The Thief of Ashlon
Author: Jocelyn Drewe

Chapter 64
The Thief of Ashlon - Part 2 (chapter 21)

It was a strange thing to do, Talana knew.  It was as if she and her Dragon were travelling, yet she sat still. It was only her mind.. There was so much evil within the Queen; they were both appalled by the task they had committed themselves to.  The evil was like a cancer, it changed what it became attached to, grew with it, shaped it to its own desires.  Talana and the Dragon attacked it with vigour, sending out healing  power which charred the evil and burned it away from the old Queen.  They were pleased that they could do this, but appalled that it left so little behind.

“You’re killing me!” the Queen screamed, and summoned up the remnants of her power, tyring to nurse some spark of defence within her. Yet she could not defend herself against the power that Talana wielded – her own power – that the younger woman knew. No queen could defend herself; that was why she had a Guardian.  That was why the Queen was in the state she was – she had been unable to defend herself and her Guardian had not been strong enough to do it for her.  It had ended with his death, by her own hands.  The fundamental wrongness of that flailed Talana – she could almost see flashes of her mother’s past before her like half-seen ghosts in the darkness, fleeting shadows of her memories. Doggedly, Talana and the Dragon continued their work, continued to heal the Queen, though she screamed and thrashed and writhed between them.

Talana became dimly aware of another presence at the edge of her consciousness.  A threatening presence, at once angry and powerful.  Whatever it was, or whomever it was, Talana did her best to ignore it, concentrating solely on her mother. Heal her, that was her task.

The presence grew. It was angry at what she was trying to do. Who was it? What was it?  At the limits of her hearing, she could hear her dragon bugle an alarm, breaking their mind-lock for the tiniest of moments. That was all the presence needed.  Like a hammer, it slammed at her, abruptly breaking her hold on the Queen.  She grew angry and tried to strike back, her body motionless like a statue but every fibre of her being fighting the growing power that had forced her from her healing task.  She felt the Dragon try to join her, but the little creature could not. Talana controlled herself and let her anger go, feeling the Dragon at once match minds with hers and help her to send the soothing, healing power once more into the Queen. Together they were too powerful for the presence.

Once more the presence tried to bludgeon her mind, break her hold on the Queen.  Talana was prepared this time. She fought back, not by attacking whatever it was, but by ignoring it, doubling her efforts to send healing power to the Queen. She could tell it infuriated the presence, but healing the Queen was exactly what she needed to do.  Burning away the evil within her mother was her whole purpose, she, with the Dragon’s help, was finally using the power of the Goddess as it was meant to be used, channelling it and guiding it to repel the evil and release her from her torment. It was painful for her; Talana could see, but also a release. The evil twisted and writhed, as did the Queen, but Talana and the Dragon kept up their work, kept the healing goodness flowing in, rebuilding her, untangling the evil and forcing it out, giving her all that they could to sustain her and make her whole again.

Cleansing the Queen of evil seemed to take a long, long time. Talana could not even tell how long they had been at work, but it did not matter. What mattered was that they were slowly achieving their aim – the Queen was slowly, very slowly, being released from the prison of evil that had held her captive for half her lifetime.  They were freeing her, and the more evil they defeated, the more they realised how she wished to be freed.  They also realised that the residual power within the body of the Queen was fighting the evil alongside them – not within her self, but fighting something outside.  Then Talana felt the fleeting touch of the dark presence again, the infuriated evil power, but it was ignoring her and was engaged with something else.  The Queen was keeping it occupied so that they could do their work. Talana was amazed – even the little power the old Queen still had was formidable, as practised and polished a sorcerer as she was.  Grinning at the thought that the Queen, the Queen, was helping her fight evil, she kept on, feeling the thrill of the sorcery within her, the link between her, her Dragon and her Guardian, healing and helping as she knew they should.

Abruptly their task was over. The evil was gone and a howling anger rang in her ears from the defeated presence.  The Queen slumped backwards onto the divan, her body loose and suddenly frighteningly frail. The younger woman shook the frail form, but there seemed to be no response.

Howling agony seared her as the presence screamed inside her skull. Hands against her ears, she stumbled to her feet, then fell forward on her knees.  Completely unaware of anything else, she tried to concentrate on pulling herself beyond the pain, above it. The presence slammed into her again and again, sending white hot pain through her body, incessant blaring noise to her ears. It was torture, and Talana felt herself growing angry, angry enough to try to hit back – and more than a little afraid.  Darrukin! Where are you? Frantically she tried to cry out to him, but her voice did not seem to function.

