• Willow turned her face up to the sky and took a deep breath, enjoying the cool evening air. It felt cool in her lungs as they expanded and contracted. Opening her eyes, she saw movement below on the forest floor.
    “Good,” she smiled, “a hunt.”
    Willow loved in the Ahmad forest, which lacked any population, with exception to a small village, Ladir, and miscellaneous animals. Ladir was Willow’s home for the time being, and consisted of only 34 wood elves, which dwelled peacefully.
    Her auburn hair, which resembled a fiery waterfall, fell down her shoulders and glowed as it reflected the falling sun’s rays. She crouched, sniffing the air for any clue as to what animal she was hunting. Deer.
    The leaves rustled again, and her muscles tensed as she crawled across a branch silently to a different tree, hoping to get a better view of her victim. She moved branch to branch, tree to tree. Finally, as she peered out from behind some leaves, she saw the deer below her grazing on various bushes.
    Willow smiled and knocked an arrow. She took aim carefully, and shot. It flew through the air, and landed with a thump on the deer’s neck. It squealed and toppled to the ground. Willow simply jumped from the branch she had currently been residing, and landed with a soft thump on a bed of moss. After paying her respects to the deer, she walked over and hefted it over her shoulder. Turning north, she headed back to Ladir.
    Apon arrival, Willow was greeted by many of the residents. They laughed and patted her on the shoulder, happy she had brought a meal for them to share. Michael, one of the preparers of the food, took the deer off her shoulder and brought it back to one of the huts for skinning.
    In Ladir, the houses were mostly built up in the trees to avoid conflict with the animals that roamed in the night. It was a beautiful town; the elves coincided peacefully with the trees and plants, and on most occasions the animals.
    “Nice catch,” Adelphie, Willows closest friend, commented.
    Adelphie was a tall, lanky figure with long dark hair the color of the night sky. White flowers had been skillfully woven throughout it, accentuating her pale skin.
    The two friends hugged and greeted each other happily.
    “Hey,” Adelphie lightly punched Willow in the shoulder, “let’s go to the spring. It’s pretty at night when the stars reflect off the water.
    The spring was slightly west, a short walk from Ladir. Once they arrived, Adelphie took off her leather slippers and sat on the cool rocks beside the pool of water, slipping her lean feet into it. Willow soon joined her, and they sat side by side looking into the depths of the dark water silently.
    “So,” Willow finally said, “How’s your mother? She seemed to be getting ill.”
    Adelphie shrugged, “she’s okay, getting better.”
    An awkward silence fell between them.
    “Hey Willow,” Adelphie finally looked at her with curious eyes, “Where did you come from? I mean, I’ve lived here all my life, and you only came here about three years ago. And you’ve never really told anyone where you’re from or what you did before you came here. I realize it’s an odd question, but I’m curious.”
    Willow looked away from her closest friend and closed her eyes. Her past was her closest secret she dared not share with any other soul.
    She took several minutes to think, but was overtaken my emotion.
    “I’m sorry Adelphie… I can’t,”
    Adelphie looked into Willow’s eyes, causing her to shift uncomfortably.
    “Oh c’mon!” Adelphie pressed, “I’m your best friend! You can tell me anything.”
    The fresh memories of her parents send Willow into a foul mood, and Adelphie’s pestering only made it worse. “ No! I will not tell you anything!” she scowled. She then stood and stormed off back to Ladir, saying nothing more to Adelphie.
    Once back home, she was still fuming. Without saying a word to anyone, she simply climbed up to her hut, went into her bedroom, and fell asleep.

    Willow looked her mother in the eyes and smiled.
    Suddenly, she heard a loud banging at the door. Her mother jolted and looked at her husband, panic obvious in her face.
    “Willow, this way,” she said, standing and grabbing Willow by the wrist. She pulled her quickly to a window in the kitchen and shoved her out.
    “Run,” she simply said, turning back to the living area. By now, the banging had become even louder, and then the door was broken in. The two intruders, from what Willow could see from the spot where she resided, were completely garbed in black. They held elegant daggers as well, but she could make out no features on their faces.
    She watched from a hidden vantage point as her father stood tall against the two men. Her mother stood slightly behind him, but looked just as strong in her stature. Words were being traded, but Willow could hear nothing. She simply watched the expressions on the men’s face change from intent to anger. Their knuckles were white as they clutched the daggers with fierce ambition. Just then, the first man swung at Willow’s father. He stepped back slightly, looking for something in the room to use as a weapon. The other man went after Willow’s mother. She ran to the other room, and Willow could see her no more. Her father, still dodging oncoming attacks, managed to grab a sword that had been hung on the wall as a decoration. It appeared very light as he used it against the man. Unfortunately, due to his old age he began to tire quickly. His movements slowed, his breath came in short heaves, and he was being overcome by his foe.
