ith a flick of her sturdy hands, Ennide tossed out the large white sheet and as
it fell softly against the bed, draping the corners haphazardly, she took a
moment to take a deep breath, blissfully inhaling in the sweet, clean scent of
Humming a toneless tune, she quickly and efficiently tucked in the sheet at the
corners, smoothing the wrinkles until the bed was as featureless and smooth as a
frozen pond in winter. After pummeling the pillows into obedience, she laid them
neatly across the head of the bed before proceeding to diligently scrub the
surface of a nearby elaborately carved cabinet.
In the midst of her labors, the door to the chamber opened and a voluminous
woman entered the room.
“Aren’t you done yet, girl? Taking yer own sweet time I’ll bet, probably
wool-gathering as well.” Meregin clicked her mouth disapprovingly.
“I wasn’t!” Ennide protested with indignation.
Meregin narrowed her eyes doubtfully as she waddled into the room and drew a
finger across the surface of the cabinet where the maid had been cleaning and
inspected the digit critically. Finding no speck of dust to offend her, the
woman huffed grudgingly.
“Acceptable. You better finish up Lady Katya’s chambers soon or else Mistress
Litora would have something to say about you lazing around when you should be
helping to prepare for the noon-day meal,” Meregin said.
There was no love lost between Meregin and Litora who oversaw all the maids
within the left wing of Thyrrinths Hold. Meregin herself had been in charge of
the maids of the east wing before being transferred to wait personally on Lady
Katya. It was well known among the lower ranks of the help and much giggled upon
that Litora thought she should have been the one chosen to wait upon Katya
“I’m almost done!” Ennide said happily. “And isn’t that a beautiful word?”
“The word ‘noon’.” The maid announced to a bemused Meregin. “That we have
Meregin merely closed her eyes wearily. There were times when Ennide’s unfailing
cheerfulness just wanted to make her reach out and throttle that….
She opened her eyes, resolutely putting that wonderful image of a finally quiet
Ennide out of her mind. “Never mind noons or nights or dawns, just finish your
chores and get down to the kitchen.” With that, she went out of the room,
sighing under her breath.
Ennide stood for a while, cleaning cloth still in hand, and her shoulders
drooped a little with despondence. The atmosphere around the Hold lately had
almost degenerated back to Atonement days. Everyone’s been gloomy since….since….
The girl gave a brief shudder as she reluctantly remembered the events of the
past months. The uproar that began as certain people were suddenly inflicted
with a terrible and mysterious disease that led them to transform into
demon-like creatures. No one knew who would be struck next, anybody could be,
from family members, friends and down to the butcher in the next shop. Not all
these cursed ones had the same changes though. Some mutated into mindless,
ravening beasts which tore into the nearest available animal or human for meat
to feed upon. Others retained their human shapes but had enhanced strength and
their skin was scale-like. The last type… the soldiers had warned that these
were the most dangerous, that they were able to switch between normal-looking
human and demonic form easily, so that no-one knew that they had been touched by
the baffling plague.
Some even whispered that there was another sort that the soldiers would not talk
about and they were the most horrible of all; that there were those who could
shift their forms into that of actual dragons.
Those who changed were usually not very nice people though, Ennide pondered
impartially as she resumed cleaning. And she was an honest girl and admitted to
herself that she couldn’t find it in her heart to be sorry when she learnt of
Linn Terolude’s death.
For Ennide had been the servant maid whom Linn had ordered beaten for letting
her bath water run cold.
Originally employed by Lady Preya Arkaisa, one of the members of the Ruling
Council, Ennide had been assigned to serve her niece, Linn Terolude, in Preya’s
house. Ennide didn’t like Linn, who though quite pretty with her masses of
blonde curls, was often nasty and cruel to the servants. She had worked Ennide
to the bones with her demands and whims and Ennide had been so tired one day
that she forgot to add in more hot water to the bath when it ran cold. Linn
threw a fit and she ordered two men-servants to discipline the maid. One held
her down as the other rained blows upon her back with a heavy wooden stick. As
the first strokes landed upon her back, Ennide’s screams had attracted Katya’s
attention who was within the house, accompanying Amalthea on a visit to Lady
Preya’s house on some Council affairs.