Your puny Guardian cannot help you, you are mine!  She heard the voice distinctly in her mind, but knew it was not her dragon.  Painful light seemed to blind her as she tried to look around to find the source of the voice.  Defiance made her scream.

“He can, and he will!” she challenged, but the voice just laughed.

He has troubles of his own, he cannot help you now.  Surrender to me!

“No.” She answered, feeling anger beyond the pain and torture.  She would not give in to this thing, this evil – whatever it was.  Abruptly the pain stopped, the light left her vision and the noise in her ears stopped.  It was a blessed relief, and she sighed. Then it all started again, hammering at her with even greater intensity.

Feel my power. Feel my strength. You are no match for me. I can ease your pain. You want that, don’t you.  Surrender to me, I can stop the pain if you follow me.

“You can torture me to death, but I still won’t give in. The power will be gone then and you will not be able to abuse it. Is that what you want?” she replied, through gritted teeth.  She had sunk to the floor, but could hardly feel it, the pain was everywhere, and so intense.

I can make the pain worse. With those words it did increase. Talana was not sure how much more she could stand; but she must not give in, would not give in.  Stubbornly, she refused to give in.

“I will fight you!” she screamed, and let her anger rush to the fore.  She summoned her power and tried to blast at the voice, unsure of where it was, trying to annihilate it.

The voice laughed.  You think such a puny attempt will harm me? You are less than I thought you were.  The voice said, cruelly.  It made her even angrier, but no matter how she tried her attempts to blast the voice out of existence did not make any difference.

Then a different voice cut through her anger.

That is not the way.

It was her Dragon. Her heart leapt – the Dragon would help her.  She trusted the creature implicitly, though it was only a baby.  What was more, the Dragon’s voice infuriated the other presence. The pain again increased.

Let the pain wash through you, Talana, her Dragon continued, it cannot hurt you. It cannot defeat you – unless you let it.  Do not lose control of your anger, it will only grow and so will the pain. Let it go. It cannot stay if you do not want it there.

Desperately, she switched her thinking. Shuddering with pain, she took as large a breath as she could and let it out, focussing her attention not on blasting the unknown voice with her power, but healing it. She had healed the Queen, had she not?  She could not defend herself, she could not attack – that was not her kind of power. She was a healer.  Reaching out to it, she heard its infuriated howl as she touched it, felt it recoil from her.  As much healing power as she could summon, the kind that burned away evil, flowed through her and to the presence. She would not give in to the voice.

As abruptly as it started, the pain stopped.  It disappeared in a golden flash of power that to her pain-wracked consciousness seemed very familiar.  She should know what it was.  But she was so relieved the pain was gone, and so had the voice, that she fainted.

Fortunately, she was already on thick carpet. Darrukin rushed to her, appalled by the amount of pain she had taken while he had dealt with the Queen’s special guards.  They had been released from his immobilising spell and attacked, all at once. He’d had no option but to kill them all.  They had attacked him, trying to hack their way to Talana and the Dragon, and were obviously better trained that the normal palace guards.  Even so, he had managed to defend her, in a whirl of light and speed and power.  The fight had a dream-like quality, as if it were not quite real – once again, he had moved with a lightening speed that they simply could not match. Their movements were slow, clumsy, and they had gone down silently to the last, the shock on their faces as death released them quite evident.

It had almost made him sick.  Yet he had no time for their deaths – it was Talana he was concerned with.  The Dragon hissed and writhed, while Talana screamed; and he knew she was under attack from sorcery. Her power and the Dragon’s were helpless against the onslaught.  Letting power flow through him and towards Talana, he connected with her for one long, pain-wracked instant. He felt how she reached out to the power, and touched it, reaching out to heal it – so he sent all his own force down that bridge of sorcery and blasted the presence with all his might.  That was what his power was for. To protect his Queen. To protect Talana. 

He held her as she slowly regained consciousness, and smiled as she opened her eyes.

“Thanks” she croaked. Residual pain flitted across her face, then was gone.  He smiled at her again.

“It’s my job.” he replied nonchalantly.  She managed to chuckle at his attempted humour. Sitting up, she held her head as if she were hungover, and looked around.  He watched her pale she surveyed his handiwork on the guards.

“What happened here? I thought they were caught in a spell of yours?” he asked. The Dragon came to her and clambered onto her lap.  “Thanks to you, too, little one.” Talana crooned, hugging her.

