On the bank of the river, Flynn slouched with his rod in one hand and his head cradled in the other, his line forgotten as he tried to drown out the incessant rambling beside him.
It was not working.
His twin cousins were bickering about something like they always did whenever they weren’t causing mischief. Flynn had forgotten what they were squabbling about and it seemed like they did too. What made it worse was that they were identical in every way, so it just sounded like someone arguing with himself.
It was just another ordinary day in the rather unordinary life of this poor loh’li. He had brunet hair that was always untidy and bright, green eyes. Like any loh’li, he had a lion-like tail and long ears that were just slightly taller than his head, and although loh’lis are short, he was shorter than most at just under three feet tall. But he wasn’t like the others at all, for he was the son of the colony chief and that meant one day he would take over.
Flynn still had many years before then, however, as he was only in his early tweens at one hundred fifteen (which is fifteen in our years), and two weeks younger than his cousins. But that didn’t matter, for he still had overwhelming responsibilities, topped with several chores; picking berries; hunting stags; chasing and being chased by wild boars; patching up fireplaces after tossing in gourds (they explode, you know); fixing leaky roofs; mending nets; making arrows; wetting swords, and patching clothes. Yes, life for a young loh’li was very dull.
And today’s task was no different.
Flynn hated fishing because you could sit there all day and not get a nibble, and this was one of those days.
But just when he thought he would go looney, the tip of his rod flicked. A fish grabbed hold. At last! Something to show for his efforts when he returned home.
Yet this was not a simple trout or hardy salmon. No, it was a much bigger fish, and his short frame didn’t have the strength to control it, not even with his tail wrapped around the sapling behind him. Before Flynn got the words out for help, he was yanked into the river, splashing and spluttering, for he dared not let this brute go.
That got the twins attention. “Flynn!” shouted Finnick, the oldest by three minutes.
“Let go of the rod!” said Rinnick. And, running on all fours, they raced up the rocky shore after him.
Flynn refused to let go. He’d been sitting there all day and this fish was big enough to feed them for a long while; he would be damned if he had to come back to this rotten river tomorrow.
Up the stream it dragged him. The poor loh’li desperately tried digging his heels in the rocky riverbed and cling to the slippery boulders, but he couldn’t keep his grip!
Then, just when he thought he would run out of breath, a bright white light sparked, like a kindling taking to a flame, when suddenly a mighty explosion of light shot straight up to the sky. Finnick and Rinnick came to a sudden halt as they fell on their backsides, blinded by the white light as it burst from the water. High into the air the water rose.
The shockwave knocked Flynn loose from his rod, out of the river and onto the shore. The arresting light evanesced as the water rained down upon them, and the river returned to its calm, glossy flow.
“Flynn!” the twins shouted in unison, and they darted toward him on all fours.
With the help of his cousins, Flynn, dazed and confounded, sat up, rubbing his throbbing head.
“What was that?” asked Finnick.
“The strangest fish I’d ever seen,” said Rinnick. “I’d say it was as big as you! Do you think it had, what is it . . . saucy?”
“It’s sorcery, you idiot,” said Finnick as he slapped Rinnick’s shoulder.
“It wasn’t the fish,” said Flynn at last. “There’s something in the water.”
This took the twins by surprise. Rinnick gulped. “You mean, like a monster?”
“Twipple might actually be on to something,” said Finnick. “If it is a monster then we ought to go before it makes a meal of us.”
“You really think so?” squeaked Rinnick. The twins crept back from the shore as the thought sank in, and they bounded onto the rocky embankment.
But Flynn was not convinced and stayed sat there on the rocks, staring into the water at the very spot the light burst forth, for heavenly whispers began filling his mind, growing louder and louder, and he closed his eyes and listened attentively. Try as he might, he could not make out the intangible words, but something, tugging on his heart, urged him to go back in the river. So peaceful and pure was the golden, feminine voice that it overshadowed what fear he might have felt, and, as if beckoned, he got up and made his way toward the water.
“Wait, Flynn!” said Finnick.
“Did you not hear what we said?” said Rinnick.
