She decided to summon her boatman. She was overdue for a trip across the lake to the tomb of her mate.

It was a windy day in the high mountain valley where her race lived. The sun was bright and hot overhead but the wind was sharp and biting coming down from the icebound peaks that disdained the coming lowland summer.

With a thought, she roused the attention of the loyal servant whose duty it was to ferry her over the water. After brief contact with his mind, she felt him promptly respond and head to the boathouse to ready her skiff.

From the terrace that she stood on, she viewed the city along the lakeshore. Beneath her, the blocky tiers of her dark stone Keep descended like a staircase for giants. Her residence dominated the smaller homes and halls of her city built of blue stone quarried from the surrounding mountains. Down in the streets she could see some of her kind moving about their daily routines. Even when close to her subjects, she always saw them as small as she did now.

She turned and went inside. Her vast royal bedchamber was warm and soft after being on the windy terrace. Thick carpets padded the floor. Their rare expensive dyes mingled in a weave of purple, bright yellow, and iridescent green that shifted colors depending on the angle of viewing. Tapestries made by talented artists long dead covered the walls, and large oval crystals embedded in the stone pillars and ceiling beams glowed with blue light. The bedding of her great four-posted bed was disheveled. Her sleep had been troubled recently, and she had arisen early. But instead of summoning servants to attend her, she had paced her chambers and terrace like an animal caged for a show.

She recognized the feeling that unsettled her. In her dreams, it was as if a barefooted intruder prowled her chamber. And waking, she could almost hear the steps behind her.

But it had been so long, so very long since anyone had entered her land from the east. Perhaps it would feel good to release her minions again, but she would look first this time. She would look because it had been so long and even one who had seen the ages could be curious.

She dressed. Her wardrobe filled three rooms, taking up more space than some of the smaller homes in the city. Racks and shelves and mannequins wearing fine gowns populated the rooms and seemed more like a museum collection than a living wardrobe. She selected a soft lamb’s wool dress with aquamarines and blue topaz beads sewn into the seams. Long sleeved, high collared, and with a narrow skirt, the dress enhanced her height. She left her long white hair free and loose, and it tumbled about her shoulders like a frozen waterfall. The white dress matched her hair and the jewels picked up the color of her skin the color of a perfect summer sky.

Her Keep was large and she traveled many halls and descended many wide staircases on her way to the ground level. The occasional servant bowed to her as she went. None of them made eye contact as they murmured a greeting to their Queen.

And she spoke to them not at all. Their respect and subservience were what she required of them and she always got both.

She emerged from her Keep next to the lake where a stone pier connected the building to the lake. The ever-lapping waters murmured melancholy rumors to the rocky shore, and the surface of the deep blue lake rippled and glittered in the bright day. Beyond the waters rose the solitary tower that was her destination. Separate from the city, it had been built long ago, before even her birth. Master builders from another age had erected it, making it strong with both the fitting of stone blocks and the strength of their spells. She had enhanced it with magic of her own, protecting it from time, and protecting it from everything.

Her boatman, Hefshul, awaited her on the pier. The wind tugged at his wispy white hair, and, unlike the other servants, he looked at his Queen with black disinterested eyes. His mouth was a thin-lipped straight line and he did not speak. For many silent centuries, he had served his Queen on her errands across the water.

The small skiff that he would paddle for her bobbed invitingly in the water. Next to Hefshul stood another figure who the Queen burned with an acid glance when she reached the shore. Hefshul bowed immediately, but the other stood straight and met her eyes with a confidence that wished to be her equal.

“Onja, my Queen, what prompts this trip across the lake today?” he asked.

“Do not question my business, Shan,” Onja said. He has been watching me, she thought and regretted her agitated pacing earlier that day. She should not have been so obvious about being disturbed. She did not want him nosing into her affairs.

“Take me with you, my Queen. Let me enter the tomb, so sacred to us all,” Shan proposed.

She had only contempt for his audacity. “It is the tomb of my mate. It is not for you. It is my place to be with him,” Onja said.

“He was the King of us all. I would like to show respect. I am sure that others would too,” Shan persisted.

“Your respect is your obedience to me,” Onja told him.

Hefshul watched their interaction. Their speech was civil but the simmering hiss of their hostility bubbled against his senses.

Anger narrowed the black eyes of Shan ever so slightly, but the fires of his powers were not stirred. At last he dipped his head and his black hair streaked with white fell over his face. “As you have taught me, my Queen,” he said.

Onja brushed past him, haughty and satisfied by his submission. “Begone before you anger me,” she commanded.

He complied, but as he moved away from the shore, Onja felt how his mind lingered over her. He would monitor her, she knew, but he would not see within the tower.

She did not need assistance to board the skiff. Her mighty mind cast tiny spells that stabilized it in the water and prevented it from rocking while she settled into the single passenger seat. Hefshul hopped in nimbly and took up his oar at the rear of the boat. Quietly, he paddled and conveyed his Queen to the tower.

After grounding the skiff onto the gravel shore, he placed his oar patiently across his knees and prepared to wait. He was forbidden to go ashore, and he was alone among his kind in being allowed so close to the tower. Onja never mentioned how long she would be when visiting the tomb of her long-dead mate. Hefshul was expected to be there for her whether she was inside an hour or a week.

