SAMPLE CHAPTERS & ARTWORK UPDATES

“I’m not going near that thing! I’m not touching it!” were the responses to Jenario’s persistence to move his family through the portal. By the time it took members to pack and start heading down the tunnel, he had just about given up. “You can go, but Abraham stays with me.”

Their son was already squirming to get down from his mother’s arms. He held his hands out for his father to take him, but when Tia stepped back the boy started fussing.

“You’d honestly stay here in the cold?” Jenario was past the point of convincing. He winced at the sound of his own desperate voice rising an octave, and caught Shafari’s rolling eyes as he passed. In the midst of arguing, people had steered clear of the two. Now there was an emptiness to the cavern as the last of the group cleared out.

“Your things are already on the other side.” Shafari ignored Tia’s death-stare and left without another word.

“You distracted me so they could take my things? I cannot believe this!”

“Our things, Tia. And no, I didn’t specify…” He sighed in defeat. “Look! None of this makes sense. There’s no way you’d make it alone. Not with Abraham. And he’s still sick!”

“I can manage.” Her voice came out in an angry quiver, though her fiancé doubted her bravery.

“You can’t just leave him to go get firewood! And what about food? Trappers take hours to bring back kills. And they normally hunt in pairs. Tell me how that would work when our son runs out of the cave because he doesn’t know any better!”

Tia averted her gaze, her anger slightly subsiding. “I’ll manage.”

Jenario glanced over his shoulder where Thomas Gracie and Providence waited. No one else remained. As embers cooled from their last campfires, the chamber seemed to get colder by the minute. No one had been out to collect more firewood since their return from No’va.

My offer still remains, he heard the thought from Providence, but Jenario just shook his head.

It should be her decision, not mine, he returned the thought, hoping the Healer could read it as before.

“Jileathia,” came the stern voice of Thomas Gracie. “Think of your son a moment. He’ll have no medicine once we’re gone.”

“Please, Tia?” Jenario’s soft plea at last rewarded him with his son. The little boy nestled comfortably in his father’s arms and sneezed. “I’m not leaving. Not without you. But right now Abraham needs to get warm.” He stepped away with tears watering his eyes to get his son the warmth he needed. His little fingers felt like ice when they wrapped around his. “I’ll be back,” he said to the others as he started jogging down the tunnel. If only I knew how to convince her.

He could feel the air warming the closer he came to the portal’s chamber. When he entered, Nickademis was still separating people into groups while Healers from the other side took a few at a time to guide through the forest. Rumors quickly spread about the carnivorous Black Wings, but were assured the presence of Lo-ans’rel would see them through safely.

The line was slowly dwindling to the final few. A Trapper and his wife were next. Jenario recognized the pregnant woman as Tia’s closest friend, who immediately waved him over.

“Ahnalee, Nathan,” Jenario greeted. He adjusted his son, who rubbed his eyes from lack of sleep and sneezed again. His father kissed his baby cheeks, whose flushed appearance served as a warning to his illness.

“Finally!” Nathan grabbed up Jenario’s free hand in a firm shake. “Maybe this new place will offer some decent game.” His enthusiastic motions caused a few loose strands of dark hair to flop down over one eye. It went ignored, however, as most of his unkempt hair usually fell in odd places.

“You’ll be game if you don’t stop fiddling with that dagger.” Ringlets of curly, blond hair fell across her shoulder when she moved to shield her husband’s blade from the toddler.

“It’s new.” However, Nathan obliged his wife’s concerns and slipped it alongside a set of others on his belt. He was always carrying a weapon, and to Jenario’s understanding, even when he was not supposed to.

“So proud of his collection.” Ahnalee said with a sigh, letting her gaze drift to the room’s entrance. “Where’s Tia?”

Jenario’s shoulders slightly drooped in exhaustion. He had hardly slept much with the worry that Tia would refuse to come with them. “We’re still trying to convince her. I just needed to get Abraham somewhere warm. Then I was going back.”

