The world shifted. The hilltop of gentle grass, the stone gateways—changed. Not disappeared. They blended into another form.
A truer form? No. Just a different perspective.
The flowers were swords. And the hilltop was barren.
Just dirt. Dust. A substance that was less than either. A powder of the end of the world.
On the outskirts of the lands of the fae—nothing existed past this place. And each hilltop? A gateway.
This one stood with doors sealed, until you opened it. A vast structure of some metal Ryoka had no knowledge of. And planted on the hill were…swords.
Weapons. Buried in the earth. A warrior’s salute. Broken flags. Armor, hung and torn from the blades the owners had borne.
How many times? Ryoka’s eyes widened.
Her friend stood there, pale among the starlit sky. A shimmering light like the countless stars beyond. Distant realms amid the blackness.
“You have been in that world before.”
“Many times. Once, we came as friend. Later—as warriors. Look.”
Ryoka was afraid to. She turned—and the world changed again.
Statues stood in the hallway. The door at the end looked like Erin’s door. Just a simple wooden door, waiting for someone to open it.
But the hallway was vast, so long she would have to run for days without end just to cross it. It was so long because each space was occupied by a statue.
A statue—like the garden. Each one of a fae.
Some were like Ivolethe. Members of the Court of the Fae. Others? Ryoka saw a true Brownie, whose shape Nama had borrowed. Humble pixies. And proud folk like Silver Pine, as tall as the world itself.
She saw Dragons. Wyrms. She saw so many countless statues, all named. All reverentially treated.
Flowers. Swords. Statues.
A terrible fear gripped Ryoka as her feet carried her down the hallway. She did not want to see. The last piece of the truth was at the end. Two in one.
It was not the tallest. Not the most unique on the hill, even. Ryoka’s feet halted unwillingly in the grass. She had seen it once before. She had wept for it then. And not known why.
Two blooms twined together. Two ideas.
Summer and Winter.
Ryoka saw, across every perspective. It had always been there. And it was written in her tongue. In English. Spanish. French. In all the tongues of Earth. And all the ones she did not know.
Written in a way she could understand it. Writ in every tongue, in every tear.
Here lies Maeve. Queen of the Faeries.
Here lies Titania. Queen of the Faeries.
Slowly, Ryoka sank to her knees in the grass. The flower bloomed. The twin statues stood. The two swords stood in the dirt.
Ivolethe was weeping. So was Ryoka. There weren’t enough tears, though.
“How? How did it come to this?”
Ryoka turned to Ivolethe. The Winter Fae spoke through her grief. A simple answer.
“We kept our promises.”
That was all. Ryoka collapsed. Ivolethe urged her upwards.
“I have a promise to fulfill, Ryoka.”
But the Wind Runner had no will to ask her. Not one more. Too many. Too many. She looked at Ivolethe.
And the day ended.
Abruptly, Numbtongue wondered what he was doing. He raised his head as the night echoed around him.
Mrsha was asleep in Lyonette’s arms, tears still drying on the [Princess]’ blouse. Everyone was silent around them.
Antinium, staff, Bird—but they were in Timbor’s private room.
Not The Wandering Inn. Why? Why had they not been in the inn on the Summer Solstice?
Numbtongue only asked these questions because Shorthilt and Pyrite did. They had been screaming at him all day and he had not heard.
“Reiss? What happened?”
He whispered, but the ghost was not here. Of course not. He was at…
The inn. A dread surmise filled the Hobgoblin. He stood. Without bothering to wake the others, he hurried out of the inn. Ran down the streets. Tossed aside his guitar, his worthless sword to run faster.
Something was wrong. Something had been wrong. He felt it. He ran down the streets, for the magic door, realized it was set to the wrong dial. So he ran out the gates, past the alarmed guards who set up an alarm.
He ran as fast as he could. But he had always been too late.
The door was ajar when Numbtongue reached it. Someone had walked through the front door. But left no footprint.
Numbtongue howled. No one answered him. He ran down the hallway, into the common room! No one was here! For a second, he felt relief.
Then he saw the door to the [Garden of Sanctuary], forced open. The broken iron bands. And the Goblin knew true fear.
He stumbled forwards, with bare hands. Weaponless. But it was too late already. Numbtongue stepped into the Garden, looking around.
And found a statue. A statue barred his way. The Hobgoblin stopped. He stared down at the tiny Cave Goblin.
Its arms were outstretched. A defiant gleam in its eyes as it looked up at…at something. The Hobgoblin stared. The statues had never left the hill. But this one—
Was one of many. The Hobgoblin saw more. And he realized…something had come through this door. And the statue had tried to block it.
