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The Tale of Fen'Sulahn

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There are three spirits born of Mythal and Elgar’nan.

Twin spirits are rare, but three intertwined and connected are something even Mythal is unsure of; Purpose, Longing, and Determination. Powerful and inquisitive and already becoming something more than themselves.

Purpose and Longing, Mythal thinks, can be molded to her outlook.

Determination holds sway over the other two, a mediator; steady and strong and forthright. It could prove dangerous, in time. But already the three remind her of herself and Elgar’nan, and she is unsure what could happen to Longing and Purpose if Determination is shattered. In the end she cannot destroy it, and the three take on bodies.

Purpose becomes Falon’Din. Longing becomes Dirthamen. And Determination, the eldest, becomes Fen’Sulahn.

It is the name her mother gives her, but she chooses her own as well. Olwyn, she decides, because it is pretty, and her brothers speak it and it feels like her own. 

She learns how it feels to walk on two legs, and to press her fingers against skin and feel warmth, and hold them to the chill night air and feel the opposite.

She sings, and likes the sound of her voice, and Mythal smiles “the name was fitting” and when she cups her hands and howls, loud and long over the canyon and the sound echoes back like a war cry, Elgar’nan nods in agreement.

Fire she enjoys; twisting it, turning it into new and fantastic shapes, making it bright and hot and terrifying and warm and soft and comforting as she wills. 

She leaves white footprints for Dirthamen to follow, to lead him out of the Dreaming when he stays for too long, to remind him that his body is here now. 

And when Falon’Din snarls she bears her own fangs to remind him that he cannot do as he pleases, and also to sing him to sleep when he seems driven to madness with his need to be.

Falon’Din does not take to his body well.

Dirthamen is still more spirit than elf, sometimes; his body stretched and pulled and oozing between cracks in the Dreaming, tethered together by thin lines that keep him whole but not always present. Longing does relatively well, in becoming more than itself, because its nature allows for it.

Purpose needs to be driven; an end goal, something to attain. Something solid and real and finite. Falon’din hunts for one, but when he completes all the small tasks that Olwyn and Dirthamen provide for him, or that their mother suggests, he becomes empty, and brittle, and dark.

He is more eager to leap onto the battlefields their parents lead them toward, to rip and rend and destroy, because he is empty and needs to be filled, and Olwyn and Dirthamen worry what will happen if they cannot find a solution; what he may corrupt into if given the chance.

Longing pulls, and Purpose pushes, but Determination remains grounded.

Olwyn agrees with Dirthamen that Falon’Din needs a purpose that cannot be easily obtained. But it must not be something that can twist easily to some other end, she knows. She loves her parents, but has never doubted that Mythal chose them for a reason and that she wishes to make certain they fulfill it.

Olwyn knows she must come up with a solution. The three came to exist at the same moment, and the tie between them is strong. She stands in the middle ground between two sides, not part of the spectrum but a force than can move within it. And she is the eldest, and the most stubborn. She will not give up, and she will not take an easy route.

Her mother and father tell her that they are to be the great leaders of the People, and it is their job to protect and guide them, even if not all the People understand this. Olwyn is determined to do well in that regard. And Falon’Din is one of the People, even if he is also one of its leaders.

Greatness? Dirthamen suggests.

No. Greatness can mean too many things. Great does not mean good, and Olwyn thinks that being good will be important, further down the line. They may be at war but that does not mean they must be cruel. Falon’Din’s personality is already hard, and more prone to anger than not—he is similar to their father in that regard. And he is vain enough, without them leading him to believe he must be the greatest there is or will be.

She does not know if she can give him a proper purpose, but she knows she will never give up trying.

 

Chapter Text

Andruil is small, and brave, and adventurous. Always looking for something new, taking in everything with her sharp, golden eyes. She tugs on Olwyn’s curls, and grabs for the straps on her armor, and comes to her when she trips and falls and skins her knees and needs a sympathetic ear without Mythal’s coddling.

Olwyn lets her ride on her back, and throws her into the air, and marvels at the delighted laughter that bubbles forth. She changes her shape, and let’s Andruil hold on tight. Sometimes she is a dragon in the skies, but most often she is a wolf, running through the forests, aware of Andruil clinging with tiny fistfuls of fur and whooping as the trees fly by.

Mythal scolds, and frets, and Elgar’nan roars at her for being ‘unsafe’ and on one occasion she leaves the argument with a broken jaw and a burn across her face.

As she sits at the center of their camp, and heals herself while Falon’Din glowers at the wound and Dirthamen remains silent, but sits a little closer, Andruil peeks out from behind one of the tents. Olwyn meets her gaze over the fire and beckons her forward.

Andruil moves warily around Falon’Din, and shoots Dirthamen a dubious glance, before climbing into Olwyn’s lap and tugging on her hair, more out of habit than anything else. “Does it hurt?” She asks, as she glances at the new, flushed skin of Olwyn’s cheek. She seems oddly fascinated with the marks left behind, and seems almost disappointed when they fade before her eyes.

“Not anymore,” Olwyn holds her close.

Andruil fidgets, and so Olwyn lets go, and Andruil looks up at her with a worried frown, “We’ll do it again, right? I want to do it again.”

“Selfish brat,” Falon’Din mutters, but Olwyn ignores him. She does not think he, of all people, should be commenting on selfishness. Olwyn smiles, “We will do it again, I promise.”

“Good,” Andruil nods. “Next time, you should become a big hawk.”

“I will try,” Olwyn agrees.

Sylaise takes longer to get rid of her baby fat than Andruil does. She is round and warm and bright, a mop of golden curls and an inquisitive gaze. She is drawn to pretty things, to glittery objects and colorful trinkets. 

Olwyn collects them for her when she goes out to scout, or to the battlefield. She brings her round river stones, and pointed crystals, and rings of gold and silver.

She brings back good things from bad places, because she likes to think that there was something of worth in her actions, even when she despairs at the corpses strewn across fields like the scattered beads of a broken bracelet.

Olwyn does not run through the forests with Sylaise on her back, but she sits with her in the stone halls of their parents’ first stronghold, and lets Sylaise try on her silks and braid her hair.

“Fen’su!” Sylaise calls, and reprimands, and scoffs throughout the years, as she takes on an image for herself and a bearing similar to their mother.

Olwyn watches Sylaise struggle, and tries to help.

“You don’t need to be like mother to be loved,” She offers, one night, as the two stare out over the encampment. “I love you. That’s why I let you pick out dresses for me even though your fashion sense is horrible.”

“I am not trying to be mother,” Sylaise scowls. “And I have a much better eye than you do! Everything I pick out for you is perfect.”

“Green looks terrible on me.”

“We just need to find the right shade,” Sylaise waves her off, “Besides, it would be easier if you’d just change your appearance to fit the colors I give you.”

“I like the way I look now,” Olwyn shrugs, “I don’t want to forget it, just so I can match something else.”

The silence stretches, before Sylaise whispers, oddly vulnerable, “I don’t.”

Olwyn pretends not to hear it, just like Sylaise wants, but she leans over to press her arm against Sylaise’, and hums a tune she used to sing to her when she was a child, and they both stare off into the darkness.

June comes to them with grief in his eyes and a gaping wound where his heart once was. He is tired, but resolved, as he comes to their main camp and Mythal lauds him with praise. Her mother sympathizes with his loss, but questions him on how it came to be, like a healer digging through an open wound to find the source of the bleeding.

Except Olwyn is not certain her mother is trying to heal June so much as decide whether or not to end his misery.

He is not one of them, Olwyn knows, not a member of the family, but Olwyn wants to help him.

She remembers the words Falon’Din had sneered at her once, during an argument. “You can’t fix everything, you idiot. Leave the broken things behind and get news ones. Something that breaks isn’t good enough to be fixed.”

She knows that not everything can be fixed. But she doesn’t think that means she should give up, or stop trying. Broken things deserve healing. If one doesn’t put forth an effort, then the end results will never be as good as they could be.

But it isn’t her that heals him, in the end. It is Sylaise, and Olwyn watches them and worries that instead of healing the two are picking at each others wounds and keeping them open and festering simply to have company in their misery.

They feed off each others’ uncertainties, but bolster others, and Olwyn does not know if she has a right to intervene on either’s behalf.

June does not want her comfort, or her words of caution.

Instead she sits with Haninan in muted silence, and looks at his grief and wonders, somehow, if she and her parents are responsible for it.

Ghilan’nain is always looking to the future.

It is what intrigues Olwyn first, when Andruil introduces the former spirit of Inquiry. Someone who is looking to better the People, and try new things that no one has thought of before. Olwyn likes it.

It takes a while, for her to realize that Ghilan’nain is looking to better herself, not the People. Cold, and practical, and inevitable, Ghilan’nain would say. She is not being cruel to be cruel, but because the outcome is more important than the lives lost along the way.

That is selfish, in its own way.

They talk about it often, because Olwyn likes Ghilan’nain despite this, and Ghilan’nain laments Olwyn’s inability to see the bigger picture, and Olwyn suggests alternative routes and hopes they lead to less death.

She likes Ghilan’nain, she truly does. She gets along with her far more than she does June. June wallows, but Ghilan’nain looks forward. It is something Olwyn can respect.

And she will never forget, the first time she came to Ghilan’nain’s workshop with a handful of shattered spirits, fading quickly, vulnerable and small, and asked for her help.

“They are not enough of themselves to give bodies.” Ghilan’nain decides, looking one over. “There is not enough of each of them to make a coherent subject, if I placed them in a vessel, and they are too distinct to be fused together to form a sentience. We had best use them for fuel.”

“No!” Olwyn snatches the spirit shard back and holds it protectively to her chest with the rest, “There is still enough of them here to save. They are not gone yet. They would feel pain, if you used them.”

