The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 1

The Theban Trilogy Cover
The Theban Trilogy Cover

The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 1

By Tony DeLorger © 2011


This is the first book in the ‘The Theban Trilogy’, a classic fantasy adventure that has been likened many times to ‘Lord of the Rings’. The book was nominated for The 2003 Independent Publisher’s Book Awards of America and has been given critical acclaim from reviewers in both America and the UK. So far the book has still not achieved a publishing deal in America, which is both frustrating and such a shame. The book was written with a screenplay in mind and is visually oriented with a leaning toward a CGI animation production. I’d like to present the first book in the series and would love some feedback from the writing community. The book has been posted in parts for ease of publication. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Book 1

The Mountain Diva of Thebos

‘PROLOGUE’

It was the year of Gorn. Four months into the everlight in a far distant past, and the mystical land of Thebos was in disarray. For over ten thousand years it had existed in peace and harmony, with the great mountain Diva presiding benevolently over his domain. The natural hierarchy of beings and their roles within the great plan remained in nature’s perfect balance. Life had been bountiful. But then a dark happening cast a shadow over the glorious history of Thebos and an evil presence now threatened every inhabitant and their way of life.

A ground creature named Mangarna suddenly defied his ancestry and turned his back on his sacred birthright. Mangarna was a Terra-Theban, a ground caretaker and protector. His kind presided over the minerals, metals and precious stones. In the ‘Cave of Solitude’, high up inside the great Diva’s mountain, lay the sacred ‘Crystals of Ophius’. The ancients placed these precious and powerful crystals in the cave many centuries before and they were the symbol of the Diva’s power and the key to distributing the life-force throughout the various realms.

Mangarna, in his lust for power, tricked the sylph guardians of the cave and stole the sacred crystals, escaping to the gully Tiba. With a book of the mystic arts taken from the chambers of Gob, the Terra-Theban king, Mangarna and his Ellok assistant Norbit empower themselves with magic, and devise a plot to overthrow the Diva himself.

Some months pass and Mangarna has slowly transformed himself into a powerful wizard, his followers continuing to increase in number. His evil plan is revealed as he begins to enslave the creatures of the gully. He enlists them to mine crystals and precious metals to build a diabolical weapon, a weapon that when completed, can control the forces of life. Mangarna, with this weapon in his hands can then become ruler of Thebos and beyond. The power of nature itself will be at his command.

In the tiny Artec village of Iba the story unfolds...

CHAPTER ONE

‘THE ARTEC VILLAGE’

The Artec’s were a kind and gentle race. They lived and worked on the forest floor, tending trees, ferns, plants and flowers. They loved their work and rejoiced in the growth and propagation of their entrusted flora. Wherever their villages sprang up, everything thrived, their kind, delicate hands nursing and encouraging nature to perfection.

As creatures they were small and slender in stature, no more than three to four feet tall. Similar to human form, they had more pointed facial features and large soulful eyes. Their skin was pale and soft, their limbs long and slender and they were elegant beings, graceful in their movement. During the everlight they wore little clothing: the males wore a simple loincloth, the females a wrap around cloth tied over one shoulder. The fabrics used were woven from the fibres of fallen plants and dyed in a myriad of colours taken from minerals, plants and pollens of the forest.

The everlight lasted six full moon cycles and the sun’s warmth made life enjoyable during this wonderful period of growth. Some of the Artecs were full-winged with glorious translucent silvery wings, that when folded, almost touched the ground. Flight enabled them to tend the larger trees and plants and to help with the seasonal pollination. However, most of them remained earthbound and worked tirelessly on their given assignments. Many of the older winged workers stayed on the ground, being placed in positions of authority. They would oversee the work crews and hand out assignments as needed. The hierarchy existed through both experience and service to their kind. No-one dared to question authority as it was earned and respected as law.

This particular village was ‘Iba’ and it sat at the forest’s edge, near the base of the mountain, some distance from the feared gully. A hundred or so souls lived there in peace and tranquillity. Life went on as usual, but since the theft of the sacred crystals, a dark fear loomed in the back of the villager’s minds and in their hearts. The fabric of life in Thebos had been tampered with and all the creatures felt a blockage in the natural order. The great mountain Diva had for the first time become silent and an air of doubt hung like a dark cloud over the community.

