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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Najia's Sacrifice the Prologue



Prologue


It isn’t fair, Najia thought. Even though she was almost eight, Mama Tia still said she couldn’t go to the village with her! Again, she was to be left with the Falkeries while Tia went to the village for supplies. Again!
            “It isn’t fair!” she yelled in Tia’s resigned face.
            Storming out of the house, Najia headed for her favorite place – the meadow. Plopping down among the flowers, she thought, I am not a stupid little girl anymore! Why won’t the Druids let me go to the village yet? Turk had lived, and surely everyone knows I wasn’t the person who actually hurt Papa Roland! Sometimes it was hard for Najia to understand the things her Mama Tia told her. She knew her Papa was killed defending her, and she was somehow blamed for it, but she couldn’t understand why anyone would believe a four year old was strong enough to kill an adult.
            Picking a flower to play with, Najia was horrified to watch it wilt in her hand. She wasn’t mad, she really wasn’t!
            “I am not mad! Please, flowers, don’t die! I don’t want you to die!” Najia was horrified to see that all of the flowers around her had died. Frustration welled up in her chest as she stared at the ring of dead flowers.
            “But I am not angry! Why can’t I even be sad?” She slumped as tears welled in her eyes. “There must be something good I can do!”
            Sobbing, she threw herself across the dead flowers, allowing her tears to fall to the ground. I am nothing more than a bringer of death! Why can’t I figure out how to do good things? Tia promised I will someday when I am older. But I am older now. Why is it I can only do bad things? Najia wondered, frantically.
            “Najia, Faye has arrived!” Tia called from the house.
            Not wanting Faye, her Falkerie, to see her crying, Najia sat up and wiped the tears from her eyes. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see Faye, she did, but she also really wanted to see other kids. It was lonely in the meadow with no one but Tia to play with. Fingering a flower bud, Najia realized it was slowly growing inside the ring of dead flowers.
            With a start, Najia just knew in her heart that her tears had created this. She watched in wonder as the tiny green bud began to blossom. I did it! I finally created something! She was so proud of herself. Warmth blossomed in her chest as she realized she would finally be able to tell Faye she had created something good.
            As the petals opened, Najia watched in awe as a beautiful purple flower bloomed. The inside of the petals shimmered iridescently like the surface of a pearl, and the center was filled with pearl-like orbs. With a little poof, the flower released all of the shimmering white orbs. Not really understanding what had just happened, Najia watched them float away on the breeze. She was so worried about those orbs that she didn’t hear Faye approach her from behind.
            “Najia!” Faye exclaimed breathlessly. “Do you know what you have done?”
            Wincing, Najia turned to look up at Faye. Blocking the sun with her hand, she tried to discern if the Falkerie was angry or not. Sweeping her gaze up and down the tall and skinny woman, Najia studied her long white hair - which fell to her waist when it was down - and her light blue eyes that shimmered with tears.
            “I’m sorry,” Najia said, as she watched Faye sit down beside her. Hanging her head in shame, she decided to just confess what had happened. After all, it was an accident. “I made it with my tears – I think. I was just so frustrated and angry with Mama Tia for leaving me behind…so I came to the meadow. I sat down in the flowers, and they all died.”
            Faye wrapped an arm around Najia, and encouraged her to continue.
            “I don’t know why the flowers died!” Najia sniffed. “I didn’t mean to do it, and I started to cry because I killed all of the flowers. When I sat up, the flower was growing, and I really do think it was where my tears had fallen.”
            “Are you very sure about that?” Faye asked gently.
            Wrinkling her nose in annoyance, Najia replied, “Well, it just grew out of the ground, out of nowhere, and poofed out all of these white things.”
            Laughing at the precocious little girl, she pushed, “Do you think this was a good thing or a bad thing?
            “I made it…so I guess it must be something evil or bad,” Najia shrugged, “I really haven’t learned how to do good things with my magic yet. Can it hurt you or Mama Tia?”
            “You can only hurt me with your anger and your flames,” Faye reminded her gently. “I am a Demi-God with lots of magic. Your Mama has a little magic, and you have to remember that it only takes one time of you losing control of your magic, and you can easily kill her. But it is important that you remember that I am a very strong magical being. You should never fear hurting me or killing me, unless that is your expressed intent.”
 Smiling down at Najia, she could see that the rambunctious little girl was having a hard time sitting still. “This flower is a very special flower, Najia. When the last Pixie died, these flowers disappeared, and no one has seen one since. Do you know what this flower is?”
            “No!” Najia felt a little crabby. She was sure this was about to turn into another of Faye’s boring lessons.
            “Stubborn, aren’t you?” Faye laughed, deciding to make this short, while roping in her little student. “You know you have the power to kill, but you also have the power to give life. This flower is something good, I promise you.”
            Najia looked at Faye with disbelief, and tried to see if she was playing a joke on her or not. Though that would be out of character for her Falkerie, it made more sense than the idea that she could give life. Sucked in by Faye’s neat little trap, Najia still wasn’t quite sure she believed it.
            “Are you sure?”
            “It is true, Najia,” Faye soothed and reassured her at the same time. “This flower has the power to give life, and the power to heal the earth. The Great Battle took place in this very meadow; I am sure it needs a lot of healing. But the really fun part is this: since you created the flower, you can now communicate with the meadow, and it with you.”
            Najia silently absorbed all of this new information. Finally she said, “So, this flower opened, white stuff came out, and that means my meadow is happy again and can talk to me?’         
            “Don’t describe it that way to anyone else, but yes, that sums it up quite well.” Faye giggled with mirth at the confused look on Najia’s face. “Now, I think we have kept Tia waiting long enough. Why don’t we go say our goodbyes, so we can start our lessons?”
            “Blech!” Najia rolled her eyes as she got to her feet. Perking up, she realized she could tell her Mama Tia that she had created life and could somehow talk to the meadow now. With a much lighter heart, she smiled up at Faye. If she couldn’t go to the village, being here with her Falkerie was the next best thing. Giggling, she thought, I wonder how you talk to a meadow. I will definitely have to try that one!