Her face white with rage, the young woman stopped the flogging immediately
despite Linn’s threats and took the injured girl away to Thyrrinths Hold where
she even secured a position as royal maid for Ennide there after her recovery.
Linn was livid but could do nothing, knowing that Queen Jenefra was favorable
towards the Silvermarsh girl and that made her hate even deeper.
Portrait of Katya Dragonseeker. Image drawn by
Ennide, on the other hand, since that day, had developed an unquestioning
adoration for Katya, which like Linn’s hatred, only diametrically opposite,
deepened as Katya herself took the time to look up Ennide when she could in the
succeeding days and chat with her like they were just girls of the same age and
station discussing mundane things like a new dress or the latest way to tie an
intricate braid. Katya had assured Ennide time and time again that they were the
same, that she was just a peasant girl but Ennide would have done anything for
her, had she asked, but as it was, the only thing she could do was get herself
assigned to the task of cleaning Katya’s rooms every morning. She still did it
faithfully everyday despite that Katya was no longer in Thyrrinths Hold and that
Mistress Litora considered it a waste of time. But Ennide was determined that
Katya’s rooms would not get dusty and forgotten but stayed the same as the day
she left them, waiting patiently for their occupant’s return.
“And she will return.” Ennide said softly as she gave one last violent rub
against the varnished top of the cabinet. Her face, tinged red from the wood,
stared back up at her from the polished surface.
As she gathered her cloths and bucket, she did what she had done everyday as
well since Katya’s departure. It was almost like a little ritual; the words were
sometimes different but the affection, which spurred the actions, remained
steadfast. Pausing by the window, she looked out the at the wide expanse, over
the teeming city of Voldar with the numerous spires and towers of its buildings,
to where she could barely see the shimmering greenness of trees and even
further, the hazy craggy tops of mountains.
“May Grothar grant you a safe journey and fair weather! Hurry back soon, Miss
Katya!” Ennide shouted, her voice carried forth by the biting winter winds. “We
are all waiting for you here!”
She gave several enthusiastic waves through the window with her hand even though
she knew Katya would be too far away from here by now to see her waving but
nonetheless, she did it. Then she rushed out of the rooms and down to the
numerous stairs to the huge kitchen where sharp-tongued Mistress Litora was
waiting impatiently for her.
In Jenefra’s private rooms, high
above the kitchen where Ennide was earnestly kneading a huge roll of dough, the
Sovereign of the Erpheronians was talking with three of her Council members
while Cale Perrim made up the fourth in this informal meeting.
“I have some reservations on his suitability, Amalthea. He just seems a
little…young,” Jenefra said. Her prefect brow was slightly furrowed as she
perused the papers the other woman had brought forth before her.
“I know he is but twenty-five years of age but from what I’ve observed so far,
he has more intelligence, sense and honor than Nikos or his lack-wit excuse for
a son will ever possessed in their little fingers.” Amalthea concluded her
sentence with an unladylike snort of contempt for her dead and unlamented fellow
“I agree with Amalthea. Lief may be young but he has potential.” The chair that
Kel was sitting seemed too small for the big man’s frame and his massive legs
stuck out in front of him as he lounged uneasily on it.
“So we have ourselves a deadlock then. Does Aerlicht still protest against the
“Yes, he insists that Lief’s lineage to House Lothari is questionable. That it
should be Nikos’s cousin who should take over the seat instead.” Trioan Sellus
said in his quiet voice.
The Lord of House Sellus was a slender brown-haired man, unassuming in
appearance and clothing and seldom spoke during official Council and state
meetings. To those who did not know him well, Trioan was extraordinary only
because he was so ordinary. Or at least, that’s what he seemed on the outside.