Ahnalee felt Abraham’s hand, and her eyes widened in shock. “What is she thinking? They’re so cold!”

“She won’t listen to anyone,” Jenario said.

Ahnalee glanced to the wavering oval hovering above the cave floor. “It’s the magic, isn’t it? She never liked it much. Ever since William…” She checked between her husband and Jenario, then held out her hands to take Abraham. “Let’s do this. Here, Nathan. We’re up next anyway.”

Her husband stared in befuddlement as the child was plopped into his arms. Having only dealt with large game, a child was something new. His awkward expression caused all smiles. Luckily, Abraham was too sleepy to fight the stranger’s hold.

“But…what?” Nathan started, but his wife insisted.

“Just take him through to the other side and wait.” She then turned to Jenario. “We’re going to get Tia.”

Jenario wanted to run back, but for Ahnalee’s sake he stayed by her side. Her swollen belly was a sure sign of what was coming in the next few months, and gave her gate a slight waddle. At this stage, any man would have been proud to know he would soon be a father, but Nathan was a different kind of man. He was a Trapper. Big game was his only trait. But a baby? Jenario nearly laughed. Better get used to it.

Upon entering the room, they found Thomas Gracie sitting beside Tia while Providence remained near the tunnel.

Of course, she wouldn’t speak to him. Jenario checked the expression on Thomas Gracie’s face. That worried look meant no success. But maybe if Ahnalee tried….

“What are you doing here?” Thomas Gracie immediately stood at the blond-haired woman’s approach. “You should should be on the other side – both of you!”

“I said I’d be back.” Jenario motioned for him to join them near the tunnel.

Reluctantly, Thomas Gracie came over with a shake of his head. “She won’t budge. I’ve tried everything to convince her.” He nodded to the Healer. “We’ve both tried. ‘Course, she would ignore those with magic.”

“Let me try.” Ahnalee stepped between the three men and made her way to Tia’s side.

Tia sat staring into an abandoned campfire. A few threads of smoke trailed from the ashes as Ahnalee took a seat next to her. They both shivered in the cold air.

“William really messed things up for you, didn’t he?” she said.

Tia did not respond at first, and sat with arms hugging her chest. She stared into the curling ashes and sighed.

“I just remember that wild look in his eyes, right before he left the house. Before…the explosion…” She hung her head and whispered, “I knew.”

“Shafari said he warned your brother–”

Tia balked. “He’s just as bad.”

“Well, I’ll admit he can be bumbling-boot at times. But right now we need magic. Magic is going to free us from that pathetic council. We’ll have a new life. We’ll be in a new place. And these shifters, or whatever they’re called, they’re taking care to see us through. I think William is holding you in the past. Maybe if you let it go, you’ll be able to accept it again.”

“It’s just…” Tia finally lifted her gaze to meet her friend’s worried expression. “It’s not the magic. It’s the person holding it. I saw what my brother did when he had it. It completely consumed him. Magic was all he ever talked about.”

“Like a child who discovers a new type of bug crawling on the windowsill?” Ahnalee cracked a smile. “I remember.”

Tia sighed and slowly got to her feet, along with Ahnalee. “I wanted to believe Shafari might be different. Even Nicolas….”

“It would make a difference if we had an actual teacher,” Ahalee started after Tia, who slowly made her way toward the back tunnel and waiting members. “And you know the council wasn’t about to provide reading material. We all just do the best we can.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Tia glanced over her shoulder and paused for her friend to reach her side. Together, they approached the group. Jenario was the first to approach.

“Feeling better about this?” About to freeze, the anxiousness in his voice was a little too apparent; however, Tia at last acknowledged his discomfort by taking his hands and holding them close.

