A short story written for a class, in which I tried to use second person to see how it worked out. If you don't like second person, you're going to hate this, but I hope you don't!

Kendal


***

The forest holds many secrets that may never be unlocked. Wait silently, hopefully, pausing at the bank of a stream or in a thicket edging a clearing. Maybe you will find them and maybe not.

Night arrives like death, unnoticed and unexpected. Watch as the shadows slowly creep across drooping leaves, sending shafts of light drifting to the dew-dropped grass. The light wanes with the coming dusk. Peer closely into the foliage, where the fading sun shines like stardust falling to the ground. Something shimmers through the shade in tiny flares of light. Follow it with your eyes. The flashes drop, wafting gently in the breeze, and then you realize it is only a leaf.

Somewhere they hide, playing a dangerous game of hide-and-seek. The air echoes with their catch-me-if-you-can chatter. Their laughter ricochets across the valley, flooding the quiet like water through a broken dam. Resonating though the forest, it rises in an unceasing hum.

And then it stops.

Catch your breath and try to remain silent. One hovers where the leaves part, watching the clearing in utter silence. Her fragile wings beat quickly, quietly, and then she lands. She freezes where she perched. Motion would give her away and she doesn't want to be seen. Fear paralyzes her in the newly born gloom.

Perhaps you yourself should halt.

Never disregard the warnings of the /aillses/, even if those warnings are silent. Their terror is not to be unheeded. Observe carefully, because you will see what she sees and next time you can run.

A young woman enters the clearing, her long skirts trailing in the grass. She looks innocent, harmless even. Her tresses glow like blood-red rubies where the sun's last graceful finger touches the earth, then it fades and her hair is only copper. It sways around her body like a curtain of silk, hiding her features from the voyeurs that surround her. Perhaps she knows that they are there.

She kneels, her long skirts falling around her in graceful folds, rippling like waves from a gentle tide. Her hair settles around her. The forest remains wary, but she doesn't notice its unease.

Opening slowly like a flower unfolding its petals, her hand drifts to rest in her lap. In her palm, she holds a transparent amber stone. She stares at it as if hoping it will disappear, then, so slowly she doesn't seem to move, each finger curls to grasp it loosely. Her hand tightens.

Something is happening.

The /aillses/ know her only as The Lady. They often see her in this clearing, carrying out forbidden spells and hidden dreams. Somehow you know she is /uirisg/, a child of mixed /aillse/ and human blood. For this reason, they tolerate her and her intrusions, but… Maybe something tells them that this time she goes too far.

The stone captured in her palm begins to glow blue-white and the intensity rises until watching is nearly painful. It flashes sharply in the dark.

Behold the mist you never noticed. It gathers in a cloud before her, uncoiling, solidifying, seemingly with a life of its own. The air is cold and wet and perhaps you think you are now in hell.

Taking shape, it forms itself into the body of a man, standing insolently at attention. His eyes are the first features to become clear.

Hear the /aillses/ gasp around you. Feel their alarm like the first touches of a death knell.

Eyes without color. Eyes without feeling. Those eyes tell the stories of complete races crushed beneath their gaze. They tell of the barren wasteland that is human life. They hold no mercy and no emotion. Those dark, dark eyes slowly lighten to amber. Coldness lies buried in their depths like the deepest chips of ice in a glacier. The rest of his features come slowly, but they do come.

Only the /aillses/ can see his horns.

Shudder if you feel the need, but hold your breath. Maybe he won't see you.

His hair, as pitch dark as midnight, falls over a chiseled face. The hollows in his sunken cheeks are stark and prominent, emphasizing his harsh white skin. His nose is straight, tilted slightly as if reaching for the absent moon. The entire effect is exquisite, from a time when beauty was commonplace.

The frozen fairy hisses and her translucent wings flutter rapidly with anger. Her silent cry echoes in your mind.

/Dràgon/! she shrieks, rising from her perch.

The air shimmers around her like a transparent silver veil undulating in the breeze. Thousands of them ascend in a swarm. Fright and imagined peril wash away their caution. Those amber eyes swing to capture all that he can sense. They fall, dropping to the ground in droves. Only one escapes.

