Arvanion's Gift, Book 1 of Cat's Tales, is available now from Amazon in print and from Smashwords for ebook!
When Arvanion created the immortal Tiranen, he made them strong and skilled in war, enough to take on the god Balphegor's worst creatures and help the gentle Elves in their fight against the enemy. When events take a tragic turn, Little Cat, the youngest Tiranen, is set on a path that leads her to a meeting with the spirit of a dead dragon and forces her to face vauroks, trolls and hell wolves alone!
WARNING! - This book contains mature content, including sex and violence.
Arvanion dipped his fingers into the silvery, viscous liquid of the small pool. Whispering words of power, he raised his hand just above the surface. Thick droplets slid off his pale skin, creating slow, lazy ripples as he spoke more magic words, ancient beyond even his memory. Spreading his palm wide, he smoothed the surface without touching it. Gradually, the silver changed to white, then to translucent colours, solidifying into a horrifying scene. He almost turned away.
A dark tide of monsters ripped into ranks of Elves less than half their number. Spelled weapons and armour only helped so much and wiry goblin archers, muscular vauroks and wyverns devastated the defenders. It didn’t matter which of Arvanion’s five remaining worlds this battle took place on—Urdran, Cathras, Tiru, Morata or Darda—his Elves died everywhere.
Hell wolves used claws like daggers to tear into unprotected flesh. Towering mountain trolls swept the Elven ranks with spiked clubs, sending Arvanion’s children flying to lie broken like a child’s misused toys.
Arvanion watched from his garden prison, helpless, his heart bleeding, tears wending a path down his cheeks. This pool, the one method of viewing the Elves Balphegor allowed, only showed scenes of his children dying in battle. He thanked the stars he couldn’t hear them scream. Though he knew Balphegor took great pleasure in his distress, the pool drew him. Arvanion had to know his Elves still lived, that they resisted despite the odds.
A movement on the Elven right flank caught his eye. Several hundred figures on massive black steeds plowed into the monsters, mighty swords, maces and war hammers wreaking glorious havoc. Eight-foot tall vengeful warriors, astride the magical Hrulka, slashed open broad gaps in Balphegor’s forces. More followed on foot, men and women both, charging into the broken ranks of the enemy. Arvanion’s heart swelled with pride and relief. His Tiranen had arrived.
If only there were more of them.
The scene vanished in an angry swirl of coloured ripples and the pool settled into its usual, mocking, silver placidity. As soon as the image had been snatched away, he knew the Elves and Tiranen would win. Arvanion’s sigh stirred delicate, pale green fronds sheltering the pool. His face, streaked with tears, stared back from the mirrored surface. How could someone who’d seen such horror, made such terrible mistakes and suffered unbearable anguish for eons, still look so young? It didn’t seem right.
A twitter and cheep drew his attention to one of the bushes enclosing the pool. A sparrow cocked its gold-marked head and cast him a curious glance.
With a flick of a finger, Arvanion sent out a questing tendril of power. The stain of Balphegor’s presence had vanished. Rising from the poolside, Arvanion wiped a last tear from his damp cheek. Time to finish what has taken too long to accomplish.
“Well, little fellow,” Arvanion said, holding out his hand to the bird. “My spell is ready, my last hope. If you are willing, you can help me deliver it.”
The sparrow chirped its agreement and dropped from the branch to its new perch, cocking its head once again.
“You will see. Some patience, please.” He strode across the greensward and entered a small grove of mixed cherry, peach and pear trees.
White stones the size of large pearls crunched underfoot as Arvanion trod the manicured, flower-lined paths of his prison. Trees, heavy in blossom, overshadowed brilliant blooms in shades the rainbow had never considered. Floral scents filled the warm air with an intoxicating perfume; a garden kings of men would kill to possess and Arvanion would gladly leave it.
He paused, running a slender finger along the soft petals of a white rose. Pure, innocent, just as his children had been before Balphegor appeared bringing death, destruction and chaos. He traced the graceful curve of a petal. A few whispered words and a deep crimson smear appeared, a tribute to the memory of the blood shed by his beloved Elves. The stain spread to the edges of all the petals of the roses on that bush.
“I wish I could walk with my children again, my friend. I neglected them after he arrived. Especially after I woke the Tiranen. He doesn’t like my Tiranen, does he?” Arvanion tilted the sparrow’s head, running a loving finger under its chin. The bird chirped in pleasure. “But I don’t like that he took the lives of my unsuspecting children, took Fornoss and ruined it.”
Arvanion shuddered at what had become of his second world—the burning sky, the ruined seas. Holding his hand so the sparrow wouldn’t lose balance, he stooped to cup a blue bell-shaped flower in his hand. Not the bright, happy blue of a summer’s day, this was subdued with a touch of grey that suited his present mood.
“Perhaps I should have confronted Balphegor right at the start.” The sparrow cheeped a gentle reprimand and Arvanion sighed. “I know. I chose not to follow that path because I don’t have his power. Perhaps I should have tried anyway.”