Alas, Flynn did not heed their warning and before long he dove into the river. Against the current he fought, swimming, inching his way closer and closer to a sphere of white light, wedged in the rocky bottom. As he drew nearer the light grew brighter. For a moment he gazed in wonder at it. The whispers grew louder, when finally the golden voice rang clear, “Balrhim.”
Flynn reached out for it, but hesitated. Alas, he was almost out of breath and couldn’t linger there much longer, so he snatched it up and swam to the surface.
All the while, Finnick and Rinnick anxiously awaited his return, tension building as the moments ebbed. Their bodies were frozen, their eyes transfixed on the water, waiting for their cousin to appear out of the river—or perhaps some hideous sea monster that found its way upstream.
Suddenly, Flynn’s head shot out of the water, and he hastily made for the shore. At once the twins ran down to meet him.
“What was it?” said Rinnick.
“Was it a monster? Magic?” said Finnick anxiously.
But when Flynn held up his hand and revealed the glowing gem in his palm, the twins suddenly became very quiet and stared in wonder at the beauty before them. It was perfectly round (a little smaller than our baseballs), harder than steel, yet as clear as glass, and from its core beamed the most beautiful white light that warmed their faces and danced upon their skin.
For a long while the loh’lis stared at the gem, as if stricken dumb by it unfathomable beauty, until at last, Finnick said, “What is it?”
Flynn thought long and hard. The poor little loh’li’s brain was starting to ache when quite suddenly, a rather apt thought got in his head. “Could it be one of the Orbs?”
The twins bewildered eyes shot up at him. “Are you serious?” they said.
“As serious as you two are that I’m not!” pressed Flynn. “I mean, look at it. How could it not be? Besides,” he added hesitantly, “it spoke to me.” Now having heard himself say it, he thought he sounded stupid.
An odd silence fell on everyone, until suddenly the twins burst with laughter.
“Why, bless me!” said Finnick between his wild laughing.
“Were you dropped on your head, too?” added Rinnick.
“I’m serious!” said Flynn, trying to speak above their laughing. “It said Balrhim!”
At once, the twins fell silent. It was very clear, as Flynn stood there dripping wet, that he was indeed serious. At length, the twins glanced at one another and then back at their cousin.
“If this really is one of the Orbs of Amerith,” said Rinnick, “what is it doing in Lok’Ree?”
“Shouldn’t it be in Azkarale?” asked Finnick after some thought. “And what’s this business with . . . what was it? Balrhim? It makes no sense.”
“I think the better question is,” interjected Rinnick, “what do we do with it?”
All this thinking was making Flynn’s head explode. “We can’t just leave it here.”
For a long while they debated on what they ought to do with the Orb, but no matter how hard Finnick and Rinnick fought to leave it, Flynn was adamant. The Orb—if that’s really what it was—couldn’t be left behind. It didn’t want to be left behind. So unmoved was Flynn that the twins eventually gave in, and so, with the Orb safely in his jacket pocket, Flynn and his cousins ran back home in haste.
On all fours they ran, up into the trees, bounding and leaping from limb to limb on their sprint for home, through tree trunks, hollowed by the grey beavers that lived in the thickest trees, and quietly over the sleeping bear’s hollow, careful to not make a sound—something loh’lis were especially good at. They stopped here and there, turning their heads to listen for the ominous sounds of the horfon eagle, a large bird of prey that had no trouble flying off with a little loh’li in its clutch.
They reached the backside of the lower highland mountains, following the winding path through the treetops until they reached the upper valley. It was nearly dusk as they made their final dash to the colony, upon which Flynn made very clear that no one was to know about the Orb, for there were a good many newcomers to Lok’Ree. With that in mind, they jumped to the forest ground and crept into the colony.
The loh’lis homes were perfectly round and would sometimes wrap around trees with roofs layered with buckskins, tightly woven branches and topped with soil, which always grew a healthy layer of grass and moss. Fireplaces were wrought of stone and mud with a picturesque hearth, some in the exact middle while others were against the wall, but the kitchens were always at the far end as you walked in through the little door. Their rooms were not luxurious, yet not so uncomfortable, with beds made from the pelts of only the softest animals laid over a thick padding of leaves and straw. They were the perfect place to curl up after a long day in the wood—or perhaps to hide a certain, special object that you found in the river.
