The Fire and the Storm

Book Two of The Nexus of Kellaran Series, sequel to Blessings Of A Curse. Mark and Talia have some very unusual children, and deal with the ever-accelerating pace of change on Kellaran and within themselves. Zarkog resumes activity in Kellarani society, and the greatest tournament ever organized is held for the rule of the world. Serious problems emerge in The Game of Status, challenges mount, and Mark loses his temper! Meanwhile the demons draw ever closer!

Preview of The Fire And The Storm

Mark and Talia's twins experienced their telepathic awakening while still in the womb, and were fully and powerfully psionic before they were born, their minds permanently Linked.  They learned to speak directly from the minds of their parents before their birth.  The first time they sent their minds out exploring the vicinity while they were still in the womb, the daughter; Helemia, discovered a stealthy Sylvan (Dark High Elves).  When he detected her mental probe he attacked her with psionic warfare techniques.  She defended herself instinctively, and almost killed him.  He held a fanatical grudge about it, and convinced a number of other Sylvan to help him get revenge on her some time later.

There came a warm summer’s evening that found the twins relaxing in the grass beside the chicken pen.  They were six and a half months old, and were playing vlah; a basic war game they’d learned from the unicorns, played on a hexagonal board covered with triangles on which three kinds of markers were moved in turn to capture territory.  The moves on the board were only half the competition, since they each had to block the other from their mind enough to conceal their moves, which was exceedingly difficult for both of them.  As each of their turns came and they considered their next move, the other would be probing their mental barriers and offering ingenious distractions.

Then Reggie’s barriers slipped, and Helemia saw his entire strategy.

“Ha!  I’ve got you now!” she crowed as she prepared to counter his forces.

“Wait.  Check Stripe.” Reggie told her.

Their barriers dissolved, and they thought almost as one again.

Reggie had psionicly ‘heard’ what sounded like Stripe, their gigantic pet Sleng cat, growling in the distance.  When they checked his rudimentary thoughts, they found that  was stalking, and that he hated his prey because his quarry meant harm to Helemia and Reggie.  And there were more than one of them.  Furthermore, he hated them because he couldn’t see, hear, or smell them, though he knew that they were there with his psionic sensitivity.  The discrepancy irritated him to no end.

The two pets hadn’t been back to the house for weeks.  They’d hunted for food, while patrolling for the Sylvan scouts who’d occasionally approached the settlement.  Now there were more than scouts; there was a force of enemies moving into position.

“Stripe, wait.” Reggie commanded, and the cat froze.

The twins spent a long moment checking the vicinity, while continuing to play their game without any apparent distraction, in case they were being watched.

“It’s Vanakit Lamitkeze.  And he’s brought a lot of friends.” Helemia realized.

“Yes.” Reggie agreed.  “They’ve cast a big domed Shield over this whole valley.  A really strong one, psionic as well as Force, I bet.  I don’t know if we can break through it to call for help.  There really is a lot of them.  And they’ve found a way to get past Father’s Wards.  We’ve all underestimated these Sylvan.  They’ve had a very long time with nothing to do but get better at being dangerous in every way.  We should’ve thought about that more.”

“They picked a good time.” she noted.  “Father and everyone else are all doing a training exercise.  No doubt Vanakit planned it that way; the community schedule is pretty obvious if they’ve been watching.  A bunch of them are on the top of the cliffs on either side of the pass.  They’re probably waiting to ambush us when we go home.  The rest are scattered along the ridge around the valley.  They’re probably going to try to scare us into running home, and make sure they herd us the right way.  They’ll likely wait until it gets dark, if we don’t try to go home first.

“I can’t tell what Vanakit’s thinking.  He’s gotten a lot better at Shielding, and he has a couple of the others helping him with it.  He sure hates me though.  I’m surprised he managed to get so close without me noticing.

“This…  This is actually pretty scary.  But it’s pretty exciting too!”

“Yup!” Reggie agreed, suppressing a grin.  “Let’s see if we can find some with less mental Shielding.  We’ll have to be careful to make sure they don’t know they’ve been Read.

“Ah, here’s one.  Just her surface thoughts and emotions, but…  Ha!  They’re just as scared as we are!  They’re scared of Vanakit ‘cause they think he’s crazy and he hurts them a lot, they’re scared their god will be mad at them for attacking us, and they’re scared of…  Something unseen that they know has been stalking them.  That’d be Stripe!  He’s about the only thing that’s as stealthy as they are!”

