In the darkness, she dreams of Caedan. The obscurity lightens and the warmth fades, leaving her to stand in the middle of an icy cave. A glowing arctic blue surrounds you both, as though you are looking through a wall of solid ice with light behind it.

Shadows fall into the hollows of the glossy ice and the edges of the cave melt into more shadows. The frosty blue-green color shines upon the peaks and fades into the valleys of the cave. It may remind you of sinking to the ocean's floor. The color is one that could only be seen when a light shines through the deepest waters at the bottom of the purest ocean.

The air is crisp and so silent, you might think you hear him breathe. Do not be fooled. It is only the sound of your own breath.

Something whistles then, warning that it comes. Still your heart. It is only the biting wind, slithering among the glistening stalactites like a snake in winter. It whips her copper hair across her cheeks and stings her eyes before it dies a sudden death.

On one side, an avalanche of broken ice spills over what might have been the cave's mouth. Tiny slabs are scattered across the floor. On the other side, the cave opens to a larger cavern. Through the door, the dark is so deep it seems like an endless ocean of black water.

Pull your jacket closer if you are chilled. The air is frigid.

A gentle /whuff/ echoes through the stillness and she spins around to face the gaping portal. Her eyes go flat, determined, as though she knows what is expected, does not like it, but will do it anyway. She steps forward, her back straight, and moves with purpose.

As she slips through the door, the darkness lightens, but maybe it is only your eyes adjusting. One weak beam falls on something in the darkness, cold and beautiful, huge despite the vastness. Maybe you wonder what it is. While you do, the light brightens like a candle shining through the void. Each icy spike gains clarity and every frozen edge turns clear.

Watch her face as she realizes she has dreamed herself into Caedan's world.

Suddenly in the quiet, the earth begins to rumble. Her eyes slide shut as if she prays, but she has no god. Her prayers go to no one.

The frost begins to gather before her. Maybe you expected it. The shape forms quickly, coldly, without warning and without emotion. His golden eyes stare down at her and perhaps you expect him to be angry. He is not.

Quietly, he says, "Your father bestowed much power upon you when you were born."

Her eyes widen and she denies his statement. "My father knew nothing of magic or of what I do."

He smiles then, slyly, like he knows something she does not. "You speak of Galen," he acknowledges, "and you are right. He had no power. I do not speak of him."

"If you do not speak of Galen," she answers, "then of whom do you speak?"

"Your father," he replies softly. "You did not know him and never will. It matters not. Your mother and adopted father did well in creating the story of your birth."

Her moss green eyes watch him warily. She does not know of what he speaks. "Galen was my father," she says, almost angrily, to correct him and any delusions he may have.

"If so you say, then so it is," he shrugs.

"This I know," she answers and her eyes smolder like the green in the deepest, hottest part of fire.

He ignores this statement and her anger, for he knows that Galen is not her father, despite what she may believe. Galen had no power because he was a human. "You need my talon," he states coldly, changing the subject.

He no longer accommodates or tries to make her comfortable. He may have pushed the subject if he wished, but he knows it would have gotten him nowhere.

She nods, acknowledging this. She knows he has pulled this thought from her own mind. Here in his territory, he can do this.

"Were you deceitful, you would steal it while I sleep." He gestures to the form of a large black dragon slumbering against the cave wall. She shivers when his calculating amber eyes fall on her, then he smiles. "But I know that you will not. You seem to have the code of honor so many humans lack."

She stares back at him, refusing to acknowledge his approval. "Perhaps I do not wish to become your dinner."

He laughs. The sound is harsh and cold, as though it has been unused. "I see you have finally found your courage."

She shifts her body closer to him, feeling somewhat more at ease. Wonder why this statement makes her feel more comfortable if you are curious, but do not question too deeply. She does not know herself.

He continues, "You will need that courage when you fight your sorcerer. It will not be easy to destroy him, even with the talon."

She shrinks back, her comfort lost. "How do you know why I need the talon?"

He laughs, amused, wondering how she knows so little when she inherited so much. "You need not be so startled. Kennis shields her mind well and does not give your secrets away. I know this is the only way to kill one who is /uirisg/, so do not be suspicious."

"It is human nature to be suspicious, at least to some degree."

"And weak and cruel as well," he responds, his eyes glinting coldly. "But you are none of these."

"You do not know this," she says.

"I do know this," he corrects, "and this is why I know you will stab the talon through your magician's heart without any qualms."

"Murder is a grave deed," she answers sadly.

He smiles, his white skin stretching across his face like supple stone. "The death of one is nothing compared to that of many," he reminds. "And it is the only way to end the plague. Only with his death may your people be cured." He pauses, then continues softly, "Do not become weak now, when you are so close to your goal. I may very well refuse to help you."

"How callous of you to taunt me. But then, I think that is in your nature."

His smile never fades. "You are right. It is something you should not forget."

