Follow the adventures of Del and Huck in this harrowing fantasy novel taking place in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.
The Lights Amid the Wood
As night began to fall, Bitter explained that he had been sent by the Good Lich to deliver a message: it had been found that the elves were amassing forces North of the Good Lich's tower, in what the Lich imagined to be not just an effort to intimidate, but in plans to invade Oklahoma City.
The good news is that the Good Lich believed such a thing would not happen for weeks. But still, the signs were clear: the elves desired war.
"Why'd the Lich send you?" Flavian asked. "Why not the apprentice?"
"I don't know. It was either me or Franklin, really," said Bitter. "And the Lich don't like Franklin."
"I can't imagine why," the halfling commented, but did not elaborate.
"Also," said Bitter. "I think the Lich means for me to stick with you now, instead of returning. That's what he said anyway, I think."
"You think?" asked Huck.
"The Lich is strange," said Bitter. "Convincing. You go in there thinking you're gonna do one thing, but after you talk to him you think something else, despite all the logic in your head."
"I agree with that," said Huck.
"Well, Mr. Jenkins, we're glad you're here," said Del, smiling at the old man.
"Thanks, Miss Del. I'm glad to be here, I guess. But that's not all I have to tell you. The Good Lich told me about the message you're carrying. It's to ask the sorceress for aid."
"What kind of aid?" asked Huck.
"Warriors and wizards. To fight the elves."
Flavian laughed. "And what does the Lich offer in return?"
"The message says what," instructed Bitter. "I don't know. But the Lich seemed to imply the cattle weren't for him -- but for Iska."
"Goddamn," said Huck. "The Lich knew this would happen when he asked for the cattle."
"Well, that's dandy. We should be off then," said Flavian.
"But it's almost night," argued Huck. "Shouldn't we be setting up camp?"
"In this insane forest?" asked the halfling. "I don't think so. No, we continue on. Besides, Oklahoma City depends on us, apparently. If dawn comes and we're still in this maze, we'll rest. Until then, prepare to ride."
Del, Huck, and especially Bitter -- who was obviously tired from his ride -- could not hide their disappointment.
But they did as the halfling commanded.
They rode slowly through the dark wood, happy with their new companion, but also deeply cognizant of the dangers around them.
It wasn't long before they saw the lights in the forest. They were many colors: blue, pink, orange, green, and others. Each the size of a candle's flame, but floating and bobbing in the air like flying insects.
"Faeries! Shapeshifters!" Flavian whispered at the companions with force. "Do not look to closely, and do not speak to them, no matter what they might say."
Huck looked into the lights in around him as they surrounded himself and the others, expecting to see some fantastic tiny winged creature inside, but instead only could make out dense, bright, shimmering color. It was almost hypnotic, looking into that amazing light....
"Huck!" Flavian commanded. "Look away!"
He came to his senses just as he felt himself about to nod off to sleep. Huck shivered, suddenly terrified, and now did not look too closely at the faeries' light. He turned back to Del, embarrassed, and hoping to apologize with a glance for almost submitting to the danger, but she just nodded and stared past him through the lights, obviously disconcerted herself.
Here the forest was terribly quiet but for the sound of the horses trudging through the brush, and the companion's own frightened breath and fast pulsing hearts. Faintly though, Huck could swear he could hear distant tinkling bells, just under the silence.
Like the cyclopes, the faeries let the companions pass without incident. But all of them were unnerved by the experience, and when the lights slowly disappeared, they all breathed a sigh of relief as darkness took shape over them again.
Once a few minutes had passed with the faeries gone, Bitter spoke. "What were those things, Flavian?"
"Magical creatures," said the halfling, not turning round to speak, his voice still quiet should the lights return. "Sometimes benevolent, sometimes not. Known to lie and trick, though also known to sometimes bless. But we were better off not to interact with them."
"Does Iska have many such things?" Del wondered.
"Yes," said Flavian. "It is a dangerous, magical, but also sometimes wonderful world. The trouble is knowing which is which."
They continued through the wood, and a slight breeze started up again, blowing through the leaves of the trees.
"How much longer?" Flavian asked Jobe.
"Not long," said the orc. "An hour."
Huck couldn't believe it. It seemed the forest would never end, but sure as the orc spoke he still had doubts they would ever leave the wood.
He heard chewing behind him and turned and saw Bitter biting into a stick of jerky.
"Hungry?" the cowboy asked.
"Yes," he admitted.
"Here," Bitter ripped off a large piece for Huck.
"Thank you," Huck said, taking it and biting into the meat. It was very salty, and very good. He then broke off a piece for Del, and handed it to her.
"I'm glad you came to Iska with us," Del told the old cowboy.
"I wish I could say I was as glad," said Bitter. "I don't take too well to magic. Still, I can't complain about the company." Then, eyeing the halfling and the orc, he finished, "Mostly."
"Aren't you curious what Iska is like?"
"Curious, maybe, but also a bit cowardly about it. I can ride, I can shoot, I can fight. But what's the good of that against magical monsters and wizardry?"
"I don't know," said Del, as Huck watched her closely. "People is people wherever they're from, though, ain't they?"
"I think so," said Bitter. "That's what I'm afraid of."