She glanced between Thomas Gracie and Providence, whose piercing gaze never wavered. For a moment she tried to peruse into this unusual look. A hint of emerald illuminated within. She expected nothing more than wild excitement her brother once portrayed – that cocky, boldness that seemed to control his final hours. What she found instead was a softness around the edges that hinted both authority and patience. How did I miss that?

When the Healer offered a slight smile, she knew her thoughts had been read and quickly turned away.

“It’s cold in here now. Can we go? It’s…not good for Ahnalee.” She forced herself to move, not really willing to confront a magic hole in the air yet. “Where’s Abraham?”

“Don’t worry.” Ahnalee rubbed her swell of belly. “He’s in good hands. Nathan needed a little practice for what’s to come.”

Jenario heard Tia sigh, but whether it was worry over their child being with a Trapper or the fact that he was safe, he could not be sure. As the five started down the tunnel, he picked up the echoing footsteps of someone running. They paused just as Shafari rushed into view, his orb darting around him to light the way.

“Thomas Gracie! Jen!” His frantic voice carried down the tunnel in a series of echoes. “Quick! The portal’s closing!”

“What?!” Thomas Gracie waved Jenario and Tia ahead of him.

“No, wait! Ahnalee can’t run!” Tia whipped back around, but saw that Providence had already scooped her up.

“Go!” Providence darted after them as though the woman’s weight was feather-light. A strange glow illuminated his eyes, and for a moment Tia thought the pupils took on the shape of a bear. It was bear-like strength that pushed past the others and was already through the portal when the they arrive.

Electrical pulses sent distorting waves through its once perfect oval, and looked to be shrinking the closer they came to it.

“I don’t think we can all fit!” Jenario heard Thomas Gracie’s shout, but pulled Tia up to it anyway.

“You can! Go, Tia!”

“Confounded bloody bastard!” Shafari was swearing up and down. “He just left us here!”

In the midst of squeezing Tia through and yelling from behind, Jenario was faintly aware of a sharp breeze whipping across his cheeks. Bright sunlight suddenly blinded them. The voices of fellow companions drifted close as the room seemed to disappear in a blur. The next instant, Jenario blinked several times and caught Tia in his arms when she fell back. It was as though nothing had been there at all.

The companions peered around in astonishment. No longer were they in the cave, but on the other side where a chestnut-haired Healer stood with Ahnalee, ready to receive them. From behind, Jenario glimpsed a slither of light. It was just enough for an owl to dart through before it fully closed and returned to an ordinary mirror within the cave’s shadows.

The owl stretched out long talons to land on the raised arm of the awaiting Healer. It shook its feathery head and let out a sharp screech.

“We’re all here,” the Healer said with a pleasant smile. His gaze fell to Thomas Gracie. “For those who do not know me, I am Windchester, assistant to our leader.” He gently tossed the owl up so it could fly ahead of them. “If you would follow me, please. I will be your escort.”

Tia seemed to perk up a bit when reunited with her son, a relief to Jenario. In the heart of Healer territory, he feared she might shut down again. Yet her mood seemed stable enough to even carry a brief conversation with one while Nickademis scurried between families to assess their needs. Thomas Gracie did the same, with Shafari helping Nicolas administer a fresh supply of herbal medicine, generously provided by several Healers. Any other lingering illness was soon eliminated by the warm air and pleasant-mannered company.

Jenario studied their home clearing. The center was a safe haven for young Healers to practice their shifting. Along the treeline, a series of leafy structures peaked through heavily grown underbrush. They were small in comparison to their human forms, but could easily fit as animals.

The clearing also provided the perfect spot for gardening, and was where Nickademis seemed to wander every time Jenario looked for him. It was not long before he was asking Healers questions regarding their growth and uses.

As Jenario returned to where Tia was entertaining their son, he noticed a gray owl keeping watch nearby. He was almost certain it was same one that had led them from the cave. Yet when another owl swooped by, he scratched the thought. I can’t tell one from another!

