Resistance: Part One
Hello. My name is Larynia Evenstar, and I am a mage, level thirteen. I began training for the magician's guild after my father was tortured to death by the servants of King Methulas, and ever since that day I have sworn to support the friends of the Resistance movement. You may find it hard to believe that a teenage girl can do much to stop the King's army, but neither does Methulas; and therein lies my greatest hope of defeating him.
At the moment, however, I am lying on my back in the middle of the Black Forest, feigning sleep in order to think without being interrupted by my guardians. But in order to understand my present situation, allow me to first explain how I would up here, a thousand miles from the King's palace and in the company of three dozen suspicious elves.
It all started the day soldiers came looking for my father. He had feared their approach, and fled to the safety of the forest early that morning. But the servants of the King know their business well, and they cut off all chance of escape. There was little my brothers and I could do to prevent his capture, and he was eventually apprehended (though not before blasting a few of them with flames that lit up the night like a fireworks display, I might add).
For three days we prayed and tried to maintain a mental link with my father, but after the third day his spirit began to weaken and we could sense his pain. Being trapped in the house and unable to help him escape, those were the three worst days of my life. After he died, I swore on my mother's grave that I would never again let the servants of the King harm my family, and I left home to seek out the teachings of the magicians' guild in the nearby town of Qu'tairn.
My brothers were upset to see me go, and little Ivan even offered to come with me, but I told him that he needed to guard the house and take care of the other two, so that I would have a home to come back to. I knew they would be safe from the King's men as long as they acted as though everything was normal. The soldiers had no reason to suspect a little girl when there were three young men still in the house. If we all left at once, his men would be upon us before we had left the main road. No, they would have to stay behind if there was any hope at all. And I didn't really believe there was much hope, if any.
Training at the magician's guild was usually reserved for men, and I had a hard time convincing them to even open the door for me. Not that it was easy to find the place. Their headquarters was of course hidden, and could only be reached by someone who knew where to look. I spent several weeks lurking in the alleyways of Qu'tairn before I managed to find someone who knew where it was, and he took quite a bit of convincing to let me in on the secret.
In the end I was forced to get a bit nasty with him: I used the one spell I had 'learned' from my father (and by 'learned' I mean secretly overheard and taught myself when he wasn't around to rebuke me), and though it was weak and didn't do him any real harm, he was a decent enough wizard to recognize a half-witch when he saw one and he finally relented.
After I found the place, it was a simple matter of convincing twenty full-grown wizards to approve the apprenticeship of an eleven-year-old girl who had no magical training and a father who was a declared member of the Resistance movement. Luckily for me, one of the council members had once been on friendly terms with my father, and he agreed to take me on a trial basis.
I trained in secret for two years, until fed up with the council I took my training into my own hands. When I left the magician's guild, I took a single spellbook with me. This was strictly forbidden, of course, but in the course of two years I had come to specialize in spells of concealment and I hid the book well enough for its presence to go unnoticed by the night guard until I was out of range of any save a very powerful wizard.
It was only after my escape that I learned the truth: one of the council members, I still wasn't sure which one, had reported my presence to Garkh, one of the King's many spies. I had a hard time of it, escaping the city, once the local soldiers got wind of the fact that a little witch was on the loose and wanted by the King. But as I said before, I had become very good at concealment by now, and I managed to escape in the disguise of a riverboat hand on one of the town's many trade ships.
I thought I was in the clear once I jumped ship and found myself on solid ground, but I was in a foreign port with no food, no money, and no way of finding the Resistance without landing myself in further trouble. I hid and did some spying, and always kept on the move. Those were hard times, and I would have starved if it were not for the kindness of a local barman, who allowed me to help dispose of leftovers at the end of the night in return for helping him hide his secret drug-dealing enterprise from the soldiers.
I moved North when I began to hear rumors that the soldiers were on the lookout for me, and set out once again into the wilderness, ever wary for signs of a Resistance camp or hideout but finding nothing but wild animals and the occasional farmer in the fields and forests. I had strayed into Dry country, it seems, and was once again out of my reckoning.
I wished many times that I had spent more time in the map room back at the magician's guild headquarters, but I at least had a general sense of in which direction the King's palace lay, and if that was to be my final destination I would want to strike out more or less north and west and I would eventually find myself within sight of the monstrous palace and the surrounding jagged mountain peaks.
In the meanwhile, I was still hoping to find some vestige of the old Resistance camps that were rumored to be in these woods somewhere. Sneaking along through the trees, day after day, always on the lookout for the King's spies, I soon grew weary. I was only thirteen after all, and had never traveled further than three leagues from my home. I thought often of my father and my brothers, and the memory of them kept me from weeping at night.
I learned to trap what small game I needed to survive, and became quite handy at lighting a cooking fire that was hot enough to cook meat without creating a lot of smoke. On camping trips with my brothers I had always been made to cook for the boys, and luckily I still remembered which roots and leaves were good to eat and which were poisonous.
When I wasn't in a hurry I climbed trees and ran to build up my strength. I was quite a bit thinner than when I had lived at home with my family, and without the constant exercise I would hardly have had the strength to cast a simple shielding spell. At night I pored over my spellbook, training my mind to learn new and ever more difficult spells, though I hesitated to attempt those that I knew were beyond my strength.
At long last I seemed to have found the remains of what must once have been a stronghold of the Resistance, and I searched carefully for any sign of what had become of the inhabitants. The entire place was covered in debris and ash, and there was evidence of a mighty struggle before the flames took down the outer wall. I could almost sense the courage and strength of those who had fallen defending these walls, and I nearly wept at the discovery of a mountain of bones – all that remained of the heroic captives.
