While the others slept, Fallon decided to enter the astral plane.
She sat before the fire, her legs crossed underneath her. She rested her hands on her knees, palms up. She held her head high, eyes closed as she slowly sucked in a deep breath. She released it, and then she was flying.
She shot out over the desert, searching for the pale, icy blue aura of the Interian queen. She found traces of the aura, trailing down Capital Road. As she neared Yin Ha Dan, the trail grew stronger and brighter. She hovered over the arena, staring in shock at the crisscrossing colors that decorated the sand. She followed the pale blue, floating down to the ground below. She passed through a barred door, then she was in a hall.
She continued to follow Shey’s path, arriving at another barred door leading into a barrack. Clear moonlight filtered in through the barred windows high above, shining brilliantly on the metal armor of the guards standing above. The moonlight turned the sandy training pit blue, and Fallon stared at the racks of weapons and pieces of armor. She shook her head, then followed the blue trail again, arriving at a cell on the left hand side.
Shey was curled up in the corner, her back pressed against the wall as she sobbed silently. Fallon’s heart broke at the sight, knowing that at the moment, there was nothing she could do to ease her pain.
Fallon knelt before the queen, resting a hand out to rest over Shey’s head. “Stay strong,” she murmured, her voice echoing against the vast expanse of the astral plane. “Whatever you do, keep fighting. Don’t lose hope. We’re coming.”
She stood and closed her eyes, allowing her thoughts to travel to the young Azkadian king. When she opened her eyes again, she was out on the Plainlands, just west of the Alebourne Mountains.
She had watched Kieran Brennan several times during his life. She watched him grow and struggle in Miren Diréthe, then she watched as he fought for survival while he and his dragon were running from Imperials. She had watched him as he finally fled to Earth, watched as he regained his strength. She was proud of him when he returned to Lostea, learned who his father was, and decided to step up and claim his birthright.
Kieran was camped out on the Plainlands, along with his newly appointed advisor, Alistair. They both sat before a small campfire, discussing future plans. A huge, ruby red dragon lay behind Kieran, and the king used his dragon’s leg as a backrest.
“When we arrive in Miren Diréthe, you’ll land directly at the castle,” Alistair was saying.
Kieran frowned. “What about you?” he asked.
Alistair smiled. “Isla is too big to land with you and Max. Don’t worry, I’ll be right behind you. Max will have to move away from the courtyard, because that is the only place large enough for her.”
Kieran nodded. “Very well,” he said.
“You still have the letter, I presume?” Alistair asked. Kieran grinned and nodded, patting his shirt.
“I always carry it with me,” he said.
“Good,” Alistair murmured. “Good… you’ll need it. Aside from us, there’s no one alive that knows the truth of your lineage. You’ll need the letter to convince Faerdan and Asher.”
Kieran nodded, his mind far away. Alistair frowned and said, “Where’s your head at?”
The king sighed. “Everywhere at once,” he said. “I’m worried about my… friend, to start with.”
“Ah…” Alistair took a drink from his nearby water canteen and said, “Your friend being the goddess Aren? Known to you as Ren?”
Kieran’s head snapped up, his dark eyes wide. “What?” he spluttered.
Alistair chuckled. “Come, now,” he said. “I know all about her now. When you came to me, I looked inside your mind.”
Kieran narrowed his eyes. “You were in my head?” he snarled.
“Only the surface,” Alistair assured. “You think about her often.”
A dark blush crept onto Kieran’s cheeks. He turned his face away, hoping to hide it from his advisor. Alistair chuckled again and said, “Don’t worry, her secret of being Aren is safe with me.”
Kieran nodded, and the two of them fell into a sleepy, comfortable silence. Deciding she had seen enough, Fallon thought of Asher. She was instantly transported to Brekka, home of the Katona Clan.
“Gods…” Fallon murmured when she saw the young prince. He was sitting on the steps outside of the chieftain’s lodge, and he looked like Death. His skin was pale, his face shadowed and gaunt. His ashy blonde hair was uncut and limp, hanging over his dull, hazel eyes. His clothes hung off his thin frame, showing how much weight he had lost.
“Asher? What are you doing out here?”
Asher and Fallon both looked at the door leading into the lodge. Gredir stepped outside, his steel gray hair mussed up from sleep. He was wearing his cloak, but when he saw Asher shivering on the steps, he pulled his cloak off his shoulders and wrapped it around Asher.
“Thank you,” Asher murmured, his teeth chattering. Gredir nodded once and sat beside him, allowing the prince to press his body against his for warmth.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Asher said after a while, answering Gredir’s question.
“So you decided to come out here where you could catch a cold and, possibly, your death?” Gredir chuckled, but there was no humor.
Asher shrugged. “I wanted to see the stars,” he said.
