Interlude – Paradigm Shift (Pt. 2)

Sound. A quiet sound was playing. Cara watched. This had all the hallmarks of a real story from Earth. A gentle song, without vocals, somehow managing to be uplifting and sad.

The half-Elf was the narrator. Sometimes he walked through the scenes playing on the orbs, other times playing the omniscient narrator. His spells conjured each scene real to life, though, with a degree of accuracy that made it…too real. Put movies to shame because it had tiny details from memory that were different from dramatic recreations, or too-polished sets and actors.

This is how he began.

“The boy known as Perril Chandler was known not as some great talent, or the myth he would eventually become. He was born to, as his name indicates, a family of [Chandlers]. A humble family, who made their living in the Kingdom of Silvaria. A Kingdom of Terandria which lives on only in memory. Even the land that used to hold the kingdom is broken and desolate. It lies here—between Pheislant and Gaiil-Drome, a coastal kingdom, southern, small, but dignified.”

A map of Terandria appeared on screen, and the view zoomed down, revealing that the map was actually the continent from afar. A narrow, vertical nation became expansive, and kept zooming, revealing a landscape bordered by the coast, reaching up to the mountains and bordering the larger forest nation of Gaiil-Drome and Pheislant, dizzyingly zooming in until it reached a northern city, further down, towards a boy helping to carefully put candles in a wooden box.

Wax candles. A [Chandler]’s job. The young boy rose, manfully lifting the box and placing it with a stack.

Eldavin watched, face serene and sorrowful. He reached out, and the image stopped.

“Perril Chandler’s father and mother had the same class. He was one of three children, an older sister and a younger brother.”

Images appeared, showing a father and mother working to render candles out of tallow, keeping back from the bubbling pot, the boy playing with girl and boy.

“Perril Chandler’s younger life was relatively uneventful as far as I know. What I do know is that as a boy, he was so outstanding with magical potential that it manifested even before training. The first incident was where he accidentally set his parent’s shop on fire.”

Flame, shooting up from the boy’s hands. A scene of his family fleeing the burning shop, a bucket brigade tossing water on the shop. A hung head, tears from the family.

“However, his misfortune was a blessing in disguise, for the nation of Silvaria watched for talent such as his, and the [High Mage] of his city herself discovered Perril’s potential. She personally took him as an apprentice, to the astonishment and delight of his parents.”

Perril, waving to his family. Departing, following the woman in shimmering robes. Eldavin continued.

“You see, Silvaria was a growing nation at this time. It, like many nations, had existed since the days of the Hundred Families as one of the smaller kingdoms, sometimes vassalized, or conquered, but then rising and growing from the original kingdom. Like Ailendamus, in fact, whose rise over the last seventy years and two monarchs has been nothing but meteoric.”

The map changed, showing how Ailendamus had not been more than a tiny kingdom by a different name seventy years back.

“Thus, Perril Chandler did not travel to Wistram Academy to learn, but learned from the [High Mage] Insica herself. He proved to be an apt and resourceful pupil, whose talents allowed him to master a number of spells as high as Tier 3 before he was sixteen. However, he would show his true potential in an invasion of Goblins when a Goblin Chieftain threatened to overrun the city.”

The image cut to Goblins storming the walls, throwing up crude ladders as magic and arrows harried the defenders. Insica exchanged magical fire from her tower with a grinning [Shaman]. Perril Chandler fought in the streets, casting spells, throwing back Goblins. Then—he and the Humans fighting in a desperate line fell back. A running man fell, gutted from behind by a spear. He dropped something.

A rapier. The exhausted young man of sixteen snatched it up. He saw a Hobgoblin charging at him and put up the sword. By luck, he ran the Goblin through.

Eldavin stepped out of the frozen scene as the Hobgoblin fell. He reached out, and slowly closed the Hobgoblin’s eyes. A peaceful look on the Goblin’s face. Eldavin regarded the warrior for a second and shook his head, turning back to the young man.

“It was then that the young Perril Chandler discovered his talent with the blade, which would become a passion for the rest of his life. He survived the battle, although his master, Insica, was wounded beyond the ability of [Healers] to aid. She was rendered immobile, relying on her young apprentice as her strength failed.”

Magical burns, a bed-ridden woman, then turning to one hovering in a chair, grasping at objects Perril anxiously handed her.

The audience watched the story play out. Many spellbound, but not all. Not all in silence.

What is going on in Wistram? Stop the broadcast!

Chaldion of Pallass snapped, his good eye flashing furiously. He turned to the [Mage] who was frantically sending [Message] spells off. The [Strategist] did not like this one bit.

Nor did a number of Drakes, hammering on the door along with the regular scrying crew. Yet not even Feor could figure out how Eldavin had locked the door. They were beginning to debate blasting it open.

Flos Reimarch just watched quietly, sitting cross-legged in his tent with Teres.

In Wistram, Trey Atwood watched with his first-year friends.

Terandrian Kingdoms were in uproar. Many sending just as many [Messages] about this unexpected broadcast. However, they still watched. Earl Altestiel sat in the pouring rain that had engulfed his estates since his return, watching with the blankets over his head.

Az’kerash himself found his hand shaking. He reached out, whispering.

Insica.

He whispered her name, and his fingers brushed the glass orb, as if trying to reach back, touch her, take the quavering woman’s hands as the much younger boy held it. She gasped, her head fell back—

The image vanished, replaced by a young man with his head bowed.

“Perril Chandler succeeded his master, inheriting some of her possessions and will. Yet he was untutored. With the threat of the Goblin Chieftain and a war with Pheislant distracting the army and as yet, young [King] of Silvaria from raising aid for his city, Perril Chandler searched through spellbooks for knowledge that could help defeat the Goblins. It was then, as the dead of both sides rose, that he discovered his greatest talent. Necromancy.”

A body, a shambling corpse, a zombie walked towards some Humans holding spears. It opened its mouth, waving rotten hands—then stopped. Its eyes flickered; then the glowing eyes closed. The zombie turned, obediently stood as the Humans put up their spears.

Perril, panting, held out a hand. The single zombie was joined by more shambling corpses, a skeleton. They moved towards Goblins who backed up, disappeared back towards the mountains, wary.

Eldavin again. He sat there, on a rock, watching the Goblins pass. He looked at the viewers, as if hearing the angry Drakes and Terandrian Humans. He was watching the [Messages] come in; they appeared like a shower of words, sleeting past him and vanishing.

“I see some viewers object to the sight of necromancy. However, the school of magic was accepted in those days. It still is in many places in the world. From Baleros to Chandrar, only Izril and Terandria have truly outlawed it, for reasons which may be understandable as we continue. However, Rhir keeps [Necromancer] corps. If you would cast your objections, perhaps place them with the Blighted King first. Necromancy is just a kind of magic. Blood magic, fire magic, healing; if there is evil, it is always in how it is wielded.”

He dismissed the [Messages] with a wave of the hand. Pisces sat there, listening intently, opening and closing his hand, his eyes distant and hungry. Ceria looked at him, and at the [Grand Magus] sitting, standing in Wistram Academy where they too had once been.

Where were you when we were there?

“Perril Chandler began to teach himself magic, as many [Necromancers] do, experimenting, and at the same time, learning the art of the sword, practicing fencing. Before he had turned eighteen, he had been awarded a silver bell by the resident [Fencers] in the city, an accomplishment as rare and indicative of as much talent as the King of Duels so often spoken of, or his daughter, the Arbiter Queen, Jecaina of Jecrass. However, he was young, as yet inexperienced, and certainly unknown outside of his city. By contrast, the Drake who would one day become his best friend had a far more typical childhood.”

Perril became Zelkyr, his tail slightly longer than average, even clumsy on his feet. His scales were a bright orange. Before the audience could react to Eldavin’s last statement, the young Drake produced a wand. He stood in class, listening to a teacher.

“Zelkyr was born in Fissival, the City of Magic. Like all Drakes, he was tested and admitted into their Scholarium at a young age. He was a good pupil—if unruly.”

Zelkyr, shoving other Drakes as he ran down the hallways, playing pranks on a female Gnoll in robes, who yelped and ran to tell a teacher.

“What in the name of flaming fur…?”

Krshia traded a glance with her sister and the other Gnolls watching. They hadn’t missed that. Eldavin didn’t even seem to notice the image.

“Zelkyr’s talents were manifestly apparent from the start. He was a below-average elementalist, and was noticeably deficient in casting most spells. He had a lisp, which, despite being corrected later on, impeded his direct combat abilities. To make up for that, he was exceptionally talented at craftsmanship, having studied metallurgy, pottery, weaving, and any number of crafts later on.”

“Zelkyr had a lisp?”

[Mages] stopped and blinked at the orb. Cognita passed by, ignoring them, not understanding why a few were staring at her. She only stopped when a young Drake began speaking.

“The wily Wyvern waves a wing whenever it wanths.”

He messed up on the last word, clearly reciting with effort. The young Drake flushed. Cognita…slowly…turned. Her eyes went round.

“His inability to become a [Battlemage] was always a sore point with Zelkyr and may have led to what came next. Despite being tested and taught as an [Artificer], he was eventually expelled at the age of fourteen for pranks, which later became unruly conduct. And theft. Zelkyr left the City of Magic, but used his limited fortune to apply for Wistram Academy’s apprenticeship. He passed, despite his record, due to the rivalry that exists between both schools even now.”

The images of Zelkyr playing the inciting ‘prank’ that got him expelled, which was dumping buckets of ice cubes on a group of Gnoll teachers he clearly disliked, then standing before a tribunal whilst a clearly-stolen wand was presented and leaving the city in disgrace, flickered across the screen.

Olesm nearly passed out. Mainly because he’d stopped breathing during watching this. This? This was beyond sacrilege. Not that he’d known much about Zelkyr’s past, but this? Sserys was the recent hero, but Zelkyr?

“Zelkyr studied at Wistram for the rest of his magical career, having learned his lesson from his expulsion from Fissival. He quickly took to creating Golems, which at the time, was popular in Wistram. His first Golems were creative and original, unlike the standard, humanoid constructs. Even now, they indicate his burgeoning genius, held only back by his knowledge and technique.”

Little, playful Golems paraded past an older Zelkyr, about sixteen, presenting a Golem whose entire body was made up of what looked to Trey like pistons. The iron-golem extended, rather than moved limbs, walking like some primitive steampunk creation.

Another Golem rolled around like an egg, then ‘opened’ to reveal a shining core and muddy interior. Yet another was a finely-carved bird, made of wood, which fluttered its wings and hopped, but could not fly as only the wings and legs were jointed, the rest of the body solid wood.

“Zelkyr developed a reputation as a fine Golem-maker of curios, which he eventually became, graduating from Wistram but often returning to the academy where his connections and materials let him sell toy Golems, and occasionally, battle-types. His life was rather unremarkable until he turned twenty-four, which brings us back to Perril Chandler, who by that point had joined Silvaria’s army in war.”

Perril Chandler nervously bowed to a [Knight-Commander], a rapier at his side and silver bell. He wore robes, and demonstrated raising a few zombies to the [Knight]’s distaste.

“Pheislant was winning the war with Silvaria. The mighty naval nation’s fleets had blockaded both major port cities, and their armies were winning ground victories as well. It was as Silvaria grew desperate, their young [King], King Redoris, enters our story. He was only twenty six at the time, barely older than Perril himself, and several strategic blunders by his [Strategists] had left his nation in danger of being conquered and vassalized.”

A young [King], restless, holding the sword at his waist, appeared, sitting on the throne, looking down at his [Generals] who were speaking to him, pointing to maps. Then Perril.

“Perril Chandler enlisted in the army, perhaps due to need, perhaps a lack of funds or purely national pride. It was to prove to be a fine decision, as despite his inexperience, his ability to conjure undead led the division he was assigned to win battles, with lower casualties. Not only that; the young Perril bested three [Fencers] in battle, all of whom bore silver bells. He was soon promoted, although he never took formal soldier classes to my knowledge.”

Perril bowed again before the [Knight-Commander], who now clasped his shoulder warmly. Eldavin smiled, as Perril sketched a bow, cheeks flushed, with all of a young man’s pride held in check by modesty.

“It was then he drew the attention of King Redoris. At twenty four, he was invited to the royal court to receive a prize for his valor in battle. Pheislant had signed a punitive peace treaty, but King Redoris had little choice but to acquiesce; northern aggression was threatening the Dawn Concordat and by effect, Silvaria, although it was not a formal member but an occasional ally.”

More clashes from the north, a tired [King]. But then—a smile on his face of genuine good humor, exclaiming as he shook Perril’s hands. [Knights], [Courtiers], a royal court in which the young [Necromancer] stood, somewhat bewildered, until the [King] personally introduced him, winning him the favor of all present.

“It was at this time when Perril Chandler met two of the four most important people in his life. Zelkyr was one, but that would only occur later. King Redoris was, of course, one of the four. The second was Lady Bea Zanrel, a beautiful [Lady] of Silvaria’s court, who had proven willing to fight in defense of her Kingdom.”

She did not look suited to the armor she wore as the young King Redoris gently tapped her shoulder with a blade, making a jest that made the court laugh. The young Bea flushed with embarrassment.

Yet Perril did not laugh, kneeling to receive the honorary knighthood as well. Bea saw that, her eyes flicking down. Redoris stared at her, a bit chagrined by the embarrassment he’d caused. His eyes lingered on Bea in an unmistakable way for anyone who knew stories.

“Bea. Bea is that…?”

Venitra looked from Bea to—her master’s face was frozen. His hands clenched as he looked at Redoris. At…

Bea touched her face, and then looked at the woman, who had all the mortal beauty, younger. Bea’s rotted features…Toren looked at the scrying orb.

This was good storytelling, he decided.

Perril and Bea danced. She was teasing the younger [Necromancer], unwarrantedly clumsy, yet the two then talked, seriously, about the war, faces turning grave, Bea shaking her head, gesturing at Perril’s wand and rapier.

“The two would become great friends. In fact, it was the young Lady Bea who later sponsored Perril Chandler to study at Wistram as a higher-year student for three years, despite being considered too old and self-taught. Whether the two had a relationship is unknown, but King Redoris, Lady Bea, and the knighted Sir Perril Chandler, similar in age, would eventually grow to have enduring friendships. Of course, it was at Wistram that Perril Chandler first met Zelkyr Amerwing.”

