He stayed hidden in the blackberry bush. Not unlike the creature in the same bush on the wild side. The huntress had settled against the tree and then disappeared. Widdershins she had gone. Was that the key? Was this the place?
He settled among the brambles and berries, so still that a small family of deer grazed unfazed nearby. As suddenly as she disappeared, the huntress emerged from behind the tree, awe etched in her features. She reached for her bow, now gone, and smiled. He watched her begin to walk out of the valley, and just before he too turned to return home, he saw it. A single droplet, falling from the waterskin on her hip, the most crystalline blue he had ever seen. Since the infiltration of the mortals, no natural resource glowed with life and power anymore. She had indeed found the way to the wild side.
He hurried deeper into the valley, with no attempt at stealth. The huntress was too absorbed in her experience to notice a disturbance, and humans were too self-absorbed to notice anything. Deep in the valley the trees grew close and oppressive as they neared the rocky cliffs on the valley’s border. As he neared the heart of the thicket, he veered left, away from the Altiena tribe’s home city. An overgrown deer trail ran out against a stony cliff wall. At the end of the trail he squeezed past fallen rocks and ducked into a hidden cave.
With elven sight he followed dark, twisting pathways deep into the underground cliffside. Voices echoed from afar, growing in power and pitch, leading him to the cavern housing Doreel’s war room. The spacious cavern, filled with glowing lichen and fungi, shuddered under the thundering of Doreel’s generals. As they argued over one another, Doreel stood over the giant stalagmite in the middle, the point broken off, that had become their strategy table.
He hesitated in the entryway as the generals continued to argue about alliances in the war. One claiming the war was best fought alone and the other adamant they needed help to defeat the tribe of that huntress. Sides clearly taken by the others. Doreel spoke evenly, cutting through the screams.
“You both speak the truth of narrow minds. The truth of battles like front line pawns, not wars as generals should.” Doreel never looked up from his maps, not seeing the anger of the generals. “We will need reinforcements to take down a tribe that large. So we conquer the smaller and force their soldiers to be our reinforcements. Little by little removing our own warriors from the war.”
The generals, all still showing some manner of rage and insult, began to argue over the best plan to follow Doreel’s idea.
“Enough,” Doreel spoke again. “Leave me. So our visitor can share the news important enough to bring directly to me.”
The "visitor" moved out of the way of the exiting generals, eyes abashedly averted from the grumbling elders. Tentatively, he moved into the cavern, mustering up the courage to look Doreel in the eye to deliver the great news. He had only been in the tribal chief’s presence once before, but never alone. The memory was still clear in his mind. He had stood in this very cavern, one of the few hand-chosen to hunt for the wild side. The best hunters and trackers of the tribe. Doreel spoke as he had just done, clearly and evenly, bringing all other noise to a stop by raw power alone. He felt that power now as he shuffled closer, so ashamed in the eyes of his chief that he did not stride with the purpose the news deserved.
“You are bold to come into my presence and interrupt talk of war and strategy.” Doreel still studied his maps.
He shrank into himself further, his voice full of hesitation. “I may have found it.”
Doreel said nothing.
He cleared his throat and tried again with more conviction. “I may have found a way into the wild side.”
Doreel finally looked up and the elven tracker trembled anew, lost in the eyes of his chieftain. One as black as midnight, one as silver as the moon.
“Tell me everything.”
Doreel watched the tracker scurry away. Before the morrow he would lead Doreel to the entrance, before the tribe of the huntress would think to return. All leaders knew the dangers of the wild side once the sun slept. But he was not all leaders and had an advantage none but his long dead father knew. Doreel was born of the wild side. And his father would have given his life to prevent his return, and potentially reveal their secret, if he hadn’t already - involuntarily - given his life for the expediting of Doreel’s ascension to chiefdom. Doreel had watched his father’s silver eyes turn grey, before wiping his blade clean. For a moment he wondered if he would look into his mother’s black eyes while in the wild side.
Doreel didn't plan on being over in the wild side long enough for her to discover his presence. All he needed was enough time to find the sacred pool and drain it. Once he had the magic, neither her nor her creatures could touch him. Doreel exited the cavern, magically sealing it shut behind him. Another secret - he didn’t need the magic for himself; it ran through his mixed veins.
No, what Doreel needed was to keep it from the tribes, even his own. He scaled the oak that stood firm in the center of the Altiena village. From the treetop he surveyed his tribe. His tribe, not his people, for he was more than them. They knew not that their own time was just a shadow’s length longer than the tribes they would first conquer.
It was much like what he had said to his generals - battle pawns in the war. The other tribes, such as the one that held the huntress that had discovered the entrance, wanted to preserve their way of life. Elves slinking in the shadows like prey, avoiding the mortals that foolishly laid waste to what was not theirs to claim. Others looked to submit to defeat, giving the mortals total control of the world. The Altiena looked to hoard what they could and hold power over the other tribes, though still in the shadows of the mortals. Merely bigger prey - deer to rabbits. Doreel was not prey. The mortals were no predator to avoid. They were nothing more than prey that had learned to disguise their weakness. Aggression and noise hiding their soft fragility. Like the colorful amphibians that screamed poison, but were nothing more than a snack for something bigger and stronger.
Doreel looked to usurp them. He knew he had to play at a simpler war before the conquest could truly begin. Once he led all elves unopposed, held all magic they could possess, he would lead those of a similar mind out of the shadows. Fill his ranks with the magic he collected to overturn and overrun the mortals. Then and only then, when he held dominion over all that existed in the light, would he combine magic and mortal machine and unleash it into the wild side.
You will join Father soon, Mother.
Author Brittanie Maccarone reconnected with writing in a creative writing class at her alma mater. Since then she has been writing short stories and poems in a variety of genres and has had works published (print and online) by Longshot Island, Medusa's Laugh Press, Burnt Pine Magazine, and a local literary magazine. When not writing she's working in the Circulation Department in her local library (because what writer wouldn't love that!).
Artist Raquel Nixon is an artist and Illustrator based in Ogden Utah. Working primarily with pen and ink, watercolor, marker, and digital media, she creates art to emphasize her own emotions, interests, and ideas. An admirer of so many art forms and a creative at heart, she draws inspiration from all sorts of media and aims to recreate and establish her own artistic perspective on that which inspires her.