#1

this is how we’ll stand when
when they burn our houses down
When he had been a child, Lath’laeril had heard hundreds of stories regarding the white stag that resided in the heart of the Endalauss Forest. Almost every evening before bedtime he had heard the tale, as it was one of Lorahenna’s favorite legends, but never did the stories grow old or boring.

Legend stated that within the depths of the Endalauss Forest, deep beneath the canopy where the sun couldn’t pierce and the forest was dark, was a lone white elk. There was a magic to him, the legends said; the magic to bestow a single wish upon whoever could catch him. There were no limitations to this magic, no stipulation the wish that the hunter would receive. Eternal youth? Incredible strength? World domination? Nothing was out of the realm of possibility. All one had to do was delve deep into the heart of the woods, track the stag, and successfully catch him through uncouth violence or a test of wits and mettle.

While Lath believed in magic, he eventually outgrew the stories of the white stag. He knew that there was no such magic that could be possessed by an animal. It simply wasn’t possible. The childlike wonder that he had experienced whenever the tales escaped his mother’s lips quickly vanished beneath the weight of the war against the humans, replaced by the heavy knowledge of cruelty and the many ways to dispose of a target. Lessons took precedence, yet in the end it meant nothing.

Tragedy and desperation had the means of bringing out the worst in people, fervently urging them to strive and obtain the impossible. Lath’laeril Runecrest was no stranger to desperation, but he was new to tragedy, and it hurt. It ached. While he was unharmed from the siege upon Kastali and the raid that ultimately ended in the slaughter of his entire family, it still felt as though every blade in the land had pierced him in the chest.

They were dead and gone, all of them thrown into a place where he could never hope to reach them, but the pain fueled a feral desperation inside of him that urged him to act. While he had once tossed aside the legends of the white stag and its magic, believing them fictional stories to entertain a child’s mind, he now clung to those legends like a lifeline. If they were true… If he could track this stag and catch it by any means necessary, if the legends were true, he could bring them back. He could slay the Usurper King. He could right the wrongs created by the humans.

It was that fury, that despair, that madness which drove him deep into the woods of the Endalauss Forest. He parted from the well-worn paths and wove through the trees instead, picking his path carefully and moving from shadow to shadow with the nimbleness of darkness personified. Gradually the sunlight began to disappear, the shadows growing as the canopy of the forests became thick enough with plumage to blot out the sun which peered between the leaves. There were no sounds other than the soft crackle of his own footsteps, the sound of his own breathing, and the pounding of his pulse within his ears.

Hood up, his figure obscured, Lath’s molten gold eyes scanned the dense foliage through the heart of the forest, squinting through the trees. It was slow going; he would stop and occasionally examine the musty earth for any forms of tracks, would examine the trees for where a creature may have stripped away bark before continuing on his trek. For what felt like hours he wandered, but determination kept discouragement at bay. In the back of his mind he wondered what Lir might think if he knew of the Bruni’s attempt at such a fool’s errand.

The hour was late when he happened upon a clearing within the forest, a small stream trickling through a beautiful glade surrounded by thick trees. Moonlight pierced the impregnable veil of the canopy, and removing his hood, Lath dropped to his knees by the stream and cupped his hands, dipping them into the cold water before bringing them to his lips. He drank, grateful for the water that quenched his thirst.

Minutes passed. Silence reigned supreme throughout the glade. Resting upon his knees, Lath focused on breathing, on calming his racing heart, on focusing. Golden eyes slid closed and he relaxed, the tense muscles in his face and shoulders slowly loosening, letting the stress of the world melt away if only for a moment.

’Crack!’

The sound of something snapping nearby caused his breath to freeze within his chest. He didn’t move save for opening his eyes, peering through the moonlit glade and the subsequent inky darkness beyond the threshold of the dense forest to spot a pale shape manifesting through the shadows. It stepped closer into the glade upon long, nimble legs, a massive body of ivory hair and sharp tines upon large antlers revealed beneath the moonlight. It’s green eyes peered at him with an unnatural intelligence as though judging the kneeling Fae princeling for all of his transgressions and failures, as though weighing his worth.

Still Lath’laeril did not move. He watched the creature, the magnificent white stag, stand proud and tall within the glade. It continued to stare him down and extended its head, sniffing at the air, before it suddenly balked and turned on its heel to flee. Before he was even aware of it the Bruni was on his feet, not even bothering to pull his hood up as he gave chase.

The white stag was real, and the hunt was on.

CREDITS