***

            The summer Najia turned thirteen started out like every other summer; she was very lonely. As she lay in her meadow, she didn’t know this was to be her greatest summer ever. She didn’t know that by the time the summer was over, she would barely remember the loneliness that she felt at the beginning of this day. All spring she had played in the meadow, and her boredom was bordering on depression by this point. More than anything, she wanted something new to happen.
            She just wanted to be normal. She wanted to have something new to explore, someone new to talk to. She loved her Mama Tia, but she could get boring at times!  Najia wanted to meet other Phoenix girls - talk to them about boys - and she really wanted to meet her Seared. She had heard so many bad things about the Phoenix that she now wondered if it was even possible for a race to be that bad.
            Her Mama Tia had explained that for the Phoenix, a Searing was like a betrothal, and she had been Seared when she was three months old. Normally, a noble Phoenix girl was Seared when she turned twelve. That is when her family chooses her mate, and the two are Seared in a special ceremony, where the essences of the chosen mates are Seared. Apparently, a tiny piece of her soul had been transferred to her Seared, and vice versa. Once, she had tried really hard to feel her Seared, but she hadn’t felt anything.
            Sighing, Najia remembered how angry Mama Tia had been when she found out. Her Mama had raged at her until she realized that she had never explained why Najia shouldn’t try to use the bond that Seared couples have. Tia explained that the bond allowed the Seared couple to read each other’s thoughts, feel their feelings, and find one another if there is ever a pressing need. The farther apart, the less the bond; the closer, the more heightened the bond. For months, Najia expected the Phoenix to descend on her meadow, but it had never happened.
            Najia knew the Druid Elders expected her never to marry or have children.  Mama Tia had simply said her destiny would be revealed in time, and that she should be patient. Najia really didn’t care one way or the other at this point; it was the isolation she couldn’t stand anymore. She wanted a friend to play in the meadow with – to talk to – and she wanted to get away from this tiny area and see new things.
            Sitting in the meadow, Najia tried to stop thinking about being lonely, and to concentrate on the flowers she was growing. Unlike most people, she didn’t have to plant a seed and nurture it for weeks for it to grow and bloom. One wave of her hand, and the planted seed would grow steadily until she stopped it. Today, however, her flowers didn’t look as vibrant as they usually did. They just looked sad.
            “I want a friend I can talk to,” Najia told the flowers. “I want someone to play with and share my dreams with. I want a friend I can’t hurt with my magic; is that so wrong?”
            Sniffing, she growled in frustration as tears welled in her eyes. Fighting to hold them back, she tried blinking really hard and then tilted her head to the sky. “I am not crying!” she declared to the sky, even as a fat tear plopped to the ground.
            Frustrated, she wondered if she would ever really be able to control her tears. Wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her chin on her knees, she prepared to watch the purple flower bloom. It was the most beautiful flower that appeared whenever her tears fell in the meadow. Though she would never get tired of seeing this flower bloom, she was tired of crying the tears that caused it to grow.
            Watching the stem slowly rise from the ground, Najia was surprised to see that this one looked different. Moving to kneel in front of the flower, she realized it looked as though it was sagging, as if the bloom was filled to capacity and needed to open prematurely and release its white orbs. Disappointed in herself, she thought she had ruined this flower’s short life cycle.
            Ever so slowly, the flower’s petals started to open, one by one. It had never done that before, and Najia couldn’t help but lean closer and watch as this familiar, yet odd, flower slowly opened its petals. The slower the petals moved, the closer to the ground the flower sagged. Reaching out to cup the bloom in her hands, she was surprised to feel how much it weighed. Without any warning, a ball of goo popped out of the bloom and landed on her lap.
Screeching, Najia twitched it off her lap, and fell backwards onto her hands. Scooting away, she stared in horror at the moving pile of goo.
            “Ouch.”
            Najia couldn’t believe her ears! That thing just spoke! She stared dumbly as the ball of goo stood up. It looks like a miniature person covered in boogers!  Najia was sure she was going to be sick.
            “That was very rude of you!” the little person scolded her, as it brushed the goo off its body.
            “I...I’m sorry?” Najia stammered uncertainly. “It isn’t every day a little person gets spit out of a flower onto my lap.”
            “I am a Pixie, thank you very much,” it replied saucily. “I was just reborn, and I am covered in nectar! One would think it is only appropriate of you to offer your new friend a bath! After all, you did ask for me from the Gods!”
            Najia was dumbstruck for a moment. She had made someone? Just by wishing? She really didn’t know what to think; and if she didn’t know what to think, what was Mama Tia going to say?
            “I think my Mama is going to be very angry with me.” She was awestruck, despite her statement. “Did I really make you?”
            “Yep.”
            “I can’t hurt you?”
            “Nope.”
            “Will you leave me if I get a little angry every now and then?”
            The Pixie scoffed at her.
            “Most of my magic is bad,” she told him softly. “Are you bad?”
            “Pixies aren’t bad! We are fun and loyal and great! But a Pixie also needs a name…So, what do you plan to name me?” the Pixie demanded.
            “Can I name you anything? Even something gross?” Barely pausing as she fired questions at the goopy Pixie, she realized she didn’t even know its gender yet. “Are you a boy or a girl?”
            “You must be joking! Pixies should be named with honor!” Sighing dramatically, the Pixie attempted to dry off its sticky wings. “And I am not a boy. I am a Pixie man! We are born adults when we are born that way.” He flicked his head towards the now dead flower.
            “I’ve never met a Pixie before. How was I supposed to know?” Najia just shrugged at him. “I guess I will name you later, after you meet my Mama Tia.”
            “Ahh!” the Pixie screamed as he fell to the ground. His arms and legs were flailing about as if he were having a seizure.
            “What’s wrong?” Najia’s heart fell into her stomach as she scooped up the little man. “I knew I couldn’t make something good! Please, don’t die! Tell me how to fix you!”