“My spell was broken, I can guess by whom..  Is the Queen alright?”

The Dragon untangled herself from Talana and went up to the divan where the limp form of the old Queen lay.    “I think she’s alright. She has passed out though.  Let’s get her up on the settee.” Talana said, trying to lift her mother up.  The Queen’s form was frail and slight, so the younger woman was easily able to move her to a more comfortable position. 

Darrukin scouted around the room, poking amongst the dead guards. None of them moved, but he made sure they were all dead.  He looked uneasily at Talana.

“I’m not sure I got rid of whatever it was that attacked you.” He said, coming back towards here.  I don’t think I did, I -”

“You most certainly did not.” A voice startled both of them.   The advisor, Seri, had entered the room without either of them seeing him.  Talana’s dragon hissed and flapped her down-covered wings in agitation, and Talana shrank back against Darrukin, instinctively turning to him.  She flinched as Seri approached – he was the evil presence which had caused her so much pain.

The tall advisor stopped a few feet from her, holding himself still.  A rich red robe surrounded his body, its length emphasising his height.  His face was severe, without kindness or empathy of any kind.  It was a face that inspired more fear in Talana than she had ever felt for her father.  His hands were hidden in the road, but she could imagine the cruelty they would be used to.  He was so powerful and strong.  Talana drew even closer to Darrukin without realising it.

Darrukin stepped forward, placing himself between Seri and Talana. The dragon joined him, still hissing, tendrils of smoke following each hiss as her tail lashed from side to side.

“You will join me, young Queen.” Seri spoke ominously. It souned exactly like the voice she had heard in her head.  She quailed for a moment, then forced herself to meet his burning gaze.

“I’ve already said no.” her voice came out sounding stronger than she felt.  “I will never join you.”

“You will submit!” Anger stirred in the voice of the tall advisor. With a sudden movement he flicked his cloak aside, and stood before them all revealed.  It took a moment for Talana to realise that he wore very little at all, and that his body was covered in intricate designs, painted in what looked like blood.  He held in one hand an iron spear, oddly reminiscent of Talana’s own, the metal covered in designs and with a cruel looking tip.  She thought she had seen the spear before. The tip was caked in a black, flaking substance – old blood, she realised.  Dragon’s blood.  He wanted to kill her dragon!  Anger stirred within her, but she forced it down, deliberately allowing the evil man no access to her, no way by which he could corrupt her.  Instead, she began to call upon the power of the Goddess within her, softly, silently, so that hopefully he would not notice.

“She will not succumb to your evil, she is above that. My Queen has already beaten you once, as have I.’ Darrukin said, confident and strong.  Talana lost a little of her fear. He was with her, her Guardian.  She could come to no harm while he was with her.  Her heart filled with love and pride for him. Her power rose within her, and she felt the power of the Dragon as well, comforting and supporting her.

“Oh yes, she will!” Seri cried. A blast of power, stronger than anything Talana had ever seen, swept Darrukin away from her, physically slamming him against the wall on the other side of the room.  He fell senseless to the floor.

“I have more power than you – or he realises.” Seri sneered at the limp form of the Guardian. “I do intend to make use of it.”  Seri took a pace towards Talana.  She swallowed, fear clutching at her.  Yet she would not give in. She still had her power, and so did her Dragon.  Deliberately, she spat in his face.

It was a small gesture of defiance. He almost laughed as he wiped the spittle away, but then turned on her savagely, stooping and coming within inches of her face.

“You will be mine, as your mother was before you!” the vehemence of his words made her shrink back.  Then he yelped in pain, leaping back from the divan to the middle of the room.  The dragonet had bitten him, her sharp teeth sinking into his groin and tearing at his flesh. He obviously had not expected a physical attack.

“Watch out!” she cried to her dragon, as Seri brandished the spear.  She knew that it was perhaps the only weapon in the land of Ashlon that could kill her precious companion. Galvanised into action by the danger, she leapt forward and flung herself at Seri, grabbing at the iron spear, feeling the same, slippery revulsion as it seemed to twist and squirm in her grasp. Bracing herself as best she could, it took all her strength to stop the blow from striking the dragon, giving the baby creature enough time to retreat to relative safety, opposite her.

As soon as her dragon was safe she twisted from underneath the blow and dodged, spinning around to kick Seri in the wound. He winced and grunted, but he did not falter.