Ghilan’nain sighs, and folds her arms, and thinks for a while. “…I may be able to do something.”

In the end, she places the shards into beasts, similar to the shape Olwyn has been known to take on the battlefield. The shards find a home, and make the creatures smarter, and stronger, but they are not whole enough to force the minds of the creature out. 

Only a few shards take the first time, Ghilan’nain tells her. It is a new type of magic, and Ghilan’nain was not certain it would work at all, but one of the hounds survives, carrying the shard of a shattered spirit of courage.

But Ghilan’nain knows how the process works now, and so when Olwyn finds shards that are too small to be taken back to the Dreaming to grow, she gives them to Ghilan’nain, and Fen’Sulahn’s wolfpack grows.

Dirthamen likes to help, in his own quiet, curious way.

When she sits with him, she has time to think. She lets her mind travel the paths his take, and while she does not believe anyone can travel them as well as he does, she often finds the answers she’s looking for.

That is not always the case, though.

She does not know what to do with herself, when the fights are over. She does not know what it was all for, deep down. Does not know if it was worth it. Does not know what drove the Keepers mad, or what Mythal has planned for their future now.

“I will find out,” Dirthamen promises, like she had promised him that she would find a purpose for their brother. And Dirthamen disappears, for a long while, and when he returns he comes not with answers, but Deceit and Fear trailing behind him like shadows.

Falon’Din scolds him for being gone for so long. He yells, and calls Dirthamen selfish for leaving where they could not follow. He always seems to include Olwyn when he wishes to make Dirthamen feel guilty, and Olwyn promptly informs him that the situation at hand is not about him.

He doesn’t not like it, when he is not the one who is the center. But Olwyn checks Dirthamen over, looks for any cracks or cuts she needs to heal but finds none. There are…odd places she can feel, in his mind. Like holes have been sealed up with something else, and that something else feels familiar as well, though she can’t quiet place it.

Falon’Din continues to fuss, worried in his own way, while Olwyn wonders what those holes could mean, and why Dirthamen felt a need to split himself. She lets Fear settle in her arms, and preens his feathers with her fingers, and searches for answers.

She sends Falon’Din away, and he storms off once he has decided they are both well.

When they are alone, she speaks again. Well, not alone. She continues to pet Fear. Dirthamen will never be alone again, but he will also never be whole. That is what worries her the most. Parts of him are missing, and parts of him are outside himself. He is still Dirthamen, but he is…more. In a similar way to how he was once Longing, and became more than Longing to be Dirthamen.

“Did you find it?” She murmurs.

“I believe so.” Dirthamen replies, and does not elaborate. Falon’Din and the others get impatient, when he is like this. But the person at fault is the one asking the question. Dirthamen always answers as best he can.

Dirthamen’s never felt the need to do more than answer a question, because if someone wants to know more, they will ask. It is not a difficult concept to grasp.

Sometimes conversations take longer, but it always makes Olwyn think about the words she uses, and how important it is to find the right ones. There are never any lies or hidden truths when she speaks with Dirthamen. Just questions and answers and thoughtful pauses.

“What was it?”

“I do not remember.” He does not seem troubled by the revelation, only curious as to its cause. She suspects that he will sit there all night, thinking over her words, and tracing back his steps, and finding the answer and storing it away into a pocket of his mind where he thinks it belongs.

He forgets, sometimes, to share those thoughts with others. But once again, all it takes is the right question. “If you do remember, will you tell me?”

“Yes.”

“Will you tell me as soon as you remember?” Once she had asked him something similar, and forgot the second part, and had to wait three decades before he told her. Dirthamen nods again and Olwyn smiles and reaches out to touch the edge of his hood.

“I am glad you’re ok.”

“I am as well,” Dirthamen agrees.

Falon’Din fears many things, but hides it well. Makes himself look larger, and darker, and more dangerous to hide that he is terrified of being useless and unneeded.

“You are taking too long!” Falon’Din roars, and his hands are around her neck and there is desperation in his eyes. “I need it now! I will have it!”

Olwyn snarls back, and pins him to the ground, “I am not your servant, to order around as you wish!”

Dirthamen tries to get between them, to deescalate the situation like always, but both Olwyn and Falon’Din shove him back. The air around them goes hot and bright, as her flames battle with his own, and she sees Dirthamen through the maelstrom trying to force his way inside.

Falon’Din digs talon-like claws into her skin, and Olwyn’s teeth lengthen in response, and she bares her fangs and slams him back down against the dirt.

She tastes blood in the back of her throat, and tears burn in her eyes.

Sometimes, Falon’Din seems less a person and more a spirit on the edge of corrupting, volatile and cruel. It is her fault, she knows. Her fault that she and Dirthamen have struggled with a purpose for him to claim. That it took so long, and that even now, it causes him grief because he cannot fully attain it how he wishes, or as quickly as he desires.

She loosens her own grip on him, and grabs his hands away from her throat, and sighs. “The People need you, brother, and so do we. Please. You are not helping anyone this way.”

She would rather he vent his frustrations on her than others, because she will fight back. Dirthamen takes in cruel words and internalizes them, believes them, but even if they hurt her Olwyn has learned quickly to shrug them off.

“I will stay here, sitting on you, until you come to your senses,” Olwyn warns. She sees the hate in Falon’Din’s eyes, and the pain, and she knows where the hate is really directed, and knows it is not herself. Falon’Din is far too connected to her and Dirthamen for that, even if he would like to believe otherwise sometimes.

And he is not always this way, though she fears that it is becoming more and more common as the years stretch.

He was always boastful, and vain, and selfish, but he used to walk with her through the fields and hand her a flower for her hair like an afterthought, or play the accompanying instrument when she sang, or duel with her until they were both sweaty and bruised and all their anger and frustration had leaked out into the air to be swept away with the next errant breeze.

He is her brother, and he can become good. He can. She just needs to push him in the proper direction. Just needs to remind him that his purpose is to protect the People, like she must remind Dirthamen not to stay in the Dreaming for too long.

Her brothers are lost, each in their own ways, and she worries that one day she will not be able to guide them back, no matter how determined she is to do so.

She leans forward and presses her forehead to his, “Please.”

Elgar’nan is a great leader to the People. He brings order, and structure, and law to the lawless. He makes peace and his followers keep it.

He tells Olwyn of justice, and explains the need for it, and corrects her when she makes mistakes. He teachers her how to master fire, and listens to her when she sings, and commends her on her skills on the battlefield.

She knows that he does not love her and Dirthamen and Falon’Din like he loves Sylaise and Andruil. She has known that since the beginning, since she took a body and Mythal claimed them all as her children and showered them with affection and Elgar’nan remained distant and uncertain.

“Spirits born of one another are not children,” he had claimed once, when he thought she could not hear.

She remembers the way he looked at Andruil when she drew her first breath, healthy and strong, and had held her like she was the most delicate and precious of treasures.

“We were never small,” Dirthamen observes.

“He will get tired of her once she’s grown,” Falon’Din mutters, and Olwyn sees it for the awkward attempt at comfort that it is, even if it is misled.

And it seems like the truth. As time goes on, and Andruil becomes too big to hold, Elgar’nan’s affection shows itself less and less. It is still there, and Olwyn knows that no matter what, he would choose his two youngest daughters over the three of them without a second thought.

“Your father loves you all,” Mythal tells her, when she asks.

She has never doubted that he did.

Only that he loves her far less than he should.

Elgar’nan is a great leader of the People.

But sometimes she thinks he might be a bad person.

Mythal knows everything.

That is why Olwyn asks her so many questions, even when her mother seems like she does not wish to always answer them. If Olwyn is going to be a good Leader of the People she needs to know more than she does.

Like why they place brands on the faces of those that follow them.

“We mark their faces so we know which of the People are under our protection,” Mythal replies without hesitation, as they walk through the campsite.

“Shouldn’t they all be?” Olwyn asks, confused. “We are Leaders of the People, and they are all People, so all of them should be protected.”

Mythal hums, a thoughtful sound of soft disapproval, that lets Olwyn know that she has said something foolish. “Not all of them want our protection. They want to hurt others, who just want to be safe. They are not kind, like you.” Mythal turns, and presses a hand to her cheek. “You must become harder, Fen’Sulahn. It is your duty, as the eldest, to set an example.”

Olwyn tries.

When all the wars are done, and the dust settles over the last battlefield, Olwyn looks out at all the destruction…and she thinks that maybe they’ve already failed.

Leaders of the People should not kill them.

When they begin to build their cities, she places down her spear—always within reach—and begins to heal; healing people, healing relations, healing the scorched earth beneath them. One day, she thinks, it will all be better, like Mythal says. She will make sure of it.

But as she heals she looks at her hands, and they are still covered in as much blood as before.

The lives she saves do not balance out the ones she’s taken. There is no scale big enough for such things, and the People are more than numbers in a ledger, to be added and subtracted and balanced.

It is Mythal who tells her, then, when her heart is heavy and she cannot decide what direction she should go in from here.

“The Healer has the bloodiest hands.”

Chapter Text

Adahlan’s healers are well known and sought after, even among the followers of the other evanuris. There are several within Olwyn’s Arlathan estates, if any of her siblings or their partners need such a healing.

So it is no surprise that her mother asks for a consultation in regards to the condition of one of her followers who expecting, and unfortunately the mother is too heavy with child to be moved to Adahlan.

Because the case involves a child, the urgency is high, so Olwyn sends Sympathy at her mother’s behest. Sympathy tells her of the mother and babe, and the complications that seem to have arisen.

Mythal’s healers believe the problem lies with the mother’s body. Built incorrectly, they say, unable to provide a proper environment for the child to fully develop. 

Misshapen, and unlikely to live.

Sympathy is more optimistic in his prognosis.

