In a world where no humans dwell, prophecy shapes the lives of its creatures. As four horses discover their power over the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, danger threatens the peaceful Valley of Fael. When a mysterious squirrel teaches these four the ancient ways, their power goes awry with near-disastrous consequences. In a secret valley, their teacher reveals them as the Chosen Four, destined to save their world from a great and terrible evil. Embarking upon a perilous quest, the four horses must face numerous threats: vicious hyena-like dogs, a living storm, a deadly assassin, and a trial of illusion.
As their powers strengthen and their path grows more dangerous, the horses must draw closer together or risk defeat. Slowly unraveling a strange riddle, the horses realize they have yet to face their most dangerous foe. An evil tyrant called the Abomination has gathered a horde of starved and maddened creatures and is preparing set them loose upon Faelas. As the Faelan horse-herds prepare for battle, they wait for their saviors to help turn back the tide of their enemies.
Will the four fulfill the prophecy, or will Faelas fall into darkness and ruin?
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Chosen FourThe Faelan Prophecies, Book One
By M. S. Taeryn
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 M. S. Taeryn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMany Secrets
"Let no visions of greed and power tempt you into evil, for that day will begin your downfall." ~ Ellúáríon the Wise
... Eighteen months later, the 7th day of Tantlá, Tenth month of the year 1031 A.V.
Seas galloped under the evening sun, trying her hardest to escape. She heard hooves beating the ground behind her, then with a loud snort, Haisa surged forward and touched Saeas with her outstretched nose.
"Rain and flood!" exclaimed Saeas as she slowed abruptly. "Haisa, why do you always go after me?" She turned and bucked playfully even as she spoke, betraying that she was not truly annoyed.
Haisa merely grinned as she raced by. "Because you are so fun to catch!"
"I'll get you for that," Saeas vowed as she raced after her. "I'm Chaser now," Saeas called to Remnós and Flayós, who stood a small distance off.
"I knew it!" Flayós crowed.
Instead of answering him, Saeas abandoned her chase of Haisa to swerve suddenly and bump Flayós with her nose. "Flayós is Chaser!"
Remnós quickly ran a safe distance from Flayós as he tried to catch the others. No matter how hard he tried, they avoided him, dancing just out of his reach. Haisa saw frustration building in his features and pretended to stumble so that Flayós could catch her. Remnós saw her do it, and smiled faintly, but Saeas (who would surely have protested) was facing the other direction.
After calling, "I'm Chaser," Haisa dashed toward Remnós, who ran to the clearing's lone tree, intending to hold her off behind it. As he reached it, he heard a voice say from above, "A fine evening, is it not, Remnós?"
Sliding suddenly back upon his haunches, Remnós neighed in surprise. He paid no heed to Haisa as she ran past and nudged him, so she spun to a stop and returned to his side.
"Remnós?" Following his gaze, she stared into the branches above them.
Noticing their strange behavior, Saeas and Flayós ran forward to stand beside them.
"What's the matter?" asked Flayós breathlessly as he skidded to a halt. "Who's Chaser?"
There was a rustling above them as a silver-speckled black squirrel came from behind the dense leaves and sat upon a branch in plain view. The four of them stared at him in silence, but this did not seem to upset the newcomer. "I am Sÿrkaór," he said with a dramatic bow and a whisk of his tail. "Traveler, seeker and holder of knowledge, and tutor extraordinaire, at your service."
"Seeker of knowledge?" Haisa wondered. "What knowledge do you seek?"
"All knowledge, Haisa my dear," the squirrel replied with a bold flourish.
"How do you know her name?" Flayós asked suspiciously.
"I know all of your names, Flayós," Sÿrkaór answered with a dismissive flick of his bushy tail. "I know many secrets, and I only want worthy students to whom I can entrust them."
"Worthy students?" Haisa echoed. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, bright, intelligent, curious ... rather like you four." His voice was full of allure. "If you would be so kind as to tell me, I should very much like to know what Aeleméssa each of you fine young horses is Kindred with."
