Troubled Thoughts Ki-Kala
Once again, Ki-Kala found herself watching as the human slept fitfully. He did not appear to be suffering from the same fever that had troubled him the previous day, but he was clearly still unsettled. Turning restlessly beneath the blanket she had provided for him, he had been muttering to himself almost incessantly—a mixture of jumbled nonsense that sounded unlike any language Ki-Kala had ever heard. Over the past hour, she had only caught one word that she recognized, one word that punctuated his restlessness over and over again.
Sometimes he spoke the name with tenderness and sorrow; at other times, it came out with such venemous anger that he sounded like a growling animal. Whatever dreams were troubling Kelven’s mind, they clearly involved his sister. But these were more than just nightmares. In some way that Ki-Kala did not understand, they were also tied to the mysterious band around the man’s wrist. It pulsed with strands of Quilani magic. Even so, those strands were so dim that she might not have noticed them at all had she not already been alerted to their presence.
Which lead her back to the troubling question. What was this mysterious talisman? Where had it come from? It may have been given to Kelven by his dying prince—a prince whose lifeless body she was convinced had been stolen by Crayven—but that did little to explain its true origins. How had the humans come into possession of a magic that belonged to her people? More importantly, why did it seem to have some correlation to their Flameborn talents? How could the two possibly be related?
It made no sense to her, and that was troubling.
A lot of time has passed, she reminded herself. Perhaps something has happened that I don’t know about. Her people might not feel the years pass in the same way that the mortals did, but they were not immune to the ebb and flow of time. She had long ago lost count of the exact number of years she had been in the Fellwood, tasked with watching the Urophex as pittance for her role in overthrowing and imprisoning the Vanarch. Even if that act had ultimately freed the Quilani armies enough to turn the course of the war and defeat the Remnant, her betrayal had still demanded consequence. In the end, she had been thankful that they had chosen to send her to the Fellwood instead of to an executioner.
In all the years since, there had been little news from the Homeland. It was only the occasional visits from a group of vymen—Quilani who could pass as humans—that she heard anything at all. These groups, usually consisting of two or three, arrived every half-century or so, bringing fresh clothing and other supplies that Ki-Kala had no access to in the Fellwood. Even so, while such visitors were always friendly and courteous, they were also infuriatingly tight-lipped. As spies who were sent into human lands on a regular basis, it was in a vyman’s nature to be guarded and reserved, but Ki-Kala suspected that their refusal to share any information with her could be traced directly back to Kyshan Wandu.
Wandu was the warlock who had seized command after the Vanarch’s imprisonment, and who had orchestrated Ki-Kala’s banishment. He had made it seem like an act of mercy, of course, but she knew better. There had been no mercy in his eyes that day. She was certain that it had taken every ounce of his substantial willpower not to smile as he pronounced his judgement.
With the unexpected death of the Urophex, however, her charge had been rendered void and she was free to return home to Vin Tiraseya. She could already imagine the startled look that would pass across Kyshan Wandu’s face when he saw her. Ki-Kala was certain that she would enjoy that moment so much that it would almost make the centuries in the Fellwood worthwhile.
But any hope of a triumphant return would have to wait. There were more pressing matters at hand—the most important of which was to get Kelven out of the Fellwood and into the mountains, where she hoped they would be able to discover where Crayven had taken the human’s sister.
To that end, she rose from the roots between which she had perched herself and began packing up their camp. The sun was already brushing the sky with faint streaks of pink, and she wanted to be on their way once it had fully risen. They had managed to cover some twenty miles the previous day, but there was still a long way to go, and the further they traveled, the denser the Fellwood would become. She was already worried that time was not on their side, and at their current pace, it would be the better part of a week before they escaped the forest and began their trek up into the mountains. Even then, it would take another two to three days of difficult travel to make their way to their destination.
Then the real challenge would begin.
