" Mother! Look at me!," I screamed with delight as I splashed around in the icy creek, spraying millions of crystal water droplets into the air.

My mother threw back her head and laughed with carefree abandon at my antics, her long snow colored hair catching the light from the dying sun. Her laughter rang out into the forest, and several of the men halted in clearing the camp to watch her with an expression I didn't fully understand at the time. My mother possessed an ethereal beauty that she seemed blissfully unaware of. Her flawless skin and wide, piercing emerald eyes had given her a timeless quality that I spent much of my young life trying to emulate.

My father finished rolling up a blanket as I continued to frolic gleefully. A strong breeze picked up, and the oak trees launched hundreds of red and gold leaves into the chilly air. The forest was undeniably lovely that evening, and I wondered why we had to go on. Or what we were even traveling for in the first place. My father's people, the Faelen, never traveled. Most never went beyond the borders of their own village.

" Well look at you, little one. A mud splattered toad has replaced my beautiful little girl! You're going to give your husband quite some trouble one day," my father teased, striding into the brook himself and sweeping me into his arms.

I shrieked with delight and splashed him with water, the dying sunlight illuminating my eyes. He laughed kindly and held me up higher. My father was a tall man, as all Faelen were, and I felt almost as if I could touch the sky.

" I shall never marry, Father!," I declared rebelliously. " I shall live with you and mother for all my life!"

That earned open laughter from all of the men and my parents. Though I was unsure what they were laughing about, I grinned wickedly, proud that I had made a witty comment that had caused the laughter of all.

" Ah, but wouldn't you like to be married to a rich prince among your mother's people who can win glorious wars in your honor and buy you many jewels?," my father countered.

I thought about it for a moment, then my face brightened as the answer came to me. " I'll just marry Devrae when he's born!"

That earned another laugh, though this one softer than the first. My mother blushed demurely and rubbed her swelling belly, as if I had reminded her it was there. My father gently placed me on my feet and led my mother into the stream. She was eight months along with child, and the wise woman of our village had read in the stars that it would be a boy.

As my father held my mother lovingly, I dove under the cool surface. I was delighted with the prospect of a playmate. On our long journey, I had often thought of what he would look like. Perhaps like me? To the surprise of everyone in the village, I wasn't a beauty like my mother was. Oh, I had her thick hair that fell to the curve of my back when it was straightened, and I had inherited her regal nose and bone structure. But my pale skin was washed out instead of fair, my eyes too big and I was short and clumsy, an ugly child compared to my handsome parents. I was young when I had first noticed the clear difference between my mother and the other villagers. The old legends said that the Faelen were descended from the trees themselves, and it was clearly evident by their characteristics. My mother, for all her beauty, was always separated from them.

" We should hurry along. There's something amiss, I can hear the trees speaking of it. Already it's sunset," I overheard Caerdoc telling my father in quiet tones.

Instantly my face clouded over. The traveling we had done in the past month had been intense, with little time for rest or play. My parents and the other men had seemed intensely nervous, almost as if something were following us. But I had dismissed that notion quickly enough. There was no one in our village who didn't love my smiling father and delicate mother. I purposely waded out further into the brook to stall our departure. My father nodded and Caerdoc, and my mother sighed.

" It's a pity. Everything is so lovely here. But you're right, we need to move on. Ava! Hurry and dry yourself, we'll be leaving soon. We only stopped to let the mule take a drink, not for you to take a bath," she called, beckoning me in as she stepped back on shore.

I giggle and raced back up to shore, spraying water on her. She gasped from it's coldness, then laughed.

" Ah, well I suppose I'll dip my feet in for just a little longer. They're awfully swollen from the weight of your brother. Let's hope that will make him tall and strong as your father is," she told me, taking several steps back down.

She stumbled slightly on a stone, and one of the men, Klanan, instantaneously lunged to grab her. My mother smiled kindly at him, causing his cheeks to blush furiously. I smiled widely too; my mother had carefully explained to me several months earlier that a woman was particularly vulnerable in pregnancy, and if she was somehow hurt, the baby could be injured.

" I don't want to leave, Mother! Why can't we stay to watch the sunset?," I whined, fully knowing the answer to my question.

But my mother was a patient woman. " You know exactly why, my little Ava, because I've told you at least twenty times. When darkness comes, dangers wait for weary travelers without decent shelter, and there are men who don't like your father," she explained, the kind smile still on her face.

The last part was new to me, but I immediately dismissed it. The idea that people could be opposed to my father was an alien concept. As I searched for another reason to delay our departure, my mother's eyes suddenly lit up with an idea.