Haisa suddenly became wary at such a personal question. "I am not so sure that we should be speaking with you-especially of this."
"Oh, that is a shame," sighed the squirrel with regret. "I may have to resort to intense persuasion." As he finished saying this, he bared his teeth in a comical grimace as though meaning to bite them. "Of course," he continued thoughtfully, twirling his tail-tip in his paws, "that may be difficult, since there are four of you great horses and only one of little old me." He pulled a mournful face, pretending to droop dismally.
Haisa and the others could not help but smile, feeling more comfortable. "Truth be told, we do not yet know," she admitted. "But we suspect-"
"Do not tell me." Sÿrkaór raised a paw in command as though receiving a sudden revelation. "Let me guess. You, Haisa, love the wind-is that right?"
When she nodded in surprise, the squirrel continued. "I believe Flayós is rather fascinated with fire ... Hmmm, Remnós, the quiet one, likes the earth and all the plants, and Saeas ..." He paused for a moment, pretending to ponder, before he said, "ah, yes, water!"
"How did you know?" Saeas-amazed, and a little suspicious-spoke for the first time.
"That, Saeas dear, is a secret," said the squirrel with a sly wink. "I told you before, I know many secrets." He regarded them silently for a moment, and then said suddenly, "Do you desire to learn?"
"What manner of things, exactly?" Haisa was still wary but relenting a little.
"Oh, many things," replied the squirrel, in keeping with his air of mystery. "My specialties are many-history, language, reasoning, tactics ... and most importantly, Maeghan Theory."
"Maeghan Theory?" Haisa repeated.
"A most fascinating subject," said Sÿrkaór. "It explores maegha and its uses-how to call forth your power and make it grow, how to grow strong with your Aeleméssa and become great ..."
"I don't want to become great." Saeas made it quite clear that she did not like the idea at all. "I want my power to grow because it should. I don't care if anyone else knows about it."
Ah, youngling, you do not know what is destined for you, thought Sÿrkaór sadly. Fame, and many things worse. "But what of the others?" he said aloud.
Haisa thought for a moment before she replied. "I want to do the best I can, but it doesn't matter whether anyone else knows about it. I mean, I'll know, and that's all that matters."
"Very wise for one of your age, Haisa dear," Sÿrkaór told her with a broad smile.
"No renown," Remnós said, agreeing with Saeas and Haisa.
Flayós, however, had been watching the squirrel with an almost hungry expression. "To be great ..." he said softly. "Yes, that is what I want."
"Well," said the stranger briskly, "it seems I have something to offer to all, regardless of renown. I can give you wisdom, strength, knowledge, experience ..." He trailed off seductively, leaving them to imagine.
"Do you think our parents ignorant?" demanded Saeas, suddenly indignant as a new thought struck her. "That they cannot teach us as well as you?"
"By no means," the squirrel said hastily in sudden defense. "But they are very busy, no doubt. It does take special talent to teach youngsters, sometimes. Why, you could be the wisest creature in the world and not have the patience or time to teach a student properly. Be assured that I meant no offense to your parents-I am sure that they are excellent indeed."
His easygoing manner seemed to reassure them somewhat, and as they relaxed, he went on. "Would it not be nice," he said as though it had just occurred to him, "if I could be your tutor, or something of the like. I could show you all sorts of wonderful things ... but alas!" he said sorrowfully. "I am afraid that tutors are not much used around here anymore. Once it was quite common practice, but now ... And I was so hoping to have a task to occupy my time, in return for some excellent food and a comfortable tree ..." He sighed with an expression of deep regret. "But I suppose it is not to be."
"Not so hasty," said Haisa, intrigued despite herself. "How do you know that you cannot be our teacher? If you asked our parents, they might agree."
The squirrel seemed to brighten. "Do you think so?"
"You won't know until you try," said Haisa cheerfully.
So far, all is well, for the sly one of Words, the squirrel thought wryly as he referred to himself. If I had known Naharra would set me to this, I would have become a performer.
The squirrel tried to make himself look worried. "Still, I do not think I should approach the herd. That is-I do not feel comfortable-" he broke off.