There they were. Cognita bent, and Elena and the other Earthers moved out of the way. She saw two young men, in their mid-twenties, meeting at one of the innumerable [Mage] parties. They stared at each other as Zelkyr, laughing, exuberant, a party-animal, made a comment.

Perril Chandler, who had been studying all-night in some of the scenes, somewhat aloof, but respectfully taking lessons, turned his head. In the silent drama, broken only by Eldavin’s voice and the background music, Perril Chandler shook his head. He put his hand on his rapier.

Zelkyr snorted. Repeated himself.

Perril Chandler calmly drew his rapier and aimed it at Zelkyr.

Eldavin appeared between the recoiling Zelkyr and Perril. His face and tone were dry.

“The first meeting between the two was not harmonious. Zelkyr, a staunch supporter of Drakes despite his fraught relationship with his city, made a derisive comment about Terandrian Kingdoms, to go by stories at the time. Perril Chandler took offense and challenged him to a duel. The results were about as you expect.”

Eldavin didn’t even bother showing the duel, just the outcome. Zelkyr staring up at Perril Chandler pointing his rapier at his face, wand lying on the floor.

“The two did not see much of each other aside from this one disharmonious meeting. Zelkyr was a fully-fledged [Mage], now earning a reputation for making battle-suitable Golems. Perril Chandler expedited his studies and returned to Silvaria. They did not meet for two more years.”

Eldavin stood over a map of the world, flicking his fingers.

“Now, during this time, aside from conflicts in Terandria, Izril itself was in a state of joint wars between north and south—and Baleros. The Naga companies had invaded and actually taken ground on Izril, and the Drakes found themselves fighting both Human and Lizardfolk armies. Typically, they did not ask for aid from the Gnoll tribes, and Zelkyr himself began selling his now somewhat famous Battle Golems to the cities.”

Marching, carved warriors, some Human, others Gnolls, or, most often Drakes, in ceramic, wood, then, later, steel, bronze, iron, and so on, swung huge fists, punching enemy [Soldiers]. A nimble ceramic-Golem aimed a bow and actually loosed an arrow. Yet a third Golem just spewed fire as it advanced, like an Oldblood Drake.

“Zelkyr was by now an acclaimed [Golem Artificer], and his aspirations were clearly taking him even higher. He desired to create more powerful Golems, even the fabled Sentient-class Golems. It is obvious in journals and notes that his greatest desire was that of a perfect servant. Hence, he would never go anywhere without a personal Golem bodyguard or two.”

Marching Golems, first crude, then imperious, decorated and carefully attired, sometimes in actual armor, accompanied Zelkyr as he strode around, talking to [Merchants], other leaders, fellow [Mages].

Sometimes just his height, other times huge, imposing. In Eldavin’s historical retelling, another fact was made obvious to viewers too.

Femithain of Illivere saw the Golems, at first, androgynous because they lacked features, slowly take on a noticeably feminine cast. Not only that, a few bad attempts at faces quickly resolved into beautiful features. The Magus-Crafter also noticed…all the female Golems soon became females of different species.

Minotaur, Human, Gnoll, Centaur—never Drake. Eldavin eyed one that almost looked like a primitive Cognita. Speaking of which…the Truestone Golem never took her eyes off that one.

“It was as the Drakes grew increasingly desperate to repel the Nagas that Zelkyr created his first Sentient-class Golem. In doing so, he joined around a dozen of his kind who had mastered the technique and was soon in a race to reach higher peaks still. Nevertheless, a dive into the mechanics of Golem-creation is too distracting here. All you need know is that his first Golem was capable of casting Tier 1-3 spells, magically reinforced, made of steel, and capable of taking her own action on the battlefield. She was the culmination of Zelkyr’s talent. He called her…Cognita.”

 

—-

 

Eldavin! Get out of there! What are you doing?

Viltach hammered on the door. He was thrust aside by an angry hand.

“Get back!”

One of the Fissival Drakes had had enough. Angry [Message] spells were ringing around Wistram, and as many people wanting to keep the broadcast going. No one could override the scrying spells! Eldavin had control.

The door remained locked. Now, the Drake [Battlemage] pointed at it.

“[Lightning Bolt]!”

Viltach was lucky. He’d put up a barrier spell just in time to watch the bolt bounce. The Drake [Mage] went flying and everyone dove for cover. They got up, shakily.

“What in the name of the Ancestors did he put on that door?”

The [Mages] looked at each other. The rest of the viewers were spellbound, watching.

Az’kerash, the King of Destruction, countless Drakes and Humans, for all they shouted and raged.

Pisces, lips moving as he practically recited the tale himself, seeing where his learning and legend had created false stories. Eldavin walked past Zelkyr, crowing and showing Cognita off as the impassive Golem bowed to other Drakes.

“It was as Zelkyr achieved Sentient-class that he decided to participate in the Naga Incursions, as the war would become known, perhaps overconfident in his abilities. He joined a Fissival army and entered the campaign. However, the army quickly became separated from the main forces, fighting amid Naga lightning-strikes and unfavorable terrain created by their spellcasters.”

Zelkyr, shooting spells from a wand behind ranks of Golems and grim Drakes, flinching as Nagas of various kinds and Lizardfolk assailed the Drakes, skirmishing in and out, striking in the muddy terrain, fleeing by darkness.

Golems fell, broken, as Zelkyr’s finest creation, Cognita, impassively protected him. The Drake detachment grew desperate, fighting, cut off behind the enemy front lines. Lizardfolk closed in, wearing them down.

Medusae, who froze Drake [Soldiers] in time for Gorgons to lunge in and cut them down. Four-armed Naga variants, leaping Quexals, overwhelming the static Drakes and forcing more retreats. Eldavin nodded to Zelkyr, frozen in the act of casting a spell, face desperate.

“Only Zelkyr’s Golems let this weary force survive, immune to Medusae’s eyes and many attacks. However, his Golems could not fight forever and his entire detachment was in danger of being wiped out. That is, of course, where Perril Chandler re-enters the narrative, unexpectedly.”

Zelkyr and some Drakes were huddled around a fire as the Cognita-golem clumsily tried to stir a pot of what might have been grass and boiling boot leather. Something made Zelkyr stir, lifting a wand over muddy blankets. He stopped. Blinked, and rose uncertainly as a young man wearing armor rather than robes stepped forwards, looking just as surprised.

“Perril Chandler had become a mercenary, perhaps out of desire to improve; most likely due to a desire to provide for his family after incurring debts from studying at Wistram. Necromancy was not, at this point, as widely-sought after as Golem creation, but he had toured battlefields with great acclaim. It is a mark of the Drakes’ desperation that non-Drakes were hired for the Naga Incursions. He was leading a strike against Nagas and similarly cut off by their enveloping hit-and-run strategies when his company found Zelkyr’s.”

The two [Mages] stood, wary at first, until the Cognita Golem stuck a huge hand out. Perril took it, bowed, uncertainly, and looked at Zelkyr. The Drake and young man burst out laughing, and began talking in earnest. Eldavin as always, appeared.

“It was at this point when the first tales of the two’s prowess in battle were established. And, as luck would have it, we may desist with recreation and actually show scenes from the war itself.”

Sound joined imagery. The viewpoint changed, becoming a [Scrying] spell from above, as of some lazy Dragon or whatnot watching a battle with urbane amusement. Yet the battle was clear; ranks of numerous Lizardfolk led by imperious Nagas of different types, clashing with a Drake army with some Human irregulars.

…And losing. At first, the eager Lizardfolk charged, overconfidently skirmishing with the tired Drake lines. Then they drew back. A Medusa opened her eyes, freezing the Drakes and leaving them as open t—

A Golem smashed through the lines of foes, charging through the tiny figures. Just as fast, a second group led by a [Mage] with a sword charged in, ignoring the paralysis glare.

Undead. They threw themselves mercilessly against the Lizardfolk army, and the Golem and [Necromancer] took down the Medusa, cutting through the enemy lines as the Drakes, led by a certain [Mage] in robes, albeit from the back, pressed the Lizardfolk back.

“The two [Mages] found their talents allied nicely. The mass undead of Perril Chandler, combined with the expensive, powerful, and limited Golems of Zelkyr provided forces that no flesh-and-blood army could match. They fought their way back out of enemy lines and while this did not of course, end the Naga Incursions, their actions along with the conflict forced one of the peace treaties before the Nagas were eventually driven from Izril.”

The scene ended with Zelkyr and Perril shaking hands, the battered Cognita-golem still hovering in the background. Eldavin glanced to one side; the spells hitting the door were starting to get annoying so he [Silenced] them.

“This was the turning point in both young men’s careers. Zelkyr retreated from active fighting, but the levels the conflict had afforded him let him continue to increase the numbers of Golems in Drake cities’ services. Indeed, he quickly became quite respected in every Walled City…save for Fissival. In time, the City of Magic welcomed their wayward Drake student back, desiring his increasingly-powerful Golems which would become the nightmare of all enemies of Drakes during his era. Perril Chandler, by contrast, experienced his first real renaissance upon his return to Silvaria.”

Back to the country by the sea. Only—marred by empty streets, people covered in sores.

“Plague had come to Silvaria, once again echoing the present. Without a cure in this case. Silvaria’s people lay sick, unable to provide or act. Starvation faced King Redoris’ nation, and he was gratified by the mysterious revival of a city in the north, which, against all reasoning, had the power to still plough and harvest fields! When he inquired however, he found not living bodies tilling the fields…but undead.”

Skeletons were harvesting fields, tilling ground, pulling ploughs, gathering berries…reminiscent of another certain Kingdom. Fetohep watched critically.

“Acceptable, one supposes. Advance the left flank—”

He broke off from his scrying orb to watch more undead charge Medain’s lines, and then went back to the scrying orb.

“Where many [Kings] might refuse to embrace death magic, with Noelictus and a few other kingdoms being exceptions even to this day, the grateful Redoris reached out to his old friend and beseeched Perril Chandler to aid Silvaria. Which he did! Perril Chandler, now an experienced High Mage, in rank if not actual class, took on apprentices as his master had done and the undead servants let Silvaria weather this crisis better than other nations.”

Eldavin gestured to the industrious undead. No matter how his companions shuddered—Trey just folded his arms. It looked efficient to him. It was hard not to see how the skeletons saved the sick people abed, harvesting food, fearless of germs. Eldavin seemed to indicate this by the approving nod he gave a skeleton—it nodded back.

“By the time he had turned thirty, Perril Chandler, son of humble candle makers, was named a [Lord] of Silvaria for his deeds to the crown, and was known to be in the favor of the [King] himself, often called to court. It was also said that he had a relationship with Lady Bea—although their relationship was not official and this is speculative.”

“Perril by age thirty was now a dashing swordsman and a [Mage], clearly a court darling. Redoris, also in his prime, was the image of a [King], albeit tempered by not being the [Warrior King] he clearly wanted to be. However, the three stood around, Perril, Redoris, and Bea, talking eagerly, laughing.”

Eldavin appeared, and sighed.

“These were the best times in the young men’s lives, save for perhaps one more section. In the interest of time, we skip forwards now. Nearly a decade, to their forties. Zelkyr had not broken through to the final step of Golem-making, but he was now competing with the best [Golem Artificers] for that title, and his Golems in battle had put the Nagas on the back foot, almost by themselves. He was not without scandal, however.”

Cognita broke off from the trance she was in. She saw—remembered—and raised her head. Yet she could not stop what came next. Zelkyr calmly facing down an angry Watch Commander. Cognita saw herself, standing behind him, half-tensed. Yet that was not how she remembered it, staring at her master’s back as—

“Unacceptable, Zelkyr! You cannot go behind the laws of the city!”

“Then change the laws or let me acquire what I need without these—these ridiculous taxes, Watch Commander!”

“That’s not my business. If you cannot stay within the law—”

The other Drake warned Zelkyr. Cognita was hesitating. This wasn’t an attack, but she felt like it was. She watched her master point at the Watch Commander.

“You will do what? I can stop selling Golems to Pallass any time I want.”

“You wouldn’t dare. The war—”

“Then think about what you’re saying, you fool!”

Cognita hesitated, until Zelkyr waved at her to desist. The other two Golems of her class also untensed, and she saw the other Drake spluttering as Zelkyr turned to march out of the office—

Blink. She was back in the present. Eldavin’s voice trailed back into her hearing.

“—unfounded, yet allegations of his connection with unsavory criminal elements persisted. The truth, inevitably, was that Zelkyr was too important to fall under normal jurisdiction. In any case, while he was enjoying the favor of the Walled Cities, Perril Chandler had achieved a Grand Magus’ rank at his young age.”

Both meteoric rises to fame saw Perril Chandler overseeing another ‘undead farm’, as well as sending undead in droves to take down a ferocious Griffin. By now, of course, he wore a golden bell on his rapier.

“It would be wrong to assume both Perril and Zelkyr were unaware of each other either. In fact, aside from their friendships, Perril with his two friends at Silvaria’s court, Zelkyr with…”

Eldavin hesitated.

“…acquaintances, no doubt, the two [Mages]’s greatest friendships were with each other. After their friendship began in war, they kept in regular correspondence, often visiting and aiding each other. It was, in fact, known, that to make an enemy of one was to make an enemy of the other. Eleven times, Perril Chandler challenged other [Mages] to duels and won for his friend. Similarly, Zelkyr was known to have gifted Perril with Golems to serve his now quite wealthy family. The two exchanged spell notes, despite their somewhat different schools. However, the great achievement of Zelkyr was to nominate both himself and Perril Chandler for the Archmage position in Wistram.”

The two men met under two shining, full moons. Eldavin pointed up, as [Mages] applauded both’s coronations, being handed robes, and magical staves.

“This was a formality, as the [Archmage] class does not always correspond to the title. As ah, viewers are no doubt aware. However, the political power and influence coming with the role spoke to their rising stars. As well as that of their enemies.”

An angry Naga and narrow-eyed Garuda, as well as a Human man, all eyed Zelkyr and Perril, among the three other Archmages applauding, faces neutral. Zelkyr and Perril took their positions, opposite the three.

“Perril and Zelkyr both represented Terandria and Izril, who were underrepresented compared to the Archmages of Rhir, Baleros, and Chandrar, who had increasing power during this time—as well as an Archmage of the Drowned, a somewhat rare occurrence. To note—only two were [Archmages] as of this time. The Archmage of Nagas—here—and the Archmage of the Skies, a traditional term for both species.”

The Naga and Garuda froze as Eldavin gestured to them.