            “You must name me!” he rasped, wriggling about in her arms. “Or I will die!”
            Thinking frantically, Najia yelled, “Kender! Your name is Kender!”
            “Thank you very much!” Kender replied, darting into the air and giving her a wink. “Kender? Humm….I like it!”
            “You tricked me! Didn’t you?” Najia’s fear was quickly replaced with anger.
            “Of course!” Kender replied with a shrug, as if it should have been obvious.
            “You little imp!” Najia shouted. “You scared me! That was horrible of you!”
            Kender giggled, enjoying the first prank of his new life.
            Narrowing her eyes at Kender, Najia slowly became aware that her hair was starting to smolder. Looking down, she growled when she saw that she had burned holes in her robe, and it was dangerously close to bursting completely into flames. Patting the charred areas, Najia closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing. My magic is never good, Najia thought. I created this odious little man; I should have known there would be nothing good about him!
            Feeling something lightly touch her shoulder, Najia opened her eyes, and was surprised to see Kender sitting on her.
            “I am not odious!” Kender pouted.
            “How are you still alive?” Najia marveled.
            “You can’t hurt me…physically,” Kender sniffed.
            “Did I hurt your feelings?” she asked rudely.
            “I am not odious.”
            “Oh, that. Well, I am sorry I said that, Kender,” Najia apologized offhandedly, out of habit. Realizing she had never actually said anything out loud, she exclaimed, “Wait! You can read my mind?”
            “Maybe,” he pouted.
            “I promise I won’t think bad things about you anymore. Okay?” She sighed and cursed her temper. She really did want to know the answer, and whether or not he could read her mind. “Can we just start over?”
            “No!” Kender fumed. “No, no, NO!”
            “I really am sorry.” Najia was honestly beginning to feel apologetic now.
            “Ok.”
            “Really?” She was startled by the sudden acceptance.
            “Yep.”
            “So the Gods really did send you!” Najia started to feel a little giddy over the idea. She was brimming with excitement, and anxious to brag about her new friend. She was especially looking forward to telling Tia all about Kender. “Now we just have to find a good way to explain this one to Tia!” She giggled, feeling happy for the first time that summer. “But before we bring you home, we had better give you a bath. Tia isn’t a fan of anything slimy!”
            Bringing him down to the creek, she quickly went and found a root that turned into soap when rubbed, and gave it to Kender to bathe. Kender ordered her to sit with her back to him while he bathed, and Najia couldn’t prevent a little giggle when he emerged from his bath wearing a couple of leaves. Shaking her head, she hurried him up to the house, and hesitated at the door.
            “You should probably wait here.” Najia glanced guiltily at Kender, who was hovering by her shoulder.
            Shrugging, he landed next to the door, and leaned against the house.
            “Just hurry, please. I am famished,” he announced.
            Giving him a small smile, Najia went into the house leaving the door open just a crack.
            “Mama?” she called.
            “Yes?” Tia replied, coming out of the kitchen.
            “I have a confession to make,” Najia admitted slowly, “but I am a little afraid to tell you.”
            “I can see why,” Tia remarked dryly, with a pointed look at the remnants of Najia’s charred robe.
            “I made someone,” Najia blurted out.
            “Made someone?” Tia repeated, looking baffled.
            “I was lonely,” she confessed, before Tia could say another word. “I was just making flowers, and talking to myself. I said I wanted a friend, and I got really sad that I am always so lonely, and I started to cry. I tried really hard not to cry, but I did, and this time, instead of those little white things, it spit out a friend for me!”
            “You made someone?” Tia repeated, incredulously. “What kind of someone?”
            “A Pixie?” Najia wrinkled up her nose as she waited for a reaction.
            Jaw hanging open, Tia finally had the presence of mind to exclaim, “What?! Where is it?”
            “I left him outside,” Najia admitted, not sure if Tia was angry or not.
            “Get it-I mean invite him inside!” Tia was excited and a little afraid. Pixies are extinct. If she is right and it is a Pixie, she is more magically advanced that we ever could have expected, given her age. The thought made her feel apprehensive and vulnerable.
            “Kender!” Najia called, confused by the expression on Tia’s face. “You can come in now!”
            Najia felt him settle on her shoulder, and looked over at Kender’s smiling face.
            “Kender, meet my Mama Tia!” she grinned encouragingly, until she looked at Tia and saw the color draining from her face. “What’s wrong?” she asked, sure that Pixies must be bad after all.
            “He’s a Pixie!” Tia shook her head and weakly collapsed into the nearest chair. “Pixies are extinct.”
            “Extinct? I am not extinct, madam!” Kender proclaimed. “I am sitting right here!”
            “I must get the Falkeries right away!” Tia felt an impending sense of doom as she realized fully what this meant. “We just didn’t know you were so strong, Najia! It isn’t safe here for you anymore! I must summon the Falkeries!”
            Najia’s jaw dropped as she watched Tia run outside to summon the Falkeries. Bewildered, Najia felt Kender tap her jaw, and she closed her mouth as she turned her head to look at him.
            “Kender, are Pixies evil?”
            Snorting in disgust, Kender just shook his head at her.
            “But if you’re not evil, then why did my Mama look so scared?” Najia’s stomach was starting to hurt.
            “Evil Pixies? Give me a break!” Kender snorted at her, before grumpily muttering, “Are you evil?”
            “I think I must be,” she replied honestly, “I am going to go lay down for a while. I don’t feel so good.”

***

The next day, Najia watched apprehensively as a small group of Falkeries rode across the meadow to her house. She was excited to see that they all rode Unicorns, but the feeling quickly waned when she remembered why they were coming, and why they were pulling sleds.
Watching the lovely white horses canter up to her house, she pressed her nose against the window to get a better look at them. She was surprised to see that their horns were different colors than the drawings she had seen depicted in the Druid books. While one did have a golden horn, the others had purple, red, blue, and one even had a multicolored horn.
Deciding the adults were distracted enough not to notice her, Najia crept outside and tentatively approached the nearest Unicorn.
