The Fox, the Toad, and the Child

 

          Juniper Arctide was restless. As she did every week, she quenched her taste for adventure and set out far from her home. The skies began to dance with the fires of a falling star as Juniper crossed the bridge to the Sylverwood forest. It was three months early according to the tribe elders. They've never been wrong before.

Still, she wanted to get a closer look. Her natural quickness came in handy as she maneuvered through the Sylverwood, her deftly trained stealth helped her avoid being noticed by the elves who lived there. As she reached the Gladefel Thicket, she could hear the music playing. She hopped up the branches and into the treetops, snatching an apple as she made her final jump, landing tail-side and then taking a bite.

She looked down across the massive elven city of Gladefel. It was almost as busy during the night as it was in the daytiime. Surprisingly, elven nightlife seemed almost as wild as the barbarian capital she had come to call home. The taverns filled the air with elven songs. They danced in the streets and got into fights. The surrounding trees were aglow with fae-fyre. A group of young elven men riding noisy vortogs bolted off into the woods. It looked like a lot of fun, Juniper thought.

The only problem with the elven nightlife was that it was only for elves. They wouldn't kindly invite barbarians to join them, especially a Vulpine. She was content to watch. At least they didn't kill each other in the streets as the Hinterland tribes did. She preferred listening to her music in peace, apple in hand.

Her gaze snapped back to the sky as the falling star seemed to burst apart, thousands of tiny lights spread across the sky like fireworks. Staring awestruck, Juniper dropped her apple, mouth agape. The sky seemed to completely disappear as the star-filled the horizon. It was dangerously large for how close it seemed to be getting, and Juniper decided she'd rather not be flattened by a star. Her eyes darted about to survey her options while she lept from tree to tree, making her way closer to the ground. She heard a loud wailing noise - like a vortog not far away. 

          She ran to a clearing with a single house. The vortog was tied to a pole outside, pulling violently, trying to escape as it sensed danger. Juniper slowly reached out, palm up. She gently ran her soft paw along the creature's rough snout and caressed the bumps on its face to calm it. It sniffed at her, opening its mouth slightly. Juniper was ready to leap away. If its tongue lashed out, she would be a goner. The vortog calmed down as she brushed its cheek with her paw, and then she untied the rope. The pole seemed to glow a yellow color and it emitted a low hum. She assumed it was anti-magic, otherwise, the vortog would have teleported away.

She mounted the creature and together they escaped the clearing. There was a loud crash that shook the earth. She looked back and the entire forest was ablaze. A moment later she heard a cry for help not far away. They were pretty far outside of the radius of the crash, so she didn't think it was directly related. She dismounted and patted her new companion on the head.

"Just wait right here, beautiful." The vortog chortled. 

As Juniper slowly slipped through the brush, she heard a commotion.

"Tell us where it is!" The voice sounded human. Then she heard metal clacking. A thud, followed by, "Take the child to the wagon."

A human soldier carried a small elven childling, maybe five years old. The childling wore shackles and had a small cut on its cheek. Juniper couldn't stand to see this, but she wasn't equipped to fight two fully-armed human soldiers, either.

The first thing she noticed about the soldiers was their lack of an emblem. They didn't seem to belong to a king, yet their wagon bore the sigil of the Stormgarten Family. These must have been mercenaries.

          Juniper thought about the likelihood she would survive a fight with trained mercs, and since it was anything but a hundred percent, she had another idea. As the men seemed to be searching the house, she took a garment from a clothesline outside and then led the vortog to the wagon. The little elf looked out at her, eyes wide. Juniper raised her finger as if to say 'hush,' and went to pick her up.

"Don't worry, little one. I'm a friend." 

"Halt," One of the mercenaries shouted as they both emerged from the front door of the house.

"We're under orders not to leave witnesses," the other barked at the first.

 Wrapping the child up in the robe she had taken, Juniper quickly placed the elven childling upon the vortog's back, tying the robe around the girl and the vortog as the men dashed toward them, drawing their blades. She snapped her daggers from their sheathes and knocked her first attacker's blade to the side, kicking him toward the wagon.

She heard metal-clad footsteps, at least four distinct sets. More mercenaries were approaching. Before the other one had a chance to attack, Juniper grabbed the vortog's tail, pinching it as she gave it a firm tug. Suddenly, a cloud of purple energy and what seemed like glowing dust swirled about, enveloping them. In the blink of an eye, the three of them appeared miles away near the Avenbrook river. 

"That was too close," Juniper sighed with relief. As she unwrapped the robe from the child, she noticed something warm under the robe, and it was glowing a fiery red. The child smiled up at her, holding up a small red crystal shard in each hand. They were hot to the touch, but the child was unaffected.

"Where did you get these," Juniper looked puzzled.

The elf spoke, unexpectedly in the common tongue, "Fell from da sky. Ms. puppy can have," she happily held them up to Juniper.

          She took the crystals, and as she touched them, a fire swirled about her paws and the wind seemed to blow outward from her hands. She blinked and the strange effect stopped. She felt as if something magical had tried to pierce the skin on her hands, but the feeling subsided quickly. Vulpine are naturally resistant to magic, so whatever it was had to be powerful to have any effect on her at all.

She mounted the vortog and held the child in front of her, carrying on back toward the hinterlands.

"Where we goin', Ms. puppy," the elf child whined, "gotta wake up papa for dinner time!"

Juniper looked down at her with a sad but warm gaze, "Papa needs his rest, young one. You'll have dinner with me for tonight."

 

The Fox, the Toad, and the Child

Page 2
 

To be continued...

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