Faith, Trust and Hope

by Chris O'kane

My Dearest Elizabeth,

It's been over 5 years since we've spoken or written and I really miss you and the rest of the family...

Misha snarled and ripped up the paper "Wrong, all wrong" he said and he threw the pieces into the fire. He pulled out another piece of paper, but just stared at it. Finally he dropped the pen onto the desk and stood up. The fox walked over to the fireplace and stared at the burning paper he'd just thrown in. Memories flooded back to him, bitter memories, painful memories. Even after five years it still hurt. Misha pushed up the left sleeve of his shirt to reveal a thin scar that completely circled his wrist like a bracelet. The scar hurt and he rubbed it. Even if I do write the perfect letter, would she even read it? She'd probably just rip it up without opening it. He looked toward the blank paper lying on the desk. How would she react?

"Damn it Sis " he shouted, "what would you do if I sent you a letter?" There hadn't been any contact with any of his family since he'd gotten that scar. "God! I really miss you all," he said out loud. He wanted very much to be with his family; just a letter would be great. But their reaction to the change had been very clear. He looked at the scar again, he had been rubbing it all this time and he hadn't realized it.

The loud ringing of a bell brought Misha out of his reverie. He looked at the clock, it was too early for lunch or for the changing of the guard. He walked over to the window, opened it and looked out. Misha spotted the trouble instantly, a thin plume of green smoke rose from the woods almost half a day's ride to the north. "Damn" he swore quietly to himself. It was only a packet of chemicals thrown on a fire, but that green smoke meant that someone was in serious trouble. Misha grabbed his boots from under the bed and raced for the armory.

Misha was only half dressed when he reached the courtyard. He had the chainmail pants on but the shirt was draped over his shoulder. He had his longbow and quiver in one hand and his axe in the other. A patrol of 20 cavalry thundered past headed for the gate. Near by a wolverine morph was talking to an eagle. He walked up to the pair. "Andre, what's going on?" he asked the wolverine, as a Captain of the guard he would know what was happening.

Andre nodded to the eagle "Thank you, Sharon, your dismissed". The eagle flew off, and the wolverine turned to Misha "Don't know, but Cerulean's gone to find out. Some of my people are escorting a group of wagons near there. Must be them".

Misha nodded "Must be serious if they used the smoke. Works real good, Pascal will be proud." Misha handed his weapons to Andre "Hold onto these for a moment" he said and put the chainmail shirt on.

"You are supposed to be off duty 'til your shoulder heals," Andre commented.

"I know, but I can't sit around and do nothing during an alert. Besides, I'm bored" Misha replied. There was a loud flapping noise and they both looked up in time to see a large dragon land in front of them.

It was Cerulean, and he was carrying 2 passengers "Hurry, and help her," the dragon said, "she's dying". Misha and Andre raced over to the dragon. His passengers were a woman and a Lynx. The lynx carefully handed the woman to Andre, who lowered her to the pavement. Misha knelt next to the woman and examined her. She was dressed in platemail, and a grey rope seemed to be wrapped completely around her body. Even her arms and legs were bound. As they watched the rope moved by itself, and tightened around her. The armor noticeably bent under the rope's assault.

Quite a crowd had already gathered and Misha pointed at a boy "Get Magus and Pascal, Right now!" he shouted and the boy ran off on his errand.

"And hurry" Andre yelled after him.

"What happened John?" Andre asked the lynx. The cat knelt next to the woman and tenderly touched her face. The woman smiled up at him. Andre tapped the pavement with a claw to get the cat's attention. "Report John," he ordered.

Without looking up the lynx replied "We ambushed a group of 20 lutins, being led by a shaman. We killed them all but the shaman attacked Jenny with this rope".

"It's a rope of constriction." Cerulean said. "I tried to remove it but its protected by some very powerful spells."

Misha nodded, he'd seen one work before, "Its an ugly way to die," he muttered. John looked up at him and snarled but didn't speak. "We have to get that off; when the armor breaks she'll be be dead in minutes," Misha said.

"I've tried," said the dragon, "but the spells protecting it are very powerful. We can't get past them to cut the rope."

Misha looked in the direction the boy had gone, hoping to see Magus or Pascal, but they didn't appear. He looked up at Cerulean. "Can you remove the spells?" he asked.

"I could try," explained Cerulean, "but to cut through these enchantments would take more time than we have. There are more knots in the spells than there are in the rope," he said in frustration. "This is the work of Nasoj he did this deliberately, so that we could watch her die slowly." At this the lynx whimpered, but didn't say anything.

