It stood almost twice her height and was covered in thick red curls from the crown of its head down to its large, bare feet. The only clothing it wore was a white kilt around its waist, which glowed in the bright moonlight. Its small green eyes seemed to study her for moment before offering her a hand. Slowly, she took it and in a quick fluid motion, it yanked her to her feet. When it spoke, it reminded her of the sound of two smooth stones being rubbed together.
“Come. The white one and your companion await you.” He turned from her and began to walk through the open plains, off the beaten path. Aailaine began to argue, but after realizing she had no idea as to what the correct path was, bit her tongue and ran to catch up with her new guide.
After walking a short way, they reached a small clearing where the grass had been cut and one could see the soil beneath. More trolls similar to the one who led her sat or stood around a blazing fire, watching its tongues lick at the heavens. As they grew closer, Aailaine recognized Hvidr among them, a sapling among the trees.
“Well, at least they found you.” Hvidr bowed to the group and turned to face Aailaine’s troll. “I leave her in your hands and in the hands of Sirix, as was decided many a cycle ago.”
“Go with caution, Hvidr. While the Shadows may leave Mathydar once they learn she is no longer there, that will not make the city safe,” The troll warned, placing his large hand on Hvidr’s head. Hvidr nodded and ducked under his touch. “Also let us apologize for the fate of Rfkr.”
“I am aware, but I must return to my home.” Hvidr looked down at the ground before glancing at Aailaine. “As for Rfkr, his soul has finally found the rest he sought, and his body will be preserved in the stone.”
“Then go and go with haste.” Hvidr looked at Aailaine and nodded at her as she passed, leaving to return beneath the mountains. Once Hvidr vanished from sight, the troll returned his attention to Aailaine and motioned her forward. “Here you will find the answers you seek.”
Aailaine slowly walked forward and made her way toward the center of the circle. As she neared the fire, she realized that her earlier observation was incorrect. The other trolls weren’t looking at the fire, but rather something close to the fire. It was the dragon woman, now clothed in a shorter white robe, and upon seeing Aailaine, she bowed to the trolls and walked to meet her. The sleeves of the dress hung way past her hands and hid them from sight. Her huge wings were still visible this time, but her large tail hid her feet, and Aailaine couldn’t tell whether she actually walked or glided.
“So, you made it safely, although since Hvidr is the one that brought you, I’m guessing Rfkr was not so fortunate.” Aailaine struggled to hold back tears as she shook her head. The woman laid one of her scaly hands on Aailaine’s shoulders and looked at her with sympathy. “He was a good person and lived a full life. I…I’m sure he died with no regrets. I must apologize for not introducing myself earlier, as I had hoped we had more time.
“I am Sirix, and I was Kleia’s Vuiej. Come, follow me.” Sirix led Aailaine to a small tent and opened the flap to allow Aailaine in. Aailaine paused, eyeing Sirix with wonder. “Do not worry. The trolls will alert us of any danger should it come our way.”
Aailaine carefully ducked her way into the tent and sat down in the furthest corner. Sirix followed her and lit a lamp to light the dark space before sitting with her back to the flap. Aailaine squinted at the harsh light of the lamp, which was brighter than the dull light of the Elddess. After she finished settling and sticking her tail out the opening, Sirix turned to face Aailaine, who waited patiently.
“I’m sure you have many questions, Aailaine, but some of them I can’t answer for you. Most importantly, you need to understand what happened tonight.” Sirix sighed, gathering herself before she began her explanation. “First of all, I’m sure you know about the Shadows?”
Sirix smiled a bit when Aailaine nodded but the smile quickly faded. “Their leader we call Irdrin, although it is merely a name we have given to them. They are a remnant of the old chaotic Darkness that used to cover the land, and their only goal is to cover this land with that Darkness once more now that Orassul sleeps.
“However, it was prophesized that a person would be born who could journey through the mist that covers Exla, the resting place of Orassul, and restore their Light to our world.” Sirix paused, her gaze growing serious. The pause in her speech caused Aailaine to squirm, adjusting her quiver and reseating herself. Sirix’s grey eyes seemed to pierce down to her very soul, as if judging her worth. “When you were born, the elves said that you were that one. The Shadows attacking Mathydar were looking for you.”
“So, Rfkr died…. because of me?” Aailaine’s voice quivered as she spoke, and the tears threatened to flow again.
“Do not blame yourself for his death, Aailaine. Rfkr knew the risk when he agreed with Kleia’s wish to hide you with him.” Sirix carefully touched Aailaine’s shoulder before withdrawing once again. “I was meant to come get you to get you started on your journey to Exla but the Shadows-”
“Wait, I…I’m supposed to go to Exla?!” Aailaine interrupted the dragon woman, her voice shaking with disbelief. “But how? That’s too much to ask of me! And I may be skilled with a bow, but I can’t make it across A'sthy by myself.”
