Cool water from the stream tickled Katelin's feet as it gurgled its way through the forest. White fluffy clouds danced across the azure sky while birds performed acrobatics, slicing through the tight branches of the towering trees surrounding the glade. Gliding among the outstretched arms of the giant trees, their calls echoed softly along the warm air. Reclining on the bank of the stream in her favorite place, she absentmindedly plucked at the blades of grass with one hand, the other propped beneath her head. Soft chestnut curls spread across the grass. Within those curls, Piney the mole snuggled against Katelin's neck. Her hair had grown out from her act of defiance before she came to the valley nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. No longer did short platinum hair with pink bangs frame her heart shaped face.
She thought back on the first time she came to the valley three years ago. Filled with grief and anger over her father's death, she had not been the most pleasant person. She mentally chastised herself for her actions those first few days. Understanding the loss of her father and losing her anger only came about when her great-grandmother was kidnapped and it fell to Katelin to rescue her. A shiver ran down her spine when she thought back to her encounter with the lizard-like troll her brother Simon nicknamed Ziggy. Fighting to stay alive, she made her way through two different worlds and with the help of her new friends—the trolls of Dhumfeld, the Faeries, and the birds of the forest–she gave Ziggy what he wanted most and obtained the release of Nana and her brother.
Katelin smiled when she thought of the creatures of the forest. They had become those whom she loved to be surrounded by each day. Most of her days with the Faeries Gwilla and Lueraleene are spent learning the ways of the forest and all the wonders of life within its borders. Then there is Dewith and Thuropolis, the great horned owls who impart their wisdom with each encounter. But most of all, her friend Piney, the mole who has been her companion through all of her adventures; the one who stayed by her side in the most horrendous of situations, the one who always questioned her reasoning until he was satisfied that Katelin understood how she came to her decisions.
A snap in the brush jerked Katelin back from her musings. She pulled her feet from the stream and listened for the sound to repeat itself as her eyes searched the edges of the forest. Nothing to see but the trees and the darkness surrounding them. The kidnapping of Nana had taught her that nothing is as it seems and vigilance would be the difference between life and death, even in this magical valley. When no other sound came, she relaxed and let her mind wander.
During her time in the valley, she had become accustomed to the sounds of her surroundings. Always listening for what didn’t belong. It's the absence of normal that could catch you unaware, and she never wanted to be caught unaware again as she experienced during her first trip here. The beauty of the valley and the endless vistas of Dhumfeld can be deceiving to those who fail to comprehend there is always danger hidden within beauty.
Another snap from behind the blueberry bushes brought Katelin to her feet. Piney, who was sleeping beside her, stretched and came awake. “What was that sound, Katelin?”
“I don't know. It came from behind the blueberry bushes.”
“Do you not think we should look to see if one of your friends is in need?” Piney sniffed the air looking for a familiar scent. “I find a new smell I have not encountered before. It is similar to others, but different. We should look, we should.”
“What is this we business? I'm the one who has to check this out.” Katelin took a step toward the bushes and stopped, hoping for a sound that told her no danger lurked within. Maybe an animal of the forest was hurt. She couldn't stand by and do nothing.
Slow, cautious steps brought her to the edge of the stream nearest the row of blueberry bushes, Piney trailing close behind. She could see nothing. No creature of the forest, not even Llisder the Faery who loved to play jokes on everyone.
Her hand trembled as she pushed back the bushes and stared into the thick, dark forest. No sign of anything bigger than a rabbit lay beyond her feet. She crept further into the forest, careful to watch her step with bare feet, pushing more brush aside to make her way through the tangle of vines, undergrowth, and low hanging branches.
Through a break in the underbrush she spotted a piece of dirty and ragged clothing. Katelin stepped closer. An arm bent beneath a battered and scared back. Long black, matted hair covered the face of whoever lay before her.
She rushed into the brush and knelt beside the person forgoing any concern for safety.
“It is a man,” Piney whispered, peeking from behind her foot.
“I can see that.” Katelin brushed back the matted hair to look at the face beneath. Scratches covered what she could see of a young man with sculptured features. His sharp nose and strong jaw line was marred by bruised and swollen pale skin, some bruises had turned from purple to an ugly green. It must have been some time since he had been beaten, and a beating was the only way his face could have been this damaged without deep cuts from an accident. Through his hair she noticed his pointed Faery ears. She reached her hand out and gently pushed his hair away from his face.
He was a Faery like Lueraleene.
Shocked, Katelin sat back. This couldn't be. Lueraleene was supposed to be the last of her kind. She never mentioned there were others.