Hey Everyone!!! So, it's been a bit since the last book, but we are getting there! We are releasing SOON! I'm so excited for you guys to step into the next Arc... The dark druids... Because of your long wait, and because I won't be doing but just TWO snippets, I wanted to give you guys the option to read LONGER snippets! Yup... Dass right. Snippet one will be the ENTIRE first chapter. Mostly because you guys are fucking awesome, but a tiny bit because I tried breaking down the chapter and it just didn't work out. (You'll see why, I'm sure)
Without further waiting, here it is!!! Snippet One!!!
The Lost: Snippet One
Sitting around the campfire with her friends and family, Arryn felt a sense of contentment and happiness. Everything had worked out in the end, and somehow, they had all managed to survive.
For the time being, they were able to relax, though the threat of the dark druids marching directly east from the Terres Forest instead of moving south to avoid the Dark Forest was still there.
The patrol had been increased the moment they returned from Arcadia, and they had already made plans to intercept them if that were to happen. But for now, the Chieftain was satisfied Alaric wouldn’t be so stupid.
Not many people really knew what had happened all those years ago, and because of that, the Chieftain decided a history lesson was in order. It was true that his people would fight for him without question. They always had, knowing they were fighting for a good man with a pure heart.
But young Corrine had asked about the origin story. “What happened with you, Alaric, and Jerick? Why do they hate you so much?”
It had no doubt been confusion that prompted the inquiry. Given where she had grown up and the terrible things she had probably heard from people, she had learned never to trust. It must have created a great curiosity in her when she met the true Chieftain—the first of his title.
The Chieftain had now decided everyone deserved to know exactly who they fought and why. They deserved to know why their home would be threatened again, and why he would need them to defend it.
The Chieftain prepared to speak, and Zoe’s eyes turned white. The young mystic was looking forward to giving the druids of the Dark Forest a show to enhance their leader’s story. She believed this story was worthy of it, and the Chieftain had agreed.
He allowed her access to his mind, letting her see the things he would recall as he spoke. The faces. The Forest. And though the druids were leery of mystical magic, especially given the battle they had just fought, they found themselves excited to experience what she had offered.
Zoe had gone into Arcadia with them with no real battle training at all, and had risked her life to help Arryn take down Scarlett and the others. She had earned her place among them.
The Chieftain took a drink from one of his two mugs of wine. Arryn had finally discovered why he carried both. It wasn’t the obvious—that he had a problem. No, it was because he made two types and could never choose between the sweet or the tart, so he chose both.
She had quietly laughed at him as she settled between Cathillian and Elysia, who had taken Zoe’s place when she had gone to stand near the Chieftain to provide optimal visibility for everyone.
The Chieftain cleared his throat. “All right, where do I begin? I suppose at the very beginning. It will take a while to get through it, but I guess there’s no harm in us having a good story around the fire for a couple of nights, right?”
Everyone smiled and nodded, whispering amongst themselves as they got comfortable.
“From the beginning” meant starting with the Founder, Selah, and even Adrien. It meant learning where each man had come from. Even Arryn was on the edge of her seat.
“Our story started over forty years ago, when the Dark Forest was simply an extension of the Terres Forest. These forests belonged to no one and everyone. Arcadia didn’t exist. There were only scattered groups of people trying to find their way during an incredibly hard time—the Age of Madness.”
The moment the Chieftain mentioned the Age of Madness, all eyes focused on him even more intently than they had before. Most in the village had no or very little recollection of that time. The majority of the druids in the tribe were under fifty, but there were a few who were old enough to remember.
Those elders listened out of a deep respect for the hardships people had faced then, and the others, including little Corrine, listened with great curiosity.
“During that time, many families were ripped apart or lived life in fear, or both. There were a few larger communities that had perfected their ways of life and created safety for their people, but not many. It was from one of those places that a man named ‘Ezekiel’ came.