Arlin made his way back from the creek with two wooden pails of water slung over one shoulder, attached with a piece of woven vine. He would have flown but he had previously lost more water than he’d delivered. For an Artec, Arlin was tall and muscular and even though he was full-winged, he was often enlisted to do heavy groundwork, because of his stature. This bothered him, because he just loved to fly.

As he approached the hut, his mother emerged from the trees carrying a basket filled with freshly picked berries for their early meal. Nya, Arlin’s mother, was beautiful in her youth. Her long raven-black, hair glistened in the sunlight and all the males of the village had once tried to court her. Elgan, Arlin’s father, had won in the end and their life together had been fulfilling. Now in her later life, Nya was still beautiful, but her hair was now a little grey and her figure not as trim as it once was. She was kind, gentle and devoted to her family and was a gracious and fitting partner for an elder whose standing in the village was highly respected.

Arlin lifted the pails from his shoulder with a grunt and poured them one by one into a stone water trough that sat near the front step.

‘Come and eat, Arlin,’ said his mother softly, as she disappeared into the hut.

Arlin looked up at the sun, yawned and stretched out his wings to full span, then collapsed them back in a flutter. As he walked inside, Lil, his young sister was yelling and chasing their little brother, Jot, who’d just snatched her favourite flower doll.

‘Give it back, Jot!’ she squealed, ‘Mother?’

‘Stop that noise you children! Come to the table at once!’ growled Nya, fast losing patience.

The children quickly jumped to the table. ‘Ouch!’ cried Jot, lifting his bottom to remove the end of his right wing. Lil quickly gave him a jab in the ribs to keep him quiet. Arlin after washing his hands, pulled a stool over to the table, opened his wings just a little then sat down next to Jot, whose round cheeky face just peeked over the table-top. Nya placed the berries, plates and cups on to the table but no-one moved; their hands remained off the table and placed obediently in their laps, waiting. Then, from behind the bedroom curtain came Elgan, their father.

‘Good day father,’ they said in unison. Elgan, as a traditional male elder, demanded much respect from his family and they happily obliged and revered him.

He was a rotund creature and although winged could not have flown in a hundred moons. No-one of course would have suggested it; that would have been a grave mistake. It had been a long time since he had been a worker. He now enjoyed position and respect as one of the wise, advising on all aspects of village life. Elgan’s skin was much darker than the others were and with little hair left, wisps of grey poked out from behind his long pointed ears.

Elgan’s wide girth landed heavily on a small, rather insignificant stool and the floor shook just a little, his wings, forced to spread behind him, whisked up a small cloud of dust. Jot giggled, then with wide eyes, covered his mouth with his hand and pretended to cough. Elgan glared at him momentarily, then looked at the berries and began to eat. The others joined him.

‘Arlin, you are working near the creek today, there is much to do,’ he spluttered, with his mouth half-filled with red succulent berries.

‘Yes father.’

‘And keep away from Magnus, you know how the Undines love to waste time playing. We must keep the order in these troublesome times,’ he said, taking another giant mouthful of berries.

‘Yes, of course father,’ Arlin replied, reaching for the pitcher of water and pouring it into the cups.

The Artec houses were a simple box-like design with thatched roofs. Most furniture and tools were made of wood and plant fibre, but metal containers and tools were often traded from the Terra-Thebans. The Artecs were a simple race, with simple values. They didn’t need refinements of self-adornments and they strove for harmony rather than any personal attainment. They were peace loving and giving, but order was always paramount.

Arlin pushed his plate forward and rose to his feet.

‘I must go now.’

‘Remember what I said.’

‘I will Father, I will. Good day to you,’ Arlin said with a smile as he left the hut.

Once outside he spread his wings and with a whoosh he was airborne, heading for the creek.

‘Why can’t I go too?’ asked Lil in a whiney voice.

‘You have much to do here, my dear,’ said her mother warmly.

‘And who’ll take care of your brother?’

Jot took another grab at Lil’s flower doll, then unsuccessful, retreated to his bedroom with Lil close behind. Nya shook her head impatiently, then removed the plates from the table and wiped it down with a cloth.

Meanwhile Arlin skimmed over the treetops, watching the tiny village huts whiz by beneath him. Arlin adored flying and feeling the air against his face. His world seemed so small below, but from the air it went on forever and enticed him to explore it.