The [Bard] reached out with a trembling hand. He touched the statue and found…stone.
Rough, stone. That was all. Grey. Perfect. But stone. Something was gone.
Past the first statue was a second. A trio of Redfangs stood with hands out. Two male, one female. One a hob, the other two short. They were snarling defiance. They formed a chain—but there was a gap.
Numbtongue stumbled past it. He saw more statues, all blocking his way. And he realized—he was following the trail of something.
Something…that had walked through here. Past the pond, where even the Fortress Beavers had fled for a day. Up the hill, past the Sage’s Grass. Past the dead faerie flowers. Up the hill and to the highest point in the garden.
To the hill covered in mists. To the bier of frost.
He was so afraid. But it was too late. So the Hobgoblin stopped. Seeing the path.
The statues blocked it. Diverted, trying to drive it down the hill. But they could not stop whatever had come here. Each statue stood, rooted in place. Dozens…hundreds…thousands of Goblins.
But something was odd. There were—gaps. In the lines of statues. Goblins stood, linking arms, holding hands with…nothing.
Ghosts that had never been known to the [Innkeeper]. Yet the Goblins had held off something as one. The gaps Numbtongue slipped through, climbing, following the slow trail. Higher. Higher, as the day turned to night.
The statues were clustered so thickly at the hill that but for the gaps, he would never have gotten through. Numbtongue ran into the cleared mists on the top of the hill and stopped.
Eater of Spears looked down at him. Grimly barring the way. Spiderslicer was next. Grasping at an invisible sword.
There they were. A last group of Goblins barred the way.
Bugear, defiantly shouting. Redfangs. Little Cave Goblins, some piled up on top of each other as if to stop something that way.
Numbtongue ran left. Then he saw the last of them.
Gaps where his friends had been. There had never been a statue of Grunter or the others. But they had been here, don’t you see? Standing here.
And the faces of the Goblins were changing. They had been so bitter. Defiant. Even afraid. But now—Numbtongue saw a laughing Cave Goblin, pointing up triumphantly. A mocking Hobgoblin.
Furiously barring the way. As if…something…had grown impatient.
Just a few steps. And there he was.
Headscratcher’s statue stood in front of a frozen bier. His arm was blocking Numbtongue. And the Hobgoblin’s face was relieved. So relieved. Tears ran from Numbtongue’s eyes. He ducked under the arm.
The last Goblin was laughing. Laughing so hard he was nearly doubled over even as he blocked the way.
Garen Redfang. A fierce grin on his face. Pain—Numbtongue saw the body beyond. And…
Someone stirred as the Hobgoblin stopped. Terrible fear seized Numbtongue. The body was moving. He reached for a sword he did not have.
And then he saw the flickering, tattered Goblin’s head rise.
The Goblin Lord made no response as he rose. He blocked Numbtongue. And he looked—
Incomplete. Parts of his body and face were missing. Not missing the same way his wounds in death had been. But gone. Yet he stood, barring the way with Garen, his brother. He spoke.
“—begone. Stay back. Back—”
He swiped at Numbtongue. The claws passed through the Hobgoblin without force or feeling. The [Bard] reached out and the Goblin Lord hissed.
“Back! Do not touch her! Back—”
He did not recognize Numbtongue.
“Reiss? What happened?”
The Goblin Lord jerked at the name. The head and blank eyes looked around, searching.
“Who? Who is there? Stay back.”
He shielded the body lying on the bier. Numbtongue saw…
Erin Solstice. Resting there. Frozen.
The Goblin Lord tried to block Numbtongue. Softly, the [Bard] shook his head.
“It’s over, Reiss. It is…gone.”
He looked around. But he knew it was true. The Goblin Lord stirred.
“Over? Done? Who…who are you?”
The Hobgoblin whispered. Tears in his eyes as he understood part of what had happened. He reached down. The Goblin Lord reached up.
They clasped hands. Numbtongue helped him up.
“Thank you. Thank you.”
The figure smiled. And then vanished. Numbtongue waited. But all he heard was a whisper.
[—ry – Reiss—d obt—!]
Flickering pieces. The [Bard] knelt by Erin, weeping for his friends. Then he stood, and placed his back to his comrades’. That was how they found him.
Amid the statues. Triumphant.
Five of them howled in fury. The long day had ended. One, a figure that was more ravaged than even the others, so…alien in nature, was raging.
But the fae were triumphant. The last had appeared in fury as the day ended.
Tyrion saw Melidore snarl. He raised his sword and—
—bellowed as the five closed in. The shadows were so close now. The mortals so tightly bunched together. And yet, the Summer Fae roared.
