The Journey Begins
By: Stephanie Bardy

Weeks passed, then months. Celeste never spoke of that day with the Elders. Merrik tried, on many occasion, to broach the subject, but she shut down each and every time. They trained, she taught him the ways of magic until he could call each element with less than a thought. He could use a bow, a blade, a sword and his hands, faster, and better than any before him, he was stronger, and his mind was quicker, yet she still refused to let him leave the safety of her gates. She would disappear, sometimes for days, always silent when she returned, but he was never allowed to stray farther than the garden.

Frustration, on many levels, had built in Merrik, and he made the decision that this day she would either tell him why, or let him go.

Celeste moved around the small cabin, which over time, she felt had grown smaller. Every where she moved, he was there. For all her caution, she couldn't go a day without touching him in some way. He seemed to always be in the way, right beside or behind her, always where she needed to be. When it became to much she retreated to the peace of the forest. She never went far, always within sight of her cabin, so she could keep an eye on Merrik as his strength and powers grew, but she needed the escape. To pull her shields back tightly against her. He had a way of working past them, and was in closer than she had ever wanted. His smile, his laugh, his joy at mastering another skill, all tugged at her. She had sent him out this morning to gather an herb from her garden. She knew it would take him awhile as it grew beyond the gates and he wouldn't find it. He wouldn't stop looking until he was sure it was not there so it bought her those precious moments alone that she desperately needed.

"You are playing with fire child."

The Elders had been blissfully absent these last months and their sudden appearance made Celeste jump.

"Can't you knock or something?" she grumbled.

They stood before the hearth, each face hidden, hands clasped in front of them. In unison they raised their right hands and pointed at the fire. Images began to dance within the flames as Celeste watched. Visions began to appear. Visions of the future, of things that would come if she continued down this path. She turned away and slammed her hand down on the table.

"NO! I told you once, and I will tell you again. No. Not now, not ever again. Yes, we care for each other, as we need too, but I will not allow him to love me, nor I him."

She heard one of them sigh. "It is to late for that child. He already loves you. He would die for you, and you him. Ren Daul can not stand in the face of a love that is pure, a love that is true. You know this. You have always known this. In each incarnation it has been the one thing that has defeated the Warrior every time. Your unwillingness to submit to that which is foretold."

Celeste raised pained eyes to them, "Why? Why must I endure that? We know how this ends. I can not survive it again."

"Then he will die." They said.

"No I will not." said Merrik from the door. He had heard her scream and had come running. "You say that Ren Daul can not stand in the face of a love that is true and pure. What can be more so than what we feel right now? It is a love born of tragedy, forged in trust, honesty, and grief. It is one of friendship. True friendship. Nothing beyond that. What can be more pure than that?"

The Elders exchanged looks. "We shall see." They turned back to Celeste. "It is time."

She shook her head. "No, he isn't ready. Not yet."

"Now." they said in their usual demanding way before they vanished.

"Just once I wish they would come and go like normal people." said Merrik as he laid the herbs on the table.

Celeste stared down at the herbs. She knew none grew within the borders of her garden, and knew he could not pass beyond those borders. "How?" she asked.

Merrik laughed. "I figured it was a test when I saw them just beyond the gate. If I could not go to the herb, I decided to bring the herb to me. The rabbits have grown quite fond of me since I stopped setting them on fire. A little coaxing and the herbs were on this side of the gate. A little gnawed on, but here none the less." He sat himself down in the chair at the table with a satisfactory thump. Celeste sighed.

"The Elders think it is time we venture beyond the safety of the garden." she said. Merrik jumped to his feet, quickly stuffing things into a sack, before she could utter another word he was ready and standing at the door.

"Let's go!" he said joyfully. He was excited to finally be heading out, starting this quest, and for the change of scenery. Celeste walked to him, took the sack and began placing the things back in their places. He watched her, confused. "What are you doing? The Elders said.."

She cut him off angrily, "I don't care what they have said. I am tasked with training you and I will decide when you are ready, not them. It is not their life they will lose if we fail in the first battle. It is not their wounds I will have to mend if you falter."

Merrik's frustration finally boiled over. "Enough coddling! I am not a child! I have done every task you have asked. Mastered every lesson. Magic and otherwise. I can not, I will not, stay here a moment longer! Ren Daul terrorizes the land while we sit safely behind your gates. People are dying, innocence is being taken, and you have me fetching flowers and playing with rabbits! I'm done. Either you let me go willingly, or tell me why you run from my touch."

Panic crossed Celeste's face before she shut down and sealed herself off. She felt like a cornered animal inside and knew she had no choice. She could not let him go on his own, but she could not tell him either. Emotions raged within her, while she stood staring blankly in front of him. Merrik knew that things were about to change. He watched her face and just as quickly as it had gone blank, anger raced across it. She had settled on an emotion. He took a step back and braced himself. She was quite the force when angry.

"Fine!" she spat at him. 'You think you are ready to face what waits for you out there?" she threw the sack at him. "Pack only what you can carry. I am not your servant or your pack mule. You want to start this? Then lets go, but heed this. I will not hold you as you cry for what you must do. I will not comfort you as you face the reality of what awaits. You think you are ready? You know even less than I thought."

