Art by Svein Solem
The darkness sparkled on a canvas of white stars and tiny specks of snow drizzled dazedly upon the roof of Elsie’s house. Elsie yawned in her sleep and kicked the duvet unto the floor. Not long after, she started shivering and woke up abruptly. “That better not have been you, Foxnap Longbeak!”, she shouted annoyingly into the blackness. A tiny red-capped House Elf appeared from the invisibility of the murky courner of Elsie’s bedroom. “What!? What is this now? Accusing me of this and that! Me!? The sweetest House Elf in all of Northland!”. Elsie sighed, that he was not, but it did look like he had been sleeping. She slipped into her clothes and decided to get up, it was just an hour before sunup and she might as well make the best of it. “Where are you going now?”, asked Foxnap grumpily, he fixed his cap, tied his scarf around his neck and carefully released his long grey beard from the scarf knot. Elsie didn’t reply, she knew he would follow her no matter where she went. Outside the grass shone with hoarfrost and the sky lay dreaming in a deliciously soft bed of blue and indigo. “I’ll start milking the cows first,” thought Elsie to herself. It wasn’t as though Foxnap would bother to do it, even though as head House Elf, it was supposed to be his job. Elsie’s wooden clogs made a crunching sound in the frozen grass, the only sound audible in the quiet bliss of winter, but then suddenly, something else disturbed the silence. It sounded like some sort of snort. Elsie looked up, and there, at the edge of the Silver Forest stood a tall handsome stag staring at her.
The stag bowed its majestic head in the direction where Elsie stood, lifted it’s hooves and kicked loosely in the powdery snow. Elsie could see that it was a red deer, the messenger between worlds. The red deers’ forfather was Dvalin himself, the one true messenger of the ancient gods. Elsie bowed her head too and quickly cast the rune of Onn, the symbol of the hidden and mysterious. The stag acknowledged her greeting and gave a snort before it turned and headed back into the forest. Elsie’s grandmother had taught her about runes and their ancient symbols, she had showed Elsie how to see beyond her eyes and how to follow signs. The rune Onn belonged to the hare, the friend and helper of Dvalin. Now the stag turned back and looked at her. “What is that thing doing?” Sniffed Foxnap behind her. “Shoooo! Shooo!”he called out, but the stag did not move. Again it bowed its head. Elsie felt herself drawn to the stag. She became the hare, secretly cloaking herself in white invisibility . “stop that at once!” Shouted Foxnap, “we are NOT following that thing!”. Foxnap had clearly lived too long surrounded by the comforts of the farm. There was not much wildless left in him, but protective, he was. ” We have to,” whispered Elsie. “Can’t you see that it is calling me?”
Elsie turned towards the forest, making her way through the crisp grass with Foxnap at her heels. The stag started moving slowly, stopping, waiting, then moving again. Elsie was slow, careful, but not hesitant. She kept the rune Onn at her fingertips. Soon, the lampost marking the border between people and beast, village and wilderness appeared before them. Elsie had never been this far into the forest before. She had been warned, there was magic here, magic beyond the ancient familiar runes of old…Elsie came to a halt…someone was there at the courner of her eye, just beyond her visibility, something or someone watching her…The stag was gone. “Let’s get out of here!!” hissed Foxnap, not grumpy anymore, his voice was full of anger, warning, danger…But Elsie was frozen at the spot, eyed glued to the stranger watching her….