Only Jenefra, Amalthea, Kel, Vaelaron and a few select others knew that Trioan
had painstakingly cultivated his semblance of innocuous normalcy since he
assumed authority over the House of Sellus from his father.
For Trioan Sellus had perfect memory and he could recall every single line from
a book he had read ten years ago or remember an entire conversation, word for
word, he had with a petitioner from last week. Added to this special ability,
the Councilor was also highly intelligent and more importantly, he believed
deeply in Jenefra’s right to rule.
“That’s sheer foolishness and Aerlicht knows it! Nikos, that fat bastard,” Kel
made an ominous rumble within his throat but stopped short of spitting his
disgust out upon Jenefra’s carpet when Amalthea threw him a warning look. “Yes,
anyhow, as I was saying, Nikos himself was not of Lothari blood. He married
Karliss Lothari and it was a mistake for Maengolth to have sanctioned him as the
head of the house after Santwin’s death.”
“Karliss pleaded with my father to allow her to step down in favor of her
husband.” Jenefra explained. “Poor Karliss. I’m glad she never lived long enough
to see her son turned out the way he did.”
“She knew enough though. That it was Jarat who pushed her in the waters and
watched while she drowned. His face must have been the last thing she saw,”
Amalthea said, “That murdering hellspawn.”
“I’ve seen Nikos’s nephew. He looks like someone dropped him on the head,
several times, when he was a baby.” Kel said.
“Which is why Aerlicht is trying to discredit Lief’s claim to the Council seat.
He knows Lief won’t be as dim-witted and easy to control as Nikos was. He’s been
trying to reach out to the other Council members by insinuating that Lief’s
illegitimacy is an unsuitable factor. Bah! Lief has more right to the Lothari
seat than Nikos ever had! Aerlicht has annoyed the Council with his little plans
and ambitions for too long. I’ve got a good mind to let him taste the edge of my
axe as a lesson in humility.” Kel half-rose from his chair, his beard fairly
bristling with anger.
“That is truly amazing.” Trioan said to Kel, his face thoughtful.
“That you know the meaning of the word.”
“What word?” Kel growled impatiently.
Kel stared at the sitting Trioan who gazed blandly back at him for a while,
before breaking out into unwilling chuckles.
“You’re trying to distract me from going out and separating Aerlicht’s skinny
head from his neck, aren’t you?”
“Did it work?”
Kel mused. “Yes.” he replied with some regret as he settled down upon the chair
once more, the edge of his hasty wrath dulled. “For now,” he added though.
“Not that it would be any great loss, Aerlicht’s death.” Amalthea remarked.
“Still, the paperwork later would be a headache and I really would not like to
explain to the people that Kel decapitated Aerlicht because he was annoying.
However, if we could manage to…dispose of Aerlicht quietly and with minimal
fuss…” The councilor trailed off suggestively.
“Amalthea!” Jenefra exclaimed, a little shocked at her closest friend’s
apparent lack of conscience. “That is murder!”
“No, it is not. In Aerlicht’s case, it is pest control.”
“Fine, fine. But you have to admit, Jenefra, that it’ll solve a lot of our
problems if Aerlicht were to quietly disappear at this moment.”
“He doesn’t have to. It is true that Lief is Lord Santwin’s grandson. My father
told me before that Santwin came to him, many years ago when I was not born yet,
and told him that he had fallen in love with a girl from a lower family and that
he wanted to marry her. She was the daughter of a merchant, I think. Lord
Santwin’s parents would not allow such an unequal joining and forbade the match.
He was their only son and a good man and thus did not wish to cause his family
undue embarrassment. So he obeyed, although I think it hurt him grievously to do
so,” Jenefra said, remembering.
