After the Dream Kelven
The first thing Kelven felt was heat, then cold, then heat again, as though his body could not decide what it was feeling. It simply teetered between the two extremes. He shivered and pulled his knees up to his chest in an effort to conserve warmth, even as sweat dripped from his brow and the last vestiges of some haunting nightmare dissipated from his mind. Already, he was having trouble remembering specifics of the dream. It came only in vague impressions and dissociated fragments—a shadow here, an impossible battle there. Had he really wielded a sword with such skill? He could count on one hand the number of times he had held such a blade in the waking world.
The only image that remained firmly in his mind was that of an eccentric old man with an unnatural habit of holding his eyes tightly shut. That man had been everywhere, but on waking, Kelven found that he could not remember ever having meet the man. Perhaps he had been nothing but another part of the dream.
Kelven opened his eyes and, as the foggy blur lifted from his vision, found himself in strange surroundings. He appeared to laying in some sort of cave, surrounded by rough walls of purplish rock. Why does that seem so familiar?He could not tell. His head felt heavy, so clouded with the fleeting shadows of the dream that it took him several moments to recognize the small gardens that were scattered around the cave, each filled with a different type of plant. How do they grow without the sun? he wondered. As he continued looking around, his eyes fell on the shape of a woman. Her back was turned to him, and all he could make out was the blonde hair cascading over her shoulders.
“Tyra?” he asked.
It was not his sister. When she turned to face him, he realized her hair was not blonde at all, but white. She had a strange face, and though it was oddly inhuman, it also seemed somehow familiar. He had seen this woman before. Had it been in the dream?
“No,” she replied. “It is only me.”
At the sound of her voice, everything came rushing back. All at once, he remembered this Iria woman, the strange deer-like creature, and the battle with the monster she had called the Urophex. He remembered the black wind that stole Tyra away, the fateful stroke that had slain the wretched Prince and the long flight that had ultimately brought them here. He knew now why the purplish rock had seemed so familiar.
He was still in the Fellwood, though exactly where he could not tell.
“What happened?” he mumbled.
“You’ve fallen ill,” replied the woman. “Fevered and troubled by dark dreams, I think. I don’t know the source of the sickness, but it doesn’t seem to have passed yet. You’re still burning up.” She handed him what looked like a stone plate, filled with various vegetables. “Try to eat. You’ll need your strength.”
Kelven hesitated. He remembered the stories of how the Fey used food to cast spells and enchantments on those foolish enough to eat. Was this such an offering? Was this white-haired woman trying to trap him in some way? It seemed oddly out of character for someone who had already tried to save him from the Urophex, someone who had brought him here—wherever he was—and seemingly tended to him as he slept. If she meant him any harm, there had already been plenty of opportunity. Still, the old stories continued to run through his clouded mind, and he was finding it difficult to trust this woman who should not have existed anywhere on this side of the Shimmering.
“They’re just vegetables,” she said, trusting the plate closer to his face. “They’re not going to hurt you.”
“Thank you,” replied Kelven, taking the dish carefully in his hands. He still found himself wrestling with his own reluctance, but the longer he stared at the food, the more he keenly he felt the deep hunger of his long-empty stomach—and the louder it seemed to growl. He ate slowly at first, selecting those vegetables he knew and recognized. When those were gone, he began to devour the other offerings as well. They tasted sweet and earthy.
“How do you feel?” asked the Fey woman. “Do you have the strength to talk?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Let me start by offering my name. I am known as Ki-Kala.”
“My name’s Kelven. Where are we?”
“This is my home. It’s a small den cut out from beneath one of the Fellwood’s great trees.”
“You brought me here yourself?” asked Kelven with a frown. She seemed too small to have been able to drag him on her own, much less carry him. “How?”
“I carried you, of course.”
“But…you’re so small…”
“There are many kinds of strength, as I expect you will learn soon enough. I believe we’ll be spending a great deal of time together.”
“Why?” Fresh apprehension filled Kelven’s heart. There was an intensity to the Iria woman’s gaze that he did not like.
“Before you feel unconscious, you spoke of a sister, a girl with blonde hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. You told me she had vanished, that she was taken by what you called a black wind.”
“I assume that you want this sister back?”
“Then I intend to help you find her. This black wind you spoke of, he is familiar to me. Whatever he intends for the girl, it won’t be pleasant.”
Ki-Kala nodded. “His name is Crayven. Like me, his a wyran—what humans have called wind spirits. Unlike me, however, he serves the Remnant. He’s been consumed by her darkness.”
“Wait,” said Kelven. “I don’t know anything about wyrans or remnants. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that there are any Iria on this side of the Shimmering at all. What does this have to do with Tyra? And why are you willing to help me? Our people are ancient enemies.”
“I think that you will find your hatred to be very one sided,” Ki-Kala responded. “Though perhaps not entirely. Still, we have little reason to hate humans. When our past conflict came to war, your ancestors did the only sensible thing. They fought back and defended themselves. We bear you no ill will for a very natural desire to survive.”
“You speak as though it was nothing more than a tavern brawl!” Kelven accused. “Thousands died—no, tens of thousands—slaughtered by the Iria armies.”
“And you humans,” the woman retorted sharply, “were no less brutal, I assure you. Forests full of dryads were burned to the ground. The river homes of the nymphs ran black with fell poisons. I remember discovering an entire village of peaceful fauns who had been crucified by cold, human iron! So don’t you dare try to tell me that your people were the only ones to suffer during that war!”
“Wait. You found a village? You were alive during the Fey Wars?”
“By the Nine,” stammered Kelven. “Just how old are you?”
“I have seen very near to a thousand years, as humans count them. There are many others who have lived longer, but that’s not important. You asked what Crayven wants with your sister. At the moment, I can only guess at his plans for her, but whatever they are they surely portend a terrible evil for both our peoples. If you want to save your sister, if you ever want to see her alive again, we need to set aside our differences and work together. Agreed?”
Kelven locked his gaze with that of the Iria woman. Looking long and hard into her yellowish eyes, he sought some evidence of deceit. There was none. That meant nothing, of course. He had met plenty of humans who could easily lie without letting any hint it appear on their faces. There was no reason to believe that the Fey had not also perfected that same talent. Still, the woman seemed to be acting in good faith. She had helped and nursed him, and had stores of food and water, something of which he was in dire need. Perhaps he could trust her—at least far enough to help him escape the Fellwood and find Tyra.
“Agreed,” he said. “Where do we start?”