“See my power!” he demanded, and she watched as he turned his sorcery on himself, stopping the flow of blood, the torn skin melding together until the only trace of the dragon’s bite was a faded, old-looking scar.  “You are not the only one with healing power.”

“So, you can heal yourself. Do you think that impresses me? Will it make me tremble and fall at your feet? I think not.”  she taunted him.  She still feel her power, and held it in check, but it throbbed within her.  She found that she had the strength to face him without fear now, without a thought of anger or malice. Instead, she could be objective, almost feel sorry for him, a man so caught up in evil that if it were taken from his heart, he would have nothing left.  “You know very little of healing, Seri.” Talana said, taking a step towards him. Despite himself, he retreated a step, glancing backwards to see the dragon behind him. The dragon hissed again, this time sending a small shooting flame from her muzzle towards the evil man. Talana continued.. “I am a healer.  This is my power.”

In that instant she reached out to him, sending wave after wave of the golden power of the goddess towards him. It struck him, terrified him, but he fought it. She felt the clash of good against evil, but she kept the power flowing through herself.

“I..am…more powerful…than that!” he cried out, grunting and sending an explosive bolt of green light flashing towards her.  She saw it coming, the split-second instant seemingly slowed, and could not even think of how to dodge or retaliate.  There was a dark instant as the bolt detonated when she felt, rather than saw, her dragon attack Seri’s back, leaping upon him and tearing at him with teeth and claws.  She seemed to see through the dragon’s eyes, hear through the dragon’s ears, the roar of the evil man, the feel of her claws – no, her dragon’s – raking across Seri’s face and enucleating one eye, blood welling from the gouges across his face.  Teeth fastened into his neck and the advisor screamed, shaking and desperate to fend the animal off.  He stumbled, then steadied himself, gripping the spear more firmly, and shoved it upwards trying to hit the dragon. He missed, the dragon slipping around to his other shoulder, raking at his back as she did. 

Talana rushed him, grabbed the spear and twisted it out of his grasp so quickly that he could not react.  She threw it across the room, then pressed her attack, kicking him in the ribs on his blind side,  knocking his feet out from under him with one sweep.  Her power flowed, blazing gold down onto his prostrate form, momentarily paralysing him in an instant of purity.  Seizing her chance, she looked into him, trying to find the core of evil so that she could destroy it, find where the evil ended and the man began.

What she saw made her feel sick. He was not a man, not one who had been born and grew up into one. He was made, created out of pure evil. There was nothing within him that she could work with, no skerrick of goodness in his being at all. He was evil creature created by the evil god.  It was then she realised that he was like her dragon, who the creature of the goddess, a creature of goodness – but Seri was the opposite. Both sprung from their gods, both creatures of purity in their own right, both devastating to the other.  Seri was without compromise, he would never – could never – turn to goodness. It was simply not possible.

He meant to corrupt her, or kill her – and kill her dragon, gain access to her power.  Clenching her teeth, Talana shut off the flow of her power to him, knowing it was useless.  He staggered up as the dragon leaped off his back and stood behind him, hissing golden fire.  Seri stood and looked between her and her dragon, as if debating which to kill first. He turned towards her, drawing himself up to his full height, the rampant designs on his body seeming to pulse redly.

“You have seen my heart, then.” He said.

 Revulsion made her look away for a spit second.  Never had she heard a voice so full of evil, not even her father had been that evil. Her foster-father, she corrected herself. Her real father had been a guardian, a good man.

“You don’t have a heart, you aren’t a real man. I don’t know what you are, but I do see the evil in you. You are a thing of the dark god, and I will resist you in any way I can.” Talana straightened up, drawing her shoulders back and standing proudly before him.  “I will not submit to the will of Eshtan or to you. Ishayla deserves better from me.” She deliberately named the Goddess and saw him wince.  But he faced her with nothing more than a sarcastic smile on his lips.

“You will submit, as your mother did before you. Search yourself. There is the dark God within you. Let His presence grow, and with Him you will become more powerful than your mother was, more powerful than any Queen before you. Right now, The dark Lord is poised to defeat His sister and rule this world. Be a part of it, rule it, let Him rule through you.”

A vision clouded her eyes, a seductive look at what the future might be if she did surrender her will to Eshtan. Wealth, power, the ability to do what she wanted, to whomever, whenever. Or so it seemed.

