CHAPTER II: THE THAELON

A SANTHARIAN NOVEL

 
The Tale of Katya Dragonseeker   
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Introduction. Devastated by the loss of her home when the dragons carried out their horrendous revenge for the killing of one of their own kind, Katya now wanders on the brink of madness. Scarred and wounded, the young girl swears vengeance in kind towards the adamant-dragon who murdered her father and friends.

Blinded by her pain, she stumbles onto the boundaries of the ancient Thaelon, a forest where the Astyrhim, oldest of the elven tribes, dwells.  Guided by the enigmatic High Avá'ránn, the human girl sets out on a painful path of self-discovery and redemption, vindication and vengeance.

 

e was very old although one would never know it to see his smooth, unlined face. Like most of his people, he was tall, slender and effortlessly strong. And like his race, he was almost painfully beautiful - his pale, elegant face sharply handsome and aristocratic. His eyes were like chips of blue ice as he gazed at the human child who had dare crossed the sacred boundaries of the Thaelon.

He would have sensed her immediately even if the winds had not whispered a warning to him regarding the intrusion of this lone child. The trees were rustling agitatedly as he walked in search of the human and that in itself was highly unusual. Mortals had wandered into Thaelon before and some had even ventured deeper than this child, and into the very centre of the ancient forest. But none had caused such a disturbance that was ripping a hole in the tranquillity of the Thaelon.

Katya Dragonseeker

View picture in full size Picture description. Katya Dragonseeker leaving the enchanted Thaelon forest. Image drawn by Enayla.

When he finally caught sight of her, he had been a little surprised to find that it was a mere human child and then the surprise changed to unease when he saw that she was blazing like a new-born star in the heavens. Her cár'áll was like a brilliant white light spilling forth in a darkened room and little wonder that his óh'mod'hál was unsettled by her arrival for she carried with her, a sword that was dwarven make and imbued with ésh-dél.

Stepping forward from behind a thick stump of a tree, he made himself perceivable and knew the child saw him when her lips drew back from her teeth in a snarl, making her look more animal than human. She half-crouched and raised the sword in her hand, pointing the tip at him.

Staying still, he observed her closely, and realised that she was grievously wounded. Her blistered skin had the visage of being recently burnt in an inferno and her exposed scalp was covered with angry red welts. She was covered in filthy rags that looked scavenged from corpses. And he also saw that the dwarven sword was somehow fused with the skin of her hand.

A strange pang of compassion was evoked in him by the sight of one so hurt. Strange because normally, he cared little for her kind. He tolerated them but that was all.

"Mortal child, what has happened to you?" he asked curiously, speaking to her in her language, his voice rich and deep.

The sword never wavered but her exhausted, blood-shot eyes blinked as she took in his appearance.

"Child, I will not hurt you." he assured her.

She hitched in a sobbing breath as she slowly lowered down the blade.

"Are…are you an…elf?" she answered his question with another halting question of her own. And her croaking tones, she sounded like she had not talked to another person for a long time, were filled with wonderment despite her pain and suffering.

He was silent, not liking her human term for his people but he nodded slightly.

The sword fell from it’s defensive stance completely at his acknowledgement as she stared back at him.

"Who has hurt you so?" he repeated.

She uttered one single word, her scarred features twisted with thick and throbbing hate, before her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she fell down in a heap onto the moss covered ground of the forest.

Melór stared at the crumpled form on the ground.

"Dalá…" he whispered half to himself in Styrásh. The child had not said the word ‘dalá’ of course, she would not know the elven language but she had said the human equivalent of that word before she had fainted.

And Dalá translated into human terms meant dragon.

Sometimes her father would walk beside her as she travelled the blasted landscape, a reminder of the destruction left by the dragons. And other times, it was Ursha or Dalwer and even Oruna, her best friend who lived a few cottages away from her father’s tavern. Whenever Oruna appeared, the young girl was always laughing and smiling, looking wholly unlike the scorched smoking slab of human meat she had found while searching for survivors.