“Calm down, Aailaine.” Sirix raised her hand to stop Aailaine. “You don’t have to do anything; it was Kleia’s wish that you have a choice. But realize this; even if you refuse, Irdrin will hunt you for the rest of your life. They are aware that you can lead to their downfall and they will not allow you to exist peacefully.”
Aailaine sat silently, mulling over what Sirix said. Sirix’s words sounded so surreal; it seemed unbelievable that she was the one who was supposed to awaken Orassul. However, if she refused, she could never go back to having a normal life. Rfkr was gone, so she really had nowhere to go back to anyway. “But how? I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do.”
“That is why I am here to help you. You must go to Hirie to retrieve an artifact from the elves there. That artifact will allow you to awaken Orassul when you reach Exla,” Sirix offered, smiling. “You will have to find someone to travel with you on your own however. I cannot, as I have other things I must do on my own accord to ensure your success.
“But as I said, Aailaine, you do have a choice. I will give you the night to think it over.” Sirix stood, and Aailaine stood as well. “This tent is yours; rest here for the night and gather your thoughts. In the morning, I will return with fresh clothes for you.”
“Nao fei.” Aailaine looked at her blood-soaked clothes and pack and wished she had one of gowns with her. Sirix smiled softly.
“Ika heia. Ikaded fuo, Aailaine.” With that, Sirix left, leaving Aailaine alone with her thoughts. Aailaine’s mind drifted to her time with Rfkr and how even though he seemed uncaring, he was always there when she needed him. Aailaine pulled the bow out of the quiver to examine the beautiful craftsmanship. A small paper tumbled out of the quiver and Aailaine quickly grabbed it. She opened it to read it and as she did, her eyes shone with tears.
I know that there’s a chance that I won’t be around when it comes time for your journey, whether Irdrin attacks Mathydar or I die of old age before Sirix comes for you. But I want you to have everything in this pack. The bow was an old gift from your mother to you and it has been sung and enchanted by the elves themselves. The power within the bow is strong and will serve to amplify your own abilities as they manifest. Use it well and make Kleia proud.
The money and jewels are my gift to you. They are from the days I travelled with Kleia and Sirix. I realize that you may hate me for withholding this money, especially with the meager existence we had, but please understand that these gifts will be far more valuable during your journey. The life of a traveler is hard and it’s not easy to make money, so please accept these gifts and spend it wisely.
The wine is just a little going away present. I know how much you’ve grown to love this wine over the cycles, and while I’m sure the dwarves shall miss it, it will serve to remind you of home. Your journey will be rough and at times you’ll miss these mountains with their walls of stone and glowing jewels. The smibi, this wine, will serve as the cure for your inevitable homesickness. On the reverse of this letter is how to make this wine. If you can, be sure to procure some rice from a Dochel merchant and make yourself more.
This may all be a lot for you to take in. You grew up being shunned because of your appearance and I know you just wanted to be normal, but this journey, it is important. It could save everyone from the tyranny of the Shadows. You could be the one to restore peace to our world and live the normal life you always wanted. To be accepted by the same community that shunned and harassed you.
So please, for this old dwarf, strongly consider accepting. I would like to see you live happily, not so sad and withdrawn. I’m sure Kleia would feel the same if she were here. Although if she were, she herself would’ve ensured that no one harassed you. She was a strong, proud woman who cared very much for you. I wish I could’ve done more to protect you, but I couldn’t risk upsetting the SkiRyldes or the Commune.
Please understand; I wanted to do so much more for you. I know that I haven’t always shown how much I cared for you, at times I have even acted with disdain, but that’s because that’s just who I’ve become. This long life has made me bitter and I took that out on you. I have always cared much for you Aailaine, and I wish for you to be happy and free.
Odo kodad ashe dikang iktad.
Aailaine wiped away the tears before they could drip onto the paper and she carefully refolded the note and slid it into her private pouch. She added her money to the money Rfkr gave her and slid both the new pouch and the pouch with the sellable jewels into her leather bag attached to her quiver. She carefully folded the bloodied pack and placed it outside the tent. The letter was all she needed to finalize her resolve; if for nothing else, she would do it for Rfkr and Kleia.
‘Rfkr.’ Aailaine silently called out to her caretaker as she lay down to sleep. ‘I’ll make this the peaceful world you and my mother longed to see.’
 Sleep well
 Be happy and live long