" Ava, you are six now. If you promise to be a good girl and be helpful to your father and his men until we reach our destination, I'll let you wear my necklace. But you must be very, very careful," she told me, shifting her weight slightly on the water's edge.

My eyes widened and fell to my mother's breasts, where her treasured emerald necklace lay nestled. There was never a belonging I had loved more than it, the one thing that had come my mother's 'old life' before my father, whatever that had been. Glittering with beauty, the emerald was rare and a king among it's kind. Framed by tiny diamonds and hung on a silver chain, it and my mother complimented each other with their beauty. Particularly her unusual piercing, almost glowing emerald green eyes. I had inherited them, and to this day I have never seen another human with their like.

My mouth made a small o and I let out a squeal of delight. My mother laughed, and once again several of the men turned to stare. She had a melodious laugh that sounded like music and wind and a waterfall, all at the same time.

" I promise, mother," I told her solemnly, and waited as she took off the necklace. I closed my eyes as she clasped the chain around my neck. The emerald was cool against my skin, and I twirled around once in my sopping clothes.

" Oh, I'm just like you, mother!," I exclaimed with pleasure as I bent down to study my reflection in the water.

Leaping up, I hugged her with the pure feeling of love in my heart. She laughed softly and held me close. Taking a glance at us, my father gave me a smile with a wondrous expression on his face, almost as if he was thinking he couldn't believe that me and my mother were his. It was a moment I would always cherish, the sheer happiness of being loved.

It happened quickly. Something streaked by out of the corner of my eye, and I heard a choke. My mother released her grip on me slightly, puzzled, and my head darted to the right.

Klanan crumpled to the ground, an arrow directly through his chest.

He died so cleanly that for a moment I didn't know what to make of it, and remained calm. But my father's men did, and it all became a blur; half trying to escape through the trees, half trying to find the source of the arrow and defend themselves from it. The purple and pink streaked sky was slowly fading, and my mother's words of my father's enemies came jolting back to me.

Sudden whooping cries were heard, and the scene began to unfold before me like a horrible nightmare. Khorsandian men streamed out of the woods, many sliding down trees, perhaps more than three times our number. Fire lit arrows fell down from the trees like rain, and within moments three of my father's friends fell to the ground. Men ridden horses emerged, their piercing whinnies screaming into the air. The mule let out a frightened bray and raced off into the forest, leaving behind the only chance of swift escape. Our culture refused all weapons and killings, a belief that lead to our own destruction many times. The clearing sprung to life with the new patches of spreading fire.

My father was a brave man, and even in this moment I never doubted him. As the attackers began to flood into the clearing, he stood his ground. His amber eyes pierced into the enemy.

" For the Faelen!," he screamed triumphantly, and lunged himself at one of the archers, trying to prevent them from reaching my mother and I.

There are too many, I wanted to scream. But as my mother was, I found I could not speak a word. I could not remove my eyes nor open my mouth while our fates were being gambled with. It was not until my father snapped his head around and I met his eyes for one last time.

" Run Ava!," he screamed, and my mother broke out of her reverie.

Without a word, she grabbed my arm and started running, dragging me behind her like a small doll. If she had not been so far along with child, we would of made a run for the forest. But in her condition, it would only make us an easy target. She yanked me up and began dragging behind her into the brook. Water sloshed at my waist, and my mother plodded on, her the skirts of her blue gown floating up beside her. The water was no more than five feet deep, and a weak current at that, but the horror of the situation suddenly dawned on me.

" Mother, Mother, we can't go! We have to help Father and the others!," I screamed suddenly, planting my feet solidly in the mud.

She whipped around with surprising speed and slapped me across the face before hurtling on, clenching my sweaty hand in her palm. I could feel the heat of the fire behind us and hear the horrifying screams of death.

We were only half way across the stream when a I heard the splashing of water behind us; later I would realize it was a miracle we had made it that far. A rough hand suddenly clenched my shoulder, and I was whipped around

" My, it appears that I've found the prize," a dark haired man with armor leered, tightening his grip on me.

He grinned at my fright; my mother gasped. The man let out a sharp whistle, and in the midst of the commotion, death, and blood, for the first time in my young life I considered the possibility that I would die. And yet, in the back of my mind and beyond my fear, a thought occurred to me; these were my mother's people. Why are they attacking she and I?

" Get away from her, you will not touch my child!," my mother shrieked as he yanked me away from her.