Survivors of Yarrow…like her. But no-one survived, everyone was dead.

After screaming herself hoarse to the Gods for vengeance, the only thing left for her to do was leave Yarrow and exact that sworn vengeance. Staying in her destroyed village to weep and wail over the dead was purposeless and futile. And thus she set out, not knowing where to start her search but knowing to stay in Yarrow would mean her death and she could not afford to die now. At least, not until she finds the dragon who had murdered her father.

She didn’t know where she was going and everywhere she went, the landscape was the same; charred trees, burnt animals and scorched fields. It was like walking in a nightmare that had no end. Weak rain fell with reluctant, splattering drops on the second day after she left Yarrow and the acidic water stung her raw skin but she ignored it. Pain was good. Pain reminded her that she was still alive.

She ate nothing for there was nothing found that could be eaten. Her body ached abominably and she never stopped walking, even when night fell. She just walked and walked and sometimes she fell. When that happened, she picked herself up and walked some more, each foot stepping in front of the other automatically, and the sword that was melded with her hand trailed behind her, the tip of the blade dragging a line on the singed earth.

On the third day, the line between reality and madness began to blur and that was then when she began to see her father and the people from the villages.

She was not at all astonished when Medoc started walking next to her. He was just suddenly there, his weatherbeaten, stoic face looking down at her, in that stern loving way he had.

They did not say anything but she took comfort in his presence.

After a while, her father walked behind a tree that had no branches and only a few dead, brown leaves clinging onto them, and he didn’t come out from the other side. When she looked behind the tree, there was no sign of Medoc. After a few moments of frowning, she realised that her father had never been there at all, and she merely sighed, for she was done with crying and she walked on.

Then the others started appearing before her as well, people she knew from Yarrow, also just walking beside to her and nothing was ever said between her and these dead apparitions.

She had brief flashes of clarity inset between these periods of confused hallucinations. But even these lucid memories could not be trusted. She remembered reaching into another small village that had been blighted to the ground, like Yarrow, by the dragons, similar charred bodies littered on the ground, that much was vivid. But she thought she had seen a blackened thing stumbling, shambling towards her, and this thing was burnt more severely than her and instead of eyes, the thing had only empty, red bleeding sockets. It was making a constant noise that was like a moaning scream as it came towards her. Finally, a use for the accursed sword joined to her flesh was found as she swung the weapon at the unholy thing that might have been a person like her once.

Then she ran away.

It was a measure of her dazed state, that she did not realise it when the barren terrain around her slowly became green and lush once more, bit by bit, and soon she was walking between huge trees that reached the sky and branches that spread out so wide that only patches of golden sunlight reached the ground.

The forest grew thicker and there was a stifled silence everywhere and once she passed a patch of flowers that grew a deep lavender and so ethereal that it would have made a blind man weep…and she did not know it. In her mind, she was still travelling in her nightmare of ruin and total devastation.

The grass was soft and gentle on the soles of her bleeding, lacerated feet and she did not know it.

The Light-Elf Melór

View picture in full size Picture description. The mythical light-elf Melór. Picture by Faugar from the game Mystical Empire™.

She was completely unaware of her surroundings until the elf appeared in front of her.

She did not see him at first, or at least, not completely. Her mind registered that there was something dimly bright, an insubstantial form, unshaped and unformed, that was hovering from the corner of one eye. It was like a weak candle-flame as it flickered and danced elusively. Thinking that perhaps it was one of the many phantoms that haunted her waking dreams, she did not pay it much heed.

Then the glowing shadow grew, becoming solid in an instant of a heartbeat. And she stopped, her head held at the same position, hardly daring to turn and capture the rapidly gathering, solidifying figure fully in her line of sight as it expanded into a man-shaped thing, afraid that it would be some new horror that her exhausted mind had created to torment her further.

At first she was not sure whether the man abruptly standing in front of her now, was real or whether it was another illusion. There was something almost distressingly dream-like about the entire situation. It was like one of those times when she had been rudely awakened while in the midst of a deep dream and usually when that happened, she would be balanced, disorientated, between two states, one of dreaming still and the other of full awareness.

