Valkyrie Chapter 29
Kala plodded through the ruins keeping her eyes and ears alert. She checked the air, taking advantage of her totem’s keen sense of smell. Snow bears were among the fiercest animals in Sokoras.
The sick feeling in her stomach had only grown worse, but she was also using it to get a sense of its source. Necromancy always left a particular trace and for a druid, it was the easiest to detect. The Dread Art stood in direct opposition to what The Cycle represented.
Everything about it mocked the natural order. It only grimly mimicked life but had no substance and only took from the living, leaving emptiness and decay in its wake.
Fools dabbling in things they don’t understand.
The deeper she got into the ruins, the more Kala felt her white fur begin to stand on end. A dread had settled over her like a blanket, covering every inch of her body. It didn’t make sense.
Why now? What’s changed?
In all her years, there had never been such an awful feeling in this place. She turned her head to what looked like the remains of a large building.
With the pines and snow, it was hard to make out. The walls were gone, leaving only remnants of the foundation behind. Compared to the other structures, at one time it had probably been the largest building in the ruined city.
She lurched forward, heaving as she turned away from the building. Kala couldn’t imagine anything as horrible at the moment than emptying her stomach while in the form a bear.
It’s there. She turned, walking toward the ruined building. Eventually, she was forced to stop, take a breath and call on her magic to ease her stomach.
Once she reached the ruin, Kala began using her totem’s great strength to brush aside the rubble. She looked out at the rest of the city, gauging the distance she had traveled in her search. From the remains of the foundation and it’s placement, it looked as if it might have had some significance at one time.
She stood up on her hind legs for a better vantage, when she heard the sound of the stone cracking underneath her feet. Kala immediately lurched forward trying to distribute her weight, but the stone gave and she suddenly fell into newly created opening and the awaiting void below.
She’s been gone too long. Mrina stared out at the snows and shivered. It hadn’t helped that the Elder hadn’t said where she was going. Humans could be so impulsive but in a way, it also made them intriguing.
“You live such short lives,” she whispered softly.
“They do, but like ants, they build quickly and amass much in such a short amount of time.”
Mrina turned around, the irony not lost on her as she locked eyes with Issfang. “It takes talent to sneak up on a Shaylin, dragon.”
He smiled wide, his fangs showing. “It takes talent, to stalk a dragon as well, elf.”
Mrina bit her lip at the slur. “So you were aware?” she asked.
“There are so few elves here and many humans,” he replied. “I can smell you.”
It only made sense. Dragons were classic predators after all. “I will keep that in mind next time,” she said. “You surprise me though. I never thought a dragon, like yourself, would have so much heart.”
It was hard not to smile as he sneered in disgust. Bravado, how quaint.
“I eat hearts, little girl,” he replied. “As well as bone.”
Mrina grinned. “I’m sure you do, still that kindness you showed Naya was uncanny.”
His face went blank, but Issfang’s eyes gave him away. “I do as please,” he replied. He even sounded flustered. “The child needs something better than some stupid bird or other meaningless animal!”
“So you say.” It was almost adorable. Even with the pain she could see in his eyes, Mrina clearly saw there was much more to Issfang. “Still, Naya could use a friend.”
The dragon cocked an eyebrow at the comment. “Oh,” he replied. “And why is that?”
“Because she has very little talent for magic.”
Issfang crossed his arms, his brow furrowed. “Explain.”
Mrina felt a little nervous. His anger was surprising. “We test every child when they reach a certain age. Naya doesn’t have the strength to survive attaining a totem. It’s doubtful if she will be able to manipulate nature to the degree even the lowest ranked member of the grove can.”
“And she doesn’t know?” he asked.
His pale skin gave way to scales as sharp talons extended from his fingertips. Mrina stepped back. “I wish there was something we could do. It’s rare, but this was what she was born with. If we were to allow her to try, the first change might kill her,” she replied. “In the end, we can only use what The Lady gives us.”
“The Lady,” he sneered. “How clueless you are.”
“Naya will always be one of us, there are abilities that she can develop despite her limitations.”
Issfang’s breath was frosting now. Ice had begun forming around his lips. “We shall see,” he replied then stormed off.
Mrina pulled her fur cloak tighter as a cold wind blew at her back. She felt foolish. Naya’s abilities weren’t as limited as she had claimed. “Perhaps you were right, Elder,” she said. “We may as well try to lift a mountain for all the effort it would take to control a dragon.”