            “Get away from my Unicorn!” one of the Falkeries shouted out as he stomped up to her. “You would probably kill it with your stupidity!”
            “Armond!” Faye admonished, looking shocked by his outburst. “Get away from Najia!”
            Lips trembling, and holding both of her hands behind her back, Najia looked up at Faye with tears in her eyes.
            “I wouldn’t have hurt the Unicorn,” she promised brokenly.
            “Armond is an ass, Najia. Ignore him.” Faye glared at the offending man for a moment, before approaching Najia and giving her a reassuring hug. “Now, what is all of this urgency about?”
            Pulling out of Faye’s arms, Najia whirled around and ran back inside the house. She immediately headed upstairs to her room and slammed the door behind her. She didn’t want to be around when Tia told Faye what she had done. Najia knew she hadn’t meant to do a bad thing, but judging by the reactions Kender was getting, it was a really bad thing.
            Leaning heavily against the door she had just slammed, Najia closed her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths.
Opening her eyes, she froze at the sight that awaited her.
            “Kender?!” Najia gasped in astonishment, “What have you done to my room?”
            Looking around her destroyed room, she knew it would take hours to clean. She tried to remain calm as she bent to start picking up her scattered clothing.
            Kender casually strolled out from under her bed, wearing a shirt, pants, and shoes. Absently, Najia wondered if her Mama had sewed him some clothing the night before, but was too busy cleaning and remaining calm to really think about such a little detail. Throwing Kender a disgusted look, she growled a little when he just laughed at her.
            “Kender!” Najia scolded, as she shook one of her robes at him. “This isn’t funny!”
            Angrily throwing the robe over her arm as she moved to pick up another one, she froze as she realized there was a large hole in it. Grabbing another robe, she saw that this one too had holes cut into it. Najia quickly started sorting though her robes looking for holes.
            “You cut holes in my clothes?!” Najia couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
            “Yep!” The Pixies replied with mirth.
            “Why? Do you know how much trouble I am going to be in? Why destroy my clothes?” Najia almost screamed in exasperation when she saw her only gown had not been spared.
            “I couldn’t very well remain naked around a young lady. Now, could I?”
            “My Mama would have made you clothes had you asked her!” Najia yelled at the top of her lungs, and threw a robe at him.
            Grinning as he ducked one article of clothing after another, Kender looked impishly at Najia and simply replied, “Oops!”
            Stamping her foot in frustration as the Pixie darted under the shelter of her bed, Najia growled at him before throwing her hands up in the air in defeat. Walking over to the window, she sullenly watched the adults discussing her.
            Her ruined clothing was quickly forgotten as she watched the meeting outside with renewed interest. The group had moved far away from the house, and taken the precaution of a silence orb to prevent her from hearing what they were talking about, but she could still see them. Armond was shaking his fist at her Mama, and she was yelling right back at him. Najia knew they were fighting about her, and her stomach started aching again. Rubbing her stomach, she went and lay on her bed, curling into a ball.
            “Are you okay?” Kender asked gently from the side of the bed.
            “My tummy hurts,” she whimpered, squeezing her eyes shut.
            “Does it hurt often?”
            “When I am worried or scared, it hurts a lot,” she admitted a little sheepishly. “I don’t like to tell my Mama when I am not feeling well. She always gets so worried about me.”
            “You should tell Faye,” Kender urged her softly, as he landed next to her head. “There are Falkerie healers who are the most renowned healers in all of the lands.”
            “I don’t want to talk about this!” Najia insisted with a sniffle. “All of this is happening because I made you!”
            “Shh-!” he soothed her, lightly rubbing her head with his hand. “Can I help you with anything?”
            “Can you watch the meeting outside, and let me know if anything changes?”
            “If you promise to try to sleep a little.” Kender kissed her forehead before flying over to the window sill.
           
            Najia did sleep for a few hours. She awoke feeling a little better, and sat up looking for Kender. Seeing the Pixie still sitting on the window sill, she stretched and got out of bed. Noting how clean the room looked and smelled, she smiled as she approached Kender.
            “Anything new?” she asked softly.
            “Nope.”
            “Thank you for cleaning up the mess.”
            “Yep.”
            Najia and Kender watched the group for what seemed like hours. She was worried by how often Tia looked angry but she was most concerned by the fear she read on her Mama’s face.
            Finally, the adults lowered the orb and started making their way to the house. Najia was sure she didn’t want to know what they had decided, as no one seemed to be happy with the results of the meeting. Backing away from her window so she wouldn’t be seen, Najia concentrated on Faye. Hers was the only serene expression she could cling to for comfort.
            “Kender, I’m scared,” Najia whispered, as the adults entered the house.
            “Pfft!” Kender snorted, and sat on her shoulder. “By a couple of Falkeries? I have more magic in my pinky than they have in their entire body! If any of them so much as gives you a dirty look, I will take care of them!”
            A light rap sounded on her door, as it opened just a crack.
            “Najia,” Faye called into the room, “Please meet us in the main room. Oh, and don’t forget your new friend.” The door shut softly with a little click.
            Kender patted Najia on her neck, lending her the courage to leave her room and face the Falkeries. Najia was not all that certain that she wanted to know what awaited her. Hearing the adults whispering downstairs, she knew she couldn’t avoid bringing Kender out there much longer. Grasping the handle of her bedroom door, she quickly opened it, and hurried down the stairs before she lost the courage to do so.
            Immediately, there was a variety of reactions from the Falkeries present. Armond looked angry, but he had had the same look since his arrival, so Najia didn’t pay much attention to him. A couple of the Falkeries she didn’t know had their jaws hanging open in surprise. Reluctantly, Najia let her eyes fall on Faye’s face.
            “So it’s true!” Faye laughed, looking delighted. “Pixies are no longer extinct, the little rascals!” Faye winked broadly at Kender, who grinned unabashedly back at her.