I camped out in the shadow of the fortress, and slept fitfully, having dreams of battle and fire. I awoke drenched in a cold sweat in the dark before dawn, and continued to search the grounds for any sign of where the survivors had gone. For I was sure there must have been survivors. The Resistance has secrets that even the King does not suspect, and they can not easily be defeated in battle.
I thought I had found what I was looking for in the ruins of a guardroom when I came across some charred books, but before I could get a good look at them I was accosted by a roving band of elves. They had apparently come to pillage the remains of the town, and finding me trapped among the ruins they took me prisoner without asking any questions.
Often I rebuke myself for having been so absorbed in my search that I failed to notice their presence. But elves, and especially the cunning wood-elves in the northern lands, have keen eyesight and can travel without a sound – simple concealment charms and disguises are no use against them, so I had no choice but to give myself up to them and hope they weren't in service to the King.
Which brings me back to my present predicament. For weeks I had traveled in the company of the marauding elves, ever conscious of the fact that we were going in exactly the wrong direction and that every day I was losing time. The elves were quick and did not tire easily, and the mere task of keeping up with them day after day kept me busy enough to prevent plans of escape. I hadn't had the energy to look at my spellbook for days, and it was only by pretending to sleep in the early morning that I postponed the start of the day's march long enough to get a few moments to myself.
So here I am, lying on the forest floor with nothing to do but think over my past experiences and wonder what the future holds in store for me. I do not fear elves. They are suspicious of me and very cunning, but they are not cruel and do not punish prisoners without need, so as long as I do my best to keep up with them and don't cause any trouble, they give me some freedom.
They also feed me every day, and allow me to hunt occasionally. As a rule, wood-elves do not eat meat, so their diet consists mainly of what they can grow in their gardens, or in the case of elves on a journey, whatever they can gather from their surroundings, as they travel light and don't bring many provisions.
They do, however, have this wonderful drink that tastes like sweet wine, which they all carry in flasks and of which I was allowed a taste every now and then. It gave a person renewed energy, and made me feel as though I could run for miles on an empty stomach. Being human, I could not survive on this stuff as they could, and still found need of food to sustain my aching legs. But my hosts were gracious enough to know that, and they stopped a few times a day for food and rest.
All in all, I did not feel so much a prisoner as a guest who was not allowed to leave. They did keep guard over me every night, and during the day I was never alone. At the present, I could hear my guards having what sounded like some sort of argument. I had never had any occasion to learn the elvish language, and therefore my communications with my captors had been brief and to the point.
Being wood-elves, they spoke the common tongue but only at great need. Elves are not known to spend much time in the company of other races as a general rule, and these were no exception. But they seemed to understand me well enough, whether because they could gauge my thoughts or because they understood more of the common speech than they cared to let on I knew not. Suffice it to say that I had little hope of escaping them through deception, and that my current thoughts were of how to convince them to let me go of their own free will.
My thoughts were interrupted by the harsh overtones of my guards' discussion. It seemed that soldiers were in the area, and the elves feared my presence was going to cause them a bit of trouble. Some of the elves wanted to hand me over to the King's men, but most seemed to be taking the escapist route and were discussing plans to avoid the soldiers without arousing suspicion.
It seemed that the elves I happened to be in the company of were neither with the Resistance nor in alliance with the King. They avoided speaking openly of the Resistance fighters, yet at the same time seemed fearful that the King's men might suspect them of being in league with them. This put me in an interesting situation: I could neither convince them to take me to the Resistance, nor accuse them of being in cahoots with Methulas' men.
I sat up and looked around me. There were three elves keeping watch over me, but at the present they were wrapped up in their argument and didn't seem to notice that I had woken up. Acting on impulse, before the moment was lost, I crouched low to the ground and began to crawl away from them, toward the cover of some bushes.
I concentrated hard on keeping my mind blank, and at the same time prayed that my guards were too wrapped up in their argument to be paying me much attention. If I could only reach the cover of the trees, perhaps I could invoke a cloaking spell long enough to elude their sight. The sky was still dark, and most of the company would be resting or preparing the morning meal.
I reached the bushes with surprising speed, and stopped momentarily to scan my surroundings. There was a cooking fire not too far to my left, and I could sense five or six elves beginning to stir nearby. Working quickly, I summoned up enough energy to cast my cloaking spell and then crept as quietly as I could towards the darkest shade of the trees. I could not hope my disappearance would go unnoticed for long.
It was then that I first sensed the approach of dozens of men on horseback. They were riding towards the elves' camp with a quickened pace – they must have suspected deception in the air. Perhaps I should have stayed where I was. There was nothing I could do but run as fast as my legs would carry me, hoping against hope that I would encounter neither man nor elf before my cloaking spell gave out.
A few minutes passed before I could hear, in the distance, the unmistakable clamor: the soldiers had found the company of elves, and there was a commotion going on. The voices were too close for comfort; I kept running. I hoped the elves would not betray my presence to the soldiers and send them on my heels, because even in disguise I could not outrun a company on horseback.
My breathing started to get heavier; I had not run like this in a long time. I could feel the cloaking spell wearing off, and looking down saw that I was quite visible once again. Ducking under the trees, I ran until the sounds of the commotion were at a comfortable distance and then shimmied up a tall tree trunk and hid myself in its branches. I tried to remain calm.