Thebos was beautiful from the air. The ragged mountains burst majestically into the clear sky and the vivid greens and golds of the forest and grasslands went on forever into the vast horizon. Down below, the creek wound its way through the landscape and Arlin could see the other workers had already begun work. He slowly spiralled down and landed on a grassy bank next to the water.

A group of tree ferns were feeling poorly, the nutrients were not getting through. Arlin quickly moved to one of the unattended ferns and gently felt its trunk, searching for the blockage. It was in pain, and Arlin knew what to do about it. Removing a tiny blue crystal from a small pouch strung around his waist, he placed it in the centre of his left palm. Suddenly it began to glow with a soft pulsating light.

‘This will do nicely,’ he whispered.

He gently knelt down and with his right hand, dug a trench around the base of the trunk. Several main roots were exposed and Arlin touched each one, closing his eyes and concentrating deeply. When he had found the ailing root, he positioned the crystal beneath it and then replaced the soil.

By the edge of the water several nymphs were playing in the reeds, darting in and out, laughing and squealing joyfully. Arlin had noticed them when he had first arrived and silently made his way down the bank to try to watch them, unnoticed.

They were beautiful creatures, sleek and slender and their skin was covered with fine scales, the colour and sheen of a pearl. Their hair was long and flowing and they were the most agile of creatures, able to dance and skim over and under the water at incredible speed, leaving a silvery trail behind them. Most of all, they were playful and Arlin always enjoyed watching their fun.

Suddenly the three nymphs caught sight of their observer and immediately ducked for cover. Then, seeing who it was, their fear slowly subsided and they began to giggle and whisper to one another.

‘I would be most grateful if I could enlist your help?’ asked Arlin respectfully.

‘He is so polite,’ one murmured, setting of a chain of giggling and more whispering. Then the nymph standing in the centre calmed herself and gingerly moved forward.

‘I am Laer, I will help you.’

‘Thank you. Please come this way,’ Arlin replied, leading her toward the fern.

‘This one needs more water I think, it is choking,’ he explained, pointing to the root.

Laer gently touched the trunk of the fern and a golden light began to permeate the entire plant. Where Arlin had placed the crystal a soft blue glow began to radiate from beneath the soil, the magic of the force of life repairing and renewing.

‘Yes! That’s better. Thank you so much.’

In the scheme of life, this sharing and co-operation between the realms was a joyous experience, and could only further enforce the power and purpose of the natural order. Arlin smiled warmly and in gratitude, reached out and touched Laer’s dainty hand. She looked at him all wide-eyed, then flushed with embarrassment, disappearing in a flash. Arlin’s smile broadened and he could hear their laughter once again down by the reeds.

He reached over and felt the fern. The pain was gone; it felt vibrant and would now recover. Arlin was about to move to the next fern when he heard a voice come from the bank.

‘Pssst!’

‘Over here!’ it said, a little louder. From behind a grassy rise came a familiar face.

‘Is that you Magnus?’

‘Of course it’s me, come over here,’ said Magnus. Arlin checked to make sure that no-one was looking, then crept over to his friend.

‘Magnus, I’ve got work to do.’

‘But I have news from the gully,’ said Magnus quietly, not wanting to be heard. ‘No-one will know you’re gone.’

‘My father’s going to kill me,’ Arlin mumbled.

‘Only for a minute,’ pleaded Magnus. Magnus shot off at the speed of light, then realising that Arlin could not keep up with him, returned just as quickly.

‘Sorry, I forgot.’

‘Water creatures,’ moaned Arlin under his breath as he took to the air to follow Magnus. Magnus thought it best to head for the deep forest where no-one would see them.

As they entered the vast forestlands the light slowly dimmed under a dense canopy of vines. Huge, towering pines hung over them as they zigzagged in and out between the massive trunks. Up ahead Magnus had slowed down, eventually landing on an old hollowed log.

Arlin followed and gently landed next to him. It was a beautiful place. Droplets of water rested on the delicate leaves and ferns like tiny diamonds, glistening in the softly diffused glow. Shards of light cut through the canopy and made spotted patterns on the decaying matter below. Mosses grew at the base of the trees while lichen, like little offset steps, extended from the tall trunks. The air was crisp and the smell of growth and decay was natures own.