The child just needs a bit more help than others, he says. A little extra to move it along, and aid in the growth of its body. To strengthen its lungs and heart first and foremost, so that it can survive outside of its mother.

Mythal’s healers worry that excessive magic will hinder the child’s future development.

Sympathy simply wishes to give the child a future, and Olwyn speaks with her mother on the subject. 

Sympathy is allowed to work as he sees fit, and a few weeks before the child is to be born, Olwyn ventures to her mother’s estate herself, in case she can be of service. Sympathy delivers the child, however, as they fear that Olwyn’s presence may provide undue stress on mother and child alike.

The birth is long, and painful, and they nearly lose the child and mother both.

It is a son, whisked away by Sympathy to be poured over with as much magic as is deemed safe, into the deep recesses of Mythal’s healing ward, Compassion trailing behind him. Olwyn and her mother are near, when the child is born, but the ward is eerily silent. No cries of a newborn, no relieved laughter.

It is like a tomb.

Until a shrill squall pierces the silence, and the tightness in Olwyn’s chest eases.

This child will live, she thinks. This one will live.

Sympathy comes to report to her hours later, weary and nearly asleep on his feet. He bows to her and her mother both, graceful despite his fatigue. “Both the mother and child are as well as can be. The next few days will determine how well the magic takes hold.”

A few days pass, and turn into a week, and as Olwyn nears the end of her stay, she ventures to the healing ward to see mother and babe for herself.

Mirena is beautiful, and despite her obvious weariness, her hair has not lost its luster, or her visage its glow. She sits up, startled, as Olwyn enters. “Please, rest,” Olwyn reassures her. “You are healing, yet. I did not wish to trouble you. Are you well?”

“Y-yes, My Lady Fen’Sulahn,” Mirena nods. “I cannot thank you enough, for allowing your Sympathy to help my son.”

Olwyn smiles, “May I see him?”

Mirena hesitates, tired smile fading ever so slightly, as her eyes dart to the cradle near the bed. “Of course, My Lady. But his healings are not complete, and I fear—”

His eyes are the first thing Olwyn notices, bright and wide and curious; then his smile, as she reaches inside and gentle lifts him into her arms. “Hello little one,” She coos. Her own magic flits along the surface of his skin, checking the spellwork upon him, before deciding it is sound and does not need her attention. Mythal’s own healers should be able to sufficiently finish what Sympathy has started.

Olwyn notices the look on Mirena’s face, the alarm that fades quickly, as the air around her crackles and then settles as she pulls her emotions inside. They are replaced with a quiet calm, as Olwyn hums a few lines of a lullaby she used to sing to Andruil and Sylaise.

The boy gurgles, and lets out a soft burp. Olwyn laughs, delighted, and shifts him so he can spit up properly. Mirena’s horrified expression returns, as her son spits up onto Olwyn’s gown. But Olwyn merely pats his back and continues to hum.

When Sylaise was this young, she was fussy, always crying, grabbing fistfuls of hair, never settling comfortably until she had been sung to sleep. Olwyn places him back in the crib a few minutes later, brushing her fingers along his cheek.

“He is determined to keep fighting,” Olwyn muses, looking down at the child, “Your son is beautiful and strong, Mirena. What is his name?”

“…Thenvunin,” She answers softly.

“Thenvunin,” Olwyn repeats, with a smile. “I will remember you, Thenvunin. I cannot wait to see the great and wondrous things you will do for the People.”

Chapter Text

Half a century after Olwyn has gained a body, Mythal holds a summit. They are to be peace talks, she claims, a way for the Keepers of nearby clans to come and join them to speak of their concerns, and to discuss how best to lead the People as tension and war loom on the horizon.

Vhallasa is the Keeper of one such clan. He is quick to smile and laugh, and his clan follows his example. They are open, and bright, and cheerful; Olwyn is taken by them quickly. They feel free in a way that Olwyn had not known she was missing before.

It reminds her of when she was a simply Determination, moving through the Dreaming, Longing trailing to her left and Purpose to her right, seeking and finding and being connected in all things.

He is handsome, as well; skin the color of red clay, glittering with scales of turquoise and gold and fascia when the sun hits them, and eyes like a storm at sea.

His clan settles on the western outskirts of Mythal and Elgar’nan’s encampments, and the two other Keepers and their clans position themselves likewise, wary.

It is odd, to have so many Keepers in one place, Olwyn knows. She can feel the tension in the air. The distrust, and worry, over whether or not Mythal’s invitation is a trap.

Vhallasa asks her if it is, one night, as they settle in the branches of a large tree near the edge of camp.

“A trap? Why would my mother wish to trap anyone?” Olwyn asks with a laugh, “There has been enough war. My mother and father wish to ensure all the People come together and live safely.”

“Beneath their rule?” Vhallasa questions, looking at the sky rather than her.

Olwyn frowns, “My mother and father wish for the People to be led by those best suited to the task. That is why they have asked you here, to decide and appoint more leaders.”

He turns then, and she sees in his eyes something older than her mother and father, old and tired but hopeful. “And who decides the criteria for those best suited to the task?”

“My parents are wise,” Olwyn insists, “And they heed advice when it is given.” She pauses, “My mother does, at the very least, and she will explain it to father. She is a compassionate leader, Vhallasa, not a tyrant. The tyrants are out there,” She waves her hand toward the shadowed outlines of mountains in the distance. “Those who want to divide the People, and do not care for their well-being.”

“I would like to believe you,” Vhallasa admits.

The talks continue, and so do Olwyn and Vhallasa’s walks. She sings to him, and to the moon, and he weaves pictures from words, of the world before she came to be in the Dreaming, whispers of others who held a name like her own, when it was more than that.

She wonders if she is like the other wolf, and if it minds that she has borrowed its name. It is alright, she murmurs to the shadows of the forest, my name is Olwyn, and Fen’Sulahn, and my mother tells me you are a story to learn from, and so I shall, even if Vhallasa believes you are real.

Vhallasa is honest, and Olwyn has never claimed subtlety, and so it does not take them long to lengthen their nightly walks and slip away to exchange more than words and songs and stories.

“Have you done this before?” Olwyn asks, breathless, the night air cool on her bare skin.

There is laughter dancing in his eyes as he leans forward to kiss her again, “A few times,” he admits against her lips. He tastes like the blackberries they had picked from the bushes on the hill, sweet and heavy.

Olwyn laughs, “Then show me.”

This, she thinks, as Vhallasa’s lips trail along her neck. This is one of the true wonders of a body. Like lightning beneath her skin, coursing through her veins, making her heartbeat quicken. She can feel his own heartbeat beneath her palm as she straddles him, knees digging into rain-soaked earth and sweet-smelling grass.

“You are beautiful,” He whispers.

She watches moonlight reflect off scales, glittering constellations on his skin that she traces with her fingers and lips, memorizing the taste of him, as he calls out her name—Olwyn, not Fen’Sulahn, a secret she has never shared with anyone but her brothers before this, but hearing it from his lips sounds like home.

Olwyn laughs again, giddy and breathless, body thrumming, as she rolls over onto the grass beside him.

“Next time, perhaps, we should find a place with less…mud.” Vhallasa muses good-naturedly, picking a blade of grass off of Olwyn’s thigh.

“There is a spring hidden a few miles into that grove,” Olwyn suggests.

“You were gone for a long while,” Falon’Din comments, eyes narrowed, when she appears at the fireside hours later. “What were you doing?”

“Enjoying myself.” Olwyn replies cheerfully, pulling a few wayward twigs from her damp hair, “You should try it some time, little brother.”

Falon’Din grunts, and turns to Dirthamen, “Do you understand what she is saying?”

“I have obtained adequate knowledge of the act,” Dirthamen nods, and Olwyn snorts.

Falon’Din does not like him. Falon’Din does not like anyone, she thinks, so much as he likes himself, and has never enjoyed the thought of someone taking her or Dirthamen’s attention from him. He scoffs when she leaves for her nightly walks, and Dirthamen watches with an impassive gaze, eyes following her into the dark.

She is not worried about such things, though. She worries about very little, armies and battlefields far from her mind as she listens to the Keepers and her parents speak, and knows that good will come of this. Even if her father yells sometimes, and demands, because her mother is there to temper him, and speak reason when he is at his most emotional.

Her father has very strong ideals, and it is hard, sometimes, for him to see how others see the world. But her mother is wise, and considerate, and compassionate. Her mother knows everything.

“I am glad that you and father have called this summit,” Olwyn tells her mother one evening. “There are so many voices to be heard, and so many of the People gathered together, and not for war!” She looks out over the colorful tents again. “It is a good thing, that we are speaking with one another.”

“We shall see how the talks proceed. It is good that you have a positive mindset, but you should always prepare for other possibilities, Fen’Sulahn.”

Olwyn laughs. “I know. I am just glad. Vhallasa will make a great Leader of the People someday.”

There is a long pause, and as the silence stretches, Olwyn turns to see her mother watching her with an unreadable expression.

Vhallasa is protective of his clan, and they are well guarded when he is away at the talks in her parent’s encampment, but one evening he invites Olwyn to eat with them. And so she goes, curious and a little worried that they will not like her.

And they are curious and a little worried in turn, but she recognizes a few who often walk with Vhallasa through camp, and they wave, and speak with her, and the others come forward as the night progresses.

“Have you seen a baby before?” Vhallasa asks, after their meal, and songs, as the fires burn low.

“Not many,” Olwyn admits. “Our People have not had much time for such things.”

Vhallasa smiles like he has a secret, and takes her hand and leads her toward an aravel, “Come here.”

The aravel smells like lemongrass and sandalwood, and in the far corner an elf hums and embroiders a length of cloth, propped against a mountain of cushions. She looks up as they enter, and as they draw nearer, one of the cushions moves.