She dredged up whatever concentration and endurance she had left, from reservoirs almost dried and barren now, to focus on the person, to ascertain for herself whether the materialization was of flesh and blood. She raised the sword instinctively and growled deep inside her throat.

Then she noticed the elegantly shaped ears that curved delicately to pointed tips and a lurch of recognition surged within her and awoke the child she had been. Medoc had told her stories of the elves, reputed to be as beautiful and elusive as the first star that rose at dusk. Medoc had seen only one of their kind before once, an emissary to Voldar to see the Lord Maengolth. The emissary had been a elf-woman and she had been very lovely with long pale hair and gray eyes, so Medoc had described.

This elf before her was a male and when he spoke to her, it was the first words she had heard in days.

Then darkness swirled as night fell and she finally, finally, stopped walking at last.

When Katya awoke, the sun shone full bright against her face and she could see the sapphire blue of the sky between the thick green leaves high above her head. The air was clear and warm as little dust motes danced dizzyingly in-between the golden rays of light.

The world was suddenly beautiful once more. However, this time, Katya did not trust this beauty for she knew now from bitter experience that it was transient, temporary and ugliness could happened in a second.

She was lying on some soft material, not a bed but something like and as she delved deeper into her senses, she realised that she was not feeling pain anymore. Her body felt refreshed, well in fact, and she was not longer hurting.

Raising her arms, she saw that they were smooth and pink again and her burns were gone.

Her father’s sword was also gone from her hand. The skin of her palm was scarred and puckered but it was empty. And she panicked, fear rising within her. That sword was the only remnant left of her father. Of Yarrow.

"Do not worry, child. Your sword is here." A woman’s melodious voice spoke to her and Katya quickly rose to sit up, feeling vulnerable somehow, without Medoc’s sword. "We did all we could to heal you but the wound on the palm was too severe, there would be a scar for remembrance."

She turned her head at the sound of the voice.

"Daín artanhé, child. How are you feeling?" An elven woman who was kneeling next to her smiled gently. She had abundant golden hair that spilled down over her shoulders and she was wearing a simple gray dress, belted at the waist. The belt was made of a thin bronze chain, carved into the cunning shape of interlocking leaves. Like the male elf that Katya had seen before at the forest, she had delicately pointed ears and she was beautiful. Just looking at her made the young human girl feel grimy and grubby. She ran a self-conscious hand through her head and found a stubble of thick hair already growing from her scalp.

Seeing that the elven woman was expecting an answer, Katya said awkwardly, "Thank you for helping me."

The elf-woman laughed and shook her head amusedly. "Oh no, was not I who healed you. It was Melór. Only he would be strong enough to do so. He is of direct blood lineage to the High Avá'ránn." Then she added more seriously. "You were dying, child."

"Oh." Katya didn’t know what else to say and so, she turned her head away, taking the opportunity to see her surroundings. She was in a neat cottage of sorts where the roof was made of tree branches and she was lying on a bed of soft moss and heather. Medoc’s sword was beside her and the hilt was now merely a twisted length of metal though the blade was still intact. Her rags were gone and she was now wearing a soft shift of white cotton.

"Where am I?" she asked at last. "And please, who are you?"

"You may call me Ar’leiná."

"Ar’leiná, where am I? Am I dreaming? Are you a dream?"

"We are all within the dream of She." The elf woman answered cryptically.

"I don’t understand you." Katya cried out tiredly. "I don’t understand anything!"

The elf-woman stood up and leaned over as she laid a hand on Katya’s brow. Her fingers felt cool and her touch was kind.

"This place is what your people call the Thaelon Forest."

Katya’s eyelids starting drooping and she felt so sleepy and the bed of moss was so wonderfully soft…

"What is your name, human child?"

"Katya…" Katya whispered as she closed her eyes and slept. And her dreams were of burning, blue-green scales and golden eyes.

Ar’leiná stood watching over the young girl for a few moments until she was sure that the girl was sleeping soundly.