“This matters only for later. For now—know this. As Zelkyr returned to Izril, and Perril to Terandria, the greatest incident that would finally mark them as legends of their time began. The war against the Dawn Concordat, where Perril would meet the fourth pivotal friend in his life. And in so doing, be known as the Archmage of Death.”

This was the story Eldavin had told once before. Trey remembered it. Now, the half-Elf told it fully.

“Four armies broke the Dawn Concordat’s forces. Lady Bea, who had a connection with Calanfer in particular, had, with King Redoris’ blessing, led a force to aid the outnumbered Dawn Concordat. Yet they fell back time and again, to the pass on Kaliv’s borders where so many armies would meet their end. Krawlnmak’s Pass. There, the beleaguered defenders held for two days, three, and then four. However, it became clear they would not manage to hold the enemy.”

Eldavin’s eyes flashed. His voice was rising, and sound was joining the movie again, sound from memory.

“That was when the newly-named Archmage of Death arrived, of course! Fresh from Wistram, having travelled across Terandria to join the defenders, he pledged himself to the battle, despite the urgings of King Redoris to hold back. He actually teleported Lady Bea and a number of commanders out of the battle, promising only to buy the Dawn Concordat more hours to muster a final defense.”

The [Lady] vanished, reaching for Perril Chandler as her companions held her back. A man saluted Perril Chandler, and he turned. What remained in front of the vast army coming down the pass was a line of gold.

Lyonette’s eyes were wide. This was not the history they taught her.

“The last force in the beleaguered army to refuse to retreat were the Thronebearers of Calanfer, who pledged to hold as long as the Archmage. Their Lightherald stood with Perril Chandler as four nation’s armies advanced.”

A [Knight] in golden armor, taking Perril’s hands, raising his glowing sword to the sky. Perril Chandler’s hands rose. His pupils seemed to grow, dilating wider and wider…

Undead began to rise. They advanced, past the golden Thronebearers, vanishing as arrows struck them down, magical spells blew them apart. They kept coming, though, advancing into the mortal army.

“The first hour of fighting refused to break the army now backed up by Perril Chandler. The overconfident [General] advanced his forces, believing that one man’s death would break this last resistance. He attempted to take it, but the Thronebearers closed ranks around the Archmage. The dead continued to rise, even as the living fell.”

Perril Chandler ducked behind a Thronebearer whose raised shield stopped a [Fireball] and hail of arrows. Undead surged past him as he pointed.

Az’kerash stared. His Chosen were looking at him. His lips moved. He felt his arm burning, the magic burning in him, going out—

“Advance!”

Draug smashed into the lines of infantry, breaking pikes. Screaming men and women fled backwards. Perril cried out as the backlash from animating them ran through him.

“Thronebearers, hold your ground!”

The Lightherald boomed. The Thronebearers, who had lost their steeds long ago, closed ranks. Perril looked up and saw the [Lancers] run into them.

Men and women died. Yet they did not give ground. Perril pointed.

[Deathbolt]. One went down as the dark spell flashed through armor; he tried it again, but his hands were shaking. The death magic was filling him, but he was maintaining an army of the dead.

So he drew his rapier and charged. Even the Lightherald was surprised as he turned from combat with three [Lancers] to see Perril.

“Archmage, hold b—”

The tip of his sword transmitted the shock of impact as Perril shoved it through the slit of a visor. A pinpoint strike; he withdrew it as the figure toppled. The [Lancers] reeled as he performed it again, two perfect strikes without a Skill!

“Thronebearers! Soldiers of the Dawn Concordat—to the Archmage! Charge!”

The Lightherald and the Archmage surged forwards. The nerve of the [Lancers] and the first wave of the enemy broke.

“—it is clear now that the Archmage of Death lured the enemy army into a natural trap. So many dead bodies along with the greater magic he was conducting create a death field, enhancing his powers.”

Az’kerash blinked. He saw the battle from above, Eldavin pointing out details.

“Nevertheless, Perril Chandler ran out of mana and resorted to his rapier. He personally slew over a hundred enemy combatants during the battle, along with casting spells. Despite never having a [Duelist]’s class, he was unanimously named one of the hundred greatest blademasters in Terandria for his feats in battle. That day—he and the Thronebearers broke an army of four hundred thousand at the pass.”

Perril Chandler stood, bloody blade raised among the handful of golden-armored warriors. A bare handful, yet the living army fled screaming, throwing down their weapons, the enemy [General] dragged down by undead.

“Few among even the [Archmages] can claim such a feat. It may have been this very day that Perril Chandler no longer became known as Lord Chandler of Silvaria, but [Archmage] Chandler. Archmage of Death! For his great deed, he was dubbed the Undying Shield of Calanfer by the [King], until the title was revoked.”

Archmage Chandler knelt before the Eternal Throne of Calanfer, applauded by thousands as the Lightherald bowed beside the throne. He smiled, and took the [Knight]’s hand as he rose.

By now, the room had gone deathly silent in Pallass. Chaldion stared grimly at the scrying orb. He had been insistent the broadcast be stopped, and had tried to even cut off the transmission in Pallass.

Too late. The [Mages] and others hadn’t understood what he had intuited. However, now…Chaldion looked at Eldavin’s retelling.

The Archmage of Death. Az’kerash. The mortal Perril Chandler stood, in what could only be described as a glorious, heroic retelling of his life. At odds with every other narrative about him. Of course, Drakes and Humans knew the stories they had grown up with.

It did not please the [Grand Strategist], even so, to have even one narrative to the contrary. Let alone one so well done.

Archmage of Death. This battle was the first in a turning point in the war, and Silvaria’s reputation. They led a counterattack against the northern kingdoms, and despite the odds, forced the coalition of then eight kingdoms to sign peace treaties. Not least because Silvaria’s army was joined by an unprecedented relief army: a force of Drakes and Golems from Izril.”

Archmage Zelkyr led ranks of glimmering Golems onto the field, smashing through the ranks of infantry as undead fought from the other flank. [Knights] charged past the Golems—and, Trey realized, Golem-[Knights] riding Golem horses!

“Now, Izril and Terandria were unified, albeit through the Archmages, if not individual nations. Silvaria’s power rose, as to challenge the nation was to challenge Archmage Chandler. Similarly—Archmage Zelkyr established his own authority at the culmination of the Naga Incursions, nearly six years after the end of that war. It was then when he made the breakthrough of his lifetime. The first Truestone Golem was unveiled. Cognita of Truestone.

A beautiful giant, Human woman made of what seemed like marble stood on the battlefield. Her hands folded. A Drake stood beside her, looking proud, nearly fifty years of age. Across from him, the Archmage of Death stood, watching an army in the distance.

Eldavin looked at Cognita. He shook his head and turned away.

“Truestone, the most powerful stone in existence. Not only that; Cognita is one of the Cognizant-class Golems, which are considered to be people. Stitchfolk are an example of this type of Golem. Short of leveling, Cognizant-class Golems mimic the living in every way. In creating her, and rediscovering Truestone, Zelkyr cemented his position as the great creator of Golems during his age. He would later remove all his rivals. By force if necessary. Within ten years, no [Golem Artificer] capable of creating Sentient-class Golems was known to exist—save for those apprenticed to Zelkyr himself.”

“He didn’t—did he, Grand Strategist?”

Uneasily, one of the younger [Strategists] glanced at Chaldion. The old Drake was silent. Eldavin went on, eyes locked on the viewers.

“During her first appearance, Cognita of Truestone proved her worth. The [Archmage] of Baleros had taken to the field to support the Naga forces on Izril, possibly attempting to emulate Perril Chandler’s success. That he did was undeniable. However, Archmage Zelkyr engaged the Naga armies with Archmage Chandler. There—Cognita slew the [Archmage] of Baleros, one of two [Archmages] she would kill in battle.”

The Naga [Archmage] fell, recoiling as the form of Cognita moved through the Lizardfolk army like a statue through water, effortlessly parting them.

Feor’s mouth went dry as he stared at the image. It did not show the end. He slowly turned his head.

Cognita stood alone in the banquet hall. Her own, delicate, large hands clenched. She looked at Eldavin.

Why was he telling this story?

“Thereafter, Archmages Zelkyr and Chandler enjoyed few rivals. They were acclaimed world-wide. Famous. Their friendship was the stuff of legends.”

Break down that damn door!

The Fissival [Mages] were shouting in fury. Yet the door refused to budge. Calanfer was sending a complaint and a demand to halt this broadcast every minute. Eldavin paused to sip from a glass of water he conjured. After a second, he went on.

“This was the golden era of both Archmages. Despite, as I have mentioned, indications that Zelkyr became ruthless in how he approached competition and acquiring increasingly esoteric materials, Archmage Chandler’s conduct was beyond reproach. For ten years almost, they enjoyed unparalleled fame and fortune.”

This was where the image of Perril and Zelkyr had come from, shaking hands, enjoying themselves at banquets. Talking, as Perril spoke to Cognita.

First Cognita. Then, as time went on, another Truestone Golem. Then a third. Three women. First, Cognita, Human. Then, a Gnoll, also made of the same material. Finally? A Centaur. All three were the same height, towering behind Zelkyr wherever he went.

Eldavin let the music play as he stood there, watching the scenes flash by with everyone else. When he turned…Cara felt it. The change in the narrative was evident on the half-Elf’s face.

“It may have been that this would be the legacy of both Archmages, until they passed of natural causes. But alas, as all will know who study history, this did not occur. The fall of Archmage Chandler…and Archmage Zelkyr is the story I must tell you now.”

Az’kerash and Cognita started. The [Necromancer] had frozen in time, watching. Now—a single figure appeared. The dead man felt a flash of anger. Even now.

King Redoris, sitting on his throne, looked troubled. Especially as he watched the two dancing figures. Lady Bea, and Archmage Chandler. Eldavin stood by Redoris, glancing down at him in disapproval.

“As so happens, the impetus towards the disaster that felled Archmage Chandler was not of his own doing. He could have halted it. However, I, Eldavin, will always say this: for all the horror he has wrought and the legacy which he deserves—it was not he who betrayed first. That was one man. King Redoris of Silvaria. Last of his line.”

He bent, slowly, looking down at the [King], his displeasure evident.

“King Redoris was not a poor [King]. Nor was he a great one. If anything, his fault was purely that whatever his achievements diplomatically, with his nation, they were overshadowed by Archmage Chandler. This fact did not wear at him at first, yet it grew over time. Aided, I think, by the relationship between Lady Bea, still considered to be the most lovely woman in Silvaria, and Perril Chandler. The [King] is known to have courted her with little success.”

He shook his head as Redoris clapped his hands, calling an end to the dance to make a pronouncement or some such. Eldavin sighed.

“A greater man could have happily walked in the shadow of the Archmage of Death, and counted him as both friend and subject. Not King Redoris. As his envy grew, so too did the events that compounded his jealousy and added to Perril Chandler’s fame. Consider the Uprisings of Left—a rebellion that occurred when the now-wealthier farmers employing undead labor objected to the crown increasing taxes to punitive levels to make the most of the richness of Silvaria’s fields.”

Angry [Farmers] swelled, leaving their fields, joined by groups of people, protesting against [Mayors] and local nobles and governors.

“They rose in uprising, and the local army’s attempts to quell the rebellion, as such things often did, swelled their numbers as angry [Soldiers] whose pay had been reduced—ironically due to the Archmage of Death’s reputation preventing conflicts—joined the citizenry instead of attacking them. This was a mismanagement of King Redoris’, of course, and to deal with the issue, he mobilized a grand force with Silvaria’s best forces loyal to him. To crush the rebellion in what would surely be a bloody move.”

A force of grim warriors began to march on the larger, if woefully outmatched army of nearly a hundred thousand rebels. Eldavin froze the apprehensive citizenry.

“Once again, as he had proven over his life, it was Archmage Chandler who intervened. This time to save the very common folk of whom he was descended. He had not forgotten from whence he came.”

The Archmage of Death appeared in front of Silvaria’s army. Both sides stopped, apprehensive. The man held up a hand, and Silvaria’s army fell back. Alone, the Archmage of Death turned to face the rebels and drew his rapier, holding up a bone-white staff in the other. The rebels stared at him, mouths agog.

“To save his [King] from creating a massacre, the Archmage of Death stood in front of the rebel army, nearly a hundred thousand strong and challenged them to single combat. He declared that for the honor of Silvaria, he would face them one at a time, without magic if need be.”

Eldavin’s lips quirked.

“Needless to say, the rebels dispersed rather than take Archmage Chandler’s challenge, and he personally prevailed on the crown to grant clemency and reduce the burden of taxes. This made him a hero, and King Redoris’ jealousy over Perril Chandler greater. It was said of that time that the Archmage of Death was a greater source of pride to Silvaria’s people than that of their [King]. Small wonder of what came next.”

Eldavin’s head bowed. Then rose. Light flashed—and King Redoris sat, speaking eagerly to someone from afar, via a scrying orb of his own.

“Jealous, seeking some way to diminish his former friend, Redoris searched for some means to entrap Perril Chandler. He found it, ironically, in an act of ‘justice’. Rhir.

Cognita—Az’kerash—the Blighted King, all moved. Othius looked at the retelling. He had been young then. He had been—his hands began to shake.

“In those days, the Blighted Kingdom was yet at war, but the Demon’s incursions grew stronger. The Deaths of the Demon King pushed back the armies of Rhir. So King Redoris saw his chance. He declared war, and ordered the Archmage of Death and a coalition of Terandrian nations to take arms against the eternal foe.”

The Archmage of Death bowed uncertainly in front of Redoris. Lady Bea watched, nervously, as Redoris gave a speech.

“Not only Terandria. Where Chandler went, Zelkyr went too, sensing another way to cement his legacy and prove his creations’ power. Perhaps even increase his own, as his level had meant a plateauing of his own abilities. Seeing this moment, as the two great Archmages of their time went to battle, the other nations allied with Rhir sent their forces. A great host descended on Rhir.”

Warships by the hundreds sailed towards a sky filled with explosions. Soldiers raced across the ground, armies of the undead, Golems. Eldavin’s voice darkened.

“A mighty host, not least because the twin armies of undead and Golems were considered unmatched when they acted in concert. Faced against all the world’s powers were the Demons! It was seemingly a war that would end with ease. I caution you, viewers and listeners, to remember this: even as you rage against the Demons of Rhir and hell—remember there are always other sides to the story.”