            “It made a Pixie, so what?” Armond sneered at Najia. “It will bring about all of our deaths, and all Pixies ever do is destroy everything they touch! Why are we wasting so much time protecting it from assassins?”
            Raised angry voices immediately assaulted Armond’s remarks, while Najia could only stare at him in horror. She had never considered the possibility that that was why she was hidden here in the meadow. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to kill her though; she was just a little girl.
            “What does he mean, Mama? Why would anyone want to kill me?”
            All eyes swung accusingly towards Armond. Najia was surprised to see Armond go pale and look at the floor guiltily. Looking at the mixed reactions from the adults, Najia knew there was more to her story than what her Mama and Faye had told her.
            The awkward silence stretched for just a few seconds before Kender burst out laughing.
            “You actually thought you could keep her from finding out what she is?” he chuckled gaily. “You are a bunch of fools! No wonder the Gods sent me to keep the poor child company. Najia, ignore the idiot. You are invincible. You can’t be killed.”
            “Invincible?” Najia rolled the strange word around on her tongue. “What does that mean?”
            “It means-” Kender began, but was cut off quickly by Tia.
            “You cannot be killed,” Tia took Najia’s hands in her own. “And no one knows when or if you will ever die.”
            “Immortal?!”  Najia burst out. “Only Gods are immortal!” She looked around at the resigned faces, and decided this was far too ludicrous to believe. “Is this a joke?”
            “Please leave us,” Faye requested kindly of the silent council members, before turning to Armond and rudely saying, “Armond, go home now! If I ever see you in the vicinity of Najia again, I will have you demoted to apprentice!”
            Murmuring their agreement, the council slowly took their leave. Each stopped to see Kender and to touch him, as if needing to reassure themselves that he was real.  Not one said a word to Armond as they drifted outside and mounted their Unicorns to await Faye.
            Najia’s attention was diverted back to Armond as she heard him audibly swallow. He seemed hesitant to leave, and was looking at Faye with an odd look on his face.  With a sigh, he turned to follow the council, and fell flat on his face.
            “HA! HA!” Kender gleefully shouted. “I really don’t like that one!” he announced to no one in particular.
            Glaring at Kender, Armond pushed himself into a sitting position and started unwinding the yarn from around his body and legs. His ears glowed a bright red, announcing his embarrassment for everyone to see.
            “How did you do that?” Najia whispered to Kender. “You never left my shoulder.”
            “Piss drinking, shit eating Pixies are magic creatures, you little bitch!” Armond snarled at Najia. “Know what they do? They go around playing stupid pranks on everyone and everything. I, for one, was glad they were extinct!”
            Shocked silent, Faye hauled Armond into a standing position by his arm and dragged him out of the house. Slamming the door in his face, Faye turned around and gave Najia a deceptively bright smile.
            “So, how would you like to come live with me?” she blurted out. “I promise Armond will not talk to you or bother you ever again.”
            Najia looked at Tia’s resigned face, and knew she didn’t really have a choice.
            “Is my Mama coming?” she asked slowly.
            “Yes.”
            “Why do we have to go live with you? Can’t you just come here and live with us?” Najia didn’t really want to go live near the Falkeries if any more like Armond were around. “We could play in the meadow-”
            “When you made Kender, you did an extremely wondrous thing,” Faye interrupted as gently as she could, trying to comfort Najia with her words even as she explained the importance of coming to the Falkerie city. “We knew this power would emerge eventually, but we thought it would be years before your abilities would grow to be so strong. The problem is that the stronger you grow, the easier it will be for others to find you. From what we know, there is one Phoenix whose link with you is stronger than all of the others. He will have felt you when you created Kender. It is possible that the Phoenix could be on their way here now, as we speak.”
            “If they can’t hurt me, why would that be bad?” Najia pondered.
            “The Phoenix aren’t the most forgiving race of people.” Faye bent over and looked directly into Najia’s eyes. “That means they would kill every Druid you have ever come into contact with, every Falkerie, everyone…and they would wipe out the Unicorns just to spite my race. Do you understand why it is imperative that we hide you as soon as possible?”
            “I understand,” Najia replied with a sinking feeling.
            Smiling again, Faye said, “You will like my home, Najia. Winter never really comes inside the city. It is bright and beautiful all of the time…there are gardens everywhere for you to practice your magic and your new home will have a pretty stream nearby.”
            “Are we going to live in your house?” She had always wanted to see where Faye lived.
            “No, sweetie.” Faye’s smile dimmed just a little. “You will live outside the Falkerie city, but you will be close enough that I can come see you every single day.”
            “Will there be other kids to play with?” she asked hopefully.
            Her hope faded as Faye shook her head sadly.
            “It’s alright. I have Kender now,” she said, without waiting for a reply.
            “And I am not going anywhere!” he declared. “I am your promised friend forever!”

***

            A few weeks later, Najia sat on the porch of her new house. It was situated just outside of the Falkerie city. In the time since she had come here, she had learned that it was one thing to be lonely when isolated out in the middle of nowhere, but it was completely different to live within a stone’s throw of hundreds of people, and not be able to talk to them. She watched them go about their daily business, and worse of all, she could see and hear the kids playing!
            Swallowing past the lump in her throat, Najia dejectedly watched the other children play. Kender patted her knee, trying to comfort her. Fighting the urge to ignore the council’s demands and go introduce herself, Najia looked at the open journal in her lap. Smiling as she read the newest entry that described Kender’s latest prank on Tia, Najia admitted to herself that this would have been so much worse without him.
            “OW!” Najia jumped up and rubbed her cheek. “Kender!” She started to yell at the startled Pixie, but stopped when she saw a head disappear around the corner of her house.
            “Psst!” A hand popped into view, and motioned for her to come over.
            Clutching her journal to her chest, Najia crept up to the corner and peeked around cautiously.
            “I am not allowed to play with you,” she whispered to the Falkerie boy.
            “What?! That’s stupid,” he exclaimed. “Why not?”
            “Be quiet!” Najia admonished him first. “I am working really hard, but I can’t always control my magic when I get mad. Faye says I am just not there yet.”