“Nothing assails us, kin! Nothing has dared cross into the boundaries of this party! Nothing has no right to be here.”
He pointed his sword at the five. They had stopped, warily. The six fae warriors stood, swords bared warily. Bloodied. But refusing to fall.
“You dare to show your craven forms after all this time? You dare to test the might of the fae? On this day? In this place?”
Melidore roared. The five did not fear him. They wanted the mortals. Laken most of all. But the fae’s presence kept them back. A terrible rictus of rage crossed Melidore’s face. More than a mortal being could carry. It changed his very features into that of maddening anger, such that even the five wavered.
“There shall be naught for you! Nothing to feed on! Nor anything shall remain! I see you. I remember your names!”
Laken shouted in horror. Tyrion felt a lurch of dread. What was the fae doing? The figures firmed and seemed shocked themselves. The fae were screaming at Melidore. Why was he doing this?
For answer, the fae raised his sword to the sky.
“We uphold our oaths. We will never forget! My liege! My king. I call your name. Oberon! Oberon!”
The word was faint at first. But then it began to echo. It rang in the air. The fae jerked. The five’s smiles…vanished.
They began to back up. But they had come too far. Now—the six fae warriors blocked their path. Shadows began to flee.
Melidore stood alone in the light. The fae dropped his sword and howled at the sky as the echoes grew louder. This time his voice tore at reality.
The word ran throughout the land of the fae. Ryoka and Ivolethe heard it come through the doorway. It rang through the forest, the city, the lands beyond.
A single word from Melidore’s voice. Ryoka felt the world singing it, ringing like a bell. It shook her.
“He calls his name! Is he mad? What has—no. No!”
Ivolethe knew what it meant. She darted towards the gate and recoiled in horror. Ryoka looked at her.
Shadows around the fire. She was afraid. But then Ivolethe’s teeth bared.
“More fools they. Melidore has trapped them. He comes. He comes!”
“The Faerie K—”
And then Ryoka sensed it. A change in the air. The word kept ringing and ringing, like the tolling of bells. It was more than just one name. She heard Oberon, and a hundred other names. Melidore knew them all.
Ivolethe had told Ryoka she could have summoned one aspect of the Faerie King by luck on that day. Melidore?
He summoned all of them.
Ryoka and Ivolethe’s heads turned as the name faded into sudden, strange silence. They could not help it. And perspective…Ryoka looked past the hills.
Past the distant road leading into the heart of the lands of the fae. Past the forest and the great trees. Past the broken city.
Past the pieces of worlds and homes of the guests from afar.
Past even the Court of the Fae.
In. To the center of this world. And there he was.
Oberon, the Faerie King rode a great stag. No—he was the stag. The Stag King! No, he stood astride a chariot—
Countless forms flickered across Ryoka’s vision. Countless aspects. The Faerie King walked out of the heart of the world. And behind him came his court.
He walked down the one road in the world towards her. In a straight line. That was how it had always been. The entire world of the fae was one road towards the gateway and the Faerie King passed before all present.
Nama, the giant with three eyes, the three Kings around their sword, the Wyrms—everyone. They all bowed as he passed. Kneeling. Paying their respects to the one ruler of this place.
Oberon. In his wake followed the fae, armed for war. Ryoka had heard of the legendary armies of heaven that would descend during the end of the worlds. This was a host like that.
The world trees walked. Those like Silver Pine, amid their smaller kin. Dragons took wing and then forms like Teriarch’s, walking behind the Faerie King.
Magical beasts joined the army. Ryoka saw them all following that ruler of the fae.
And he saw her as well. His Wild Hunt followed, their enmity with Ryoka forgotten. The Faerie King was far away—and he was right in front of her.
Ivolethe was prostrate. So was Ryoka. She feared his wrath, and she dared not meet his eyes.
But then the great, horned head dipped. Ryoka looked up.
For a second, she met the eyes of Oberon. She saw only a fraction of what was there. Anything more and she would have been overwhelmed. But what she saw—
Was sadness. A terrible grief.
The Faerie King mourns. He was terrible. Terrible and wondrous and…
Not without kindness. Ivolethe had broken the rules, so he had punished her. But there was no malice there.
Just weariness. And resolve. In that moment, he nodded to her. And her transgressions were forgiven. She had broken his laws. She and Ivolethe had defied his will.
This matters more. The Faerie King raised a horn and blew it. And the realm shook as his army marched to war.
How many times? Did it matter?
We kept our promises.