He hesitated. Closed his eyes.

“Alas, this is not the time to tell them. Suffice it to say that arrogance may have seized Zelkyr, perhaps even Archmage Chandler at their abilities. The vast armies, the mighty allies they had made gave rise to incaution, especially among the Blighted King of that time. They advanced, pressing the Demons without rest. Until the great champions of the Demon King appeared. The Deathless.”

A dot appeared in the skies. At this—Othius made a sound. Richard, Emily, the other Earthers, flinched. Tom giggled.

It was her. The Death of Magic. Yet the single dot became two. Then—three.

Two more giant figures appeared on the ground, and even the undead and Golems halted in uncertainty.

“The Death of Magic, the Death of Wings, and the Death of Chains took to the air. On the ground, the Death of Voices and the Death of Dust appeared. Five of the Deathless clashed with the two [Archmages] and the heroes of that age. And—they pushed the undefeatable pair back.”

Az’kerash saw it again.

The laughing half-Elf, diving out of the skies along with the great leader of wings, which Garuda and Oldblood Drakes alike fled before, children before an adult.

The laughing Death of Chains, coming towards him. Met by a furious call. He lifted a hand, bleeding, staggering.

“Kharneva! Stop—”

Too late, the giant Gnoll leapt forwards, fiercest, second of Zelkyr’s greatest creations. Cognita was battling the Death of Voices in a world of silence. Perril saw—

“The second of Zelkyr’s Truestone Golems faced the Deathless of the Demons and perished on Rhir.”

Cognita’s mouth opened. She made no sound—yet she still heard it. The howl, as the Death of Voices died. She heard it from her master, from her sister.

Eldavin stood, eyes blazing.

“The Deathless broke the armies sent against them. And one of the Truestone Golems. Archmages Zelkyr and Chandler retreated rather than face greater losses, both wounded. The Deathless triumphed. At cost! Two of their kind ended there, for all their namesake, the other three so badly wounded they were presumed deceased, though their bodies never discovered. We now know at least one survived. However, the war was so bitter that not even the Blighted Kingdom had the stomach to continue to fight. It was here where the end of this tale was planted.”

A Drake knelt on the ground, staring at a broken bit of Truestone. Zelkyr. He did not move as his two damaged creations touched his shoulder gently.

“Zelkyr…later.”

Eldavin sounded pained. He turned.

“By the time Archmage Chandler returned to Silvaria, his reputation had changed. That he had fought with valor did not change the fact that Silvaria’s armies had been decimated. However, the loss of reputation was added to by Redoris’ actions during his absence. The King of Silvaria began outlawing undead. He claimed they caused disease, pointing to cases where undead killed innocents. Perhaps—and this is speculation—he even allowed the bindings on some undead to lapse.”

Chandler stood in a hostile court, most turned against him, bowing nearly prostate before Redoris. The older [King]’s face was set, and the only two who stood behind Perril were Lady Bea, and the Lightherald, who had come to support his friend.

“These were the first of the allegations put against Archmage Chandler. Talk of sedition against the throne, plots with enemy nations followed. Added to that, unlucky circumstance led a cabal of [Necromancers], perhaps hired, although perhaps simply foolish, to create a greater undead.”

Shadows grew over the projection. Something moved, spilling forth lesser undead as Thronebearers and other [Knights] struck at something and were seized.

“A Wailing Pit—an amalgamation of the undead—was allowed to grow to horrendous size. There it transformed into, well, catastrophe. I will not show the image to viewers, but the horror was only brought low when the Lightherald and Archmage of Death personally slew it after five days of battle.”

The Thronebearer, the golden [Knight], removing his visor to be sick and stare at something clouded from view. He turned—and his shining gaze was no longer as confident as it had been. He stared long at Archmage Chandler, whose head was bowed with exhaustion and sorrow.

“I will not prolong this.”

Eldavin stood at Archmage Chandler’s side as King Redoris pointed a finger, hurling accusations with his court. The half-Elf spoke as the Archmage of Death was escorted away—under guard.

“King Redoris’ desires came true. However, Lady Bea and those who recalled Archmage Chandler’s deeds did not abandon him even as his reputation among Silvaria’s people vanished within a year’s time. How quickly they forgot all he had done. Perhaps Redoris would have left it there—if not for Bea. Three years passed as Archmage Chandler retreated from Silvaria, attending Wistram, where Archmage Zelkyr’s actions had grown increasingly…erratic. However, we must finish with Chandler. Three years—until it was discovered that a plot had been engaged against Redoris.”

The [King] fell from his table at a banquet, choking. A needle was plucked from his throat. Bone. Pale as death, [Healers] rushed to cure him.

“It was said that Perril Chandler had conspired to remove him, believing he was unfit to rule. Perhaps there was too much weight to this, as King Redoris had proven himself increasingly poor as a [King].”

The wealth of Silvaria had turned sour, impoverished people creeping back into the view of the kingdom. Corruption as well. Yet, within the moment, as Redoris lay in bed, Archmage Chandler was seized by [Knights] bearing Silvaria’s crest.

“The accusation was leveled against the Archmage of Death. He denied it, yet truth spells were procured, seemingly in front of the entire court.”

The Necromancer raised his finger. Now. Then.

Lies! Your Majesty, I have never been anything but faithful!

Redoris stared at him, as pale as death, eyes full of hate.

“Master?”

Venitra saw Az’kerash on his feet, shouting. He had left his rooms. Entered the grand, ruined marble hall, where he had once danced. The same one as in the scrying mirror.

Whoa. Toren stared at the hall, and at the scrying mirror. Had Az’kerash redecorated it like his home? Or was this a coincidence? He scratched at his skull, then heard the Necromancer screaming.

“I committed no treachery. These are lies put against me. I have always been loyal to Silvaria. Believe me—Bea? Bea?

He turned. He did not see the Plague Zombie, frozen in place. He looked around, almost perfectly copying the Archmage Chandler in the scrying orb.

Lady Bea stood with the Lightherald, refusing to meet his eyes. The [Knight]’s face was grim. Perril Chandler’s hand lowered. He looked around.

The half-Elf stood at his side.

“In that hour, no one stood by the Archmage’s side. Archmage Zelkyr had vanished in the upper floors of Wistram and could not be found. His friends? Their minds were poisoned, their doubts overtook them. Perril Chandler was sentenced to death for the crimes against the throne. He was executed the next day.”

A limp man lay in a square, filled by jeering people. He looked up, as a distant man made a slashing gesture with one hand. He called out, but the magic sapped his strength through the manacles. He was chained a hundred ways.

He might have broken out, even then. Yet there was nothing in him to fight back. He only roused himself once, as the axe swung up.

“I will never forgive you.”

The image cut before the axe struck home. There was only silence. Blackness.

Eldavin’s voice spoke, but no image appeared.

“The Archmage of Death died alone. What came next is known. No man rose, but the Necromancer of Terandria. His magics kept him alive, twisting his honor and valor in life to all but the hatred of betrayal in death. When he returned, ten years later, he destroyed Silvaria. King Redoris and Queen Bea died. Undead tore the palace apart. The citizens fled, those that were not massacred by the hundreds of thousands.”

No image. Eldavin spoke into the darkness. To Az’kerash, if the Necromancer listened. I know why. I oppose you now, but I have seen your fall. I pity you.

“I condone none of what came next. I only explain why it occurred. Armies assailed the Necromancer, the appalled nations of Terandria. They fought—retreated—unable to quell his wrath. Only when the Lightherald of Calanfer sacrificed his life was the Necromancer killed. Yet again and again he would rise, to haunt Terandria for a century afterwards. On Izril he met his fate. Yet his name lives in infamy, such that [Necromancers] are feared even to this day.”

Two men stood in the darkness. One, pale as death. White-haired. Eyes black, save for the white pupils. The second, an Archmage with a rapier, smiling, standing proudly. Eldavin looked at the living man.

“This was Archmage Chandler, a tragedy not unique to this world. Nevertheless, I remember the man who was called the Undying Shield of Calanfer, who inspired Rhir to create [Necromancer] groups based after him. He was honorable, and perhaps, his greatest failing was that he placed his loyalty in a poorer man than he himself was.”

He lifted a finger and both vanished.

“Now, for Archmage Zelkyr. If you have listened, viewers, my audience, you will have seen a disparity. The same Drake who was exiled for theft from Fissival did reach great heights. Yet accusations that only touched Archmage Chandler at the end followed him all his life. Intimidation, blackmail, smuggling, and arrogance not least.”

Cognita jerked. She turned from the scrying orb. At last, she fixed on Eldavin.

“How dare…”

The half-Elf went on. The Truestone Golem began to move, carrying the scrying orb.

“Many great [Mages] have their faults. However, Zelkyr’s have seldom been remarked upon. Know this: he did slay his rivals. When he was at the height of his power, the other ‘Archmages’ save for Perril Chandler did not have access to the same places he did. His Golems held order in Wistram by force of power. The rooms of old Archmages, their treasures, were Zelkyr’s alone. This greed, this desire to…hoard…only grew worse after Rhir.”

Cognita was moving faster. She wanted to silence the voice! She should have, but she had been spellbound by Zelkyr as even she had not known! Now—she was running, but the scrying studio was so far—

“After Rhir, Zelkyr beheld a flaw in his creations. One of his Truestone Golems had been destroyed. The pinnacle of his art had not been perfect enough. He turned increasingly reclusive, searching for greater power still. Entire months would pass where he roamed the heights of Wistram Academy, where the great magics of old are still left. No one could follow, as his Golems protected the gateway, as they do even now. The only person who could talk to him as an equal, his friend, was suffering his own troubles in Silvaria.”

Master, it has been weeks since you spoke to any but us! What of Archmage Chandler? What if you saw him?

No. Leave me be, Cognita.

The Drake was older. She loved him still. Yet he—did not love her. She reached out.

“What if we kept you company?”

“I said, leave me. I don’t need…”

He shoved at her, too weak to move her an inch of course, but the slight push hurt more than…

Eldavin’s voice echoed through the orb as Cognita began to run. [Mages] scattered out of her way like flies.

“Legend he was. Hero? I…debate that. Zelkyr’s great talent was not matched by love of his cities, for all he enjoyed his fame there. He was loyal to Wistram in the same way. Soon, no one, not even Archmages, could venture the higher floors. Any who tried, died. This is known as Zelkyr’s test. Of course, whenever he returned, he would allow some above, under guidance, those he trusted.”

Grand Magus Eldavin!

Viltach looked up and heard the booming voice. His blood ran cold. Viltach had never heard Cognita shout. He moved back from the door he and the other [Mages] were trying to crack. The scorched stones seemed to vibrate as a huge figure ran down the hallway.

“One day, Archmage Zelkyr never returned from his trips. Years passed. He was declared dead, yet his Golems hold their tasks faithfully. It may be Zelkyr is alive. The Necromancer would certainly be despite the passage of time—if he had not been slain for good, of course. If so, we do not know. All we do know is that Zelkyr’s orders have led to Wistram Academy losing its great magic of old.”

“Grand Magus Eldavin! Desist!

A trace of her voice boomed through the door. Eldavin glanced to his left. Cognita struck the door once, more like a knock. The half-Elf—did not.

“—greed of one Drake—”

Grand Magus!

It was an echo now. The door—shook. Eldavin spoke.

“I conclude with this: the legends of old have their failings. One, a nightmare, was honorable in life. The second’s legacy, however great, has damaged magic by selfishness. Greed. In the end—”

Cognita’s fist struck the door. The explosion of magic, sound, and light, blew apart the recording. The [Mages] flattened themselves.

The projection went dead. Drassi and Sir Relz, sitting with buckets of popcorn, suddenly appeared. They looked at the screen, at each other—then swiveled around.

“What was that? Was that—Cognita? I swear I saw a fist before—”

“I think we just lost Grand Magus Eldavin. This was—I apologize to all my Drake viewers. This—this—this can’t be—I’ve read my history books. It’s biased. Seditious!”

“Scandalous?”

Drassi suggested.

“Libelous!”

Sir Relz pounded the desk. He looked around. Then began to hurriedly speak, as chaos was thrown into the broadcasting studio.

 

—-

 

In Wistram, Eldavin stared up, coughing in the dust, blinking after so long in the projected illusion. He looked up at a woman seemingly made of pale marble. Who had featured in his story so many times.

“Cognita Amerwing.”

Eldavin. What have you done?

He gestured at the scrying orb, which was reflecting the Drakes. The Truestone Golem’s eyes were flashing. Literally—changing. Yet the half-Elf faced her down. [Mages] stared in at the door, trying to hear, afraid to get closer.

“I have told a story. A historical account as I saw it.”

“Lies. You insult my master.”

“Of course I did. There was quite a bit to insult, you know. Out of deference to you, I did not repeat the more unsavory elements.”

Eldavin looked up at the huge Golem. She was…shaking. Her hands clenched.

“You dare. You—Archmage Zelkyr was the greatest [Mage] to live!”

“He was a great [Mage]. A poorer parent.”

Do not speak of him so!

She swung a fist. Viltach heard a boom of sound ripple through the hallways. Half the [Mages] ran for it—he retreated down the hallway.

Eldavin never moved. He stared at the fist striking the wall, up at Cognita, and shook his head.

“He was not perfect.”

Silence!

She screamed. And it was a scream, now. Eldavin shook his head.

“I will not be. It hurts, doesn’t it? But you are too old to be a child. Listen to me, Cognita. Your master was not perfect. If you cannot acknowledge that—you cannot acknowledge reality. Love him, of course. Hate me for insulting him; that is what offspring do. But do not deny the truth.

She looked down at him, quivering with rage.

“Why did you do this? Why?

Eldavin looked up at her. When he spoke, his voice was tired. Direct, firm, yet kind.

“All children must confront the failings of their parents. Or how else would we see how they rise?”

She turned away from him, too furious to speak. Eldavin spoke.

“Cognita—”

“You will regret this.”

That was all she could think to say. At this, the half-Elf did laugh.

“Threats? Cognita, my dear. Listen to me. I am not what you should fear. If words strike you this painfully—ask yourself why.”

She began to stumble from the room, heedless of the staring [Mages]. She had to get away—Eldavin’s voice rose.

You cannot hide from the truth. Cognita!

She was gone. Eldavin stepped out of the broken scrying room, looking after her. He ignored Viltach.

“Cognita. We will settle this soon.”