Then she straightened to face Melór and the cottage with it’s branched roof melted away like mist in the afternoon sun. The walls gradually vanished to reveal a grass-thick clearing, surrounded by a perfect symmetrical circle of tall trees whose branches spread out, high above, to form a living, breathing canopy. The only thing that remained of the cottage was Katya’s bed of moss and heather.

Ar’leiná spoke first in Styrásh. "Melór, you were right. Though I do not see it as clearly as you do, the human child’s cár'áll is strong indeed. What can this mean?"

Melór shrugged elegantly. "It may mean nothing. Or everything."

"Does the High Avá'ránn know that you have brought a mortal into the Temple for healing?"

Melór lifted his eyebrow. "Ar’leiná, my cousin knows everything that happens in Thaelon."

Ar’leiná chewed her lower lip in a peculiarly human gesture of worry although Melór refrained from pointing out this fact to her.

"What is to be done about the child then?" she asked as she threw a quick glance at the sleeping Katya and her concern for the young girl was obvious.

"That is for the High Avá'ránn to decide." Melór said indifferently as he left the clearing, leaving the golden-haired elf to gaze after him, an indecipherable look in her brown eyes as she did.

Katya was sitting on a flat stone that overlooked a narrow stream when Melór appeared quietly beside her. The young girl was startled but she betrayed no outward sign of her amazement.

"Ar’leiná told me that you were the one that healed me." She hesitated, a little awed by Melór’s presence. "Thank you."

"May I sit?" The elf inquired instead.

Katya nodded and obligingly shifted to make room for Melór who sprung gracefully up to land squarely next to the human girl.

It had been a week since her healing and while Ar’leiná had been friendly to her, tending to her every needs, the elf-woman had not been very forthcoming with answers to Katya’s questions. And whatever answers that she did give were enigmatic and obscure and caused Katya headaches when she gave them deeper contemplation.

What Katya did glean from Ar’leiná’s sporadic answers was that this part of the Thaelon they were at was sacred and very special. Only chosen mortals had the privilege of meeting the elven kind in Thaelon and even that was rare. A man might travel through the forest his entire life and never get to see an elf. The elves were stand-offish as a rule towards humankind, they did not show themselves easily, preferring to keep to themselves. And the elf who had rescued her, Melór, apparently was one of the Axhái. From the hushed and reverent tones of Ar’leiná when she spoke of Melór, Katya guessed that the Axhái were highly respected and a little feared by the other elves.

Mostly spending her time exploring the forest and talking to Ar’leiná, Katya saw no other humans or elves in the days that followed. She was rapidly reaching the end of her patience - she was well now and her desire for justice was consuming her whole, giving her no contentment despite the quiet beauty of the Thaelon that surrounded her.

She had hoped that the elves with their arcane wisdom could help her find the name of the dragon who slaughtered the villagers of Yarrow but whenever she tried to speak of this to Ar’leiná, the elf merely shook her bright, golden head, indicating that this was not the time.

Glancing sideways at Melór’s aquiline profile, she was wondering whether to ask him when the elf spoke first.

"The High Avá'ránn wishes to see you." he informed her evenly.

"Who is the High Avá'ránn?" Katya stumbled over the strange elvish word.

"She is my cousin and our Queen."

Katya’s eyes widened and a thin trickle of panic rushed inside her heart. "Why? I mean, I’m very honored of course but why does she want to see me?" she garbled hurriedly, not very sure if she was at all prepared to meet a Queen, let alone the Elven Queen.

"Come, Katya of Yarrow. It is not polite to let the High Avá'ránn wait." Melór smiled wryly. "Fear not, she will not bite you." Although his words were lightly mocking, Katya thought that like Ar’leiná, he was being kind towards her in his own way and she sucked in a deep breath, taking courage from the memories of her father and friends.

"Yes, I will see the Queen. I have questions of my own to ask her." Katya agreed.

Melór slid down from the rock and holding out his hands, he helped Katya down. They started walking down a path into the forest and once again, Katya was struck by the stately grandeur of the trees around her. They were so old and so ancient that it made her feel like a new-born babe.