Celeste spun on her heel and stormed out of the door. The cabin began folding in on itself as Merrik stood staring in awe. Quickly he began refilling the sack and raced out the door as the cabin disappeared and a small square block sat in its place, no bigger than a child's toy. Celeste walked over and picked it up placing it into the bag that swung from her belt. She then waved her hand and the garden, gate, path, and gazebo in the back began to shimmer and fade. Before him stood two horses. One white, one black. Celeste quickly mounted the black one and pointed to the white one. "Yours." was all she said and headed down the path. Merrik mounted the horse and followed after her. They rode for what seemed like hours, in silence. Every time he went to speak she just shot him a look. After awhile he just gave up.

They had gone deep into the woods when the trees opened up and Merrik could see a town up ahead. He made a move to speed up and Celeste grabbed the reigns to his horse, stopping him.

"Do you know the town?" she asked.

"No but.."

"Do you know what kind of people are in the town?"

"No…"

"So, should we just saunter in, waving hello, or take precaution and see if this is a town already under Ren Daul's dominion?"

Merrik didn't answer. He knew he had just made what could have been a horrible mistake. How could he have been so stupid? They moved back into the safety of the tree's and skirted the town to get a better look. It appeared to be a normal town, with normal townsfolk going about their daily lives. Mother's with children, old folks, dogs rummaging for scraps. Merrik was pretty certain they were safe when he heard Celeste muttering an incantation beside him. The air around the town began to shimmer and shift. Colors began to bleed together, screams began to erupt from the mouths of the townsfolk. They began to run but there was no hiding from her magic. The elderly fell first. Pools of flesh, slowly seeping into the dry earth. The mothers soon followed, and the dogs. Each screaming, trying to escape. Merrik was horrified. He could see a small child running towards them. She was no older than his youngest daughter. She was crying calling for her Momma. He lept down from his horse and ran towards her. Celeste hadn't seen him as she was concentrating and it was his scream that broke through. She saw him kneeling over something and slide from her horse to run towards him. She could see the hooves of the daemon peeking out from his lap and she feared she was too late.

His screams turned into wails and she knew that he was still caught in the grip of the glamour. "Damn" she thought, this was going to be painful.

As she approached, the daemon smiled up at her. "He is mine. You have failed Divine Keeper. Not very good are you?" she hissed. Celeste looked at the thing with no emotion. Merrik rocked back and forth, tears streaming down his face, that same wail that she had heard the night his family died, tearing out of his mouth. She knew the only way he would see is to break the glamour, but to do that she had to kill the daemon. She had to get him to let her go. The daemon reached up and stroked Merrik's face, cooing at him, calling him Dada, and he held her tighter.

Celeste laid her hand on his shoulder. "Put her down Merrik." she said. He continued to rock. "Merrik, lay her down. That is not your child. That life is gone. Remember Merrik, remember." Merrik continued to rock, his eyes unseeing to reality. Celeste sighed. She moved around the front of Merrik and seized the daemon by the hair, jerking her from his arms. He sprung to his feet, fire blazing from his hands.

"Let her go Celeste!" he screamed, eyes wild. White heat shot from his hands, hitting the earth around her. "Let her go. I won't ask again."

Celeste pulled the daemon child in front of her, whispered an incantation and twisted the head off, throwing it aside, just as the white heat hit her. She fell back gasping for air.

Merrik's vision cleared the instant the daemon died, but it was too late, he had already let the attack on Celeste begin. He saw her fall and raced to her side. She was just pulling herself into a sitting position when he reached her side. He tried to help her, but she brushed his hands away angrily.

"I'm sorry Celeste." he said, "I am so sorry." His eyes tried to catch her as she stood, but she refused to look at him. She walked back to her horse, and he could tell by the set of her shoulders that she was vibrating with anger. He hesitated for a moment, wondering if maybe he should take cover, before she spun around to face him.

"Do you now see? Do you now understand? You say no more coddling, well that is your first lesson. Ren Daul will use anything, ANYTHING, to get to you. He has no mercy, no moral, nothing that he won't use to destroy you. You would have gone prancing into that town, full of yourself, and gotten us both killed. You never once looked for the mark of magic, the tell–tale signs. Things that you know! A child could have seen the remnants of the evil that dwelt here. One moments pause and you would have smelled the stench of sulphur. You think you know better? Know all there is to know? You just proved you don't. You just proved that your trust in me is NOT complete, regardless of what you think you believe. I will not risk my life protecting yours if you are not going to trust me. This was an easy lesson, and you failed. Horribly. Now set camp while I clean up this mess. Don't tread past the borders of the cabin. Don't push me." Celeste threw the small block from her pouch into the trees and before Merrik could blink the cabin, garden and gazebo appeared. He turned to speak to her, to apologize once more, but she was already walking towards the smouldering village. Daemon's writhed and melted with much more magic than was needed, but he knew she was angry. He had almost killed her, would have killed her, had she not broken the spell he was under. He turned and entered the gate and felt the boundary snap into place like an electrical shock.

When he looked up to the porch of the cabin he saw The Elders standing there, waiting for him.

"I failed." he said. They nodded. "So did she." they said.

"How? I pushed her to take me beyond the borders. I forced her hand. You gave her no choice, and neither did I. How has she failed?" Merrik asked.

"She could have told you the truth. Instead she chose to avoid it, yet again, and bring you out. Not willing to embrace her destiny, her fate, is her failure. Yours is not believing in her enough to see past your own broken heart.

Merrik opened his mouth to respond but they were gone. Celeste didn't return until well after Merrik had gone to bed. He heard her come into the cabin and settle herself on her cot. Then he heard something he had never heard before.

He heard her cry.

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