Oberon looked ahead. And his wrath descended upon the world beyond.
Othius the Fourth saw the ritual burning bright. He felt something opening beyond him. The countless potentialities were about to be sacrificed. An exchange of unparalleled magnitude.
“My King! Please! Reconsider!”
Laisa begged as the lights burned a hole between times. But she was now caught by the spell. Beholden to its will.
And the Blighted King’s. He saw Nereshal looking at him uncertainly.
A hundred thousand lives this time. Unborn—and yet—the last one had caused the Fool to defect. It had been a price bitter enough.
This time? The Blighted King raised a hand.
“Fear not, Laisa. The Blighted Kingdom shall not give so many lives.”
The High Mage and the others sagged. Othius went on. He clenched and unclenched his hands. And his fury, bittering of centuries, rose in him.
“For so long we have held the breach! We alone, aided so little by the other petty lands of this world! A bulwark only remembered when the fate of all trembled on the balance! This time—yes, this time—let the rest of the world pay the price! Take it from all but Rhir!”
Laisa’s eyes widened in horror. The High Mage struggled. Nereshal whirled.
“Your Majesty! The other nations—”
“Be silent, steward! Do it! Complete the ritual!”
Nereshal ran forwards, but it was too late. The High Mages, linked, were conduits for Othius’ words. The spell burned, like brimstone and the scent of pure magic, howling against the dust and darkness in this place—
Othius smelled fresh berries upon a sudden breeze. He heard birdsong. He looked around, mystified.
The five were fleeing. Backing away from the gateway that had appeared in the sky. A true gateway. But they were trapped. They had come too far, and now Melidore and the fae were trying to keep them back.
The fae stabbed something as it fled. And something—
Died with a scream so piercing that even the other shades stopped. Even the five. As pitiful as it had been, Tyrion wept. For a ___ had died—
And more would die. The power filled the air. It filled—
The treants looked up from the sea. They began to bloom in every profusion.
Wild beasts took wing, flying—mighty Rocs, proud Griffins, even a horned Unicorn knelt in the direction of the gathering.
Eldavin—Teriarch whirled in his cabin. He kicked out the door, gasping.
“It—it can’t be.”
What did Ryoka do? Also—he’d missed this?
The ritual! Suddenly—the scent of spring was in the air. And something was twisting—twisting the magic apart!
It was as if some other power were ripping it apart! The High Mages screamed and Othius raged.
“Stop! I command you to stop!”
The Summer smote him and Nereshal down to the ground.
“They have returned! Bring them death! Death and fulfill our vows!”
Ivolethe had gone mad. She was shouting at the Faerie King. He had not even entered the gateway and already, Ryoka felt the power flowing past her.
She was begging him to do the same. She could have watched that procession forever. But it was also so hard to watch. Look how they rode to war. Again and again.
See what it had cost.
Someone seized her shoulder. Ivolethe. She dragged Ryoka towards the gateway, ahead of the Faerie King.
“Ivolethe! What are you doing?”
Ryoka stared at Oberon. He was watching them as he rode/walked. Ivolethe was panting.
“We must find Erin’s life! This way! This way!”
“But the Faerie King—”
“It does not matter! Not anymore! The laws do not matter! With me! We go to find—”
They leapt through the doorway. Stumbled into—
It was all breaking apart. The Blighted King saw something tearing apart the connection. Or was it…mending a gap?
Either way, what had been poised to be his great opening, a rift rather than a gateway perhaps, but still a link of torn reality—
Was closing. He had no idea what it was, not fully. Not even Nereshal could explain as he dragged himself up, head bleeding from where he had fallen.
“Your Majesty, stop!”
“My armies! My prophesied heroes! Come to me! To me!”
The Blighted King ran over the failing ritual’s sigils. Past the High Mages struggling against a far superior foe. He almost saw the opening.
There was a sound coming from the other side. A sound unlike any Othius had ever heard. Strange bells. Shouts of alarm.
Another world lay beyond. Othius stopped in front of it, adjusted his garments, his crown.
There was something beyond. People! They were asking the most obvious question. The question anyone asked.
Earth? Othius had read all the accounts. Talked to Sir Richard and all the others. He saw—he almost saw someone on the other side. Many people. Where was this?
The image—flickered. He saw a room full of people. A strange multi-bridged place with huge metal things rolling along. Countless faces. The room—asking a question.
He had prepared a speech for this eventuality. Othius reached for his bag of holding. Then he gave up.
Again, the question came. Who are you?
He almost heard it. From many sources. Many places where the worlds connected. The ritual was screaming around him. Othius raised his voice and spoke, shouting to that world beyond.