It isn’t a cushion at all, but a young child, round-faced and clutching a doll in the shape of a cat. “This is Senowen, and her daughter Vhalen.”

“Vhalen,” Olwyn repeats, crouching down. “She is so small.” Senowen laughs, and Vhalen toddles to her feet, and makes a few unsteady steps toward her mother. 

Olwyn watches, wide eyed and delighted. Her mother and father had spoken of having another child, once the talks come to an end.

She wonders if her new sibling will be able to play with Vhalen.

“Children are wonderful,” Olwyn decides.

Vhallasa grins, “I think so too. I would like my own someday.”

Olwyn smiles shyly. “Me too.”

The next time she sees Vhallasa, his fangs are bloodied, and the bodies of his clan lie around him, like the remnants of a child’s tantrum.

She kills him herself.

His blood burns as it runs down her arms, and the metal of her spear shrieks in the heat, but she keeps her eyes trained on his own, searching for any semblance of the person she had begun to love behind them.

There is none.

Only a rumbling growl, as he opens his mouth, jaws reaching for her, claws scrabbling in his death throes, to take one last life with him. Olwyn twists her spear deep, sobbing. She does not look away from those eyes, not once, until the life fades from them completely.

She watches for a long while after, still, until Falon’Din pulls her away from Vhallasa’s corpse, angrily shouting for a healer, and Dirthamen presses cool hands against burning skin.

“It was not meant to be,” Her mother comforts, after. “The other clans saw what our alliance could mean, and they have wrenched such an opportunity from us by sick and twisted means.”

“Why would they do such a thing?” Olwyn cries, as others comb the trampled structures of Vhallasa’s camp, searching for any survivors. There will be none, Olwyn knows, but she hopes she is proven incorrect.

She remembers the wailing, when the body of little Vhalen was found beneath a tentpole, her voice joining in the chorus.

The Keeper Lanathra had gone mad as well, taken down by her father and mother, while the last Keeper fled into the night with her clan amidst the chaos. The likeliest of suspects, Olwyn knows, even though all images she can conjure of her involve soft smiles and kind eyes. A lie.

“They saw it as a threat.”

“The clans cannot guide themselves,” Olwyn scrubs the tears from her cheeks angrily, “Not if this is what they wish to accomplish. All they want is power. The Keepers do not want peace at all.”

“That is why the People need us,” Mythal sighs, “That is why we must lead them.”

“I understand.” Olwyn nods.

“Oh my daughter,” Mythal places a hand upon her shoulder, “I am so sorry you had to learn this way.”

Chapter Text

Glory is large and bright and beautiful.

Determination follows it, twisting beneath the large nebulous of golden light. “One day I will be is large and as great as you are,” 

“Strive to be better than you are today,” Glory responds.

“I will,” Determination agrees. “But I will also try to be as large as you.” And then it goes, because Purpose clings to Glory and needs to be taken away, before it loses itself, and Longing is too far for comfort because even if it desires Glory it cannot stop its nature, and Determination must look after them both.

It thinks back to that time often, after Determination becomes Fen’Sulahn and later Olwyn. To the time when Glory explained to her the core of where her determination rested, and her path began.

She wishes she could go back, and give Glory some wisdom of her own.

Go deep into the Dreaming and never come back, because the People cannot attain Glory without destroying it in the process.

Olwyn sees the vessel for the first time while it is still empty.

Ghilan’nain has finished crafting her latest hound and Olwyn has come to retrieve it, and to speak with her sister’s wife about a group of Ghilan’nain’s merchants who have been trading recently at an outpost in Olwyn’s furthest holdings; a sliver of land, wedged between a corner Ghilan’nain and Falon’Din’s largest territories. Mostly wilderness, save for the outpost manned by guards and their wolfhounds; an outpost on edge over Ghilan’nain and Falon’Din’s latest argument.

Olwyn does not know what they’re fighting over this time, only that her brother is in a fouler mood than usual, and came once to Adahlan to speak with her on the subject—well, angrily rant in her atrium and demand she punish Ghilan’nain in some way to ‘ensure the charlatan knows that she is not one of us’.

Her brother is likely overacting, as he is want to do. And this journey is meant to be a pleasant one, so Olwyn does not wish to spoil it by bringing up a matter that does not directly involve her. The merchant business is a minor thing, mostly about trade procedures. So there is no need to pry, when Ghilan’nain greets her and her entourage, and leads Olwyn through her workshop to where the newest hound awaits.

She catches a glimpse through an open doorway—something gold and glittering, catching an errant ray of sunlight—and turns just as the way is shut off, and Ghilan’nain begins describing a new creature she has created, and Olwyn thinks no more of it.

The next time Olwyn sees the vessel, Glory is held within it.

Falon’Din comes to her, in high spirits, and invites her to a grand celebration in his chief city for an ‘unveiling’. A new statue his artists have crafted, most likely, something to rival that of Sylaise’ artisans, which he will then debate sending to Arlathan; a taunt to their sister, as a show of his greatness? Or is it best to keep it in his own holdings, where he can look upon it often?

It is probably why he has called her in the first place, so he can speak of it in length and then ask her what she believes he should do, all the while planning to do what he wishes anyway.

She will humor him. He is at his best when he has something to brag about; when he feels great, and accomplished. He’s always viewed such works as a sign of his achievements of his purpose, for if he were not such a great protector of the People, they would not gift him with such grand images.

And if he has those things, he can look upon them, when he chafes and worries that his purpose is not being fulfilled, and it mollifies him, somewhat. It is a good thing, and a welcome one, and Olwyn won’t deny him such things. It keeps the People from suffering, and that is the most important thing. She can deal with his boasting for a few hours, if that is the final outcome.

When she arrives through the proper eluvian with her small entourage, one of Falon’Din’s attendants greets her, bowing low. They usher her through grand hall with a high, vaulted ceiling made of bone inlaid with veins of ruby ore. It is like walking beneath the polished carcass of a giant beast, and Haurshos keeps close, ears back against his skull, until they enter a larger, more open space where Dirthamen also awaits.

Fear and Deceit are hidden somewhere in the carved rafters above them, Olwyn knows, but she is surprised to see that her younger brother has brought other attendants as well. Turmoil, and another she does not recognize.

“Brother,” She greets, as she grabs his hands in her own. He has only two of them today—likely an attempt to placate Falon’Din, who finds Dirthamen’s tendency toward extra limbs distasteful—and his outfit is…more cohesive than usual.

“What happened to all of your belts?” She asks, “I liked them.”

“I did as well.” Dirthamen nods. “Falon’Din said they were excessive.”

Olwyn looks up at the carven images of their brother gracing the corners of the room. “I do not think our brother can say much on that subject. Wear as many belts as you like, Dirthamen.” She pats him on the shoulder, “Your mask is very nice today.”

“Thank you. It is not a mask.”

Olwyn peers closer and oh, yes that is flesh, isn’t it? Or an approximation to what flesh should look like, although the color and texture is…not entirely correct. And the eyes are…well…it is lovely in its own way. She makes to speak again, to tell him that the eyes might look a bit more elvhen if he gives himself pupils, when Falon’Din appears through the nearest doorway, his usual entourage trailing behind him. They outnumber Dirthamen’s and her own more than twice over, per usual.

Falon’Din never seems intent to have less than fifteen of his followers near enough to sing his praises.

“Brother,” Falon’Din greets, glancing briefly at Dirthamen and scowling, “Couldn’t you try and look normal for once?”

“I have two eyes this time.” Dirthamen supplies.

Falon’Din rolls his own and lets out a derisive snort, before turning to Olwyn. “Sister, did you have to bring your mutt?”

Olwyn frowns, “We’re here to enjoy ourselves, not argue. Don’t start a fight before we’ve even greeted one another.”

Falon’Din waves her off, “Fine, the dog can stay in the Hall.” His frown turns into a pleased grin quickly, “I have something grand to show the two of you. Come with me, and leave your People here. My own will see to them.”

Olwyn nods to Saethil and Impulse and follows her brother. Saethil does not like leaving her side, especially if Haurshos and the other hounds cannot follow, but Olwyn sees no reason to ruin Falon’Din’s good mood by pressing the issue. Besides, there is nothing to worry about, she knows. Despite Falon’Din’s outbursts, she has never doubted her sibling’s love for her, even if it shows itself rarely.

“I will be showing it at our next gathering,” Falon’Din continues, as they head down another hallway, past wards for security and silence, and more of Falon’Din’s ostentatious statues. “But I wished the two of you to see it first, so that you can enjoy the look on Sylaise’ face when she sees what I have that she does not.”

So he has dragged them here to brag over some new piece of art. Olwyn turns to Dirthamen, to share a commiserating smile, but he seems more intent on studying the tiles at their feet—he’s probably found a fascinating piece of spellwork infused into the carvings—so Olwyn decides not to disturb him. Both of them don’t need to be bored to death by Falon’Din’s boasting.

Judging from his good mood, whatever issue he’d had with Ghilan’nain is past, which is a rarity. He usually holds grudges and stews upon them for a long while before he lets Olwyn talk him into a more reasonable way to vent his frustrations. He is in such high spirits she almost ventures s query on the subject, to see what has transpired to make him forget whatever imagined slight there was.

But there is no reason to sour things so quickly. He’ll think she’s taking away from whatever great ‘unveiling’ he has planned to make the issue about her own self-righteous thoughts ‘on subjects that don’t concern her’ despite his own tendency to involve her in his affairs when he sees a need for allies.

Olwyn lets out a small laugh, as they turn down another corridor, through more wards, “Are you that worried Sylaise will steal your great statue, brother?”

Falon’Din grins, and it is nearly a feral thing, as he stops in front of a pair of doors, “Not a statue, sister.” Then he pushes them open and walks inside, Olwyn and Dirthamen following curiously.  