“Later, when he married Karliss’s mother, a girl came before Santwin’s house and
she had a young boy with her whom she claimed to be his son. It was the
merchant’s daughter. Santwin doubtless would have welcomed her and the child,
had he been around but he was not. We were having border troubles with the
Caltharians then and he was involved in a long campaign on the southern
perimeter. However, Karliss’s mother was around and she was not happy to see
“Jealous type, eh?” Kel nodded knowingly.
“Well, I would not put it quite that way but yes, Karliss’s mother was jealous.
So she turned the poor girl away, along with Santwin’s son. When Santwin found
out, he was filled with rage but tried as he did, he found no sign of the girl
or the boy until when Karliss gave birth to Jarat. By then it was too late, the
merchant’s daughter, along with her son and his wife had died from the rat
plague. But they left behind a baby boy who survived. That child was Lief. A
neighbor, knowing the secret of Lief’s lineage, sought out Santwin and returned
the baby to him. Santwin never told anyone else of Lief’s existence because he
was afraid Nikos would do harm upon him and he had good reason to believe so.”
Jenefra sighed heavily before continuing.
“As for the rest, you know much of it already. Nikos poisoned Santwin, after the
old Lord disclosed his intention to groom Lief as the next Head to my father.
Somehow, Nikos learnt of this and killed Santwin to secure his position. He
would have murdered Lief as well if Karliss had not decided to foster the boy
under Vaelaron’s care, knowing that Nikos dare not do anything while Lief is
under the Captain’s protection. It was a very brave thing for her to do, defying
her husband like that and she paid for the deed with her life.”
“But we still don’t have any proof that Lief is Santwin’s grandson.” Amalthea
argued. “If Santwin had believed that Lief is his grandson, then that is good
enough for me. Unfortunately, Aerlicht and Terylyn do not think it is.”
“How about Preya? What is her stance?” Jenefra asked.
“Her servants say that she is still in grieving over her niece’s death. Most of
the time, she stays in Linn’s room, locks the door and weeps.” Trioan answered.
“I never liked that girl. Linn Terolude had a heart the size of a plum-stone and
just as hard,” Amalthea said. Then her stern features softened fractionally.
“But I understand Preya’s grief at losing a loved one. She had no other kin
being barren and her husband died early. Preya was going to groom Linn as her
successor and she had high hopes for the girl.”
“So we can rule out Preya’s vote citing the reason that she will not be in any
state to make an important Council decision in coming days.” Trioan said. “That
leaves us three other Houses to convince over to our side. Strider, Quikos and
“I know Strider. He’s not a bad man, he prefers fighting on a battlefield,
feeling the weight of a sword in his hand than to debating lengthy Council
matters in a small, airless room. But he has no love for Aerlicht anymore than
we do. I think I can persuade him to vote Lief into the Council based on our
mutual dislike,” Kel said.
“Good. We will count on you to work on Strider then. Rianon is a sensible woman
but tediously analytical. She just doesn’t like to take sides until she knows
all the facts and details. But once she does, she usually makes practical
decisions. I will throw all the information and statistics she needs about the
advantages of Lief’s candidacy until she capitulates. How about Quikos?”
“Quikos is an opportunist and even better, he worships only one god called
Greed. Offer him money and he will follow you to the ends of the world,” Trioan
“You mean, bribe him? Will that work?” Jenefra was doubtful.
“Your Majesty, trust me. Give Quikos more than what Aerlicht is offering him and
he will be yours for life. Or until the next stalled Council election.” Trioan
raised one eyebrow and smiled cynically. “With the majority of the Council on
our side, Aerlicht and Terylyn will have no choice but to accede to Lief’s
candidacy. They will be too cowed to object.
“And these are the kind of people we have on the Council, governing the land?”
Jenefra resisted an urge to bury her face into her hands. “Why?”
Amalthea shrugged with some disgust. “That’s the problem we face with hereditary
positions. We get the good with the bad and then there are those absolute
imbeciles. Damn their antediluvian heads, the First Members, when they decided
to appoint their own blood as successors, and making it compulsory for all of us
who came after to do so as well.”
