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The hard heels of Darathel’s boots echoed on the marble floor of the gallery – a floor made of hundreds of unique, mirror-smooth stones that no elf or man had ever laid. Beside him the diminutive form of Faedra slipped along, her soft slippers making only a rustling within her skirts. She had put her hood up, though whether it was out of fear or reverence, Darathel could not guess. He watched her hemline move along intricate stone grain, complex like wood, but infused with the chaos of time. Sun fell on it in great squares from the windows above, lighting hidden crystals in the matrix.
He picked his head up and looked between the great pillars. The paintings that had been made since the creation of Pelanalda stood out from the wall, which was beginning to feel faded. Darathel sighed as the details slipped over and out from his mind. He adjusted his baldric, taking it in a notch so his father’s longsword would stop swinging and hitting his left calf.
“I am forgetting,” he said softly. Ahead loomed the empty door, a black portal which he always dreaded.
“So am I,” Faedra said. “But we won’t forget each other.”
“You speak fatalistically. Do you know something I don’t?”
“Many things, my lord, but of the future, nothing.”
Darathel stepped up to the door and held forth his hand. The darkness rippled like water, then faded, revealing a sun-lit room filled with furnishings. Darathel and Faedra stepped in. The dark curtain formed behind them. When it did, the room grew darker as well. A halo of light surrounded a bed on the far wall. As if seeing it for the first time, Darathel flinched, then walked toward it.
On the bed lay an elf, breathing slowly. His eyes were open, and he wore a grim expression, though he stared at nothing. Bedsheets covered him to his chest, but he wore no shirt. His head reclined on a pillow, and on his golden hair sat a detailed circlet of golden-white metal that glowed with its own light, illuminating the dark space.
“Can you hear me, father?” Darathel said.
The elf blinked, then looked at Darathel. His voice was clear and slow. “My son. It is good to see you. How long has it been?”
“So little time. It felt like years.”
“It might have been longer to you, King Pelanel,” Faedra said.
The eyes of the elf in the bed turned to regard her. “Good that you brought Faedra. How are our stores?”
“Gone,” Faedra said. “The prim is growing more chaotic as well. Our ability to draw forth substance is failing.”
“I am at my limit,” Pelanel said.
“The castle…” Darathel looked down. “I don’t quite have the words.”
“It is losing itself,” Pelanel said, nodding his head slightly. “I feared this. Even without the army that encamps outside our walls, I feared it might come to this, eventually.”
“That you would lose your power?” Darathel said.
“That Midgard might not suffer us. That the truth of the dim would rest on us – that all you make with your own will you are destined to unmake.”
“Let me take up the crown, at least for a while, so that you can rest.”
Pelanel closed his eyes. “It is not your burden.”
“It wasn’t always a burden to you.”
Pelanel, his eyes still closed, frowned and shook his head. “No.”
“What shall we do, then?”
“Your burden is to find a solution for our people. I cannot divide my mind. I must focus on the Prim and the city.”
“Shall we go out and fight? Have a heroic last stand? Should I try to send messengers beyond to Alfheim?”
“Go,” Pelanel said. “Return later. See to your own duty, my son.”
Darathel looked sadly upon his father and placed a hand on the ancient elf’s chest. He turned to leave, but found that his father gripped his wrist.
“Your mother… Send her.” The king’s eyes opened again, and were shimmering slightly with moisture.
“She’s… not here.”
“Oh… Yes, of course. Is Faedra here?”
“I’m still here, my lord,” Faedra said.
“Good, you’ve returned,” Pelanel said.
“Returned?” she said.
The king turned his head and smiled at her. “Take care of my little one.”
“I shall,” Faedra said, and forced a smile.
Pelanel closed his eyes. Faedra glanced at Darathel, then turned toward the darkened door.