The sun was bright, and the air pleasantly warm that day in the forest. It was the perfect day to start an adventure, or so Nico said; Toki was less inclined to believe it. The two boys, both no older than six, had been traveling through the woods for the better part of the day. It was only in the last few hours, however, that little Toki had started to doubt his friend. As he watched the bobbing blonde head of hair in front of him, the poor boy couldn’t help but feel tired.
“Why are we doing this again?” Toki whined for the twelfth time in the past three hours.
Nico, who had given up counting after five, his limit, only smiled at his dark featured friend, “To become Timan, of course!”
“Nico, you can’t become a Timan. Either you are one, or you’re not. Everyone knows that!” Toki said, still using that whining tone.
Nico refused to let his friend dampen his spirits. “Fine then, we’ll prove we’re Timan. All we have to do is go find some adventures, beat some bad guys, and then we’ll be Timan!”
“I’m not sure it works like that,” Toki said skeptically.
“Sure it does,” Nico replied enthusiastically, “That’s how Rae became a Timan.”
“But wasn’t she turned to stone?” Toki asked, more than slightly alarmed.
“Yeah,” Nico admitted, “But that’s only because she wasn’t careful. Or something like that. Anyways, we won’t end up like that, and even if we do, it will only be after lots and lots of adventures and fun, and stuff so that people will never forget us, and might even make up songs and stories about us. Won’t that be great?” Nico asked his friend, positively beaming with delight.
“Well, I guess so,” Toki said finally, no where’s near as much as enthusiasm in his voice. “I guess having some adventures would be interesting. The village is always so boring!”
“Except for when the Timan come through,” Nico answered, still grinning, “Then its all one big festival while they’re there.”
“Yeah!” Toki replied, now excited as well. “I want to live like that, one big party after another!”
Two hours later the sun was just starting to set, and Toki was whining again. Even though he wasn’t wearing either a belt pouch or a pack like Nico, he was getting tired. Also, his favorite maroon tunic had torn on some brambles, and the brown leggings he was wearing were starting to itch. What was worse, Nico didn’t seem to be tired at all, even though he’d fallen in the same patch of thorns and scratched up his legs where his half-pants didn’t cover. Toki also had no idea where they were. He wondered if Nico did either for that matter…
“Nico, we’ve been walking all day now, and we haven’t found even one adventure! Can we go back, or can we at lease stop to rest? My feet are tired, I’m hungry, and I think we’re lost.”
Laughing, Nico shook his head. “We’re not lost, silly, I know exactly where we are.”
“Where are we, then?” Toki asked indignantly.
“We’re in the Dark Lands, near the river.” Nico answered quickly.
“But where in the valley are we?” Toki fairly whined.
From the side pouch on his belt, Nico pulled out a worn and rather badly drawn map of the Dark Lands. He pointed to a spot close to the bottom of the map. “This is where the village is.” He pointed to a crudely drawn symbol of a house. “This is where the Timan castle is. Someone told me once that it takes three days to get from the Mouth to the castle if you go by the river. So, since we’ve been going pretty fast, I figure we’re about here.” He pointed to a spot roughly half way between the village and the castle.
“Wow, we’ve really come that far today?” Toki asked excitedly.
Nico grinned, “You bet. If we keep this pace up, we’ll be at the castle by supper time.”
“Speaking of supper, what are we having? I’m starving.” Toki said, patting his stomach.
“Well,” Nico said slowly, rubbing the back of his head, “All I have is a loaf of hard bread and some cheese. We’re going to have to eat light and save most of it, though.”
“But I’m hungry!” Toki wailed, “Why didn’t you pack more?”
“’Cause then it would be too big to carry,” Nico shrugged. “I know! Think of this as our first big test. If we don’t turn back because we’re hungry, then we’re one step closer to being Timan.” He smiled hopefully at his pouting friend.
“You said this was gonna be easy,” Toki muttered. “You didn’t say anything about being hungry.”
“But Toki,” Nico pleaded, “This is just until we become Timan. After that, we get to have all the food we want, and go to parties all the time, and have lots and lots of fun!”
“I guess,” Toki mumbled still less than enthusiastic. “So how much can we eat tonight?”
A sizable chunk of bread and an even larger piece of cheese were handed to him. “Once we get to the castle I’m sure there will be lots of food.” Nico answered, “So we really don’t need to worry.”
After rapidly consuming the “rations” the two boys lay down next to one another in a niche created under in the exposed roots of an enormous tree, intent upon falling asleep. Even though they were both excited, or rather, Nico was, they were both definitely exhausted. A day of keeping focused on a single task had been extremely draining to their young minds, and the prospect of doing the same thing the next day was tiring just to think about. Darkness enveloped them soon so that they could barely see one another as they lay on the forest floor.