    Willow wanted so desperately to help, but there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t fight, and she was sure if she even tried to distract the men they’d outrun her quickly. So, she simply watched as her father was fighting for his life. After several painful minutes, the man easily parried a slash thrown at him by Willow’s father, and stabbed at his neck. Blood sprayed across the living area, staining the wall. Her father fell backwards, dead.

    Willow jolted upwards in her bed, cold sweat running down her back. It was only a dream, she told herself. But the shock of such a sudden memory frightened her. She had shoved it to the back of her head, never to think about it again, or so she thought.
    She closed her eyes as she felt a lump in her throat form, threatening to turn into tears. She shook her head, attempting to clear the visions of her dream that haunted her.
    I don’t know what this means, she thought, but thinking obsessively isn’t going to solve a riddle with no answers. Ignoring all the questions that came to her, she yawned and stretched. Sighing, she threw her legs over the edge of the bed and stood.
    Breakfast consisted of a small amount of boar meat and bread. The wood elves typically didn’t eat much until lunch, which was the largest meal of the day. After that they grazed on berries they found around Ladir.
    Only two other people lived in the same home as Willow, which was a considerably small amount compared to the other huts. She was happy with her house-mates though. First, there was Esmeralda. She was a nice girl, a bit younger than Willow. Her hair was fairer than the other elves and her eyes were lighter, but not significantly. Her other house-mate was Delia, who had very tan skin and dark hair. She was a swarthy woman, but very skilled at sewing and cooking. She also happened to be the town healer, and used their living space as a healing room/guest area.
    Willow grabbed her bow off the wall, slung it across her back, and exited her hut without seeing either of her roommates. They’re probably already outside. She climbed down the tree, jumping, leaping, and swinging gracefully from branch to branch downwards. Once on the forest floor, she looked up at the sky. The sun was just peaking above the trees to the East, meaning it was slightly after dawn.
    “Well, I suppose I should go practice,” she rested her hands on her hips and sniffed the air out of habit.
    “Off so soon? Mind if I join you?” Adelphie walked up from behind Willow and cocked her head, “I could use some amusement.”
    Willow simply grunted. She was still slightly angry at Adelphie for her lack of understanding.
    She began walking to the practice field, which was west, past the spring. Once there, she stood a few yards away from the target. She then grabbed her bow and strung it, knocking an arrow. Then she released it and watched as it flew quickly and silently through the air, hitting the target dead center.
    Willow did this many times, practicing mostly her archery. Delphi simply sat contently behind her on a root that protruded from the ground.
    An hour passed, and Willow had yet to tire. Something, though, wasn’t right. Feeling as though she was being watched, she stood silently, listening for any sign of her unknown assailant.
    “What’s wrong?” Adelphie readily sat up strait. Willow shot her a deathly look and put her finger to her lips in a shushing motion. Then, she flicked her eyes to an old tree where she saw movement.
    “You,” she spoke strongly, “don’t think I can see you. Who are you?”
    Nothing happened; she shifted her weight to her other foot and continued to pierce the tree that the unknown person stood behind with her gaze. Finally, someone walked slowly out from behind the tree. Taking no chances, Willow dived at him and landed on the ground above him, dagger to his throat.
    The man, about her age, had gray skin as dark as dust. His eyes were bright red, as bright as rubies, and his hair was the color of silver. Overall, he was strange looking to Willow, but pleasantly attractive.
    “Who are you?” she asked between a clenched jaw.
    He looked away, slightly ashamed to have been caught, “My name… is Helios. I simply came here to hunt and I accidentally squandered into your practice area.”
    “Is that so,” Willow’s voice was accusing.
    “Yes; I did not mean any harm.”
    Willow chuckled, removing the blade from his throat, “Maybe then would you like to join us in practice?”
    The strange offer threw him off guard. Half thinking it was some kind of trick, he cautiously accepted.
    “Perhaps you would like to spar?” she continued.
    This made him grin. He loved to spar, and rarely found someone willing to do so. Willow stood, allowing him to get up. She drew her short sword, which was of elven make. Its blade curved slightly, similarly to a scimitar. His sword was also a short sword, but it was thinner and had two purple tassels hanging off the pommel.