Calmly, she shook off the vision. It was false; she knew that. Her mother had not been given a choice after submitting to Eshtan, that much she knew. The old Queen had been enslaved, was a puppet. There was no way she would allow that to happen to herself. No way she would allow her dragon to be slaughtered.

“No, I won’t submit to you.  I know there is darkness within me. That is what makes me human.  Understand this, I will never submit to you. I am stronger than that. I have my dragon, I have my Guardian..  You will not succeed.”

“Your Guardian is a weak fool – he is dead! And your dragon is too young to know any better. And you – you are weak, not strong. Hardly a scrap compared to your mother, and I mastered her easily. I corrupted her, made her kill her own Guardian to confirm to me that she was within my control.  She was willing – and so will you be.”

Talana felt herself trembling inside, but outwardly remained steady and calm.  She stepped forward towards him, the dragon closing in from behind.  “Listen to me.” She said very clearly, enunciating each word carefully, “I won’t ever submit to you. You’ll have to kill me, and then you’ll lose my power.” She watched him, saw his eyes narrow as he assessed her. Saw the fury on his face as he realised that she would not submit to him, would never submit to his will.  She was stronger than that.

“Then die, little Queen, die!” he shouted, and blasted her backwards with a flash of power so strong that it knocked the breath from her and made her see stars.  She screamed, the attack was so sudden and relentless that she could hardly draw breath.  Blast after blast hit her, pinning her up against the wall, burning her – then just as suddenly it stopped. 

At the edge of her vision she saw him race over to where she had thrown the spear, scoop it up and hold it poised to throw. He chased the baby dragon around the room, finally capturing her with a bolt of green light that held her paralysed in the centre of the room, next to the divan where the old queen lay.

“This spear killed your mother, and now it will kill you!” Seri said, raising the spear. The metal was black and gleamed dully; Talana screamed out but knew that she was too far away to stop the downward thrust this time.  With all her might she tried to use her sorcery, screaming as the blow came down, trying to move fast enough to reach her beautiful dragon. A detonation as loud as thunder ripped through the room and her vision exploded with light before she fell to the floor. There was a grunt of effort, the sound of metal in flesh, and piercing scream. Her dragon had been killed!

The howl of rage that followed the scream made her spring to her feet.  Seri was stooped over, with his back towards her; it looked as if he was trying to pull the spear free. She barrelled into him, physically knocking him off his feet, his hands flying from the spear. Landing full-stretch across his body, she quickly sat over him, grabbed his head by the ears and cracked it against the floor as hard as she could.  He went limp immediately. Talana scrambled off his body and turned to help her dragon. 

Only it was not her dragon who had taken the blow from the spear.  It was her mother.  The old queen had seen the blow coming and shoved the dragonet aside, taking the blow in the chest.

“Oh, mother, no!” Talana cried out, as she knelt next to her.  The spear was embedded deeply, and she could see at once that it would not come out without taking the Queen’s life with it. Pain wracked the old queen’s face, but she looked up at her daughter with pride.

“I’ve already killed one dragon.” She said with difficulty, her breath hitching as she spoke, “I couldn’t bear to face the Goddess as the killer of two.” She gave her daughter a weak smile.

“You did not kill your dragon, mother – he did. He did this to you.”

“I did not have the will to oppose him.  You show much of your father in you, my girl.  It gives me so much happiness to see that.”

“Please, mother, save your strength.  I’ll do what I can for you, heal you – I can do that.”

“No, don’t. I’m dying.You can’t have missed the fact that I started to die the moment you released me from evil. I have nothing left. I will not live.  Let me die here, with you, with your dragon, and let me remember the days before I turned to Eshtan.”

Talana bowed her head. “Yes, mother.”  She smoothed her mother’s forehead and tried to make her comfortable, echoing what she had done for her mother’s dragon.  Her throat ached with tears, but they were left unshed, stifling them with smiles for her mother that the older woman responded to.  The dragonet approached, and touched her nose to the Queen’s face. The older woman’s eyes met her daughter’s.

“I can go to the Goddess now, cleansed. Thankyou. You have saved me…” Her voice failed, her eyes became fixed and her whole body shuddered, then relaxed with a sigh.  Talana closed her mother’s eyes and dashed the tears from her own.

“How touching, a daughter cries for her dead mother.” Seri’s sarcastic voice interposed itself on her consciousness.  Looking up, she saw him standing over her, a mocking expression on his face.  He reached down and wrenched the spear from her mother’s chest, as she stood and faced him squarely.

“She was more powerful than you will ever be.” Talana said, indicating her mother. 