He caught bits of conversation from surrounding members as he passed. Many questioned the type of magic they were seeing, though the younger expressed more curiosity than the older ones. They even had difficulty pronouncing the race’s full name, and instead fell in the habit of calling them shift-wizards. The nickname, however, caused those tufted ears to turn back in quick annoyance, a sign that their daily presence was beginning to sour.

Jenario quickly sat next to Tia, who closely watched their son waddling after a fuzzy bunny. The animal teased him, running in circles and darting off to leave the toddler chasing after himself. In a confused daze, the boy eventually plopped down in the grass and looked back at his parents with a dimpled grin.

“You’re taking to this quite well.” Jenario glanced at his fiancée. She did not meet his gaze, but instead sighed and continued to watch Abraham pluck at a few blades of grass. His giggling attracted the attention of another young Healer, who shifted into a wolf cub and tumbled over in play.

“I’m sorry I nearly caused the portal to close on us,” she said softly. “Ahnalee was right. I let William hold me back.”

“You’re blaming your brother?”

“I blame myself for not accepting something that can can help us.”

“Does this mean you accept Shafari’s magic as well?”

Tia cast a sideways glance at him and smirked. “One step at a time.” A quick peck on his cheek before she got up made him smile in relief.

Jenario held a hand over his cheek where she had planted her kiss and watched her interact with their son’s tumbling game. That was the Tia he adored. Strong on the inside, soft on the out, he remembered her parents’ words. Shame they had to stay in the city. If they only knew what the council had planned.

A short whistle drew his attention to Thomas Gracie, who was heading his way across the clearing. When he motioned for him to come, Jenario made sure Tia was fine before joining his comrade. Together, they crossed back over to where Nickademis, Shafari, and Providence were waiting. After they exchanged greetings, Thomas Gracie cued them in on the next set of plans.

“I think we’re all aware that we need to start looking for potential locations,” he said. “Providence has suggested a place he can take us that overlooks the land. From that vantage, we should be able to get a good look at where we can settle.” He gestured to Nickademis. “How’s everyone fairing so far?”

“Far as I can tell, we’ll be good for another long walk.” There was no hiding his sarcasm, and they all knew why. Nickademis was not the pick-up-and-go type. Their trek through the snow had put a foul taste in his mouth, which he had no problem spitting out on occasion. He did so now, missing Shafari’s robe by an inch when the magic-user yanked it back.

“We get it.” Shafari frowned while smoothing his clothing in place. “At least pick a spot where those Black things don’t roam. Makes me want to spit fireballs.”

“I second that!” Jenario lifted a hand in agreement. “Once was enough with those.”

“Let’s see what we find first.” Thomas Gracie nodded to Shafari. “You might want to think about some other types of defensive spells. It’s not like we can just walk back through the portal now that it’s closed, as I doubt we’ve seen the last of those things. We’re here now. Might as well prepare.”

“I’ll…see what I can do.” Shafari’s words softened in doubt. “A proper spell book would be nice. All I’ve got are fragments.” He eyed the Healer’s leader, reminding him how a cat listens with eyes halfway closed in calm resolve. No telling how we’re viewed. Probably about as good as flies. Now and then a tufted ear twitched toward different sounds coming from around the clearing, but at this thought a slight smile appeared with both ears turned his way. Shafari quickly changed focus. “I don’t suppose you could help with fragmented spells, could you?”

That pleasant smile never faded as Providence shook his head. “Magic is an everyday occurrence with us. But we don’t write magic. We simply use it. I apologize, but we cannot teach you something that’s not in your blood.”

“Thought not,” Shafari said with a sigh.

“I could write out some formulas for you,” Jenario said. “Just like when I was first learning with Tia’s brother. Alchemy has a lot to do with elemental ingredients. That’s how I got started, at least. We could try it. Just…don’t blow yourself up or anything.”

“Huh!” Nickademis rubbed his beard in thought. “Stay away from fire, and we might survive. Is there no way to see the positive and negative results beforehand?”