“Come over here, little girl!”. The stranger called out, beckoning for Elsie to approach him. Elsie quickly cast the rune of Huathe, the seer in the dark. “Rune magic, will not help you here, child,” said the stranger, “but if it is light you want, then so be it.” He stepped into the soft glow of the lampost and Elsie gasped. “You are a Grimlin!” she exclaimed. Foxnap grunted unhappily, a wolf-man was not something he had expected to meet in this forest, but then, there was a lot he did not know about the Silver Forest. He stepped infront of Elsie protectively and drew his little silver knife. ” You won’t be needing that, Elf, hurting the girl is the last thing I want, she is too valuable for that. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gwan, and I am indeed a Grimlin, one of the last of my kind in Silver Forest.” Foxnap lowered his knife reluctantly, but remained positioned infront of Elsie. ” And my name is Elsie, and this is my family House Elf, Foxnap. We followed a stag and ended up here, but now the stag seems to have disappeared.” Gwan nodded, ” I sent the stag to fetch you here. Silver Forest needs your help.” Elsie was just about to ask why, when she was interrupted by a deep piercing howl from the forest, and suddenly a flock of grey wolves appeared on the hill. The wolf leader blotted his yellow teeth and growled menacingly…
“Don’t be afraid, Elsie, the wolves are under my command. They are just put off by the Elf, we did not expect him to come with you.” Foxnap looked midly offended and put his hand on Elsie’s shoulder. “Where the girl goes I follow,” he stated. Elsie rolled her eyes, but secretly she was glad of Foxnap’s company here in this unfamiliar place. Gwan smiled, and nodded his head, “I can see that, House Elf, she is a lucky girl.” Foxnap was not sure if Gwan was being truthful or pulling his leg, but he decided to keep his mouth shut. For now. The wolves descended and formed around Gwan. They looked rather like an army of canine soldiers ready to jump the throat of any potential threat. Elsie shivered. She was glad the wolves were on their side. “Listen, Elsie, I have much to tell you, but not here, there are spies everywhere, even here, so close to the border. Let’s move quickly before they catch our scent.” “But….” protested Elsie, but she was cut short by a strong gust of north wind whirling up loose snow and rattling the heavy snow clad spruce trees so that a kind of white mist spun a web of invisibility around them. Elsie felt Foxnap’s hand in hers. “Come quickly!” said Gwan from somewhere in the mist, and before Elsie knew what was going on she had been lifted up on the back of a wolf, and the beast was running madly deeper and deeper into the Silver Forest.
Elsie held on as tightly as she could while the wolf leaped over rocks and branches. The mist was still too thick to see anything. “Elsie! Elsie, are you okay?” It was Foxnap, calling her from somewhere inside the mist. “Yes, yes I am. How about you?” she replied. Foxnap just grunted, obviously not happy with his means of transportation. But at least they were both safe. For now. As the Silver Forest grew denser and darker, the mist lifted, and Elsie could see the silhouette of a house appearing infront of her. The house looked gloomy and abandoned, with its aged wooden walls and darkened windows. The wolf’s pace slowed down as the house grew taller. Elsie felt something eerie and ghost like creep up on her, a feeling of dread, making the hair on her arms stand up as shivers went rapidly down her spine. The wolf came to a full stop right outside the old mansion-like house.
“Put me down this instant!” It was Foxnap and he was not happy having been carried, not by one of the wolves, but by Gwan himself. Gwan laughed and obeyed the House Elf’s order. “None of the wolves were willing to take him,” explained Gwan to Elsie. “Poor Foxnap,” thought Elsie, he was really not having an easy time of it out here in the wilderness. “Let’s go inside,” said Gwan and approached the door to the house. Elsie shivered again, but did not protest. “Stay behind me,” whispered Foxnap fiercely, and stepped infront of Elsie. She did not mind obeying him. The door made an old tired squeaking sound before it gave in and opened. Inside, a long dark corridor appeared and at the end of the corridor, another door. There were no lights and all Elsie had to guide her steps was the sound of Gwan and Foxnap walking infront of her. Finally, as the second door opened a tiny arrow of light shot through the corridor, and Elsie could see that the walls were covered with strange moss clad paintings. The door was pushed aside by Gwan and revealed another room, bathed in golden candlelight, and at the very end of the room sat a man, or was it a man? No, when Elsie looked carefully, she could see that it was a woman, a very old, and very witch-like woman staring straight at her with black raveny eyes.