She lunged for my hand, and the man raised his hand to strike her. I would never find out what the man would of done to me; a sword ran through him before his hand could touch my mother's flawless face. The expression on his face abruptly changed from greed to surprise. No one ever truly expects to die in a battle.

His body doubled over into the brook, splashing me with a mixture of water and blood. Caerdoc stood panting, the champion who had saved me. I looked at him with shock; the people of Faelen were pacifists. The old lore forbade any killing of any type of life, but Caerdoc had broken this ancient rule to protect us.

His clothes were blood stained, and his eyes were wild when he finally rested them on my mother.

"Don't stop! I'll hold them off!," he screamed as my father had only moments earlier.

More Khorsandian men turned their heads toward us, and began to crash into the shallows of the brook. Caerdoc whirled around and began wielding the sword as if he done so all his life. This time I did not need to be told twice. I gripped my mother's palm and ran like wind, finally scurrying up the other bank. My young mind was calculating the best way to get to safety in time, how we could dodge them. My feet dug into the dirt, and I realized as the trees began to thicken that we would have the advantage. I knew the woods like I knew the back of my hand, and finding paths and scurrying over roots would bear no problem for me.

We were at the edge of the clearing when my mother stumbled, and her moist palm slipped out of mine. I whirled around and knelt beside her, tugging on her arm.

" Mother, hurry! They're coming!" I exclaimed, tugging on her arm once more.

She groaned once, and water suddenly gushed out from between her legs. I glanced at the men crossing the brook, and grew more frantic. What was happening to her? Why was she stopping?

" Mother!," I wailed, unsure what to do without her guidance, knowing only that we had to keep going.

She weakly raised her head, shaking it slowly. " Your brother...he is coming early...I cannot go on..."

She broke off suddenly with an agonized groan. I began sobbing, tugging wordlessly on her sleeve. The fire rose above the treetops now, billowing clouds of smoke into the sky that floated next to the moon. Caerdoc had fallen; most of the men had. They were nearly done crossing the brook, they were almost at the pathway. They would reach us within moments.

My mother gripped my hand, panting heavily. " Ava. My beautiful, sweet Ava. I was so happy when you were born. A girl, I told your father. She will be a beautiful girl and I shall call her Ava. I love you so much," she began, tears streaming down her soiled cheeks.

" No, no, you can get up, mother you have to get up," I cried, the tears colliding with the dirt smeared on my cheeks.

She shook her head, then let out another agonizing grunt. " Go on without me. They will be here in moments. They are bad men, they must not catch you. Run, Eva."

" No! Mother! Please get better, please come!"

Tears welled in her eyes and she pushed me back. " Run!"

The men were nearly here; they had slowed their pace slightly. Their laughter was carefree and easy. They knew we had stopped, and that they could take their leisure time. But the screams of the other men still on the other side suddenly jolted something in me. If only for my mother, I had to be brave and go on.

My mother picked up my hand and squeezed it, holding it briefly to her wet cheek. My burning green eyes met her identical ones for one last time, the only eyes that would ever match mine.

" I love you, Mother," I whispered, sounding like a child not yet four instead of a six year old lass.

" Ah, a woman at last. Check her, but it doesn't look like the one. Finally, the sport we were promised us," one of the men said as several strode toward us.

I leaped up and ran. I heard one of the men behind me give an exclamation of surprise; they had not expected me to try to run off when they were so close. The trees grew thicker and my lungs screamed for air, but I knew that to stop was to die. Just a little further, only a little more, the trees seemed to whisper to me, and I clung on to the hallucination as I heard the shouts of the battle behind me. The shrieks of my mother sprang into my ears, along with the cruel laughter of the men. I tripped over a root in distraction and crashed into the ground, the taste of dirt mixed with blood filling my mouth. The air rushed out of my lungs and I laid paralyzed for a moment, wanting to call out for my mother or my nurse.

" Damn it, why didn't you keep an eye on the girl?"

The air slowly returned, but my heart stopped. Carefully I began to crawl silently away, desperately searching for anything that would suffice as a hiding spot. I had dawdled too long with my mother; even with my knowledge of the forest, they were too close for me to outrun them now. I swallowed a whimper that rose in my throat, and gripped onto my mother's necklace as I curled into a small, pathetic little ball.

The wind rustled through the leaves of the ancient oaks as the men continued searching in the brush for me. The thought of these men even killing in such an ancient, sacred forest enraged me. Moonlight suddenly shone through the clouds and I caught a glimpse of a mighty oak with a hollow slit in it's side, just big enough for a small child to creep in.

