped to rest by the roadside. Their pace had slowed to a crawl, and Emmelyne leaned heavily on Raven's shoulder. He knew she couldn't make it much further. The light of day was comforting, and the threat of undead attackers now seemed like a bad dream. Though completely exhausted from the long night, Raven had taken it upon himself to get them safely to Tran, or at least the nearest village. He studied the elvin map while Emmelyne rested.

      "If the forest is here... and Tran is here..." He squinted up at the sun, trying to determine their position. "The sun rises in the east here, right, Emmelyne?" When he got no response, he glanced behind him, finding the elvin girl asleep. She sat cross-legged, slumped up against a large tree stump, her staff resting in her lap. Already amazed that she had made it this far, Raven let her sleep. "Well, I guess we'll rest here." He said to himself. "Maybe someone who can help us will come down this road."

      Much to his surprise, it wasn't long till a wagon came rattling down the worn and rutted dirt road stirring up dust in it's wake. Raven stood as the wagon approached. The old man perched in drivers seat pulled his two worn mules to a halt. The small covered wagon creaked in protest as it settled to a stop. The driver was weathered, his skin lined with creases and wrinkles like dry leather. "Can I help you, son?" the old man asked.

      He looks harmless enough, Raven thought, scrutinizing the man the cart driver carefully. "We're lost...and my friend is..." Raven responded. He searched for the right word, glancing back at Emmelyne's motionless form. "She's ill. We need to get to some place where she can rest safely. If you could help us, or send someone who could, we'd be tremendously grateful."

      "There's plenty of room in the back for the girl to rest." The man responded with hardly a thought. "I'll give you two a ride to the village. There's a nice little Inn there."

      "Thank you." Raven went to Emmelyne and gently shook her awake. She looked up at him questioningly. "We've got a ride to the nearest village." Raven told her, helping her to her feet. Raven guided the elvin girl to the wagon. After making sure Emmelyne was comfortable, Raven gathered up their packs.

      "That's no ordinary girl you got traveling with ye, is she?" Raven regarded the man suspiciously.

      "What do you mean?"

      "That girl is one of the Fair Folk... been ages since I've seen a pair of ears like that." Raven hardly knew how to respond. He had no idea how elves were regarded in this strange land. The old man grinned at him with a gap-toothed smile. "Don't ye worry boy, folks 'round here won't pay it no mind. We've seen stranger things emerge from that unholy forest to the north. Just be mindful of going into Tran. Yer friend may end up sold off to the highest bidder there." Raven nodded, relieved. The man put out a grizzled, callused hand.

      "The name's Ackley."

      "Raven," he responded, taking Ackley's hand. He motioned to the back of the wagon, "My companion is Emmelyne."

      "Well, Raven, we'll be to town in a few hours. Now why don't you climb into the back with yer friend. Ye look like you could use the rest." Raven nodded and climbed into the back to join Emmelyne. She looked up as he picked his way carefully through the stacks of boxes and bundles of wares.

      "Ackley said we'll be there in a few hours." She nodded, and folded her legs up to make room. Raven did his best to rearrange some of the clutter to sit down in the cramped space. He finally settled into the small space beside the elvin girl, doing his best not to make eye contact or jostle her in any way.

      "I'm not going to break, you know." She said, flicking a blue braid over her shoulder. Raven nodded and restlessly attempting to make more space. Emmelyne sighed and leaned back, watching her companion vainly trying to rearrange the clutter. "Seriously, Raven. Relax. I'm Elvin... I'll heal, sooner than you know it."

      The blond man nodded absently, making it quite clear he didn't care to discuss the matter further. The silence stretched for an uncomfortable time. Just as Emmelyne felt sleep attempting to take her once more, Raven broke the silence. "Who do you think Baneheart is?" he asked.

      "I don't know... " She answered. "But I do have an idea of who might have some answers." She reached into her pack, and unrolled a world map, handing him a corner to hold. "You see, the Forest of Illusions spans over two continents. I live here," she pointed to a green splotch on the large eastern continent, "in the Eastern Forest of Illusions. But here," she pointed to another large green area on the western continent that vaguely resembled North America. "Is the Western Forest of Illusions, home to the Unseelie Court." He shook his head, not quite understanding.

      "What does that have to do with this 'Baneheart' or that undead dragon?" The petite elvin girl smiled faintly.

      "Let me finish." She rolled up the map as she continued. "The Seelie Court... is home to the Elves of the Light. Father was one of the Fair Folk, a high ranking Elf of the light." She paused, her thoughts drifting back to all that she left behind. I'll be returning soon enough. She told herself, though she had increasingly become aware of the fact that this journey would change things forever. "That's where I get my healing powers from.." He nodded, remembering the display of her powers in the battle the night before. "The Unseelie Court is home to the Elves of the Night. They are the guardians of the gates of the dead. They will be able to point us in the right direction, even if they don't know who sent the undead."

      "You sure it wasn't one of the Unseelie?" Raven asked. She shook her head.

      "I doubt it. They send the dead to the underworld, they would never bring the dead back to the living. No elf would dare disrupt the balance of life and death."

      "So that's it. We need to head to the Eastern Forest of Illusions?"

      Emmelyne nodded. "How exactly do we get there?"

      "The forest portals, of course." Emmelyne responded simply. "I've traveled there once before with Father. The portals are actually fairly easy to navigate."

      "Not the forest again..." He muttered.

Small Town Charm

      The next morning, Raven awoke with the dawn and headed to the empty paddock in the back of the inn to practice with his new blade. It was unlike any sword he had practiced with back on earth, unusually light for a broad sword. It was clear their earlier battle was only the first of many yet to come. Focusing on his movements, he was able to escape from the memories that had haunted his dreams through the night.

      A small group of girls had gathered at the back door of the inn, giggling shrilly. Raven paused, wondering at the source of the commotion. He caught the glimpse of pointed ears protruding from a mass of short copped blond hair, and shook his head. Emmelyne was apparently feeling better. A lean redhead glanced over her shoulder at Raven and whispered in Emmelyne's ear. The petite Elvin girl turned with a smile. The other three girls disappeared back inside the inn.

      "The girls told me I'd find you out here." She said, leaning on the fence, her chin cupped in her hands. Raven nodded and went back to his practice.

      "You really should be resting, you know." He told her.

      "I'm rested." She responded simply. "There are too many people, too many unfamiliar minds. I couldn't sleep even if I tried." He finished the last set of exercises, and rested the flat side of blade on his shoulder.

      "So, what were you and the giggle squad up to?"

      "Well, when I got up, I was all but attacked by the innkeeper's daughter and her friends. Seems they're pretty excited about having a 'real live knight' in their town."

      "Knight?"

      "Yeah, apparently I'm a sorceress, and you're my escort." She giggled.

      "What did you tell them?"

      "Nothing. Didn't get a chance, but they did let me in on some actual useful information. Tomorrow, after tonight's party, the town's merchants will be heading up north to their sister town."

      "How's that useful to us?"

      "We can catch a ride with them, and it just so happens that the portal to the western forest is just a few miles east of the town." She grinned mischievously. "And I already promised we'd attend their little celebration." Raven groaned. Just what I need, a country bumpkin bash.

      As if reading his thoughts, she continued, "The Inn's hosting it, so you might as well attend. You won't be able to avoid it."

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