“Come here, girl. Don’t be afraid.” The old lady beckoned Elsie to come closer. Her fingers were long and thin and crow like. Elsie hesitated, but Gwan gave her an encouraging look. “Go on, ” he whispered, “she is friendlier than she looks.” He gave a little soft laugh. Foxnap came to stand next to Elsie, “we’ll go together,” he squeezed Elsie’s hand and smiled. The old lady was waiting for them in her high royal chair. “I might not look it now, but I was once a beautiful Wildwoth. The wisest of them all. My beauty has been taken by the Mare people, but my brain is still intact.” She gave a small smile. Elsie looked at the old lady. She looked nothing like a Wildwoth, rumored to be so intoxicatingly beautiful that they could lure any man, beast or woman into their midst. ” Who are the Mare people?” asked Elsie. ” The mare people are why we have called you here, my dear. They are the darkness that lies upon Silver Forest. They consume everything that is good and beautiful in this world, until the only thing left is…..darkness, hunger, want….” The Wildwoth shivered and her smile disappeared. ” Is it because they hate the goodness and want to have the world for themselves? .” Elsie knew the stories of old, how conquerors and warriors and kings had tried to plunder and steal Northland, but they had always failed. ” Not exactly, ” answered the Wildwoth. ” The Mare people are so drawn to everything good and beautiful, because they themselves are nothing but empty shells. They want to posess all beauty, but their greed and their want never ends for as soon as they touch something good it disappears. Nothing and nobody can come in contact with a Mare and live to tell the tale.” ” So then, it is hopeless,” sighed Elsie. The Wildwoth smiled, ” for me perhaps, and for Gwan and your House Elf here, but for you Elsie, it is not.”
“But…” Stuttered Elsie, “what is so special about me?” The Wildwoth smiled again, and her eyes twinkled slightly. ” You, Elsie, have the ancient Rune Magic.” “But Gwan said Rune Magic was not going to work here in Silver Forest.” Elsie was confused and gave the Wildwoth an uncertain look. “That is not entirely true, child. For if you know the Rune Magic, you will also posess the lost tales of old, and that, little girl, is where the true magic lies.” Elsie opened her mouth to say something, but the wildwoth was not finished talking. ” Gwan, take Elsie, and the House Elf, to Ash, he will know how to help her. I will send Arn, my most trusted friend ahead to let Ash know that you are coming. But go quickly, my friend, we have no time to lose.” Gwan nodded, and before Elsie could ask another question, she and Foxnap were guided back out by Gwan. Outside, the wolves were waiting for them in the snow. The air was crisp and cold, and not very inviting. Gwan lifted Elsie up on one of the wolf’s back and just as they were about to take off, Elsie heard a shrill cry from the air above, and when Elsie looked up, she saw a majestic eagle sailing the wind above the white frosted peaks. ” Arn,” said Gwan and smiled. “If the wildwoth’s must trusted friend was an eagle,” thought Elsie to herself, “then who, or rather what, was Ash?”
The wolves carried Elsie and Foxnap deeper into the snow clad forest. The mist had gone, but been replaced by an eerie silence, as though the forest was holding its breath, waiting for something to burst out of the night. The winter darkness lay thick upon the forest, even the exquisite Northern Lights did not penetrate the wild green canopy of the Silver trees. The wolves did not move quite as fast this time, they carefully chose their steps, perhaps afraid of losing their precious cargo. Ice blanketed the rocks making them shimmer beautifully, but dangerously. All of a sudden Elsie thought she saw something moving in the shadows, something tall and dark, but when she looked carefully, it was just a tree. The wolves stopped abruptly, aware of the sudden movement. And then, the tree moved again, but there was no wind to shift its tall shape, everything was still and quiet. Elsie felt her heart starting to beat faster, louder. The tree was, clumsily and slowly, moving towards her!
