Dead trees with their branches grasping at a dark, clouded sky, grew in the distance, past the fences and the houses. Any farther was only darkness. Brisk autumn air shook the tree branches and howled through the hairline cracks of a tiny window. A dirty face looked out in awe; this was her second window to the world. She could stand there and watch it change for hours. It's beauty changing to a new kind of beauty over and over, the moon her only friend to help show her the way. Every now and then there would be a figure who would walk from house to house, sometimes just to look inside for a few seconds, other times with a burlap sack filled with food.
She liked it when they had food.
They were the masters. Their faces were always concealed under large, dark gray hoods. They only spoke when they needed something of them or to move the older folk out of the long houses. They were strange beings who could walk on the frozen grounds without hurting their feet. The little girl sometimes wished she was a master so that she could see the world past her window.
“Silvia,” a voice called from behind her. “It's story time.”
Silvia smiled, jumping up and down, unable to hide her excitement. Older faces watched her with fondness. The house wasn't as full as it could be with only eleven people. Usually there were more bodies, at least twenty, to huddle together for warmth during the long winter nights. But there would be more soon: Three of the woman wrapped their arms around large bellies that would soon yield babies who would fill the empty cots.
One woman, her belly flat, patted her lap and Silvia jumped into it snuggling into the warm, familiar arms. This was her first window into the world and it was her favorite. Her brothers and sister sat around the woman, Silvia's mother, and looked at her expectantly.
“Make it a good one, Liv,” Their leader said from his bed, his green eyes sparkling with a smile. He had a long, gnarly beard that grew over most of his face. He wore the same burlap smock as everyone else in the long house.
“Of course,” she took a deep breath and breathed out to clear the air. She brushed her red-blonde hair out of her eyes and closed her bright blue eyes. Then she began.
“Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a great white dragon. Her scales were as white and bright as snow on a full moon night. She was the ruler of all the lands. So powerful and respected that even the elves listened to her.”
The kids sat starstruck and the leader smiled and let his eyes close. “Enerevlis was her name. She has two sons, Merrick of the fire, and Theecrose of the earth and one daughter, Konza of the ice. Together they formed the world that we all know. Theecrose created the land, the rocks and ground spilling from his large jowls. Konza created the harsh, frozen lands. Snow dancing out of her scales and ice poured from her mouth. Merrick melted the ice, with large flames that erupted from his jowls. The elves knitted the vines and pulled the plants from the ground. Enerevlis spread her gift across the land and gave all living things life.
“For hundreds of years all was well. Enerevlis had a small group she kept near her; the white wizards. They started off like us, human, at the bottom of the magic chain. They learned how to master the elements becoming wiser and more powerful than even the elves.
“But then came the day of the thief.” Silvia, cuddled in close to her mother, hardly noticed when the leader and one of the small bellied ladies went into the back room. “It was a stormy night and no one expected a thing. The Vlad, for that was his name, climbed up to the mountain top where Enerevlis slept and, using a metal thorn, pricked her tail stealing a single drop of the great dragon's blood.”
The children gasped and shuddered. Silvia's mother paused to let the idea take hold before continuing, “He took this drop back to his home, a cave in Enerevlis's very mountain, and drank her blood.”
"They say that his screams could be heard across the lands for three long nights. Once he emerged from his cave on a new moon's night, he was pale and different. He was no longer a human, but he wasn't a wizard, nor a dragon, nor an elf nor anything else that had been known. He shunned the bright light and kept to the shadows. Above all he had a burning hunger and only one thing in mind to eat.
"He wanted more blood.
"Evenrelvis knew what Vlad had done so she took him up to her mountain before he could steal blood from anyone else. She didn't kill him. She knew everything happened for a reason and accepted him for what he was.
"But she did curse him making his nose so sensitive that the most pungent smells would repel him and anyone who held tight to their ideals could send him away with the symbol of their faith. She made it so he would always go to sleep before the bright light lit up the world. His wings were stripped from him and was given one gift.
"He was the first to be able to change into something he was not, but only one thing. A bat.
"She also helped him find the ability to change humans into thieves like him. But she warned him that he couldn't change everyone, and long after the youngest child died of old age, he would still live in his cave preying on those Evenrelvis deemed worthy of him to eat. She turned him into her harbinger, her reaper. He brought death to those who killed unnecessarily, those who stole what was not their's to take. And, he was in charge of guarding the mountain while everyone else slept. He accepted these terms because he had the power he wanted. He spread his gift to three others and they kept watch over the dragons and culled evil, abrasive humans from the world.
"Then came the second thief," Liv smiled down at the children and kissed Silvia on the forehead, "Vlad slept every bright light, as did his sons. So the thief easily found his way through the cave and pricked Vlad with the very same metal thorn that had pricked Evenrevlis and stole an entire flask of his blood. The thief quickly escaped and left the mountains. But his absence was noticed. He had been one of the white wizards.”
The children gasped.
“Why? I thought they were good and powerful!” One of the kids piped.
Liv nodded. “Oh, they were. But they weren't immortal. The second thief wanted to live forever and took the cursed blood far away and drank it all. He remained hidden for several years. Those who had been babies of the day he took the blood had had babies of their own when he finally returned. Unlike Vlad, the first thief, the second thief could walk in the bright light. He could control the elements and his wings were intact. This time Evenrevlis wasn't as forgiving as before. She knew that none who started as a human should ever have so much power and took a deep breath to remove him from the world.
“He avoided most of her attack, losing only one very important thing. He lost his name.”
“Mommy Liv,” One of the boys started, “How is a name important?”
“It holds who we are and gives us a purpose in life and connects us to the soul stream. When he lost his name, he lost his soul's essence and had nothing to hold him to who he was. He probably had plans to use his prize, but he lost all his ambitions, his dreams and desires when he lost his name. He was a shell, empty and lost. He searched to fill this shell far from the land of the dragons, he found nothing he wanted other than revenge and desired for more power. Soon he was full of darkness, a yearning for nothing less than possessing the world. They say that if you ever looked him in the eyes, his black soul would carve out your heart and leave you empty, just as Evenrevlis had done to him.
“Having no name, people started calling him Black Cloak for the cloak he wore when he challenged Evenrevlis. That day was a dark-”
“Is that smoke?” One of the large bellied ladies interrupted, sniffing at the air.
Three other girls rushed to the windows and one gasped, “There's fire! The masters are searching.”
Liv's grip on Silvia tightened, “Do you think they are looking for her?”
“I think so.”
A scream pierced the once peaceful night and was quickly followed by another.