            “Oh! Well…” He scratched the side of his neck and looked a little confused, “I do bad things sometimes when I get angry, too. My dad says it is just part of growing up and being a magic kid, but my mom says I’m just a pain in the butt.”
            Najia giggled, and rounded the corner. Not sure what to do next, she looked at the ground and nudged a rock with the edge of her shoe.
            “How old are you?” the boy demanded to know, as he took in her small stature.
            “Thirteen.”
            “Good! I can’t be friends with a baby,” he declared. “I just turned thirteen too.”
            “My Mama will be really angry if she finds out I talked to you.” Najia kept her eyes on the ground.
            “Haven’t you ever kept a secret from your mama?” He raised an eyebrow and waited for an answer.
            Looking up, Najia blushed, and looked back down at her shoes. She really didn’t have any secrets to keep from her Tia.
            “Not really.” Najia glanced at the house, worried they would be caught any second. “We lived in a house by a meadow for a long time, but it was just me and my Mama.”
            “Well, we could be secret friends,” he offered mischievously, as he wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Then you would have a secret.”
            “That would be fun.” Najia smiled broadly, and decided it was worth the punishment should she ever get caught. “I guess we could be secret friends.”
            “Yeah, that’s cool.” The boy shrugged his shoulders, and blushed when he noticed her beaming at him. “I’m Briam. What’s your name?”
            “Najia.” She couldn’t stop smiling, her blue eyes sparkling happily.
            “Come on, we should go play by the brook if we are going to keep this secret. No one will find us,” Briam explained thoughtfully. “I’ll race you there.”
            Najia watched Briam jump to a head start as he ran towards the woods behind her house. Starting after him, Najia ran for all that she was worth, even though she could care less about winning.
            I have a secret friend! She thought excitedly as she pumped her arms and legs as fast as she could. Maybe living here won’t be so bad after all.

***

            Najia chuckled as she reread an old journal entry. It was about the first time she and Briam had been caught together, just a few short weeks after they had met. Armond had been out hunting (a huge demotion for a council member) and had happened upon them at the brook.  Rudely, he had demanded that Briam mount his Unicorn and return to the city with him.
Even ruder still, he had refused to speak a word to her, and had left her there. By the time she had meandered home, Faye was there to escort her to the council’s chambers.
            No matter how many times they had gotten in trouble, she and Briam continued to meet in secret. After a year and a half of sneaking around and being punished, Briam came up with the perfect solution, and presented it to the council. At first it was immediately rejected, but after another eight months of trying to force the youngsters to stay away from each other, the council had decided to give it a try.
            Unaware of Briam’s proposal, Najia thought they had been caught again as she stood before the council and awaited her punishment. When Briam was escorted into the room, she was apprehensive, but nothing could have prepared her for him walking right up to her and punching her in the stomach.
            Almost immediately, she had warned him to back off. She was angry that her friend had betrayed her, but she would never want to hurt Briam. Najia smoldered a little as she held her stomach and rasped in pain. She would have unintentionally harmed him had he tried to touch her again, but they had discussed the dangers of her anger and her magic. Briam had always respected that magic, and knew if she said to back off or to go away that it was best if he listened immediately.
But Najia had felt as though she had failed a test when she looked at the shocked faces of the council. Trying desperately not to cry, she’d reminded them of her vow to them that she would never hurt Briam.
Shortly thereafter, she had been escorted home by Faye. The silence between them had felt like a nail in her coffin, and she just knew they were going to send Briam away.
            Not more than three days later, Briam had knocked on her door and presented her with a sealed document. Surprised that Tia invited him in, she stood there and read the missive. Smiling from ear to ear, she had squealed in delight before running up to Briam, and throwing her arms around him.
            Her sweet, loving Briam had convinced the council that Najia needed an unbiased guard. One who could respect her magic, be respected and loved by her, and one who was willing to die for her. Seeing as how they were best friends, and he was already training to be a protector, it only made sense for him to just continue his training, and stick close to her while she was here.
Since she was safe here, she would only need him when she left Falkerie land. He reminded the council that she wouldn’t be leaving their lands for at least four more years, and his training was set to be complete in three. Even if he failed some of his final tests, he would have the time to make them up, or train a new guard in his place.
            She giggled again as she turned the page.
            “And just what is so funny?” Kender demanded to know.
            “Oh, I was just rereading some of my journals from when we moved to the Falkerie City,” Najia replied, turning another page.
            “Humph! You have more important things to worry about!”
            “Like what, Kender?”
            “Did you forget that you start your new training today?” Kender was much more worried than she was.
            “I have mastered everything they have asked of me,” Najia replied, thumbing through her journals. “This will be no different.”
            “Tia seems to think this one is different.”
            “What?” Finally really paying attention to Kender, she looked up. “What do you mean?”
            “Tia salted the porridge by herself this morning! Without my help!” he exclaimed. “And all morning, she has been doing odd things and talking to herself. Once she even looked up at the sky and told the Gods that this really was going too far.”
            “That doesn’t necessarily mean she is worried about my training.” Najia had no idea how badly she would rue those words.
            A full moon cycle later - or month, as the Falkeries called it - as she walked back from her lessons, she found it nearly impossible to look at Briam without blushing. Her lessons had centered solely on the human anatomy, specifically male anatomy, and how to please them. Stealing a glance at Briam’s crotch, she couldn’t even begin to imagine how something like that fit so well under his pants that she couldn’t see it. 
            “Okay!” Briam finally snapped, and pulled on the edge of his tunic, trying to cover his crotch. “Why do you keep doing that?”
            “Umm, well – I…umm!” Najia had no idea he had noticed her, and was mortified to be caught looking at his crotch. “You see…my lessons – well, umm.” She just didn’t know what to say.
            “If you have a question, please just ask it,” he implored her, looking a little embarrassed himself. “I know what the lessons are, and have been banned from attending you during your class for that very reason.”
            “Well,” Najia still hesitated.