“Could we not change it?” Even as Jenefra spoke, she knew the futility of her
rhetorical question. The respect and awe accorded to the Council by the
Erpheronians was rooted in its ancient beginnings, the fact that it was the
earliest form of governmental parliament they had and which had lasted the
longest, till this day. To change any aspect of the Council was to incur the
displeasure of its supporters.
“Very well. We have settled the problem, more or less. I will announce Lief
Sarder’s nomination into the Council and as Head of House Lothari by next
month.” Jenefra decided at last. “We have one other matter to discuss before
“The dalá’guourín.” After being entirely still and soundless throughout the
meeting, Cale Perrim finally spoke up.
“I thought you had fallen asleep,” Kel laughed.
“Almost did,” Cale confessed, grinning a little sheepishly. “I thought it best
that I not interfere with Council matters and rulings. If the people even knew
the Queen had a wizard for an advisor, albeit in an unofficial capacity,
there’ll be a citywide riot within the same day. Magic isn’t very well-liked
these days nor are wizards for that matter.”
“Will these dark days never end? I am weary of them.” Amalthea looked her age as
she spoke her words. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“Never. Never too old.” Jenefra reached over to squeeze the other woman’s hand
tightly. “You are my pillar, my strength. Without you, old friend, I would never
have made it so far.”
Amalthea smiled back at the beautiful woman. “Yes, you would. You were born to
be Sovereign, Jenefra. It is in your blood.” She patted Jenefra’s hand
comfortingly before letting go, her expression turning purposeful once more.
“From the information we received, the time of the Soul Robbery should be over.”
“That’s good news, isn’t it?” Kel wrinkled his brow.
“It is not. It merely means that the transition period has ended and now the
real battle begins.”
“Well, that’s not so good news.”
“Obviously.” Amalthea frowned. “Vaelaron has increased the number of patrols in
the eastern and northern sectors of the city where most of the changes took
place. Security and defense details within the Hold have been stepped up as
well. Armeros’s priests are calling for an all out war against Etherus’s
followers, saying that the latter are behind the demonic changes. If you ask me,
the priesthood of Etherus is usually too passed out under the effects of the
ethelian weed to do anything remotely resembling black sorcery. The rest of the
other divine factions term it the end of the world. Again. They announced that
little tidbit of news at least two times before already, during the dragon siege
and the Atonement years. Humph.”
“Still, the level of panic among the people has been contained and it helps that
those accursed beasts are lying low at the moment. Not a peep from them since
the last reported change…which was…” A rustling of papers ensued for a while
before Amalthea continued, “three weeks ago, a Porron Reiq, spice trader by
trade. He disappeared after mauling his wife’s face to shreds. Poor woman’s
still alive despite that she has no face whatsoever to speak of left.”
It was Kel’s turn next and he reported that the fatalities among the soldier
patrols were still relatively small.
“Vaelaron’s holding up pretty well, considering that the man hasn’t slept since
Yseuth Callyn was killed in the last clash. One of those damned things just
grabbed her head with its claws and tore her head right off before the
reinforcements arrived.” The big man shook his head. “We lost a good fighter
there that day. Vaelaron’s trying his best now to find someone suitable to fill
her position and until he does, the remaining five militia commanders will have
to oversee the castle guards and the border camps.”
“Your Majesty, you have not told us where you got your information from
regarding these… dalá’guourín. Trioan stumbled over the syllables of the strange
word with some difficulty. “Amalthea and Cale know why these unholy changes are
happening as do you. And the two guests who arrived on the night of the banquet
and yet no-one ever glimpsed during their stay here, they had a great deal to do
with the events now, don’t they?” His voice held no censure, just deep-seated
curiosity. “Just exactly who or what were they?”
Jenefra and Amalthea exchanged a quick glance before the younger woman gave a
nod of assent to Cale. There was no holding back, no time for secrets now, not
when Voldar’s enemies loomed ever nearer.
