“Stop!” My voice echoed loudly through the seemingly vacant forest like a powerful crack of lightning.
Dristan froze, his sword only inches from the male wolf’s heart. The man’s emerald eyes, which had been bulging out of his skull in helpless terror, closed slowly, as if relieved. I noticed tears rolling down the cheeks of the silver haired female, who stared at me with some hidden emotion I could not place.
Dristan slowly turned his head toward me, confusion and shock dancing inside of his slitted irises.
“Brenya...?” His voice was hardly a whisper.
“You can’t do this. You can’t just kill them!” I said, stepping closer to him.
He bared his teeth at me. “I can, and I will.”
“You will not.” I threatened. I grabbed hold of the arm he was using to hold his sword, my slender hands wrapping around his massive bicep. I yanked with all my might and managed to pull him an inch backward. “I won’t let you!” I cried.
“What the hell has gotten into you?!” He hissed, yanking his arm free of my grasp. “They tried to kill you! They’re murderers!”
“And what are you if you kill them for it?! What are any of us if we continue slaughtering each other, just like the king is doing to our kind?!” I yelled, trying pathetically to wrestle the sword from his iron grasp.
His attempts to pull me off of him lessened, and he furrowed his brows at me. His nostrils flared in aggravation, but I got the sense that my words were having some sort of effect on him.
“Don’t you see?! He kills us, we kill each other, and guess who wins? He does! He’s laughing at us! This isn’t the way! This has to change!”
Dristan suddenly stopped fighting me altogether. He looked down into my wide, frantic eyes with hesitant contemplation. His lips thinned into a hard line as he studied my multi colored eyes.
“Please...” I whispered, staring up at him, still clinging to his arm. “We have to evolve. We have to make a change... You should know that better than anyone! Don’t continue to make the same mistakes our father’s did...”
His face crumbled as the last sentence left my lips. His tense body seemed to relax a fraction and he closed his eyes, sighing deeply through his nose. He dropped his gaze, studying my hand, which was still resting on his wrist.
Profound relief soared through my veins. I’d gotten through to him. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet... literally. I waited for him to look back up at me, my nails digging into his skin.
He lifted his gaze back to mine, his eyes full of unexpected softness. I stared at him in silence, waiting for him to say something...
I held my breath.
“You’re going to make one hell of a queen someday.” He said gently.
A breathy laugh fell from my trembling lips and he gave me a brief smile. “So you’ll let them live?”
His smile fell. “I... I cannot risk anyone following us and finding the Aviary. It’s all we have against the king, I can’t let a potential threat jeopardize that...”
I tightened my hold on his wrist. “You once told me that you wanted to work towards a better era. A unified era... So let them come. Let them join us. We all want the same thing, we all want the king dead. Let this make us stronger.”
“They can’t be trusted...” He said hesitantly, though I knew he was considering what I was suggesting.
“Then let them earn our trust.”
He studied me, his gaze intense and soul piercing. A soft breeze picked up and ruffled his tousled, dark hair around his curled horns and he tucked in his wings tightly.
“And how, pray tell, will they do that?” He murmured in a low voice.
I turned my head toward the frozen wolves. Both of them were staring at me intently, like eerie, haunted gargoyles. An idea began to take shape in my mind. A win-win situation, for all of us.
I looked back at Dristan. “How long can you keep them like that?”
“As long as I live and breathe.” He said, narrowing his eyes in speculation. “Why?”
I smiled. “We could blindfold them... Take them with us to the Aviary! We’ll show them what you’ve built, what we plan to do to take back our people’s lives. Well show them the alliance you’ve formed between the dragon and the Fae. Let them see for themselves and decide if they want to join us. And if they don’t, we dump them back here, to hide in the forest and live in fear of the king... and to live in shame for doing nothing to stop their own people’s suffering, which in my opinion, is a fate far worse than a swift death.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “And how are two wolves going to make a difference if they stay?”
I pursed my lips. “If we can convince them to join us, perhaps they can convince the rest of their people as well.”
He glanced at the wolves, then back at me.