Feeling a need to make conversation, to break the silence somehow, Katya cleared her throat self-consciously. "These are very nice trees." she said inadequately, feeling daft immediately at having said something so ludicrous.

Thankfully, Melór did not laugh. "Euwen. That is my people’s name for them, Euwen. And yes, they are very nice." There was no discernible condescension or censure in his voice as he agreed with Katya’s simple description. Then he continued, "Questions? Of the dragon who killed your family?"

Katya squeezed her hands tightly together and her face turned pale and resolute. "Yes. I need to know it’s name. I have to know." she muttered.

"So that you can hunt it down and kill it?" Melór said. The girl’s cár'áll still shone dazzlingly white-hot but already, there were streaks of murky darkness staining the pure whiteness of her living force, emanating from her hatred and anger. And it was this hatred for the Dalá that was poisoning her cár'áll. There was great potential in her and if her rage was left to fester, this Katya child would become as twisted and dark a thing as Coór. And Melór could not allow that to happen for he saw in this child, vast possibilities that he had only encountered once before, in the cár'áll of the human named Wengerim. "Only darkness can come of your quest, Katya. Will the death of this dragon bring your kin back?"

"It will and can give me peace!" Katya shouted furiously. "Peace and an end to the nightmares! Even now, I can hear the flesh of my father and my friends sizzling, boiling and hear their agonized screaming as dragonfire enveloped them. You have never smelt the odor of well-cooked human meat so do not tell me that killing the beast will not bring my father back!"

The unnatural silence of the forest grew more pronounced after the force of Katya’s violence and even the young girl looked shaken by her biting, rasping words.

"Peace can not be regained by killing, no matter how justified the slaying may be, Katya child. Peace must be found within."

"Words, just words." Katya’s eyes glittered icily and her hands clenched by her sides. "I appreciate your concerns, Lord Melór but your words are empty comfort, they do not mean anything to me. I am sorry but I require blood vengeance."

Melór merely nodded, knowing that whatever he said now would be useless. Her wounds were too deep and they ran too wide.

Changing the subject, he said, "Melór. Just Melór. I am no Lord."

Katya, grateful for the distraction, her body still trembling slightly from the strength of her mixed emotions, asked, "Does your name have a meaning to it?"

They were walking deeper and deeper where the trees grew so thick and close together that the light from the sun winked out completely and only a strange, pale silvery green light shone from the narrow path they were walking on, illuminating their way. Katya started to feel she was walking within a dreamscape, pleasant but illusive, like she would be waken at any time now.

"It means shadow in Styrásh. For that is what I am, the Queen’s shadow. I walk the places that she can never go. I see and hear for her what she cannot spy. I have traveled much of your human lands, Katya and I bring back news to her, for my people do not like to travel over wide distances. Our sustenance comes from the Thaelon and to be without it for long periods of time can be...uncomfortable."

"Then why isn’t it uncomfortable for you?"

"Because I am the High Avá'ránn’s shadow." Melór said simply.

"I don’t understand." Katya’s brow creased in puzzlement.

"There is much you will not be able to understand, little one. Much that you will not be able to comprehend, therefore learn what you can, for knowledge is always an advantage."

"You’re not making any sense." Katya said, exasperated.

"I am Styrá. I am not supposed to make any sense." Melór said with mock-solemnity.

Katya could only laugh and it felt good to laugh again, the unexpected feel of merriment growing within her and bursting out joyously like a butterfly from it’s cocoon.

"We are here." The elf announced abruptly as the path came to an end.

"But there’s nothing!" Katya looked around her, surprised. She had half-expected a castle of sorts, like the Lord Maengolth’s citadel that Medoc had described to her before.

Instead, they had reached an empty clearing, very much like the one where Ar’leiná’s cottage had been situated, and in the middle, stood the largest and tallest tree that Katya had ever seen. The width of the trunk was easily twice her own height and the branches reached higher than any of the other trees in the forest. Katya craned her head up and saw that the leaves of the huge tree were of a deeper, more luscious green than the loveliest emeralds.