Ridiculous! Stupid elf, why should she be told what she can’t become! He felt the anger mounting in his chest. Part of him felt foolish as he tried to rationalize it. After all, Naya was just a human.
She was born weak and in this cruel world the weak were prey and the strong were dominant. Yet, the more he thought about it and how she would have to live knowing she could never become a dragon, the angrier he grew.
As his thoughts paraded about in his head, Issfang began to wonder if it was the look in her eyes that was making him so angry. He had given Naya the ability to hope in something truly fantastic. A dream that would one day be snatched from her as she learned such a thing was beyond her reach.
As he stalked deeper into the grove, familiar sound of children laughing echoed in his ear. Issfang stopped, suddenly realizing how restrictive his clothing had become. He took a breath, concentrating on restoring himself to his elven form.
He crept through the trees and around the Shaped homes. Some of the smaller children were still playing. Naya sat just outside of the ‘field’ as they called it. She was weaving a basket.
Issfang crept closer and snuck up behind her. “Naya.”
The little girl turned around, eyes wide with delight when she saw him. “Drag…”
“Shh…soft voice!” he said.
“Dragon,” she whispered. “Have you come to play with us?”
“My name, is Issfang,” he replied. “And I have decided to give you another gift.”
Her eyes lit up again. “More magic?” she asked.
“Something like that,” he replied holding his hand out. “Come with me.”
It was odd. She took his hand so trustingly. Even her eyes screamed the word ‘friend’ in them. Issfang felt a warmth building in his chest. It was so much different from anger. It made him uncomfortable, but he pushed it aside.
“Where are we going,” she asked, still whispering.
Issfang wasn’t even sure how to answer the question. The grove was big, but he hadn’t taken the time to fully explore it. Part of him had been longing to revert to his true form and lazily lounge around.
His sharp eyes caught a glimpse of a clearing just a few yards away and he scooped Naya in his arms and dashed toward it. Once he breached the brush, a sense of irony came over him. There was a score of totems set about the clearing with a stone slab at its center.
The slab had symbols carved in it, probably druidic script, and was surrounded by four pillars each purposely place and bound in chains. Judging by their placement they were potioned north to south and each to west. It was hard not to smile.
“Issfang, I’m scared,” Naya said. “Please take me back.”
“Shhh…it will be fine, little one, I promise nothing bad will happen,” he replied. “In fact, you are about to see something miraculous.”
He looked up, the canopy was still fairly thick, but there were patches of snow that had slipped through. It will be enough. The clearing was also large enough to accommodate him.
He gently set Naya down and stepped back, releasing the magic that enabled him to maintain his elven guise. Naya stared in awe as he towered over her. He felt the warmth in his chest grow at the delight written on her face.
“Will I get to do that too!” she asked.
“Yes, little one, but first there things that must be done.” Issfang smiled when she pulled his scale from the pouch hanging from her belt. It was growing larger. Once separated from him it had begun reverting to its true shape.
“Do you need this,” she asked.
Issfang nodded. “I do, but I have to ask. Do you trust me as your friend.”
Naya nodded. “You are my friend, you’re a good dragon.”
“Place the scale in the center of the circle and step away.”
Naya quickly did as was asked. Issfang stared at the markings. He had no idea how druidic magic worked, but he had a theory. His only regret was revealing that he was more skilled in The Art than he led Eadra and Wulf to believe. Still, mixing magiks was dangerous, if not deadly.
“Close your eyes, child,” he said. “Do not open them until I tell you.”
He waited for her to close her eyes and then braced himself as he bit into his own arm. The pain was excruciating and he extended his wounded limp over the circle covering it, and the scale, in blood.
Issfang began chanting, focusing on his blood until it began to move, taking on a life of its own. He focused on the scale, watching as it drank in the blood with voracious hunger. The stone slab vibrated violently as cracks began forming.
He felt a pull deep within his spirit, like harpooner hunting ice squid it had speared him and was reeling him in. Issfang clenched his jaw and dug his claws deep into the ground. It was a test will now, either he would die or the incant would be complete.
I still have too many giants to kill! He focused on everything he last lost, all the hurt and pain over two and a half centuries. Then, suddenly, Naya’s smiling face came to mind and it all seemed empty.
There was loud crack, the sound of stone being sundered. The circle had broken and the ‘harpoon’ connecting him to it had been pulled free.
“Issfang?” Naya said with fear and uncertainty in her voice.
Issfang collapse, falling over so he wouldn’t crush her. “You can open your eyes, little one,” he panted.