“Lord Sellus, would you believe me if I told you that they were not human but of
the elven race?” Cale said calmly.
Kel’s eyes widened as his mouth fell opened with shock at Cale’s announcement. “What?!
Elves aren’t real. They are but moonshine stories for children to believe,” he
Trioan merely continued to sit, his eyes thoughtful. “I suspected as much.”
Kel stared at his fellow Council member. “You knew?”
“I suspected. That is not the same as knowing for sure.”
“Nothing escapes your attention, does it, Trioan.” Amalthea sounded visibly
amused but her own steel-gray eyes were anything but as they assessed the
unprepossessing man sitting before her. “When did you start to know, or should I
“No. Nothing does.” The man acknowledged without arrogance. Then he answered the
second question, “Around the same time as Katya Ileri’s disappearance which, by
way, coincided exactly the same time with these guests’ leaving. News had come
to my attention that there was a carpenter by the name of Dek who swore upon his
father’s grave that he had seen an elf walking on the streets of Voldar. I
checked out his story and he did not seemed to be lying and the date of the
sighting was also the day of the banquet that you supposedly were giving in
honor of the ‘guests’. The banquet was intended to be a distraction. You knew
the guests would not arrive but your Majesty needed a diversion, for the entire
Hold to look the other way as your guests came in through another entrance. But
your plans were wrecked when then the Soul Robbery, as you called it, began and
from then it wasn’t too hard to piece together the puzzle.”
“A rather scrappy puzzle if you ask me,” Kel mumbled.
“Call it intuition then. A hunch that my hunch was right.” Trioan grinned at
“They were elves and one of them, Lord Melór, requested that his presence and
that of his companion be kept strictly secret while they were in Thyrrinths
Hold. Even I doubted the veracity of the missive he sent me before their
“The elf-lord sent you a message?”
“Yes. It was strange really. I was preparing for my morning meeting with the
Council when I suddenly spied this plain sheet of white paper on my table. I
could have sworn that a moment ago the same table was as clean as a bone. Lord
Melór sent his greetings to the Erpheronian Sovereign in it and requested for an
audience, stating that he had very urgent tidings he needed to tell me in
“The Soul Robbery,” Trioan guessed.
“That was the name the elf lord gave as he spoke of it. And later, after the
first wave of changes, which you saw with your own eyes, Nikos, his son and Linn
including scores others transforming into those creatures, Lord Melór told me
why and how it happened and that there were more to come. And I knew his words
rang true when the Soul Robbery continued.”
“What’s causing them then? Why the humans? Why us?”
“Because we killed the dragons.”
Jenefra’s mouth thinned as she remembered the day Wengerim, her husband, was
brought to Voldar in triumph after killing one of the three known
adamant-dragons of the world. She recalled too, seeing him glowing with victory,
his eyes brilliant with joy as he handed over to her hands a curved, ivory
It was a tooth, pulled from the dead dragon’s jaws as proof of Wengerim’s
slaying. She had held it in her arms, this heavy, grim relic, and smiled back at
Wengerim and a few days later, they were wedded. She had grown to love him, the
man her father chose for her, and he was dead and she would no longer love
another. And now, all the darkness that came after, it began then, at that
precise moment, with her accepting a dragon’s tooth. Because Wengerim desired
her bright beauty.
Her fists clenched as she started to relate everything that the elven Lord had
told her on that bright, beautiful morning within this very chamber. Amalthea
knew all about it already as she had been present but it was new to Cale, Kel
The elf lord was almost
painful to gaze upon, the flawlessness of his hawk-like features and silver hair
uncanny. His tall frame sat opposite hers and there was a suggestion, which
Jenefra felt or rather perceived, of ancient mysteries, far beyond her abilities
to comprehend. His companion, the elf-maiden called Ar’leiná was similarly fair,
though her beauty was less sharp-honed and austere than the elf lord. She
reminded Jenefra of the setting sun, with her warm red-gold hair radiating
warmth and a gentle, almost sad smile. The elf-maid, dressed in a simple green
gown, was seated next to Katya and across them were Amalthea and Lysander. There
was no other person in the room. Jenefra had made it very clear to the servants
and her court ladies that no one, on the pain of punishment, should go near her
chambers that morning.