‘We heard yesterday that Mangarna has taken more captives. His followers grow in number and no-one in the gully is safe,’ explained Magnus, his eyes wide and sparkling. ‘They say the nymphs in the gully will all become slaves. But what can we do? How can he be stopped?’

At that moment, a large beautiful butterfly swooped across in front of Magnus. He swiped at it as it passed and unceremoniously rolled backwards off the slippery log. With a moist squishing sound he hit the ground among the mosses and decaying leaves. Arlin burst out laughing then flew down to try to pull his friend out. It took several tries but eventually Arlin set him free and Magnus sat there wiping the debris from his body and feeling rather sorry for himself. Arlin found it difficult to get the smile off his face, but eventually forced himself to become more serious.

‘We must speak to the Diva. Without him we can do nothing. There must be a way to stop Mangarna.’

Arlin resolved himself to some affirmative action, but what? No-one had ever seen the Diva- the sylphs relayed all messages and communications. No Artec had ever made the pilgrimage, at least not any that had safely returned. The ancients were the only ones to have set foot in the ‘Cave of Solitude’; no-one else had ever succeeded, except Mangarna.

‘I must go now, Magnus,’ said Arlin, in a worried voice, ‘I can’t be caught again.’

‘We’ll talk soon, Arlin,’ replied Magnus, hovering for a moment then disappearing in a flash. A long trail of light remained, slowly fading into the moist forest air. Arlin watched it slowly fade, then turned and took flight, heading back towards the creek. He flew low through the forest under as much cover as possible, the ferns and low branches whizzing by as he navigated his way over the forest floor. As he approached the edge of the tree line he slowed and eventually landed gently next to one of the tall conifers. Checking to see that no-one was watching, he walked slowly toward the bank, occasionally stopping to check a fern frond or flower on the way. Then from the tree ferns came a voice.

‘Arlin, come here, I need your help!’ said Garn, one of the other workers.

‘I’m coming,’ responded Arlin, hoping his absence hadn’t been noticed.

‘Have you any crystals left?’

‘Yeah, here,’ said Arlin, reaching into his pouch and feeling a little more at ease.

Arlin followed Garn and helped him with his work for the rest of that day. They completed their assignments early and went home swiftly to make ready for the twilight.

It was the end of the moon cycle and as had always been Artec tradition, the time of unions and celebration. That day in the twilight hours, there were to be three unions consecrated and the entire village was to join in the celebrations. In the Artec culture the wedding, above all the seasonal festivals, was the most important ritual.

It mirrored their belief in the hierarchy and flow of life within the natural order. A union of choice, to be as one, was the greatest honour bestowed on another creature. Once the union was complete, it was for life and joyfully respected by all of their kind.

Arlin loved the celebrations, most of all because he would see Desta, someone he had had his eye on for some time. She was young and pretty and many of the village males had wanted to court her, but she was yet too young and courtship for now, was not allowed. Desta had made it plain to all that Arlin would be her choice when the time came and she always looked forward to seeing him.

The festivals and celebrations were free from any courting rituals. Everyone was expected to join in and rejoice, the young singles having the opportunity to mingle, being chaperoned by the entire village.

When Arlin arrived home the village was alive with colour. Flower-chains, posies and multicoloured flags hung elegantly over the walkways, suspended by plaited vines. Small, lit lanterns glowed in the twilight, dotting the paths and hanging from branches all around the Village Square. The ceremony was to be held in the centre, where a small podium was erected from timber and vines. It was covered with wild flowers of mauves, purples, whites and soft pinks. A large lantern hung overhead to light up the couples in union.

Arlin washed himself excitedly and changed his clothes. The weddings were the only time the Artecs adorned themselves. It was not for any self-gratification, but rather as recognition of their gift of life and place in the great scheme. The women mostly wore flowers in their hair and around their wrists and necks. Precious stones and crystals could also be worn by either male or female and were mostly in the form of necklaces, rings and even belts.

Elders often wore golden amulets presented to them for service, or given as gifts from other Thebans. Other precious metals were also worn; many traded with the various cave-dwellers.

When the community gathered in this joyous way, with all their finery, it was a spectacular sight and the celebrations were long and lavish.