They slinked quietly between houses toward Flynn’s home at the far end of the colony, but it’s hard not to be noticed when you’re the chief’s son.
“There you are, Flynn!” came a shout. “Took you long enough. Have you got the fish for the feast?”
Startled, Flynn stammered, for he had forgotten about the big feast, and his father left him in charge of getting the fish for the meal. “Well—um—no, they weren’t biting today. But, you see . . . I have to go!” And Flynn and his cousins dashed off before the stumped loh’li could say more.
At last, and without any more interruptions, they reached his little home, but as soon as Flynn opened the door he was met by his father, Gripple. They looked almost exactly alike.
“Well, goodness me boy. That took you long enough. And why are you all wet? Oh, never mind. I need you to check on your brother. I sent him to get some water for the feast tonight, but he hasn’t returned and your mother’s worried. I thought you said he wasn’t afraid of water anymore?”
Concern washed over him. The Orb was only feet from being tucked away in the safest place he could think of and he just seemed unable to get to it. “He said he wasn’t,” grumbled Flynn. Leaving his cousins behind, he left eastward back into the forest toward yet another river, dragging his feet.
The river was nowhere near the colony settlement, for the loh’li feared that lost travelers—or worse, daérroks—would follow the river in search of help, so they kept their colony as far away as possible. Yes, the loh’li weren’t fond of idiots bumbling into their valley. Unfortunately, if you were the one fetching water you had to walk down a long hill, over a knoll and across a flat to get there. Over the years however they had trampled a little winding path to the river’s edge, which helped a great deal through the wood, but it was still a ghastly chore.
Flynn, still grumbling and dragging his feet, walked along the path but stopped suddenly when he caught sight of his brother. His brother, Twipple (who was named after his father, though he was nothing like him) was five years younger than Flynn and shorter. Like all loh’li, his tail had a brunet end, but he was born with grey hair, which was so rare that it was thought to bring good luck to the colony, but this poor loh’li was perhaps the most unlucky soul in all Nythoria.
Flynn simply watched Twipple dibble and dabble along the shore until the little loh’li threw up his arms with a resounding, “YES!”
“What are you doing?” said Flynn at last, his arms crossed.
Twipple whirled around, holding something behind his back. But that was practically useless, as it was obviously a hollowed out log. “Um—n-nothing,” he stammered, looking this way and that, and he dropped the log and kicked it behind him as if Flynn wouldn’t notice.
“Uh-huh,” said Flynn in a disappointed tone. “Come on, Twipple. I thought you said you weren’t afraid of water anymore? You know I already told Father.”
Twipple folded his hands nervously. “Well—actually . . .” he then stood up straight and boldly said, “I said I wouldn’t be afraid of having to go near water anymore. There’s a difference. And why are you all wet?”
Flynn ignored the latter. “Oh . . . whatever. What are you working on anyway?”
A big smile spread across Twipple’s face as he spun back around to his contraption. Flynn came closer to have a look. Shorter on the backside and longer on the front, it was a simple hollowed log sitting on a swivel with a corner on the back end facing upstream. As Twipple tipped the end in the river, water rushed through the log and into his buckets, when afterwards, he held them up, still smiling his large smile.
For a moment, Flynn was at a loss for words. “You . . . you cheated,” he finally said.
“What? No I didn’t. You never said that I had to go near the water or how to get it. You only said that I have to learn to fetch water on my own, and that’s what I did,” said Twipple as he held the buckets higher.
Flynn let out a heavy sigh. “Fine. You win—“
“Again. . . . but I warn you, you will learn to overcome your fears,” said Flynn as he took a bucket. “You can’t keep avoiding it. It’s not right that a loh’li is afraid of water.”
“Well, it’s even odder when one’s afraid of heights.”
Twipple had him there. Flynn laughed. “Come on.” And they walked up the path to the colony.
A large bonfire lit up the night, sending embers and flames high into the starry sky. Wild dancing and loud music, that had very much Celtic in tune with flutes of different sounds and drums and all sorts of whimsical knick-knacks and noise-makers, echoed through the forest and across the valley. It was the Celebration of Té’o, which was a farewell party of sorts for young lads who were ready to leave the colony in search of a lady friend.