The room is large, and gives off a sense of light despite the lack of real windows. The paintings on the wall filter in magical sunlight, and the walls have a soft, warm glow. Seated in the middle, lying across a gilded settee, is a figure.

Gold and glittering and full of loss and confusion.

And that’s when the feelings truly hit her, and she knows exactly what spirit is contained within. The entire room is so full of hurt and misery that the air is thick with it. It makes her skin crawl, and Dirthamen physically recoils, small slivers of shadow tucking themselves back beneath his robes.

Her throat locks, as she recognizes the construct she’d seen in Ghilan’nain’s workshop.

Ghilan’nain had not been crafting a vessel fit for a spirit, but a prison for one. Olwyn can feel the heavy enchantments carved into its bones, lying beneath the skin, to keep all of Glory within.

“…what is this…?” Her voice shakes, as she clenches her fists so hard her nails break the skin of her palms. What has he done? The air around her goes cold, so cold it burns, as she locks her gaze with Glory and Glory reaches up a hand toward her, a plea.

The cold anger is fury, and it is so strong she almost does not recognize it as her own. This kind of anger is foreign to her.

Dirthamen is not angry. Sad, perhaps; she can feel a bit of sorrow in the air that is not Glory’s, and most definitely not Falon’Din’s. But he is not angry, and that makes her even more angry. Because Dirthamen does not see how cruel this thing their brother has done is, or else he does not think it cruel at all.

Or perhaps he has always known Falon’Din capable of such things, and so he is not shocked, and can properly hide his disgust.

“What have you done?” She rounds on her brother, watches as Falon’Din’s smile fades to a frown. And more confusion, from him this time—he does not understand why she is so angry how can he not understand? How can he not see what he has done?

Falon’Din shrugs, “Andruil wished for a worthy hunt.” He glances toward Glory and then back, “Are you jealous? The vessel Ghilan’nain crafted is nearly worthy of the spirit it holds. It seems she is a capable craftsman after all.”

Andruil and Ghilan’nain. They knew.

Her mind has gone oddly blank.

“Free Glory now,” Olwyn demands, “Perhaps they have not been in the vessel too long. Perhaps it can be reversed,” She takes a few steps toward them, gathering magic in her palms. Perhaps it is still more spirit than elf yet, and can be returned to the Dreaming and become Glory again, perhaps it is not corrupted, or too far gone, perhaps—

“DO NOT TOUCH THEM!”

She slams into the opposite wall with such force it nearly collapses, large chunks of granite breaking free and cracking despite the wards in the stone as it takes the brunt of her own hastily cast barrier. The barrier itself dissipates quickly, like a candle snuffed out by an errant breeze, and the area around her is thick with steam as heat rises into the air.

Falon’Din stands opposite her, arm outstretched, face murderous and fearful all at once.

“Are you hurt?” Dirthamen crouches beside her, helping her to stand, but she’s far more shocked than injured at the moment. She lets him do as he wishes, never breaking eye contact with Falon’Din.

“I would have snapped my neck if I hadn’t thrown up a barrier,” She manages.

“I knew you would,” Falon’Din shakes his head, and she nearly misses the small flicker of concern that escapes him, “And a broken neck would not kill you anyway.”

“Free Glory,” She demands again. “How could you think it was just to trap it? You are a Leader of the People. Your purpose is to protect them. How could you imprison the Glory of Elvhenan and think it right?”

Falon’Din turns from her then, toward Glory again, expression twisting before he rounds on her as she shakes off Dirthamen’s grip. “I could not protect the Glory of Elvhenan unless they became one of the People. Is that not the purpose you gave me, sister?” Falon’Din sneers.

Olwyn bears her teeth in a snarl, “Do not twist my words for your own selfish reasons. You have destroyed Glory. It was never meant to be more than itself. You have torn it from the Dreaming and we shall all suffer for it.”

We became more,” Falon’Din growls back, as Dirthamen takes a step forward to get between them. “And we became great.”

“We chose to become more.”

“No,” Falon’Din responds coldly. “You chose.”

And we followed hangs silently in the air between them, unspoken but understood. Olwyn swallows, and straightens, and tries to keep her voice from shaking. “Capturing Glory does not help you protect the People,” Olwyn shakes her head. “You have destroyed it.”

“I was harnessing it for us!” Falon’Din shouts back. “We are the leaders of the People. We deserve glory, for all that we do.”

“You mean you deserve glory.” Olwyn’s eyes narrow. It is easier to focus on how angry she is rather than the odd hollowness and guilt that came with Falon’Din’s attack and words. Dirthamen moves between them more fully, and she feels his concern cut through her fury.

“I do.” Falon’Din replies, unrepentant.

“You are not worthy of it.” Is all she says, as she turns and storms out of his rooms.

She goes to her mother first, because she knows her mother is wise, and will know the best course of action. Justice is her father’s purview, but he will act with anger, like herself, over this tragedy. Falon’Din will listen to their mother, if she tells him to free Glory, and she will find a way to do so without making it seem like a demand.

“A travesty,” Mythal agrees, with genuine sorrow, as they sit in her private gardens. She sighs, and it is a soft, regretful sound, “Glory is not a spirit that should have been treated in such a manner. Your brother and sister and your sister’s wife have acted out of turn. I will have to speak with them.”

Olwyn’s shoulders sag in relief. “I am glad you will help.”

Mythal nods, “I will speak with your father, and we will think on what must be done now.”

Olwyn frowns, “Surely we must try and free Glory as quickly as possible! There is a chance yet, that it has not fully taken to its vessel and corrupted. We can send it far into the Dreaming, where it can recover…” She trails off, as her mother shakes her head.

“Glory is no longer itself, Fen’Sulahn.” Mythal reaches for her glass of wine, and takes a sip. “It has become more than Glory. It would not be safe to release it from its body, and it cannot simply be freed. It would need to be shattered, and we cannot destroy the Glory of Elvhenan. Glory has always been a symbol to the People. It cannot be shattered.”

“But it is…Glory is suffering.” Olwyn protests.

“Your brother is not cruel to his followers,” Mythal dismisses, “Glory will not be treated unkindly, though Falon’Din will need to be instructed on how to introduce the Glory of Elvhenan, perhaps, now that its embodiment is inevitable.”

“Glory suffers because it was imprisoned,” Olwyn continues, shaking her head, “It is not a physical pain, mother. It does not deserve—”

“Whatever Glory deserved is not the issue at hand, Fen’Sulahn,” Mythal interjects, and her voice is stern and her golden eyes cold despite their warm color. “Glory is no longer a spirit. Glory is one of the People, and it our duty to lead well. What kind of Leader would you be, if you destroyed the Glory of the Elvhen?”

“This is an injustice,” Olwyn presses.

“And so your father and I will judge,” Mythal nods, “This is not your concern any longer, my daughter. Use this time to reflect. Surely you could have prevented this, if you had noticed something amiss sooner. You are insightful, I had expected you to know when your brother would act so foolishly.”

Olwyn’s cheeks heat with shame, as she thinks of the glimpse of Glory in Ghilan’nain’s workshop. She should have known, her mother is right. This is her fault.

“I am sorry,” Olwyn places her own cup down, the wine sour in her mouth.

Mythal grabs her hand and gives it a comforting squeeze. “You are forgiven, of course. I cannot fault you for this mistake. I know you will be more diligent in the future. A mother’s duty is to forgive. It is why I will forgive your brother for his actions as well. Remember it well, Fen’Sulahn. We will not speak on this subject again.”

Olwyn broaches the subject with Elgar’nan only once. He rants, and roars, body alight, and she presses, oversteps herself, thinking that he might agree with her on freeing Glory. He backhands her and shatters her jaw, and tells her to never cross her mother again.

She leaves his palace feeling guiltier than ever, and with some odd, lingering doubt that settles into her core and sticks.

If her father, the face of all that is just and right, will not serve justice, then is he truly just himself? It frightens her a bit, that thought. Of course her father is just. He knows what he doing, just as her mother does. She is being foolish. She is simply not seeing something that they can see.

She shouldn’t doubt.

But she does.

The next time she sees Andruil, it is at a hunt at her younger sister’s request. She almost turns the invitation down, but finds she cannot be that petty. She wants answers, as well. So she goes, and her sister nearly looks apologetic when they meet.

It is good, to go traipsing through the wilds and pretend that she is back to the times before all of this, when Glory was a spirit and the Keepers had not gone mad and there had been so much promise in the world.

“Mother gave me an earful,” Andruil mutters with a rueful smile, “She wouldn’t stop lecturing until I agreed to give her one of my silver mines.”

“You have plenty,” Olwyn replies, more sullenly than she means too, as she glances through the trees, looking for any trace of movement. The beast they are tracking is of Ghilan’nain’s make, something new and vicious and able to camouflage itself perfectly, which is why she has brought Haurshos, and Andruil has her own hunting hounds.

“It’s just a spirit, Fen’Su,” Andruil teases, using the nickname Sylaise gave her long ago. “Why are you so angry? Are you mad that my wife didn’t offer it to you first? I suggested we give it to you instead, but my wife was adamant.”

That is likely a lie as well. If not for Ghilan’nain’s insistence that Falon’Din be gifted Glory to smooth over their argument, Andruil would have taken the spirit for herself, Olwyn knows her sister too well for such a lie. Olwyn’s jaw tightens, and she grinds her teeth. “I am angry because Glory was unjustly taken. It was not given a choice to take a body. Why did you agree to capture it?”

Andruil shrugs, “It was a worthy quarry.”

“I don’t agree with your sense of sport,” Olwyn mutters, urging her hart forward, reaching for one of her hunting javelins as she goes.

