A Raven's Dance (Conclusion)
Leif trembled, soaking in the warmth of Lenella’s naked body pressing against him. He closed his eyes, absorbing it into himself, and yearning for every ounce she had to offer as she lay against him. She was asleep, but each breath against his bare chest sent ripples through him. It was tempting to wake her and start the dance anew. There was no doubt she would be willing.
He opened his eyes, drinking in her sharp angular features, almond-shaped eyes, and dark brown hair. It was hard not to imagine anything more beautiful while staring at her. “I don’t want to leave you,” he softly whispered.
She stirred, holding him tighter, but remained asleep. Leif glanced at the table. Two plates, a large pot, and a pitcher of ale sat atop it. There was still food in the pot. Lenella had prepared it. Dinner, however, had been brief.
After their moment on the path, everything between them changed. Her feelings were plain. Shaylin were like that. They didn’t layer things, well, that is to say, they acted on their feelings. Her mind had been made up since working the fields together.
Gently, Leif stroked her hair. A warm smile crept its way onto her olive cheeks. His heart pounded, desire rising like a fountain. The past few months with Talyn felt like a dream. A thing that could be forgotten.
I was never the one watching you was I, Talyn. Leif stared at the ceiling. The thought wasn’t new, but admitting the truth cut deep.
He turned his head. Lenella was awake. Her soft brown eyes were tender and warm. She took his hand, pressing it against her cheek, gently nuzzling it.
“I like how they feel,” she said, closing her eyes. “It’s the touch of a man who works hard.”
Leif let his right hand drift down to the small of her back under the blankets. She gasped softly, soaking it in, then smiled wickedly.
Her smile curved slightly more. “Someone’s awake…” she commented “…and eager.”
Leif pulled her up, leaned in, and kissed her forehead. “I can’t help it. I don’t remember the last time I felt this way.”
She slid her arm around him, nuzzling against him. “What way is that?”
Leif gently stroked her hair. “Whole,” he replied. “I never realized how much I let that day drive me. It consumed so utterly. I never wanted to be responsible for getting another killed. I let that woman die, Lenella.”
“I know, Leif,” she said. “And you’ve spent all this time torturing yourself for it.”
“It doesn’t feel enough. Now that I’ve admitted it. I keep thinking I should turn myself into Shuet.”
She clutched him tightly. Leif did the same. Everything had happened so quickly between them. She, in true Shaylin fashion, had committed herself to her emotions and feelings. There weren’t any doubts or worries. Only the moment, the present, existed.
“What would that prove,” she said. “Your human laws in this country are strict. You would be disavowed and executed.”
She stretched to the floor and closed her eyes. Her lips moved, but there were no words. The floorboards twisted, molding themselves as if they were clay. At first, buds grew, then in moments a small sapling about a foot in length grew from them. It was seamless; no, effortless more appropriate described what he witnessed.
“The Cycle turns, Leif,” she said. “Many interpret it differently. Some see change within it. Some see the natural order of things. Regardless it is in motion. You were born, serving the Rangers with zeal and fire. Then, that woman died, and part of you died with her. You spent so much time clinging to this death that your place in The Cycle became incomplete. Now, you have been reborn.”
Leif winced. “It’s not that simple, Lenella.”
She clenched her hand into a fist. The sapling blackened, withered, then died. “But it is. Everything is a cycle, Leif. Life, death, and rebirth. Change in life is constant. Punishing yourself for the past won’t.
I left Daeshal because there were of my grove who were unable to let something go. They tried and clung to the ancient tree it hoping to revive it. But I saw the truth and acted, ending the perpetual suffering they were causing.”
“You’re the Shaper,” he softly whispered.
She nodded. “I am. My brother and I both. The Elders were furious that I had slain the oldest tree in our grove. While I was simply returning it to the Cycle, they saw it as an abomination. To me it was time. I could hear it suffering.”
Her eyes watered and a single tear trickled down her cheek. Leif sat up, pressing into Lenella and kissing her. The blankets fell away, and she clung to him, kissed him passionately.
Leif pulled away, catching his breath. “So, you have no home to return to?” he whispered, staring into her eyes.
Lenella shook her head. “No, we can never return to The Wood. Yggsid is our home now,” she replied. “I took a life, Shaper or not, to the grove and in the eyes of House Ravenfeather, I disrupted The Cycle.”
“Why don’t they react the same way here?”
“Sokoras is a different land and Yggsid a different place. House Ravenfeather helped found it a very long time ago, but no longer sees the grove as part of its responsibilities. The Shaylin who live here now were born from those who decided to stay and help the humans.”
“To them, Yggsid is there home,” he said.
“It is. Daeshal is just another place as far as they are concerned.”
Lenella turned, positioning herself so her back was against his chest and pulled the blankets up to cover them both. Leif wrapped her arms about her waist and rested her chin on her shoulder. He felt her soft hands and arms rest atop his own.
Talyn, just stay away. Don’t come back.
“How is this so simple?” he asked.
Lenella tilted her head, looking up at him from the corner of her right eye. “Because it is. I have chosen you, Leif. You are different, and with that choice, I committed myself to you.”