“I would be your King.”
The voices stopped. He heard gasps. Questions. Someone was saying…
Othius’ ears were ringing. He shouted on, desperately, reciting his speech.
“I call you from your world. To me! To fight evil in every form it takes!”
The voices from beyond listened. The Blighted King roared, beseeching them.
“Send me your righteous souls, to fight the last war! The eternal war! Until the Demons are driven back and hell itself is cleansed! Bring your greatest armies to make war upon the end of the world! This is the day of reckoning and I call you to my side!”
Screaming. Voices—he reached out, but the world’s link was fraying—
The Faerie King was coming. The five were fighting desperately.
Ryoka Griffin landed in Innworld with Ivolethe. She stared at the Frost Faerie.
“Why are we here?”
“I told you! Erin sleeps in this world? Cure her in this! We follow the threads of fate! Um…here!”
The faerie was rummaging around somewhere. Ryoka focused around her.
“Wait. Where the hell are we? This isn’t the party?”
The faerie kicked over something. It crashed onto the floor. She rounded on Ryoka.
“Of course not, you fool! Do you think that party has what Erin Solstice needs? We are where her hope lies!”
Ryoka focused on the place around her. They were in a vast room. With a ceiling. She noted that. Then the giant fresco on the walls. The…armory…of weapons…
As she grew used to the new world and the disorientation faded, Ryoka more clearly focused on what Ivolethe was tossing carelessly around.
“Must be buried…stupid trash!”
She hurled a bowl of glowing waters to the side. It joined what might have been a relic of ancient magic…currently lying smashed on the ground.
“Where are we?”
The fae shrugged.
“Where we need to be.”
It wasn’t Teriarch’s hoard. But it was second-best to that. Ryoka stared at the sigil on the wall. She recognized it. She went dead white. But Ivolethe was reaching down.
“Aha! A cure for a half-dead c—”
And there he was. Aaron felt something was happening. Something…momentous.
Wistram Academy was practically shaking as mages ran about, shouting. They felt it too.
But he felt, no, he knew he was at the center of something just as great. His finger wavered.
All he had to do was…he looked around.
Emerrhain stood in front of him, over the intensely complex magical circle. Not even Nailihuaile and Feor combined could have copied it. But it was…familiar. Aaron’s finger wavered.
“I don’t know if I should. I don’t—I don’t—”
I don’t want to. But he didn’t even think that. Emerrhain sighed.
“This is the answer to all you wish to know. You will know so much after this, Aaron. I cannot help you if you do not help me. What I want, you want. What you want, I want.”
His eyes. Aaron tried to look away. He tried to put down the iPhone.
It sat in the center of the circle. Aaron’s finger jerked. But it was lowering. He looked up. Emerrhain’s eyes were focused on the glowing screen. Desperate.
They were screaming. The first of the fae poured through the gateway after them. Things were dying. But the five remained. And yet he came.
The ritual was failing. Othius thrust forwards a hand, trying to tear the gap apart himself. Nereshal hurtled forwards and knocked him down, dragging him back as the Blighted King fought and kicked.
Ivolethe had found something in the pile of relics. Ryoka saw…a scroll. It was so gentle and warm she laughed to see it. Ivolethe swore, her fingers touching the thing.
“It is strong. I cannot pick it up as I am. Ryoka—”
The Wind Runner bent…
Aaron sighed. His sweating stopped. He looked at Emerrhain.
“Did I ever have a choice?”
The scholar had his hand on Aaron’s. He smiled, with gentle compassion.
He pushed Aaron’s finger down onto the glowing button.
Ryoka Griffin stopped. Her hand was almost on the scroll. But she felt it. Ivolethe felt it. She cried out.
“No! No, no!”
The Wind Runner did not know what had happened. But Ivolethe was—screaming. She screamed towards the sky—and Ryoka felt it.
Laken Godart saw the vengeful fae halt. The five figures turned. They stopped cowering. Stopped fleeing.
At the tiny sound. It filled the world. Interrupted the wondrous sounds of spring. The raging battle. It was just a small sound, but it did not fit. Not in this world.
It was artificial.
Slowly, so slowly, Laken Godart reached into his pocket. Across the world—
The Drake recoiled as the device, which had been out of power, lit up. She fled backwards—then saw something on the screen which stopped her heart for a second. She collapsed.
Cara O’Sullivan picked up the glowing iPhone with trembling fingers.
She turned it. And saw one thing.
A message. A text message. Sent to all the devices from another world. Such a simple thing.
The Gods are alive.