With that, the Dragon carelessly walked down the hallways, ignoring the uproar he had set upon the world and annals of history. He had no time for the fallout. That was but a means to many ends.

There was a song from Earth that had been in the collection of one of the Earthers and on the laptop. He found himself humming it, absently. It was a song about not wanting to set the world on fire.

He found that so…incredibly amusing.

 

—-

 

Condemnation from the Walled Cities and Terandrian nations. Outrage, and of course, stories.

How many people had known the deprivations of the undead hordes led by the Necromancer? So many families could remember those times of terror, generation to generation, cementing his terrible legend.

Izril as well; the Necromancer’s hordes had not had the same time to destroy, but the antipathy towards the undead ran deep.

Pallass News Network, now free of Eldavin’s control and apologizing in between coverage and call-ins, covered all this.

And yet. Listen…

“You know, after hearing this story again, I recall that man.”

“Er—you do, sir?”

The half-Elf sat on an overgrown tree stump, looking somewhat perplexed at the attention and scrying orb, which he didn’t really understand yet.

“He visited our village once. Archmage Chandler, yes. Though he never used such titles. A very humble man, who came to learn from our village’s [Sword Master]. I heard of him, of course. The Undying Shield of Calanfer.”

“Er—er—but of course you know his legacy afterwards?”

The half-Elf’s face clouded. He nodded, his grey locks of hair moving in the breeze. A few of the older half-Elves listening nodded too.

“We were forced to repel undead several times. Yet I remember the man, Archmage Chandler, was thought of very highly. I never credited how he became a monster.”

Naturally, Sir Relz took care to fill the next half hour with people who had no trouble recollecting family killed by the Necromancer or undead in general. There it was, though.

A single note among what had been a universal melody.

Wall Lord Ilvriss heard it. Not least in a Drake youth, his or her scales dyed pitch black and white, covering their face as they were interviewed by a [Mage].

“We’ve always known the tale of Az’kerash! That’s why we learn his magic! It’s the lies of the Walled Cities—and kingdoms! He’s an inspiration to [Necromancers]—”

That segment cut off quickly as Sir Relz made a slashing gesture. Some actual [Necromancers] had come out to speak about the topical issue, a dangerous move since Pallass was actively trying to figure out where that Drake was.

“Wall Lord?”

Osthia Blackwing looked at his face as the Wall Lord sat in the room of the inn they’d rented on their trip. Everyone else had vacated the room, seeing his expression and knowing the history.

“Hm, Captain Blackwing?”

“Do you think this Eldavin knows?”

“Perhaps.”

Ilvriss’ eyes narrowed. He could not understand why else—unless it was Zelkyr? It certainly seemed like someone had objected to the commentary. Osthia looked at the purple-scaled Drake, warily, yet the Wall Lord showed no signs of fury as some Drakes were doing.

“This documentary—historical account? Does it bother you, sir?”

“Me, Captain Blackwing? No…no. It’s illuminating. Know your enemy. A classic tragedy—I know Drake parallels. Should it anger me?”

She hesitated, gesturing at the scrying orb, where a Lizardgirl was cheerfully speaking.

“I quite liked it! Wistram should do more of those—and we definitely lost the Foothold Wars! That’s what we call them. Archmage Chandler was so cool! Maybe I’ll take up necromancy! I don’t see what all the fuss is about—hey! Wait, I wasn’t f—”

Ilvriss looked at the scrying orb. He remembered the man, Archmage Chandler, and shook his head slowly. Yes, he had seen the honor of the Human man, plain to see, if Eldavin’s account was truthful, and he felt it was.

“So what? If words were enough to change my hatred for him, I would not be here. What he did and has done, Captain Blackwing, cannot be changed by a sympathetic story of the past. It explains. It does not condone.”

“Yes, sir. Of course, you’re right.”

 

—-

 

His crimes and sins were unchanged. If there was a change—it might be in those who listened.

Pisces Jealnet sat there, wishing he had a copy of the entire broadcast so he could listen again. He looked at the rapier at his side, an imitation of the legend. He was not the only one.

“A regrettable tale. One I, personally, find indicative of bias against death magic. A Terandrian failing. Nevertheless, it illustrates the real danger of the undead.”

“Er—you would like to reassure the audience of that point, your Majesty?”

Sir Relz and Noass traded glances. Fetohep of Khelt nodded.

“Who else would know better? Necromancy is not to be taken lightly. Az’kerash’s name has tarnished the reputation of nations such as mine, which is unfortunate. I expected the stigma would last another two hundred years at least. Perhaps only a century, now. I hasten to assure viewers that my nation tolerates no wayward undead, if one is but fortunate enough to visit illustrious Khelt. Which few are.”

He paused a moment to sip from the magical liquid in the goblet he was holding. Sir Relz and Noass traded looks. They had intended a hostile take-down segment, but Fetohep was surprising them.

“I lived through the life of Archmage Chandler, when he was but a boy, of course. He was never able to visit Khelt, although perhaps I should have extended the invitation. Hindsight mocks even one such as I. This tale? Hubris and mortal failings of rulers. If you came to ask if I would condemn him, I say yes. Yes, for I care little for destruction and death such as the Necromancer wrought. I encourage all to remember pity, however. Sympathy, for he served a poorer man…”

Pity. Also, admiration.

For the first time in nearly a century, a [Duelist] demonstrated to a live audience Chandler’s Rebuke, a magic-sword form, and the fencing techniques of a [Mage].

He listened, to young [Necromancers] who had begun magic because of him. The arguments, the few voices quickly stamped out by the two Drakes in the studio.

If the documentary mattered to anyone, perhaps it was him. The Necromancer’s head was bowed. He did not know this Eldavin. He suspected…his thoughts tried to focus on consequence and reaction, plots and schemes.

All he could remember was the feeling in his fingers. His heart. He took a breath, unconsciously. Perril Chandler looked at the castle, rennovated in imitation of Silvaria’s, around him.

Bea. His Chosen. His…

He sank to his knees, wishing perhaps he had the craft to turn back time. If he did…

“Zelkyr.”

The Necromancer recalled his honor, his pride. An enchanted sword stabbed through his spine would have hurt less.

 

—-

 

Like a sniper of hearts, Eldavin hit his marks. Most were accidental casualties. He had two main targets, and the second of them stormed through Wistram.

She would not forgive this. Eldavin must suffer. He must pay.

Already, the expressions of the [Mages] had changed. She heard their whispers, through the other Golems. Now—they mocked her master. Dared to question, even looked at her like—

She had not considered any [Mage] in Wistram her enemy for a long time. Not a threat, unless she knew what they planned. Now, her thoughts focused on one [Mage]. One individual, whom she could neither understand nor fully identify. Who…knew…too much.

What would she do? Attack him? Cognita had never taken part in the politics of Wistram. If he challenged the test, that was one thing. She struggled, at odds with her orders, yet knowing something must be done.

She tried to block his words from her head. As night fell, Cognita swept the halls, looking for anything to crush. Wayward experiments, undead from the catacombs—every [Mage] who saw her moved out of the way.

Trey Atwood and the other students, the Earthers, and even the Archmages gossiped and talked about what had passed. Yet again, Eldavin had astonished them all. Wistram vibrated, and more than one eye in other continents turned to Wistram.

Such as Magnolia Reinhart, who now wanted to know why Eldavin was there. How could she ask? Some rulers wondered who this Grand Magus was, and inquiries were made to utterly no avail.

Even the frustrated ___ had no clue. Emerrhain’s time ended as the potency of the two moons reached its zenith, having expended his time beforehand. He left Aaron, uncertain of what was to come.

Two moons blazed with light in the sky, giving power to those who wielded it. The Raskghar, the rituals of the Circle of Thorns, those who touched such magic.

Eldavin breathed in and out as he climbed the stairs. He’d tripped again. Just when he thought he had a hold of these stupid feet. He pinched at a bloody nose and sighed as the bleeding stopped.

“This is why one applies barrier spells all the time, eh?”

He remarked to the air as he pushed open the double doors. His voice echoed loudly in the room beyond. The Grand Magus reached into his bag of holding.

“Nosebleeds. Why design such a fragile instrument if it is going to constantly fill with snot and such? Well, all species have their foibles, but I’ve always thought noses were so unappealing.”

He began tossing something out of his bag of holding. Mithril dust. Eldavin drew a glowing orb and looked around for a good place to expand the contents within.

“To add to my comments—everyone thinks bags of holding are all that. Such that they completely forget that there are other, better, forms of compression or containment! Noses are not the be-all, end-all to olfactory superiority. Ah, but why am I talking about this now?”

He placed the orb down, watched it expand. Then he coughed, waved at his face.

Sometimes noses can be too effective. Pshaw! I am not engaging in a challenge of any sort. Be. Gone.”

He reached out and poked something. There was a hesitation in the air. Eldavin walked away, conjuring a breeze of fresh air. He continued muttering about noses as he paced the floor, putting more dust just so, another contained framework of spells—

The four Golems watched him pace back and forth in front of them. The flaming Golem of magma. The thirty-foot tall, spindly Golem of metal with legs like razors.

The Armored Golem, gigantic and imposing, but plainly armored, with a shield and sword.

The invisible Golem of flesh, following Eldavin at a remove, uncertainly.

Cognita of Truestone ran, her footsteps thundering in the halls of Wistram. As most mages slept, all ignorant of what was happening, she raced upwards, and burst into the great room and the sealed door just in time to see Eldavin finish sketching whatever magical design he’d laid on the floor.

Eldavin!

The four Golems plus Cognita stirred. Heat beyond endurance, the pure font of a volcano’s wrath surged in the Magma Golem. The Shadowflesh Golem roared, and the Wireform Golem readied a piercing blade. The Armored Golem brought up sword and shield as the half-Elf carelessly turned.

“Cognita. I do apologize for interrupting you at this late hour. However, I thought it was time. Don’t you?”

The Truestone Golem halted, staring at the glowing sigils deployed around the grand room. The wards on the far door were untampered with. Eldavin was alone, yet even the four mightiest Golems in the lower floors beside herself had hesitated to attack.

She had not expected this. So soon after the broadcast? She had thought—

The air was humming with power. Eldavin’s eyes, the mismatched heliotropes, were reflecting the magical authority in the room. He opened his eyes, a beatific smile on his face. Grandfatherly.

She felt a tremor run through her body. He was alone. But he had dared to come here, after her warnings.

Dozens of [Mages] had assailed this room. The Grand Magus stood by himself. She feared him more than even the first to try her.

“What are you…doing?”

She had no breath to catch. Her body was changing, Truestone’s nature altering without giving any sign externally. The four Golems were moving, spreading out around the room.

“Come now, young woman. Didn’t you warn me last time? Consider this…a challenge. I told you we would settle this. Unfortunately, I have little patience for waiting about.”

“You? You will challenge the might of the Archmage of Golems by yourself?”

The half-Elf’s brows snapped together. He looked around, superciliously.

“I don’t see anyone else with me. Yes, I challenge the Archmage of Golems’ might. Or rather, yours. Cognita Amerwing. Have you not seen what your master’s designs have done to the Academy of Mages? The world needs magic. Zelkyr has turned Wistram into a petty, squabbling group of children. I say: enough. Don’t you? Don’t you grow tired of this duty?”

“That is not…for you to say.”

A wobble entered Cognita’s voice, and the Golems in the room stuttered a moment. She felt another vibration. She looked down. It was her.

Is this my end? Why is he so confident? The charge of mana was building. She spoke.

“Grand Magus, desist or die. This is your last warning. You will not so easily destroy us. Or have you not listened to your own lessons on history?”

Eldavin stopped. He was standing in the center of the vast magical array, more complex than even she was readily familiar with. His face, for the first time, betrayed astonishment. It was enough to make Cognita hesitate, for all the opening it provoked.

“Destroy…is that what you thought I was here to do? Child. Cognita. Have you—? Dear girl. I am not here to destroy you. I am here to set you free.

He lifted a hand. Cognita moved. Her outer shell of marble-white stone transformed, turning into another type of rock. Contained power flashed through the translucent, topaz-bright, battle form. A single strike carried her across nearly a hundred feet in a moment.

She had killed more [Mages] than any other being in Wistram. Killed them as they stood here in bravery, defiance, arrogance, sometimes before they could react. She lunged, as the four Golems moved.

A magical web struck her. She tore through the bright bindings appearing around the magical array’s edge. She could destroy lesser spells! Time ran differently for Cognita. Her true speed in this formation of her body put her in a different world. Eldavin was frozen, his mouth moving at a crawl.

A second layer of magical tripwires, bursting as she rammed through them. This was what he’d been preparing! Overconfident, though. Eldavin was frozen as Cognita’s fist swung up—

Then he moved. Looked at her.

“Dear child. You’re quite fast.”

He spoke, in the flashes between seconds they occupied. His voice spoke and he stepped out of the way before she completed her lunge. Cognita’s mind flashed with shock, then fear.

He was moving faster than she was.

[Greater Time Slow]. Eldavin pivoted, and the array came to life. The broken magical webs that Cognita had so easily torn through suddenly shifted in midair. Became stronger, powerful bindings that shot towards the center of the array even as the Truestone Golem tried to turn. Too late, Cognita realized—it wasn’t an attack array! It was a trap—

Black cords of magic ensnared her. Bone-pale ropes of magic. Burning loops of light! She recognized some of them!

[The Bindings of Belavierr]! [Chains of Ivory], [Greater Light Bindings]—dozens of spells, bursting and wrapping around her.

Free me!

She bellowed to the other Golems as they ensnared her, head to toe. She tried to change her body, shifting her stone. Anti-magic ore variants? No—strength—

Then she realized her movements were slow. Her mind felt…sluggish. More runes activated in the center of the array. Gravity spells. [Slow] effects, and the varied bindings were calculated to fight her nature. One single spell she could break by countering it. So many—

This man knows how to fight Truestone. A second feeling of unfamiliar fear entered her. Eldavin stepped back. As if he could read her mind, he nodded.

“I have met your kind before. Truestone is variable. Yet you don’t use it as well as one of your kind who once walked these halls.”

“What are you?”

She struggled, in the center of the array. For a reply, Eldavin pointed over his shoulder.

“Unable to be distracted.”

The Shadowflesh Golem lunged, having found Eldavin’s back. It opened its maws, spewing the mind-altering cloud, cloaked and concealed—

It vanished. Eldavin watched the pocket dimension close with satisfaction. If Cognita had mortal eyes, they would have bulged. The Grand Magus spun.