Gredir glanced up at the sky, a small smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “They are beautiful in Terathen,” Gredir murmured.
After several moments of peaceful silence, Gredir said, “I’m leaving in the morning.”
Asher jerked his head towards the Ranger, eyes wide. “Why?” he asked, his voice high in rising panic.
“I’ve completed my mission,” Gredir said. “I brought you safely to the Katonas. Now it’s up to you, and them, to get your magic under control before it kills you. With their shamans and training, you’ll be fine.”
Asher nodded, then stared up at the sky again. After a moment Gredir added, “Besides, I need to help rescue Shey. I’m sure Fallon will contact me soon to give me a location, and then I’ll meet them.”
“I understand,” Asher said.
As they continued to sit in a quiet, companionable silence, Fallon felt a tickle at the back of her head. “Fallon,” a voice whispered. She turned and followed, obeying the summoning call of the voice.
She appeared in a clearing, set in a heavily wooded part of the Hrothen Mountains. She glanced around, noting the beautiful wildflowers that dotted the clearing. The grass was knee-deep and a dark, gorgeous green. A babbling creek twisted through the clearing, giving the clearing a soft, magical effect.
Lupa’s Garden, Fallon thought. When she felt a presence creep up behind her, she turned and came face-to-face with the wolf goddess.
Lupa was huge! She was at least twice Lyssa’s size, with glowing, pure white fur. Her eyes were the same, icy blue color as Shey’s. The power and magic emanating from her was so great it almost brought Fallon to her knees.
She bowed her head in respect to the goddess, pressing a hand to her heart. Lupa hummed in approval and said, “Good evening, my daughter.” Her voice was soft and musical, like bells, and it sounded like it was inside Fallon’s head.
Fallon straightened. “Good evening, Mother,” she said. Lupa was more than just the goddess of Wolves—she was the mother goddess, and a patron of war. While the rest of Azkadia, Interis, and Tersen followed the goddess Aren, the Ferren followed the patronage of Lupa. She had created the Ferren, the perfect race to ride with the Wolf Folk.
Lupa yawned and gave Fallon a wolfish grin. “I’m sorry, but we must wait.”
“Wait for what?” Fallon asked.
They sat in the Garden for what felt like eternity. As she waited, Fallon couldn’t help but feel calm and peaceful. She knew it was Lupa who quelled her raging emotions, forcing peace. Fallon was grateful.
“You’re stressed,” Lupa stated.
Fallon nodded. “Yes,” she said.
“You’re also worried.”
“Yes,” Fallon repeated.
Lupa nodded once. Her large, proud chest stuck out in front of her, and her ears were pricked forward. “Do you trust that you will save the young queen?” she asked.
Fallon nodded. “I do,” she said. “But I still have doubts.”
Lupa growled softly. “Silence those thoughts,” she ordered. “A wolf doesn’t know fear or doubt. She knows the hunt, and she knows that she must eat, or she will perish.”
Fallon smiled. “Yes, Mother,” she said.
Soon, a figure appeared in front of them. Fallon scrambled to her feet, smiling when she saw the astral form of her twin brother, Fern.
He looked like her. He had the same fiery red hair, the same copper colored eyes. Where Fallon’s hair was wild and curly, though, Fern’s hair was straight and tame. She was slim and petite, and he was tall and broad-shouldered. As the future king of the Ferren, he certainly looked the part. And Fallon looked the part of the young, wild healer.
“Fallon!” Fern exclaimed, holding his arms out to his sides. Fallon laughed and ran forward, throwing her arms around her brother. He hugged her back fiercely, kissing the top of her head.
“We miss you, sister,” he said.
She pulled away, grinning. “And I miss you, brother,” she said. Then she frowned. “How goes it back home?”
Fern’s smile faded from his face. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “The Eranosi are growing bolder,” he said. “Their attacks are becoming more insistent, and they’ve almost broken through the first layers of protection.”
Fallon cursed. Fern tried to smile encouragingly as he said, “We’ll be fine, trust me. Right now, you should focus on rescuing Shey. How’s your journey faring?”
She shrugged. “It’s been hard, but it could be worse. She’s been sold to Yin Ha Dan, so it’s going to be a task retrieving her.”
Fern sighed. “That is difficult,” he said. Then he smiled. “But I have faith you will succeed.”
She smiled in return. Fern’s eyes moved from her face to look past her, and Fallon felt hot air on her neck. She turned, meeting Lupa’s gaze again.
“You must save her,” Lupa growled. “Shaelyn Argantha is strong, but her spirit will soon begin to fade, and Borryn will claim her as his own. You must rescue her before he has too strong of a hold on her and it is too late.”
Fallon nodded. “I will, Mother,” she said. “I promise.”
Lupa nodded. She blinked once, and the Garden started to fade away into darkness. Fallon closed her eyes and returned to the desert.