"It is quite understandable," said Haisa, eager to be helpful. "We will ask for you."
They think I am too timid to walk up to a stallion, Sÿrkaór fumed silently. He hated petty subterfuge-it insulted his persuasive abilities. And he preferred to do things in his own way instead of being set to the task like a novice.
"If you could have your parents-or whoever has authority-come here to talk with me, it would be splendid." His tone was still timid and polite.
"That would be our father, Flae," Flayós said, eager to announce his father's importance. "He's the High Stallion and leader of the Herd of Fiel. Maybe tomorrow he'll talk to you."
"Yes, please do try," begged the squirrel. He had reached his limit-he'd had enough of this humiliating display. To end any further discussion, he disappeared within the upper branches of the tree. The four horses looked at each other for one silent moment, then turned and walked away into the gathering dusk. Once they had left the clearing and passed beyond the strip of trees that separated the fields, they began to talk in low voices.
From his position high in the tree, Sÿrkaór watched them go and huffed in indignant relief. Climbing nimbly down, he bounded across the clearing in the opposite direction. Finding a good tree, he settled into a comfortable crotch and made ready to sleep. "I wonder what they shall decide to do," he mused idly as he curled up with his tail over his head.
"I hope Father agrees," said Flayós as soon as the squirrel was out of hearing. "Think of what he could teach us!"
"He spied on us," Haisa pointed out.
"Yes, but ... he seemed harmless enough," Saeas said. "And he was merely seeking students."
"He said," emphasized Haisa. "All the same, he did seem so very hopeful."
Flayós was lost in visions of grandeur and scarcely heard them, so he did not reply.
Saeas turned to Remnós. "What about you?"
He considered for a moment, then answered, "The pool may be deeper than we think." Remnós was not convinced that the squirrel was such a timid, harmless creature, but said no more of his suspicions.
Saeas and Haisa looked at him curiously, puzzled by his words. Turning ahead once more, they put aside his strange statement and went on through the gathering dusk as it gave way to darkness. Since they seemed to have made their decision, they said their goodnights and separated to return home.
Flayós followed Saeas as they approached the meadow where their family slept. As they neared it, they saw the outlines of their parents silhouetted against the home fire.
"Father," Saeas asked as she paced to his side. "May Flayós and I speak with you?"
They told him everything, down to the last detail that they could remember.
"He does not sound dangerous, and his idea is interesting," Flae said, seeming to consider. What is that confounded squirrel doing now? he thought, but said instead, "Tomorrow I will go and speak with him, to see if he would make a worthy tutor. Go and sleep now."
Saeas and Flayós withdrew to the patch of dry grass in the shelter of their sleeping-tree, and soon fell asleep despite their burning curiosity. They did not notice that Flae stared at the embers long into the night, as though searching them for answers.
* * *
Stalking from its lair in the dead of night, the grotesque creature prowled across the desolate landscape, searching for a victim. No longer seeking merely death for whomever he caught, he now had another purpose. Creeping silently forward, he peered over a rim of jagged stones and looked down on the peaceful family below. They would not be peaceful for long.
With a sudden leap, he was over the stones and in their midst, lashing out with claws like daggers. The male fell snarling as he tried to protect his family, his heavy shoulders and massive jaws giving way before the powerful blows wielded by those claws. The awful creature drew back his lips and advanced upon the female as the pups cowered beneath her.
"Look at me," the killer commanded.
The female canine's eyes were drawn against her will and locked into his gaze, twin orbs of empty black that seemed to swallow her mind. Her will unraveled as she looked into those pits of emptiness, barely hearing the low chant of some dark tongue coursing through her.
"You will come with me, and bring the pups."
The female obeyed that snarl without resistance. "Come," she said to her offspring, and they stumbled after her as she led them in the wake of the creature who had destroyed their lives.
* * *
Flae walked under the pale light of the rising sun as he set out towards the lone tree in the meadow. Flae had warned the four playmates not to approach the clearing or try listening to what went on, and Flae crossed the dew-wet grass alone. They knew that Flae would know it if they disobeyed, so the four of them stayed well away.