“Is that so? Well, look where it got her. She’s dead – and so will you be.”   Seri took a step towards her, hefting the spear.  He flicked a hand out, and literally cast a spell over her; she could see the black threads of it stretch like an evil net that engulfed her. It was not painful, but she could not move her limbs, and she could feel the spell tighten with every attempt she made to struggle free of it.  Forcing herself to be still, she faced Seri, no longer afraid. There was nothing he could do to make her turn to evil; he could kill her – but that did not matter.  She was just a vessel for the power of the goddess, and if she died, Ishayla would no doubt find someone else to act as Her agent.  Talana knew that she had done everything she could to stop the evil force this non-human man represented. If she died, no matter.  And there was Darrukin. She loved him, he loved her.  They were complete.

It was this love that made her smile at Seri.  The evil man did not realise it, but he had lost already.  She watched as time seemed to alter and her reality changed, Seri moved in slow motion, drawing back his arm with the spear upraised. It was aimed directly at her heart.

Her dragon scrambled up onto a table, downy wings beating furiously for balance as she climbed.  Her green scaly body glistening in the sunlight, she threw her head back and bugled.

At once a rush of sparkling motes swirled into the room, and the shades of queens and guardians past glittered into existence to surround her.  Rank upon rank of silvery-golden figure formed up around her, the Guardians, their faces intent, all ready to defend her. The queens crossed to the other side of the room, and gathered in a group around where Darrukin lay. The ethereal forms of their huge dragons bugled replies to their tiny descendent, bolstering the little dragon’s call with an eldritch quality that rang of the goddess.

Seri faltered, stumbled, and the Guardians stepped forward, swirling around him, their ghostly forms insubstantial yet certainly effective.  Talana may have been bound by a spell but it did not stop her power from flowing, nor feeling it sing through her body and guiding it out to the departed queens

 “Mother!” she cried, tearing her eyes from the desecrated body that lay at her feet, to the shimmering vision of her mother. The shade of her mother turned and smiled; appeared to speak. Talana could not hear her voice, but felt an echo of the woman’s love and pride in her. Her glittering form then stepped back into the circle of queens that surrounded her Guardian.

“No!  You can’t do this!” Seri yelled out like a madman, turning this way and that as the Guardians surrounded him, keeping him contained, swirling their ephemeral limbs around him, binding him with their power.  “I won’t let you do this!”  Green power blazed around the evil man, pushing back the guardians; but they continued on relentlessly.

Talana watched in awe as the guardians marched into the blazing green, their own golden echo of power igniting and flaming against the blaze.  She could see Seri within the blaze, each contact with a guardian draining him, weakening him, until he could barely lift the spear.

But lift it he did.  Unable to move, Talana could do nothing but watch as he stumbled forward to thrust the spear into her heart.

Golden power suddenly engulfed him, holding him still. He could not fight against this power. Seri howled in agony as the golden fire burned and consumed him, smothering his own magic, forcing it down and back into his body, burning away the flesh and bone that had been constructed from evil and leaving nothing but white ash piled on the floor.  The spell encasing Talana fell apart, disintegrating into nothingness. She was free.

The golden fire abruptly stopped.

 Darrukin. Through the glittering forms of the queens, she saw him. Saw the healed injuries in his side and back. Saw the love on his face as he looked at her.  Abandoning the body of her mother, she rushed to him, caught him in a fierce hug.

He wrapped his arms around her, held her, kissed her hair and face. When she looked into his eyes, she could see his love. It had saved her.

“Are you alright?” he asked her, desperation on his face.  One hand touched her face as if she were not real.

“I’m fine, and so is our dragon, thanks to you.”

“Thanks to you – the queens could not have healed me without your power.” he said. Together they turned to face the assembled shades.  As one, Talana and Darrukin bowed in thanks.

Melting before them, the figures dissolved and then reformed, each queen with her guardian, each dragon behind them.  Talana’s own dragon hastened to them, settling at their feet.

 “Thankyou, all of you, for showing us the way and helping.” she said. The shades nodded; one by one each little group dissolved back into silvery motes of light, whipping up miniature tornadoes that swirled and left the room by the open windows, sweeping the little pile of ash with them. One set remained longer than the others. Talana recognised her mother, and saw for the first time her father. 

“Goodbye.” Talana whispered, then turned back to Darrukin, smiling. She took his face in her hands and kissed him, thoroughly.

They were home.

 

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