In the Wyran’s Den Ki-Kala
Hidden away in her den, the wryan known as Ki-Kala sat diligently beside the unconscious human, studying him closely. They were strange creatures, these mortal beings. Like flashes of lightning in a raging storm, generation after generation would crash loudly through the world before fading so quickly into death.
This particular human was still young, just a few years removed from his own, brief childhood. He seemed tall—but then all grown humans seemed tall to Ki-Kala—with dishevelled, sandy blonde hair. His face was covered by a thin, unkempt beard that looked as though it had grown only due to the lack of a proper razor. That was something else that she was unfamiliar with. None of her brothers back in Vin Tiraseya had ever needed to take a blade to their smooth faces.
The human groaned softly, as though caught in the web of some terrible dream. Ki-Kala reached out and placed her hand on his forehead. He was still burning up. The strange fever had come over him far more quickly than she deemed natural. She had already checked over every part of his body, looking for the telltale signs of the Urophex’s venom, but found no greying skin, no hardening flesh.
Whatever plagued him, it was something else entirely.
Which did not help her at all. The thought of simply leaving him to die had never even entered her mind. For Ki-Kala, all like was sacred, human or otherwise. Unfortunately, she was no healer, and knew even less about the ailments of humans than she did about those that would occasionally plague her own people. All she could think to do was use a cold, damp sponge—a gift from the nymphs of the Crystal Sea—to cool his brow and wet his lips. It seemed to help somewhat, and at the very least would help stave off dehydration.
Feeding him might prove to be a greater challenge. Finding food was not the problem. Her den, which she had hollowed out beneath one of the Fellwood’s large, petrified trees, was the only place within a hundred miles where anything edible actually grew. It had blessed by a group of dryads shortly after its completion, providing her with an abundance of hearty radishes, parsnips, carrots and other root vegetables. There we even a few bushes of plump, red and purple berries. It was more than enough to sustain her own, minimal needs; she guessed that it would be enough to sustain the human too.
If only she could get something into him.
How much will he need to sleep? She felt that it should not be all that long. Twelve hours struck her as a reasonable guess. Even if he slept for an entire day, she knew, it would not put him in any danger. When he did eventually wake, she could feed him then. It was not much of a plan, but it was the only option she had, since she could not even call for help. Although her people were not so absent from the lands north of the Shimmering as the humans seemed to think, they were absent from the immediate vicinity. None among the Quilani would happily reside in these lifeless woods.
It was only her duty to the Vanarch—ruler of all her people—that had kept Ki-Kala there herself.
And now that duty particular duty had passed. The Urophex was dead. Slowly, over the coming centuries, the corruption would gradually seep out of the petrified woods as they were reclaimed by the land. Perhaps the dryads would even return to this place, which had once been among their most beloved sanctuaries, back in the time before the darkness, before the Sundering and the Remnant.
In spite of herself, the wyran shivered—which was no common thing for a being who had spent her entire life bending and riding upon the breath of the world. Although her former duty had passed, she knew that she was no less bound. A new duty had fallen onto her shoulders.
Or perhaps it had been placed there by the Great One.
Her mind turned again to the human girl, the sister of the man laying beside her. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Pale skin. Taken by a shadow. Perhaps it was not what she feared. Perhaps the so-called black wind was something else entirely. Perhaps. It just sounds far too familiar to be mere coincidence. She knew the winds in the Fellwood, and though they were feral and wild, there was nothing like animosity in them. Certainly nothing like what the human had described.
But that did not mean that Ki-Kala discounted the story. Quite the opposite, for she knew of such a wind, though she had not seen or heard or felt any trace of it since coming to this place. It should not have been here. It should not have been anywhere at all in the human world. And yet, here it seems to be. What other wind could come so quickly, as dark and black as the moonless night? And if he is here, that can mean only one thing. The shadow is stirring. The Remnant is awakening.
Yes, Ki-Kala told herself, my duty is clear. She would find a messenger and send word back through the Shimmering, to Vin Tiraseya, to the Vanarch and her people. But first, she would need to save this human, nursing him back to health. Then, after her message was sent, she would bind herself to him, leaving the Fellwood and leading him on a search for his poor sister. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Pale skin. She could not leave the girl to the horrible fate surely awaited her her.
The world could not afford it.
She checked the human again, shivering as she applied another layer of cooling water to his brow. It was only as she set the sponge aside that she realized how cold her den had become. She recognized that familiar chill as more than just the cooling air of the deepening night.
Wrapping herself in thin currents of air, summoned through a hundred tiny holes, Ki-Kala flew with all haste to the entrance of her den. She burst into the night, pulling down a veil of gusting wind to protect the sleeping human. All around her the Fellwood had gone impossibly dark. Strange winds blew and rushed through the tress in a dozen directions, pulling the darkness with them. Ki-Kala reached out to tame them but, as expected, they threw her back.
These were not her winds, and though they were lithe and agile, they were still foreign. For all their strength and bluster, they did not know the forest’s natural airways.
She found a single stream of familiar air and sent it rushing through the darkness. Then she did the same with another and yet another. Strand by strand, she wove the night air together, until a great galestorm swirled round and round through the night. Only when she felt that the winds had amassed enough strength did she alter their course, drawing them all towards herself in one, great gust.
Instantly, the shadows began to dissipate and she felt something like a scream of frustration ripple through the air. For several tense moments, Ki-Kala stood alone, listening to growing stillness that fell as she tamed the winds again—preventing them from rushing off and causing mass destruction in some other part of the world. She may have blown the darkness out, but she was not fool enough to believe that she had driven it away completely.
Still, she could not help but gasp when he suddenly stepped out from behind a nearby tree. Clad in human flesh, he was tall and thick shouldered, with shaggy black hair and a beard to match. His simple huntsman’s clothes were stained in blood and torn along his left side. Ki-Kala could see a wound there, though it appeared to be healing quickly—or at least it was being knit together in some foul semblance of healing. Only his black, glassy eyes gave any indication as to who he truly was. When those eyes focused on her, the corners of his lips turned upward in a cruel, mocking smile.
“Hello, love,” he said. His words were awkward and raspy, as though he was not used to his own voice. “So good to see you again.”