“They’re scared of our parents and the rest of our settlers too, especially the dragons.” Helemia pointed out.  “Vanakit has them convinced that it was our parents that attacked him.  They think he’s attacking us to get revenge on our parents.  Because he’s ashamed to admit he got taken by me before I was born, I bet!  And they actually think that after they kill us, they’ll be able to hide it from our people!  They really have no idea who they’re dealing with!”

“Huh.  Well all we really have to do is keep from getting caught by them for the next two hours, at most.  Mother and Father and Aunt Alilia will be done with the exercise in an hour and a half.  When they get home and find that we didn’t come home at sundown, they’ll come looking for us.”

“Bah!  Nuts on that!” Helemia snorted.  “Let’s get ‘em ourselves!  We’ve got Stripe and Scout inside their Shield with us, we can take ‘em!”

“I don’t know.  It’s pretty risky.” Reggie countered.  “We still couldn’t win a physical fight against even one half-grown Sylvan, even working together.  And we still don’t have any magic.  And we don’t know how many of them there are.”

“Well then, let’s try to get a count of them.  I’ll take the ones above the pass, you take the ones along the ridge.”

“Okay.  Then we’ll need a plan.  And it’ll be dark in about a half hour, they’ll probably come after us then.  We should move before then.  We’re right out in the open here, and I’m sure they’re all watching us.”

 A few minutes later Helemia had her results.  “Crap.  I count a hundred and five of ‘em on each side of the pass.”

“Three hundred and eleven of them along the ridge.” Reggie reported.  “Five hundred and twenty-one all together.”

“Double crap!  You’re right, we won’t be able to take all of them, there’s way too many.”

“Yes, but you’re right too, we’re going to have to get as many of them as we can.  There’s too many of ‘em for us to avoid them all if we don’t.”

“I’m surprised that they’re all inside their big psionic Shield.” Helemia mused.  “They could have stayed hidden from us if they were outside it.”

“They have to be inside it, to stay hidden from our grown-ups.  And they think their personal psionic Shields are strong enough to protect them from attack.  I doubt they’re worried about us detecting them, they don’t think we’re any danger to them anyway.  Vanakit’s the only one who knows different, and he’s not telling them.

“How many do you think we could beat with psionic attacks before we got too tired to keep fighting?”

“Maybe thirty.  We should save that for last, to get the ones who’re holding the big psionic Shield.  So we can call for help if we have to.”

“Good thinking.” he agreed.  “The easiest thing we can do is help Stripe and Scout.  Scout can’t detect these Sylvan at all.  Stripe knows they’re there, but he can’t locate them exactly, which is probably why he hasn’t attacked them yet.  We can show Stripe and Scout exactly where the Sylvan are.  And we can make it harder for the Sylvan to detect them.”

“We’ll have to be really sneaky.” she mused.  “And that’ll be hard, ‘cause these Sylvan spend their whole lives being sneaky.  And they hunt each other all the time, so they know how to find people that’re being sneaky.”

“Yup.  So we’ll need a really good plan…”

Twenty-five minutes later, as the sun was disappearing behind the ridge, they picked up their game and casually strolled into the goat shed, which was under the edge of the trees.  There they retrieved their darts and a small water-skin, and climbed the bars of a stall to the top of the low rear wall, and wedged themselves between the top of the wall and the pine-bough thatch of the roof.  It was hard to push the thatch up enough to get under it, and it was hard not to cry out from the pokes and scratches they got from the pine needles and twigs, but soon they were in position.  They checked to make sure that Stripe and Scout were ready, then waited another few minutes for darkness to fully fall in the bottom of the valley.

It was still twilight at the top of the cliffs on either side of the narrow slot canyon that formed the pass out of the valley to the west, with the occasional beam of red dusk light still filtering through the underbrush.  The Sylvan formations were lined up right to the edge of the cliffs, knowing that their god’s gift of absolute Stealth hid them from the sight of any others.  All that had a vantage of the goat shed watched it intently.