Arlin wore a necklace of flowers and a simple pale blue loincloth and around his waist hung a plant fibre string with more than a dozen fine, clear crystals suspended from it. Over his shoulder hung a gold fabric sash, pinned together at the waist with a small silver pin that Magnus had given him. Nya looked at her son with such pride and perhaps a tinge of sadness with his imminent coming of age.

Moments later Arlin was ready, finally rubbing his skin with the pollen of the ’Tiln’ flower, a rare and fragrant forest bloom. Nya looked elegant in a bleached white robe with a silver necklace given to her by Elgan. It suited her status as the wife of an elder and enhanced her already beautiful face. Her hair was plaited and rolled into a ball behind her head. Soft white bell-like flowers formed a wreath around her glossy dark hair and a large blue/green crystal adorned her delicate hand.

Elgan looked on approvingly as he finished dressing himself. A plain russet robe with a single gold necklace was all he intended, but was having trouble with his coarse, frizzy hair. Nya, seeing his frustration, went to his rescue, combing it flat behind his large pointed ears. It kept springing back out annoyingly, until at last Nya fetched some water. She drenched it into submission and firmly placed Elgan’s hand over it to keep it in place. He stood rather prominently in the centre of the room with his hand over the side of his head, realising as always, that in these matters, Nya knew best.

Lil and Jot arrived from their bedroom, holding hands and being passive for a change. They were both covered with wild flowers, woven cleverly into a crown, a necklace, wristlets and anklets. They were excited and their rosy little faces shone like beacons through the mass of coloured blooms

Elgan proudly admired his family and with a warm smile opened the front door. ‘On to the square!’ he said excitedly, and they all joined the stream of villagers happily chattering and laughing as they walked along the path leading to the festivities.

The square was alive with colour and energy. The entire village happily turned out for the celebrations and eagerly awaited the couples to arrival. Ephram, the presiding official stepped up to the podium in all his finery. He wore a black robe with rows of grey and white feathers taken as trophies from the giant mountain hawk, and delicately sewn into position. In his hand, sat the sacred ‘staff of truth’, a symbol of the law. It was fashioned from the horns of the black elk, and at its top sat a claw-like silver clasp containing a magnificent ebony crystal.

Ephram then looked down to the musicians at the left of the podium and nodded. They began to play and the crowd slowly parted to allow the couples to approach. There was a sea of smiling faces and tapping feet, with everyone eager to get on with the celebrations. The music filled the village, with flutes, harps and drums echoing a rhythmic and energetic melody that fully expressed the joy of the occasion.

From the back of the crowd came the three couples, all wearing the traditional green with yellow flowers, and with of course the ‘Kita’, the Artec wedding veil. The Kita was worn by both male and female, and consisted of a round woven crown of vines with a shear fabric that hung from its front as a veil. It symbolised the anonymity and sharing of life in nature. ‘To one and the other unseen; To one and the other, as one’ the sacred Scripture read.

As they slowly approached the podium, the villagers anointed the couples with flower petals, cheering noisily. Hand in hand the couples stood before Ephram, and as he raised his arms the cheering and the music stopped. Ephram smiled approvingly at each of them, then reached for the sacred writings on a small table in front of him, and began to read.

Arlin, in all the excitement, had been trying to spot Desta. Searching the crowd for that sweet face he longed to see had so far taken all of his attention. Lil saw him peering from behind their father and jabbed him in the thigh to stop it. He jumped and calmed himself. Elgan glared sharply over his shoulder to stop the disturbance then resumed his stance and Arlin quickly returned his attention to Ephram.

‘To each other you have chosen, and under the shadow of the great Diva you make this commitment.’ Ephram raised the ‘staff of truth’ to the sky.

‘I entreat you spirits all. Bless these our children, and consecrate their union.’

Ephram eased down the black crystal and gently touched the heads of each that stood before him and said, joined by all those present.

‘To one and the other unseen,

To one and the other as one!’

Their collective voices resounded through the village like a sacred chant. Females in waiting moved forward to remove the veils from the kita. As they were lowered from each face and the couples caught sight of each other for the first time in their new life, tumultuous cheers thundered across the square and the couples embraced lovingly. The music suddenly resumed and the square erupted into a frenzy of dancing.