“Nico, I’m cold.” For once Toki’s voice wasn’t a whine.
Scooting closer to his friend, Nico extended something over his friend. “Here, I borrowed father’s cloak to wrap the food in. We can use it to keep warm.”
Several moments of silence followed. “Do you really think that we’re going to be Timan, Nico?”
“Of course,” Nico replied in an unnecessary whisper, “You’ll see tomorrow, we’re going to be the best Timan there ever was.”
“As long as you’re sure.”
The night passed on in relative quiet, crickets and the occasional night bird a lullaby for the two boys. The forest seemed to sense the innocents of the two small creatures sheltered in its depths. Animals came by every now and then simply to look at them, and perhaps to make sure that they were safe. Soon enough, though, the sun rose slowly over the horizon and the creatures of the earth ceased to come near; the children would be safe enough in the light of day.
Unlike home, waking up in the forest was a very gradual and pleasant thing for Nico. There were no other siblings ordering him around. Pleasantly groggy, he sat up, rubbing his eyes. Beside him, Toki stirred and sat up as well. He was the first to notice the stranger.
With a scream, Toki jumped backward, bumping into the tree. Nico yelled as well, but he jumped in front of his friend, as if he could protect him from the man who was leaned up against a nearby tree. With a sword and multiple daggers easily visible over his green tunic he look very dangerous. Nico was too terrified to take in the brown hair pulled back into a pony tail or the questioning green eyes.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” Nico demanded, pulling the tiny dagger he had on his own belt.
The man grunted. “I was about to ask you the same thing, child.” He waved a hand in an annoyed fashion, “And put that toy away before you hurt yourself, child.”
“We’re not children,” Nico said emphatically, even though anyone could see quite clearly that they were.
“Yeah, we’re going to be Timan!” Toki put in, finally finding his voice, “We’re finding an adventure right now to prove that we are Timan!”
The stranger’s expression didn’t change noticeably, but he suddenly seemed sadder. “Luckily for you, Ovven saw fit to send me to you instead of someone from the other side. Had I been a Kirnblite, you two would be dead by now.” He shook his head, “I’m not sure why you are doing this in the first place, either. You can’t just go out and expect to prove that you are a Timan. It’s like chasing the wind. You can try and try but never catch hold of the power wavering right in front of your face. If I were you, I’d give up and go home. Being a Timan isn’t something two little boys should wish for anyways.”
“Why not?” Nico asked, a confused frown contorting his features.
“Yeah,” Toki added indignantly, “We’ve seen when they come through our village, its always a huge party.”
“Why shouldn’t we want that?” Nico questioned suspiciously.
Narrowing his eyes, the man frowned at both of the boys. “Do you know why there is a celebration every time the Timan come to your village?” He paused, but the boys only shook their heads. “There is a festival because we have been able to keep our promise to your people. We have been able to protect those people loyal to Ovven from the darkness. We do fail sometimes, though; they celebrate because this time we were successful.”
Wide eyed silence followed this announcement. Finally Nico asked, “Are you, are you a Timan, sir?”
The stranger closed his eyes and nodded, “Yes, boy, I am a Chosen One.”
Nico and Toki exchanged awed glances. He was a Timan, a real live Timan. Which of course meant that everything he said had to be true.
“We’re, we’re sorry, sir.” Toki stammered, tears lining the corners of his eyes.
Nico nodded in agreement, “We didn’t mean any harm, sir.”
The man sighed, shaking his head. “I suppose it is alright, as there was no real harm done. I will just have to go a little out of my way to take you back to your village.”
“You’d do that for us, sir?” Nico asked in an excited voice.
“Yes, and enough of the ‘sirs’ already. I am Kaytoh, earth mage of the Order, mastered by Kieran.”
“I’m Nico, si-Timan Kaytoh.”
“And I’m Toki,” Nico elbowed him, “Timan Kaytoh.”
“Just Kaytoh will be fine.” He nodded the boys, “Now, let’s get you two home.” He whistled and from nowhere a huge stallion appeared. “This is Firetracker. He’s a friend of mine, and he’s going to be carrying us back to your village.”
“Thank you for your kindness, Firetracker,” Nico bowed to the horse, and Toki quickly copied him.
The horse snickered at them.
Kaytoh rolled his eyes, “While it is nice to see that the two of you have been well brought up, it really isn’t necessary to show such formalities.”