He scampers through the forest and his soundless screams warn any who would venture near. One word escapes his lips, so fast it trips and falls in an unceasing panicked waterfall.

/Caedan/.

One word, causing hysteria without bounds and deaths without number. One word.

/Caedan/.

Listen closely and maybe you will hear it.


***


Imagine you are she. Slip into her mind and read her thoughts, but take heed she does not notice. Her wrath need not be incurred. It nearly rivals his in its severity and her power is just as great.

Her name is Kethry.

She kneels proudly, tilting her chin and straightening her back. She will not cower before him. Her breathing is not quite steady, racing through her lungs like fire. It hurts to breathe. The frigid air has filtered through her blood and crept its way into her heart.

Her need is too great to acknowledge fear. She knows she cannot escape, but she also knows her last hope rides on his mercy. Only he can give her what she needs. He knows it well.

Ignore the fear trailing its icy fingers down your spine the first time you hear him speak. Pray it doesn't freeze you where you hide.

"The dragons are waking, milady," Caedan states. "You have a made a grave mistake."

She wonders briefly how he knows she is a lady. "I did not wake you for personal gain," she offers. Her eyes glimmer like frost on green moss. They are covered by a sheen of helpless tears.

He smiles, his teeth glittering sharply in the light. "It matters not. You have disturbed our rest and the price must be paid."

Try not to think about those stabbing teeth or what that price may be. Both have been the birth of many nightmares.

"I did not intend…" she begins.

He interrupts. "You have made your point. Still, your intentions do not change what has been set in motion."

"I took great risk in summoning you," she admits.

Even she knows this is a gross understatement. Danger radiates from him in waves and colors, becoming almost tangible. His face is set and hard. His skin is white, so white that even newly born snowflakes seem sullied, and his dark hair melts into the shadows. His only color comes from those lethal amber eyes.

Those cold amber eyes glitter and then suddenly he agrees. "Yes, you did. And now I want something in return."

He watches her without emotion. He can see the battle seethe inside her. "You have one of our own," he says softly.

Her lips part slightly as she realizes what he means. Her thoughts wander to her room, to the table by her bed, where her pendant dangles from the edge. That pendant never leaves her neck, but this time, somehow, she knew better than to have it in her possession.

Shudder with her now and see your dreams shatter into crystal shards. She has come here hoping to become a savior, but maybe she will become Death instead. His ultimatum hangs over her like a storm, raging and tearing her apart.

Try not to tremble when he smiles again. This smile is no less predatory than the last. Shiver if you must, but be careful not to shake the leaves.

"Think on it, milady," he says, that cruel parting of lips never fading. "Your need is far more tragic than is ours."

She understands that he is aware of her plight. Something tells her that he knows what she wants as well. Pondering how he knows this, she rises gently from the ground. He loses his advantage and steps back.

"Our need is tragic," she agrees. Her arm lifts and her fingers trail along her neck, searching for the reassurance she no longer wears. He notices the gesture, but does not comment. He may be cruel, but he will not deepen any wounds.

His relentless eyes mock her without any true affront. "And your cost will equal mine. I am well aware. Do not consider lightly, milady, for you know well that it could mean your death."

"My death is nothing compared to that of thousands," she counters softly.

Amusement lights his eyes and curves the corners of his mouth. "And the death of thousands is nothing compared to that of one."

Watch the disappointment seep into her eyes. Despite what she had dreamed, no mercy is forthcoming. She hides her disillusion well.

"She will not be injured," she assures, but she knows her assurance will not be enough. She will not plead or beg, but if necessary, she will bargain. She knows that time has come.

The amusement fades from his eyes, leaving nothing in their honey void. His mouth no longer smiles. "I want her back," he answers flatly. His games have moved from whimsical to deadly.

"I will think on it," she decides, noting how his mouth twists with displeasure.

She realizes the danger she is in. She tries not to think about what the cost of this venture could be. She will sleep better without knowing.

"Vades," she whispers, sending him away.

The mist returns. It weaves an eerie chase as though it searches for its tail. Watch him slowly fade into the night and hope he is really gone. His cold, cruel smile shimmers and then disappears. Stare hard into his eyes before they fade. Maybe if you search intensely you will see the mercy she tried so hard to find.