When Stripe had first alerted Reggie, the great cat had been on the slope near the ridge on the north side of the valley.  He’d halted his stalk at his young master’s command, and a few minutes later his awareness of his prey sharpened considerably.  He now knew the locations of the closest few exactly, including their motions and the positions of their limbs, and the twins assured him that for now, the Sylvan couldn’t detect him.  At Reggie’s direction, Stripe had moved west and up, gaining the top of the ridge where the cliffs to the west began, and he’d stalked along the top of the cliffs to the edge of the Sylvan formation.  He was now hidden in the bush less than five feet from the closest Sylvan, who crouched at the cliff’s edge and diligently watched the goat shed.

“Okay.  Let’s start it.” Reggie decided.

“Wait.  Are we really ready to kill these people?” Helemia asked.

“Yup.  You know Vanakit’s gonna torture you to death if he catches you.  He’ll just kill me quick to get me out of the way.  And we’re not good enough to stop them without killing at least some of them.  We’ll let the wounded live if they’re hurt bad enough that they won’t attack us anymore, but that’s as nice as I’m willing to be.”

“Good.” Helemia grinned with satisfaction.  “Just checking.  Let’s do it.”

At their direction, Scout took off from the tree he was in near the valley floor, and flew up to the top of the ridge to the south-west.  The huge, black, silver-crested Serminaki King Eagle pumped his wings hard as he flew just above the ridge going clockwise, gaining speed.

A Sylvan who was stationed on the ridge on the east side of the valley moved over a few feet to get a better view of the shed, but one of the rocks he tried to step on was an Illusion covering a crack in the slope.  He fell heavily and cried out before his face smashed against the rocks, and he tumbled down the steep slope for a while before sliding to a stop, unconscious.

The Sylvan woman who was stationed sixty feet to his left stood to see what was happening, and started to move to assist him.  Before she’d gone ten feet the same thing happened to her.  She yelled and tumbled and slid until she struck a tree, and lay there moaning from the pain of a broken arm, as well as numerous serious cuts, scrapes, and bruises.

All the Sylvan on the top of the cliffs heard the cries and the crashes of the fallen tumbling down the slopes on the far side of the valley, and stood as they tried to crowd forward to get a better look, as much as they could without crowding the ones near the edge off the precipice.

At that moment Scout flew over the southern group from behind, unseen and unheard, making his best speed.  He swooped down at the last moment and slammed into the back of the second row of Sylvan from the edge.  He hit two of them in the backs of their heads with his wings, knocking them into the ones at the very edge in front of them.  He sank his claws into the scalp of the one between them, and drove his sharply-pointed hooked beak into the scalp of the one in front of that.  His momentum dragged the one he grasped completely off the edge, knocking off those in front of him, and all the ones who were falling tried to grab the ones around them for purchase.  Eight Sylvan fell, yelling and screaming all the way down.

The cliff was just over sixty feet high, and none of them had the time or the wherewithal to cast Flight or Levitation before they hit.

On the cliffs on the north side the pass, the Sylvan crowded forward even more to see what had just happened.  Stripe bounded out of cover and charged through them, knocking as many Sylvan off the cliff as he could.  He reached the far side of the formation and turned.  The rest of the Sylvan had backed away from the edge, but he grabbed six of them one by one by an arm or leg with his mighty jaws and threw them over before they had backed up enough to make that impractical.  He leaped into the midst of them, biting and clawing and tearing amidst a cacophony of screaming, yelling, and confusion.

Scout had circled around for another pass.  Most of the Sylvan on his side hadn’t moved back yet, instead they stood staring as Stripe, silent and invisible, tore through their fellows on the opposite side of the canyon.  Scout took four more off the edge on his side, and the rest of them moved back, yelling in fear and confusion.

Though they couldn’t see him or hear him, the Sylvan around Stripe backed away from where their fellows were dying, and they brought their weapons to bear.

Then Stripe stood among dead and dying Sylvan, surrounded by a ring of spears, swords, and knives.  He leaped over the weapons pointed at him and started laying waste to them again.

Many of them broke and ran, but Vanakit Lamitkeze was bellowing in rage and organizing them.  “They’re not demons, you superstitious idiots!  It’s only their animals, hidden behind some kind of Undetectability spell!  Now bunch up and defend yourselves!”  Soon they were huddled in small clumps of eight to ten with their weapons sticking out in all directions, and many were casting Force Shields and other spells.

Stripe has sustained numerous small wounds, but nothing serious.

“Stripe, go.” Reggie called, and the Sleng cat bounded out of the Sylvan formation and ran to his next assignment.