Melór stood behind Katya and placed his long fingers over her eyes. "What you know as your substantiality is just a dream, a remarkably intricate and endless dream. Do not look with your flesh eyes but look with your dream eyes."

It was as if the elf’s words possessed a hypnotic power and Katya felt herself becoming drowsy, listening to his droning voice...no, that wasn’t quite right. She didn’t feel sleepy in the least, in fact she felt more aware than ever, her senses slowly honing to a fine razor-sharp edge as Melór talked to her. Closing her eyes under the protection of Melór’s hand, she could hear minute sounds emerging from the forest that had hitherto been as silent as a burial ground to her.

She heard the sweet thrills of a lark as it sang it’s joy of being alive, the chirping sounds of tiny insects as they burrowed beneath the rich earth. Could even hear the rapid heartbeats of a hare as it leapt high in the air, glorying in it’s unbridled freedom. Forest sounds. The leaves of the trees were murmuring as a gentle breeze blew across her face and cooled her flushed face.

Smell began to fill her nostrils. The sharp tang of some exotic flower floating through the air, the damp scent of rain-wet grass mixed with the moist smell of moss.

The Thaelon was coming alive all around her.

It’s like magic, she thought with bewildered amazement.

It was then that the High Avá'ránn spoke to Katya, and the Elf-Queen’s voice carried with her, the echoes of all the trees that dwelt in Thaelon.

"Welcome, Katya of Yarrow." said the High Avá'ránn in mortal speech.

Melór’s hand left her face and if Katya had thought Ar’leiná lovely once, the Elven Queen was even more indescribably so. Her face was an exquisite oval and the features were at once noble, wise and implacable. Her hair was long, softly gleaming strands of silver that flowed down to her bare feet, a thin filament of gold was wound around her alabaster forehead and her eyes were deepest violet as she gazed down at Katya from the wooden throne that she was sitting, her pale green robes gathered around her delicate form. The throne that was carved from the trunk of the enormous tree that so awed the human girl.

"Melór. Thank you for bringing her here. You may leave us now." The Queen said with the quiet authority of one who was accustomed to being obeyed.

Melór inclined his head slightly in deference and as he did, he uncharacteristically winked at Katya who was trying to smooth the front of her shift, feeling like a clumsy cow in front of a unicorn.

"Melór?"

Detecting the rising alarm in the child, Melór whispered, "Be true to yourself, Katya of Yarrow. And all will be well."

When the elf left, Katya had expected him to disappear in a shower of golden sparks, but his mode of leaving was more mundane, he turned his back and walked back down the path they had come from.

Not knowing if she should bow or curtsey, Katya stared nervously at the High Avá'ránn who was gazing inscrutably back at her. The Queen’s gracious demeanor to the human girl were almost as if she were welcoming an equal of her rank - which threw Katya into baffled puzzlement, not knowing how to respond back.

Gearing up her courage, the young girl blurted out the question that had been weighing heavily on her heart.

"Tell me the name of the dragon that murdered my father."

The High Avá'ránn’s violet eyes grew distant as if she was not really there, that her spirit was somewhere else and only her body, empty of her soul, remained seated on the tree throne.

Seeing her so, Katya pleaded, "Please, if you know, tell me!"

"And what if I tell you the name, Katya? What will you do then?" The High Avá'ránn whispered and her voice was the lonely sound of the winds wailing over the tree-tops.

"I will find it’s lair and slay it." Katya’s own voice was steel, hard and unyielding as her initial anxiety of the Elven Queen passed and the familiar inexorable hunger to feel the beast’s hot blood scalding her hands as she drove her father’s sword into it’s chest, returned.

"And if you do? Will the pain that haunts you and that is, even now, destroying you, will that pain lessened and go?"

