Spirit Lake

"And that's really all," Reyel says, shifting his weight. He is kneeling on the Round Rock beside the travelling storyteller, who has been listening with obvious interest. "I wish it didn't have to end like that."

"There is this," the dark-skinned storyteller says, gesturing to the camp on shore. Brightly-clad figures stride among the pine-bough shelters.

"Yes, but the way we met with the rest of Krish's people wasn't exactly interesting. We just stumbled on them."

"But I believe they were lead to you," the storyteller insists.

"I suppose." Reyel brushes flatbread crumbs from his clothes and stands up. A canoe bobs against the side of Round Rock. He climbs into it with a careful grace, followed by the storyteller. A wave to the shore receives and answering gesture from a bright-haired figure. Reyel glances at his companion, then blows a kiss across the blue water to Krisha. He picks up a paddle and begins to talk while maneuvering the boat.

"I was glad to hear Madera's story, though."

"I was happy to tell it. I'm afraid stories are all I have to trade, so I tried to pick one you would want."

The beach creeps closer. Reyel half-turns to face the storyteller. "If you don't mind my asking, where are you from?"

"North of here. Why?" The storyteller drags a hand in the water. The purple sleeves on the ornate storyteller's robe are quickly soaked.

"It's just that I can't imagine many people besides us around here supporting a storyteller who is…an aman."

"Oh." The storyteller inclines its head as if conceding a match. "Somehow, I have taught them not to mind."

The canoe scrapes across the bottom of the lake. Reyel and the storyteller leap out to haul it in, aided by a swarm of children who call greetings to him, using the words 'Uncle' and even 'Father'. He shrugs at the storyteller.

"Affectionate terms."

"Of course."

The storyteller begins preparations for leaving immediately. Though Reyel and the others are sorry to see it go—travelers like it being the only source of news to their remote area—they feel that they will probably see it again soon. Something in the way it says goodbye.

"Funny," Reyel says as he hands the reins of a white horse to the storyteller. "I don't know how you knew about the fox."

It blinks innocently. "What fox?"

"The river fox. That lead us to Krisha's people?"

"Oh." The storyteller's lips form a grin. "Yes. That fox."

Then Perera swings onto the horse and rides down the path through the pines.

Reyel watches them go. Then he feels a hand slip into his.

"You told our story."

"I did," he whispers in Krisha's ear.

"I hope you didn't say anything embarrassing."

Reyel appears to have something on the tip of his tongue, but instead says, "No."

As they head back to where the village has laid out a meal—on mats on the grass—the scent of pine tea fills the air. And with it, the sound of someone laughing. Seeing that it's Krisha, Reyel joins in.

The End

Fools. Flighty, weak, guileless, lustful fools.

Though not as foolish as she'd first hoped. Damn them.

Delrekra paced across the chamber, around the stone slab in the center. The young man lying there stirred weakly, then groaned as the four creatures standing over him dug their claws into his flesh. Similar beings ran into the shadows as Delrekra drew near them.

But plans. Oh, yes, she had plans. Not for revenge—she had gleefully watched the two humans destroy their own lives, banished from their village. Their part was over--though Madera could bear watching. Delrekra needed something grander to do than revenge, though, something more complex to scheme. And something more precious to the world than Valshakar to destroy.

She raise her hand and examined the knife in it. Twisted, flinty gray, grains flaked off it in her hand, but it was sharp enough to cut through flesh and more than flesh. In her other hand she clasped a blood-colored crystal. Her black lips curled as the clawed things clung tighter to the captive. He was starting to struggle again.

"Just a slight matter," she said to the young man, "And then we can each fulfill our respective sides of this bargain." Then she added, arm raised, "Do not forget."

She brought the knife down.