“Crap, we have to move NOW!” the twins realized as they slid out the back of the goat shed, hissing and gasping as they tried to maintain silence while the bark of the log wall scraped the delicate skin on their fronts through their light summer clothes, and the pine thatch poked and scraped their backs.  They rolled around in the dry and dusty bed of pine needles behind the shed to further cover their scents, gritting their teeth against the continuing painful and itchy irritation of it.  Then they ran diagonally up the slope under the trees to the north-east.

Both were angry at themselves.  Their plan had called for them to move right after they tripped up the two Sylvan to the east, but they hadn’t.  Instead they’d been concentrating fiercely on the fight above the cliffs; tracking all the Sylvan’s locations and movements, passing that information to Stripe and Scout, and hiding the animals from the Sylvan’s perceptions.  They now realized that they’d planned on doing more multitasking than they were capable of, and they’d left their bodies lying on top of the shed wall feeling half-squashed under the prickly pine thatch while they conducted the fight.

“They know we’re here!” Vanakit Lamitkeze barked as he cast a Speaking to all the Sylvan stationed on the ridge around the valley.  “Kill them!  Kill them now!!”

For the hundredth time he cursed the weakness of the power field since the settlers had come, and the cost in power of the mighty Shield they’d cast around the valley, and of deceiving the Wards that had protected it.  Few of his Sylvan had enough power left to fly for more than a few seconds.

Over three hundred Sylvan readied bows, arrows, spells, and swords as they ran down into the valley toward the goat shed.

The twins had not put as much distance between themselves and the shed as they’d planned at that point.  The converging Sylvan running down the slope toward them would be much closer together when they passed.

The two paused behind a tree, panting hard and concentrating.  They tripped up two Sylvan on the far side of the valley with Illusory footing, which was easy now that they were all running downhill.  Then they continued running uphill and north-east.

“All of you get down there and block the pass!” Vanakit yelled to the remaining Sylvan atop the cliffs.  “Our prey will try running home, and you might not be able to detect them!  Block the canyon from wall to wall with your weapons presented!  And sharpen your damn psionics!  Find those two little brats NOW!”

The goat shed exploded as it was struck by multiple spells.

The twins paused again and tripped up two more Sylvan to the south-west, waited a moment for that distraction to take effect and for the Sylvan running down-slope toward them to get close, then tripped up the three Sylvan closest to them, just as they ran past their quarry’s hiding place.  The twins ran upslope through the underbrush past the tumbling and cursing Sylvan, found another hiding place, and tried to trip up all the Sylvan who were still running downslope.

“Stop running, damn it!” one of the Sylvan called.  “They’re hiding the ground with Illusions!  Check your footing with every step!”

“They killed all our goats.” Helemia angrily realized as they ran up the slope again.

“And half the chickens.” Reggie added, just as angry.

They paused again a minute later, and checked on the Sylvan.

“There’s nothing here but burnt goats, they weren’t here!” a Sylvan reported to Vanakit as she inspected the smoldering wreckage of the goat shed.

“Kill everything that moves, or even seems to move!” Vanakit commanded.  “We’ll find them by psionics soon!  Meanwhile try to track them from the shed they were in!”

A few trackers gathered around the wreckage of the shed, but the twins’ tracks were everywhere around the area, and the blast had obliterated the sign where they’d rolled on the ground.

Most of the Sylvan in the valley began wandering around at random, swinging their swords around them, or casting arrows and spells at anything that caught their attention, while testing the ground by feel in every place they planned to take a step.  More than a few were angrily aware of how ridiculous they all looked.  Some of them slaughtered the rest of the livestock.

The twins drew within a hundred feet of the ridge above them, and started slowly and stealthily moving across the slope to the east, farther away from the pass.  Every few minutes they paused to continue their war of attrition against the Sylvan.

They continued tripping the Sylvan occasionally by hiding things.  Rather than casting an Illusion of a rock over a hole or something similar, they made the Sylvan not notice a crucial root or rock that really existed.  Some banged their heads on tree branches they hadn’t seen.  This served to keep the jumpy Sylvan on edge, though it didn’t produce many serious injuries.

Every few minutes they helped Stripe or Scout kill or disable one of their enemies.  It was fully dark now, and they no longer had to hide the animals from the Sylvan, they only had to show where the chosen Sylvan was.  Stripe’s natural stealth and inherent psionic undetectability served him well in the darkness, and Scout could swoop down to make devastating attacks on the face and eyes of his prey with his talons and be gone a moment later, or pull any Sylvan on a steep slope to a nasty tumble.  Though he could only lift a fraction of the weight of a Sylvan, he had enough strength to drag them down a steep slope by one leg or one arm until they were incapacitated or dead.