Andruil follows quickly, bow at the ready, and flashes Olwyn a wicked grin, “I’ll find something more to your tastes, and have Ghilan’nain craft a proper body for it. Will that make you stop moping?”

And then Andruil’s hart lunges as her hounds start baying and Haurshos lets out a howl, and the chase begins.

Desire comes to her, twisted and sharp and full of fury.

It asks for a body. And for justice. Justice, Olwyn knows, is her father’s domain. But her father and mother have allowed Falon’Din his prize, despite the nature of its acquisition.

Her father has not been just.

It is the first time she has decided his ruling on a subject cannot be trusted…and the first time she has decided to act against it.

“I cannot promise you an immediate conclusion to this tragedy,” Olwyn admits. “But I will promise that I shall strive to right this wrong.”

Desire is nearly gone itself, unable to become what it once was, and Olwyn aches. She wonders how many of her siblings it went to before this, or if she was its first choice.  She wonders how many turned Desire away with a mocking laugh or a dismissive wave. She wonders if her father threatened to shatter it for its insistence against his ruling.

It is determined to free its friend.

It is a commendable goal, especially for a corrupting spirit.

“Your determination to aid your companion is true,” She announces with a nod. “A body I will grant you, to do what must be done. Do not stray from that which you seek, and I shall offer you a place among my ranks, to serve the People, and to stand in the face of adversity with head held high, and conscience clear. Move forward with conviction, and you shall find yourself welcome in Fen’Sulahn’s halls.”

As Olwyn orders a body to be crafted, she wonders if it is Desire’s conscience she wishes to clear…or her own.

A new war begins, before Olwyn can act further.

The security of all the People is paramount, and Olwyn cannot justify using the opportunity to free Glory, if it endangers others at the same time. But she thinks, perhaps, she can use this, if only she were able to think of a plan.

She has never been one for treachery and deceit. It does not become her, and nefarious thoughts are not ones that come to her naturally.

Desire wishes to act quickly, now that they are close, to act upon the promise Olwyn made, that Desire could rescue Glory if the opportunity were to arise. And Olwyn wants to act as well. She is stubborn, a hound that refuses to let go once its bitten down on something, but she cannot act yet.

She throws herself into battle wildly.

Andruil jokingly calls her a mad dog, Sylaise sniffs in disapproval, Dirthamen radiates concern whenever she is near, and Falon’Din has made himself scarce after an argument had ensued that leveled half a nearby glen. Mythal pulls her aside and speaks of caution, and deliberation, “You are more level-headed than this, Fen’Sulahn. You are acting like your brother.”

“I am not Falon’Din,” Olwyn snaps back angrily, and then deflates when she sees the disappointment in Mythal’s eyes. “I am sorry, mother.”

“Go and rest,” Mythal soothes, “Take comfort in Sylaise’ camps, and center yourself.”

She tries.

She forces the anger back, because it does not help, and she wants to forgive Falon’Din and excuse his behavior as a simple mistake. And she knows her anger is directed mostly at herself, because this is her fault. She could have prevented this, like her mother said, but instead she allowed it to happen because she did not pay enough attention.

“I must find a way to fix this,” She murmurs against Haurshos’ fur, as she presses her face into his neck. “I must free Glory, and bridge the gap between my brother and I, so that Falon’Din does not repeat this mistake.”

She is not certain which is more unlikely.

Haurshos gives a low comforting woof and presses his nose against her cheek, and affectionately slobbers on her armor. “Thank you, old friend,” she reaches up to scratch his ears, as the wards around her tent flare.

“You must forgive him.”

She turns to find Dirthamen standing just inside the flap of her tent, nearly invisible among the shadows cast by the lights hanging from the beams. Haurshos wags his tail in greeting, and curls back up on his half of the tent to sleep.

“He needs to apologize,” Olwyn counters, as she motions for Dirthamen to join her at her table for a drink. Dirthamen sits, just on the edges of the chair, too large and not solid enough to fit in it fully.

“He is worried that you are still angry. He does not understand why.”

“Do you?” Olwyn ventures.

Dirthamen is silent for a long while, as Olwyn listens to the crackling of the fire, and Haurshos’ snores, and the soft murmur of Saethil and the other guards at the door. It is an easy trick, to make certain the sounds are muted both ways, and not just from the inside, but Olwyn likes to hear what’s going on around her, just in case. This near to the front lines she cannot take any chances.

“No,” Dirthamen answers finally, sounding thoughtful. “He is our brother, and Glory is not.”

“You shouldn’t forgive him just because of that,” Olwyn refutes, but some little part of her still believes she should for that very reason. But those words sound like Falon’Din’s more than Dirthamen’s. “He still needs to apologize, because he did something wrong. I will forgive him once he’s done that.” She rubs the back of her neck, wincing at the tightness in her muscles, “Did he send you?”

“Yes.”

“Would you have come if he hadn’t?”

“Yes,” Dirthamen confirms. “I am worried. I do not like being on the battlefield where I cannot see you.”

Olwyn looks her brother over, letting her own concern settle in the air around them both. If Falon’Din has been angry at her ignoring him, he might have taken it out on their youngest brother…and Dirthamen does not hit back as often as he should. And Falon’Din has gotten so good at not turning his frustrations toward violence but if…

…if he has done so again, that is her fault as well. Something else she could have prevented, if she’d only thought to look.

She tugs on the edge of his hood with a soft smile, “Once this next battle finishes, I will have a talk with him, and we will see what comes of it. I do not hate him, Dirthamen. Do not worry.”

“I know,” Dirthamen nods. “We cannot hate him.”

“No,” Olwyn sighs, “we can’t, can we?”

Haurshos howls, and the other wolfhounds follow suit, and the sound is haunting in the mist filled morning. A scare tactic, because the Nameless know what that sound means. They know what follows those howls.

Olwyn sits comfortably atop Haurshos’ back, spear in hand, and her javelins at her side.

“A good day for a fight,” Fortitude grins, voice hushed, his own hounds on either side of him, teeth bared as they sniff the air.

Saethil gives a grunt of agreement from atop her hart, to Olwyn’s left. A bird shrieks somewhere above them as sunlight pieces through a gap in the mist, and Olwyn lets out a deep breath, then urges Haurshos forward to the roar of battle, as Dirthamen flies past her, black scales glistening.

Olwyn is not certain how long the battle lasts. Time becomes irrelevant, as the air around her fills with fire, and she sees red. She moves from point to point, and tallies the dead in her mind, to be remembered later, as allies and enemies fall.

Above her the sky is filled with lightning and ice and dragonfire, as Dirthamen and Falon’Din tear apart the threats in the air, and Olwyn remains on the ground with the bulk of their soldiers at the front. They need to get over the next hillside, and secure a new front, so that Ghilan’nain can move in with her beasts to hold it while they rest for the next push.

Glory falls.

It happens to quickly, without any warning, as their barrier shatters like glass.

Olwyn feels it, like a punch to the gut, as Glory collapses to the ground and goes silent. All that is Glory is gone, ripped from the Waking world, leaving an empty, open wound in their place. Desire lets out an inhuman sound from somewhere to her right, and the wolfhounds follow suit, drowning out the triumphant cheers of the Nameless with their mournful howls.

Falon’Din’s soldiers closest to Glory’s body scatter as the line breaks and the Nameless charge.

Olwyn curses and barks an order to Haurshos as she changes shape, to the one she is known for: large fangs and too many eyes and fur the color of old blood and paws the size of round-shields.

By the time the battle is over, her entire body aches and she cannot get the taste of blood out of her mouth. She stands on the edges of the battlefield, and waves Sympathy off as he tries to heal her wounds, sending him to heal others who need it more.

She stands on the edges of the destruction she has wrought, and looks through the smoke at the bodies piled atop dirt and grass like rubbish in a midden, and knows that most of the bodies before her fell to her own fangs and fire.

She swallows, and the metallic, sour taste in her mouth does not dissipate.

Too late.

She was too late.

This is her fault, again.

She wants to cry, but she pulls the anger and the despair and disgust deep inside, tightly reigned, because she cannot let anyone see, not after all of this. 

Haurshos lets out a small wine, and she turns to see him nosing his way through a pile of corpses.

“Stop that,” She croaks, coughing, reaching for her water skein and draining it before walking toward her hound. “Leave them be, Haurshos.”

But Haurshos ignores her, moving bodies until Olwyn catches a glimmer of gold through the dust and smoke and her breath catches.

Glory.

Haurshos wines again, and tugs Glory’s body gently, teeth hooked in the straps of their armor, until they are free of the pile, and Olwyn comes up alongside him, as Haurshos begins licking Glory’s face clean. “Move, move boy,” Olwyn pushes him, and he goes without much fuss, until Olwyn can see the steady rise and fall of Glory’s chest.

Glory is breathing. Glory is alive. Olwyn turns, scanning the battlefield, glad that Haurshos has hidden the body with his bulk, and finally finds the person she’s been looking for. “Sympathy!” She barks, and the healer comes forward, robes plastered with muck and blood, and he makes a strangled sound as he catches sight of Glory.

“Take them back to Adahlan immediately,” Olwyn orders softly, “Take Haurshos and Desire with you, and Thenvunin. Heal them, and tell Thenvunin he is to guard them with his life. Keep this quiet, Sympathy.”

“Yes My Lady,” Sympathy nods, as Olwyn constructs wards for subtlety and illusion to keep wandering eyes from noticing anything amiss, as she places Glory on Haurshos’ back and Sympathy helps her strap the unconscious elf to her hound.

Glory is dead.

The awakened construct that remains is Glory but also isn’t; a shadow of awareness. It feels, but Olwyn does not know if it feels; the air around it remains silent and clear. Sympathy is convinced they are a person, and not simply a vessel of a shattered spirit.