“Probably need an eye for it.” Shafari replied in a dry tone. “Which none of us do.”

“Then you best practice near some water, and away from the rest of us!” The doctor ignored that look of objection and turned to Thomas Gracie. “I’ll stay with the people while you three scout the land. You know me. I’m not equipped to wander off, especially being the only doctor we have. And I don’t care to see one of those things either.”

“You have shown remarkable knowledge while handling those herbal medicines,” Providence said. “That, being something we understand, can offer assistance to advance what you already know.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Should we take a Trapper?” Jenario said. “Fruits and greens are fine, but some of us need a little more.” He patted his belly, muffling a rumbling beginning to stir.

Providence’s smile slightly dimmed as he picked up on the meaning. “Hunting is strictly forbidden for our people, and I would prefer you didn’t do so around our home…for obvious reasons.” He directed their attention to a white-tailed doe testing how far she could leap.

“Understood.” Thomas Gracie dipped his head. “We’ll take Nathan with us. He’s been itching to put those new daggers to good use!”

*****

Keep up! Providence darted overhead as a dark gray and tan mocking bird. That striking blotch of white along the underside of the wings flashed with each stroke, almost mocking in itself while Jenario and companions struggled to keep pace. The several mile hike to the base of a mountain slope had been easy. Now as they climbed, gradual slant turned into an uphill trudge of gripping tree limbs and roots to help pull themselves along.

“Easy for you to say.” Shafari offered dirty looks between Thomas Gracie and Jenario. Nathan, however, seemed to enjoy the challenge.

“‘Bout time we get out of that place!” the Trapper called from way ahead. “Small chat ain’t my thing!”

Shafari just rolled his eyes. When he spoke, sarcasm filled his words. “Couldn’t flash those pretty daggers. ” He laughed before calling ahead. “Might as well get used to it when ‘small’ comes along in the next few months!”

“Remind me to be hunting when it happens!”

“Well, while you’re at it, care to share some of that energy?” Jenario paused to catch his breath and received an overhead cackle from Providence.

I promise the view is worth the effort!

While the others continued, Jenario glanced over the cliff’s side. A great chunk of rocky interface took up where trees ended. Still ahead, stalks of pine and oak cascaded all the way to the top. It was a good ways from where he needed to be, but wondered if was all that far when he heard the others giving encouraging remarks. The sound of their excited voices gave him strength to push onward.

Wonder what we’ll see up there? Jenario already had a hint from his side view now and then between the trees. Not feeling too comfortable to get any closer, he made sure to stay within the safety of green. At least this way I’m guaranteed stable ground, as he noticed a few loose stones pull away at his passing. The echoing crack of their fall was a reminder to be weary of his surroundings. I don’t need trees doing that either.

A thin patch of leafy vines grew up alongside a large boulder. As Jenario passed, his eye caught something yellow at its base. There was something familiar with the way those feather-shaped petals spread along its outer perimeter. The inner petals of its face reminded him of a shredded bow, and suddenly his fear of being too cautious was forgotten. Without thinking, he climbed over several large roots, posing as warning to the receding tree line, and knelt next to the boulder to confirm his discovery. The few stones that clattered down below did little to deter his gaze as he reach out to touch the delicate herb.

“This is Hawkweed,” he murmured in remembrance of countless days studying and collecting the few precious herbs brought to his lab back in Mayla. Few of which had been the rare Hawkweed, which the council for some reason or another craved in their drinks. “It’s not like a Falonberry. It wouldn’t be that strong.” He let out a sigh, wishing he could think back to the results of his extended research.

“Jen, you’re missing the view! Hurry it up!”

Jenario searched for something to wrap around the herb. When his eye fell to the large leaves on a branch behind him, he quickly rose to pluck one.

“I’m coming!” he answered Shafari’s call and hurried back to claim his prize. I’ll just use wrap it up in this. Should be fine for a few hours.