Then the twins tripped one, who was immediately shot with an arrow by the nervous and startled Sylvan closest to her.  That inspired the twins to a new tactic. 

A minute later one of the Sylvan thought he saw the twins trying to sneak by him out of the corner of his eye.  He immediately turned and cast Force Bolts at them, only to find that he’d killed another Sylvan.

Reggie and Helemia reached their chosen hiding place; behind the top of the low peak in the ridge at the north-east edge of the valley.  The Sylvan Shield dome was only a few feet behind it, so they knew their enemies could not sneak up on them from behind.  They peered over the peak into the valley below and inspected it with their psionic senses, and sharpened their plan.

Over the next few minutes; by tricking chosen Sylvan into killing each other, they precipitated a battle between two groups of them.

“WHAT IN ALL THE HELLS DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!!!  EVERYONE STOP!!!” Vanakit yelled at them in absolute rage, his voice magically amplified to booming volume.  “These cursed children are making fools of you, and turning us on each other!!!  Everyone just hold where you are, and put all your concentration into finding them psionicly!”

The twins withdrew their awareness as they ducked down behind the peak, and lowered their psionic activity to the minimum.

“Okay, Stripe and Scout got fifty-one of them up on the cliffs, and their little battle there took out another thirty-four.” Helemia mused.  “And almost a hundred ran away.  Plus the rest of ‘em that we got.”

“There’s still more than three hundred of them left, three hundred and nine, actually.” Reggie counted.   “And we’ve still got at least half an hour before anyone comes looking for us.”

“I don’t think any of them are maintaining the Shield dome.  I think they just pre-charged it and cast it.  If we had some magic, we could just pound on it until it’s energy was all used up.”

“But that means that we can’t get rid of the dome by taking the ones casting it, like we thought.”

“Let’s just wait for a while.  Maybe they won’t find us.  Mother and Father are bound to come looking for us soon.”

Sixteen minutes later one of the Sylvan chuckled to herself, and quietly made her way to Vanakit Lamitkeze.  “I have them.” she reported.

“I have the cat and the bird by their body heat.” Vanakit quietly growled, his eyes closed in concentration..  “They’re keeping their distance.  But I can’t find the prey.  You found them psionicly?”

“No, by their auras, of all things.” she chuckled.  “And impressive auras they are, too.  See through my spell, and look at that peak.  You can see their glow behind it.”

“Ah, good work.  They’re just inside the Shield.  Can we reflect spells or missiles off of it?”

“No, it doesn’t work that way, it just absorbs the energy.  Though if we hit the Shield with arrows or rocks directly above the prey, they’ll fall straight down.”

“Bah, it’s only a few feet above them.” Vanakit spat.  “We’d have to Move a big rock.  They’d have time to avoid it, and I want the girl alive if possible.

“Crap on it.  You keep an eye on them.  We’ll need to know if they move.”

He waved his lieutenants over.  “Pass the word.  Our prey is hiding behind that peak, and we’ll know if they move, so disregard any other sightings of them.  Have everyone except those at the pass form up into a tight formation.  We’ll just march up there and get them.  Warn everyone to be careful of their footing and to beware of Illusions.  Once we start moving, I expect the cat and the bird to resume their attacks, and I doubt I’ll be able to follow them by their heat once they start making speed.  Keep weapons out at the flanks and rear to ward against the cat, and keep your daggers high to ward against the bird.  We’ll take the girl alive if possible.  If anyone has the power left to cast some Shielding, have them stand ready to cast it as needed.”

“If we hadn’t spent so much of our magic on the big Shield, we’d be able to protect ourselves properly.” one of the lieutenants grumbled.

Vanakit back-handed him across the mouth, bloodying lips and loosening teeth.  “You’ll follow your damn orders!” he growled.

The lieutenants nodded and backed away, and went to their tasks.

“They’re moving.” Helemia noticed a minute later. “They’re probably either leaving or they’ve spotted us somehow.  They’ve spotted us, I’m sure of it now, I can tell from Vanakit’s emotions.”

