Treffen Cedarbough has trained his whole life to protect the Fae Woods. He knows what plants to eat and what plants will eat him. But most of all he knows that light magic in the Woods comes from the great and powerful Deeproot Tree. As the newest member of the Rangers, Treffen has vowed to protect the Tree with his life.
When a deadly attack comes too close to Treffen’s home, he seeks guidance from the elven elders and receives an ominous prophecy directly from the Tree. An old enemy of the kingdom, the Forgotten King, plots to break free of his ancient prison. And according to the prophecy, it’s up to Treffen to stop this evil from escaping.
With the help of a pedestrian knight and an adventuring princess, Treffen confronts the darkness. But each battle brings them one step closer to the Lordship Downs, the heart of all evil in the Woods, and to the Forgotten King’s carefully laid trap. Deep into enemy territory, Treffen must choose between his sacred oath and the lives of his closest friends.
"D. W. Vogel's writing style is amazing and draws you deep into the bright and vivid world of Junior Ranger Treffen Cedarbough. You really feel like you are there sharing in the challenges, adventures, and excitement."
-Dave Killingsworth, Owner, SolarFlare Games
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Chapter 1Trouble in the Woods Treffen Cedarbough crept along the dry streambed, arrow nocked and ready. A young buck browsed the bushes just over the rocky edge, and the growling of Treffen’s stomach threatened to give him away. Slow and steady. Just like Master Birch always says. Breathe and focus. A chattering erupted in the trees, and a sudden hailstorm of acorns pelted the deer’s rump and Treffen’s head. The deer darted away into the forest. Treffen glared at the squirrels. “You little . . . I’m gonna . . .” Unconcerned, the squirrels leapt from branch to branch, high in a stately oak, their little squeaks sounding like shrill laughter. Since they had scared away his dinner, they would have to do instead. He raised his bow and loosed an arrow at the fattest one. The nasty creature dodged the arrow, which lodged in the tree’s sturdy trunk.Looks like another hungry night. He climbed the tree amid an angry rain of acorns, retrieved his arrow, and examined the stone head for damage. The squirrels squeaked their amusement as he climbed down. That deer would have filled Treffen’s belly for days, and he could have sold the hide to one of the roving traders who traversed the wide dirt roads at the edge of the Fae Wood. With the crowns from that sale, he could have purchased metal arrowheads or fletching feathers. Now he’d have to scrounge for edible tubers in the dirt, and the arrows he’d made for his journey would have to serve another day. Treffen’s frustration melted away as he padded on through the forest. Golden sun slanted through the trees, and a soft breeze sang the song of rustling leaves. Every season in the Fae Wood had its charm, but spring was especially magical. The youngest sprouts were just bursting from the soil, waving their little leaves around in the joy of the season. Squishy, mushroom-like Kinoko hopped about in the shade of deep green ferns. Even the most hardened warrior couldn’t help but smile at their tumbling antics. Treffen inhaled the heady scent of loamy soil and growing things. For a Glimmerdusk Ranger, such were the sounds and scents of home.But you’re not quite a Ranger yet, are you? The voice in his head held a tinge of Father’s disapproval. It always did. Two more weeks. That’s all he had left. Since the Rangers had accepted him into their rigorous training, he’d learned everything an elf needed to know for surviving the Fae Wood. Soon he’d join their official ranks and take his place as a Wood guardian, helping lost travelers, caring for the creatures of the forest, and securing the Glade from the ever-encroaching taint of Lordship Downs. The thought sent a shiver down Treffen’s spine. He’d seen the Downs. His training group had all followed Master Birch to the edge of the Wood where towering sycamores and pines gave way to twisted abominations, slimy leaves, and the sickly-sweet scent of decaying flesh. “The evil creeps ever outward,” Master Birch had said. “That darkness which dwells in the heart of the Downs is like a climbing ivy, always seeking, always sending out new tendrils to grasp and grow. Only our vigilance keeps the taint at bay.” Treffen had proved adept at that. While the slow, methodical creeping of a hunt often ended with a hungry Treffen, when it came to a real fight, he excelled. Arrows would fly from his bow faster than he could even think, sailing true to their targets. It was like the Goddess herself guided his hands when he let his mind go in the heat of attack.And yet you just lost a fight with a squirrel. Treffen glanced up, checking the sun’s position. His solo circuit of