She dropped the device. She backed away. But the young woman from Earth—
Laisa was screaming. The ritual was warping her. She was glad, though. Something was mending it. Something was bridging the terrible damage she and the others were wreaking—
Then the hands appeared. The song of spring ended.
She felt them. She heard laughter. A man’s voice. Something reached out and tore at the very nature of things. The High Mage collapsed as the magic expended itself. Othius howled in triumph.
In a bar, past midnight, Rufelt heard a cry. He shot out of bed.
“Lasica. What’s wrong? Lasica!”
His wife appeared in the doorway to their room. Her eyes were wide, frantic.
In Rhir, something stirred. Three Hives vanished in a moment.
The Death of Magic flew into the sky, screaming.
“What have you done? You idiots!”
Across the world, great [Mages] were afraid. Az’kerash and Belavierr dug themselves out of the snow and the Stitch Witch stood oblivious in the cold.
“They have torn the threads.”
And her eyes betrayed fear.
Ryoka felt everything change. One second, Ivolethe was rejoicing. Then—screaming.
She stood there. The scroll forgotten. She looked at Ryoka—and then tugged her arm.
She dragged the City Runner out of the vault. Ryoka reached for the scroll—but suddenly spectral chains appeared around it and her arm.
She struggled to rip it from the magic protecting it.
“Ryoka! We must leave! They are—”
Figures were already shouting, bursting into the vault from the other side. Ryoka heard their voices.
“Ivolethe! The scroll! The scroll! Let me—”
Ryoka shouted at Ivolethe, but the fae dragged her through the bridge between worlds, and Ryoka dropped the scroll as the magic pulled it away from her. She was screaming at her friend, but Ivolethe’s eyes were wide with fear. Everything else was forgotten.
The realms of the fae. Ryoka stumbled through the gateway on the hill of flowers. She whirled.
“It was right there! Ivolethe! Erin—”
“Ryoka Griffin. I am sorry. But look.”
Ryoka’s rage faded. Her head turned. And she saw.
The Faerie King, Oberon, stood in front of her. His great head bowed once. In sorrow. Ryoka stared up at him and the host.
She saw the fae warriors, six of them.
Silver Pine, his head bowed in sorrow and rage.
The Summer Court.
They were all here. They had walked through the portal. Now—the fae turned as one. They began to slowly march away from the doorway.
“What are you doing?”
Ryoka ran after them. What had just happened? They had been going to—
One look at Melidore’s anguished face, Ivolethe’s, and the Faerie King’s bowed head and Ryoka knew the answer.
No more, no more. The hour is past. Too many lives have been spent. No more shall die. It is too late.
Something terrible had happened. And the power of Oberon himself had been thwarted.
“I am so sorry. I tried to make an end to it. But we cannot return. Each one of us becomes a weapon against you. Each blade, each piece of us—”
Melidore looked at Ryoka. He hung his head wearily. The Wind Runner fell to her knees.
“But Erin? Can’t you just…?”
“Look. They are closing our gate from their side.”
Ivolethe whispered. The stones were shifting. Ryoka saw the portal trembling.
“They will not.”
It took Ryoka a long time to realize the voice had been the Faerie King’s. Fae surrounded the gate on this side. She looked at Ivolethe.
“My friend. I cannot help you anymore. Everything has changed.”
The fae wept. Ryoka knew it. The fae were struggling just to keep the gateway open. Ivolethe pointed at it.
“We cannot be trapped there. Surely we will return. To do battle. But this day—oh, Ryoka. It is just what I feared when I was told of us.”
She shed more frozen tears. Ryoka looked at the Faerie King, watching. Then at Ivolethe.
“What? Can’t you tell me all of it?”
“No. It will give them…strength. You must find it out yourself. Seek the truth. Seek the wind. You will have it now. You can be more than wind. My King.”
She bowed and Oberon nodded. Ivolethe whispered something. Then she kissed Ryoka’s forehead.
“Go with our ways. Seek out…Goblins. Seek out friends.”
“B-but Erin. But everything. What am I supposed to do?”
Ivolethe shook her head.
“The wind can guide you. More than that? I—I do not know anymore. What can we give her?”
She turned, suddenly desperate. The other fae of the court, great figures, all looked at each other.
“Something. A great weapon! Melidore, your sword!”
“It would only become theirs. You know that, Ivolethe.”
The faerie’s eyes closed. Ryoka saw her shoulders hunch. The Wind Runner looked at the trembling gateway.
Back. Back to…what? Failure. It had all fallen apart. Her great meeting, her time with the fae in these lands? She had searched for a cure. And she had failed.
