Valkyrie Chapter 30
Even after several days, it was hard to keep calm. Kala felt her heart break at the sight of the broken slab they used for the Totemic Rituals. It had been with them since Ygsidd’s founding centuries ago. Issfang had done the grove considerable harm.
Her nerves were frayed enough as it was. The tomb’s discovery beneath the ruins was troubling. So much seemed to be happening all at once. Issfang’s actions hadn’t helped.
At the moment the dragon was under the watchful eye of her elementals. Their orders were simple and plain. If he left the circle she had drawn for him, they were to kill him. It seemed enough of an incentive to keep him quiet while she decided what should be done.
Naya’s mother was frantic and Eadra, deeply concerned. Kala asked for her to remain inside her quarters until all was resolved. She didn’t argue, in fact, she seemed equally furious with the dragon.
Kala stood and walked away from the table toward the bookshelf against the wall. She brushed her fingers across the spines of the books on the shelf.
Kala sighed. The cycle continues on. It would take weeks to craft another slab for the circle.
“Have you decided anything, Elder?”
Kala turned toward the door, she hadn’t even heard it open. “No, Mrina,”
“Naya seems well, though a little upset,” she said. “She wants to see him.”
Kala narrowed her eyes. “He’s done enough.”
“I tested her potential again,” Mrina said. “She’s far stronger now. It makes me uncomfortable.”
Kala nodded. “Keep an eye on her and let me know what you observe,” she replied. “Has he spoken at all?”
“Issfang?” Mrina shook her head. “Only to say that he will speak to you and no one else.”
Kala sighed and looked around the room. Everything suddenly felt confining. From the chairs placed close to the hearth where a sun orb sat inside it for warmth, to bookshelves beside her. So many of those books she had read and re-read often.
She inventoried it all. The rug, the table and chairs where she would often work, and paintings on the wall. She had arranged everything to make the room feel more open. Yet the sense that her world was suddenly shrinking, still remained.
“I suppose it is time,” she replied. “ The other Elders and our peers will expect a response soon.”
Mrina nodded. “I have spoken to many of them on your behalf,” she said. “Ultimately, they will honor whatever decision you make.”
“Then let’s get this over with,” Kala replied. “We have much to prepare for in the coming weeks.”
Wulf winced, his jaw still hurt, even after a few days. It was a relief that Eirik hadn’t killed him, though after their fight he almost wished the man had. Still, there were probably worse things.
His ribs were wrapped and arm was in a splint. Thankfully it was only a fracture. Sometimes in the early hours of the morning, he would check to see if his teeth were still there. Eirik was satisfied, thankfully. Though he still appeared angry, Wulf understood he had moved passed it. His thoughts were only about his daughter and saving her.
Wulf looked out in the town, more rangers were arriving every day. It made him fearful. Angry reports from aids to the various Thran were pouring in demanding an answer. Shuet, however, ignored them.
He sighed and pulled his fur cloak tighter. We’re playing a dangerous game.
“Do you always brood so much, Huntsman?”
Wulf looked over his shoulder to see Bethir step out onto the lodge’s upper balcony with him. “Only when big things are afoot.”
“Ah, the coming announcement,” the young ranger replied.
Wulf nodded. “How much do you know, Bethir?”
“Enough to know when to keep my mouth shut.”
Wulf turned to face him, an eyebrow raised. “It’s just us, so speak your mind.”
“No Huntsman has ever given a Calling before,” the young ranger replied. “If I were to guess, our family and way of life are being threatened.”
Fafnil chose well. “What else?”
“Something had happened to Ylva,” Bethir answered. “I have heard her name spoken in whispers among the others. But never in front of Huntsman Eirik. I’ve pieced together that she never far from his side, yet I haven’t seen anyone matching her description.”
“You would be wise not to speak of her around him,” Wulf warned. “He might kill you.”
Bethir nodded, then rubbed his hands together to warm them. “I will remember that.”
Wulf took a hard look at the young Ranger. “Pack your things, Bethir.”
Bethir blinked in surprise. “But the Calling.”
“The Calling can wait. I’ve already spoken to Huntsman Shuet. We have a contract; one that I cannot be ignored.”
“You trust me that much?” he asked, sounding surprised.
“I trust that you aren’t a fool. Now it’s time to test your skill as a Ranger.”
“When do we leave?” Bethir asked.
“You have ten minutes to pack and be at the Svaren’s gates or I will leave you behind,” Wulf replied. “We’re heading to Yggsid. I’ll explain everything on the way.”
It was disconcerting to see him casually shaping the patches of snow around him to pass the time. The shapes were strange, ever-shifting, as if telling a tale. Kala noted the apathetic expression Issfang’s wore as he flexed his fingers.
“I still remember that day so clearly,” he said, then looked up.
At first, his eyes were empty and cold when their eyes met, but then they changed. The dragon’s eyes suddenly softened and Kala felt her anger quickly melt away. The deep hurt shining in his eyes had caught her off guard.