            “Just say it!” Briam rolled his eyes in exasperation. “It is better than you staring at – well - you know.”
            Biting her lip, and careful to keep her eyes on the ground, Najia slowly asked, “Why isn’t it obvious if it looks like the pictures Selena and Felicia showed me?”
            “What did the pictures they showed you look like?” he asked carefully.
            “Well,” Najia held her hands about seven inches apart. “They said the average Falkerie man is about this long and about as big around as – ” She stopped talking as Briam turned red in the face and started choking. “Are you okay?”
            “Najia, a man is only like that when he needs to be, for mating purposes,” Briam squeezed out.
            “Oh.”
            “This may be a little less uncomfortable if we go somewhere that isn’t in the middle of the road!” he told her honestly. Silently, they headed for the brook, their favorite place for a little bit of quiet time.  Removing their shoes, they each sat on the edge of the brook and put their feet in the water.
            “Okay.” Briam looked to the heavens, and sent a silent prayer their way. “Any questions you may have, you can ask me.”
            Najia considered her lesson for a little while before deciding where to start. To be honest, she was far too embarrassed to ask strangers these questions. While it was awkward with Briam, at least he was her best friend.
            “So, in my lessons, they said a man lusts for a woman to place her mouth on his privates.” Trying to formulate her question, Najia missed the look of shock on Briam’s face. “Is that true? And if it is, could you tell me why?”
            “What are they teaching you?!” Briam choked, in outrage.
            “Well, they say they need me to fully understand the male anatomy, the female anatomy, and how to pleasure myself.”
            “I am never going to sleep again!” he moaned, as he dropped his face into his hands.
            “Briam? Do you pleasure yourself?” She really did want to know, and now that the flood gates had opened, she had so many questions. “Have you ever mated?”
            “Those are not the kind of questions you want to ask a man.” He raised his knees, wrapping his arms around them as he hid his face from her.
            “Why?” She just didn’t understand all of this. “You are my best friend. If I can’t ask you-“
            “Oh hell!” Briam dropped his knees, and turned to Najia. “This is why!”
            Bringing his mouth down on hers, Briam kissed Najia a little more forcefully than he intended. Softening the kiss, he was surprised to feel her mouth give beneath his, and slowly began to explore her mouth with his tongue.
            Najia sighed, and wrapped her arms around his neck. Ever since she had turned fifteen, her body had ached in ways she just didn’t understand. This past month had been torture. Now she understood, but she had no way to slake the hunger that grew within her every day. Grasping his hand, she led it to her breast and nearly wept with relief, even as her nipples responded to his hesitant touch.
            Almost desperate to feel relief, Najia ran her hands up under his tunic and let her finger graze every inch of bare skin she could. Feeling Briam trail kisses down to her neck, Najia softly moaned as he licked and lightly suckled on the sensitive skin. Raising his head, Briam rested his forehead on Najia’s as he fought for control.
            “I cannot,” he whispered to her. “I will be outcast and shamed if we continue.”
            “Why?” Najia panted. “Is this not my body? Can I not choose to lay with you if I want to?”
            “No, you cannot,” he admitted slowly. “If I take your virginity, the council will never forgive me. It is my duty to protect you from harm.”
            Undaunted, Najia pulled his head back down and kissed him as passionately as she knew how.
            “Please, Briam! I have burned with need since my fifteenth birthday. I am over sixteen now. You don’t have to go all the way, we can still do other things,” she whispered against his lips desperately, as she pushed him backwards. “I can remain a virgin and still get relief, right?”
            Disappointingly, Briam chose to get the guidance of the Council before they proceeded. Pacing her room in the moonlight, Najia felt like she was in a cage. Oddly, her cage appeared to be her body. She needed relief, and she didn’t know how to give it to herself. Oh, Selena and Felicia had taught her how to pleasure herself, but all that had accomplished was making the dreams worse, and she was tired of waking up tangled in her bedding, feeling as though something great had been denied her.
            Since her sixteenth birthday, Kender had flatly refused to remain in her room, and now slept in a cupboard that had been made over into a bedroom for him. It had pleased Kender, but on nights like this, Najia didn’t know if she was pleased about it or not. She desperately wanted someone to talk to, but Kender adamantly refused to talk about sex with her. At the first sign that she was starting to feel that strange yearning, Kender disappeared. She supposed it was uncomfortable for him to hear her thrashing about during those strange dreams.
            A light knock sounded on her door, and Najia realized she had woken her Mama up.
            “Come in.”
            “Najia,” Tia said opening the door. “Maybe we should call Faye for a meeting of the Three Crazy Ladies?”
            Getting no response, Tia walked up to Najia and brushed her golden locks away from her face.
            “I know we are just two old ladies that are constantly driving you crazy,” Tia looked into Najia’s anxious eyes. “But I think it is time you tell us exactly what is going on.”
            “Okay,” Najia agreed weakly.
            “I already sent Kender to bring Faye around. Let’s go make some tea, and see if we have anything we can throw together as a snack.” Tia lightly patted Najia’s back.
            After Faye arrived, and the secret meeting had commenced, Najia eventually spilled everything to the bewildered pair. Her dreams, how much she ached and didn’t know why. She compared it to the ulcer she had had when she was twelve, which the Falkerie healers had healed. But this wasn’t an ache a healer could help with medicine.
            The next day, Tia had left for the city and returned with some odd news.
            “We are looking for a man or woman to give you relief without taking your virginity,” Tia admitted haltingly. The entire conversation took an even more embarrassing turn from there, with Tia listing possible candidates.
            “What is wrong with you?” Najia had finally burst out. “The council cannot just choose a man for me!”
            “We need to make sure the man or woman has enough experience and control to stop themselves from taking your virginity,” Tia had explained.
            Furious, Najia stomped her way to Faye’s house and demanded an audience with the council. Within a very short time, Najia stood before the six members. Embarrassed to have to discuss this with them, she knew that her discomfort showed, and hoped the council didn’t confuse it for weakness.