Jenario was careful when digging beneath the rocky dirt, scraping his nails on hidden stones before he was able to get a good grasp on the plant. He wanted some of the roots, if he could get it. Yet at the slightest tug, the boulder it had nestled against began to loosen. He heard the tap of smaller stones go first, then a loud crack as the boulder gave way. Part of the plant was still attached, but Jenario held on to as much as he could and jerked himself back before the rock completely dislodged itself. Its echoing smash against the rocky edifice was loud enough to bring the Healer swooping back down to check on him.

He could hear the bird’s calls closing distance. Quickly wrapping the leaf around his prize, Jenario stuffed it into a pouch attached to his belt. He may not like me picking plants either. The pouch’s flap had just barely shut when Providence came fluttering down.

You all right? came the Healer’s mental thought as it alighted along the rocky edge.

Jenario felt foolish sitting on his rump with legs sprawled out in front of him like a child. A rush of warmth hit his cheeks, but he turned away to avoid the bird seeing his embarrassment. Clumsily, he scrambled to his feet.

“I just got too close,” he stated flatly. “A rock fell, that’s all.”

He could tell the bird was searching for another answer as its head bobbed from side to side, eyeing the empty spot where bits of roots had been pulled up from the earth. At last, it merely chirped, “Be careful,” and took to the sky as Jenario continued his hike.

The young man was quick to stay course this time, keeping his eyes focused ahead until he soon joined his companions for a breathtaking view. Where forest ended, a field of tall grass rolled like a sea to the caress of wind stroking its tips. That in itself stretched as far as the naked could see. Here and there, smaller patches of woodlands grew. All the while, Providence briefed them about location names, even to the ones they could not see farther north.

“Where are we located in comparison?” Thomas Gracie said.

Having shifted back to his true form, Providence spread his arms to indicate the area. “We refer to each section a ‘realm’ because it is usually home to specific creatures or clans native to that area. Where you are now is called Ettotu’s Glade, named for a rare type of bird that resides in this particular forest. We don’t normally see it, as it resembles a raven with white-tipped wings.”

“Rare, you say?” Nathan’s grin widened in intrigue, but Thomas Gracie shot him a look that read, “Don’t even think about it.”

Jenario just shook his head, noticing the man’s fingers toying with his dagger again. He set his gaze to the far north and inquired about each suitable location.

“Without Black Wings, preferably,” he added.

Providence nodded and directed their attention out over the valley. “The Realm of Sapphire is closest, probably a day’s journey by foot. Black Wings won’t use that location due to the nearby swamp. The moist air makes it too damp to fly. A large creature like that could get weighted down and either fall to its death or drown in the swamp waters.”

“Sounds like a possible plan,” Shafari said.

“Behind us is the Realm of Trully. It’s more suitable to those who like what we have. Lots of shady areas. Pockets of wild herbs. Plenty of wildlife. Things of that nature.”

Jenario glanced between his companions. “Nick wouldn’t mind being near ingredients for his medicines.” He turned to the Healer. “So what’s past the fields?”

The Healer was silent a moment, then let out a chuckle. “Forgive me, petti. I just assumed you could see what I could.” He turned his gaze back to the north, his pupils enlarging to see what the others could not. “The Realm of Lexington is just on the other side of these plains. It’s a considerable distance from any Black Wing hunting grounds, but is right next to another clan of Harma’Keyarx, the White Wings.” He nearly laughed when he saw their grim expressions. “Not to worry. They do not crave flesh. Quite the opposite. Their home is Crystal Valley, known for the tallest trees in all of No’va!”

“You can see all of that? From here?” Shafari squinted, but a low mist was beginning to drift across the fields, obstructing even the Healer’s view. They cast their eyes upward to the gathering clouds. “Looks like rain.”

Nathan frowned. “Aw! Rain ruins chances of hunting. Makes the ground too soft. My boots just sink in and I can’t keep up when they run!”

