An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Old Friends Dian

“I don’t know exactly,” Dian replied. “I know what I saw, and what I told the Stone Seat, but I have no idea as to what has them so agitated.” That much was true, but he was not sure what more he could say. Emilia had warned him not to betray the trust of the Magi. But these are my closest friends. Shouldn’t I be able to confide in them? And besides, they’re coming on this journey too. Don’t they have the right to know why?

Not that he could have told them. He did not even have the answer to that question himself. What was so important about what he had witnessed? Was it the fact that the dead man was the Prince of Relen’kar? That certainly seemed like a critical detail, but why send out the Hunters? Surely a few Runners could make the journey, verify his story and even retrieve the body, if that’s what the Magi intended. It would be simple enough for Dian to direct them to the right part of the Fellwood. From there the sharp noses of their totems would have little trouble tracking down the corpse.

“Don’t press him too hard, Shev,” said Larus softly. “He’s had a long day. I expect that everything that we need to know will be revealed to us as at the appointed time.”

“You’re too trusting, brother.”

Larus smiled. “And you’re too suspicious of everything, sister.”

“It’s alright,” said Dian. “Emilia warned me not to speak of what happened during my audience with the Stone Seat, but I think I can still tell you about what I saw.” He recounted the story again, relying on all the precise detail of his memory. He told of the prince’s death, of the killer and his sister and of the strange darkness that seemed to steal the young girl away. He was just finishing his story when Emilia’s refreshments arrived.

“A strange tale, to be sure,” Larus said, after the servants had departed. “And one that raises far more questions than it answers.”

“There’s nothing about it that would make me send a contingent of Hunters off to the Fellwood,” said Sheeva.

“You are not a Magi,” her brother responded, taking a sip of his tea.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Only that the Magi are the keepers of knowledge. They know many things that we don’t. Something in Dian’s report must have caught their attention. Perhaps they know something about this shadow.”

“I’m not so sure,” Dian began. He was about to tell them about Zaymenar’s impassioned insistence that no such shadow could possibly exist, but quickly caught himself.

Be careful, whispered Azental in the back of his mind.

I will, he promised.

“It could be any number of things. Maybe they’re just concerned that the Relenians will blame us for the death of their Prince and retaliate in some way.” In all truth, he had not even considered that possibility until the words passed across his lips. Now that he had spoken them, however, it did seem like a viable concern. The pale-skinned easterners and their Firelords were almost entirely foreign and unknown to him, but it was clear that they had little regard for or understanding of Dian’s people. Perhaps they really would retaliate if they thought Tarvayes was responsible for the prince’s death.

“That could explain why the Magi are sending the Hunters,” Larus mused. “If they sense some sort of danger from the white-skins, it makes sense to send our strongest warriors to meet them.”

“Then why include Dian?” Sheeva countered. “He’s just a Watcher, not a soldier. If they’re expecting trouble, what’s he supposed to do? Climb a tree? No, something’s just not adding up here.”

“You’ll get no argument from me on that point. But what do you suggest we do about it? We can’t just go to the Magi and demand that they tell us everything.”

“Well I don’t like it,” Sheeva grumbled. “And that’s another reason why I insisted on being included in this journey. Someone has to keep an eye on things.”

While Dian appreciated his friend’s concern, he made an intentional effort to guide the conversation away from the intentions of the Magi, and towards less dangerous subjects. Soon, the three friends were reminiscing and laughing at old stories—such as when classmistress Fulark had tried to catch Sheeva and force her into a dress, instead of the plain, lose-fitting trousers that she had always preferred. The joke had been firmly on the classmistress, however, when she had stripped her captured pupil down to her small-clothes in the middle of the girl’s dormitory, only to discover that it was not Sheeva at all, but Larus.

It was difficult to say who had been more humiliated, Fulark or the poor, mild-mannered boy.

Their mood became far more sober as the conversation invariably turned to Delerick, the fourth member of their close-knit group of outcasts. Though he was a not-so-distant cousin to the Clanlord of Veressia—a small Clanhold far to the west, on the icy shores of the Frozen Sea—he had been born with a inexplicable condition that left him unable to speak. Embarrassed by the boy’s impediment, his father had been only too happy to give Delerick over into the care of the Citadel, where he had Joined with a silver-crowned fox and eventually become a Runner.

“I haven’t heard from him in months,” Dian said at one point. “I don’t ever remember this much time between his letters.” Shortly after having been formally named a Runner, Delerick had been sent of to Ashkah, one of the three Clandholds that bordered along the Ice Range. His primary purpose was to serve the Clanlord there, but he was also required to send periodic reports back to Zayen. Whenever those reports arrived, they were nearly always accompanied by letters addressed to Dian, Sheeva and Larus.

“The silence is troubling,” the Druid agreed. “And very out of character. I’ve already made some inquiries of the Magi and even some of the other Runners. Nobody has heard from him at all. I pray that all is well.”

“I just wish he was here,” said Dian, feeling oddly nostalgic. “I’m sure he would have been picked to make this journey too, if he wasn’t already serving in Ashkah. It would almost be like the adventures we dreamed about when we were children.”

“Almost,” said Sheeva, offering one of those rare smiles that seemed to momentarily melt the dour expression from her face. “Except those adventures were always much grander. I don’t ever recall us planning to ride across the Deadland Steepe and into the Fellwood.”

“Indeed,” agreed Larus. “And it’s a journey that we’ll be embarking on all too soon, I should think. It’s getting late and we’re departing early. I think Shev and I should be getting back now, Dian. And you should be getting some rest, too. Riding horseback is much more exhausting than you might expect.”

“I’ll remember that,” the Watcher promised. “Thank you for coming by. It was wonderful to see you.”

“Likewise. But we’ll speak again tomorrow. Goodnight, old friend.”

After the twins had departed—kindly taking the leftover tea and biscuits back to the kitchens—Dian promptly turned his attention back to the problem of his pack. He was still unsure of what else he might need, so he added a rope, a simple candle lantern and an extra pair of boots. Next, he filled a small purse with a few copper and silver coins that he had managed to save. He would have to ask about acquiring a knife in the morning—and hope that anything he may have overlooked could be found or purchased in the few small hamlets that they would pass through before reaching the Steepe.

You really should be trying to get some sleep, Azental told him.

Yes, Azzy, Dian replied, slipping off his grey jerkin. He folded it as neatly as he was able and placed it on his small table. I was just about to head in that general direction.

Good. His raven totem fell silent, and as Dian extinguished the oil lantern that had been illuminating his small room, he could only assume that she had already drifted off into her own form of sleep. It was only as he was pulling the blankets over himself that she spoke again. Dian?


I can’t help ask the same questions as Sheeva. Why are you being dragged along on this journey? 

I don’t know, Dian replied, even as his own exhaustion started to drag him down into the waiting arms of slumber. He felt as though he had been repeating those same three words over and over throughout the entire day. I just don’t know.

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