            “I know I have never demanded a meeting with the council, and mostly I have been called to one because of being in trouble,” Najia addressed them as a whole. Taking a deep breath, she plunged forward before she could chicken out. “But this newest issue is very personal. You do not have a right to decide this without me.”
            You do not understand your baser nature yet,” Calum, one of the council members countered.
            “I don’t need to,” Najia challenged, looking him in the eyes. “If you can explain why my virginity is so important, I should be trusted to keep it intact. It is mine to do with as I please.”
            “Child,” Ashton addressed her with exasperation. “Even our Falkerie girls do not wed until at least their thirtieth birthdays. What we have already granted goes against our beliefs, and is an incredibly large boon to you. We understand that the Phoenix ways are different from our own, but this is extremely difficult for us to accept.”
            “Since you brought it up,” she paused and looked around the room, “Falkeries do not wed until sometime after they are thirty, but when are they allowed to mate?”
            “When they turn sixteen,” Faye admitted, as she gave Najia a sly wink.
            “I am sixteen.” She really didn’t understand why this was so hard for them to explain. “Please, just give me one good reason.”
            “You are being prepared for a very important destiny.” A woman Najia had never met before walked out of the shadows, and approached her. “I met you when you were nothing more than a soul clinging to life in Tia’s body.”
            Najia’s jaw dropped as the ethereal woman approached her. Her blonde hair was braided and wrapped around her head in a crown, and her skin sparkled as she moved towards Najia.
            “I have something that I have been holding for you,” the woman whispered, as she stopped right in front of her. Leaning forward, she kissed Najia, and blew into her mouth.
            Gasping, Najia blacked out for a moment and fell backwards on to the floor. Pushing herself up into a sitting position, she cried out as she felt something settle in the pit of her stomach.
            “What did you do to me?” she panted, holding her stomach.
            “I had been entrusted with the soul of your twin who will now be your first child,” the woman explained to her. “She began to wane after you left the Otherworld, and the Gods feared she would just disappear if she wasn’t brought back with you. So I have followed you around since you were little, staying close to allow her soul to feel your presence.”
            “I had a twin?” Najia was confused, and could feel the contentment of the soul within her.
            “Not in this lifetime. However, she will not be prepared, or strong enough to be born, for at least a few more years. Trust the council to know when that time is upon you.” The woman knelt and kissed each of Najia’s cheeks gently. “Should you ever need me, call my name three times. I have just told you my name, and you will know it when the time comes and you need me.”
            Speechless, Najia watched the woman rise and walk out of the door. Noticing for the first time that no one in the room except her had moved, she realized that this was a blaringly loud message from the Gods.
            “Najia!” Faye exclaimed, rushing up to her. “What happened? Why are you on the floor? How did this happen?”
            She was horrified to watch Faye touch her cheeks and have her hands come away bloody. Not really knowing what to say, Najia just stared at Faye’s hands and reached to touch her own cheeks. Gingerly wiping them to find the source of the blood, Najia ignored the council as guards and a healer was called for. Fresh blood continued to fall down her face as a horrified Briam came skidding to a halt on his knees next to her.
            “Who hurt you?” he demanded with tears in his eyes, as he pulled out a clean cloth, ripped it in two, and held them firmly to each of her cheeks.
            “I don’t know,” she lied. “One second I was talking to the council, and the next I was on the ground bleeding.”
            Uncaring that he was being watched, Briam leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
            “You had better prepare a better answer than that for me,” he whispered against her head.
            Briam was pushed out of the way as the healers took his place and quickly carted her off. It didn’t take long for the bleeding to slowly subside, but the healers were dumbfounded as to where the blood had come from. Her cheeks were as smooth and unmarred as they had been earlier that day, except she now had dimples. After a few moments of studying herself in a mirror, she decided they were kind of cute.
            Back at home later that evening, Najia was in for an even bigger surprise when Faye came to check up on her and visit her.
            “We have decided you are right,” Faye said without preamble. “We will trust you to guard your own virtue while slaking the lust we know is growing every day. Frankly, I think you had better send Briam to Selena and Felicia for some lessons in control before you two start experimenting.”
            “Lalala!” Kender shouted from his cupboard. “I can hear you!”
            “Pfft! Najia is growing into a woman, Kender. Eventually this kind of thing was sure to come up,” Faye replied calmly.
            Peeking his head out, Kender made a pained face at Faye.
            “Your time will come,” Faye promised him. “I know this is uncomfortable for you, especially since Najia seems to forget that you are also a man.”
            Najia choked on her tea and sat forward, trying to clear her lungs. “But he is only three years old!”
            “And born a fully grown adult,” Tia interjected, with an odd look at the Pixie. “I didn’t even consider that when you requested your own little room.”
            Slamming the cupboard door shut, Kender yelled out to them, “Easy enough for you to say! I am the only living Pixie! And a man to boot!”
            “Oh!” Najia suddenly realized what they were talking about. “Do you mean to tell me that Kender moved out of my room because,” she hesitated and glanced at the cupboard before whispering to Tia and Faye, “he was reacting to me like I was a woman?”
            “Probably.”
            “Yep.”
            “ARGH!” Kender yelled. “Why can you not make me a female Pixie? Do you know how hard this is?”
            “If I tried,” Najia teased him, “I might make another male Pixie.”
            “Good enough,” Kender replied, his voice muffled.
            Najia’s mouth formed an “O” as she humorously realized the implications of the statement. After a few moments, the three women burst out laughing, easing the tension of the day.
            “On that note, I do believe it is time for me to go home!” Faye raised her eyebrows suggestively, before making a quick exit.
            “You are still my little girl. Just because you have the permission of the council doesn’t mean you have my permission. I love you, but you are too young to understand the ramifications of your actions if you go too far with Briam.” Tia patted Najia on the head before heading up the stairs.
            Sitting in the silent kitchen, Najia pondered what to do with her newfound freedom. She had no second thoughts about who, it was just when and where.





Copyright © 2012 Elly Mae Helcl
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