“What does that even mean?”
She wove her fingers into his. “It means, that for me there will be no other. While there are rare exceptions, we Shaylin once we have chosen a mate, are paired for life. For us, there can never be another. Our spirits are bound as one. Unlike humans, we take intimacy more seriously.”
“But how do you know me?” Leif asked. “How can you know I am capable of committing to something like that?”
“Because I feel it,” she replied. “In your heart, you are desperate to be vulnerable. To let go and be embraced by another openly and honestly. Your sins, faults, and hurts all of it, you want to be free. To know that for you such grace exists.”
Leif held his breath. She was right. No one had ever put to words what it was that had driven him for so long. “Lenella…”
“I know Leif,” she said. “A shadow hangs over you still and it will do anything to keep you within its clutches.”
He froze. Questions assaulting him. Leif bit his lip, nausea gripping him as the impulse to silence her welled up within him. Another sign of Talyn’s influence.
He fought it, casting it aside. No, I can’t. No matter what happens I can’t.
“Leif,” she said. “I can help you, but you have to choose. No matter what happens, you are my mate now. That will never change.”
He held her tight. “I want to choose you. More than anything.”
He was an elusive one, this druid, but also a fool. He had failed to alert anyone and chosen to run straight for where Leif was staying. Talyn trembled, chills running through him from the smell of elven blood in the air. Somasa had fought well. As a Shaper his magic was strong.
In the back of his mind, he questioned why Somasa had run for Leif’s lodgings. Was he so naive to think that he would find sanctuary there? Talyn winced, his shoulder stabbing at him in pain. No, the druid was too smart for that.
The shapeshifter crept through shadows, enshrouded by the darkness his form offered. Using it was risky. The druids would sense the corruption such dark magic would leave in its wake. Some of the plants and trees along the path had already begun to wither.
He fought back the sick feeling within him. The creature he had become was steeped in shadow magic. It took life, just by being close to it. Worse, its hunger could never be sated.
“Somasa,” he whispered. “Come out and play. I’m hungry.”
The grove was quiet. Somasa’s scent said he was close. The smell of blood was growing stronger. Judging by the distance, they were near the house Leif was staying in. The path would end soon.
The sound of something whipping through the air drew his attention. Talyn turned just as the forest came alive and vines surged toward him, binding his shadowy form. Their very touch was like acid against his shadowy form. Some became like spears, stabbing at him.
He clenched his beak, resisting the urge to screech in pain. “Xiv Sha!”
The vines wilted, becoming blackened paste and he shook the residue off, craning his neck to scan the forest. He grunted, pain shooting up his spine. The puncture wounds from the vines weren’t closing.
He dropped to all fours. The sparse grass and flowers at his underneath his talons immediately wilting at his touch. Stupid elf, I’m going to absorb every last drop of your essence!
Talyn closed his eyes, focusing on the scent of Somasa’s blood. He was moving away. At this rate, he would reach Leif first.
So it’s attrition, little Shaper. You’re trying to whittle away at me bit by bit. He reached for the nearest tree, clutching it in his large talon. The flow of life siphoning away from it was sweet. Talyn could already feel his wounds closing. The tree withered, groaning under its own weight before turning to ash.
Run elf, we will end you!
There had been no explanation. Lenella had simply jumped from the bed and donned her clothes. She stood on the porch of the small house, her eyes fixed on the path leading into the grove. Leif shivered, wishing he wore more than just a pair of cloth pants and a tunic. He gripped his shortblades, standing protectively in front of her.
Moments later, thanks to Talyn’s gift, Somasa came into view from the darkness. He was panicked, blood running down his face. His appearance was emaciated, like a fern addict, but his senses seemed intact.
It took Lenella a few longer to see him, but when she did, the Shaper ran toward him as he collapsed at the end of the path.
“It comes!” he groaned.
“Leif!” she shouted.
Leif ran toward her, planting his shortblades in the ground and taking the young druid into his arms. Together, they rushed toward the porch and laid him close to the doorway. Lenella knelt beside her brother, placing her hands over his wound and chanting softly. A glow emanated from her palms and his wounds began closing.
Leif turned to the treeline by the path and locked his jaw. Even though he could sense it, the Ranger knew Talyn was coming and he was angry. Through whatever bond they shared, the familiar’s murderous intent was plain. He rushed toward the path, where his swords were planted in the ground and scooped them up.
“Leif!” Lenella shouted. “You Have to reject him! His hold cannot last!”
“My hold?” His voice was deep, power resonating in its tone. “Didn’t he tell you, little whore. He chose me, accepted me, long before you took him for your leisurely evening ride!”
Leif planted his feet, the cold seeming to vanish as his heart pounded. The trees groaned, the sound of them toppling sounding in his ears. This wasn’t like before in Grunier.
“I hope you had your fun, Shaper,” he said. “I despise thieves, elf! Leif. Is. Mine!”
Leif stepped back, the trees and ground near the path were turning back. They were dying and once they collapsed, in the dim light of the crescent moon, Talyn revealed himself. In form, he was a shadow-like creature, something between a raven and a wingless griffon. He was as large as an ice bear. And his eyes glowed with a haunting pale light.