the Fae Wood was almost over. Another two weeks in the forest alone and he’d return to the Glade as a full Glimmerdusk Ranger, the first in his family. Not that anyone in his family had ever aspired to become one.Let it go. Eat your dinner. That inner voice sounded more like his mother. He pulled some dry tubers from his pack, knelt next to a large, flat rock, and laid the tubers on the makeshift table for preparation. His blade paused over the roots as a sickly stench drifted past his nostrils. Treffen glanced at the sun again, closing his eyes for a moment. An elf could never be lost in the Fae Wood. Though the Deeproot Tree that dominated the Glade was miles away, all he had to do was reach into his heart to feel Her presence and its location. The great Tree’s roots stretched through all Crystalia such that his feet could never be so far that he couldn’t feel Her life-giving dominion. He was north of the Tree, east of the Downs, and only a day’s walk from Cross Creek, a small human town on the outskirts of the Wood. The taint of evil shouldn’t be discernible here. But the stench wafted by again, carried by a chilly breeze. Treffen tucked the tubers into his belt pack, replaced his knife in its sheath, and reached for an arrow.Darkness flows from the Downs. It was one of the first lessons young Ranger Trainees learned. The evil of the Dark Realm had plenty of other outlets into the once-peaceful country of Crystalia, but here in the Fae Wood, that death smell always came from one place. He sidled forward, feet making no sound on the dry leaves. The shifting scent led him into the glare of the setting sun. As he padded through the dense underbrush, small creatures skittered past and the comforting symphony of birdsong fell away behind him.A silent forest is a dangerous forest. Another Ranger saying. His skin prickled as the sun dipped below the horizon, the usual pink of twilight given over to a moody, bruised, purple sky. The scent on the breeze became more rancid, and a small noise ahead stopped Treffen in his tracks. He crouched low, listening.This shouldn’t be. The evil taint of Lordship Downs shouldn’t be anywhere near this part of the Wood. But the farther he crept, the more he felt it, reaching right through the soil and into his bones. Gnarled roots snagged his boots as he scooted forward. His heart thudded in his ears, and he held his breath, listening in the silence. Somewhere just to the north. A squishing noise like rotted wood followed by a strangled scream. Treffen peered around a blackened tree stump. A human man and woman were struggling to free themselves from brown, twisted vines that were wrapping around them from all directions. There was only one evil this could possibly be, and the name chilled Treffen’s blood.King Sprout. Of all the forest creatures that could be tainted by evil, the once-gentle Sprouts became the most dangerous when touched by the Dark Realm. He drew the machete from his belt and stepped out from behind the tree. The Sprout wasn’t fully grown yet, but still in the middle of the transformation between the mobile, hopping, knee-high plant and the towering man-eater it would become. The whole change took only minutes, and judging by the thickness of the vines, this one was well on its way. They had to get clear before the final transformation. Treffen slashed at the vines, peeling them off the woman’s skin. Oozing boils covered her flesh, and she fell to her knees as he chopped away the plant’s tentacles. As soon as she was free, he shoved her away. “Get away from here!” The woman scrambled to her feet and stumbled back the way Treffen had come, to the safety of the living forest. The man was being dragged back toward the center of the Sprout’s grasping arms. Chop and peel. The man’s skin looked worse than the woman’s, and he was growing weaker, barely struggling against the vines. Poisoned. Some fungus must have blown toxic spores onto the couple, leaving them easy prey for the Sprout.Not today. Treffen ripped the last of the vines from the man’s torso and pushed him out of the Sprout’s reach. The man fell, barely able to crawl. There was no way Treffen could carry both of the humans, and the woman couldn’t have gotten far. He reached down toward the man, intending to drag him away, but the Sprout wrapped a brown tentacle around his leg and yanked hard, spilling Treffen onto the ground. He chopped at the vines, but more slithered around him. No time. He wrenched his machete arm free and hacked at the grasping tendrils, sliding ever closer to the plant’s center. A King Sprout’s final transformation was the growth of a huge, toothed pod, a gaping mouth that devoured anything its vines could drag close enough. The plant could take out a whole regiment of Rangers, which weren’t here to help him anyway. If that mouth was already sprouted, Junior Ranger Treffen Cedarbough was about to become dinner.