Do not expect it.

It lies deep within his frozen heart. The world may burn to cinders before it ever is released.

She pauses, standing as if transfixed, then turns to hurry toward her home. The decision weighs heavily on her mind, but she really has no choice. Lives hang in the balance.

Moving swiftly, she traipses through the woods.

Follow her now over fallen logs and fragrant dirt. Scramble through the flowering brush and try to keep her pace. She moves quickly, as if she fears those glacial amber eyes are watching.

She is right to be afraid.

She can still feel those eyes on her, unmoving and unfeeling, catching everything she does not say. Secrets lie bare before those eyes and hers are no exception. She runs, hoping they will lose their force.

Be careful she does not disappear in the maze of watching trees. She flits from place to place in keeping with her /aillse/ heritage, and once, she disappears. Only her blazing copper hair keeps their limbs from hiding her.

The forest ends quickly. In the place of clogging green growth and barren brown limbs, straggling weeds carpet the meadow before her. Maybe you can see the outlines of stone houses or wooden huts lying peacefully in slumber on the other side; maybe it is the castle that catches your attention.

Stay close behind her when she sprints across the field. It is hard to see her in the dark.


***


She slips into the castle through the servant's quarters. The door is open and the servants toil at their tasks. They are many. Seeming well-fed and well-dressed in castle livery, they do not appear kind or even friendly. One cuffs another on the head.

Shuffle behind her and keep your eyes to the floor if you are dressed as they; stride easily and do not deign to acknowledge them if you are dressed as she. If you are dressed as a beggar or one from the village, pretend you have business there and act as if you know where you are going. You may be out of place, but the servants will not question. It is not their place to do so.

She twists her way through the crowd. It is late, but their day is not yet done. She sneaks up the stairs at the edge of the large kitchen, knowing that none will follow and that she will be alone.

Do not disillusion her; she has had enough of that this night. Pause at the base of the stairs and let her advance before you follow. Her footsteps beat lightly against the wood. She is the only one on the steps. If you listen carefully, you may trail her without being caught.

She abandons the steps at the very top and her slippers click against the broken stone. Hopefully she will not notice the measured footsteps behind her. The end of the hall is dark and empty, but as she pulls open a solid wooden door, light pours out. It illuminates the hall nearly to the staircase.

Press your back against the wall when she glances toward the stairs. Maybe the shadows will lose you in their midst. She looks away again and enters the room. The door slides shut, but not all the way. Creep to the edge and watch her through the slit, but be careful you are not seen.

She stands in front of the table by her bed and in her hands lies a sparkling crystal pendant. Each tiny facet catches the light. She turns it over in her hands, staring at it as though the world is ending.

Perhaps it is.

Sighing, she holds it to the light. The stone's purity shines brilliantly and clearly, even in the brightness of the room. Set against the diamond clarity, two smaller blue stones wink in tiny flashes. The jewel is so carefully carved it almost seems to breathe and those eyes stare much as they did in life.

As she turns it in her hands, those eyes fall heavily on you, meeting yours with too much knowledge and too much life. They lack the blankness seen so often in a statue's eyes. They catch the light one more time…

And then they blink.

Try not to gasp as you realize what this pendant is. She may hear you in the quiet.

She whispers something quietly, then, much like the stone, the pendant starts to glow. The air shudders and it suddenly becomes pure white. It grows only slightly until it might fit into the palm of her hand. She sets it on the floor.

Around her, the air takes the shape of a woman, but she is transparent. She is dressed in a long, white sheath. It falls nearly to the floor and is slit to the waist on both sides. It clings to her, almost blending into her skin, only her skin's slight rose tint making them distinguishable. Even though she is only semi-visible, her eyes burn, blue flames licking at the pupils. Long thick black lashes, stark against her paleness, frame the flaming blue, causing them to shine ever brighter.

Kennis. Her name means beautiful and she is.

She wavers in the light, sometimes blending with the shadows. Despite her obvious power, the weight of the world lies buried in her flaming blue eyes. "You will not win without his help," she states calmly.