“You say that it is the souls of dead dragons, inhibiting their human hosts,
that makes them change?” Jenefra said, horror and disbelief etched on her
features as she absorbed the news given.
“We call them dalá’guóurín, dragon spawn or demon in your tongue. They are not
true dragons in any sense but an abomination. Only those who are dark of
thought, with the seed of true evil, which lies within the heart, can attract
these souls. The human race is the easiest to succumb to the temptation. You are
a strong race but with your strengths come many weaknesses and doubts as well.”
Melór paused. “Your Atonement was a grave error which upset the very fabric and
cycle of nature. Dragons were never meant to die. They are eternal, endless, and
by killing them, you have merely released their souls, which craved for
vengeance. And they have found it.”
“We did not mean it, the Atonement was the only way to end the siege.” Jenefra
faltered. “We had not realized…”
“No matter. The deed is done and you will have to bear the consequences.”
From the corner of her eye, Jenefra saw Katya winced as Melór revealed the true
reason behind the Soul Robbery. The Queen herself flushed with shame then,
knowing that she too had sanctioned the Atonement without consulting the other
races first. It was a grave mistake she had made and swore never to repeat
again. All the deaths that resulted from this decision weighed heavily upon her
shoulders and in her darkest moods, she wondered if her people will ever forgive
her. She wondered if she could forgive herself.
“How do we stop it then?” Lysander leaned forward intently to ask.
“You cannot. It is beyond your wizards’ abilities. We can only let this
aberration run its course. The Soul Robbery will gain intensity within the next
coming months with more changes happening. You can kill a dalá’guóur if you cut
its head off when it is in the midst of the transformation. They are most
vulnerable then. But after, it will be almost impossible to kill one. Their skin
is as hard as dragon hide and your metal swords are no match against it.”
Katya shook her head. “Their eyes are soft and unprotected. That’s their
weakness. We can kill them.”
“Provided that one lets you close enough to pierce its eye,” Amalthea said
Jenefra looked stricken. “What can we do then?”
“Most of the dragon-changed will gather together, to reinforce their numbers.
During this time, they will stay out of sight and there probably will be no
“And what happens then, when their numbers are strong enough?” Katya wanted to
“Then they will attack.”
“But we cannot sit here and expect to do nothing until they do! We do not even
know those who have changed if your information about their shape shifting
abilities is true! All they have to do is to keep their human shapes to escape
notice,” Amalthea said as she pounded one closed fist against her knee angrily.
The elf-maid spoke and her voice was sweet and clear as a spring brook. “Do not
lose hope. There is something that might help greatly…” She hesitated and
glanced questioningly at Melór who ignored her, his features giving nothing
Ar’leiná sighed then, a small hurtful sound so soft that only Jenefra caught it
and the Queen’s eyes were filled with compassion and understanding for the
“What is it? Tell us, Ar’leiná. Please.” Katya pleaded eagerly.
A strange expression crossed the elf’s face as she started to speak. “There is a
legend among the Styrá, that during the Final Wars, one of our kind fashioned a
suit of armor that was impenetrable and harder than even dragon skin. If you can
get that armor, there is a chance that a weapon, a sword, made from it can kill
a dalá’guóur. But more importantly, having such a sword within your possession
will make them afraid and might induced them to leave your city.”
“But it is only a legend, is it not?” Amalthea was dubious. “And even if it is
true, the Final Wars happened thousands of years ago and who knows whether this
armor still exists!”
