Maevelin knew she had to save her failing brother. He was the only family she had left since her parents had died when they were children. Even though she was only four years younger than he was, he had practically raised her, himself.
She couldn’t just allow Maedri to die.
“Maevelin, we all have a time to go.”
“Don’t talk like that. I will find help. Surely there’s something I can do,” she insisted. “The herbs and potions the healers are giving you aren’t doing anything to cure your ailment. Surely, I can find something better. Something to cure you of this mysterious illness.”
“I would be more content if you would stay, sister. Sometimes you cannot fight fate.”
“Sometimes it’s up to you to change it,” she protested. “I won’t let you die. You don’t deserve it,” she protested, tears running down her cheeks. “Wait for me, I will come back. I promise.” She thought if anyone knew how to save her brother it may have been the strange oracle that everyone avoided.
Yet from what Maevelin could see she was kind. Echo was her name and she was the daughter of one of the gods. It was said that’s where she got her gift of prophecy. She hoped that Echo could help her.
However, Maevelin didn’t know where she could find Echo.
Almost as if the woman knew she was being sought after she appeared before Maevelin.
“A fourteen year old girl should not be traveling alone,” came a soft voice. It wasn’t judging or cold, but rather concerned.
“But, Echo, my brother is dying…and the healers can’t help him…and he’s only eighteen. He cannot die of this mysterious ailment. Please, there must be some way to help him.”
“Follow me,” she remarked.
Maevelin obeyed. She then regretted how hastily she had gotten ready when she saw the pure silver gold of Echo’s hair brushed flawlessly and her untarnished white robes trimmed with gold. She had a very pretty, youthful face despite her age of seventy. She looked only twenty at the most. Her eyes were the dark purple one could find only echoed in wildflowers and some trees in autumn. Her pale white skin was only a shade darker than that of snow.
Maevelin’s long torrent of curly black hair had gone uncombed for the day, her jade eyes were ringed with dark circles beneath that appeared even on her dark skin due to her exhaustion and worry of her brother, and the black woman observed that her own purple dress trimmed with gold that had always been her favorite was fraying at the seams. What a sight she must have appeared and yet the demi-goddess had not commented on her appearance.
“Physical appearances aren’t everything. It is what is in the heart that matters most,” Echo said, a soft smile crossing her face. “Besides you are a pretty girl for all of your worrying. It is not important that when you come to the place of the gods if you are immaculate, but that your heart is in the right place. A poor appearance can be forgiven if the heart and soul is good, however, a pretty face that houses a poisonous soul is useless to the universe. We need more dreamers like you, darling, and less nightmares.”
Maevelin blushed. “Please forgive my thoughts. It’s just you look so perfect, I don’t feel I have a right to be in your presence.”
“You have a good heart. That’s all that matters to me, and remember in the end; it’s the most important that your heart be pretty. One can adorn their face with all the make-up they want, all the pretty and fancy clothes, and the latest jewelry and still be of a poor spirit and be miserable because money and appearances aren’t everything. I know it may seem hard to believe in this cruel world that uses people and loves things instead of loving people and using things as they ought, but it is no less true.”
Maevelin nodded. She liked Echo. She didn’t care what anyone said. She may have been different, but it was in a good way.
“Wait here whilst I consult with the gods about your brother.”
“Yes, Echo, I shall,” she bowed.
“You don’t have to bow before me, child. I am not so great as that.”
“You’re kinder than most people I’ve met.”
“Is that so?”
“Most people are hard on brother and I because of the color of our skin and because we are poor. They don’t see us for who we really are.”
“It is a shame people show such ignorance and prejudice. In the end, we all are beautiful in our own way. We all are buried, we all die, we all bleed the same. When you cut straight through the bone we are more alike than different. People refuse to believe that and don’t want to admit it so they create labels for themselves and divide themselves from others but the color of your skin does not make you better or lesser than anyone else. One’s character does.” Echo gently held her hand out. “Please, stand.”
Maevelin accepted the hand of the demi-goddess. Despite how cold her skin looked, it was warm like fire. It took her by surprise. Yet the fires held beneath didn’t seem unkind just warm like a blanket on a cold summer’s night.
“You have a very poetic mind. I like it,” Echo smiled. “Please do not be afraid, I won’t be long.” She then left Maevelin to stand there alone.
