It was an omen, some said. A story waiting to be told.

It began with brightness and beauty. She rose like the autumn sun, radiant and fearless, a light to all who wandered alone. He was strong and steady like a rushing river; winding to and fro, never able to stay in any one place. Together, they were two elvhen, two hunters, two wandering hearts destined for a lifetime under the shade of dew-dripped forest pines. Two friends now swallowed by the foulest of demons and oldest of tales.

They were supposed to be free; callused fingers curled around bowstrings, silent footfalls in the underbrush. Through mild summers and harsh winters they would roam, one scarcely seen without the other in tow. No plague of body, no shemlen blade, no terse word from the Keeper. They fell together like raindrops. Neither could last without the other's laugh and comforting presence.

She always remembered the little things about him. Things like his favorite tree—a tall oak with branches perfect for climbing. When they were smaller, they would race to the very top, little feet propelled by hollow knotholes in its massive trunk. They would screech as they wobbled in the cold spring winds, clinging to the tree's green-cloaked arms as tightly as possible. Eventually they would be brave enough to make their way down, helping each other with interlocked fingers and laughter.

It got easier to climb as they got older, but instead of a place to play, the tree became a place to get away. They called it enasal, for the tree had given them somewhere to be alone and enjoy each other's company without the ever-present ears of the Keeper.

She remembered things like the scar that grazed his collarbone, and how his shoulders tensed when stalking prey. Her feet always crept two paces behind him—to cover his back, she would say—but really she just liked to watch him move. He was so lithe with his motions; quick and dextrous, like any true Dalish hunter. She loved the way he crumbled leaves and tossed them to the wind; she loved how the sunlight danced in his hair and along the planes of his back. And sometimes, when they hunted at night, the moon would catch his eyes just right and make them glow like flickering paper lanterns. He was beautiful, she decided, in the same way that a rainstorm was beautiful, or maybe a wilting flower. He was brave. He was unconventional.

He was hers.

A simple touch is what brought them together. She was relaxing on one of enasal's many branches, when she heard a twig snap down below. Tamlen came into view, arrow drawn, ready to strike at the first sign of movement. An idea came to her mind, and a smile curled her lips. Quietly she worked her way down, then, pausing, she prepared to take flight. With a feral cry, she sprung into the air and came crashing down on top of him.

At first he tried to shake her off, thinking he was being attacked, but when he heard her wild laughter, they began a sort of frenzied wrestling match. Tamlen's bow went flying into a copse of cottonwoods, the afternoon hunt forgotten as he tried to pin her to the ground. Eventually he succeeded, hands firm on her shoulders. She always forgot how much stronger he was than she. Their lungs heaved from exertion, laughter faded to hoarse chuckling. Her eyes widened as she looked up, his face inches from her own, and couldn't help but wonder what would happen if she just...

Her breathing stopped as he brushed a piece of sweaty hair out of her face. "Lethallan," he whispered. "Has anyone ever told you how pretty you are?"

Her heart pounded frantically. "I'm covered in dirt."

His chuckle made her smile. "You make it look good."

Slowly, his face closed the space between them. Her eyes closed as his lips ensnared hers, warm and gentle, almost hesitant. She cupped his face with both hands, eager to let him know that it was okay. It was more than okay. It was wonderful. He was wonderful.

And now, he was gone.

She had begged him not to do it. "Don't touch it," she cried. "Please, Tamlen—"

His eyes were transfixed on the mirror's undulating surface. He wouldn't listen. "Come on, lethallan. Aren't you curious?"

The next thing she knew was the canvas roof of the Keeper's tent. Pain coursed through every vein in her body. Tamlen's name was the first word her pale lips formed, and the first thing the Keeper asked about. He hadn't been found. He hadn't been found, and he wouldn't survive. Funeral arrangements were being prepared as they spoke.

"But you don't know he's dead!" she yelled, her voice raspy. "I'll find him! I'll—"

"Even if we did find him, it would be too late. Nothing can be done, da'len," the Keeper said carefully, but the old woman's soothing voice did nothing but infuriate her.

And now, as she watched her best friend's bodiless pyre burn to ashes, it was all she could do to keep from letting loose the scream that crawled into her mouth and singed the back of her throat.

"Emma ir abelas, souver'inan isala hamin," her clan sang, filling the air with a eulogy older than the land itself. "Vhenan him dor'felas, in uthenera na revas."

Touch brought them together. Touch broke them apart.

It was an omen, some said. A story waiting to be told.

A story that ended long before it began.