“She who shaped that armor is still…alive.” Ar’leiná said uneasily, her voice
barely above a whisper. “If she does not have it with her anymore, she may know
And it had been at that moment, that Jenefra realized, with a brief shiver of
shock running down her spine, that the elf-maid was afraid. She was actually
afraid and the expression was unnatural imposed upon those lovely, usually
“Afraid? What can an elf be
afraid of?” Kel interrupted as Jenefra paused in the midst of her recounting.
“The person who possessed the armor?”
“Maybe, I do not know. What I know is that her fear was real enough and I felt
it. And it made me afraid as well. It was Lord Melór who later told us where to
find her. And though he did not show it, I think he was loathed to tell us.”
Jenefra sucked in a breath, suddenly finding it hard to speak. “The ruler of the
Trioan’s brows were knitted together in a frown. “She is not familiar to me.”
“Nor I,” Kel admitted.
“Perhaps you know her better as a ghost story told on the darkest day of winter,
my Lords.” Cale replied. His broad face was grim as he spoke. “She is the ruler
of the shadow elves but among us, we call her the Bone Queen.”
Trioan started, his composure finally unsettled.
“Are you serious, Cale? The Bone Queen? Gods!” Kel cursed, his normally robust
face paled with dawning comprehension. “And that’s why young Katya and Lysander
have disappeared, haven’t they? They’re off looking for her and this so-called
“Was it wise? They are only children.” Trioan asked.
“Katya wanted to go. I could not stop her. That child… you saw what she had done
to Nikos and Linn. I do not know how but she has power.” And I am
afraid for her, of her… Jenefra did not say the last out-loud but she knew
it was true as much as she hated herself for feeling so.
She had seen the nimbus of light surrounding the Silvermarsh girl, the same
light radiating forth to destroy the dragon-changed in the blink of an eye. The
look on the young woman’s face as it happened was the imperturbable aspect of an
avenging Goddess. And watching Katya with the two elves, Jenefra had
instinctively felt as well, with a confused sense of mingled anxiety, fear and
wonder, how much the girl resembled them. Not in appearance but something far
more intangible but irrevocably there. The gradual feeling that Katya was no
longer quite human. Reluctantly, Jenefra admitted to herself that there always
had been a certain, undeniable strangeness surrounding the young peasant girl,
from the day of her arrival into Voldar, already an impossibility upon itself
for the dragons were lying heavy and constant siege against the city then and
yet Katya walked right in through the gates unharmed. And there was the silver
hair, eerily beautiful, unexplainable and another indication of the difference.
“I do not know where her power comes from either but I suspect it is
elf-touched. Or cursed, depending on which way one looks at it. Your Majesty,
although I do not question your decisions, I wonder too if it was sensible to
send Katya away to find the armor. Her strength would come in useful during the
coming days if the dragon demons do attack.” Cale pointed out.
“She has a destiny to fulfill, Cale.” Jenefra smiled, knowing how trite she
sounded but at the same time, she knew it for another truth. “All heroes do,
that is why they are heroes.”
“And Katya Ileri is one?” Trioan murmured. “Pardon me for saying so, your
Majesty but some heroes die while achieving their destinies.” The Lord of House
Sellus continued bluntly. “We have not heard from Katya or Lysander Dain these
few months past.”
Jenefra did not speak while Amalthea glared daggers at Trioan. Then she merely
replied, “I know, Trioan. I pray for their safety and return every day.”
A dead silence fell upon the company as each contemplated the fate of their
young friends in the privacy of their own thoughts. Finally, the Sovereign of
the Erpheronians stood up and walked to the nearest window and gazed out at the
same landscape that Ennide had.
Human or not, power or not, Katya was under her protection. And even through her
apprehension, Jenefra knew that she had grown to love Katya like family.
Unaware of the little chambermaid’s existence, nevertheless, Jenefra echoed
Ennide’s thoughts and hopes into the winds, which swirled increasingly round the
tallest tower of Thyrrinths Hold.
Come back to Voldar soon, Katya, and Lysander. And be safe wherever you are