Maevelin tried to remain calm as she waited, but dark thoughts washed over her like a heavy rain. Everything that could possibly go wrong echoed on the tongue of her mind and she found she couldn’t let go.
Echo returned what seemed a lifetime later, but she came to realize it was only ten minutes by Echo’s words.
“I’m sorry, I cannot focus. These thoughts are so dark.”
Echo frowned at Maevelin. She scowled, placing a hand on the girl. “Fadeus, you will release this girl. How dare you think to defile my temple?!”
Maevelin screamed when Echo forced this Fadeus out of her. “What is this?”
“He preys on young children and women who are grieving,” Echo scowled. “Be gone, son of the Underworld! Your joke is not funny.”
“You have no authority over me just because you are the daughter of the sun god, cousin.”
“You would have killed her!”
“It’s not her time and you know that full well, you coward.”
“Oh, I was only playing.”
“Games shouldn’t be deadly, and they should be agreed upon by both parties,” Echo hissed, standing protectively before Maevelin.
Maevelin looked at the man. She didn’t like him immediately. He looked to be no older than twenty with long black hair, dark black eyes, and skin as pale as Echo’s. Somehow Maevelin knew his skin would be colder and cruel like his emotionless eyes. He was dressed in all black robes and he had a raven on one shoulder and a fox on the other.
“He is a trickster god. Not to be trusted,” Echo remarked. “He only tells the truth half the time. The other time he screams of lies. He’s an insult to ravens who are beautiful, creative, and intelligent birds.”
“That means a lot from the demi-goddess who has crows and wolves as her spirit animals,” Fadeus sneered.
“Crows aren’t inferior to ravens,” Echo snarled, seeming wolf-like.
“Seems I’ve touched a nerve,” Fadeus grinned. He then disappeared without further ado in a black mist that gave Maevelin the creeps.
“Don’t fret, dear Maevelin. There is a way to save your brother. Go find the knight they call Sir Davian. He must slay the wicked dragon Invis for you. Invis’s blood should be poured into a vial and boiled before being delivered to your brother’s lips. This will spare him from death.”
“Thank you, but how would I find Sir Davian?”
Echo showed Maevelin an image. She frowned as they both observed him in a pub. “I can’t send you there alone.” She turned to to the wolf sitting on the floor, asleep. “Wake!” she insisted, nudging the wolf with her foot.
The wolf grunted, glaring at Echo. “What?”
“Take your human form and help this young girl with her mission.”
Echo’s eyes flashed and for the first time since Maevelin entered the room she felt its anger and intensity in a negative way.
“All right, all right, I’ll help this girl. All right?”
Echo scowled. “You shouldn’t question me to begin with, you foolish wolf!”
“Come on, girl,” the wolf remarked, in his human form. He was rather handsome in a rugged, harsh way with his sharp blue eyes; slightly tanned and freckled skin with thick shoulderlength dark brown hair. He didn’t warn Maevelin before simply picking her up and hoisting her over his shoulder.
“Oi! Put me down,” Maevelin protested.
“It will be quicker this way. Now tell me who we’re looking for?”
“Of all the people it has to be him?!”
“Endicius, please calm down. I did not make the path this way. The gods did.”
“Then why couldn’t Shiela help her instead?”
“I’m not sending a fourteen year old girl and an attractive woman into a pub to cause more harm and danger to them than need be,” Echo insisted, folding her arms. “I know he killed your sister. I know he is a slayer of wolves as well as dragons. Please do not hold it against me that Maevelin is a young girl. She’s trying to save her brother and you’re wasting her time. Now go.”
For the first time Endicius’ eyes softened. “He’s all you have, isn’t he?”
“He is,” Maevelin answered.
“I understand. That it is how it was with my sister and I. I can see why I must do this now. Come, let us save your brother as I could not save my sister.”
“Thank you,” Maevelin remarked.
Sir Davian was an attractive man Maevelin thought as Endicius carried her into the bar, ignoring the questioning glances they were receiving as they entered The Bearded Dragon. He was a man with naturally dark skin that was not black with thick black hair and dark brown eyes. A glint of gold on his finger told her that he was married. She wondered if he had any children of his own and what his wife looked like. He had high cheekbones and attractive features. He was very tall she realized once he stood to head away and quite muscular, too.