The Sylvan finished forming up in the center of the valley.  They made a fairly tight bunch in an oval shape about ten wide and almost twenty deep, bristling with weapons.  Vanakit moved to their head with his spotter beside him, and they began advancing up the valley to the north-east.

As they reached the top of the meadow and began entering the trees, Vanakit turned and shouted to his troops; “The animals are on the move, be on your guard!”

They climbed the slope through the trees, stubbing their toes on unseen rocks and banging their heads on unseen branches, but it was hard to make any of them take a serious fall, forewarned as they were and walking uphill.  Onward they came, with the occasional cry and curse.

Vanakit emerged from the trees sixty-four feet below the peak and paused, and he held his spotter back as well as he waved the rest forward and upward.  The rock was craggy and steep there, and the Sylvan had to climb with one hand as they made their way up, weapons at the ready in their free hands.

To the twins, peeking past the peak, all of the glowing golden slitted eyes looked like fireflies moving up the slope, and they realized that they could now see the Sylvan visually.  They were no longer bothering to remain hidden behind the gift of their god.

As the Sylvan came within twenty feet of the peak the rock was only twenty-five feet wide, and they began to bunch up, having to wait for each other to find a path to climb on.

As they came within fourteen feet, the twins attacked.

They cast an Illusion of Fire eight feet deep, encompassing the top fifty or so Sylvan.

It was incredibly realistic in sight and sound, roaring around the Sylvan who were immersed in it.  They couldn’t see anything for the fire in their faces, and the fear of inhaling fire struck all of them.  The twins even managed to convince the weaker-minded among them that it hurt.

As they cast the fire, the twins popped up from behind the peak and began throwing darts, Scout swooped into the precarious crowd of blinded Sylvan and began pulling them off the rocks, and Stripe leaped into them from the side and began laying waste to them with claws and teeth.

“Fight!!!  Advance!!!” Vanakit screamed in rage.  “The fire isn’t real, damn it!  It’s just two babies and two animals!  Just kill them!”

The twins took their time and made every dart count, despite the overwhelming excitement of it all.  They had thirty darts, and they hit thirty Sylvan in the eye, but then they were reduced to throwing rocks, at which they were far less effective.  The Sylvan kept swarming up the rock toward them.  They moved the wall of Illusory fire up and towards themselves to keep the lead Sylvan within it.

Stripe was now between them and the Sylvan, just in front of the peak, killing and maiming any who came near, roaring and snarling with deafening volume.  But he’d taken many small wounds, and a couple that were more serious.

Then one of the Sylvan got lucky and cut off most of Scout’s left foot.  He wanted to continue fighting, but the twins sent him away, and he hurt so much that he went.

“This is it!” Reggie cried.

“I’m going to GET Vanakit Lamitkeze, if it’s the last thing I do before I die!” Helemia vowed.

They let their rage take them, and let the fire Illusion dissolve, and struck with psionic attacks.

Helemia struck Vanakit first, crushing through his psionic Shields and shredding his mind, while severely injuring six Sylvan at the pass who had been bolstering his psionic Shields.

In the next minute they attacked the highest seventy-two Sylvan on the mountain, leaving them with broken psionic Shields and crippling, blinding headaches.

And then, suddenly, the twins were too exhausted to continue.

Almost eighty Sylvan remained of the attacking formation, all of them filled with their battle rage.  They screamed their hatred as they surged up the hill, sensing victory.

Stripe roared his defiance as he prepared to meet their rush, Scout gave a piercing cry and turned back toward the battle despite his pain, and the twins grimly stood together, looking over the peak and panting for breath, waiting for the end.

“That’s quite enough of that, I think.” Quewanak stated as he appeared hovering just above the slope between Stripe and the advancing Sylvan.  The green dragon froze the attackers with a glance, held them immobile long enough to make them realize they were helpless and for their emotions to cool a bit, and let them go.

The Dragon God of Dreaming looked around and Healed all the injured, including Stripe and Scout.  “None of your fallen compatriots are dead, and I have Healed them.” he announced in Blezogeth to all of the confused Sylvan, many of whom were picking themselves up off the ground all over the valley.  “Were it not for my efforts, three hundred and seventeen of you would be dead or severely injured at the hands of two babies and their pets.  I hope you’ve learned something from this.  You don’t want to anger the rest of us.  Now go, all of you, except that one.”  He indicated the immobile form of Vanakit Lamitkeze.  “We’re keeping him.”