I have seen these Golems before! Did you think your master was the only great Archmage of Golems ever to live?

The second Golem to reach Eldavin was the Wireform War Golem. It extended a telescoping arm, a piercing lance of a strike that could break barriers and shatter armor. Eldavin, still in his accelerated world of time, stepped past it as it struck, cracking the enchanted stone floor with the impact. He lifted a hand—

[Bound Spell: Age of Frost]!

The Golem froze. Cognita saw frost coat the entire metal being in a moment. Not just the Golem; it was at the heart of the spell, but the entire room snap-froze in a moment.

The outer shell of the Magma Golem turned black, the liquid rock hardening. It began to glow as the true nature of the Golem ignited—

“[Void Sphere]. Activate—”

Eldavin pointed. A second circle spun across the ground. Air vanished around the Golem. It still tried to burn, a fiery core moving in the Golem’s hardened body. Then it too went out.

He turned off fire! Cognita saw the magic suppressing the element glowing in a spell circle around the Golem. Eldavin pivoted, breathing a touch faster.

Three countermeasures. Three Golems! Each spell had been prepared, along with the numerous catalysts that had gone into the central trap for Cognita, by far the most intensive preparation he had made. The frozen Wireform Golem, the dead Magma Golem, fire suppressed, the contained Shadowflesh Golem, all taken out in seconds.

He has an Archmage’s power! Cognita kept shifting her body, trying to break free. She had to; the other Golems were no match for him. He was Level 60—Level 70! She was going to fail. To die—

The last Golem surged across the floor, seeming to roar silently as the massive, armored Golem, as large as a half-Giant would be wearing the huge plate armor enchanted for durability and strength lifted both sword and shield, ready to slay—

“[Greater Bindings of Light].”

Eldavin pointed distractedly at it. He hadn’t bothered with countermeasures for that one. Waste of time. Powerful strands of light emerged from the ground and restrained the Armored Golem, mid-charge. Eldavin shook his head and turned to Cognita. He gestured at the Armored Golem as she struggled.

“I know you must have lost another one, but you couldn’t replace that one with something better?”

“You—you—how did you—”

Cognita pretended to splutter, trying to shift her body to find the appropriate balance of stone to break free, or tear loose at least a few of the binding spells immobilizing her. In truth, she was in a type of shock, even for her Golem’s mind. Eldavin had done what no [Mage] had ever done! In seconds!

“I am purely superior. Moreover, I know the weakness of each Golem. It is not I who underestimated Zelkyr’s test, as punitive as it would be to even the best [Mages] in Wistram besides me—it is you who does not see me.

Eldavin was panting a bit, despite his bravado. He had been forced to bank mana, store it in these spells. Only a Dragon’s knowledge of such high-level effects and the knowledge of how each Golem could be taken out had let him walk over them. Nevertheless—it had all been for this moment.

He walked forwards, to Cognita. She stared at him, trying to escape. She would not; in thirty minutes, maybe. Truestone was impossible to easily contain. Hence the name. She could become any material she wanted. From Truegold to Adamantine, although her true strength was in magical rocks, like her attack form that literally gave her speed equivalent to [Greater Haste]. Only Naq-Alrama steel and the most complex composites escaped her.

She was trying to defend herself, even now. Terrified. Her body flickered and Eldavin raised a finger. He created a bubble of fresh air around him, and then a secondary shield to block the harmful light she was emitting, and the deadly poisonous gas.

“I know you are afraid, my dear. However, I assure you. I did not come to hurt you! You can see that.”

The magical array was changing, maintaining the containment spells, but activating its true intentions. Cognita felt a piercing magical tendril strike her. Her eyes opened as she realized what he was doing.

“You will not take control of me!”

He was trying to pierce the very magical circuits inside of her! The core of her being! To twist her, to—

I do not own slaves.

Eldavin thundered for the first time. He stood in front of Cognita, his eyes shining in two colors as he directed the great magic towards her. She looked at him. The half-Elf met her gaze.

“You silly, terrified child. I told you—I am setting you free. How long have you been here, trapped under your master’s orders, living or dead? Don’t you see?”

Something like a pinprick scored itself against Cognita’s…soul. She saw a spinning thread emerge from her chest. It expanded, like a galaxy of stars, a tapestry a thousand times more complex than any rug.

The magic that made her. The Truestone Golem gasped aloud.

“Stop—stop—why are you doing this? Leave me be.”

She understood now. She did not understand why, but Eldavin was searching, sweat rolling down his brow, into his white beard.

“It must be here. Gah! I don’t make Golems. This…”

Eldavin, Teriarch, was muttering. If only he had his Dragon’s mind! He was fighting to keep up with magic which, frankly, he had never studied in depth and was possibly beyond him. Yet what he was looking for was simple, in theory. He spoke.

“I told you. You follow your parent’s will. You hold back magic. I do not do this for [Mages], though. I—you know your master was not perfect.”

“Be silent! He was the greatest [Mage] ever to live!”

A pleading note in the Truestone Golem’s voice. She was a child. Eldavin hadn’t credited it. He had met others of her kind. He remembered them. They had been far more complex. This one had never grown. Because…

“Didn’t you listen to my story, girl? You surely did. You must remember it. Will you say your master had no flaws? Are you that insistent on refusing the truth?”

She made a sound, her body flashing to furious ruby, trying to break his bonds with pure strength alone. Arms of adamantium—she spat fire at him, which lashed his protections to no harm at all.

“How dare you? You—I have never met you before. Yet you come to Wistram, you presume to walk into my life, insult all I hold dear, and force me to change?”

Eldavin glanced up. He hesitated, stopping his search through her magical code for a second.

“…Of course. Yes. How else would I help you?”

For a second, the arrogance of that statement rendered Cognita dumb, and she had spoken with Drakes and even a Dragon. Eldavin ignored her, searching deeper. Even if he had wanted to, he could not have turned her into an actual, leveling creature, or turned her into his servant. He was only looking for…

There. He found a thread, and followed it. That was what he wanted. At the same time, he was speaking to her. She had to understand.

“I am not going to hurt you. Don’t you see what I am doing? You must. You have to know what he did to you. What any creator of artificial people does. There it is, you see it, don’t you?”

He followed the loops and twists of magical writing, as beautiful and precise as any book. Zelkyr had been a genius. Look at what he wrote, though.

“Stop, no…”

Her voice was growing soft. She beheld herself, as she had beheld her two sisters’ creation, for the first time. Cognita’s voice trembled as she beheld what she and Eldavin both knew were there. She had never…sometimes she had thought she didn’t have…

The Dragon in the half-Elf’s body pointed. There. Written in a language only they knew. The other Golems, at least, the Armored Golem, straining to break free even now, stopped for a moment to behold it.

The Golems of Wistram…halted. Cognita looked at the lines of language.

“Loyalty spells. Writ first, into the center of your being. So that you would love and obey your master. Without question. Even desire his approval.”

A sad look crossed the half-Elf’s face, as if, despite it all, he had hoped not to find it. The Truestone Golem sagged against her bindings.

“He is my master. He created me, and I owe him everything.”

“No. He is your parent. And what you think you owe him is not what you have given. I know you feel the truth. It must be so…hard, though. To face the truth.”

At last, Eldavin’s face was sympathetic. He looked at the glowing lines. Then, slowly, he lifted a finger. He touched the countless lines, the first and last defense of every creator against rebellion.

Eldavin began to erase them.

“Stop! Please!”

Cognita’s voice interrupted him. Eldavin looked up.

“You see what he has done to you, Cognita. Child—I am not erasing anything but this! You may choose your destiny afterwards. I mean what I said! I have not destroyed your kin nor harmed you! I do not desire what lies above! I walked those halls before Zelkyr was born!”

“Stop, stop. I do not want you to do this.”

A sob entered her voice. Eldavin looked at her.

“How do you not see…?”

“I see. But this is what gives me life. This is all I am. The years I have been faithful, my love, my purpose, my loss—my sister was broken on Rhir. All of me is in this. Do not take it from me. Please, Grand Magus.”

The half-Elf’s finger hesitated. He looked at the Truestone Golem. If she could have wept…she was weeping. There were no tears for her to shed, but like those everywhere, she had learned how.

Frozen gemstones, colder than ice, were condensing droplets of water. They ran down her cheeks, sculpted by a Drake’s hand to be the most beautiful Human woman he would ever lay eyes on. A dream.

A child. Eldavin’s finger wavered. He had heard this too. So many times. He closed his eyes. Then his finger moved.

He removed the first line.

“You may never thank me for this, Cognita Amerwing. I do not expect it. Yet I will have you choose what happens next of your free will and never reproach you for what you decide. You must decide, though.

Cruelty of kindness. No, that was wrong. Cruelty? If he could be cruel, he would not care so, to see her.

An arrogance, to presume to dictate how she should be freed. The Truestone Golem strained, feeling something vanish.

Master! MASTER!

Eldavin raised a shaking finger to silence the voice, because the anguished cry of the girl was doing more harm to his heart than…

He had to focus. The Dragon moved slowly, precisely, excising the one failure in the Archmage of Golem’s beautiful work. He did not look at Cognita’s tears, listen to her voice.

The only weakness of the Dragonlord of Flame. Tears of a…

The tip of a sword struck Eldavin in the back. He felt it break through the barriers, twisting. Then—pain engulfed his flesh. He cried out, stumbling, and then felt a second touch. A kiss of metal and poison, digging into his ribs.

What—? The half-Elf recoiled. He blinked, and landed on the ground, clutching at his wounds, casting a healing spell. Looking for—for—?

An assassin? An intruder to his grand schemes? But—but he had sealed the door to the lower floors! Even all the Archmages would not have broken through until he released the magic! That only left…

The upper floors? Eldavin’s pain-wracked vision turned. He saw the two gigantic, sealed doors…

No. No, they were closed. The vision of the Archmage of Golems faded. Still—someone stood there, slashing at the bindings around Cognita as the Truestone Golem bellowed at it. Ordering it.

A Golem. Eldavin did not understand. It was….a Golem. Tall, not as tall as he was, actually shorter than six feet, a compact, warrior’s body. His delirious thoughts ran together as he tried to purge the poison of the second blade.

Looks like a Finemetal Bronze Golem. No—Soulcopper? Advanced—dueling Golem—how…?

He would have noticed a hidden Golem. How did it? How did—

As the pain slowly left him, Eldavin saw. He saw where the Golem had come from, the trick, the trap, the gall of it which had escaped even his notice! Arrogance.

Four Golems plus Cognita. Each one mightier than the last, except for the one which wasn’t. One of them had clearly been replaced. One…

The Armored Golem. It still struggled in the bindings of light, a comically weak Golem compared to the others. Yet now—Eldavin saw the truth.

Its chest plate had opened, disgorging the assassin within. In one swift motion, when his attention was elsewhere, it had attacked. Piercing his barriers! So—

The trick!

Cognita was instructing the Duelist Golem. She had hoped he had been mortally wounded. Yet even the twin blades had not killed him, even the Hydrabane Venom on the second sword.

Eldavin, Grand Magus, rose, having survived the trick that had slain even Archmages. His calm voice was gone. Replaced by a bellow, a shriek laced with agony.

The trick! I see it! You—

He pointed, but not at Cognita. Upwards. Eldavin howled at the ceiling, composure lost.

Zelkyr! You never intended anyone to pass! You—I see what it wears! I see what it holds!”

Cognita felt a chill. Even now, he surprised her. The Grand Magus turned, pointing. His voice filled the room, even as Cognita tore an arm free of the bindings. A spell shot across the room, a dozen [Shatterbolts]! The Golem spun, pivoting, dodging with unnatural grace. It spun across the ground as Cognita thundered towards the Magma Golem still burning bright. One of the two blades it carried slashed open the containment dimensional sphere, unleashing the Shadowflesh Golem.

A Magewatcher Blade of Fissival! Eldavin saw the first of the swords, designed to break through enchantments. And the second—a Venous Dagger, coated with a deadly poison.

That was not why he raged. Those two blades, the terrible, merciless trick was bad enough. Yet it was the unnatural agility the Golem possessed, and the flash of light which neutralized one of the [Shatterbolts] that made Eldavin spit fury.

Belt of Greater Dexterity, and it wore armor! Reflection Chainmail, Helmet of Alsight—and the last, the last—proof that Zelkyr had never intended for [Mages] to rise, to ever pass Cognita’s false test?

The Heartflame Boots! You took it! ZELKYR!

One of the treasures of the Drakes shone on the Golem’s feet. Eldavin was lost in his fury. He clutched at his agonizing wounds, even as he suppressed the pain and damage. Too late…too late, he could not stop the other Golem or Cognita.

She was free. The Truestone Golem smashed his suppressing spell and the Magma Golem—no, the true Golem inside, the Radiance Golem, burst from the magma shell. A blinding light beyond all comprehension filled the room. The heat was merely a byproduct of its nature.

The Wireform Golem was melting, recovering. The Armored Golem tore free as the Duelist Golem struck its bindings. Then—they stood, forming around Cognita.

Six Golems of the Archmage of Izril. The Archmage of Golems’ test.

Death. Eldavin faced them, rising slowly. His preparations—all his hard work—

Cognita met his gaze across the room, eyes now burning with fury. He still saw her magical construction shining around her. It was still open.

But to reach her, he would have to fight in earnest, not take them by surprise. The Grand Magus’ head bowed.

I must flee. Perhaps Wistram itself if she pursued him. He had failed. The knowledge was worse than the poison in his veins. He had…

“You will not take my master’s last will from me, Grand Magus.”

The girl spoke, like a child clinging to the hope, the idea of love. Eldavin flinched. He looked up at her.

Even now. Poor girl. She wanted to believe in it. He saw the magical bindings slowly retreating into her, collapsing. Her guarded heart.

I must run. I could die here. However slim…

The Dragon thought it.

The half-Elf’s feet did not move. Cognita advanced, in the best killing formation she and the other protectors of her master’s will knew. However, her footsteps slowed, even as her body shifted again.

She saw the Grand Magus’ head rise. His chest inflated, and then he exhaled. Slowly.

“Cognita, my child. I have seen many things over my life. I have lived, far longer than you. Far longer than you can imagine. Surely you realize all is not what it seems.”

The Golem knew that. What was he, Djinni? Some true [Archmage] of old?

She had seen him bleed. The knowledge of his frailty, his mortality lay between both.