“No. You did not fail. You have changed. And you will bring that with you.”
Ryoka turned. The Faerie King stood next to her. She saw Ivolethe look up, tear-stained eyes wide.
Oberon had no voice of power. He did not need it. He spoke naturally to Ryoka. He was a horned man. A figure with stag horns, like some stories showed him. He looked at Ryoka.
“A terrible foe of ours waits beyond. One we could not match alone. You have seen what it cost us once.”
But what am I supposed to do? The Faerie King smiled.
“Few are ever alone, Ryoka Griffin. But it is a terrible burden. And you bear another.”
He looked up. And Ivolethe’s head rose. Ryoka Griffin faced the King of Faeries.
“There’s a prophecy about me, isn’t there?”
One fathomless eye regarded her. Ryoka shuddered.
“Is it…like the King of Knight’s fate?”
“Nothing so certain. It is an if. Then. You have come far, Ryoka Griffin. And it may be the journey ahead is painful. This world is.”
He regarded the gateway. So—then. Oberon turned. He bent and regarded her with kindly eyes.
“If you wish it, I will send you to your first home. And let prophecy end.”
He pointed. Ryoka’s head turned. She saw a blank gate spring to life. She gasped. So too did the court of the fae.
Ivolethe cried out. Then went silent. Oberon nodded to her. Then to Ryoka.
“If you wish to abandon it…”
He blinked. Once. Ryoka blurted the word out so fast she interrupted him. She caught herself.
“No. I’m sorry, your Majesty. But I’d never choose that. Ever. I have…friends. I can’t run away.”
Go to Earth? Abandon all this? Even if she forgot it—what else was there?
“Very well. Then speak with your friend.”
He stepped to one side, away…towards another hilltop. Ryoka was confused.
“He is so relaxed.”
She confided in Ivolethe. The Frost Faerie looked at him, and then laughed sadly.
“Ryoka Griffin. Ye art the only fool who’d both refuse the Faerie King’s generosity before he even finished speaking and call him relaxed.”
Ryoka blushed. She stood at the fading gateway as Ivolethe looked sadly at her.
“I wish I could help you. But…”
“Faeries aren’t you-know-whats.”
“Aye. I’m so sorry, Ryoka. I never thought we would meet like this. I truly had no knowledge, or else…”
The fae shook her head. Ryoka reached for her hand.
“What did the prophecy say about me, anyways?”
“It says many things. I cannot tell you—”
The Frost Faerie stuck out her tongue. And she was small, glittering. She hugged Ryoka, fiercely, with tiny arms. Then embraced her fully in her other form.
“You fool! It was a prophecy of ifs! Maybes! I searched for you, you know! When it was first spoken! But the fates never tell us when. So I searched and searched for a mortal like you until I was jaded and tired and bitter! And then, after so long, I met you when I had scarcely remembered it! That is how stupid prophecy works.”
“But why did you want to meet me so badly? If that’s not secret?”
Ryoka was afraid that Ivolethe wouldn’t answer. But Ivolethe laughed. She floated backwards as Ryoka slowly looked at the door. The Faerie King was returning.
“That I can tell you. The prophecy told me one day I would meet you and something would happen. I laughed to think of it! But it came true.”
“What was that?”
The fae stepped back. Then threw her arms wide as she danced in the air. And she laughed like snow falling.
“It said we would be great friends!”
Ryoka waited. But Ivolethe just laughed and laughed. And so did the fae.
“W-what? Just that? Best friends?”
“Nay! Just great friends! And isn’t that something worth waiting forever for?”
Ivolethe hugged Ryoka one last time.
“I will always be your friend. I wish I could come with you. But go. Go—and the wind will help you.”
She stepped back, face clouded by sorrow. Ryoka saw the gateway shrinking. She saw the Faerie King returning, though—and the trembling passage halted its end.
“Before you go, Ryoka Griffin. The fae do have something for you. What you have taken, keep. What you have learned, use. You are friend of the fae.”
Her eyes filled with tears. Ryoka sniffed.
“That’s enough of a gift for me, Your Majest—”
He silenced her. Then he beckoned someone forwards.
“The might of the fae is dangerous in the wrong hands. But take this.”
Someone stepped out, looking awed and timid behind the Faerie King. Ryoka saw…a figure in plastic armor salute. She saw him holding out a plastic dagger.
Ryoka’s eyes went round. The soldier saluted.
“I think it might look different where you’re going. It does for me.”
Slowly, she reached out. Oberon took her hand as it closed over the little weapon. He looked in her eyes.
“It will avail you little against your true foes. But may it help you in some small way. I cannot see the future where you go.”