The village became a sea of bobbing heads, flower petals fell like rain and the squeals and cheers of the dancing villagers soared through the forest like doves released. Lil and Jot, arms linked, danced round and round giggling and jostling in the crowd. Ena, the head farmer’s wife was a huge round creature, and a joyful and jolly person. Swept away by the moment, she stood mid-crowd with her hands over her head, and shook from head to toe. The villagers quickly parted to give her room and clapped and cheered her little dance. Her massive form rippled and swayed.

Elgan was beside himself, and let out a boisterous belly laugh, the tears rolling down his round face. Then, to make things worse, Ena’s husband Jad, who was as skinny as a stick, joined her. It was a sight, and the crowd roared with laughter. Soon a sea of movement swallowed them all up, each villager taking turns at centre stage, jeering and laughing at one another, their joy contagious.

Meanwhile Arlin was wandering through the village, still looking for Desta. The square was lined with tables of food and fruit juices. The Artecs were vegetarian, unlike the Terra-Thebans. Their staple diet consisted of a grain called ‘ven’. It was ground and used to make breads and cakes of many kinds. In the fields beyond the village many vegetables also grew. Both root and vine vegetables were popular and the Artec herb gardens were extensive.

To the south were vast fields of ven and many other grains grew strong and healthy in the everlight. Toward the end of the fifth moon cycle all the grains were harvested and stored in large dome-like structures called ‘tri-ans’, ready for the long season of darkness. On the slopes closer to the forest were fruit trees with line after line of every conceivable fruit, berry and melon. Next to that, vegetables on the vine were staked out in neat rows, with long rectangular plots between them, growing root vegetables, pulses and rhizomes. The Artec gift for nurturing and propagation was more than obvious with their farming and the organisation and finely honed techniques used ensured bountiful crops.

Arlin surveyed the tables surrounding the square and saw huge pots of bubbling stew and platters overflowing with fruits and nuts. Fresh breads and cakes too many to name were brimming over the edges of the tables, their aroma wafting through the village, making Arlin hungrier and hungrier. Then, out of the blue a familiar and very welcome voice sounded.

‘Arlin, there you are!’

Arlin turned quickly, his expression not disguising even a little, his elation.

‘I’ve been looking for you Desta,’ he said warmly, both of them smiling coyly at each other for a long moment. At that point Arlin was unable to contain himself any longer, so he grabbed Desta by the hand.

‘Let’s eat, I’m starved!’ he said, leading her off to one of the tables.

Desta looked beautiful, her soft and gentle face framed by a mass of wavy red hair that hung loosely over the top of her wings. She wore a deep blue fabric that hung elegantly from her shoulder to the ground and adorning her long slender neck, a red and white wild flower necklace. Sprigs of tiny white-bells were placed delicately in her hair and her smile was sweet and innocent.

Arlin felt proud to be with her and could feel the admiring glances of the other young males each time they were together. But it was more than that, she had found his heart and he was devoted to her.

They browsed the tables, and finally settled for some bowls of ‘Parna’ stew with sour cakes on the side. Parna was a combination of sweet root vegetables and ‘Rama’, a pungent, spicy herb that grew wild on the forest floor. With bowls and utensils they headed for a quieter spot away from the noisy celebrations.

‘Is this OK?’ he asked, pointing to a small bench at the edge of a path. Desta smiled with approval and Arlin quickly removed a small white cloth from his pouch and wiped the bench clean for her to sit. She bowed her head smiling, a little embarrassed by his chivalry.

For awhile they sat silently enjoying the parna, then Arlin spoke a little nervously. ‘Is your mother feeling better now?’

‘Yes thank you. The fever has now gone. They think it was a ‘qal’ berry accidentally mixed in with the blackberries. They are similar. If there had been more, she wouldn’t have been so lucky.’

The ‘qal’ berry was a deadly poison used on the tip of Terra-Theban arrows to kill their prey. Miraculously the toxin itself was rendered harmless after about an hour, thus making it a fitting method to procure meat for consumption; and the Terra-Thebans loved their meat. They in fact, loved to eat just about anything and spent much their lives doing just that.

Arlin and Desta finished their meal and leaving their bowls on the bench, snuck behind one of the huts to be alone. Arlin took Desta gently by the hand, and looking up to the treetops whispered ‘Let’s?’

Desta’s eyes widened. ‘What if we’re caught?’ she replied worriedly, stepping back a little.