“Good evening, Ash.” Gwan strode nonchalantly out of the shadows behind Elsie. ” Ash!!?” Elsie’s eyes widened and she stared unbelievingly at the tree. ” Ash is a…a tree!?” ” I am no tree!” Came the angry reply from the tree. ” I am a Tree Lork.” ” A Tree Lork!?” Elsie had heard about these mythical creatures in stories and fairy tales, half man and half tree, the Tree Lorks were a terrible sight to behold, ancient and fierce and no friend to man or beast. ” And this is the creature you have chosen to teach Elsie?” Foxnap’s voice was shaking with anger. Ash looked at him with eyes ready for the kill. ” What is all this nonsense, Gwan. Arn told me to expect a young wizard, not a little girl and an obnoxious elf.” ” The girl is the wizard,” replied Gwan, ” and it seems the Elf comes with the bargain, whether we want him or not.” Foxnap hissed and was about to fire another insult at the Tree and the Grimlin, when Elsie hushed him with a pleading look. ” She knows the ancient Rune Magic,” explained Gwan to Ash. Ash looked at Elsie suspiciously. ” Well does she now, so let’s see it then!” Elsie hesitated, but what choice did she have, it seemed, if she did not impress this Tree Lork, she would never learn the magic behind her magic. She steadied herself, closed her eyes, raised her hands and formed the rune of Nuin, the rune signifying secret passageway to the hidden and unknown,the rune belonging to the Ash tree, the tree where the warlocks of old wrote down their mystic knowledge to preserve it from the darkness. The air seemed to light up around them, it pulsated and shifted and opened, like a door someone had pushed aside, there were voices in the still wind, whispering riddles. Ash backed away from Elsie, clearly astonished by what he saw. ” Enough,” he said eventually, sternly and with finality. ” We will take her to the painted caves. They will test her, and if she can break the codes written in blood, she will pass, and I will teach her.” ” Codes written in blood!? What is this barbaric test!? Elsie will undergo no such test!” Foxnap could not hold back anymore. This had gone too far. ” it’s okay, Foxnap, I will do it. I will take the test.” And with those words filling the air, Ash led the way to the painted caves.
The Panited Caves were not far. The Wolf pack came to a quiet halt outside a slick grey wall covered in red shapes. The air was a bit thicker here, like it contained too many secrets to hold. The snow was absent, and yet, it felt colder. Elsie climbed down from the wolf’s back and approached the wall. She could see that the paintings were old, perhaps over 3000 years. Foxnap came to stand next to her. ” I don’t like this, Elsie. Not one bit,” he whispered anxiously. ” I know,” replied Elsie, “but I can feel that I must do this. It’s important.”
“Yes, it is my child, more than you understand.” It was Gwan who spoke. He put his hand on Elsie’s shoulder and gave her an encouraging smile. ” Well, this is it,” Ash’s voice did not carry any warmth or friendliness, it was simply on point. “And she must go alone.” These last words were directed at Foxnap, who looked as though he was about to burst into an anger fit at any time. Elsie nodded. She touched the paintings with her fingers. Here was the great elk, looking tall and majestic, and wolves…being hunted. There was also a bear and…Elsie looked carefully….a lynx? Elsie knew that the bear was the balancer beteween the spirit world and the human world, old spirits often took the shape of a bear when they wanted to visit the world of men. The elk was the carrier of knowledge and old wisdom, and the Rune of the Elk would help the caster of it find their own inner wisdom. The lynx gave the power to see the spirits and reveal the hidden secrets, and the wolf was the strongest protector. So then, why were the humans in the cave paintings hunting the wolf? Elsie took a deep breath and entered the cave.
The cave was dark and humid, blanketed by a wet damp cold that tore at Elsie’s limbs. It was an unwelcoming feeling, making Elsie hesitate. But she could not give in to fear, not so soon. Elsie raised her hand and cast the rune of the wolf. A formless figure appeared next to her, it was not exactly visible to the eye, more like a mass of energy and vibration not bound by matter. Elsie could feel the strength pouring into her, and she became calm again. The cave turned into a tunnel leading Elsie along black moist walls and a slippery hard floor. The wolf walked next to her, making no sound only a slight vibration. Suddenly the air shifted, it was no longer stiff and stale, but surging with energy, there was a tiny flash of light, and then, the empty air formed into a big black bear. Elsie screamed and the wolf leaped at the bear, but the wolf was no match for the bear, and soon it was whimpering on the cave floor. The black bear beckoned Elsie to follow it, and then she remembered the rune of the bear, the bear was a messenger, a spirit in animal form. Elsie patted the invisible wolf and together they followed the black messenger deeper into the cave.