I scrambled toward it, sucked in my breath, and slipped inside. It was a tight squeeze; I had to hug my legs to my stomach and press my body against the oak center. The men carried torches now; if they came close enough and looked inside, I would be found.

Boots ran past me, crushing leaves beneath them, and I felt the heat of the torch light that occasionally whipped past my face.

" The little thing is fast. She's using their forest witchery," one man breathed, not five feet away from my hiding place.

I held my breath and prayed fervently. What they had done to my mother they would do to me, and worse. Please, let them move on, I thought over and over, rocking myself to the rhythm of the words.

Murmurs of agreement came up, and I counted five pairs of boots. The men were close enough for me to smell the leather and blood.

" Are you insane? The lass couldn't of been more that five or six. She's a Faelan, everyone knows they have a way with forests and the trees. She's using one of their tree tricks. She's somewhere around here, I can feel it," one voice breathed. " For all we know she could have slipped into this crack right here!"

To emphasis his point, the man swung his torch in the direction of my hiding place. The torchlight halted an inch before my toes. I froze, not even daring to breathe.

The torch light moved away. " Oh come off it, William; no lass could fit through that hole unless they were a babe. Now come down your post and we'll go search for her together. It should be easy enough; these Faelan children don't know how to survive on their own at that age. She'll die of starvation or wolves before she finds a settlement," one man said mockingly.

Murmurs of agreement rose up again, and the boots moved away from me, crashing off further into the forest. I gasped for air, huddling myself even further into the tree. A cold autumn wind whipped into my little spot and I shivered. It is all a dream, I told myself, wiping away the grime on my face with tears. Mother and Father are smart; they will have outwitted the men somehow. I would wait for them to call me out of my hiding place and tell me when the coast was clear.

And so I waited.

The sun rose above the treetops and the smoke lingered in the air. I saw vultures swarm in the sky, and was plagued by nightmares of carrion picking apart my parent's bodies. The moon rose again and I still kept my cramped legs huddled inside the tree, wondering why no one had called for me. Wolves howled and my stomach ached with hunger; I cried some more, tears my only comfort. My throat was scratchy from dehydration, and I stank of my own urine. The second time the sun rose again, one of my pursuers words echoed in my head: " She'll die of starvation or wolves before she finds a settlement."

Die. I wanted by no means to die alone and starving, much less die at all. Another thought occurred to me; what if my parents were too weakened to walk or cry out? What if they were frightened and worried that I had been captured? Armed with this new fear, I resolved to get out at once.

I wriggled out of the hole and looked up at the ancient oak tree that had saved my life. My ancestors had centered their lives around the forest and their unique bond with it. I solemnly curtsied and looked up again; if I had not been so dehydrated, tears would of welled in my eyes.

" Thank you," I whispered.

I hobbled back to the brook, my legs screaming from being cramped so long. The sparkling water came into sight, and everything was beautiful again, just like it had been the night we stopped. I smiled and gave a cry of delight; everything was fine again! I found new strength, and began to run. A horrible smell came to my nose, but I ignored it.

" Mother, Father, here I am!," I cried out timidly as I approached the water banks. " I was hiding, just like you told me I should do if something bad ever happened! I'm–."

Words drained from my mouth. Bodies lay scattered everywhere, thirty or forty at least. Vultures and wolves lifted their heads curiously at my outburst, but made no move to pursue me; they already had found their meal. Everything was bloody, I saw Caerdoc lying on the bank with flies picking out his eyes, one of the attackers with a decapitated head, bodies soaked in blood. I stared in horror, and my eyes fell on the magnificent blue travel outfit of my father.

My eyes shifted to the right and fell upon a familiar body, one that I would revisit in nightmares time and time again. A vulture lightly pecked at her, and I saw open wounds in both her stomach and heart. They had killed not only both of my parents, but my brother too.

I could not stop my eyes from traveling the clearing, from picking out those I knew. A slow, horrid realization dawned on me: I was the only one left alive.

" No! No! Come back!," I suddenly screamed, my voice ringing out into the silent forest.

I didn't think I could cry anymore, but I proved myself wrong. Wretched droplets of water leaked out of my eyes as my horror became fused with anger. I snatched up a rock and hurled it at the vulture at my mother's body. It squawked once, but then resumed its eating. Even it knew I was hardly a threat. Turning away, my feet began to run.