There something off about the creature he had chosen to become. The form didn’t seem stable, as if he were fighting to maintain its shape. His front limbs should briefly shift, sprouting shadowy feathers before reverting to normal. His size would likewise do the same, changing by a few hands then back. It was like his body was trying to complete a transformation into some great bird of prey, with Talyn fighting against it.
It must be exhausting to keep that up.
“Leif,” Talyn said, his voice less ominous. “You had your pleasures, now end this, and let's move on. We have places to be.”
Leif stepped forward, a wave of exhaustion rolling over him. “I’m not killing anyone Talyn!”
The familiar tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “Kill them, or I will.” His tone was the same as at the plantation. Though it was devoid of the pity he showed then. “You can’t possibly love her. You’re a human. A fickle, small, human. You aren’t like them.”
Staring into his eyes and seeing him in that form, Leif felt the weight of Talyn’s hold. He glanced back at Lenella. Her attention was focused on saving her brother. Her face was a mask as she used her magic to heal him.
“Do it, Leif, kill them. Be who you are, be who I saw, and see now.”
“No, I have made my choice,” he replied. “I choose her.”
Talyn craned his neck low, ripples rolling through his shadowy form. It was like watching water flow or fire dance about. “Then, I will end this. You are mine, Leif. Mine for eternity.”
He stepped forward, but Leif intercepted him.
“Stand too close and you will die, Leif,” Talyn said. “I will leech the very life out of you!”
“Then you will once again be alone.”
Strangely, Talyn stepped back. He seemed hesitant. “I have always been alone, Leif.”
Leif looked back toward Lenella. She looked exhausted. Whatever Talyn had done to her brother wasn’t something that one could simply heal. He leaned over, taking his shortblades and drawing a long line in the ground. He then planted them at either end.
“You will not cross this line, Talyn!”
The familiar said nothing. Instead, he stared at the line, eyes narrowed. Leif turned his back, pausing briefly. Talyn was irritated for some reason, but why?
He walked up to the house and knelt beside Lenella. “I’m sorry. I never wanted this.”
She looked up, eyes soft and full of grace. “I know,” she replied. “That creature does not belong in this world. It deceives and tricks to get its way. It may hide itself from others, but I can sense it’s nature.”
“I cannot stay, I’m not strong enough to stop him,” he replied.
“But you are Leif,” she said. “You gave him the power over you. Together, it can be taken back.”
“I can’t. He’ll kill you. I can’t bear that.”
A tear fell down her cheek. “I know,” she replied. “I had hoped you would stay, but in my heart, I knew you would leave.”
“Then why choose me?” Leif asked. “Why decide that something unreachable was to be your mate?”
“Because I see you too,” she replied. “I chose you to give you an anchor on your journey. Something that he cannot take away.”
Leif swallowed hard and pressed his lips against hers. “I will return to you.”
She shook her head. “No, you won’t, but I will wait regardless. For me, there can never be another.”
“One day, Lenella, I will return and we will have whatever is left of my life together.”
She smiled warmly, tears flowing. “Then I will wait for you. Even into my Twilight.”
Leif gripped Slep’s reigns while staring at the Coldfire Mountains as the drew closer. Smoke rose from deeper within the range. The active volcanoes and unstable terrain made traveling them dangerous.
“You’ll love Absion, Leif,” Talyn beamed. “Well, minus the horrid heat and judgemental stares of their pompous Inquisitors. The gladiatorial fights are entertaining enough, however. Oh and there’s the Shaedzlen…”
“Talyn, be silent.” The familiar immediately clammed up, anger radiating in his eyes.
Leif smiled. The answer had been so simple. Talyn originally was a familiar and they were bound to do whatever they were commanded when ordered directly. It was secret the raven had hidden from him.
The commands had to be specific, however. Talyn was clever and would twist things to his advantage. The bond wasn’t absolute.
I promise to come for you Lenella. There will be no one else for me.
“How are you feeling, Sister?”
Lenella shifted in the recliner, softly touching her belly. “Better today. The little one isn’t kicking quite so hard.”
Somasa, leaned on his cane, only half-smiling. He wasn’t happy with the pregnancy, but life was life. Whatever the child was to be born as, human or elf, it was family.
She studied her brother, feeling a twinge at the sight of his wooden leg beneath the folds of his robes. They had shaped it together. The prosthetic would move like a real leg, though he still needed the cane for balance. His real leg had been beyond aid that night.
Somasa’s breathing was still strained, even after six months. The fight with Talyn had scarred his lungs. The dark magic the creature wielded kept them from fully healing.
“Have you settled on a name?” he asked.
Lenella blinked, his question bringing her back to the present. “Lal Thala for a girl.”
Somasa cocked an eyebrow.“Interesting, and what of a boy?”
His expression was thoughtful but didn’t offer much else. “Moon’s Light and Heart’s Light,” he said. “Let us pray that the child lives up to either name.”
(Thank you for taking to time to read the conclusion to our story. If you would like to see how it began click here)