A sharp stab of pure agony shot through Katya’s heart as she heard the Elven Queen’s words. Will the immeasurable grief of loss lessened if she killed the dragon? She did not know. All she knew now was that she needed a focus, a channel for her crushing anguish. She needed a reason to keep on living and slaying the dragon was the only purpose she had now. Without it, she would not be able to go on.

"I do not know." she replied honestly. "But without the dragon’s name, I am nothing. I am not even Katya of Yarrow any longer and that is all I have left to cling to."

The High Avá'ránn was silent and she closed her glorious eyes as she considered Katya’s answer.

Then she rose from her throne, her green skirts draping down gracefully and with her eyes still closed, she walked down unerringly to where Katya was standing.

She raised her pale, slender hands and placed her palms on either side of Katya’s face. Unflinching, Katya allowed her to do so.

"Then I fear for you, Katya of Yarrow. If to kill is all you have to live for, I fear for you."

"Tell me the dragon’s name." Katya said steadily. "If you cannot tell me it’s name, then at least tell me it’s cave. Where I can find it."

"I know not the Dalá’s lair. That much is concealed from me."

"The name then. You know it, don’t you? Tell me." Katya would never have dreamt in a thousand years that she would demand something from a Queen in such harshly grating tones but she couldn’t care less at the moment. Vengeance sang it’s cold song within her bones, and she would have pried the dragon’s name from the Gods itself with force if They would dare deny it from her.

An expression almost like sorrow crossed the Queen’s features at her insistence and her hands tightened around Katya’s cheeks as the warmth of her palms grew hotter and hotter until it felt like twin brands were searing the skin. And Katya bit her lip, till blood ran in a thin stream down her chin, to keep from crying out in pain. She was changing somehow inside, metamorphosing, she could feel it, the fire from the High Avá'ránn’s hands were blazing a path down her very essence. Altering her somehow, though she knew not into what.

The heat grew and grew until Katya felt like she was being seared once more by dragonfire - that she was going to burst into flames and leave a pile of ashes behind at the Queen’s feet.

It was when the pain had risen to it’s pinnacle and she thought she could stand it no longer, that Katya closed her eyes and opened her mouth to shriek. And it was then, hovering precariously between darkness and light, that she saw the face of a human woman, even more radiant than the High Avá'ránn, appearing in her mind. The woman was unconditionally perfect in her exquisite loveliness and at the same time, terrible in her inhumanly flawless state.

Her eyes were closed as if she was sleeping or dreaming and Katya experienced a deep sensation of relief even through her suffering. Somehow, she knew if the woman’s eyes had been opened, the weight of her regard would have blasted the young girl into nonexistence.

From a far-off distance, she could hear the High Avá'ránn’s voice speaking in low, hushed tones.

"Katya of Yarrow, know that you are now hárf’a’chón. Know too that the dragon you seek is…Ol'dem'brey."

Katya started to laugh exultantly as the name of her enemy was known to her finally.

Ol'dem'brey! I know you now!

"Who was the woman in my vision?" Katya asked Melór as she sat on her horse.

The elf who was walking in front, leading the mare, did not turn around at her question - all Katya saw was his head of shining silver hair, so much like the High Avá'ránn’s.

"She is known by many names. Valannía is but one of such names. The wisest of your human wizards would know her as Avá, the Dreamer, although they refuse to acknowledge her existence. She is the beginning of everything."

"Melór…"

"Yes, Katya?"

"You are giving me a headache." Katya could not help but say in annoyance. "Why don’t you ever give me a answer that I can understand?!"

"Because I am…"

Cutting in, Katya chimed, "Because you are Styrá. I know!" The young girl rolled her eyes with eloquent exasperation even as she could feel the elf grinning at her without having to see it for herself.

Another thought struck her as they walked on, weaving their way between the trees. "Why? Why did she show me such a vision?"

Melór shrugged. "My cousin has her reasons and perhaps she sees those reasons within you." was what he replied vaguely, earning himself another glower from Katya riding on the horse.