Slowly, then more quickly, the Sylvan moved away and began heading home.

Quewanak Translocated himself, Stripe, Scout, and the twins down to the valley floor.

Reggie and Helemia let themselves collapse to the grass and cry, venting some of the overwhelming emotion that they felt.  They hugged each other as they cried until Stripe nuzzled them and Scout landed beside them, then they hugged their beloved pets with gratitude and affection, while the animals soaked up all the love they were getting.

“Thank you, oh thank you both so much, you’re both such good boys, such great friends, we love you so much…” the infants telepathically babbled.

Quewanak looked around, then Restored the goat shed, the chicken pen beside it, and the dead livestock.  He even Retrieved the twins’ darts and put them away in the shed, then lounged on the grass.

Finally Helemia and Reggie turned their attention to the green dragon.  Their bodies were still crying and hugging the animals, but their psionic ‘voices’ seemed calm enough.

“Thank you for saving us.” Helemia told him.

“You’re welcome.” Quewanak chuckled.

They considered him a moment.

“I know you can’t resurrect dead people unless you know them absolutely, and you have to be in psionic contact with them when they die.  Or you have to be a god.” Reggie stated accusingly.  “We know that from Father.”

“Yes, that’s true.” Quewanak admitted.

“So, you either saved those Sylvan with god-power, or you were aware of what was happening here the whole time.  Or both.” Helemia said, sounding as miffed as her brother.

“Also true.” The dragon smiled.

“Maybe you are a god.” Reggie accused.  “Father and Mother and Aunt Alilia have been hiding something about you, now that I think about it.  And none of us have ever noticed that you’ve never been introduced to us, and we’ve never met you before today, even though you live right next door to Kragorram and Povon and Karzog and we go there all the time.

“And whether you’re a god or not, I’d bet my lunch that you knew what was happening here, and you could have stopped it anytime!”

“Yes, I could have.  But it was an interesting event, and once I saw how well you were doing I wanted to give you the chance at victory.  I must say that I’m incredibly impressed by the two of you.”

“Thanks.” Helemia grumped, still trying to sound angry.  Then she considered what he’d said.  “Did we really have a chance at victory?”

“You did indeed, though it was a very small chance.  You did better than anyone would have predicted, including me.  Still, if you’d had some intensive training in psionic warfare, you could have prevailed.  Your initial tactics were extremely efficient uses of your power, those being the Illusions and extending your perception to Stripe and Scout.  But your final psionic attacks were understandably crude.  You wasted strength in clubbing them with a big psionic hammer, when you could have stabbed many more of them with a slim sword of thought.”

“I’m still upset with you.” Reggie told him determinedly.  “You let Stripe and Scout get hurt for nothing.  You let us think we were gonna die at the end there.”

“There was purpose in my actions, your friends were not hurt for nothing, and they aren’t capable of remembering pain once it’s passed at any rate.” Quewanak patiently explained.  “I learned things of great value.  I am not a humanoid, I’m a dragon, and we test our young on the hunt and in battle when they’re ready.  You were ready.  A young dragon who cannot bring himself to kill is soon a starving and useless individual.  You were ready to kill.  You fought to your limits against overwhelming odds, and when you could fight no more, you faced your deaths with dignity and courage.

“Beyond all that, you didn’t ask for help.  If you had, I’d have helped you sooner.  I have rather extraordinary perception, and I’d have heard you, but it might interest you to know that if you had used your strength to get a message through the Sylvan barrier at the beginning of your battle, the best six psionicists in the community would all have heard you.  Even while engaged in battle training exercises.”

“Huh.  What are Mother and Father doing?” Helemia asked.

“They’re preparing dinner, visiting with the others of the Command Group, and discussing today’s exercises.  They know that I’m always keeping an eye on you.  Otherwise they’d never allow you to be by yourselves out here at your ages, even with your advanced abilities and with Stripe and Scout to guard you.”

“What’s gonna happen to Vanakit Lamitkeze?” she asked.

“The mind of Vanakit Lamitkeze is gone forever.  You’ve wiped him clean.  He’ll need a week of physical recovery and Healing before he’ll even be able to move, and then he’ll need to learn everything all over again, including how to walk, how to speak and understand a language, how to feed himself, and how to dress himself.  He’ll be a new person.”

“Huh.  We might as well feed him to Karzog as a treat.” Reggie snickered.