“Ezekiel—you might better recognize him as ‘the Founder’—traveled all over Irth in search of humans who hadn’t been tainted by the Madness. His goal was to find a way to stop it, but he knew he could never manage that feat on his own. If he were to be successful, he would need help. He would need people he could trust and turn to for support.
“Someone like you?” Corrine asked.
The Chieftain smiled, enjoying her enthusiasm for his history lesson. He nodded. “Yes, but that comes later. Right now, I want you to learn where it all began. And our life now, in many ways, came about because of Ezekiel. Without him, I never would have found my way here.”
Corrine smiled and nodded, settling back down quietly.
The Chieftain took her silence as his cue and continued, “In Ezekiel’s journeys, he came across a small group of people who clung to the hope they could find happiness in a world of darkness. Those people were starving and injured, and some were at death’s door, but they still held on. It was this fight in them that drew Ezekiel to them. Their will to carry on was exactly what he needed. If humanity were to survive, he would need that kind of inner strength to help him save it.
“In that time, things were very different. Magic hadn’t yet manifested in humans, though other creatures had certainly been touched by something: magic, a curse—no one could be certain. Just waking up every day was a risk, and people could only hope a miracle would come along to save them. Unfortunately, that hope had quickly faded in most of us. Even I had begun to lose my way.
“It seemed like the world was doomed to fail against such a powerful darkness, but Ezekiel stumbled upon a group who believed in the Matriarch and believed she would once again find them, that she would come back for them. Within a very short period of time, he grew close to those people as he helped mend the ones who could be saved and bury the ones who couldn’t, and they began to trust him. They saw him as an outside strength they could lean on, and they became even stronger.”
The Chieftain prepared himself for the next part, Zoe pausing in her images of the middle-aged man scouring the lands for reliable people he might turn to. He knew the next bit would come as a shock to some, given how things had changed so drastically over the years—and how they had ended.
He cleared his throat again before continuing, “Among his new people, there were two he clung to most. One was a young boy of only twelve named Adrien, who had a pure heart and a willingness to help Ezekiel no matter what the task. The older man felt responsible for the orphaned boy, and soon began to treat him like his own.
“The other person he came to lean on was a wildly handsome and strong young man in his early twenties named Alexander.” Everyone laughed as he said his own name, including Corrine. He looked at Arryn, but she only smiled knowingly at him, shaking her head. She had to know that was coming…
“Before that time, I knew very little about planting or growing so much as a flower, let alone what we do now. Even when Ezekiel came, I was only just learning. I wasn’t a farmer by trade, but had quickly picked up a talent for it once safe farmland and educated farmers became scarce. I had no other choice. I’d worked on farms, so I knew more than the average person, though it still wasn’t much. I took that burden onto myself, and within only a short time, I learned how to grow almost anything, and did so to feed the people. Alaric and his brother Jerick helped me most.”
Arryn shifted where she sat, catching the Chieftain’s attention. “You knew Adrien from that young an age? I knew the three of you were involved with the Founder together, but I didn’t know you knew one another even that far back.”
The Chieftain nodded. “He was only about five or six when a small group wandered into our area. We didn’t have many people, but they had even less. His parents had been killed, and friends of theirs had taken him with them. We accepted them and helped them. He was a strong-willed and kind young man, even at six. I liked him very much, and he assisted me often. When Ezekiel arrived, and the boy chose to cling to him, I wasn’t surprised at all.”
Arryn snorted. “Seems he craved power even then, attaching himself to the stronger men in the area in hopes of learning and growing.”
The Chieftain smiled. “What you just described is exactly what any child does. It’s natural. It’s how they grow. To deny them a figure like that is to stunt their growth and limit their true potential. It’s only because you know how that child turned out as an adult that you second-guess his motives. Trust me—I know, because I did the exact same thing. For many years I wondered if I, or even Ezekiel, had led him down that path.” She nodded, understanding his words. “That makes sense, I suppose. I guess I clung to you and Elysia. I still do. But if it wasn’t lust for power that drove him early on, what was it?”
