K. Ryan, 2005

Ariel seeks. A present for ElspethElf.

Darkness bleeds thick and warm, blurred at the edges. It is a familiar blanket, muffling the enigmatic sound of liquid falling into liquid.

There are flames at by back—lash-streaks of pain that leave no mark. They move me on, always half a step behind. Silent dull yellow tongues in the dark as I seek. I need none of their encouragement, though they give it all the same.

I seek. I am the Seeker. Soon I shall wake and it shall be no dream.

I follow a path of footprints, slim and long-boned. There are years of them, and they wind. They grow, because they belonged to a child. First, they hobble; blemished and broken. The way is easiest then. I fly and catch glimpses that tantalize, that taunt. The black in her hair is lighter than the darkness; her memories fine-woven curtains to push myself through and rip. Longing glances; shadowed profiles. A blind-man's barrier to which she tells herself she is blind. Friends and loyalties, betrayals; self-loathing with snatches of passion. She is well loved, this one I follow. They try to cosset and cage but she flies ahead of them, leaving them in her wake for me to ravage and discard—empty shells of shields.

"Leave them," I whisper, and leave them she does, even as her feet strengthen and she is given speed. I seek, but I wait for her to find. To strip the signs away and leave me the key, elegant and unadorned underneath the dross of prophecy and illusory protection.

As elegant as she could be when stripped of her guardians; her furred and feathered chains.

Stripped. Milk-white limbs long and lean against the warmth and blackness.

She is my key, and she wants to be held. Used. Forced. It is her nature. Without help, she cannot help it.

Water drops and catches flames burn. Soon I shall hold her and the footprints shall end in the dust.

"Do as you wish and you do my bidding."

If she does what the others wish than all shall end with no end. She is the H'rayka, but I shall seek her before she destroys herself to save what should be gone.

I seek. I am the Seeker. Soon I shall wake and it shall be no dream.