Secretly though, Melór thought he knew why his cousin had showed the vision of Avá to Katya, And the reason was simply because the child was destiny-marked, as her cár'áll so clearly blazed forth this wisdom to those who could discern it. This Katya child was fated to have immense impact - already she was causing a ripple in the fabric of Avá’s Dream, though whether this ripple would tear a hole or fuse in evenly with the threads of the weave, Melór did not know. It was beyond his ability to scry so far ahead.

Beyond his ability but not the High Avá'ránn’s. She had sensed the human girl’s fierce cár'áll, as he had, the moment she stepped into the Thaelon. And though Katya could have known it, the Elven Queen had not manifested her corporeal form to a mortal for hundreds of years. The implication of that only served to enforce the implication that the Queen knew what lay ahead for the mortal child.

However he kept his silence, his own perceptions from Katya because she was not ready…not yet.

Having decided to leave Thaelon for Voldar to seek the help of the only human who had slay a dragon, Katya was feeling, despite her eagerness to continue her quest, a dejection at leaving Ar’leiná who had become a friend to her. She had given a quick hug to the golden-haired elven woman and had quickly mounted the horse without looking back, afraid that her resolution to leave would waver.

If she had turned back, even for the barest second, she might have seen the smiling elf-woman and the cottage slowly dissipating back into the forest, leaving only an uninhabited clearing, growing thickly with moss, weeds and flowers.

With Melór as her guide, and dressed in a dark green shirt and brown trousers, given to her by Ar’leiná, there was a new optimism rising fresh in her heart as she looked towards the direction where Voldar was. Her father’s sword was slung by her side, a little awkwardly for she had never carried a sword before, sheathed now in a leather scabbard. The hilt was still blackened but the crossguard with it’s eagle was visible and it fitted well into her scarred palm, as if the weapon itself remembered that it had been fused to her living flesh once.

Melór had told her that Medoc’s sword was imbued with ésh-dél, false magic, meaning that someone had cast a powerful human spell on it before. It would never break nor sunder and that was why the metal of the blade had withstood the assault of dragonfire. It’s dwarven steel would be strong enough to pierce even dragon skin.

Katya’s hand had tightened convulsively around the sword when she heard Melór’s revelation.

Ol'dem'brey…

She and Melór traveled the length of the Thaelon and on the third day, the trees finally grew sparser and sparser until they completely trailed off into a flat yellow field, odd because the young girl had become so used to having her range of vision partially obscured by dense trunks of trees.

The field too was charred and blackened and Katya knew then that Ursha had been right, that the dragons had been heading for Voldar.

In the far distance, she could detect the tall, gray stone buttresses of Lord Maengolth’s fortress, still standing and she hoped that the capital had weathered the dragonstorm better than Yarrow.

She hoped.

Medoc, her father, had been a soldier there a long time ago, before she had been born, and there too dwelt Wengerim, the DragonSlayer. Perhaps he would know what the High Avá'ránn had not - - the location of Ol'dem'brey’s lair. Or maybe the Queen had known, but would not tell for esoteric reasons of her own.

"This had been cál’artanhé once. Blessed land before the hand of Coór laid waste to it. Dark times are coming." Melór was saying and his pale blue eyes were unreadable as he cautioned the girl.

"Melór, why is the Thaelon untouched by the dragonstorm when all around is not?"

"The dragons dare not touch the Styraía. We are the ár, the first children of Avá and they perceive Her existence and so they fear Her displeasure." Melór handed the reins back to Katya. "On your way now, Katya child and be you well."

Katya dug her heels against the sides of her horse and as the mare started to move, she half-twisted back in her seat and called out to the elf, standing at the edge of the forest.

"Will I ever see you again, Melór? You and Ar’leiná?"

The familiar mocking expression came over Melór’s features. "If She dreams it, we will meet again, hárf’a’chón." he told her before vanishing between the trees that clustered thickly together to form the baffling Thaelon that still held so many secrets.

Holding her horse steady for a brief moment, gazing back at the startling lush greenery behind her, Katya gathered her determination and resolve around her once more. Then she settled back on the saddle and held her head high as she rode forth to the arid lands that lay before, and towards the direction of Voldar.
 


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