An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Revelations in the Fellwood Kelven

The first thing Kelven realized when the blinding light faded—and as the scorching pain lessened to a manageable ache—was that he was still alive. The second thing he realized was the Urophex was not. When he looked up, expecting to find the creature’s hideous maw descending on him, he was shocked to see nothing but a charred, smoking stump, oozing with gore and thick, black blood. Headless, the rest of the creature’s body staggered for a moment, then collapsed to the ground with a great echoing crash.

It landed mere inches from Kelven himself. For several long moments he could do nothing but sit and stare in transfixed horror. What just happened? he wondered. He had been pinned down, with no escape. Death had been inevitable, and yet he still lived. Something or someone had intervened and destroyed the creature just as it was about to strike him down. Did the Guardian answer my prayers? Or is there somebody nearby? Only a one with the power of the Flameborn could have struck with the necessary force to decapitate the Urophex.

Had the gandjai found him already? Had the Queen herself come to the Fellwood to extract her vengeance?

“Hello?” Kelven cried. “Is anybody out there?”

“Only I,” said the strange voice again. The deer-like creature was emerging from behind the great, hulking corpse. It moved warily, keeping one eye on the fallen creature, as if it might suddenly spring to life again.

“What do you mean?” Kelven asked cautiously. It felt more than a little unnatural to be asking questions of an animal. “Did you do this?”

“Of course not. That was quite the trick there. I was not aware that humans could wield such power.”

“Trick? Power? What are you talking about?”

“That white fireball you just used to incinerate the Urophex’s head. You know you’re lucky these trees have turned to stone. Otherwise you would might have set the entire forest ablaze.”

Me? You’re telling me that I did this?”

“Are you telling me you didn’t? The flames did seem to erupt out of your raised hand.”

“My hand…” he remembered raising his right arm—the arm with the manacle. Suddenly, he realized that it was no longer bothering him. He glanced down. The strange metal band appeared unchanged, but he thought he could detect an unnatural glow deep within each of the four amber stones. Then there was nothing. The manacle looked just as it always had.

“Ah! Is the talisman the source of your power?” asked the strange animal.

“The what? No! I’m telling you, I don’t have any power. I’m only a storyteller. I was just looking for my sister when I stumbled across this pool. I was thirsty. I just wanted a drink.”

“No surprise there.” Kelven could have sworn he saw the creature shrug, though he had not believed such a thing was possible. It glanced again at the headless corpse of the Urophex. “That’s usually what used to wake the old beastie up. I don’t think she’ll be waking up again any time soon. I can’t say I’ll miss her, though it does seem to leave me out a job.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve been watching old eight-eyes for the past six hundred years or so, trying to prevent anything from waking her up, or if they did, getting her back to sleep again. Now I’ll just have to find something else to do. Maybe I’ll even go home to Vin Tiraseya.”

“What did you say?” exclaimed Kelven.

“Vin Tiraseya. It’s where I used to live before I was sent here to keep the Urophex down.”

“You…you’re Iria!”

“Oh dear. I’d forgotten that you humans get so worked up about that sort of thing. It’s like me jumping up and down, telling the world that you’re a primate.”

“But, you’re not supposed to be here!”

“Why ever not?”

“All of the Fey were driven back years ago. Then King Terramore locked you all away behind the Shimmering!”

The creature simply laughed. “Did he now?”

“That is what happened!”

“You certainly seem to believe so.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“Talking to you. I should think that would be obvious.”

“You’re an animal you should not be talking at all.”

“An animal? Oh, you mean this form. Yes, I suppose it would be troubling to a human.” In nothing but the time it would take to blink an eye, the deer-like creature simply faded away. For a moment, Kelven thought it was gone, that the entire thing had only been a manifestation of his own exhausted mind. His head was starting to feel heavy, aching almost as strongly as his battered body. Then the creature faded back, except that it was not the strange-looking deer anymore. It was a woman. At least, it looked was a woman. There was an unusual slant to her cheeks and a strange thickness to her jaw which, while not unpleasant, contrasted sharply against the softer kind of femininity that was idealized among his own people.

The woman—he was certain of that now—had long, flowing white hair, except for a single dark lock that fell over her yellowish eyes. Clad in a simple tunic and wide pants that ballooned around her ankles, Kelevn was surprised by how small she was. If it had not been for the mature—if somewhat understated—curve of her hips, he might have mistaken her for a child.

“Better?” she asked. Her voice had not changed at all.

“I suppose so…”

“Good. Now stop fretting so much. I’m not going to turn you into a lizard or burn out your entrails. We don’t do that sort of thing anyhow—at least not those of us who are still free.” Kelven was about to ask her what she meant, but she just kept talking. “So you said you’d lost your sister. Where did you put her?”

“I didn’t put her anywhere,” he replied indignantly. Absently, he began rubbing his forehead, wiping beads of sweat from his brow. When had the weather turned so hot?

“Then how did you lose her?”

“She was taken.”

“By who?”

“I don’t know. We were just sitting, about a day’s walk east of here, when all of a sudden this black wind came out of nowhere and took her. I’ve been looking ever since and…”

“Wait,” interrupted the Fey woman. Both her face and voice took on a solemn quality that she had not shown before “What did you say?”

“I’ve been searching all over…”

“No. About the wind.”

“It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Or at least one of them.” Deer that changed into  tiny women and immense spider-serpents also ranked highly on that particular scale. “It just came out of nowhere. Everything went completely black and these powerful gales of wind were blowing all around us. Then it vanished as quickly as it came, taking with my sister with it.”

“Tell me about her.”

“What? Tyra?”

“Yes! What does she look like?”

“Why would that matter?” asked Kelven, coughing and rubbing his eyes. He was beginning to feel dreasfully ill. Maybe the water of the Urophex’s pool really had been poisonous.

“It matters more than you can know.”

“Alright. She’s just a bit shorter than me. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Really beautiful. Takes after our mother.”

“Her skin? About her skin?”

“A bit paler than mine, I suppose.” He was having difficulty concentrating. All around him, the world was starting to twist and turn. His stomach was doing flips. His hands were trembling.

“This is not good,” the Fey woman was saying. Kelven hardly noticed. Her voice sounded distant, and everything else around him felt as though it was a thousand miles away. He felt weary. So very weary. As he closed his eyes and let the darkness take him, the last thing he heard was someone shouting at him. “Hey, are you alright?” Then he heard no more.

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