Alcon stood beside Kaide, peering intently into the trees while the younger elf inspected the ground. They had left a few elves behind with the one Briera had knocked out, and sometime later they had crossed paths with Kaide; Alcon and the other three hunters welcomed him happily. Now they had come closer to Bear Cave, about a mile off from where they stood.
“Why do you care about the kid?” Alcon asked.
“I told you,” Kaide said, brushing aside some leaves to see an imprint in the dirt more clearly, “I promised Sheera I’d look out for him while I hunted, so I’m gonna do it.” He sighed, shaking his head, and stood up. “I don’t really care for him, nor do I really want to find him, but a promise…”
“...is a promise,” Alcon finished, rolling his eyes. Everyone could see how smitten Kaide was with Sheera, and everyone (except Kaide) could see she had no interest in him. But Kaide was younger, prone to immature wiles, and Alcon had made it his habit to stay out of others’ business. He respected his own privacy and afforded that same consideration to others.
“Anyways,” he said, “those tracks tell you anything?” All things considered, Alcon was the better tracker than Kaide, but at least if Kaide was left in charge, there was a chance they wouldn’t actually find the kid. Alcon would have him found in an hour, two tops.
“No,” Kaide said, grinding a leaf beneath his foot. “Let’s keep going.”
Half a mile later, they stopped suddenly as a cloud of crows leaped up from a nearby tree and showered them with raucous cawing. The cries died out quickly as the birds dispersed, but a tension hung in the air and they stared out into the forest. A twig snapped. One of the elfling hunters whimpered and then quickly went silent as Alcon glanced over.
Another twig snapped. Leaves rustled.
“Hello?” The voice came from their left, scared and shaky. “Is anyone there?”
They still had time to avoid the human, but Kaide made a move in the boy’s direction–Alcon grabbed his arm and held him back. Their eyes met, Kaide’s fierce below his unruly curls.
“No,” Alcon whispered through gritted teeth. “We stay out of human affairs.”
“We can do both,” Kaide hissed back. “All we need to do is point him in the right direction, then we’re gone. Easy as dewdrops in the morning.”
Alcon didn’t like the idea, but against his better judgment, he loosened his hold on Kaide and the younger elf darted off into the woods, toward the voice they had heard. Alcon groaned as Kaide disappeared behind some tall shrubs, and rolling his eyes again, he chased after the boy. He was still the huntmaster, after all.
Alcon emerged to find Kaide kneeling down in front of the boy, who was dressed in a red shirt and denim shorts. Kaide was whispering softly, but the boy’s eyes were wide with terror. Then the boy nodded, licking his lips, and Kaide stood up, turning toward Alcon.
He extended his hand toward the boy. “This is Danny,” he said, and then pointing toward the huntmaster, added, “and this is Alcon.”
The boy’s eyes narrowed on the bow Alcon was holding; he hadn’t even realized he’d drawn it chasing after Kaide, but old habits and all. He quickly slung it over his shoulder and looked down at the human. As their eyes made contact, Alcon shuddered and the boy screamed.
For a moment, Alcon saw himself reflected in the boy’s eyes: wild hair, the horns of a stag protruding from either side of his head, and sharp, smiling teeth. This wasn’t his reflection, though, not what he truly looked like–he had no horns for instance. But that’s what the boy saw.
“Wild sight,” Alcon muttered, turning toward Kaide. “This boy is dangerous,” he said more loudly. “Point him home and then let’s go.”
“Dangerous?” Kaide demanded. “He’s just scared!” He knelt down again and tried to take the boy’s hands, but Danny backed away, glancing from one to the other in terror.
“What’s wrong?” Kaide said, stepping forward again.
Danny took two stumbling steps backward and fell, landing on his bottom.
“Leave me alone! You–you monsters!”
He struggled to his feet and then turned on them, running deeper into the forest.
Kaide stood after him and it was a moment or two until Alcon grabbed his shoulder and turned the younger elf to face him.
“He’s got wild sight,” Alcon said. “It’s old magic, long thought dormant in the human race…” He sighed and crossed his arms. “Legend says it’s elven magic, passed down from half-elves a long, long time ago, before elves removed ourselves from humankind.”