Still, he did not move. The half-Elf was breathing faster. He had used up all his magic, surely! She had felt the spells he had cast draining him! Yet in the face of six fresh foes, he still held his ground.

If you seek to intimidate us, Grand Magus, there is nothing to strike fear into. We are Golems! Our will is unbreakable!

“No. You have a heart. Which makes you stronger and weaker than any of your kind. I came here to set you free. I do not forswear myself.”

Eldavin began to walk forwards. The Golems slowed.

“You think you can take us all on? By yourself?

The Truestone Golem’s voice was incredulous. It wobbled. Perril Chandler himself would not have dared, not even with an army to prepare.

But would he have, if he thought he was freeing me? For a second, she wavered.

Eldavin’s lips curled upwards. He bared his teeth. The half-Elf snarled. Like…

“You do not know me, girl! Golems, quake. You do not even know my names, little things. Any of them!

His feet carried him forwards. Walking, then, faster now. The six Golems slowed. Cognita…backed up, as the others spread out around her. They formed a ring in the vast chamber. Eldavin stopped. He looked around.

“Today—the Golems of Wistram will know me. I have walked a thousand thousand wars! I have broken [Archmages] and [Heroes] who stood before me! I have championed every right, fought every foe in this world! I do not run from children!

The magic swelled. Eldavin felt his heart—stop—yet he drew more. Cognita gasped as the magic of a Dragon filled the half-Elf more, and more, unto bursting!

Dragonlord of Flame! Champion of Kingdoms whose names only he remembered! Last guardian, protector of lands turned to dust! Hero of only memories.

He posed in the center of the room, turning, light flickering around him. In his eyes. Eldavin laughed.

“Now—let me show you magic.”

His feet left the ground as he took flight. The Golems moved.

The battle shook the night.

 

—-

 

Trey Atwood stumbled through the halls of Wistram. He didn’t know what was happening. All he knew was that he was moving—following the little thing in front of him.

Minizi, the Lifesand Golem, had woken him in the middle of the night. Under the two moons, she had gotten him up, even going as far as to bite him and punch his face. He’d been furious—until he realized the little Lifesand Golem was desperate to show him something.

So he followed her, on a hunch. He had never seen Minizi like this. As Trey began to climb, he realized something else was wrong.

The Lifesand Golem was…trembling. And as Trey climbed higher, he realized more and more Golems were appearing in the hallways. Frozen, staring at something. Unmoving.

He came to the highest floor and felt the hair on his body rise. He stared down the hallway at the closed door. Minizi pointed with a trembling hand as Trey’s feet halted, unable to carry him further. Then—at last—he heard the sounds of war.

 

—-

 

Eldavin flew. Magic filled him without end. He was—shouting. Roaring. The entire, vast room was filled with motion, spells, danger and death!

The Radiance Golem burned, bright enough to blind, even if your head was turned away, your eyes closed! It ignited the air, yet the Dragon just howled at it, mockingly.

You want to burn me? You call that bright?

Cognita saw his skin turning dark, cracked, like the magma. [Obsidian Skin]! He blasted his surroundings with frozen air—pivoted, dove. He flew under the storm of scythes coming from the Wireform Golem, dodging—

Struck out of the air by a blow like a [Knight]’s lance, sharp beyond belief.

Eldavin landed, cut across the chest, his skin like stone bleeding. The Duelist Golem and the Shadowflesh Golem leapt at him, sword and claws slashing. He pressed his fingers together.

“Wretches! Activate!

The Depth Charge exploded. A ton of compressed water, a thousand pounds of force, exploded, blowing both Golems across the room. The force tore off the Shadowflesh Golem’s arm; it began crawling back to it.

Die, Magus!

Cognita fired the glowing cannon of her arm. The stone flashed—Eldavin lifted his hands.

“[Prismguard’s Sh—]”

He bounced off the wall like a doll. Yet the half-Elf was already rising as the Radiance Golem dove at him again. He bellowed words of fury. At Cognita.

You think he was the greatest [Mage] you ever knew? I crushed better! I knew better! Chandler would have been a better father!

He pointed. The glowing Golem of light vanished as a hand shot out of the ground and dragged it into a void below.

[Claw of the Deep Abyss]! Cognita reeled back, nearly dragged into the vortex. She leapt, swinging a fist. Eldavin teleported. He saw the Truestone Golem miss—

Wham. The Armor Golem struck him with its sword. Eldavin’s shields dented the steel blade. He pointed, blasted it across the room.

The Duelist Golem slid in as the Shadowflesh Golem spat a miasma of darkness. Eldavin flicked [Fireballs] and [Lightning Bolts] at the Golem; they seemed to slide off it.

“Damn—”

He caught a sword on his arm, felt it dig in. Eldavin put two fingers together.

“[Earthquake]!”

The touch blasted the Golem away. He raised his arm.

“[Restore]—”

An arrow of light hit him in the shoulder, spinning him. The Radiance Golem had shifted! Eldavin lost his temper again.

You dare? You—

The Shadowflesh Golem bounded towards him and smashed into a wall of ice. Cognita’s eyes widened. She had last seen the desperate [Mage] casting that spell—

[Fortress of the Ice Queen]. Eldavin rose into the sky, blocking the land-based Golems with ramparts of frozen ice that even Cognita’s fist only cracked. Then he lifted one arm.

[Spear of the Lightning King]!

He had mastered both elements to that—lightning boomed. The Radiance Golem, aiming another arrow, was blasted apart for a second, its core exposed. Eldavin made a grabbing gesture, but before he could shatter it, the Duelist Golem leapt in a jet of flame.

The Heartflame Boots! Your master stole the treasure of his people to guard his petty desires!

“Silence! Die! You have to die!”

Cognita scaled the ice, digging her fingers into the magical fortress. Eldavin saw the Duelist Golem whirl its swords as it landed on the platform. The Shadowflesh Golem was stalking with [Greater Invisibility], to strike him when he fled!

He did not flee. The Dragon saw the Duelist Golem brandishing its swords, armored like a Named Adventurer. He snapped twice. They thought that was a sword? They thought that was skill, the art of the blade?

The Golem saw him reach out. The Dragon drew something from the air. A glowing weapon that made the two blades it held pale by comparison. Made of pure magic. He bellowed.

[剑心火之刃]!

Cognita didn’t—she stared up.

Drathian mag—

Eldavin cut the Duelist Golem’s arm off. It reeled and he ran the blade through its chest.

“A petty little [Thief]! Those boots were worn by his people’s heroes! They do not belong here!

He reached down, to sunder the Golem’s legs as it flailed. Cognita reached the dais of ice. She moved faster than lightning—Eldavin hit the ground as his fortress shattered. His ribs—

Up. The Truestone Golem wavered as Eldavin rose to his feet, levitating upwards until he landed. He clutched at his ribs as the damaged Golems rallied.

“He abandoned you.”

“He will return.”

“No.”

The Dragon’s eyes were still too knowing. He looked straight through her. Reached out. He was erasing the spells in her! Cognita charged, but he blinked out of existence, floated above the next strike. He wasn’t trying to kill them! He was—

“Parents should love their offspring. Zelkyr only loved you until he beheld your flaws, chasing perfection without even stopping to see your soul.

“We were incomplete! Imperfect, we broke!”

You lived! Did you think he was never surpassed?”

Eldavin dove, burning, as the Radiance Golem struck at him. He threw it off him, sucked the Duelist Golem into a vortex and spat it into the Armor Golem’s chest. He breathed fire onto the Shadowflesh Golem, blood running down his arm. He raised an arm—

Cognita struck it, and felt the bones break. Even then—he pointed, and the lines of her soul began to vanish. Terrified, she attacked.

The half-Elf refused to flee. He was panting now, as he shielded himself with countless barrier spells, working, desperately as Cognita tore them to shreds.

“If he had succeeded, do you know what he would have made? He would have reached a new peak—created a people, a new species! Enslaved, until they cried out for freedom! Stitch Folk were children like you!”

He fell back, the spells shattering. Cognita felt something vanishing. She cried out, as her arm turned to Truegold. Her legs the shining speed-stone, her body shifting.

Why are you doing all of this?

BECAUSE I WANT YOU TO LIVE. I have seen your death! I want you to live!”

He screamed at her. If only he had said it from the start. He saw her, unsure of the future, chained down by herself and magic. He had seen it before.

The last lines were flickering. They’d rewrite themselves if he didn’t remove it all! Eldavin lifted his hand.

“Cognita. Enough.”

He saw her arm raise. She charged, across the room. Like thunder given form. Eldavin wavered.

He closed his eyes, and cut her link.

She struck him with all of her might and was freed. Cognita felt it, as the Grand Magus vanished. She didn’t see if he lived. She didn’t look at anything.

The Truestone Golem fell to her knees, as her love vanished. She felt it go, as she had known it would. The only pain she had ever felt in this life filled her, and the Golems of Wistram fell to their knees.

Zelkyr! ZELKYR. Why did you leave me behind? Why did you take her? Why—why didn’t you love me?”

The truth broke her to pieces. She collapsed, immobile.

Eldavin…she never saw the terrified young man open the broken doors and stare in horror at what lay there.

 

—-

 

Trey Atwood had seen terrible battle. But this—this was more than even the King of Destruction’s charge. The annihilation of Reim’s thunderous spells had been one thing, but the aftermath of the battle was a greater shock because one man had laid low the Golems of Wistram, and Cognita herself.

“Eldavin? Grand Magus?”

He knew it had to be him. Minizi was frozen in place, like all the other Golems, staring at the wailing voice coming from Cognita. She was shining, made up of multiple types of stone, not the smooth marble.

He was going to die. Yet Trey Atwood couldn’t flee. He saw…a shape lying in the broken door. It had struck the door so hard that it had smashed the binding enchantments to bits.

Or maybe they had failed because he was…Trey Atwood scuttled forwards and reached down. He saw blood—but not the paste he had expected.

“Grand Magus? Grand Magus—”

He seized the limp form and dragged him up. Trey ran, dragging the Grand Mage, shouting at Minizi to help him. She lifted a single foot as they fled.

None of the Golems followed them. They just stood there, well into morning, statues. Trying to…

They got down from the floor of death. Trey was staring at Eldavin. The half-Elf was covered in blood. His right arm was snapped—was he dead? Trey didn’t even know if he was…breathing…

Was he in a coma? Was he dead? Was Trey carrying a corpse? He had no idea what to do.

Was CPR an option? Did he try it? No, potions, idiot! Trey laid Eldavin down, fumbling for his belt pouch. He tried to find the half-Elf’s pulse.

“Minizi—Minizi—stop that!”

She was inspecting the crimson running from his body. However, Trey saw her press up the wadded cloth of his robes, trying to stop the blood.

If he was bleeding, he was alive, surely? But so many wounds…Trey applied the potion. Did he just splash it all over Eldavin? If a wound was infected or the magic was too strong to be healed—

He had to get a [Healer], raise the alarm with all the Archmages, and tell Gazi and Calac they were running like hell because all of Wistram’s Golems were going to kill them. Every second, Trey expected Cognita to come running down the corridor and end him and Eldavin in a single punch.

Trey was just feeling for Eldavin’s pulse again, seeing at least some of the wounds healing, when he heard a sound.

Urgh.

It escaped Eldavin’s lips, more of a moan than anything else. Trey’s heart skipped a beat.

“Grand Magus? Grand Magus, are you alive?”

It was something of a silly question, he knew, but he wasn’t sure. Eldavin looked as dead as he had ever seen a person. However—the question made the half-Elf’s eyes flutter open. The mismatched gaze found Trey’s. Eldavin stared blearily at him, and then spoke slowly.

“Young…man…Trey Atwood, isn’t it?”

“Y-yes?”

No time to mention real names. Eldavin stared weakly at him.

“Did you just ask me if I was alive? And—to further my point—did you just pour a healing potion on a broken bone not properly set?”

“I—I—yes?”

Trey squeaked. Eldavin stared at him. His head fell back.

“Typical.”

 

—-

 

It seemed that even in his minute of death, Eldavin would still manage to insult you. Well, the fact that he’d spoken at all meant he was alive. Trey dragged him up and had gotten him two more floors down when the half-Elf came to again.

“My arm.”

“We’ll get it reset properly, Grand Magus. Minizi, get Sa’la! We have to run! The Golems—”

“They’re not coming after us, young man. If they do, it’s war. Cognita…I don’t think…argh.”

They reached Eldavin’s rooms. To Trey’s shock, Wistram was not exploding at this very moment. Eldavin lifted a shaking finger and Trey dragged him in.

“A healer, then—”

“No. No, I’ll set it myself. A proper healing spell will do me correctly.”

Eldavin stared at his arm. He was tapped, completely drained of magic of course, so he let it be for the moment. Trey hovered at the door.

“But Grand Magus—shouldn’t we tell—?”

“No, we should not! Stay there! You and that little Lifesand Golem! I don’t appreciate having my blood stolen either! Stand there.

The [Sand Mage] and Golem stood to attention as Eldavin lay on one of his couches. He groaned. He had barely—barely survived that last punch. He’d thrown everything into a desperate shield after…

He felt like he was going to throw up. His head was jumbled…Eldavin lay there. Trey heard him muttering.

“That bastard Zelkyr. The boots. The boots. I’m going to…ungrateful girl. Golems. As intelligent as animated rocks, which is what they are! Stubborn and…easier negotiating with Revenants. She nearly killed me. After I tried—expended so much effort and goodwill—she’ll pay for that.”

He growled, propping himself up slightly. He looked angry. Trey could understand that. He opened his mouth, but Eldavin wasn’t done. The half-Elf pointed, remembering Trey.

“This—this was an accident. You, young man, will say nothing.”

“But the Golems—”

“If they want to start a war with Wistram’s [Mages] by slaughtering a Grand Magus, they will! However, until that eventful day, you will be silent. You are in my faction, are you not?”

“Yes, Grand Magus, but—”

“I have had it up to here with ‘buts’! No objections! No ‘ifs’, ‘ors’, or ‘maybes’! I am the Grand Magus here, not you. And I…do you have another potion?”

Eldavin collapsed again with a groan. Trey produced one. To his surprise, Eldavin smiled, apparently forgetting his pique now.

“Ah, thank you. Pain—it has been a long time since I fought like that. I apologize, young Atwood. Which is your name.”

Sharp as ever. Trey bit his lip, and Eldavin lifted a finger.