“And after that, we could convince other races, too. This could be a step in the right direction! One race at a time, we can build our alliance and stand a true chance against the king.”
He pulled away from me and began to pace. “Its not a terrible idea, Brenya, but you have to weigh the cons. What if they agree to join, leave to gather others, and then betray us? They could potentially bring a significant number of gods know what upon us.”
I crossed my arms. “I seriously doubt that. You are one dragon and they practically pissed themselves at the thought of fighting you! Do you really think they’d rise up against an army of dragons and Fae?”
He grunted. “It’s possible....”
“I don’t think so. Unless they greatly outnumbered us, which is unlikely, it would be suicide for them to challenge us.” I scoffed at the absurdity of his paranoia.
“Hmm...” Was his vague response. He continued to pace and run his hands through his already wild hair. I waited silently for him to consider my proposal. I nervously chewed my nails as I watched his anxious pacing.
Finally he spoke again, stopping and staring at me warily. “If I agree to this... Will you stop with the foolish attempts to see your human father? Will you come to the Aviary?”
My throat bobbed. Could I agree to that? I wanted to see him... at least eventually. But if I waited, how would I know he was okay? What if I was too late?
“I-I don’t... I don’t know. I just want to know that he’s safe...”
His eyes softened. “I think I know what will help. I got something for you, in the market... I was going to surprise you before we left, but... I didn’t get the chance...”
My brows pulled together and I tilted my head. “What did you get?”
He walked to me, pulling something from his pant pocket. He extended his hand toward me, presenting me with a folded, white cloth.
I took it from him curiously and gave him a quizzical look. “What is it?”
“Open it.” He said.
I gently unfolded the cloth, one corner at a time, until a palm sized, square piece of glass emerged. I stared at it in confusion. I flipped it in my hand, not sure what it was. The other side was wooden. It was like a tiny mirror.
I looked back up at Dristan. “Um... Thanks, but... I don’t see how this helps.”
The corner of his lip twitched upward. “It’s a scrying mirror.” He said matter-o-factly.
“What’s that?” I asked, studying the small mirror more closely. I was unnerved to find that my reflection did not show in the surface of the glass. In fact, nothing did. No trees, no sky... It was just... blank.
“A scrying mirror is used to see other people or places far away from you. It allows you to see across time and space, for short amounts of time. It’s not much, but you’ll be able to see bits and pieces of what your father is doing at any time you wish.”
My eyes snapped back to his. “Really?”
He nodded, his eyes sparkling through the darkness like pools of liquid cerulean stone. “Really.”
My eyes stung with emotion, and I clutched the scrying mirror to my heart. “Thank you.” I whispered, a tear slipping out.
“Give it a try.” He encouraged, gesturing toward it.
“What do I do?” I asked, staring into the strange, blank surface of the glass.
“Just think of your father. Concentrate on his face in your minds eye.” He instructed.
Clutching the mirror like a lifeline, I closed my eyes and thought of my father. I imagined his short, greying hair and his deep, green eyes. I pictured his face, tanned and creased with age lines, and his deep, rumbling laughter. I imagined his smile, his two missing teeth, and his warm embrace around me whenever I was feeling down.
I slowly opened my eyes and gasped as I beheld the mirror. What had been a blank, silvery surface, was now a moving picture. I watched as my father worked on a small, wooden sculpture he was carving. His sharp tool moved expertly over the chuck of wood, which was beginning to take the shape of an owl. He was making trinkets, surly to sell in the village market.
He was in our hut, sitting in his old, torn armchair. There was a fire burning peacefully beneath the hearth. He looked... well. His face was full, and his body had not thinned out like I’d expected it to. Somehow, he had been getting by. I noticed an empty plate on the end table, next to his chair. He’d eaten.
A choked sob of relief came out of my mouth, and I clamped my hand over it. I smiled as I watched him work on the trinket, his face a stern mask of concentration, completely unaware that somewhere, somehow, I was watching him.
He was okay... He was okay!
I looked up at Dristan, letting my hand fall from my mouth. I felt my smile growing as he gazed fondly at me. His own, small smile lifted the corners of his mouth. I lurched forward and threw my arms around his neck, burying my face in his chest.