Kethry is stricken. "But, my Lady…"

Kennis smiles. "I know what it will mean, but as you said, one death is nothing compared to that of thousands."

Kethry hesitates. "I do not believe that he will harm you."

She smiles again at Kethry's naivete. "There are many ways to die, Lady Kethry. Caedan's mere life is my death in and of itself."

"I do not understand," Kethry answers.

"No, you would not," she responds. "Know only that with every breath Caedan takes, it pains me."

Kethry's eyes grow sad. "I cannot give you to him then, my Lady."

"You do not have a choice," Kennis replies. "I knew my fate when I sent you for his aide."

Kethry blinks in surprise, then shakes her head. "I cannot wish you had not sent me."

"And you should not," she says. "I am willing to make this sacrifice to save your people."

Tears well in Kethry's eyes and threaten to spill over. "I will unbind you before I give you to him."

"Please do not," she appeals. "Simply amend the spell so I cannot be bound to him."

Kethry nods, one tear trailing a crystal path down her cheek and freezing in another's wake. "I shall then leave you tied within the pendant's web."

Perhaps you wonder what Kethry needs from him or why her people need to be saved. Listen carefully and maybe you will learn, but remember that it is not your affair. The danger already ebbs too close for comfort.

Kennis sighs and wavers in the light. Her long white hair shifts around her like gently falling snow. "Had I only stayed with Caedan, this might have been avoided."

She composes herself quickly. "But then, my Lady, we would not know each other." She pauses, hesitating briefly. "And my people still would die."

Kennis smiles sadly. "Yes, but not so many of them."

She refers to Caedan, Kethry knows. She shivers, remembering those cold amber eyes. Then she shrugs those memories away. "The plague will surely kill us, if the /dràgones/ do not. You have given us a chance."

"I would help you myself, if I were not bound," Kennis admits. "But you know as well as I, this is the only shape I can assume when I am confined to the pendant."

"I will unbind you," Kethry repeats, but they both know that she cannot.

Kennis shakes her head. "To unbind me would be to give your people into Caedan's hands. You do not want their deaths."

"No," Kethry agrees softly, "I do not."

"You have no choice but to trade me for a talon. Know, too, that this is not an easy sacrifice for him," she warns. "A fraction of his power will be contained within your grasp and he cannot gain it back."

"If there were a way, I would return it," Kethry answers. "I want it only for a day."

"You ask for much," she says, "but so does he."

Kethry's face is serious and sad. "Neither he nor I have another choice."

"No," Kennis agrees, "but you have found a way around that. When I am bound, his powers nearly disappear. In leaving me bound but not to him, you have given me the means to keep him trapped as well."

Cocking her head, Kethry looks confused. "Trapped in what way, my Lady?"

She waits a moment before responding, as if trying to decide how she can explain. "When Caedan first gained power, he nearly woke my mother, which would have destroyed both your people and mine. Because Caedan is my mate, he only could be stopped by strengthening the bond we already had and by linking our minds. Now that we are linked, our lives are twined together and our powers pooled as one. It cannot be escaped. He knows my thoughts and dreams my dreams, although from him these can be guarded."

"And because your powers are kept from him, his are trapped as well," Kethry concludes.

Kennis nods and smiles. "So you see," she continues, "even in submission you curtail his power to some degree. But," she sighs, "I still wish that he could feel my pain."

"Caedan has never known pain," Kethry whispers. "Only opposition. The two are not the same."

Kennis' eyes grow sad and the blue flame flickers as if banked. "No, they are not, but neither you nor I can help that. It grows late, milady. Rest now and then maybe you will better face whatever tomorrow may bring."

Nodding, Kethry lays herself upon the bed, her eyes drifting slowly closed. Her breathing deepens and grows steady. Kennis fades, watching her all the while. As with Caedan, her flaming eyes are the last to fade. They meet yours steadily through the darkness, revealing knowledge of your presence. Shrink back into the shadows and mull over the wisdom she has just imparted to you. Keep it to yourself. Kethry does not need to know that Caedan may well kill her when his needs have been fulfilled.

Know only that Kennis will prevent this in any way she can.