"Hmm, cut" Misha muttered and he picked up his axe from where it lay on the pavement. The axe was double bladed, and entirely flat black in color. Not even the razor sharp edges showed a glimmer. It can cut through flesh, bone and steel without problem, but would it cut through spells? He tried cutting the rope by running one of the blades against it, but with no effect. The fox stood up, with the axe still in hand. "Everybody get back. I need room to swing" he ordered.

"NO!" the lynx screamed and he threw himself on Jenny's body.

"Misha, are you crazy?" Cerulean asked putting out a claw to stop the fox. "You'll cut her in half. We'll wait for Magus or Pascal."

"I can do this Cerulean, and she'll be dead by the time they get here" was Misha's reply. He hafted the axe "Great Grandpa's axe has never failed me before and it won't fail me now." Misha said in a quiet voice.

Cerulean just stared at him for a moment, and it felt like his soul was bared to the Dragon. He felt like a frightened little boy, and he remembered all the tales from childhood of dragons eating people.

John stood up, "You can't be thinking of letting him use that thing on her, Cerulean."

Misha stared the lynx straight in the eyes and put his right hand on the cat's shoulder. "John," he said in a soft voice "I can do this, I really can. Please trust me on this. I would never do anything to hurt her." He held up the axe for John to see. "This was given to me by my great Grandfather. The Lutins call it Whisper, and they call me Whisperer, because the only noise they hear when I use it, is a quiet whisper as the blade cuts through flesh and bone." The cat looked at the blade, which was devoid of any decoration, or markings. " I once won a thousand gold pieces by cutting a raw egg in half without touching the rice paper underneath it. I can't give you any proof, all I can do is ask you to trust me," Misha whispered. "Please."

John stared at Jenny lying at his feet, she was unconscious. The rope moved, and there was a loud CRACK as some part of her armor gave out under the pressure.

Cerulean spoke "I believe him. Sometimes you just have to trust someone on faith alone. We Have no choice; the rope will start to crush her in moments."

John knelt down beside Jenny and kissed her. When he stood up Misha could see that he was crying. "Do it," was all the lynx could say.

Misha first tried a small swing. He lifted the axe about a foot and let it drop on the rope. The axe was stopped cold with a jar that he felt through his whole body, especially his left shoulder which was still sore from the archery tournament. It was like trying to shatter a stone block with his bare fist. This would require a full swing. He brought the axe head up to his face and addressed it. "Axe, this isn't going to be easy, but a life depends on it. We need to cut that rope, but not the flesh below it." He closed his eyes and prayed "Dear God, please guide my hands, so that I may save this woman's life".

Misha hafted the axe and stepped back to give it the room its five-foot length required. He took a slow swing to gauge the distance; the swing ended with the blade just touching the rope. There was a quiet tinkle, like a small bell being rung. Misha could feel power start to flow from the axe into his body, and the pain in his shoulder disappeared. There was a roaring in his ears and the whole world seemed to vanish except for the axe and the rope. That evil, vile rope. Misha took another slow swing, and this time, when the axe and the rope came in contact, the sound was like a hammer ringing on an anvil. That swing was to let the axe get a measure of its opponent. The fox felt the power in the axe building even more, and the next time when he swung, it was no practice swing.

When the axe hit the rope, a searing jolt of electricity surged up the axe, and through his body. There was a bright flash, and Misha was vaguely aware that he was flying backwards through the air before he passed out.

Misha was standing in a small bedroom that he didn't recognize. It wasn't in the keep that much he was sure of. He became aware of someone singing, ever so quietly. In the corner a woman wearing a blue dress was sitting in a chair doing needlepoint. He slowly walked up to her. She was tall; standing up she would be six-foot. Her long brown hair was loose, and flowed down to her shoulders. He recognized her. "Elizabeth," he said in a whisper, afraid that if he spoke too loud, she would disappear.

The woman looked up with start. Surprise registered on her face and she dropped the needlepoint. She slowly stood up "Misha?" she said in a barely audible whisper. "Is it you?" she asked.

Shock, surprise, anger, and hope all flashed through Misha's mind in an instant. It was all he could do to nod. Elizabeth ran up to Misha and embraced him. She kissed him on the muzzle, "I've missed you," she said.

Misha wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the cheek "It's really good to see you again. How's my favorite sister doing?" he asked.

She held Misha at arms length and looked him over. "I must be dreaming," she said.

Misha shook his head no.

"Are you dead?" she asked in a frightened voice.

Misha shook his head, "No, I think were both dreaming" He knew that was the truth, but he didn't know why. "How is everybody?" he asked changing the subject.

"Everybody's fine. Dad had one of his spells about 2 years ago, but he's doing fine now. He had to retire though and turn the business over to George. We all miss you Misha, even Brian, though he won't admit it," Elizabeth answered. Misha just shivered, and rubbed the scar on his left arm.