Flae halted when he reached the tree, looking up into the branches. Not one to waste words, he commanded, "Show yourself."
The leaves rustled, and then Sÿrkaór appeared on the same branch as before. "A bit early, is it not?" he asked with a yawn, gazing down on his visitor.
Flae ignored the question, studying the squirrel intently. "Your request was a strange one, but it seemed to have the results you expected."
"They told you the whole story, then?"
"Yes," replied Flae. "Now explain yourself."
Sÿrkaór began pacing slowly. "First of all, I should like to congratulate you on having such fine younglings. They did very well, and now they suppose that it was their idea for me to teach them."
Flae sighed heavily. "Do not tire me with words of pleasantry. For the sake of our friendship, I allowed you this liberty when you came to me yesterday, but you will have no more until you explain your actions."
"I suppose that you have a right to know my purpose." The squirrel wriggled uncomfortably for a moment and composed himself. "They are the ones Foretold," he said, glancing carefully about. "I have been sent on a solemn mission that makes it my duty to teach them the Ways of Maegha."
"I am perfectly capable of doing that myself," Flae returned pointedly.
"I realize that, but the Térailiss do not."
"So you did join them, after all." Flae seemed less annoyed. "That explains much."
Sÿrkaór nodded solemnly. "There is not much else that I am able to tell you. I have been charged with educating these Four for their future."
"I know the prophecy of Ellúáríon, and it is not entirely certain that they are the ones Foretold by it," said Flae, rather too sharply.
"There are other Prophecies." The squirrel looked askance at his old friend. "Even if the Watcher had not seen the marks upon them, I am afraid that it would still be certain."
Flae bowed his head suddenly. "I knew in my heart as a Leader, but as a father I did not wish to admit it. Who am I to stand in the way of Destiny? Welcome, Sÿrkaór of the Térailiss, my old friend," he said in formal greeting. "Teach these four, that they may be prepared to face what awaits them."
"Salae-Anarra," Sÿrkaór replied gravely. "May it be so."
After a few moments of silence, Sÿrkaór made an attempt at consolation. "Prophecies are not made to rule our lives, but to shape and guide them. It can serve nothing to attempt undoing them, and we cannot ignore them. The All and Only gave certain creatures this knowledge for our benefit, and we cannot spurn His gifts. Despite the Darkness that will come, we are promised Light, and we cannot despair."
"Despair," Flae mused. "Yes, it is a danger. Those who cannot see the wisdom of Prophecy shall certainly doubt, and then despair." "To doubt is forgivable; to despair is not," said the squirrel as he leapt down from the tree and stood before him. "We must do our utmost to prevent either." He tilted his head far back to look up at Flae. "You are more pessimistic than I remember."
"And you talk more, if that is possible," Flae said, returning the friendly jest. "We will find a place to your liking where you can teach the younglings."
Excerpted from Chosen Four by M. S. Taeryn Copyright © 2010 by M. S. Taeryn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Many Secrets....................7
Chapter 2: Painful Lessons....................16
Chapter 3: Something Amiss....................38
Chapter 4: Due Consequence....................51
Chapter 5: Storm of Fear....................69
Chapter 6: Valley of Darkness, Valley of Light....................95
Chapter 7: Questions of a Journey....................116
Chapter 8: Silent Watcher....................129
Chapter 9: Clouds of Doubt....................143
Chapter 10: Battle Plans....................171
Chapter 11: Forest Warrior....................198
Chapter 12: Dark Plots....................217
Chapter 13: Dragon of Storm....................236
Chapter 14: The Edge of Death....................255
Chapter 15: Visions of Night....................275
Chapter 16: Forbidden Path....................298
Chapter 17: Into the Darkness....................324
Chapter 18: Living Stone....................353
Chapter 19: Lair of Illusion....................369
Chapter 20: In The Beginning....................387
Chapter 21: Rebellion of Truth....................404
Creatures Not of the Dark Valley....................421
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