The Chieftain gave a sad smile, his eyes briefly drifting to the flames. “Fear.” He paused. That word resonated with everyone there, most of all Corrine. “Fear, especially at a young age, makes people crave power. If they’re strong, nothing can harm them. But then, how much is enough? Soon, it becomes an obsession.
“Arryn, I allowed you to come here because I knew that if you were left to grow up in Arcadia, terrified for your life, you would start obsessing over power. I had no idea what to look for in Adrien, but I sure as hell learned later. That’s why young Corrine is with us now. We need to teach her, as we taught you, how to be strong without letting fear be a motivator. Power is intoxicating and addicting.”
The young mystic to his right seemed just as invested in his response as Arryn and Corrine had been. The few children in attendance seem enraptured with his story, their parents hugging them tightly as he continued.
“Now, where was I?” He paused, looking at the stars for a moment before smiling. “Ah, yes. Before long Ezekiel decided he couldn’t wait any longer to stop the Madness. He knew it would close in on all of us soon—as it always had—and would force us to uproot and begin again. I honestly can’t tell you how many times we’d been forced to flee. But when he stood in front of us that day, we knew that time would be the last.
“He came to us early that morning, just after the sun began to show over the horizon. He said, ‘How many times will you move? How many times can you move before there isn’t a plot of land left that’s safe?’ That stopped us, forced us to think, but then he asked, ‘How will you feed your children when you can’t even guarantee you will survive the night?’”
He shook his head, thinking back on that day. “His words moved me. I was the first to stand, knowing that if the Madness weren’t ended soon there would be nothing left worth saving. What many of you don’t know—in fact most you don’t know—is that my late wife, Audrey, and I had a child. She was the light of my life, but was taken from us, killed by one of the Mad. The only thing that kept Audrey and me from giving in and allowing death to find us, too, was knowing she wouldn’t have wanted us to live that way.
“She had asked us for a little brother or sister, something we didn’t feel comfortable giving her because life was terrifying enough with one child. It was her love for family that reminded us of ours and kept us going. It was my future family I sought to save. It was every future family. Audrey and I believed children were a gift, and we always took great care to teach all children in our charge kindness, respect, and strength—both physical and emotional.”
Elysia reached over and grabbed her father’s hand, giving it a squeeze. She had known she had once had a big sister, but she didn’t know much about her. Neither the Chieftain nor her mother ever spoke of her. Even after they succeeded in stopping the Madness, the loss was still too painful to think about.
“Without hesitation, after Ezekiel finished speaking I stood and said, ‘I will join you. The thought that I might never again know what it’s like to hold my own son or daughter in my arms is a fate worse than death. Family is all we have in this world, and if it’s gone… Well, we have truly lost all hope then.’ One by one, our people stood and offered themselves to Ezekiel’s cause. We knew he was our best chance of fighting the Madness and surviving. We knew that even if we died in the process, Ezekiel would be successful, and our families would have hope.”
“After that, we traveled to find who Ezekiel called the Oracle. We traveled for quite a long time and ended up finding others willing to join us. We happened upon yet another man with a strong will who brought determination to our cause.”
Zoe smiled as she projected the image. “Selah,” she said softly.
The Chieftain smiled and nodded. “Yes. Selah. Together, Ezekiel, Alexander, Selah, and Adrien once he got older, became the men our people turned to most. We were natural-born leaders. Men with good intentions, bravery, and a perpetual desire to succeed. As it turned out, those very qualities helped us shepherd our people through the hardest trials they would ever face to come out the other side alive. Alaric and Jerick were just behind us, my largest supporters, and I was grateful to have them—especially Alaric as we were very close.
“There will be time later to discuss the actual details of our long battle to end the Madness, but for now, we are skipping forward. Our battle had been won. The Madness had ended, though there would be a long road to recovery still. The consequences still lingered, leaving behind men and women who were no longer human, but hadn’t fully succumbed to the effects.