“Oi, wolf slayer, we’ll have a word.”
“Echo sent me. You’re to help this girl,” Endicius remarked, jerking his head toward Maevelin.
“What is she, twelve?”
“I’m fourteen, thank you very much!” Maevelin grumbled, looking moody. Now Sir Davian didn’t seem half as handsome as he previously did.
“What could a young girl like you need from me?”
“I’d tell you if you’d listen, you jerk!”
Davian snorted. “That’s a good way to get someone to agree to help you.”
“Look, smart ass, now is not the time for your sarcasm,” Endicius scowled. “Her brother is dying. This is what Echo said: ‘There is a way to save your brother. Go find the knight they call Sir Davian. He must slay the wicked dragon Invis for you. Invis’s blood should be poured into a vial and boiled before being delivered to your brother’s lips. This will spare him from death.'”
“You should have said that to begin with. Fine, I’ll help you,” Davian shrugged. “However, your snark will cost you, wolf.”
“What do you want?”
“That dagger is quite nice.”
“Not a chance. That belonged to my sister.”
“Do you want my help or not?”
“I hate you, you lamentable beast, and I do not see why the gods would send me to aid you,” Endicius snapped.
“Likewise,” Davian grinned, taking the dagger from Endicius’ reluctant hands.
May the gods curse Davian for his unkindness toward Endicius! Maevelin thought. Suddenly she was glad that Endicius was holding her.
“We shall set out for our task tomorrow.”
The next morning the sun seemed to take forever to rise. Maevelin had barely got a wink of sleep, but it wasn’t due to Endicius’ snoring or the fact that Davian was in the room. She was worried about her brother. She didn’t think she’d be able to sleep properly until she knew that Maedri wouldn’t die.
“We’re going to use her as bait.”
“Absolutely not!” Endicius roared. “Echo would have my head if anything happened to this girl.”
“Relax, I said we’re using her as bait not that I’d let the dragon kill her. Dragons have a prediliction for young girls, after all.”
“Isn’t there another way?”
“Unless you want to crawl into into Invis’s cave and poke him in the eye, nay,” Davian retorted.
Maevelin narrowed her eyes. “You’re a disagreeable sod.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Endicius remarked. “Don’t worry, I will watch after you, too,” he promised Maevelin. “He knows dragons better than I do…and Invis isn’t going to be easily lured from his cave without some sacrifice on our behalf.”
Maevelin sighed. What was it with dragons and maidens, anyway? She told herself that she had to be brave for Maedri’s sake.
She wondered if the dragon would ever come when she saw a huge golden dragon with obsidian eyes and sharp black claws heading towards her. He flew closer and closer and closer.
Maevelin shrieked when she saw the white teeth of the dragon. She closed her eyes, thinking that the dragon would devour her.
However, after several long moments she opened her eyes and she saw that Davian had slain the dragon without seemingly much problem.
He then glanced at Maevelin with a twisted smile. “It seems we’ve killed each other.”
“NAY!” Maevelin protested.
“Well, someone had to die,” Fadeus scoffed, kicking Davian’s dead body over. “Would you have preferred it were you or the wolf instead?”
“Enough, Fadeus, or I will maul your face off.”
“I bet you would, you barbaric beast.” With that Fadeus walked toward them. “I’m coming with you.”
“We don’t want you to.”
“Doesn’t matter, little girl.”
Endicius grabbed Maevelin liked he had carried her when they first had met. Except this time she didn’t protest. He handed her a vial. “We need to boil that first before your brother can have it.”
“I remember,” Maevelin nodded, thankful that he had managed to grab that. She hadn’t seen when he had done it, but she was glad that she didn’t have to rely on Fadeus’ help because she was sure that would have cost her something.
“You’re pretty smart, kid,” the demi-god smirked.
“You’re pretty gross for a part-god,” Maevelin retorted.
Endicius smirked. “Pretty gross, period.”
Maevelin had to sneak into the kitchens to boil the blood for her brother. She wasn’t sure for how long it had to boil so she let it boil until she was afraid the vial would break. She knew it would burn to grab it and she cringed.
Fadeus snatched it from the water without leaving a mark on his skin. “There you go, pitiful girl.”
Maevelin was surprised it was so cold when she grabbed it from him.
“It is customary to thank people who help you,” Fadeus scowled.