Olwyn has never seen a construct quite like it, and so she lets Sympathy muse while she travels to Arlathan, to meet with the rest of her family to speak about what must be done now that the Nameless have been pushed back once more, and to tally their losses.

And she wonders, as she journeys to the seat of the empire, what her brother will do when she tells him what she has done. She will not keep it a secret any longer than she must. Lying does not become her, and she does not wish to make a habit of it.

Olwyn keeps her entourage small—Saethil and Impulse and Fortitude. Haurshos and the other wolfhounds she leaves at her Arlathan estate with Melarue, and Haurshos pouts when she orders him to remain. But Sylaise will complain about his size, and she will have enough to deal with today, she knows. She does not need to add to it.

When she arrives through the eluvians to the meeting hall, her brothers are already present. Falon’Din glances at her, and huffs, as he returns to his goblet of wine. Dirthamen nods, as she takes her seat beside his own.

It does not take long for the others to arrive, with Sylaise and June being the last despite being the only two who reside permanently within Arlathan.

“It is good to see all of you, children,” Mythal smiles, after their initial greetings. “I am pleased we can meet without the cloud of war above our heads. We have all been away from one another for too long, and are weary…” She trails off, as Falon’Din lets out a disgusted sound that makes her pause. “Do you have something you wish to say, Falon’Din?”

“We can rest later,” Falon’Din snaps. “There are issues to be dealt with first.”

Andruil snorts, “How unlike you, to worry about the efficiency of our meetings.”

Faln’Din flashes her a glare, before turning back to Mythal, “Someone has taken Glory’s vessel and I will have it returned to me!”

“Perhaps the Nameless retrieved it when they signaled their retreat. Unless you are suggesting one of us has taken it,” Sylaise counters with a smile, “Are you accusing us of theft, brother?”

“You have been known to covet what I own,” Falon’Din shoots back, “You have always been jealous of my accomplishments. I am certain you saw this as ample opportunity to better your standing among the People.”

Sylaise’s eyes narrow, and June gives a low growl in the back of his throat and makes to speak, but Mythal interrupts. “Let us not throw out wild accusations, Falon’Din.”

“If my dear sister has nothing to hide, she will not mind if my people search her holdings, then.”

“There is no need to search,” Olwyn replies calmly as she stands and her family goes silent. “The construct is in my possession.”

The look of betrayal upon her brother’s face makes her stomach churn. But she cannot turn back now; she cannot let him do what he wishes any longer. She has failed once, she will not do so again.

“You have proven yourself incapable, and I do not believe you should be given the vessel merely to take another great spirit from the Dreaming for your own trophy.”

Elgar’nan stands as well, with a nod, “You have proven your point, Fen’Sulahn. He has squandered his gift.”

“That does not mean our daughter has a right to the vessel that remains,” Mythal hums, looking around. “Let us sit, and discuss this calmly.”

“The body was of my wife’s make,” Andruil intervenes, glancing between Falon’Din and Olwyn, “The construct should be returned to her, then.” Ghilan’nain nods, and Olwyn can feel it, the small undercurrent of irritation from her.

Ghilan’nain went looking for the body as well, Dirthamen’s voice echoes in her mind.

“I have lain claim to it, by right of possession,” Olwyn declares. “I was the one who argued against this injustice, and so I shall right it.”

“Do not overstep,” Elgar’nan warns, flames licking against his skin.

“Perhaps my eldest sister is right,” Sylaise puts in, startling them all as she smiles placidly. “Fen’Sulahn spoke against Glory’s imprisonment as ardently as I myself did. Now that Glory has fallen, and she is in possession of the remains, she should be allowed to keep them.”

Olwyn locks eyes with her youngest sibling, and nods. Sylaise will expect some reward, for this, as will June, who will side with his wife if it comes to a vote. Likely Sylaise has decided on some boon already. But Olwyn will take what she can, even if she does not remember her sister being nearly as distraught over Glory’s capture as herself.

Andruil lets out a dark laugh and leans back in her chair, “Do you have a spirit tucked away for your new playtoy, sister, or should I organize a hunt?”

Falon’Din slams his fist against the table, and a fissure splits it down the middle. Elgar’nan roars at him for losing his temper, as the others brush rock shards and dust from their robes. Sylaise complains over the state of her dress, and Andruil scoffs, rolling a small corner under her boot. Olwyn lifts a hand, and hears Saethil grumble something under her breath as she slides her blades back into their sheathes.

“Glory belongs to me,” Falon’Din hisses.

“Glory is dead because of you,” Olwyn snarls back.

“YOU WILL ALL BE SILENT!” Elgar’nan shouts, voice echoing as flames crawl up the walls.

“I think,” Mythal intervenes, voice low and calm, “That we are all weary from our war and our journey here. I have missed not seeing my children outside of battle. It pains me to see you all argue.”

Olwyn deflates, mollified, and most of her siblings follow suit. Elgar’nan is still alight, and Falon’Din’s glare cuts through Olwyn like a knife, but Falon’Din does not speak again, and Elgar’nan finally sits back down.

Mythal looks to Olwyn, and there is something in her eyes that Olwyn cannot quite place. It is…not a pleasant feeling. Then she nods, “I believe it would be best, if Fen’Sulahn is given the construct, for her valor on the battlefield. I am certain she can prove herself worthy of the honor, as she has declared she feels more than fit to do so.”

It feels almost like a threat, but certainly that is not correct. A lesson, surely. If Olwyn is to claim she can take care of Glory’s body better than Falon’Din, she will have to prove it so.

Any mishap it causes will be used against her—to teach her that she was too proud and sure of herself when she should not have been.

“I think we have spoken enough, today. Let us all retire, and return tomorrow.” Mythal instructs, dismissing them. She stands, and they all follow suit.

“Good luck, big sister,” Andruil smirks, as she pats her on the back before leaving. Sylaise nods, before she and June disappear through a nearby eluvian with their entourage.

Olwyn watches as the others leave, until only Falon’Din and Dirthamen remain.

“Well will speak of this,” Falon’Din orders, grabbing her arm. Saethil’s blades come free, and Falon’Din’s Woe follows suit, eyes narrowed.

“Let us speak, then.” Olwyn agrees, pulling out of his grasp and gesturing toward the eluvian behind them. Dirthamen appears to her left, with Disquiet eyeing the proceedings silently.

“I will come as well,” Dirthamen decides.

“Remain here, Saethil,” Olwyn orders, and Saethil frowns but nods, stepping back to stand to the right of the eluvian. Falon’Din storms through it, and Olwyn and Dirthamen follow. Olwyn half expects him to strike her the moment she crosses the threshold, but her brother is pacing inside the large chamber when the light fades from her eyes.

The moment she and Dirthamen are through, he seals the eluvian off, and Olwyn tenses.

“Dirthamen said you would apologize when the war was over and instead you have betrayed me!” Falon’Din growls, turning toward her.

Olwyn shakes her head, “I have betrayed no one. And I was not going to apologize when I did nothing wrong.”

“You were angry over something trivial, and you have made a mess of it. You always do. You always find some way to ruin things,” Falon’Din bites back, “You think you know what to do but you just make things worse.”

Olwyn swallows. Be angry. It is better than letting him know he’s hurt you. “We would not be having this argument if you hadn’t forced Glory into a body against its will.”

“Do not say it,” Dirthamen pleads, looking to Falon’Din.

But Falon’Din flings his next words at Olwyn like a well-placed arrow.

“Mother always thought you were a threat,” Falon’Din hisses. “She wanted to shatter you. She would have, if Longing and I had not stopped her.”

Olwyn goes cold.

No. No that is a lie.

Mythal is her mother. She loves her. And she needed determination to build the empire, and become a proper leader. She told her this.

“You are lying,” She chokes out, but even as she says it, something clicks into place that can’t be undone and the look Mythal gave her at the meeting sticks in her mind. The air around her churns violently, and Falon’Din loses a bit of his rage as he notices it. Almost guilty. Almost.

Dirthamen reaches for her, “He did not mean it. He is sorry.”

“I am..” Falon’Din huffs, “I have done nothing wrong.”

And even if his words somehow lack conviction, the damage has already been done.

“You have always been spiteful, brother. But you have never been this cruel to me,” Olwyn bites out, before she unseals the eluvian and steps through it.

Chapter Text

Mythal remembers, when Determination was born.

Determination, a strong spirit, born of her. What better spirit to usher in Mythal’s vision? Followed so quickly by Purpose and Longing—Longing, she knows, is more Elgar’nan’s than her own. Tentative and submissive, born of his own doubts about his body, and his desire to be less than he is, even now.

But Determination and Purpose, truly there is no better symbol of her cause.

Determination does not move in the directions she wills it, however. 

It is its own, no longer Her determination, but the People’s. And when she sees it begin to shift, sees the determination of the People and the determination of Mythal begin to split, something settles in the back of her mind and makes her chest tight. In others, perhaps, it would be fear or doubt, but cannot take hold quick enough to fully form, before Mythal tamps it down.

Mythal is the will of the People. Their determination must be the same. Her determination is what must be.

Longing learns of Mythal’s plans first. It tells Purpose, and Purpose roars and demands and nearly cracks, jagged edged and sharp; the three of them are more People than spirit now, full of other feelings, the beginnings of being more than themselves. Determination is not Purpose’ goal, but it is connected, tied in a way that makes Purpose love it despite Purpose’s seeming lack of such feelings.

And Longing’s own intent is strong, always close to Determination, coiled around the larger spirit, and feeling its vigor and excitement second-hand, in the way it enjoys most; not doing, but imagining what must be done, and watching it unfold through another.

Mythal’s plans will not work fully without Purpose and Longing, but she knows without Determination they will corrupt and become useless.