“But why’s that make him dangerous?”
“He sees magic, sees the power we hold. It’s too much for humans. Makes them go crazy, and there’s nothing worse for elves than enraged humans trying to hunt us.”
“He…he can see magic?”
“That’s what the legends about wild sight say, at least.”
“Then he can help us find magic water!” Kaide glanced at Alcon, grinning, and then dashed after Danny, jumping over some low bushes and diving into the forest.
Alcon began running too, brushing aside branches and ducking under others as he followed Kaide’s calls for Danny to slow down, to come back. The ground began sloping downward, and soon Alcon emerged in a valley littered with old leaves. A stream trickled nearby, and he followed it with his eyes until he stood facing Bear Cave.
Kaide stood at the entrance. The dark maw of the earth towered over him.
Alcon approached cautiously, pulling his bowstring taut.
“He went inside,” Kaide said. “Now that’s dangerous.”
Alcon sighed. “We’re awfully close to the edge of Deep Forest here. There’s no telling what might’ve made its den in there–bears or worse, far worse.”
“Danny!” Kaide shouted. The name echoed around, deeper into the cave, but no response came. Kaide turned toward Alcon, his eyes pleading and large. “We have to go after him.”
Alcon still wanted nothing to do with the human boy, or humans in general, but maybe Kaide had a point, and besides, he didn’t want to be responsible for the boy’s death. His wild sight had only awoken when he locked eyes with Alcon, after all. Or maybe his third eye had opened earlier and led him into the Deep Forest in the first place. They might never know.
“Okay,” Alcon said, “we go inside. We give it an hour, tops, then we head home.”
“Okay,” Kaide said, and nodded.
They tiptoed silently into the cave, following the rays of light that fell in. Bear Cave turned sharply to the right and they both paused at the corner to listen. Very faintly, they heard cries and whimpers. Kaide crouched down again and inched forward into the darkness. His eyes had begun to adjust, and he could barely discern Danny’s silhouette, sitting some distance away from them on a pile of tumbled boulders.
“Danny,” Kaide said softly, “we’re here to help, we didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“You’re monsters,” the boy said, and sniffled. “Leave me alone!”
“We’re not monsters, Danny; we’re elves. Like–like in fairy tales. We can help you get home. You want to go home, don’t you? We can help. I promise.”
There was a long pause of silence in the cave, and Kaide shivered.
“Mommy said I shouldn’t talk to strangers,” Danny said, finally.
“We’re not strangers, not anymore. I’m Kaide, and this is Alcon. Besides, isn’t it safer to get our help than to stay out here, all by yourself? It’ll be dark soon. What’ll you do then?”
Danny’s breathing came faster as Kaide talked, and finally the figure stood up.
“Take me home, please,” Danny said. “Take me home.”
“Here, take my hand,” Kaide said, and held out his hand. Danny took it, and Kaide was surprised that his hand felt a lot like holding the hand of an elf.
They walked back outside the cave, and Kaide breathed a sigh of relief that they hadn’t found any other occupants inside. The forest light was starting to get hazy with dusk.
“We’ll take you home tomorrow,” Alcon said, and when Danny’s eyes widened, Kaide patted him gently on the head. “There’s no use getting lost in the dark, and you’ll be safe with us.”
Danny nodded and squeezed Kaide’s hand.
“Come on,” Kaide said, “our village is this way.”
Author Darren Lipman is a writer and high school math teacher. His poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons and the Piper Poetry Month 2020 Anthology.
Artist Tomislav Šilipetar was born in Zagreb. In 2014 he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in the class of Igor Rončević-Painting Department. In 2015 he became a member of HDLU. In addition to many group exhibitions, he has had a number of solo exhibitions in Croatia as well as other countries. He is the winner of the rector's award for excellence in 2013. The paintings are mostly made in acrylic, and the themes vary from solitude and isolation to human existence in the society that condemns. It favors the simple colors, and the line that goes perfectly with the total preoccupation of getting out of the 'boxes' of academy. In 2016 he gained the status of an independent artist.