She sat in front of him, crossing her legs. Issfang put some space between them and stretched his hands out. The snow quickly flattened as if he were starting with a clean slate.
“We were the last free dragon clan in the north,” he began. “Grandmother lead us. Father was slain by the frost giants a few years earlier.”
Kala watched him shape the snow into the form of five dragons. Two were very large while the others were much smaller by comparison. In her mind, Kala tried to envision what they might have been like in life. It was hard to believe frost dragons were capable of growing so big.
“Grandmother was powerful. By human standards, her magic would have been terrifying to the mages of Sharreth. We lived on the northern isles long before the frost giants of Norenhiem had settled there. It was our domain, our last refuge.”
“How did they find you?” Kala asked.
The snow changed. The three young dragons playing with each other vanished and the scenes transformed into a mighty battle. The young dragons were hiding in a cave, while the two adults were fighting off dozens of giants.
“Time catches us all, Grandmother’s magic was waning. She couldn’t keep the Isles obscured from the giants any longer.”
Kala felt a chill as a dark smile etched its way onto his face. His eyes showing a glint of the instability she had seen in them when they first met.
“It was glorious to watch,” he continued. “Grandmother killed so many of them. She had enchanted her breath with the last of her strength so that it would affect even them. When it was over she lay in the snow dying from exhaustion.”
“And your mother?”
“Mother was never the same after that,” he replied. “But we lived on. Mother taught us much about magic, everything grandmother had taught her.”
The snow changed again. New scenes took shape showing Issfang and his family running and hiding, killing and terrorizing the frost giants towns and villages of Norenhiem. Kala winced as she even watched them slaughter their own kind.
“Don’t mourn for them,” he commented. “Does a master mourn the loss of his dog?”
Kala felt her stomach turn in disgust.“How can you say that about your own kind?!”
His eyes grew colder, then changed becoming more reptilian in appearance. “Because they have no sense of who they are!” he shouted. “I have tried to free them, to liberate them, but they are stupid, brutish and feral! There is nothing noble or beautiful about them!”
The snow fell apart, his concentration had been broken. “Issfang…”
“Don’t give me your sympathy, human,” he growled. “Sympathy won’t bring back my mother or my sister and brother!”
There were tears in his eyes and behind them an unfathomable hatred. “I found her once you know, it had been decades since I’d seen her after they had taken her and killed my clutchmates.”
Kala wasn’t sure she wanted to ask, but reflexively she reached out to him. He swatted her hand away, forcing her to bite her lip from the pain.
“Don’t!” he warned. “Did you know,” he said, wiping his eyes, “the giants have a means of keeping a female in heat, Elder?”
Kala felt Mrina place her hand on her shoulder and gently squeeze. The elder druid felt the tension in her body melt away. “No, I didn’t.”
“They whored her out, as you humans would say,” he said. “Bred her over and over with every male they had until she died.”
He was shaking at this point, his scales were beginning to show. Kala noted the elementals were beginning to move. She held her up to stop them then snapped her fingers dismissing them.
“So why did you do use your magic on Naya?” she asked.
“Because she would be alone like me,” he replied. “It’s the only conclusion I could come to these past few days.”
His answer was surprising, for a creature on the brink of madness and so filled with hatred. “Why did you think that?”
“Because I am alone. The rest of my kind have devolved into feral savages, subject like a dog is to its master,” she replied. “She lacked the strength to fully become one of you. Naya’s limitations would always be limited by the circumstances of her birth.”
"This thing you have done,” Kala replied. “Do you have any idea the harm you’ve caused?” When he looked at her, Kala suddenly felt so small. The chill she felt grew as his reptilian eyes seemed to gloss over with apathy.
“If it grants her a better life, then it matters not,” he replied. “I gave up a hundred years for her by becoming her totem.”
Kala could stare at him and for a moment she thought her heart might stop. Totemic Rituals were a bonding process. It was about establishing a connection to the land and everything in it. Through that process, one’s totem is revealed. It was a deeply spiritual experience and often taught a young druid about themselves and who they were.
She felt helpless with had no idea where to begin. A person’s totem was supposed to mirror their personality it was what enabled them to transform as a physical expression of their souls.
“You should see your face,” he commented. “Your magic is all about symbols. About making a spiritual connection with something you barely understand. I simply improvised that process and created a symbol of my own with one of my scales. I then imparted part of my own essence into it.”
“This is no game, Issfang!” Kala snapped.
“I never said playing one, Elder,” he replied. “Your circle can be replaced. Perhaps what I have done is unnatural and a breach of your precious Cycle, but what is done cannot be undone. I can teach her though. In fact, I’m the only one that can.”
Kala locked her jaw. He had no understanding of his actions or remorse. In his mind, he had made Naya better and stronger, but in reality, he had only further alienated her from the grove. Without the circle and the proper ritual, she could never bond with the land or learn their magic.
“You will return to the house you are sharing with Eadra, Issfang,” she said. “You will have my decision in the morning.”