An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Mystery of the Amber Ki-Kala

The human called Keleven was still sleeping soundly when Ki-Kala settled down beside him. She had already spent the better part of the morning preparing for their journey, packing roots and nuts and berries from her own stores, wrapping them in broad, dried leaves that she had preserved for just such a purpose. Altogether, it was enough food to last her for well over a month, but she was uncertain about how long it could sustain the human. The mortal need for nourishment had always proven to be far greater than her own.

She did not know what she would do if they ran out of food.

Fortunately, water would not be as much of a challenge. While the pool that had once been the resting place to the Urophex was easily the largest body of water within the boundaries of the Fellwood, there were still various creeks and ponds to be found, all running as pure and as crisp as they ever had. Whatever it was that had poisoned the earth, it seemed to have little or no effect on water.

The key to their journey was going to be the food, and finding a way to make it last. Ki-Kala had estimated that it would take about a week to make the journey north, to the foothills of the Miraquan Mountains—after which, they would be able to forage whatever they needed. Upon further consideration, however, she was beginning to wonder if she was being overly optimistic. There was well over a hundred miles to cover, and while Kelven appeared to be recovering somewhat as he slept, his fever had still not broken. It seemed unlikely that he would be able to travel any great distance on his own strength.

She considered trying to carry him. Years ago, during the war of the Sundering, she had seen humans riding on the backs of animals. The preferred mount had been horses, but she also recalled seeing donkeys and camels used for a similar purpose. Like all other spirits, Ki-Kala had been granted the ability to take on an animal form. In her case, she had chosen shape of the strong, graceful elands that roamed the savannah south of Vin Tiraseya. Kelven was not a large man and, while her other form did not have quite the mass or strength of a common horse, she was sure that she would be able to bear his weight.

As long as she could maintain the form.

That in itself would be extremely difficult. She had never been required to do so over an extended period of time. Like any of her abilities, it required a certain level of energy and concentration, which would eventually become exhausting with prolonged use. She could not even ride the winds over long distances without periods of regular rest. Carrying the human for more than half a day would be all but impossible.

So what am I going to do? she wondered.

Looking down at Kelven again—as though doing so might somehow miraculously produce the answer to her question—she found her gaze drawn to the metal band closed around her wrist. She had been doing her best to ignore it. Whatever the band was, and wherever it had come from, there was nothing she could do about it at the moment. It was bound too tightly for her to remove it without waking Kelven, and attempting to do so could very well shatter the uneasy alliance they had established. It was clear that he still did not trust her, and she did not want to risk driving him away.

She needed him.

Still, it was an intriguing puzzle, and she found herself studying the mysterious relic again. Sure enough, she found the familiar, pulsing veins of Quilani magic, running powerfully through both the metal and in the four yellowish stones. While she had not noticed its presence in the amber before, she could not miss it now. The currents she found flowing through the stones were surprisingly strong.

No, she corrected herself suddenly. Not through. They’re flowing from the amber. The Great One preserve us all. What is this?

While she was no dryad or raayl, Ki-Kala knew that normal amber—the sort that could be pulled from the bones of the earth itself—was little more than fossilized tree resin. It was lovely, yes, but in essence it was not much different from the petrified trees of the Fellwood. There was another type of amber, however, an amber that was native only to Vin Tiraseya. Harvested from the resin of the One Tree, it was rich with ancient, magical energies. Only a few, precious stones were created every century, each with the ability to channel nearly unimaginable amounts of power. A single stone could have amplified Ki-Kala’s own abilities ten fold.

The human bore four.

She shuddered at the thought, recalling the column of white fire that had burnt the Urophex’ head to ash. At the time, she had wondered how a simple human could have unleashed such an attack. Even the most powerful syraph could not managed such a display, and they born into fire, even as she had been born into the winds. She had already suspected that it must have something to do with the strange metal band. This latest discovery had all but confirmed it.

It was not a satisfying answer, for it only left her with more questions.

What is a human doing with such a talisman? Why does he seem to know nothing about it? How can he even use it? The last question was the one that was bothering her the most. Quilani magic was exactly that—Quilani. It was something her people were born with, not something that could not be gifted or taught. No human had ever demonstrated an ability to wield it.

After all, they had a magic of their own. At least some of them. What do they call it again? Ki-Kala wondered, tracing her memories back to the days of the Sundering. The burning… the fire… the Flame! That’s it. They called it the Flame, and those who could wield the power were known as the Flameborn. Somehow, they had discovered it during the long war, and used it to defend themselves against the Remnant and the Vanarch’s armies.

More than a few of Ki-Kala’s own friends had perished in those battles.

All of which only made the present question all the more troubling. Had the Vanarch’s Line somehow fallen without her knowledge? No. Kelven spoke of the Shimmering as though it still existed. Had the humans somehow come into contact with the her people again and found a way to harness their magic? It seemed impossible, but then so too did the very idea of a human possessing four stones of Quilani amber. Yet that seemed to be the reality she was facing. She looked into the stones again, just to be sure. There was no mistake. The familiar threads of magic still emanated from within them.

“Hideous, isn’t it?”

Ki-Kala’s heart leapt in her chest, and her body nearly followed suit. Kelven was awake, watching her with something between interest and suspicion.

“It is…”, she said carefully, “unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

“At least we have that in common,” he muttered. He brought his hands up to his face, wiping the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes.  “How long was I asleep?”

“Eight or nine hours,” answered the wyran, somewhat absently. There was something different about the human, something subtle that she could not quite place. If she’d known him longer, she was certain that it would be immediately apparent.

“Well I feel a bit better. At least that’s something. I just wish I could do something about these cursed dreams. I don’t think I’ll ever get any real rest again if I keep having these nightmares.”

“What are the dreams about?”

“I’d… rather not say.”

“In my experience, dreams can be important. Even more so if they persist. They might be trying to tell you something.”

“If there’s any truth to them at all,” he said, turning to look at Ki-Kala again, “then I think I’d rather be dead. But there’s not. Dreams are just dreams. Nothing more.” She did not respond. She hardly even heard as she looked into the human’s eyes. His eyes! What’s happening to his eyes?

The bluish-grey irises swirled with tiny blots of bright, emerald green. Ki-Kala remembered that green. She could never forget it, for she seen it it in the eyes of the human fire wielders during the Sundering. What’s happening here?

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