‘No-one will see us.’

Arlin looked around quickly to make sure no-one was watching, and then spread his wings. With some anxiety, Desta did the same and soon they were soaring up to the top of the forest.

In the Artec culture, flying had great purpose, however in community gatherings it was frowned on and not considered etiquette. The chosen winged creatures simply chose to remain earthbound as a gesture of respect to the wingless. Being winged was no more than a genetic result, as was gender, so its existence was played down in keeping with tradition.

For Arlin and Desta flight seemed fitting somehow. The joy they both felt just being together and the freedom of flight enraptured them and somehow brought them even closer.

‘Over here,’ said Arlin, gesturing to a large horizontal branch a hundred feet from the ground. They slowed down and gently landed, close to the trunk. For a moment they said nothing, simply breathing in the crisp air and enjoying the spectacular view.

‘I love it up here.’ Arlin gently squeezed her slender hand, so glad to be sharing this with her. She leaned over and gently kissed his cheek, then laid her head on his shoulder. Arlin felt a warm, comforting glow envelop his mind and body, infused within the moment. They remained there for some time, nestling happily together on the branch. Then Desta spoke.

‘What do you think will become of the creatures in the gully?’ she pondered.

‘Mangarna is an evil creature. They say he and his followers have enslaved many of the nymphs and other creatures of the gully,’ Arlin replied.

‘But what can we do, even the great Diva is silent. This is a dark time.’

Arlin hung his head, feeling helpless and a little agitated.

‘We’d better get back, you promised me a dance, remember?’

‘We should be thankful for our lives’ she followed.

‘Coming?’

They glided down to the forest floor and under cover, quietly returned to the festivities. In the square the dancing continued, but many of the elders now sat exhausted in small groups of tables on the perimeter. Elgan and Nya sat laughing at some of the antics of the villagers, performing great feats of acrobatics and tomfoolery. Others sat smiling, just enjoying the colour and the fun. Arlin spotted his parents and led Desta over to greet them.

‘Ah, Desta!’ said Elgan fondly.

‘Hello my dear,’ added Nya. ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’

‘Yes, thank you.’

‘We’re going to dance,’ followed Arlin, all wound up and ready to go.

‘Come on Arlin!’ squealed Lil, ‘Over here!’

Lil and Jot had not stopped and with boundless energy they continued their frolicking and leaping to the infectious rhythms. Arlin and Desta, arm in arm, lunged into the crowd, jostling and jigging to the fevered tempo. In their own little world they danced away the twilight hours, revelling in each other’s company.

The following morning after a long and exhausting twilight, Arlin woke early. He’d slept soundly and contentedly after all the activity and was looking forward to his rest day. Unfortunately Desta would have to work this day, being assigned to the late season pollination. Arlin intended to see her before she left, and after a hurried meal, made his way to her family hut and waited out of sight. All was quiet. Everyone had taken full advantage of the late start allowed after such a celebration, and Arlin sat down on a clump of grass, and patiently waited.

Down the northern path leading into the village, Arlin noticed two figures approach. As they got closer, he recognised them. It was Tezara, a workmate and close friend of Desta, with her brother Enos. Tezara was not winged and worked with Desta on cultivation projects, but of course during pollination, Desta worked with the other winged Artecs. She was a little taller than Desta, but was painfully thin. Because of this fact and especially because her knees knocked together when she walked, Tezara was shy and self-conscious. But Desta loved her tenacity and will, and they were close. Tezara had also found a loyal friend in Desta and her beauty and popularity made Tezara feel special as her friend.

Along side Tezara walked Enos, her little brother, and there was not a more devilish and annoying child. He was a stout, ill-behaved, cheeky, obnoxious little grub, always offensive in some major way. When Tezara’s mother could take no more, Tezara became his nursemaid, to both her and her brother’s dismay. Her reaction was written all over her face, as Enos tried to escape Tezara’s unrelenting grip on his wrist.

‘Hi Tezara!’ said Arlin brightly, surprising her as he came out from his hiding spot.

‘It’s ARRRRLIN,’ whined Enos snidely.

Tezara elbowed him in the arm and gave him a venomous look.

‘Hi!’ replied Tezara, preoccupied, still wrestling with her squirming brother.