“Do I need it, your Majesty? This is—”
He smiled and nodded at her uncertainty.
“Yes. The time has come for you to do more than just run. Now go.”
She stepped through the gateway. Then it closed.
The longest day passed. A terrible tragedy struck the world.
A party ended, with guests frightened, wondering what had happened. Each one unharmed—even the young woman who stepped out of the sky. Tyrion Veltras saw Ryoka’s pale face as she put something in her bag of holding.
The wind blew around her.
And the Blighted King celebrated. Something had happened. Not all of what he wanted but—he felt it coming. More and more.
He left the frightened children in Nereshal’s care, stepping around the corpses of his High Mages. The [Chronomancer] stared silently after the Blighted King’s back.
Othius the Fourth gave voice in the morning, with a prepared [Scrier]. The Blighted King’s posture was perfect, his clothing brilliant. He spoke gravely to the audience who woke to his words.
“I am the Blighted King of Rhir, Othius the Fourth. This night, the Demon Kingdom unleashed a spell of unparalleled magnitude across the world. Their great weapon aimed at all those who oppose them—”
The truth spell glowed serenely behind him.
[A King’s Truth].
Across the world, the Gnoll tribes of Izril were gathered. A [Shaman] raised high his staff and shouted as they gathered.
“Let the Meeting of Tribes begin!”
And lastly? The Wandering Inn.
The hour was dark. Just past dawn. It seemed so few lights were visible anywhere. Even in the light, there was too much shadow.
Lyonette heard Montressa out. She nodded slowly.
Ryoka Griffin had failed.
The [Innkeeper] lay frozen, protected still. But not living. Not here. It was a terrible day. A bitter time.
Not even Erin Solstice had been able to stop this tragedy. No one had been able to overturn this madness. This…broken reality.
The others were silent. What could be done? Erin was gone. Lyonette took a breath.
“Well then. I guess we have to do it ourselves.”
The others looked at her. Selys. Olesm. Mrsha, Numbtongue, Bird—in grief and fury and despair. And all the others.
“Us, Lyonette? But Erin’s…”
Drassi gestured weakly at the door. The one who had been responsible for all the happy chaos, the madness, wasn’t here to make it happen. Lyonette looked at the Drake and shook her head. Slowly, she picked up Mrsha and hugged her.
“Erin is not this inn. She’s the heart of it. But it was never just her. Now, she needs us. More than ever. I won’t give up. I’m going…to Oteslia. To find a way to bring her back.”
“I suppose, then, you’d need an escort, Miss. A proper one.”
Someone tipped his hat to her. The [Princess] turned and the Gnoll and Drake looked at her. Numbtongue’s head rose.
“Keep her safe. She’ll be back.”
Lyonette looked around the inn. And she saw the others’ heads rise. The [Princess] felt tired. Despair clung to her like cobwebs, but she stood, because someone had to. Everything Erin had done…everything she had been?
The fire was not out. The [Princess] walked slowly towards the door. She adjusted it, dial after dial, clicking it into place—
The red gemstone flashed. Lyonette felt the door slam into her foot. She stumbled back.
A Hobgoblin burst through the doorway with staff in hand. She raised it threateningly—and stared down at Lyonette. She caught sight of Numbtongue, and lowered the staff.
“Huh. Where this?”
On a really, just terrible day, a guest found an inn on the hill. She looked around. And then she stared up and read the sign.
Then the story continued.
End of Volume 7.
Author’s Note: This is the end of Volume 7. As stated. It has been a long, long volume. If you can believe what they tell me…two million words? One year of writing.
I am very tired. And I believe I shall rest for at least two weeks. Probably only two weeks, but I need it. I need to do nothing, not write, just do something…else.
I think we could all use a break from The Wandering Inn. Not forever. For two weeks. That’s all.
But we will be back.
The story is not over. And it is a story. Sometimes, the story ends on a high note. Sometimes…there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. A quest. I hope you have enjoyed this volume, for all its highs and lows. The next ones will hopefully have more of all that.
Happiness and sadness. There’s no meaning to one without the other. I wrote The Wandering Inn because I wanted a story where not everything went perfectly according to plan, even for a story about other worlds. Also, because I wanted characters you cared about. Not so much to talk about food.
I’m exceptionally humbled and grateful that so many people have enjoyed it and found it this year. Which is the proper emotion to be! It’s amazing to think this story is what, five years old? Four? And it will continue next year.
Right after my break. Thank you for reading, and I will see you soon.
The Wandering Inn’s Family for Volume 7’s Ending by Plushie!