“Thank you,” Maevelin remarked, managing not to lose her temper, although she would rather punch Fadeus than thank him. She was certain that Davian wouldn’t have died without his interference, and she didn’t quite trust him. She remembered what Echo had said.
After the night at the inn, she was able to go home. She asked Endicius to come with her, and Fadeus insisted upon coming along, too.
She took that as a bad omen, and she hoped that her brother wasn’t dead.
It seemed that Echo knew what was going on for she was at the shack that Maedri was in, relying on the help of the healers. Her eyes were slits as she glared at Fadeus.
“He’s already dead.”
“He’s lying. He is not beyond help,” Echo remarked, taking the vial from Fadeus’ hand.
What?! When had he taken it from her?! She hadn’t even noticed. It was a good thing that someone was looking out for her.
“Maevelin,” her brother remarked, eyes opening.
Looking into Maedri’s brown eyes had never been so comforting. “MAEDRI!” she cried, leaping into his arms.
“You saved me. I guess you were right. You do have to make your own fate, sometimes, don’t you? Sometimes you have to fight the things people say are certain to make your own fire and your own fate.”
“Aye, brother. I’m so glad you are all right.”
When Maevelin turned, however, Fadeus and Echo were fighting. They were using their powers against one another. Endicius’ lips were curled back into a snarl and he had taken the form of a dire wolf once more.
Maevelin remembered that Echo was only part god that meant she could die and she sensed that Fadeus wasn’t fighting fairly. She leapt in the way of Fadeus’ spell.
“MAEVELIN!” Maedri cried.
“NAY!” Endicius protested.
Echo was shaking as she punched Fadeus in the face. She ran to Maevelin seeing she was in poor and failing health. “You foolish girl, why would you do that?”
“Because you’re part human, and I didn’t want you to die. You said our world needs more dreams and less nightmares. I can’t win against him, but you can.”
Tears fell from Echo’s eyes as Maevelin laid still.
Fadeus cackled in the background earning him reproving looks from Maedri and Endicius.
Echo’s tears continued falling upon Maevelin’s skin, and slowly the girl’s eyes opened again.
“WHAT?! NO! SHE WAS DEAD.”
“You may have forgotten one of my spirit animals was the phoenix, but may ye never forget again!” Echo shouted. She placed Maevelin gently on the ground before she burned with such flames and such intensity that both Maedri and Endicius had to look away.
Maevelin opened her eyes to find that Echo was burning with flames. Echo’s flames burned straight through Fadeus and killed him.
Echo then turned to Maevelin. “There’s my sweet hero,” she smiled.
“What, what will happen to you now?” Maevelin protested.
“I do not know,” Echo admitted. “But I do not care. You were right. There should be less nightmares in this world.” She looked to Endicius. “Let us leave. You and your brother have much to celebrate, me thinks.”
Maevelin nodded, hugging her brother tightly.
A few days later Maevelin came to Echo’s temple to find that she was still there and her heart was happy. “So what was decided, Echo?”
Echo smiled. “They said Fadeus was in the wrong so they’ve spared me from death although my uncle was furious. The Lord of the Underworld promised me my death would not be easy, but my father punched him in the face and said if he laid a hand on my head that he would forever regret it. The god of all gods, Valcon, insisted that I wouldn’t die and nor would the Lord of the Underworld have any say in the matter. I was forgiven, but reminded that I need to use my powers responsibly and that I can’t just kill people who disagree with me.”
Maevelin nodded. “I’m so glad they spared you,” she remarked, without thinking she hugged Echo.
Echo smiled gently. It was nice that someone saw her as person and not only a god, she thought, as she hugged Maevelin back. She would never tell this sweet girl, but Maevelin had been her first friend and the first person to accept her for who she was.
Linda M. Crate is a Pennsylvania native born in Pittsburgh yet raised in the rural town of Conneautville. Her poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has three published chapbooks A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn (Fowlpox Press – June 2013), Less Than A Man (The Camel Saloon – January 2014), and If Tomorrow Never Comes (Scars Publications, August 2016). Her fantasy novel Blood & Magic was published in March 2015. The second novel of this series Dragons & Magic was published in October 2015. The third of the seven book series Centaurs & Magic was published November 2016. Her novel Corvids & Magic was published March 2017.