He rocked backward, stunned by my sudden display of affection, and then slowly wrapped his arms around my back.
“Thank you. Thank you...” I cried into his shirt, soaking it with salty tears. I felt a sudden warmth surround me, and it seemed to get darker. I peeked to the side. His wings had wrapped around me, caging me in and shielding me from the prying eyes of the frozen wolves.
“You’re welcome...” He breathed onto my hair.
“Why did you do this for me?” I asked, gazing up into his sapphire depths.
“Because I knew how much it would mean to you and... I want you to be happy.” He said.
I smiled up at him. “I am... Thank you. This will help keep my mind at ease. But, will you promise me something?”
His soft gaze hardened a bit, wariness creeping across his face. “That depends...”
“Promise me that if he is ever in trouble, if he needs me... We will go to him. If you promise me that... Then I’ll go to the Aviary with you, right away.”
He sighed heavily, studying my eyes in turn. “Okay... I promise.”
I felt my face light up and I laid my head against his chest. His pine needle scent filled my nose and clouded my thoughts. I could have happily stayed there all night, wrapped in his strength and warmth, shielded from the vile, carnivorous world by his massive wings.
But after a few moments, he cleared his throat and loosened his hold on me, and reality had me crashing back to earth like a falling star.
“Oh, er, s-sorry...” I stuttered, releasing him. Warmth spread across my cheeks and I couldn’t meet his eyes, embarrassed by my intimate behavior.
His wings uncurled from around me and cold night air nipped at my skin. I shivered.
He cleared his throat a second time, obviously uncomfortable with our closeness. “We should go.” He said in a voice void of emotion, stepping further away from me.
His sudden lack of softness left me feeling even colder than the chilly, night air had. I turned toward the wolves, avoiding his eyes.
“I want to speak with them before we leave. Are you able to unfreeze them from the neck up?” I asked.
We walked toward them and I readied myself for their unpredictable reactions. Dristan waved a hand toward their faces. Their bodies remained as still as death, but their faces came to life.
The male gasped in a significant lungful of air, and whipped his head around, toward the female. She immediately dropped her eyes to the ground, squeezing them shut, and began to sob. Huge, gut wrenching, sorrowful sobs that made me wince.
“Sylvie! look at me!” The male gasped, tears suddenly springing to his own eyes at the sight of her meltdown. She didn’t respond, she only began to cry harder.
“Sylvie!” He pleaded. But she continued to sob, as her eyes trailed to Kale’s limp body behind us. As her eyes fell upon him, she screamed out a piercing howl, and shook her head back and fourth uselessly.
“He’s dead, he’s... he’s really dead!” Sylvie cried, begging to hyperventilate.
I glanced sidelong at Dristan and found him watching her with a blank expression. Guilt and terrible sadness exploded inside of my chest as I turned back to the wolf and watched her mournful crying continue.
“Sister please, look at me!” The male begged, staring at the side of her face in heartbreaking desperation.
She slowly turned her head toward him, as if it took every ounce of effort in her tiny body. She locked eyes with him and her cries seemed to slow down.
“I am right here with you, sister. I will always be right here with you.” He said to her softly.
She gazed at him, silent tears still streaming down her face, and she nodded. Then she slowly slid her eyes to mine. I stared back, pulling on a mask of calm, as she stared into me.
“Because of her.” She whispered, her wet eyes widening in awe as she studied me. I blinked at her. “You’re still here because of her, Marrok...”
He glanced at me, but then back at his sister, worry still painted across his handsome face. I tried to smile at her, but it was too weak to matter much. Still, she smiled back softly.
“You saved my brother’s life.... And mine. Thank you.” She said, admiration lacing her tone.
I wasn’t expecting gratitude. I thought she would curse me, call me every swear word in the book. But she didn’t. I hadn’t the slightest clue what to say, so I just stared at her. Perhaps there was hope after all... Perhaps this could work.
But then, she snapped her head toward Dristan.
“And you.” She whispered, her eyes glazing over with sorrow and despair once more.
“.... You killed Kale.... You killed my mate...”