The boys’ eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Kaytoh sighed, “Now come on, I’ll get you back before noon.”
Soon the two boys and Kaytoh were riding Firetracker. The whole trip was rather uneventful, and consisted mainly of Kaytoh asking the boys about life in the village, and the boys coming up with the strangest answers imaginable. Finally though, they came to the edge of the woods. The village was situated on the floodplains of the river, and was a good ways below where they now were. Wafting up from the huts, black smoke hung like an ominous cloud over everything. The village was also under attack. Fires burned out of control, and piercing screams wafted up to the crest of the hill.
Kaytoh jumped off the horse without actually putting his hands upon it. Somehow his sword was already out of its sheath. He didn’t look back at the boys as he ran towards the village. “Stay there!” And then he was gone, out of site in the midst of the buildings of the village.
For several long minutes Nico and Toki did as they had been ordered, sitting motionless upon Firetracker. A detached horror filled them as they watched wide eyed as friends and neighbors were slaughtered. Then it happened. A woman, far too familiar, was dragged out into the street. Something occurred inside of Nico then, like a dam bursting, power flooded through him with such intensity that his blond hair and green eyes turned white as the energy fell from them.
“Mother!” The scream ripped from Nico’s throat, burning with the previously unknown energy. Vaulting off of the stallion, he drew his short belt dagger. The metal blade seemed to grow longer and thicker as white energy coursed through it. It took on the shape of a sword even though the original dagger was still visible beneath the layers of magic. The child was already running towards the village when his friend realized what was happening and jumped down himself.
“Get your hands off of her!” This cry brought movement at the edge of the village to a halt. Hunters turned slowly, suddenly aware of the new power among them. Nico charged them, holding the shining sword like dagger. To the untrained for it did indeed look like a sword, so much power was being channeled through it; even as they watched, the metal shattered and the thing truly was a sword of pure power. Dust of the destroyed dagger floated in the air, making a fine metal mist upon which the white energies danced.
The Hunter holding his mother almost didn’t look up in time to see him coming. Indeed, he was barely had time to push her away when Nico struck, the energy sword going right through him. The man screamed in mortal pain and staggered backwards, even though no wound was evident. Nico turned on the rest, marveling at how slowly they were moving, not understanding that it was he who was moving with superhuman speed. Twice more he lashed out at the Hunters, and twice more their number was decreased. It didn’t even register in Nico’s mind what he was really doing. All he knew was that he had people he had to protect. His body was doing the rest without any conscious thought.
The horrid blast of a horn shell trumpet signaled the retreat of the enemy. Those at the edge of the village turned almost reluctantly from Nico, looking towards the direction from which the vile note had come. Then, before he could do anything to stop them, they were simply gone. As the last of the hunters disappeared from sight Nico collapsed.
When he opened his eyes again, his mother was kneeling beside him, sobbing. Behind her his family stared at him, his father hugging his other children to him.
“Mommy?” Nico raised a hand and brushed it weakly against her arm. “What’s wrong, mommy? I saved you from the bad men, why are you crying?”
“That’s why she’s crying Nico.” Kaytoh said softly. The earth mage was limping badly; little Toki was beside him, trying to help the best he could. “She’s crying because you proved that you are a Timan.”
“But I didn’t even mean to!” Nico blurted, tears of hurt and confusion coming to his eyes. “I was just trying to help! I didn’t want to make her sad.”
“It can’t be helped,” Kaytoh limped up beside him, but didn’t look down as he spoke. “You were destined for this. You mother only cries because now you must leave her and the safety of your village.”
“But I don’t want to go alone,” Nico whispered, tears flowing freely down his cheeks now. “Toki, Toki is ‘sposed to come with me. We’re ‘sposed to always be together through all our adventures and stuff.”
Kaytoh finally looking at the little boy, “No, Toki’s not ready just yet. One day soon, though, I think he’ll join us.” He shifted his gaze to the other child. “Don’t think I didn’t notice your inept attempts to heal me.”
Toki’s eyes widened, “I, I didn’t mean to!”
Shaking his head, Kaytoh actually chuckled a little, “Such a switch from the two boys I met this morning. They would have both jumped at a chance.” He sighed, turning to go. “Come on, Nico, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.” Hanging his head, Nico fell in line behind the earth mage.
“Wait!” Both Nico and Kaytoh looked back, at Toki. “Will I, will I ever see him again?”
A sad smile crossed Kaytoh’s features, “You can see your friend again, and even join him in all those adventures you planned. As long as you don’t give up, you’ll be with him soon. Just keep chasing the wind.”