Onja walked up to the tower that none of her living subjects had seen the inside of. The timbers of its doors were as sound as the day they had been cut. Once, many visitors had been welcomed by these doors, but now they were locked against the world and admitted only Onja.

Blue light filled her eyes and she murmured the word of opening that controlled the doors. “Keppaneah,” she said.

A blue shimmer spread up the timbers and they slowly glided open on great hinges that did not rust. After she entered, the doors automatically shut behind her. The enforced gloom of the tower yielded to her power and the crystals set in the walls of the vaulted hallway glowed when she neared them. The light drove back some of the ancient darkness as Onja walked down the hall and into the empty throne room. Inside this great circular chamber, memories rushed back to her of a time when she was young. She smiled as she recalled vanquishing all of her enemies and casting out the false lords who had built this tower in her homeland and dared to call it theirs.

The interior chamber was open all the way up to the roof, and every level in between opened onto the hollow center of the tower. High above, the daylight came through skylights.

She ascended to the tower’s highest level where her mate was interred in a crystal sarcophagus. Skylights opened the upper level to the sunny sky that cast its golden brilliance upon the sarcophagus, making it shimmer as if it was more a part of the heavens than the living world.

Onja approached the sarcophagus and set her hands on it. The massive crystal block was cool but it began to warm to her touch. Within the translucent quartz, she could see her lover, the King, who had been at her side in rich glorious days that only she remembered. She looked down on the King, whose blue body in silver armor refracted crookedly through the crystal.

The sarcophagus became warmer and blue light radiated from her hands and pushed deeper into the rock. The same blue light emanated from Onja’s eyes that ceased to blink or to see her immediate surroundings.

“Dacian, help me see. Help me see as far as we can,” she said out loud.

Inside his body there remained power. His great power had once enticed her with its magnificence. His strength had been irresistible, something she had to possess, always.

In her mind, she spoke to him again. “Dacian, more. I want to see them,” she commanded.

Onja meditated. Her mind could see far beyond herself and deploy her magic throughout her realm. With her mind’s eye she searched eastward, out of her mountain kingdom and onto a rolling prairie where animals roamed and lived without the knowledge of humankind. Then she entered an area shunned by life, where no animals burrowed or grazed or hunted. Sad standing stones dotted the forsaken stretch of prairie. From the stones, the cold breath of thousands of souls called to her. The lifeforce of their mistress had not touched them for over a century, and the dead voices of the damned wailed to her for freedom.

Onja moved over them, ignoring their calls and giving them no commands. As she pushed farther, the land blossomed again beneath her awareness. Crossing such distances in her mind wearied her and she drew deeply upon her inner strength and demanded more of Dacian, who gave.

“You were always so giving,” she told him sweetly.

A virgin forest began to encroach upon the prairie as she traveled farther south and east. Old trees grew in a place that knew no axes. This was her gift to the land. She protected it. The filthy refugees who had scrambled from her wrath so long ago like so many rats had never been allowed to scurry back close to her domain.

But they were sniffing their way back again. Eventually humans always came back. She pushed her mind as far as it would go, and to feel her limit sickened her, but she could see whose feet had been treading at the edge of her mind. Struggling to maintain the clarity of her vision, she looked upon fresh green shrubs and grasses flourishing in a place of charred trees. Here, she spied two horses bearing riders – a man with a woman and children.

Children, she thought and focused on their small lifeforces. They were so vibrant, glowing still from the fires of their creation. As she strained against the distance, the children made her feel her age. They beckoned her with their sweet innocent vitality, and she was glad that she had looked.

Greed urged her to grant the intruders mercy, and she chose not to set loose her minions to cleanse her land as she had always done before. The price for entering her land this time would be different from death.

While enjoying the glow of the children’s lifeforces, Onja examined the adults. The minds of the man and woman were foreign to her and she had to concentrate to decode their thoughts in languages unknown to her. But their secrets and desires were there to find. After laboring deep in her grueling meditation, her crafty mind set lures in the thoughts of the adults and she would eventually hook them to her will and make them come to her.

“Come, come, just a little farther. So much to see. Nothing for you to go back to,” she whispered until her words echoed in the subconscious of each unsuspecting human. Their longings were easy to nudge in her direction. The man wanted to explore and find a new path for his life, and the woman wanted only escape.

“Bring them!”

When her seeds were planted, she extracted her mind from the humans and began the long climb out of her trance. The Wilderness fell away from her inner vision and she flew through darkness as her mind sought to reunite with her body.

Onja was weak when she finally saw through her own eyes again. Blue fires dwindled in her pupils to just flickers. She was on her knees with her torso draped across the sarcophagus. She could not lift her head. The tower was dark except for the pulsing blue light swirling around Dacian in his crystal case. Stars watched them through the skylights.

Onja finally shut her eyes and severed her connection with her entombed mate. The crystal against her face was cooling but she could still feel him inside it. He had given her strength and she had fed on it greedily, but his mind had been silent. She could take much from him, but she had never been able to take his thoughts unless he chose to share them.

She worked on renewing her flesh with long deep breaths. She was tired and would sleep well when she returned to her bedchamber. She had seen who had entered her Wilderness. The tiny wandering family might give her much sport, and she smiled as she anticipated their arrival.

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