Thomas Gracie , however, reassured him. “There will be plenty of time for that.” He turned to Providence. “If we’re looking to build a new city and start over, where do you suggest is best?”

Providence inclined his head toward the plains. “Lexington. The fields are vast and thick, but eventually they stop and it’s nothing but open countryside. If a city is what you want, you’ll have plenty of room there.”

“Then that’s where we need to look.”

“But what about trapping?” Nathan looked around at the forest below. “You won’t find that out on an open field! No where to hide!”

“I doubt White Wings will want you hunting under their trees.” Shafari just rolled his eyes.

“He may be all right for that.” Providence’s ears laid back in content to his words. “White Wings adore height, and a forest of Redwoods make the perfect nesting grounds. You won’t even see them. Likewise, they probably won’t even know you’re there unless they come down. But it’s not likely. Should be safe enough.”

“And if they do?” Shafari inquired.

Providence smiled gently. “White Wings are not the size of the dark ‘Keyarx. They’re smaller, more nimble. About your size, I believe. That should give you a peace of mind for now.”

Jenario listened while ever looking out over the landscape. The sky was darkening, and he felt the shadow of clouds began to creep over the mountaintop. And yet he could not pry his eyes from a spec of white that suddenly appeared in the distance, a mere glint that vanished at the bat of an eye. He then inquired more to what lay beyond Crystal Valley.

“Ah, that,” Providence began while the five started back down the mountainside. Already, they could see a sheet of rain open up across the fields. “There lies a place that no one really knows much about, called Unicorn Glades. From there, you reach the Northern Mountains, and is a whole different climate in itself.”

A brisk wind rustled the branches they tried to cling to while climbing down. Jenario expected Providence to shift, but he never did. I guess a small bird would be swept from here in a heartbeat!

“That, I would!” Providence answered above a gust of wind that roared through the leaves around them. “There’s a cave opening not too far from here! We can wait there for the storm to pass!”

The Healer was considerably more nimble than the rest, easing between branches that never seemed to catch his clothing. Jenario, however, found himself hung more times than he could keep his footing down the steep slope, while heavy rain finally opened over them. By the time they all reached the cave, they were drenched.

Providence paid no heed to the stares as he shifted into a wolf to shake the water from his body. When he returned to his true form, his clothing barely looked damp.

“Lucky,” Shafari murmured while Nathan just grinned.

“Neat trick,” the Trapper said. “Mind if we swap clothes?”

Providence chuckled. “It has its perks.” He glanced out at the sky. “This shouldn’t last long. You may get in a hunt or two yet.”

Jenario busily squeezed water from his shirt when he thought back to the glint of white seen earlier in the distance.

“Does Unicorn Glades have what the name suggests?”

Providence eyed him a moment. “It does.”

“What? Unicorns?” Nathan balked. “Stuff of legends.”

“Quite the contrary.” Providence’s ears pricked forward with interest as his gaze continued to follow the rain’s progress. “It is said that unicorns are the voice of Nature, and are seen as necessary when Nature needs to communicate with us. Otherwise, they are conveyed in the stories of what others have witnessed generations ago.”

“How does a unicorn communicate?” Jenario said. “Is it how you sometimes do it? Would we hear its thoughts?”

The Healer nodded. “And it would be a she when you do.”

“Sorry?” Jenario stepped to the mouth of the cave where Providence watched the rain.

“Unicorns are female only. The purest white. Eyes as blue as a clear sky. When she speaks, her words are the past, present and future. An encounter with one is no mere chance, Jenario.” He lowered his voice so only the young man could hear. “Even a hint of appearance in the far distance can mean something.”

Jenario swallowed nervously under the Healer’s intense gaze that soon refocused on the weather. The others, having lost interest in the possible fairy tale, were too busy drying their own clothing to notice anything amiss. With a sigh, the young man wished for the rain to stop soon, wondering all the while if the Healer had seen the same from the mountaintop.

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