All three spirits are born of her, and her compassion wins out, in the end. And Determination, Purpose, and Longing become Fen’Sulahn, Falon’Din, and Dirthamen.

Mythal loves her children.

She loves them despite their faults, despite their inability to grasp the design Mythal has been creating for this world, and the People.

She will always love her children.

Perhaps, perhaps she should have been stricter in the beginning, with Falon’Din and Dirthamen and Fen’Sulahn. And perhaps she should have tempered Andruil’s wildness before it became something darker. And perhaps she could have found Sylaise an image she wished to craft as much as the image of her mother. But these things…they have their uses as well.

They make her children predictable. If Mythal knows their weaknesses, she can make certain to push her children in the proper direction.

It is for their own good. It allows her to protect them, by making certain they cannot do the unthinkable. Her ability to temper their actions and desires is for their own safety more than anything else.

Because Mythal loves her children, no matter what.

There is one thing that Mythal has instilled in all of them, from the moment they came into being: family above all others. It is the only lesson all her children have learned and accepted as fact. Family first. Always.

Until the day Fen’Sulahn chooses to protect Glory.

The day when Mythal’s eldest becomes unpredictable.

Fen’Sulahn has always been outspoken and honest in her thoughts, but Mythal has known without a shadow of a doubt that Fen’Sulahn will listen to her, when she tells her no. Fen’Sulahn is an obedient child; the most reasonable, Mythal has never had to tell her twice. Fen’Sulahn understands that Mythal knows what is best.

At least, that is what Mythal has always assumed.

But this is the first time that she deceives. The first time she disobeys her parents.

She has stepped out of the mold that Mythal has crafted for her…and that is disconcerting. If Fen’Sulahn is not predictable, Fen’Sulahn is dangerous.

She remembers, when her determination became more than itself, and she was forced to think of a dark alternative.

“Oh my daughter,” She whispers, as she presses a kiss to the top of Fen’Sulahn’s curls, as her eldest holds onto her and cries, apologies tumbling from her lips like a heavy rain. “I told you to listen to me.”

Mythal loves her children.

But she cannot allow them to stray from their path.

Chapter Text

Lialva loves butterflies.

She loves all of them, with all their different colors and sizes. Some are as small as her thumbnail, and some are as large as her head, and all of them are gentle and graceful and beautiful.

The most famous butterflies that come out of Shath’leal are the crystal-winged variety, and they are the ones that Lialva and her fathers and the others on the farm breed the most of. They are eye-catching, and changing the colors of their wings is simply a matter of changing the plants they eat as caterpillars. No magic is needed, and it is easy to craft just the right hue for whatever palette is in fashion in Arlathan.

There is a batch that they have begun breeding as a present from Lady Sylaise to her sister Fen’Sulahn for her nameday, with wings the color of tanzanite.

It is hard work, of course, looking after them all. The butterfly gardens of Shath’leal lie within a valley near the border between Sylaise’ easternmost territory and a slice of untamed wilderness belonging to Ghilan’nain. Those who live there call it Rad’valass. 

When Lialva was younger, she thought the name came from the river that runs down the middle of the valley, but Papae Harrel told her that the river’s name came afterwards, and that the name of the valley came from its shape, with its steep mountain ranges along both sides covered in lush forest. The Green Book, open and waiting to be read and discovered.

Lialva gets up every morning before dawn with her fathers to begin the day’s work. Each of the atriums must be tended to; cleaned, and watered, and monitored. And depending on what stage the butterflies are in, caterpillars must be fed, or pupas misted and checked for sickness and disease, or butterflies given sweetwater. All the heating and safety wards must be tested for signs of fading, though they don’t need tending to often.

Lialva is still young, the baby of Rad’valass, and not trusted with any of the more difficult tasks. She is not allowed to breed them yet, or to have a say in which host plants are used, or which colors they should cultivate.

Mostly she spends her days cleaning the empty atriums, or stirring the sweetwater vats, or watching and listening as one of the older workers explains to her the procedures for choosing host plants for the caterpillars to eat, to decide what color wings they will have, or which flowers must be chosen for each breed once they have hatched, to ensure their wings remain strong and vibrant, and how to supplement it with sweetwater when an entire brood looks sickly or malnourished.

Knowing the property of plants is just as important as knowing the property of the butterflies themselves.

Lialva spends a lot of time watering those plants as well, and digging in the deep, rich soil.

By the end of the day, her body often aches, and she wonders at how much dirt one can accumulate in the span of an afternoon, but she finds herself pleased with her work when she closes her eyes.

It is a nice life.

It does not stop her from wondering what it must be like to live in one of Sylaise’ palaces, or better yet, in Arlathan itself. She imagines dresses the color of butterfly wings, and jewels and great dances, and dreams that one day she’ll be allowed to go with Papae Bralen into the city, and see the great towers and the colorful merchant’s district, and pick out a trinket for herself rather than waiting for her father to come home with one for her.

She wants an opportunity to wear one of the trinkets he picks out. She has them all, tucked away safely in a carved wooden box, and sometimes she takes them out and puts them on for a few moments, to see them in the mirror, before she places them gently back inside. They are too precious to wear just anywhere, and she cannot wear them while she works; they would become tarnished within a day. She wore one of her bracelets to the last harvest festival, but even that hadn’t felt quite right.

Today she is to clean the glass in the blue atrium. The last batch of blue crystal-wings had been shipped out the day before last, to fill a garden within Arlathan. Now the atrium must be cleaned completely before new caterpillars can be brought in from the hatcheries; scrubbed, and weeded, and the plants tended to.

“Healthy petals mean healthy wings,” Papae Bralen always says.

The atrium is humid, an ideal environment for caterpillars, but not for a young elf tasked with cleaning the entire place. By the time Mera calls her to take a break and eat, she’s sweat soaked and covered in fertilizer.

After lunch she helps Harmony and Felsas water the flowers in the green atrium, and breathes in the smell of rain-soaked soil and listens to Harmony sing as Felsas tries his hardest to match her, making them all laugh. It still takes her breath away, when light reflects filters through the glass and hits crystal wings, sending prisms of rainbow light through the room.

“Go on, little Lialva,” Felsas waves her off, “We can finish here.”

Lialva bids them farewell, and sends up a silent goodbye to the butterflies, before heading toward the door.

“Lialva!”

Lialva closes the door firmly shut, and watches the seals glow to indicate it is truly locked in place before turning toward her father. “Yes Papae?”

“That idiot Whimsy didn’t lock the door to the red atrium and ten of the butterflies managed to fly out before he noticed. Get some sweetwater and go find them. Return home before it gets dark.” Her Papae Harrel grumbles something else about ‘muddle-headed botanists’ that makes her grin, as he walks through the door she’d just exited to check on the state of the butterflies within.

Papae Bralen is a botanist, and he is very, very muddle-headed. But he at least remembers to seal the atrium doors when he leaves.

It is not the first time this has happened, especially due to Whimsy’s nature. It is why the doors have magical seals on them now. The workers are supposed to wait until they see the seal glow before leaving, to make certain the door is well and truly shut, but sometimes the botanists get impatient. They care more for the plants than the butterflies, and the plants don’t move, so they sometimes forget how important it is.

Lialva goes to one of the small feeding stations, just around the back of the yellow atrium, and gathers the supplies she knows she will need; she clips the special cage to her belt, along with a skein full of sweetwater, and a long handled net just in case.

She nearly forgets the whistle, but sees them glinting in the afternoon light like comical wind chimes, and slips one around her neck.

The whistle is an item she’s never had to use before. The farm itself stretches over the entire valley, but not all of it is currently in use, and some of it rests along the edge of territory shared with the Lady Ghilan’nain. It isn’t always safe to go out alone, for while the magical netting surrounding the borders of the farm keep the butterflies from leaving, they do not keep other creatures from coming inside.

It is rare for one of Ghilan’nain’s beasts to roam this close, but it has happened before. The whistle is a warning for the others, and a call for help. Lialva hopes she’ll never have to use it, but the weight of it is comforting.

She checks the ‘flower stations’ first, small clusters of flowers around the perimeter of the farm for this very purpose. She finds four of the butterflies this way, happily flitting from one flower to the next. It is easy to summon a small breeze to direct them into the cage at her hip.

Six to go, she thinks, as she checks the final flower station.

Likely they’ve flown into the woods on the eastern side of the valley, away from the noises of the farm. She opens the sweetwater skein and splashes it along her arms before heading into the trees. She whistles to herself as she walks.

It doesn’t take long before one of the butterflies flies toward her, drawn by the honeyed smell of the sweetwater. She watches its for a few seconds, before the realizes a second and third have come to have a taste as well, and laughs to herself as she imagines how odd she would look if a stranger were to walk by, covered in sugar water and butterflies.

“You did well,” Papae Bralen praises, later that evening as they eat dinner together. “You found them all! I was worried some would have gotten caught in the valley net and they might freeze during the night.”

Papae Harrel huffs, and takes another sip of his barley water. “If that Whimsy leaves one more door open…” 

“The flowers love Whimsy,” Papae Bralen points out, “And he is one of the best at finding the right flower combinations for new wing colors.”

Papae Harrel continues to scowl, but Lialva knows that will be the end of the argument. All the butterflies were found, after all. Papae Harrel might be in charge of the butterfly farm, but Liavla knows that Papae Bralen is in charge of Papae Harrel.

“Go to sleep, baby butterfly,” Papae Bralen murmurs, as he notices her nodding off over the rim of her chilled cider. “Morning comes before you know it.”

Papae Harrel doesn’t tell her ‘good job’, but he presses an affectionate kiss to her forehead, and she knows that he means it all the same. “Goodnight,” She calls, before leaving the public dining hall to her rooms.

As she closes her eyes, and the weight of a full day’s work settles over her like a warm blanket, she smiles to herself.

A good day indeed.