Soon, the tunnel widened into a room. The bear signed for Elsie to hide, and then with a flicker of his paw, the room changed. Colors started taking shape, a soft light started glowing. The shapes took form, and Elsie saw to her utter horror that the cave was filled with ugly looking, loud, boisterous and terrifying Dwargs!
“Are they really Dwargs?” asked Elsie, her voice was shaking with fear. Dwargs were hateful, stupid, unpredictable creature who killed for sport. Her guide, the black bear, shook his head, and spoke, not out loud or by moving his lips, but inside Elsie’s head: ” These creatures are not Dwargs, they are what human beings will become if the Mare people are not stopped. These are only illusions, shadows of what will be, if you do not succeed, Elsie.” Elsie felt her whole inside stiffen, and her heart skipped a few beats. “Me….? But….I am just one girl!”. ” No, my child, you are not. You are not alone. Look inside you, look at the ancient runes, they are a part of you, look behind them, what are their stories? What are they telling you?” Elsie looked down at the wolf beside her. Even though he was invisible, he was just as real as herself, like an extension of her own courage. She looked back at the Dwargs, they were now no more than disturbances in the air, potentials not yet realized. And it dawned on Elsie that magic was no more than seeing the hidden potentials in the world that no one else saw, and fulfilling them. ” Everything is at its core nothing but energy and vibration, Elsie, governed by cerain laws. Learn these laws, and you can change any outcome. These are the lost tales of how everything came into being.” Elsie pondered these words while the black messenger guided her back into the tunnel and towards the entrance she had come from. As the soft starlight from outside penetrated the cave, the bear’s form dissolved and Elsie was alone again. The wolf leaped into her heart and Elsie knew she had passed the test. Outside the moon shone on the white snow and her friends were waiting for her. Elsie took at deep breath of the fresh night air just as Foxnap bolted to her side and gave her a rare and endearing hug. She was safe. For now.
When Ash saw Elsie appear in the cave entrance his dark wooden eyes opened wide and he gave Elsie a beady look of shock and astonishment. ” She passed the test,” he declared, trying to hide the tone of surprise in his voice. Foxnap stared at him and said darkly: ” Well, of course she did, you piece of a stick, she is MY Elsie after all.” Ash chose to ignore the rudeness of this remark, and turned to Gwan instead. ” You were right about the girl. I will take her to the swamp and teach her. We leave now.” Gwan nodded and looked proud. ” We will ALL leave,” added Foxnap, and put his arm protectively around Elsie’s legs. ” I’m sure we will,” replied Ash dryly, ” but this time, the wolves will not do, we need bigger beasts for this journey. The wolves should stay and guard the cave. I sense that something dark is on your tail and will soon try to enter the cave.” Elsie gave Foxnap a worried glance, somehow she knew that Ash was right. ” Very well, Ash,” said Gwan calmly, ” what do you suggest?” Ash looked at Elsie, who knew the answer instantly. ” Bears. We will call the bears.” Ash nodded, ” you do that, Elsie.” Elsie lifted her hand and cast the rune of the bear, and not long after a group of big brown bears came striding out of the shadows.
