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How Dark the Light Shines
by MJ Bell

The sound of a wolf howl penetrated Deston’s conscious. He reared up, instantly awake, and looked around in confusion at the dark shapes surrounding him. It took him another minute to realize he was lying on the ground beside a cold fire pit and was not in his cave.

What the hell? he thought as he wrapped his arms around his chest and rubbed his hands up and down his biceps to bring some warmth back into them. A wolf howled again, and then another much closer, which finally got Deston moving.

His joints were stiff with the wet cold and his muscles were sore, but he scrambled to the small woodpile, grabbed a handful of kindling and dried leaves and threw it on top of the ashes. His numb fingers could hardly hold the match and it took him several tries to light it, but he finally got a spark and the leaves caught fire. As the flame grew, he slowly added bigger branches until the fire was going strong and produced a good amount of heat.

He held his hands close to the flames letting the heat drive away the numbness, but his mind remained foggy and he couldn’t recall why he’d been sleeping on the ground. He knew better than that, especially in the wild, where a bear or a wolf would relish a tasty treat like him for a midnight snack. But the only thing he could remember was Keir leaving after their argument and his grandfather appearing.

Ah crap! Was it all just another dream? Deston sighed in exasperation. He ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes, thinking back to the events of the previous day. His emotions volleyed back and forth like a tennis ball over a net: one minute, clarity—the next, despair.

As he sat, trying to put the pieces of his memory back together, a sudden cold shiver ran up his spine and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Every one of his senses came alive, but the only thing that moved were his eyes, as he scanned the area for the cause of his alarm. The trees looked the same as they always did and nothing was out of place; but it was the middle of the night and the fire only provided a small ring of light that did not even reach to the edge of the campsite. But he didn’t need to see to know there was another presence nearby. He sensed them.

Casually, he threw another branch on the fire as if nothing was wrong. Then he got up and walked to where he kept his bag. He bent over as if to retrieve something out of it, but he reached for Caluvier instead. His hand closed around the sword’s hilt and in one swift move, he straightened, spun around, and brought the sword up to show whoever it was that he was armed.

“You can come out … I know you’re there,” Deston yelled into the darkness.

There was a pause and then a soft chuckle came from within the thick underbrush and quickly dissolved into a raspy cough. Seconds later, Rellik ambled out of the foliage, his chest heaving with the effort to take in a full breath. Deston tensed and gripped the sword tighter at the sight of his old nemesis. Before leaving Tir na-nÓg, he had heard rumors that Rellik had forsaken Grossard and was helping the fae, but he wasn’t as quick to believe Rellik’s switch in alliance was genuine like the others apparently were.

“Look at this … the Prince of Tir na-nÓg alone and unguarded in the wilderness once again, and as before, I am amazed at how foolish the fae can be.” Rellik cocked his head and studied Deston with his one good eye. A knowing look flitted through that eye and he smiled. “There is something different about you,” he stated. “You’ve grown some since I last saw you.” His gaze roamed over Deston. “Your muscles have developed nicely, and you were able to detect me, so your powers are beginning to emerge as well.” He nodded his head. “I’m duly impressed.”

Deston pressed his lips together and held his glare, although his chest puffed out a little at Rellik’s offhanded compliment.

Rellik’s legs were trembling from the exertion of racing to the forest. Gritting his teeth, he ambled into the clearing, counting on the darkness to hide his weakness from Deston. Deston took a step backward and raised Caluvier, but Rellik walked to the fire and collapsed beside it without giving Deston a second look.

“You can lower that sword. I am not here to do you harm,” Rellik said causally.

“Yeah? Then why are you here?” Deston responded without lowering Caluvier.

“May I have some water? It was a long run from the gateway and I’m still recovering from some recent injuries, as I know you are,” Rellik replied, purposely darting a glance down at Deston’s thigh even though Deston’s trousers were covering the scar.

Deston’s eyes narrowed, but the wheezing in Rellik’s chest made him realize that at least part of what Rellik said was true. Upon closer look, he noticed the wolf did appear quite ragged and not at all well. Rellik was quite a bit thinner than the last time Deston saw him and the wolf had been thin to the point of being unhealthy then. Each of his ribs were clearly visible, heaving in and out with each breath and a drop of blood clung to his bottom lip from the earlier bout of coughing. Ugly reddish scars covered his left side, which made it look as if his skin was still raw, and there were only a few small patches of his once luxurious coat left.

Deston lowered Caluvier, but didn’t put it back into its scabbard. His eyes stayed on Rellik as he bent, picked up his one and only bowl and went to the creek to fill it with water. He placed it on the ground in front of Rellik and stood back to let him drink.

“I doubt you came all this way for a drink, so I’ll ask you again … if you don’t wish me any harm, why are you here? Were you sent to spy on me?” he asked after Rellik had emptied the bowl.

“I am no one’s spy. I came here to give you a gift,” Rellik replied, raising his head and smiling his lop-sided smile.

“You came a long way for nothing then. I don’t want anything you have to give.”

“You shouldn’t speak so impulsively until you know the facts, because you may be wrong about that. Unless I’m completely mistaken in assuming you would like to know where to find Mordred.”

Deston eyed Rellik skeptically, but held his response.

The wolf let out a sigh. “Not interested? Well then …” He slowly got to his feet, “I guess I did waste my time.” He walked to the edge of the clearing. “Zumwald may have put protection around you and this place, but Grossard and Mordred can most definitely figure out how to get through it. So if I were you, I would keep my guard up a lot better than what you are doing.”

As Rellik stepped into the trees, Deston called out. “Why would you want to tell me where Mordred is? What’s in it for you?”

Rellik paused and looked back. “Mordred is merely a means to an end. My only interest lies in Grossard, but I have not been able to locate him. Mordred has that information and I want it.”

Deston stared at the wolf’s one glowing eye, which was all that showed from the shadows. He didn’t know whether to believe him or not. Ever since the temple incident, every fae had been searching for Mordred and Grossard, but no one had been able to find either of them. If Rellik really did know where Mordred was going to hole up, it would be a real break. It could also be a real-life test to see if he was capable of fulfilling his destiny. At the same time, it could be a trap.

 

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