“They became some kind of hybrid between human and beast. A taste for blood and violence, but with the capability to speak and think—even if it was scattered and most of it was insanity. You know them as the remnant and also lycanthropes. The remains of what once could have been the total annihilation of the human race.
“Once the Age of Madness was over, a new age began: Magic. And instead of moving on, Ezekiel decided he wanted to stay with us. We had become more than just acquaintances, friends, or allies in a fight. We were his people. His family, as we put it back then.”
The Chieftain arched his back, popping it in several places before relaxing again and taking a long drink of his wine.
“As I said before, Ezekiel had grown up in an established community by the name of New Romanov. It was a place of peace and prosperity, even in the midst of the Madness. Everyone worked together for whatever they needed. We had tried to do the same thing before he came along, but things had progressed with the Madness to the point it had become almost impossible to do so. When he and Selah joined us, things changed.
“We traveled to a large valley with land fit for growing and building on, which we would eventually call the ‘Arcadian Valley.’ After we’d settled, Ezekiel began to teach us the magic he had learned that had allowed him to defeat the Madness. He didn’t teach Adrien only physical magic, or me only nature, or Selah only mystical. He tried to teach us everything, but we each pursued what suited us best.”
Zobig approached and flopped on the ground, creating a dust cloud. Curious, Corrine made her way to him and slowly reached out to touch him. His large paw was fast as it smacked her, knocking her on her backside.
She looked shocked for a moment, and the Chieftain reached over and helped her up.
“Don’t worry about him, Corrine,” Arryn said, pointedly looking at the bear, who was now rolling around on his back. “He’s an old grump. He does that to everyone. Just look at him—he thinks he’s hilarious.”
The Chieftain laughed. “He is an old grump, but he’s my old grump. You’ll figure out soon how we met. Not tonight, but soon. Just know he isn’t being mean. Like Arryn said, he thinks it’s funny. He trips even me sometimes. He’s too fat and lazy to get up and do much else, so he has to entertain himself somehow.”
The bear grumbled as he rolled back to his stomach. Though it took effort, he stood and wandered over to Corrine, nuzzling her with his head before going back to his spot, dropping to the ground again, and closing his eyes.
The Chieftain smiled. “Well, that was the nicest thing I’ve seen him do in a while. Anyway, back to the story. We are almost through with this portion, and next time we can get to the good stuff.”
“I happen to think this is good stuff,” Elysia said with a smile.
He quirked a brow at her. “And if I said this was the best part of the story?”
She smiled. “I’d tell you that you were full of it, old man.”
He nodded. “See? You did inherit my sense of playfulness. You just choose to think you’re better than me, like that ward you took in.” He winked in Arryn’s direction.
The Chieftain drank some more wine, finishing that cup before continuing, “During those first years, when everything was new, and we were trying to decide what direction the city should take, there were a great many arguments. Adrien was older now—just over twenty—and very opinionated. He and the Founder fought often, sometimes daily. The people began to grow tired of it.
“In those days, though we had never meant for them to, things had begun to change. Some turned to Selah with their troubles, others to me, many to the Founder, and quite a few to Adrien. Our society became less peaceful than we had hoped. It segregated, and the constant fighting only served to drive larger wedges. Eventually, many people came to me and told me they didn’t want a life in a city. They wanted to live somewhere free and harmonious, somewhere that gave them the same feeling they had when using their magic. I gathered those people and we went west, toward the forest.
“Selah did the same with his people, and even Ezekiel departed, leaving Adrien in charge Arcadia. The three of us still intended to continue working together for the good of all our peoples, though. Selah and I would need occasional resources, and we could provide harvested goods for the city. It was to be peaceful, even after the split, but that too changed. Adrien began to grow darker and darker, and eventually I was forced to close our borders. And that is where I will leave off for tonight, because that is where our story begins.”
There were protests from the listeners, but the Chieftain said that it was time for the young ones to get to bed and everyone else to enjoy their night.