"Misha", the voice seemed to come from thin air, but he recognized it as Cerulean's.

In his heart he knew it was time to go. Misha didn't want to, he had so many things to say, but his time was up. He hugged and kissed his sister again. "I have to go Liz, I love you all. I'll write you a long letter. I want to come to you and hold you for real not in a dream, but people like me aren't welcome down south".

She was crying "It's good enough just to know that you're still alive and well" she answered. She smiled and a mischievous grin crossed her face "We'll come and visit you at Metamor Keep". Misha started to say something, but she held his muzzle shut with her hand. She kissed him on the tip of his nose "Hush, I'm a big girl remember." She started to fade away taking the room with her. Just before she vanished, she spoke "God Bless, and I love you".

Misha answered her "I love you too, Sis, God Bless". The room and his sister were gone, leaving him in darkness. He realized that he was crying.

"Misha, can you hear me?" Cerulean's voice said again. Suddenly a terrible acidic smell invaded his nostrils and made him cough.

"Come on Mushy get up, you've goofed off long enough." That was Andre. Misha slowly opened his eyes. Andre was staring down at him, Cerulean was next to him. He was laying on his back on the courtyard pavement.

"Welcome back" Cerulean said. "How do you feel?"

"Weak. What happened?" was Misha's reply.

"The rope's spell had defensive traps," the dragon explained. "We almost lost you." Cerulean moved closer and touched his face lightly with a claw. "What do you remember Misha, after passing out?" he asked.

Misha thought for a moment, then he remembered the talk with his sister. "I was visiting with my sister," he replied.

The dragon nodded. "When I touched your mind, I felt someone else there with you."

Misha sat up "WHAT! You mean I really did talk to my sister?" A warm feeling flooded through his body. "It wasn't just a dream," he said with awe.

Cerulean nodded "When magic that powerful comes into conflict, there's no telling exactly what will happen."

Misha started to cry. It was real. Elizabeth really did still love him, and miss him. He suddenly remembered the woman and the rope. "What happened to Jenny, is she alright?" he asked.

"She has a few broken bones, but she'll be fine," the dragon answered. "Its John we were worried about for a while." Cerulean smiled. "When he saw that she was fine, he fainted right away," he explained.

Misha didn't hear anything beyond "She'll be fine." His mind went back to his sister. The visit had been too short. He tried to get up, but was too weak. Andre had to help him to his paws. He wobbled a little and the wolverine had to support him. He placed a hand on Cerulean's large shoulder to steady himself.

"Take him to his room," the dragon said, "he needs to rest".

Misha patted Cerulean on the shoulder "Thank you for giving me hope, " the fox said. "After five and a half years my sister still loves me." In spite of his weakness, he had never felt better than he did now.

"I'll ask Magus and Brian Coe to examine you. There might be some unusual side effects," the dragon said. "Like I said before, when such magic conflicts there is no telling what might happen. I learned that a long time ago."

Misha nodded, he'd take that risk, nothing could ruin his good mood. "Where's Great Grandpa's Axe?" he asked. Andre held up his right hand, in which was the axe. Misha touched the head. "Thank you, Whisper," he said.

"That's a powerful weapon you have there" Cerulean commented. He reached out with a claw for the weapon, but he didn't touch it. "I'd like to talk to you about its origins sometime, if you wouldn't mind." Misha looked at the dragon for a moment before answering. "Not today, maybe in a couple of days. Ok?"

Cerulean nodded "No problem. Now go get some rest. Andre, don't leave him alone until we can be sure there are no after-effects". The wolverine just nodded and they slowly walked toward the keep.

Coe was waiting for them when they reached Misha's apartment. They undressed the fox and put him to bed. While the raccoon examined Misha, Andre took his weapons and armor back to the armory. Misha managed to stay awake long enough for Coe to pronounce him fit. Satisfied that he would live, he fell asleep.

Misha was standing in his room. Coe was nowhere to be seen. That was strange; the raccoon would never leave a patient alone. There was a knock at the door. He went over and opened it. His sister Elizabeth was standing there.

"Hi Misha," she said as they hugged.

Now he understood. "I'm dreaming again."

She nodded "You visited my dream, so I thought I'd return the favor" she said with a smile.

"How long can you stay?" he asked.

"The spell will last about four or five hours" she replied.

Misha relaxed, plenty of time. He motioned his sister into the room. "Come on in Sis, we have a lot of catching up to do".

Coe checked Misha one more time. The fox was sound asleep, and he would probably sleep all the way through till morning. "Pleasant dreams Misha," he said.