Flynn sat alone on a makeshift table, fingering the rim of his cup. He had more important things on his mind than parties. Would the Orb be safe there in the colony? Would they be safe? He knew daérroks and Shadows were looking for the Orbs. Why, he didn’t even know what the enemy looked like. Would he be able to spot them if they did manage to scale the mountains surrounding Lok’Ree? Another thought got into his head; he had fished that river many times before and the Orb was never there. Did it move? Was it even capable of that? And did it actually speak to him? He vaguely recalled the stories of how the Orbs scattered: about a young guardian boy who used them and defeated the Dark Lord, Zarthius, upon the kingdom of Drokmor. Afterwards they vanished. Láfiël— He couldn’t remember who was responsible for controlling the Orbs, but he knew these objects were very powerful.
Just then his cousins dashed over and pulled on his arm. “Come on, Flynn,” they urged him, “you look a little glum—”
“—and we’ve got just the thing to cheer you up.” And they dragged him off to the other side of the bonfire where bags stuffed as full as they could be were stacked next to one another. Finnick pulled out a gourd.
“That’s where they all went!” exclaimed Flynn. “My father will have your heads when he learns of this! Those were meant to be the new bowls and cups!”
“The only way he’ll know is if you tell him—”
“—and we’re counting on the fact that you won’t,” said Rinnick.
“And why should I not go tell him now?”
“Because,” said Finnick, grinning from ear to ear, and he tossed the small gourd in the fire.
The moments passed.
“Well,” said Flynn, “that was exciting.” He started to walk away, when suddenly there came a POP, and a powdery mixture of blue and green shot out of the blaze. Flynn looked around the fire to see if anyone noticed. The music must have been too loud, for no one even glanced in their direction. “How did you . . .”
“We injected them with war paint!” said Rinnick ecstatically. “Now they’ll add a splash of color to anyone’s fireplace!”
“The trick though was getting the right mixture so they would actually blow up,” said Finnick, and he tossed Flynn a gourd. “Here, see what color that one is.”
To say he didn’t want to throw it in the fire would be a lie, but Flynn knew better; he had to tell his father.
On the other hand, he had been rather uptight lately with all his chores and responsibilities, and especially today with the Orb. A little rebellion never hurt anyone. He tossed it in. They waited. POP! Red and purple sprang up from the fire. Still no one noticed.
“I do say,” said Flynn with a smile, “that’s quite clever!” And with that they continued tossing them in, sometimes one at a time, two, and three, while splashes of color jumped from the flames, dusting them as they skipped out of the way of flying sparks and burning debris. It was all good fun, until Finnick, in all his wisdom, chucked in a whole, large bag. Flynn tried to stop him, but he was too late! The gourds were consumed. He dashed for a branch and tried rolling them out of the fire as they fell out of the scorched bag, when suddenly:
Burning logs flew in every direction, on top of houses, catching fire to the dried grass in the forest, and worst of all, on top of people. Loh’li’s ran this way and that, putting out flames and trying desperately to contain the situation. Colors began to settle, dusting everyone in shades of reds, blues, greens, purples, greys and black. When at last the fires were put out and the people calmed down, everyone knew who to blame.
“FINNICK!! RINNICK!!” came a fierce shout. Gripple emerged from the crowd.
Eventually the twins slinked forward, Flynn close behind, their bodies dusted and smudged in every color. Finnick and Rinnick’s red hair was now completely blue. But it was Flynn who came to the forefront, cowering, staring at the ground in shame.
His father seemed to tower over him. “You were a part of this? I expected more from you!” Gripple roared. “You could’ve burned all of Lok’Ree!”
But Flynn just stood silent, fear and shame snatching the words before he could utter a single one.
“I—I’m sorry!” said Flynn at last, glancing up at his father. “It was an accident.”
Just then his mother, Rose, came and placed her hand on Gripple’s shoulder, her eyes filled with concern.
This seemed to calm him down a little. “You will clean this up and apologize to everyone here, do you understand? That goes for you two as well!” he shouted to the twins.
Flynn, looking at the ground, nodded.
“It’s time for you to grow up, Flynn,” his father added. “How will I ever trust you to lead this colony when you don’t think about the consequences of your actions?” With that, Gripple left.
That was the lowest Flynn had ever felt.