An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Vanished Kelven

“Tyra!” Kelven screamed for what had to be the hundredth time. “Tyra, where are you?” The only answer that found him was the mocking, hollow echo of his own strained voice, and even that was quickly suffocated by an unsettling silence. He did not understand what had happened. One moment his sister had been sleeping peacefully beneath her cloak, and the next the entire world was plunged into what felt like a hurricane, except that instead of rain it covered the Fellwood with an impenetrable darkness. By the time it had dissipated, Tyra was gone.

Gone. It was almost impossible to fathom. Fool! You should never have brought her here. Never. The Changelings still haunt these woods, and the prince was always too much a fool to be afraid of anything. Of course he was going to follow us. He had already tracked us halfway across the Realm.

The prince. Jayslen.

The very thought stirred fresh anger in the depths of Kelven’s spirit as he wandered between the trees, seeking some sign of his sister. All of this was because of the prince and his haughty, arrogant sense of entitlement. He had seen it before, of course-it was the type of sentiment that prevaded the House of Lords-but, as with so many things, the prince had taken it to new extremes. To Kelven’s mind, it did not matter if Jayslen was a peasent, a merchant, the prince or even one of the Nine incarnate. Nobody had the right to saunter across a room, reach out a hand and demand that Tyra go with him.

Yet that was exactly how it had all started.

Kelven and Tyra had been traveling with their uncle’s troupe of entertainers—just as they had since the mysterious disappearance of their father when they were small children. Over the years, Kelven had become one of the principal storytellers, and Tyra would often accompany him, playing softly on her lyre as he wove his elaborate tales. Together, they would find themselves in the homes of nobles and rich merchants, or performing in the reputable and respectable establishments throughout the Realm. Both Kelven and Uncle Boras had always been careful to never endanger the beautiful young Tyra by exposing her to any of the more unspeakable places that some of the other members of the troupe would be sent.

It had been at one of those respectable taverns, in the village of Ronnex, that the prince had found them. At first, Kelven had hardly noticed him at all. Clad in simple, mud-stained woodsman’s clothes, Jayslen had not appeared as anything more than a simple vagabond. He had certainly looked nothing like the heir apparent to the entire Realm. It had only been when Kelven caught the stranger’s green, Flameborn eyes lingering uncomfortably long on Tyra that he had started to study the man more carefully. Then, just as they were finishing the night’s final tale, the stranger had stood, strode confidently across the room and declared himself, demanding Tyra’s hand.

The entire Realm knew of Jayslen’s rapacious appetites and Tyra was young and beautiful. There had been little doubt in Kelven’s mind as to the prince’s intentions, and he quickly stepped between the two. When the prince had reiterated his demand, in a tone that had made it clear that he would not take no for an answer, Kelven had done the only thing he could think of to protect his sister. With a quick flick of his wrist, he had flung a fistful of Moonsand into the prince’s face. The powder, which the storyteller liked to use to enhance the effect of his tales, was not dangerous, but it provided enough of a surprise for him to grab Tyra by the hand and flee the tavern.

Boras had been furious, of course, though not so much with Kelvan’s actions as with the inevitable loss of his principal storyteller. Regretfully, he had fashioned them with coin and as many provisions as they could carry, sending them off with a promise to do whatever he could to delay the prince’s inevitable pursuit.

And so their flight had begun. For almost a month they had run west from Ronnex—using every roguish trick Boras had ever taught them just to stay one step ahead of the pursuing prince—until they had finally arrived here, at the Fellwood, where Kelven had been forced to make his fateful decision. They could have turned south, where Jayslen would have almost certainly caught them within a matter of days; or they could chance the haunted woods and hope that the prince would not follow.

Ultimately, they had risked the trees, and though they had escaped Jayslen with one fateful thrust of an old knife, the woods themselves had proven even more treacherous than the prince. Despite all the running, all the fighting just to escape and survive, in the end he had lost Tyra all the same.

The shadow had taken her.

He did not know how or why. He did not even know what the shadow was. He knew only that the black wind—as he was coming to think of it—had somehow stolen the sister he had sworn to protect. Somehow, he had to find her and bring her back.

Filled with fresh resolve, Kelven did not notice the raven watching in the branches above him or the faint warmth of the manacle around his wrist. Instead, he turned his full attention west, to the land of the Changelings and their dark magics. If anyone knew about the black wind, it would be them.

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