Valkyrie Chapter 28
It was almost too much to believe, but if some had told her that a woman riding a frost dragon would be paying the grove a visit, Kala would have considered them mad. She didn’t know which was worse, Viktor using some potion created by the Aetharian people to enslave them or that the ancient elves lay in their tombs under a curse of undeath. It did explain the Hungering Ones and why it was common practice to burn the dead.
Kala glanced behind her from the grove’s entrance. Sun orbs lit up the dimness created by the thick canopy of the evergreen trees overhead. They were positioned along the varied paths leading deeper into the grove and provided warmth to keep the chill of the outside world at bay.
She smiled when she looked at them. Mrina would often comment on how the combination of light and shadow reminded her of home. Kala shifted to the ancient evergreen trees that made up the grove.
It was hard to imagine how many centuries they had stood for, but her fellow Elders and their forbearers had protected them for as long as anyone could remember. They were the last of their kind and each year, seedlings were cultivated and preserved to ensure their survival for future generations.
Men like Viktor wouldn’t understand. He’d cut them down as easily as any other tree for lumber.
She turned her attention to the white snowy plain beyond the grove’s entrance and sighed. “I suppose it was inevitable.”
“Nothing lasts forever, Elder.”
Kala jumped, spun around and scowled at Mrina. It wasn’t the first time the young elf had snuck up on her. It was an annoying habit, she prided herself on. “Mrina!”
The young Shaylin giggled. “Elder, you should see your face.”
Kala’s scowl momentarily deepened. “I should send you to the caverns to check the gardens!” Mrina simply tilted her head and blinked, pursing her lips forcing her to burst into laughter. Her anger melted away. “You make it hard to stay angry with you.”
Mrina grinned. “It’s one of my better qualities,” she replied. “You spend too much time worrying about things.”
Kala looked back toward the snows outside. “It’s hard not to. Nothing in Sokoras is ever certain.”
“The Cycle is ever-shifting, Elder,” Mrina replied. “Even the snows melt, if only for a brief moment, before returning in force.
Truer words had never been spoken. It was silly to wish for something to remain unchanging. Life simply didn’t work that way. Still, there were moments when Kala found herself wishing for it. Even if the very core of their teachings were to expect and adapt to change.
“Still, an anchor would be nice.” She felt Mrina place a gentle hand n her shoulder.
“It would be, if only for a moment,” the young elf replied.
Kala reached up and placed her hand on Mrina’s. “Do you think she is telling the truth?”
“If I think it possible that we unknowingly helped Viktor create some kind of horrible drug, then yes,” Mrina answered. “As for the rest. I do not know. The Dakren have done horrible things to my people. Our cousins fared far worse.”
Mrina’s attention shifted as if she were searching her thoughts. “The Aetharian were a secretive people, even the survivors of the Invasion didn’t mingle well with my people. Some managed to make The Wood their home.”
“Are there none left now?” Kala asked.
Mrina shook her head. “A sickness common to the Shay’lin took most of our cousins in the end,” she replied. “As millennia passed, the surviving children intermingled with us. Now, the only sign of the Aethar that remains is when one of our children are born with blue eyes or white hair.”
“I have heard the same of those born with blonde hair,” Kala added. “That it shows a link the Shaylin share and with the Dakren.” Mrina tried to hide it, but Kala caught the slight curl of the young Shaylin’s upper lip. Even though the dark elves hadn’t been seen for an Age, the hatred elves of The Wood held for them still ran deep. “Did they ever share their knowledge?”
Mrina shook her head. “I don’t know, The Invasion was a dark time in my people’s history. We lost so much.”
Kala nodded. “So the stories I’ve heard say.”
“If what she says is true where does that leave us?” Mrina asked. “We aren’t an army, even if we have a dragon.”
“The meeting is still several weeks away and it will take time for many of the Thran to make the journey to Grunier,” Kala replied. “ As for the dragon, I would be wary.”
A soft wind blew and Kala pulled her cloak tighter around herself. Mrina gently squeezed her shoulder in response and softly whispered something in Shaylin. Kala felt a soft warmth spread through her body lessening the chill. “You’re too kind,” she said.
Mrina simply smiled. “Should we send messengers?” she asked. “Perhaps if we warn the other Thran?”
Kala sighed. “If it were only that simple. Those men are a stubborn lot.”
Mrina giggled. “Perhaps you mean only a certain man is stubborn.”
Kala frowned. “That is not how you should speak to an Elder,” she replied. Mrina simply smiled and looked away. Kala felt guilty for letting out such a simple slip of the tongue. Ever since Eadra had told her about Wulf, her thoughts restlessly shifted from matters at hand to him.
“Regardless, Elder, we should we still try,” Mrina commented, bringing her back to the present.
Kala nodded. “Henrik, Jormund, and Illhiem would be our best hope,” she replied. “Don’t send owls, though. Send one of our own to each instead.”
“Do you think they will listen?”
“We have never involved ourselves in the business of the Thran before,” Kala answered. “They know we are only concerned with helping the people. Illhiem, however, will want proof or at least some reassurance.”
“Perhaps he should meet with Eadra and her dragon for his proof,” Mrina replied.
“Perhaps…” Kala said, pulling away. “Look after things while I am gone.” She felt Mrina’s gentle hand fall from her shoulder as she walked closer to the grove’s entrance. Kala could feel the young elf’s gaze at her back and then closed her eyes.
Kala could feel the bond with the land flowing through her and she drew upon it, allowing it to fill her completely. She focused her thoughts, allowing the image of a snow owl, her other totem, to form in her mind.