"It is something I will never forget," she murmurs and begins to fade, wavering in the scant light.

Know that she is waking up. The ordeal will soon be over and you will no longer feel compelled to watch the drama unfold before you.

"Be sure you do not. I have your promise, then, that you will use the weapon I give you as it should be used." He watches her closely, unmoving, illuminated oddly by the warm blue light.

"I will use it as I should," she promises, her shadow becoming ever less substantial. "The plague will die only when its creator is dead. I will not miss his heart."

He shrugs. "No matter where you aim, it will be fatal. Even a scratch from a dragon's claw is deadly to one who is /uirisg/." He smiles slyly. "Be careful you are not cut yourself."

"It will not harm me," she replies, her voice fading with her form, "Humans may be cured with a simple spell."

She dwindles out of sight, but you remain behind. Caedan remains still, unmoving, bathed in suddenly frosty shadows. Now that she is gone, the light has lost its warmth.

Just before he disappears as well, he whispers, "Yes, but you are not human."

Then he vanishes.

The shadows grow, sucking all the color, all the life, and then there is only blackness.


***


The forest is quiet, still, as if it knows what is occurring. The fog hangs heavy as she darts between the trees. The /aillses/ are silent. No chatter swims in the cold blanket of air.

Her fingers clutch her pendant tightly and her knuckles are white with the strain. Her thoughts are focused solely on what she has done and what will happen when he finds out. Following Kennis' instructions, she has cast a spell denying Caedan the power to use the pendant. She knows he will not be pleased.

Stop again in the bushes when you reach the clearing. This time, you are here to see Kethry and not the fairies. Perhaps you wonder if they were a figment of your imagination.

Maybe they were.

She again kneels at the center, bringing out the pale amber stone. As if you are seeing it for the second time, her hand tightens slowly around it. Her other hand does not lose its grip on Kennis' pendant.

As she murmurs the words, the heavy fog gathers and thickens, taking on his shape. His cold eyes stare down at her bowed head.

A frisson of fear may shoot down your spine once again, but this time when he speaks, he smiles.

"I see you have made your choice."

"As we both know, I have no other choice to make," she responds, "and Kennis will not hear of sacrificing my people at her expense."

He steps back as though her words pain him. "Kennis knows naught of what she truly means to me."

"You have not shown it to her," she replies. "She knows only of the pain you have caused her."

He drops to the ground beside her, his hand stretching toward her. "Give her to me," he commands.

Although her grip cannot get any tighter, she squeezes like it can. "When you give me what I need."

She will not let him dictate how this exchange will go. His amber eyes cloud with anger and you may wonder if she has brought about her death with this statement. Danger flows in the air when she speaks to him like that.

He relaxes and stands, his eyes becoming clear. He knows now that she has dedicated herself to what must be done.

"Come, then," he says. "Follow me and you shall have it."

He extends one strong hand to her and she reaches for it. The amber stone falls forgotten in the grass. He murmurs a quiet incantation. They shimmer and then they disappear.

Around you, the forest remains quiet and undisturbed. The fog rests in heavy white clouds, trailing along the carpet of grass. No breeze, no sun, and no motion penetrate the mist. The forest seems to hold no life.

Then, like the gossamer wings of a firefly twinkling with light, they reappear. A large, obsidian claw rests in Kethry's hand and around Caedan's neck is the glittering crystal pendant.

"Use it well, milady," he warns, "for you will not get another."

"I will use it as I should," she repeats, promising for the second time. Tears glimmer in her eyes. Somehow through the fear and the distrust, Caedan and she have become friends.

He smiles softly, the coldness fading for just a moment. "I know you shall," he responds quietly, and leans to kiss her on the forehead. It is a gesture of goodwill and not affection, but do not mistake the display, for he means both. Kethry has earned his respect, despite his intolerance for the human race.

Keep in mind that she is not human and that he would not do the same for you.

She pulls back, hesitating, waiting to see what this will mean. His face does not change and she gets no reaction.

"Now is the time," he says, "before you lose your new-found courage."

She nods, then turns and runs back through the forest. Do not follow her; she goes where no mortal soul can tread.

He stays where she left him, watching after her and fingering the pendant at his neck. He knows what she has done. Kennis remains bound to the pendant. Her power is out of his reach.

He cares only that she is with him again.

The mist begins to dissipate and he begins to disappear with it. His eyes meet yours, but do not be alarmed. He has known you were with Kethry the entire time. He allowed it, just as he accepted the pendant knowing the restrictions she placed on it.

He acknowledges you coldly, then he, too, is gone. The fog lifts and sun shines through the forest once again.

Maybe you wonder where the /drĂ gon/ and the /uirisg/ have gone. Maybe you wonder if this is the end and if what happens now will be forever unknown. Maybe you believe that all of this is true.

Maybe you are right.


***

fin.