Elsie woke up abruptly from the deep sleep she had fallen into on top of the bear’s soft warm back. The air had suddenly changed, it was colder, solidified like ice, moving fast towards them. Ash, whose tall shape was walking next to her, looked at Elsie and nodded, “Yes, there is someone there. Why don’t you use the Owl Rune to see who it is.” Elsie lifted her fingers and formed the rune of Huath, the Owl’s rune, the one who could see in spiritual darkness and guide you out of it. Immediately a majestic white snow owl ascended from Elsie’s hand, it tried its wings and circled above Elsie’s head a couple of times before it set off into the darkness. This time, to Elsie’s astonishment, the owl had not been just energy and vibration, but it had taken full form and been filled with matter. The owl had been very much alive and breathing. Elsie looked at Ash who, for the first time since Elsie had met him, gave a small fleeting smile. They continued into the forest and Elsie was just about to fall asleep again when the Snow owl returned. She came to sit on Ash’s huge black arm seeking Elsie with her liquid amber eyes. When Elsie met her gaze she saw what the owl had seen. A bodiless crooked and terrifying head filled the sky above a small farm Elsie recognized as her own home, it gave an ice cold shriek before it dissolved, but Elsie could feel its cold bleak energy heading towards the forest. It was hunting her. “And that, my child, is a Mare,” said Ash calmly. He had apparently seen the same vision as Elsie. Elsie froze, ” but it’s coming this way, it will catch me!” ” And that is why we need to speed up, the swamp is not far, you will be safe there.” Ash snapped his fingers and the bears started running, and with Gwan in the lead, the whole party disappeared into the wintery darkness.
The swamp was just that, a dark cold and damp swamp. Why Ash chose to live here Elsie did not know or understand. Perhaps it was the tree in him that enjoyed the humidity. There was a little cottage there too, much too small for Ash who preferred the wild outside, but it was a warm and cozy little house designed solely for the purpose of guests. Ash served them some creamy mushroom soup and barley beer for Gwan and Foxnap. The food was delicious, and Elsie could feel it strenghtening her. ” We have about two days,” declared Ash. ” That is hardly enough time,” replied Gwan, ” why the rush, Ash?” ” In two days the Mare tailing us will reach the swamp and Elsie needs to be ready.” Elsie almost choked on her soup. ” Two days!” She cried out, ” What can I possibly learn in two days!? ” ” A lot,” came the somber feelingless answer. ” But first Elsie need her sleep,” interrupted Foxnap, and none of the others protested.
The next day Elsie woke up with a knot in her stomach, she was anxious about the day and frightened of the Mare closing up on them. Ash didn’t give her much time to prepare herself, right after breakfast he declared that the lessons were about to begin. ” Elsie, ” he said and gave Elsie a serious look, ” You must know by now that all magic follows laws, laws that we cannot manipulate. You have seen greed, greed is based on vanity and a want for power and control, this kind of greed is a thirst that cannot be quenched, it will ultimately consume itself. The greed of the Mare people is based on lack, on emptiness and a desire to fill that emptiness, this has led to jealousy, an idea that everyone has what I don’t and I need to take it from them to get it.” ” What has this got to do with magic?” interrupted Elsie. “Everything,” came the dry answer. ” Magic says that everything that can happen will happen, sometimes with a little help. There are endless potentials just waiting to burst forth and be realized. They want to be fulfilled. There are basically two types of energy, the energy that creates and the energy that destroys, both are necessary for life to exist. But as you probably have guessed by now, the Mares are made up of energy that destroys, not to break down and recreate, but to consume. Do you understand? ” Elsie nodded. ” So I have to destroy the destructive energy?” She asked uncertainly. Ash shook his head. ” You cannot destroy destruction with destruction. You cannot fill emptiness with more emptiness. Emptiness is nothing, so there is nothing to destroy.” Elsie looked puzzled. ” Think, Elsie. Use your intelect. Think.” But Elsie was blank. It seemed an impossible task.