‘You’re not working today?’ Arlin inquired.

‘No, it’s pollination time.’

Just then Desta came out from the hut, surprised to see all of her favourite people in one place; well all accept one.

‘I didn’t expect to see you today, I have to work,’ she said, skipping down the stairs in front of the hut.

‘I know, I just wanted to see you,’ Arlin replied, a little red-faced. Tezara suddenly felt uneasy and embarrassed just being there and turned her head shyly to one side.

‘Listen; when your work’s done do you want to go down to the creek? It’s beautiful down there,’ suggested Arlin excitedly.

‘Id love to!’ said Desta. ‘It’ll be fun. Coming Tezara?’

Tezara felt self-conscious and shook her head.

Desta ignored her and said ‘We’ll all be there. Anyway, I must go, I’ll be late.’

Desta took flight and headed toward the south of the village to receive her daily assignment. Arlin said goodbye to Tezara, while Enos rudely poked out his tongue. They then parted.

Desta flew low over the village huts and soon saw her group gathering some distance ahead. She circled, then swooped down and joined them. Milo the group leader was directing the proceedings. Each worker would work with two others and assigned collection areas. Each carried a drawstring bag in which the pollens were to be collected and they were each assigned a particular species of flower. At the end of the collection the pollens were stored, then dealt out by other workers where needed. The process insured the propagation and continuation of all flora in the forest and the natural order was kept in balance.

Desta received her assignment and her bag, which she quickly strung over her shoulder. She, Vi and Soré, her two work-companions, took to the air and headed deep into the forest.

Desta was given the delicate tree flower ‘orphia’ as her assignment. It was an unusual purple flower that grew in the moist parts of the forest on the sides of the tree trunks. Its seeds, normally carried by the wind, attach themselves to the coarse tree bark where they grow. Their roots, like masses of fine hairs fell down the trunks gathering their nourishment from the moist forest air. At least they were easy to spot, Desta thought as she darted in and out of the pines.

As they approached their appointed area, Desta could see the orphia flowers dotting the towering trees ahead and began work at their tops to harvest the precious seeds. With one hand she gently parted the purple petals, and with the other, withdrew the yellow nodules that once extracted, revealed the long, black seeds attached. This exercise would be repeated many, many times, and as it all took place midair, it was exhausting work.

As the day progressed, the remaining flowers were closer to the ground and Desta was relieved that she’d started at the top. The day slowly came to a close and as the twilight approached, she took a break and sat exhausted on one of the lower branches of a young pine. In the distance she could see Vi waving at her, it was time to go home.

Before she could make a move and as she organised and secured her bag, Desta heard a strange whooshing sound. As she turned to see what it was, she felt a burning pain around her neck. Suddenly everything went black as she fell limply off the branch and on to the wet forest floor. Vi saw everything and in fear, took cover behind one of the pines.

‘What have we here?’ said a deep gravelly voice.

‘It’s an Artec! The master will be pleased,’ said another.

They were a small band of ‘Morlons’- large feared creatures now in the employ of the wizard, Mangarna. They were an ugly brutish race, huge, hairy and muscular but with rather small heads. The Morlons were a bloodthirsty lot but not known for their intelligence. They wore animal skins as clothing and often displayed teeth and even small skulls as trophies around their necks and waists. Morlons usually carried clubs and spears and often used a sling to pull down their prey. The sling was a woven leather strap with two stone weights at either end. When thrown it would wrap around the neck of the victim, momentarily cutting off their air supply and rendering them unconscious.

Desta lay motionless, the four Morlons gathered around her drooling and grunting.

‘He will pay handsomely for this one,’ said their leader, in a deep guttural tone. One of the others turned and spat on the ground wiping his bulbous nose with the back of his arm. They picked Desta’s slender body up and tied her hands behind her back. Then threw her over the leaders shoulder and disappeared into the scrub.

Vi couldn’t believe what had happened and frantically left to search for Soré.

Meanwhile, Arlin sat excitedly on the grassy bank next to the creek. He couldn’t wait to see Desta and his heart glowed with the mere thought of her. As time went on and the twilight approached he began to worry. What was taking her so long?

He began to pace up and down, occasionally skimming pebbles across the surface of the water. With each second he grew more and more impatient and with each second that passed, he began to feel something was very wrong.

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