“Issfang,” she shouted rushing to him, placing her hands on his belly. “What did you do?”
“Go…to the circle, Naya,” he replied. “Retrieve your scale.”
“I need to get Mrina,” she replied. “You are hurt.”
From the corner of his eye Issfang caught a glimpse of her nervously approaching the broken circle. Naya reached down, the scale looked more like a small shield as she struggled to pick it up. It’s ash white tone was now stained red. Though it was doubtful the little human could see it, Issfang could see the powerful magic he had woven into it.
“Eat it…” he panted, fighting to right himself.
“Issfang, I’m scared,” she replied. “I don’t like this.”
“Eat…it.” Issfang felt a slight twinge. He probably sounded harsher than he intended, but there wasn’t time to explain. The magic wouldn’t last long. “Please…Naya, trust me.”
The little girl nodded nervously and bit into the scale. It gave easily, crumbling slowly with each bite. “It tastes bad,” she said.
“I know, little one, but you can’t become a dragon if you don’t eat as much of it as you can.”
It took her a few minutes, but she did as he instructed, consuming all of it, and suddenly fell on her back. She began coughing violently and he watched as her dark hair quickly turned pure white.
In a panic, he drew on the last of his strength, forcing himself into his elven form and weakly rushing toward Naya, took her in his arms. Her eyes were rolled back, the whites clearly showing. “No, no, no…it should have worked!”
Naya gasped and then went still, her body going limp. “No! I did not sacrifice a hundred years of my life so you could die on me!” He laid her down, Eadra wasn’t the only one who had collected and read some of the ancient Aetharian texts.
He began rhythmically compressing her chest, pausing occasionally to breathe air into her lungs. “You will be strong!” he screamed. “You will never be seen as weak again!”
His eyes stung, chest aching.
Why do I care? What is this creature to me?
It was so confusing, but he pressed on until she lurched forward, gasping for air.
“Naya!” Issfang grabbed her holding her tight, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Issfang?” Naya coughed. “Why are you crying?”
“I don’t know, little one,” he replied. “I don’t know. But we are family; now and forever.”
Kala opened her eyes, her head was pounding and ribs aching. The blinding darkness around her was unsettling. Her nausea had returned in full force.
She felt around her, feeling the rubble and debris, finding something akin to a root and tugged. At first, it resisted but Kala worked at it, fighting against the sick feeling in her stomach and her bruises until it broke free. She then felt the rubble for a rock large enough to suit her needs.
Once she found one, she coiled the broken root around it, and then pressed it to her lips blowing softly. There was a small spark and once it grew to a tiny flame, she quickly placed the rock in front of her. It wouldn’t be much light, but it was enough of a start. Thanks to her magic, the flame would slowly work it’s way down the root like a candle wick until it eventually burned out.
She stood, wincing and touching her side. If only I had been a better student of the healing arts.
Once on her feet, she began drawing on her powers to numb the pain. The sick feeling grew worse as she drew off her connection to the land. Kala fell to one knee nearly heaving. The pain, however, had become more manageable. She glanced down at the rock, there were only a few minutes left before the root burned out and she would be left in the dark.
She closed her eyes and concentrated. Her body began to shift, taking on the form of a snow owl and she opened her eyes. The darkness gave way to drab shades of black and white.
Kala looked up catching a glimpse of the night sky through the opening she had fallen through. It was a miracle she had survived. She whispered a soft prayer of thanks to The Lady for gifting her the snow bears as her totem. Without Kala was sure she would have died without it.
The chamber was large and from floor to ceiling, it was about thirty-five feet. There were statues set along the wall, each had been carved from the rock or gave the appearance of it. It was hard to see what they from the floor, but in shape, the stone slabs were large and rectangular.
In size, they were about three feet in height from the floor and five feet in length. Each was evenly positioned in front of the statues on either side of the chamber an and their placement was across from the other. It reminded Kala of how narrow some of the avenues in Grunier were. The path they created was narrow enough to walk between them.
Kala took flight, perching on one of the slabs. She felt her small heart quiver as a sense of dread set in. This is a tomb.
She looked down at the visage carved on the lid of the sarcophagus. The figure was clearly an elf. She looked at the others, straining her eyes to see how far the room went.
Row after row, came into view until she saw a doorway fifty yards at the end of the chamber. Kala flew toward it, her heart nearly stopping when she saw how many more sarcophagi lay beyond it.
The strength of the necromantic energy she sensed was just as overwhelming. I had prayed you were wrong, Eadra, but it seems what you say is true.