” Let us try something more practical,” suggested Ash. ” I want to you to cast the rune of the Lynx. Not just to summon its energy, but to summon the lynx itself.” Elsie concentrared and lifted her hand to form the rune of the lynx. She felt it take shape inside her, then externalize and find form and matter to fill it with, and then suddenly, a beautiful white lynx came striding majestically out from behind the trees. ” Good, Elsie. Call it over here.” Elsie did, and the lynx came to stand next to them, looking up at Elsie with deep knowledgeable eyes. ” Can you tell me the tale of the lynx?” asked Ash. ” It is the animal who helps us solve riddles, find the answers to secrets and discover knowledge within.” ” Yes, exactly,” smiled Ash. ” Now I want you to try to become the lynx, to feel her energy within, to be her, to unite with her and feel her every molecule, her every vibrating cell, to see, hear and experience the world through her eyes. Not just in spirit, but in form as well.” Elsie concentrared again. This time it was tricky, she had never done this advanced magic before. She focused on the lynx, its energy, its being, the way it was created, she focused on the tale of the lynx from its very creation, and suddenly she was not Elsie anymore, she had four paws and the world looked and felt entirely different. Her senses were sharper and her energy pulsated faster. “Good.” She could hear Ash’s voice from far away. “Now come back to your own form.” It took all of Elsie’s energy to return to her own body and being. Ash smiled at her. “One last lesson, and then we are done.” Elsie was panting, and fatigue seemed to have taken her over. But she steadied herself, and lifted her hands, ready for the next rune. ” Now do the opposite, draw the lynx into you, let the lynx take your human form, and feel your human emotions.” Elsie looked astonishingly at Ash. ” How…?”, she began, but Ash interrupted her, ” just try, Elsie, trust your instincts.” Elsie closed her eyes, and invited into her, the tale of the lynx.
That night Elsie dreamt that she was fighting the Mare, but no matter what she did, no matter what rune she cast, she could not defeat the Mare. But just before the world persihed, and she with it, an elk appeared, it calmed her and told her to listen to the forest and what it was whispering, but before Elsie could hear anything more, she woke up, bathed in sweat. “Ash?” she asked at the breakfast table that morning, ” why was I chosen to defeat the Mare people, what is so special about me? Surely, you, or Gwan or the Wildwoth, are much more capable and skilled than to me fulfill this task.” ” That is a very important question, Elsie. What did the elk in your dream say?” Elsie looked at Ash with shock and surprise in her eyes, ” How did you know…?” ” Never mind that,” replied Ash, ” answer me, what did he say?” Elsie had never heard what the elk whispered in her dream, but all of a sudden she just knew, she could feel the elk inside her, talking to her. ” It says that I am happy, fulfilled, loved. It says that there is no lack or greed in me, that I am…whole…enough…worthy…” Ash looked at her approvingly, ” And that, my dear, is exactly why you were chosen”
Elsie thought about Ash’s words for a while. What did he mean when he said she was whole? It was true that she felt…loved. She did not feel that she needed something to feel…what was it Ash had called it….worthy? Was she in truth happy? She was often sad, angry, frustrated and upset, but that always passed, and she went back to…well…yes…happy in a way. ” But Ash, ” said Elsie, ” what about you? Do you not feel happy?” Ash looked at her and his eyes grew sad and colorless. ” I have seen too much wrongdoing and acts of terror, Elsie. I feel so helpless, there is nothing I can do to change it. Perhaps in a way I have lost faith in the world. Too many people turn to greed when they have an opportunity to. It saddens me, and…yes…it takes away my hope, my trust in love and goodness.” Ash sighed. In her mind Elsie saw a man, looking very much like Ash, but without the part of him that was tree and wood. He sat with his head in his hands in what looked like utter despair. Elsie felt compassion wash over her like a tidal wave and she wished to take the man’s pain away. ” But, Ash,” said Elsie suddenly, ” wouldn’t that make me the perfect target for the Mare people? You said they are jealous of happiness and seek to consume it?” ” Yes, Elsie, that is why you have them on your tail.” “Them?” Elsie had never heard him use the word “them” before. “Are there more than one? ” she asked Ash unsteadily, her shaking voice betraying her fear. But before Ash could answer her question, the trees outside uttered what sounded like a cry of terror, and the air froze solid with bleakness and stale hopelessness.