The bird emitted a series of chastising peeps and chirps, and a brief smile tugged at the corners of Arvanion’s mouth. He could never have won such a battle. Instead, he’d hidden from Balphegor, tried to fight back through stealth and the judicious use of his powers.
“My poor Elves still don’t take well to war craft.” The Elves refused to speak Balphegor’s name. They called him Udath Kor—Dark One. A fitting name. “My Tiranen live for war, but…” He closed his eyes briefly, his heart torn. “If only I hadn’t been in such a rush, I might have seen the flaw that now haunts them.”
Arvanion cast his gaze farther up the path to a waist-high bush sagging with heavy yellow blooms. Like miniature suns, they brightened their corner of the prison, and his heart, filling him with hope; as had his new people, the Tiranen, gifted with abilities like, yet unlike, the Elves.
The bird chattered its opinion of Arvanion’s musings and he raised a brow at the cheeky creature. “I know I overextended myself creating the Tiranen. It was worth it! Did you see how they attack Balphegor’s horrors? Their strength and skill are all that have stopped his creatures from overrunning the rest of my worlds.”
Arvanion continued down the path, enjoying his conversation with the sparrow, despite his dark mood. He deeply wished the Elves and Tiranen could push through to this strange place Balphegor called home; the stars knew he hadn’t been able to find a way out.
“Perhaps with the help of the Humans my children might find their way here. Someday. If they ever discover I’ve been imprisoned.”
The sparrow let loose a long string of derogatory chirps.
“Hush. I’m well aware the Humans hardly turned out to be the help I’d hoped.” At the bird’s continued tirade, he added, “And, yes, bringing them here from their dying world cost me my freedom. But there are those with courage and honour, and many have died alongside my Elves and Tiranen since their arrival.”
A wren sang a cheerful tune high in a birch tree, lifting Arvanion’s spirits. Thankful he’d put the birds here to keep him company, they, and the flowers and trees that filled the monotonous, grey reality of his prison, were the only things keeping him sane. He smoothed a ruffled feather on the sparrow’s head, strolling farther along the path to another shrub. This one had tiny purple flowers clumped together to form large clusters. Black nestled in the center of many of them, though a few bore white.
“The Humans breed so much faster than Elves and my diminishing Tiranen,” Arvanion said. “They will yet be useful.” He lifted an eyebrow at the rude noise the bird made.
Creating the portal for the Humans had left Arvanion weak and vulnerable. Balphegor found him and acted swiftly. Imprisonment in a small pocket of Balphegor’s twisted home left Arvanion time to ponder what he’d done wrong and, possibly, how to fix it.
“And you, my chatty little friend, are going to help me.”
Arvanion sighed, generating a tiny breeze that ruffled the purple flowers, and he moved on. He was close to the center of his prison, the place where his favourite flower grew; one he had recently created, one not seen on any of his six worlds.
“I may have found a way to help the Tiranen bear children again without compromising their magical abilities too much. This is the best I can do now my power is weakened.”
Balphegor allowed him to use magic in small ways to create his flowers and trees, his birds and chirping insects. Escape was another matter entirely. There was more than one way to plant a seed.
With plenty of time on his hands, Arvanion had inspected every nook, every crevice of the hard, grey matter that formed not only his prison, but this entire artificial world. He’d discovered a link to reality that supported the twisted, corrupted construct. Finding a way to turn it to his advantage, however, took centuries; a small flaw, a thinning near the ground in one of the corners. Though not enough to free him, Arvanion could bend the weakness just enough to serve his current need. Once done, he could turn his attention to finding a way to view the scenes he wanted to see in the pool.
A shimmer of silver-gold greeted his eyes as he arrived at his destination. Nestled in a carpet of soft grass grew a small plant. Dark, narrow leaves sheltered one perfect bloom. Translucent silver, shot through with veins of gold, the petals of this flower were the softest, the most delicate he’d ever created. Yet, for all that, they were amazingly strong. Arvanion gently plucked the flower and breathed his spell, his essence, into it. With a strand of his silver hair, he bound the tiny petals together.
“Now, my friend, it is time for you to do your job.”
At Arvanion’s request, the bird opened its beak. Another gentle breath changed the flower to a silver mist, glittering with gold highlights, and the sparrow inhaled, taking the spell into its lungs.
His heart lifting in hopeful expectation, Arvanion carried the bird to the weakness he’d found. “It’s time to say goodbye. You must not try to come back, for the way will be blocked. Once the deed is done, go find yourself a mate and enjoy life.”
The bird cheeped a sad goodbye. Arvanion stroked the soft feathers of its head while whispering quiet instructions. A touch of a finger and a softly spoken word created a small portal; one just large enough to take the sparrow to the world of Tiru, to the War Chief of the Tiranen and his bondmate as they lay together on a cold autumn night. This gift, this child, was his last hope.