To Arryn’s surprise, he hadn’t wanted them to listen to him all night long. She wondered if it was because it was emotional for him to revisit those memories. Remembering how close he had once been to Adrien and the others he had helped protect must have been hard, but talking about the daughter who had died must have been torture.
Hearing where everything began caused mixed emotions in Arryn. There had originally been so much hope and excitement. The plan had been to build a city—Arcadia—where people were safe and able to build families and create lives. They could practice magic and use it to make life easier and better.
Magic had never been meant to be a source of power. It was intended be a tool to enrich the environment and the mind. Mental magic was to be used to feel better empathy, and to help loved ones through hardships. Physical magic could be used to build. Had it not been for physical magic, the buildings and roads of the new city would have taken much too long to build, and the Academy never would have been possible at all.
But nature magic… Nature magic resonated most with her. Had she been around back then, she would have chosen to be a druid. However, if things had gone the way the Founder had hoped, there would have been no reason to choose.
Like the others, she believed nature magic had a purpose—to heal the sick and create a world where children could grow old, and the old could die naturally instead of from fever or terrible diseases.
The three magics together would have created a utopian society. Everyone would have been useful and able to help their neighbors. Work would have been done easily, and families would have watched out for one another.
But the magic users had separated into their chosen disciplines. That segregation in and of itself hadn’t been what caused the struggle, though. That had come about because of a single, bitter, power-hungry man who had wanted to be in control instead of being equal. Corrine yawned loudly, pulling Arryn from her thoughts. She smiled as the girl rubbed her eyes before leaning over and hugging Dante, who had once again come to lie next to her.
Arryn pulled her hand free of Cathillian’s. “I need to get her to bed. She’s exhausted.” “Need any help?” he asked, rubbing his own eyes.
“What, and give Nika and your mother even more reason to make jokes? No, I’m good. But thank you for offering.” She smiled.
Arryn made her way to the Chieftain’s chair and prepared to lift Corrine from the ground, but he beat her to it.
“Surely, I wasn’t that boring, was I?” he asked the little girl.
She giggled, but it was weak, and her eyes were heavy. “No. I like hearing you tell stories, and Zoe made it fun.” She gave another big yawn. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
He clutched her tightly against his chest, smiling as he patted her back. “Well, you’re home now, little one. You’ll spend many nights around the fire listening—or telling stories of your own—though I can’t promise the presence of a mystic. I think that’s temporary.”
Arryn smiled as she reached for the little girl. She had been through so much. She could barely imagine how hard life must have been for her before she journeyed to the Dark Forest.
Corrine immediately wrapped her arms around Arryn’s neck, letting out a tiny sigh of contentment as she laid her head on Arryn’s shoulder. When she felt the girl twisting her long hair around her finger, her breath caught in her throat.
Whenever her mother had carried her to bed as a child, that had always been her favorite thing to do. The older woman’s hair had been so soft, and it had made her feel safe and comfortable just touching it.
Arryn squeezed her tighter, rubbing her back.
“We should set aside a space for her in the morning. Don’t you think? Give her the official fresh start she deserves,” the Chieftain said.
Arryn didn’t even have to ask. She knew exactly what he meant. It was the same thing he had done for her when Elysia had brought her to the druids.
Arryn thought back on that time with fond memories. Arryn waking in a new place should have been terrifying, but that morning the Chieftain had taken her and Elysia with him to clear a portion of the village floor. Then he helped her plant seeds, and he and Elysia had germinated them and shaped the trunks they formed.
Within minutes, she watched as the trees bent, expanding in very delicate ways as the druids shaped their branches into a home. The leaves that formed the roof were so thick and tightly grown, not even the heaviest of rains could seep through.
The only difference was that Arryn had no idea back then how to do even the simplest nature magic when she had arrived. This experience with Corrine would be much different.
Arryn smiled at the Chieftain and nodded. “I think that would be perfect for her.”