Gwan and Ash got up abruptly and hurried outside. The air was so thick they could hardly breathe. “It’s too soon,” said Gwan nervously, “she is not ready.” “She has to be,” replied Ash, “she is our only hope.” Through the darkness they could spot the shadowy silhouettes of the Mares. They were many, perhaps in hundreds! Elsie had come to stand in the doorway, she was shivering both with fear and cold. “Quickly, Elsie!” called Ash, “cast the rune of the wolf, it may stall them for a while.” Elsie raised her hand and cast the rune. Multiple wolf shapes shot out of her fingers, they seemed bigger and more menacing than regular wolves, and without further instructions the whole pack headed for the forest and the oncoming army of Mares. Ash and Gwan retreated back into the house, only Elsie was left standing in the doorway, frozen with fear.
” Get inside!!” yelled Foxnap from inside the cottage. But Elsie could not. Her legs would not move an inch. She just stood there staring the the menacing shadows getting closer and closer. Now she could see the rune wolves attacking the shadows, there were loud screams of horror, branches were cracking, snow disappeared, and the air was frozen solid with sheer terror. It did not take long, the wolves were no match for the Mares. ” Eeelsieee!!” shouted Foxnap again, but still, Elsie could not move. She watched as the Mares vanished from the shadows and their liquidy form became solid. They were a terrible sight to behold. Ash came out from the cottage and tried to shoot at them with a bow and arrow, but this seemed to just anger them more. ” Try the bears, Elsie!” he yelled desperately at Elsie, and Elsie cast the rune of the bear. A huge black bear, more than tripple the size of a human, shot out of Elsie’s fingers. It flung itself at the Mares and a gruesome battle commenced. But then, to the cottage dwellers horror, the Mares shifted form, they emerged with each other until they became one big terrorizing entity . In this form, the bear was easily defeated. It whimpered slightly and went back to its invisible spirit being. Now, the giant Mare looked directly at Elsie, and with a terrifying roar it stepped into the swamp and towards where Elsie stood.
” come inside!!” Foxnap’s voice was a desperate scream now. But Elsie still didn’t move. ” I’ve got to try to fight it! ” she shouted back. ” Nooooooo!!” Roared Foxnap, ” You aren’t ready! Even Ash said so! ” ” But there is no time to get ready!” Replied Elsie, ” I’ve got to try, Foxnap! ” Foxnap, Ash and Gwan came to stand next to her as she faced the oncoming Mare. ” You can do it, ” whispered Ash into her ear. ” just remember what you have learned.” And Elsie remembered. She closed her eyes and conjured the images of the lynx, the bear, the wolf, the owl, and then the Dwargs and the future that would await her friends if she failed. She raised her hand and made an ancient mysterious rune, and then, she opened herself up…she mustered all her power and strength and invited the Mare to merge with her spirit. The Mare did not need much persuasion, this is what it had waited for…to suck the pure innocent spirit out of the girl. But then, that is not what happened….the Mare was confused, it was being held fast, it couldn’t consume or drink dry, it could only….feel…feel Elsie’s spirit, and the light of that pure spirit was so bright…it filled the Mare, and it was no longer empty, it couldn’t hold the light…it was growing…expanding…and then it exploded…
Elsie had neither shape nor form, she was just light dissolved in space. Floating, flying, diving…then she heard a faint voice…”Elsie! Elsie it’s time to return. Elsie!” She moved towards the voice, let it guide her, then she felt solid ground and she was again bound fast by matter. She had a body, her own body, and next to her stood Ash, smiling. “You did it, Elsie, the Mares are gone.” Elsie was confused, what had happened…” You filled them with your wholeness. By inviting them into your soul, by using empathy, you finally made them stop wanting, and when that stopped, the Mares could no longer exist.” Elsie blinked, had she really done all that? ” Eeeeelsieeeee!!” Foxnap threw himself into Elsie’s arms, ” you’re alive!” Elsie smiled and patted Foxnap on the back. “Yes, yes, I think I am.” Gwan also came to join the party, and the four of them just looked at each other and smiled.
” Elsie, let’s go home,” said Foxnap suddenly. “Yes,”replied Elsie, “let’s go home.”