She tried not to think about it as she finished packing up their sparse supplies and wandered east, toward a nearby stream, where she bent down to refill their waterskins. But the more she tried to push the matter from her mind, the more it came to consume her thoughts.
The coming encounter would not be a pleasant one. Dakhti Imun would not be happy to see her. He was never happy to see anything other than his own reflection. Yet, as arrogant and self-absorbed as he was, he was still a part of the Quilani. He might be distant, reclusive and generally indifferent to most of the world, but their shared heritage would be enough to ensure that she would be treated with some semblance of civility. Kelven would be another matter entirely. The Dakhti Imun that Ki-Kala had known centuries ago had shown little love for mortals, considering them little more than clever beasts playing at a game of mock civilization.
She had no reason to believe that his feelings on the matter had changed. Bringing the human into his presence was a sure way to offend, but she saw no other viable options. She could only hope to reason with Dakhti Imun enough to make him believe that this human and his sister were important to the Quilani—possibly even to the entire world. If she could convince him of what she already suspected of Crayven’s plans, perhaps that would be enough.
She knew her story would sound mad and desperate. Most of her people would dismiss what she had to say. But few of them knew what Ki-Kala knew, save for those who had been there in the end, when the wyran Ru-Samar and the syraph Phir-lu had sacrificed their own spirits to conjure a terrible, fiery wind. All the power of that blazing gale had been turned on the Qualarch, decimating her physical body and transforming her into the being that became the Remnant. After her destruction she had been imprisoned, along with all of her minions, behind the powerful wards that had been woven over the distant Stonewall. Unless something had changed, most of Vin Teriaseya believed those magics to be impregnable. Only a small handful knew the truth—that the wards themselves would hold only so long as the Remnant remained insubstantial and bodiless.
That was the key, and Ki-Kala was certain that Crayven’s plans centred around that singular truth. She did not know how he had managed to escape his own imprisonment—perhaps the wards were weakening, or perhaps he had gained his freedom through nothing more than unhappy chance—but what she did know was clear. If the Apostate intended to free his mistress, he could only have one ultimate goal.
To bring her a body.
But it could not be just any body. As frustratingly narcissistic as Dakhti Imun could be, he was almost modest compared to the being who had once been the Qualarch. With hair like honey, eyes as blue as the sky and skin like pale silk, she had openly declared herself as the most beautiful being in all the world—an assertion that the smitten Vanarch had been foolish enough to pass into law. If the Remnant was to regain physical form and shatter the wards of her imprisonment, it would need to be a form that was familiar to her, a form that bore enough resemblance to her lost beauty to appease her vanity.
The power of her spirit would accept nothing less.
Ki-Kala feared that the Apostate had found such a form in Kelven’s sister. It would not be a perfect fit—for no human could ever match the former beauty of the Qualarch—but the very thought that the human girl might suffice was enough to fuel Ki-Kala’s deepest fears, and to drive her toward the mountains and an encounter that she would otherwise have preferred to avoid.
If anyone in this world could find the girl, it would be Dakhti Imun.
With the water skins replenished and a fresh determination in her mind, Ki-Kala turned back toward the camp, where she was surprised to find Kelven awake and on his feet. He was leaning against one of the Fellwood’s petrified trees, wiping what appeared to be fresh vomit from his lips. When he looked up at her approach, his expression was haunted and his eyes, which had very nearly completed their transformation from grey to green, regarded her with a strange mixture of terror and relief.
“I thought you’d left,” he said quietly.
“I was just getting us some fresh water. How do you feel? You look awful.”
“I’m fine. Just bad dreams.”
“Again? Do you want to talk about them?”
“No,” he replied. His voice was as cold and hard as the trees that surrounded them. “Let’s just get moving.”
The wyran watched in silence as Kelven rolled up his blanket and stuffed it roughly into his simple canvas pack. Then he stood and, without a word, began walking north, muttering quietly to himself.
It was several moments before a Ki-Kala followed.