Unlike the Shaylin, most humans could only master a single totem. Kala was one of the rare few who had mastered two. It was a talent that had served her well.
She opened her eyes, allowing them to adjust to the light. It was always disoriented at first. Snow owls could see at varying distances. Kala took flight turning west toward the ruins hidden deeper in the pinewood forest.
The feel of the wind against her feathers was liberating. It was as if she had entered into another realm and the trees beneath her were the gateway separating the earth and sky.
Kala focused her eyes toward the horizon. Thanks to her totem’s sharp vision, she was able to catch a glimpse of the ruins in the distance. Most of the rubble was overtaken by the pines or the stone had been carted away by villagers from the local villages in the area.
It took some time, the ruins were several miles from the grove. Once she was close enough, Kala found a perch on one of the pines just a few yards from the outskirts of the ruins. It was in worse shape than she remembered a year ago.
Seems the local villages have been busy.
At one time, so she had been told, it had been a great city. Even from high above though, it was hard to imagine that had been possible. Kala spread her wings when she felt overcome with a sickening feeling in the pit of her small stomach.
Kala clenched her talons on the branch and spread her wings for balance. Her nausea quickly passed a moment later. Necromancy. Perhaps your tales aren’t so unbelievable after all, Eadra.
It was a curious sound, if not annoying. Issfang frowned as he watched some of the grove’s children playing. They were broken into something called ‘teams’ with each trying to kick a small ball made of cloth into something they had termed a ‘goal’.
It seemed so pointless, obviously, the larger children on each team had the advantage. The smaller children simply ran about not caring about scoring. It was utter chaos.
He leaned back against one of the larger evergreens and crossed his arms. I think all this waiting will be the death of me. It would be weeks before the meeting Eadra spoke of. Resolve or not, it would be more preferable to simple kill Viktor and his lackeys then force her to fulfill the promise she made about killing frost giants.
“Why are you frowning?”
Issfang blinked and turned to see a small human girl staring at him curiously. “Am I frowning?” he replied. “I simply couldn’t tell…”
“You are, but why?” she asked. “Are you sad?”
Issfang sighed. Sarcasm was obviously lost on this one. “No, I’m not sad!” he snapped. “I’m just bored.”
The girl suddenly grabbed his arm. “Then come play with me, silly,” she said, laughing and pulling at him.
“Unhand me!” Issfang grumbled, pulling his arm free.
The little girl stumbled and fell onto the ground. She then began emitting the most horrifying sound he ever heard.
“You’re mean!” she screamed with tears in her eyes.
Issfang’s mouth fell open in a panic. His mind suddenly began conjuring images of Kala summoning frost elementals to smash him flat. “Shhh…” he said, holding his hands out to her. “Now don’t do that!” The annoying sound she was making grew louder. “Do you like magic?”
The little girl suddenly stopped crying. “Magic?” she sniffled. “I’ve seen lots of magic, but I’m too young to use it,” she replied. “At least that’s what Elder Kala says.”
Issfang smiled. “Watch,” he said and touched a small clump of snow in front of her. The snow slowly took shape, becoming a small dragon the size of his hand.
Issfang flexed his fingers slowly and the snowy dragon responded as if it were a marionette. He looked up at the small human, her face shining in delight. With a flick of his fingers, the little dragon took flight, circled her, then exploded sprinkling bits of snow all over her.
She laughed softly. “Do it again!”
Issfang clumped more bits of snow laying on the ground together and remade the small dragon. He made it dance about and even used his magic to make it roar. The little human was beyond delighted.
“Naya,” he heard someone call out.
The little girl turned, looking toward one of the houses that had been shaped around one of the large evergreen trees in the grove. “Coming mother!” she responded. Naya then turned and stepped closer to Issfang wrapping her arms around his neck. “You’re not so mean after all,” kissing him on the cheek.
Issfang sat there speechless. It was brief, but he felt a strange sensation momentarily well up in his chest. He wiped his eyes, noting there were small ice crystals on his fingertips.
Naya pulled away and ran off. He stared for a moment then sprang to his feet moving in front of her and blocking her path. “I have something for you,” he said and knelt down.
Her face lit up and the feeling in his chest returned.
“Something for me?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “It’s a very special gift.” Issfang pulled up his right sleeve and released a bit of the magic that enabled him to take the form of an Aetharian.
Scales began appearing on his arm and he took his left hand and carefully cut away one of them away. “I have heard that druids form a bond with a totem animal when they are learning to Shift. If you can bond with this then you will become as powerful as me.”
The little girl’s eyes opened wide and she rushed forward hugging him tightly. “I’ll keep it safe,” she said. “It’s a promise.”
Issfang smiled. The feeling in his chest was growing stronger. “You had better, little human, I won’t give you another.”
Naya pulled away, stopping just short enough to kiss him on the cheek. “You’re a nice dragon,’ she said and then ran off.
Issfang turned, watching her as she ran off and then disappeared into what he assumed was Naya’s home. It was strange, but he could shake the feeling of deep disappointment he felt.
He clenched his fists. Don’t get too soft, Issfang. It won’t help you kill frost giants.
Mrina stood lurking just behind one of the evergreens. The exchange between Naya and the dragon was a curious one. For someone bent on revenge and consumed with his own superiority, it seemed something deeper lay just underneath the surface of his icy heart.
The dragon scale was a surprise as well. Forming a totem with an animal was a serious endeavor for a young druid. Naya would be allowed to make the attempt in another two years.
If was hard not to wonder if Issfang truly understood what he had just done. If he had, perhaps he sought to gain something from it?
You’re a curious puzzle, dragon. I think I will watch you for a while.