    They both stood still as stone, each waiting for the other one to lose their concentration. Willow quickly scanned the area for anything that could give her the upper hand, but saw nothing. She was nervous to attack first, because not knowing his style, that’s what he could be waiting for. Finally, he jumped at her, slashing across her torso with amazing speed. She stepped back and flicked her wrist in front of her, causing his blade to catch on hers. He quickly attacked again. His speedy attacks continued, and he left Willow on the defense most of the fight, which was good for her because she tired less quickly then he did. Finally, when Willow noticed a definite slowness to his movements, she began to lash out. Their fighting continued for several minutes, and they both were evenly exhausted. Finally, Willow stepped back.
    “Okay, I’m dying of exhaustion.”
    Helios wheezed, “me too.”
    They complimented each other, both kneeling on the ground.
    After that spar, they slowly began to get to know each other better. He often visited Willow in Ladir, and they would walk through the woods, talking about interests and whatnot, but they both avoided talking about their past through a silent pact. One day, Helios invited Willow to go with him back to his hometown, Katalla.
    “I’d love to,” Willow was elated; she’d always wanted to know what his hometown was like, he’d talked about it a lot.
    “Then let’s leave now, get some stuff ready, it takes a couple days to get there.”
    Willow spent that morning gathering dried food, a bedroll, and a skin filled with water. She then jumped down from her hut, and walked across the main gathering area to Adelphie’s. She knocked a couple of times and waited. A minute passed, and Adelphie opened the door.
    “I’m going to be gone a fortnight,” she couldn’t help but smile when she thought about the trip she was to take.
    “Why?” Adelphie asked.
    “Well, I’m going to Helios’ hometown to visit. I shouldn’t be gone that long.”
    Adelphie’s eyebrows furrowed, her mouth tight with disdain. She simply nodded and closed the door briefly.
    What was that about? Willow thought. Adelphie had always been very affectionate, and was never able to retain any anger towards Willow. She shrugged, too excited to care, and headed towards where Helios had been waiting. As they left Willow waved to her fellow forest dwellers cheerfully.
    As they were walking, Helios mentioned, “I’m curious, you’re very good at swordsmanship, where did you learn to fight like that?”
    Willow’s heart quickly dropped, as this was a subject not easily talked about. “It’s nothing,” she quickly said, looking away.
    “It doesn’t seem like nothing to me. When I asked you seemed to get really tense,” he said, concerned.
    “I said it’s nothing,” she snapped.
    Her sudden mood change confused Helios, but he pressed it no further. Hours of silence passed before they found a clearing that they could stay the night in. The biome had changed from forest to grassland. There were a couple dwindling trees that lingered on the horizon, but other that that it was shrubs and grass.
    Willow wordlessly unpacked her bedroll and laid it out. She then gathered firewood and placed it in a neat teepee shape. Before she could light it, Helios looked at it, and suddenly smoke began to rise from the bottom of the wood pile.
    “What the-“ Willow looked at Helios, “How did you do that?”
    “Magic,” he simply said.
    She raised an eyebrow, “you can do magic and I didn’t know?”
    “Only a few minor spells,” he shrugged.
    They sat next to each other, enjoying the warmth of the fire while eating dried deer. After they were finished, they sat silently, staring into the dark beyond their camp. Helios looked at Willow suddenly.
    “Your hair looks like fire in this lighting,” he said, grabbing a strand of her hair and tucking it behind her ear. The sudden contact made her heart jump. She looked at him, dumbfounded. He grinned a brilliant smile, his eyes blazing. He then stood and walked across the camp to his bedroll, plopping down.
    “G’night,” he simply said.
    Willow sat for several minutes, partially in shock. Feelings she knew she had finally had sparked, and now she felt unbearably close to him.
    It took her several hours to fall asleep, but she finally did.

    “Wake up,” Helios shook her lightly. She mumbled and turned over, but then opened her eyes when she realized she wasn’t in her hut. It took her a second to remember where she was.
    “Helios?” she sat up, looking at him.
    He laughed at her and stood, “get your stuff ready, we need to leave soon. We should be at Katalla before dark if you hurry up,” he teased.
    She quickly got up and packed her things.
    Their day went quickly. By mid afternoon they saw Katalla on the horizon. They hurried, and were there by dinner.
    Katalla was far different from Ladir. Its buildings were tall and gray, mostly made of stone. The architecture was slightly alien. They wandered through the streets, and as they did Willow noticed the buildings getting taller and fancier.
    “Your house is this way?” Willow asked while eyeing a suspicious vendor.
    “Yes, just around the corner,”
    After several minutes of walking, they stood before a tall dark wooden door.
    “This is your house? It’s huge!”
    Helios smiled slightly, “my parents were wealthy.”