I stumbled down the incline and fell hands first into the brook's crystal clear water. My stomach heaved, but there was nothing in me to come out. I cupped my hands and greedily drank some of the water. The image of the man who had grabbed me in the brook came back, and I heaved the water back into it's source. The only thought in my mind was to run away from this place, far away. Stumbling up the bank where the attack had occurred, I ran, my innate magic spilling out. To someone not of my people, I would merely be a flicker in the woods out of the corner of their eye.

I ran for an hour; my lungs burned, my throat burned, my stomach ached, but still I ran. I ran until my legs themselves buckled beneath me.

" No," I whispered, trying to push myself up.

I couldn't. My body was spent. I would die like my mother and father, in a far worse way. I realized that my need for food and water was now the most urgent matter. The brook crossed my mind, and my stomach heaved at just the thought. I would not go there for water, not for the world.

I laid on the forest floor for sometime, thinking. My parents had always taken care of my slightest need and simple desires. There had never been a time before now when I wasn't clean or didn't have enough food or was frightened. I could not survive on my own. Mother would know what to do, I thought fervently to myself. But my mother wasn't there.

I spent half of the day curled in a pathetic ball, trying to comprehend what had happened. A primitive part of me urged me get up and search for food, but I did my best to ignore it. But eventually, I slowly uncoiled myself and began to wander aimlessly. I couldn't tell poisoned berries or plants from ones that were safe to eat, and I began to wonder if I should of let myself be captured by the attackers after all.

It was sunset when a small rivulet came into view. The fading sunlight shone through the trees and illuminated the trickling water. I gave out a small, weak cry of joy and stumbled to it, collapsing in the stream. It's freezing, sweet taste filled my mouth at the same time the tears and grime washed off me. I frantically cupped it into my mouth and this time my stomach held.

After I had drunk my fill, I laid my body on the bank and curled into a tight ball. The cold autumn wind whistled through the trees and sent a violent shiver up my spine. The shadows flickered maliciously throughout the night. They've come back for me, I thought with terror every time a branch moved. After agonizing hours of watching the darkness, I unconsciously slipped into sleep.

But my dreams proved to be worse then reality. I dreamed of my dead brother and I were grown up and playing by the brook, when suddenly men came out of the ground and began to hack our bodies to pieces. The brook turned into a river of blood, and the bodies of my parents floated past. I woke up screaming, my fists clenched.

My one comfort was that it was morning; I could see everything that was around me. My stomach still ached with hunger, and I crawled to a sparse berry bush. Blueberries? I had reached the point where I was too hungry too care, and greedily shoved them in my mouth. They were bitter, but I smiled with satisfaction as I recognized the taste. After eating my fill, I curled back up near the small stream.

I didn't know what to do.

People may find the bodies of my parents and the others. They would mourn, but no one would even think to look for me. They would assume the wolves had carried off my small skeleton, never thinking that I had wandered so far away. What could I do? I was lost, and I couldn't live on berries and water forever.

Refusing to dwell on this new horror, I drank some more water and slept once again. Mercifully, it was a dreamless sleep.

I awoke to the sound of a wolf howling. Jerking my head up, I froze. My mother had always told me not to be fearful of wolves, but her words seemed useless if she wasn't there to protect me. I scrambled up and fled from the stream. I plunged deeper and deeper into the woods, not realizing until later how foolish I was to give up my water source.

Another ill slept night passed. This time I dreamed the attack all over again, in all of it's gory glory. I awoke sweating and foraged on, cautiously weaving my way through the forest. I had to reach safety soon, didn't I? My parched mouth had already begun to remind me that I needed water and food if I wanted to make it further.

But by the time night came, neither berries nor water was in sight. I walked on even in the twilight, the bitter wind whipping my hair back. My nose ran and my stomach moaned in painful agony. At last, my legs collapsed and I fell down onto the forest floor. Something hard and cool pressed into my chest, and I lifted my head slightly, wondering what it was.

My mother's emerald necklace.

The memory came rushing back to me. She had put it on me only moments before the attack. New tears came to my eyes; she would never wear it again. My tiny hands clutched on determinedly to it as I fell into a half sleep. I knew I didn't have enough energy to go on, and a small, mature part of me realized that I would very likely die in this very place. Closing my eyes, I held on to the prize possession of my mother and let it lull me into sleep.

But right before I slipped into my nightmares, I heard the sound of cautious footsteps approaching.

Eleven Years Later...

**** Authors Note****

I'm not quite settled on the spelling of if you see it pop up with an a instead of an e at times, just disregard it...I'll settle on something eventually. Please leave me a criticizing review telling me how to improve, nothing makes me happier...and that goes for all the chapters.