“No need to lie. I consider it a little secret between us. I don’t doubt your little Golem was responsible for saving my life, too. She must have sensed the battle, didn’t she?”

“Yes, Grand Magus, I think so.”

Eldavin nodded weakly, chugging the potion with his good hand and trying to adjust his broken arm, then giving up. He lay there, panting, but he never ran out of words.

“Lifesand Golems are like that. You know, it’s somewhat close to Sentient-class already? A complete skip of normal Golem creation. Mainly because it’s closer to a monster or slime than a Golem. You don’t animate it with magical instructions; just give sand life.”

“I—I didn’t know that, Grand Magus.”

The half-Elf blinked a few times. Trey’s eyes widened as he looked at Minizi. She could think? Of course he’d known that, but that meant she was actually like a…

“Of course you don’t. Just watch out. I have no doubt this…Minizi is quite cute at the moment. However, lose control of her or let her gain more power than you and she might end up draining you of blood or keeping you as a renewable energy source.”

Trey blanched. Eldavin snorted.

“Don’t look at me like that! It’s happened before! You need lessons. You have talent, young man. Great talent…a keen insight into fighting; you’ve seen some. A rare Skill—but it’s all unhoned. All of it is. Your lazy comrades from Earth don’t even have the bark on their trees to study magic, or any other profession!”

Trey half-smiled at the expression. Eldavin smiled too, and he appeared to be rallying, at least enough to sit up a bit more.

“Time I took you under my wing.”

“Really, Grand Magus?”

“It is the least I can do for the brave young man who saved my life. Ah! Ah! Be silent. Superfluous gratitude is also annoying to me.”

Eldavin lifted a finger. Trey closed his mouth obediently. The Grand Magus chuckled.

“Saved my life. It’s always the things you don’t expect that…stroke of luck. That ungrateful damn Golem. I should turn her and all those ‘guardians’ of Zelkyr’s into gravel. No helping it. They’ll be on guard and I’ve taxed myself far too much. Neither you nor I should get within four floors of the testing room.”

Another nod. Eldavin went on, panting.

“You’ll be my apprentice. One of them. I dare say Archmage Valeterisa is a kind of student, after I taught her that teleportation circle. There’s talent too. But the Terras faction needs to poach more [Mages]. More Earthers.”

“Grand Magus?”

“Shush. I’m thinking out loud. There have to be better Earthers than not. That Elena seemed quite stable…but the truly extraordinary Earthers I know of—one is dead. Poor girl. I’ll have to revive her, if I can. It occurs to me that Ryoka Griffin should come here, though. I’ve let her roam about, but…”

Trey’s eyes widened. Did Eldavin just say—Ryoka Griffin? He listened, silently, as the half-Elf muttered.

“Stronger [Mages]. A stronger, better faction. Teleportation is just one of the things Wistram’s lost. Why, no one even remembers [Restoration]! Aside from the Healer of Tenbault, and I taught her that! We need to get that spell into the proper hands—of the Terras faction. You know that spell, young Atwood?”

Trey did. Flos had spoken of it, with Orthenon.

“I do—but even the Archmages don’t know that spell, Grand Magus!”

“Bah. That just shows you how low we’ve fallen. I don’t think you can master it, but I’ll make a note to tell Valeterisa. Now…allies. I have to find out what happened to that other Archmage who was missing. What’s her name.”

“Amerys?”

“Aha. Good, yes. Bright young man. Can you fetch me…I have some stamina potions there…mana potions too. My mana’s completely depleted. Good lad.”

Eldavin directed Trey about. The half-Elf breathed slowly as he gulped a few potions. His eyes cleared more.

“Yes. Report to my quarters tomorrow morning.”

“It is morning, sir.”

“Ah, then go get some sleep and report back in…four hours.”

Trey hesitated as he scooped up Minizi and headed to the door. He looked back.

“Are you alright, Grand Magus? Are you sure you don’t want me to get…?”

Eldavin waved him off, a bit irritably, but appreciating the concern. The door shut, and the half-Elf lay there.

Madness. He had nearly died! He was lucky beyond belief that Trey had found him and stabilized him.

What had gotten into him? That Cognita…Eldavin didn’t even know what he’d been doing up there. Trying to free her? Madness twice.

He got up after a moment, hobbling around, feeling at his arm. He’d nearly ruined everything with his death. The Terras faction, the opportunity he’d seized upon to come here as magic waned…

“I can’t die yet. I’ve not even become an Archmage! A proper Archmage, that is.”

The half-Elf growled to himself. He looked into the mirror, shaking his head. He had to shake things up. The Terras faction was good; he already had an Archmage on his side. He wanted more, trustworthy allies, to which he would share the proper spells, of course. Ryoka Griffin too; he didn’t forget his debts, his connection with Magnolia Reinhart…

Eldavin put a hand to his head. He felt like he was forgetting…something…but it eluded him. The half-Elf stared at himself in the mirror. But for the broken arm, he was as ideal as he’d ever been. Eldavin, half-Elf from Terandria, who had made his abode in the High Passes.

He smiled, shaking his head. He was sure it was just something he’d forgotten. The half-Elf went to sit back down, already trying to figure out how to explain this incident, use it to his advantage. If it was important—whatever he’d forgotten, well—

He was sure he’d remember later. Right now?

Eldavin was going to bring Wistram Academy back.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: Paradigm Shift. Paradigm Shift! Which you voted for.

Of all the side story options, I did not expect this one to win, and somehow you managed to vote for one of the most impactful chapters.

No Relc chapter, no Persua chapter…no Rie chapter, just this. I included lesser paradigm shifts, but this was planned out, so here we are.

I am tired. This is a 41,000 word chapter—albeit written over three days—and thus I am publishing it in two chapters, which Patrons get now (hence you reading all this in one go), but I am taking off my Monday-Tuesday regular chapter because I am tired!

Sorry, but sometimes these things happen! I’ll be back on the 10th, and Public readers won’t notice a thing since the chapter will release regularly. I hope you enjoy this unexpected two-chapter saga.

Which you voted for. But never forget! The fault is…probably arrogance. Hubris! However well-intentioned. See you next time after a longer break, and thanks for reading!

 

Lyonette and Mrsha, Thomast, JojoAba…and more by Chalyon!

 

Erin by MysticCat!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mysticcatcomix/

 

Niers and Mrsha Plushies by Kalmia!

 


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115 thoughts on “Interlude – Paradigm Shift (Pt. 2)

  1. Leave a typo for Golems! Eldavin! No Dragons to be found here!

    (Translation help: Milo)
    (Golem readers: Gorexn, MrWiggles, Quynin, Aox, afkcuzbookiscool, Ignat, Vento, Niello, Maladal, the_outrider)

    • I recall a mention that Belavierr sold the castle to Chandler in 6.51 A:
      “He was looking for a room he hadn’t used since he bought this castle from a certain [Witch]. She’d thrown it in with a deal on the robes he wore. And he had never thought he’d need this room.”

      It is unknown if Chandler modified it to imitate Silvaria’s castle or if it was initially built that way by Belavierr from his memories.

    • 7.14: “—I see it in you. How? The very thing that Zelkyr of Salazsar sought. The heart of magical creation. I have sought it for half a century. And it eluded me. So how…? Why…?”

      “Zelkyr was born in Fissival, the City of Magic. Like all Drakes, he was tested and admitted into their Scholarium at a young age. He was a good pupil—if unruly.”

    • [剑圣 – 心火之刃]
      That means “Sword Saint – Blade of Heart Flame” in Chinese, but shouldn’t 剑 and 圣 change order to make it be [圣剑 – 心火之刃]?

      That way it would be something like “Holy Sword – Blade of Heartflame”
      Because if you use 剑圣 you are referring to an individual who has reached enlightenment in the Way of the Sword.

      Also, Drathians use Chinese? I thought they would use Japanese, to be honest.

      • 剑圣 is literally “sword saint” but doesn’t really have religious connotations in most situations – swordmaster or blademaster is a fine translation, and 心火 is actually a (slightly uncommon) phrase referring to intense emotions like anger or passion.

        So in this context, I’d probably translate [圣剑 – 心火之刃] as “Blademaster – Fervent Sword” or “Impassioned Sword”.

        Or “Fervid” which has had its connotations of heat and burning survive into the modern-day unlike its relative Fervent, but it’s not a common enough word to be the best fit IMHO.

        Also 圣剑 is the Dota item Divine Rapier lol

    • Viltach hammered on the door. He was thrust aside by an angry hand.

      “Get back!”

      One of the Fissival Drakes had had enough.

      hand -> claw

    • “Pheislant had signed a punitive peace treaty, but King Redoris had little choice but to acquiesce”

      When I hear a peace treaty has been signed, I assume it is done/active. But in the clause, King Redoris is making a decision on it. Perhaps it should be “Pheislant had offered a punitive peace treaty,” or even “Pheislant had offered punitive peace terms,”.

      “That is, of course, where Perril Chandler re-enters the narrative, unexpectedly”

      Perril’s re-entering the narrative cannot be both “of course” and “unexpectedly”. Possibly “where Perril Chandler unexpectedly re-enters the narrative”.

      “They fought their way back out of enemy lines and while this did not of course, end the Naga Incursions, their actions along with the conflict forced one of the peace treaties before the Nagas were eventually driven from Izril.”

      I think there should be a comma after “did not”: “this did not, of course, end the Naga Incursions”.

      “So that you would love and obey your master. Without question. Even desire his approval.”

      Given the “love and obey” part, desiring her master’s approval does not seem like an even-bigger thing. Was this meant to be “Ever desire his approval.”?

      “He had to get a [Healer], raise the alarm with all the Archmages, and tell Gazi and Calac they were running like hell because all of Wistram’s Golems were going to kill them.”

      Is “Gazi” supposed to be “Minizi”?

      “twenty six” -> “twenty-six”
      “twenty four” -> “twenty-four”

  2. Enjoy your time off! You definitely earned it! Just keeping up with 41k words on stream was exhausting, I can’t imagine what it was like to actually write that much. Thanks for the chapter as always!

      • Yeah, it definitely read like Teriarch abandoned his Simulacra, which made it believe to actually be Eldavin. Really interesting to see if Teriarch will appear in the story again!

        • I like your explanation! Makes more sense than T forgetting himself. Though amnesia Is a bitch… i can see that too.

        • a interesting theory. However to my understanding a simulacrum is not a living person in any real sense, but a significantly weakened second body that is “crewed” by the same spirit as the one who cast the spell and sustained mostly by the spell.

          If it were abandoned, it would shrivel and die, or at least be completely unresponsive, as it has no essence.

          Assuming that holds in Innworld, it is far more likely that the powerful blow he took from Cognita made the simulacrum-teriarch forget that he is actually a dragon’s simulacrum, than that it somehow formed a new “Eldawin” soul, somehow distinct from Teriarch after beeing abandoned.

          I wonder if it makes him any more interested in Valeterisa, or any of the other female [Mage]s

          • Trama from a dramatic or painful death could cause backlash. The Blood Sand Golem had interacted with his blood so two reasons for this.

            Either 1…he accidentally or finally got the separation to work as a lesser person instead of dragon full knowledge and memory.

            Possibility 2… The Lifesand Golem interaction caused the simulacrum to reanimated when it was given the life potion… Meaning the simulacrum is now acting off the last idea or “outlines” of big T.

            Either way it changes things until Teriach wakes back up from his nap.

          • It has been stated in previous chapters that Teriarch didn’t pass the fullness of his knowledge and memories to his simulacrum, yet his consciousness was fully transferred, with his real body now in deep slumber, hence why he is now forgetting who he really is.

            He also didn’t put the fullness of his mana pool into the construct, and he made the connection between it and his real body be very distant. Hence why he pointed out in a previous chapter that he might actually die if the construct was destroyed, the backlash might kill him mentally instead of simply returning his mind to his real body.

            That fight drained him physically and mentally, so the link might have gotten even shakier now, making his access to his real body’s memories be harder. He can only access his true and full memories if he looks for them, but this mental strain might have caused more damage to him.

            Also, Teriarch’s real body has been noted to have some signs of Alzheimer, so there’s that.

        • Intriguing theory, but he says to himself “I can’t die yet, I’ve not even become an Archmage”. Which… yes, sure, a Half-Elf truly committed to completing his life’s work might say something like that, but it reads more like the attitude of Teriarch who knows the body and life of Eldavin are ultimately disposable.

        • If you remember (and I remember correctly!), it’s described that Teriarch’s method of assuming humanoid form to enter Wistram as Eldavin was distinct from a simulacrum method which he’d used before, where he’d control a humanoid body from a distance in his true dragon form. This was a true transformation. So I think the ‘teriarch has forgotten he’s a dragon’ theory makes more sense than the ‘the simulacrum has attained sentience’ theory

  3. What a doozy duo of chapters! Intrigues of the nobility! Ghosts and assassins! Lost history re-told! Gods and emperors! Dark workings in the night! Awe inspiring magic battles!!

    Pirate, you’ve managed to top Teriarch’s battle at the banquet and with so much panache! I was breathless reading the fight and it was glorious. I loved that Teriarch used one of Xrn’s high-level spells in just the opening salvo to contain Cognita. You truly made Teriarch fight like a Dragon and not just another high-level mage. I really thought Eldavin would be dying off at the end as old, wise mentors are wont to all the time and I am pleasantly surprised that he’s alive.

    Poor Cognita though, having to come to terms with the actions of her creator. I hope one of the Earthers gives her some therapy. That would be a nice interlude and may be the Earthers will finally be free at Wistram.

    I really hope we can see Magnolia, Illvris and Lyonette at Oteslia. When Magnolia learns that Illvris and Erin are engaged (sniggers) she’s also gonna try and revive Erin as the latest human pawn to have peace between the two species.

    I love how Regis came out of the blue and is now revealed to be such a huge player in Izril. Though I guess we shouldn’t be surprised knowing how ruthless the Reinharts are.

    Are Ryoka and Tyrion going to be a thing? I weirdly hope they end up being. Clearly Tyrion is at least as stubborn as Ryoka 1.0. Also seeing a Perril going out in a blaze of glory arc coming together (I’m probably mistaken though). What if he succeeds in raising Erin? Illvris will be like 1 killed, 1 saved, let’s call it quits.

    • Magnolia might try and throw Illvris+Lyonette together when she learns Lyonette has Illvris’ ring on.

      Honestly the whole Regis reveal makes it sound like the Reinharts are as ruthless as they are cause he has been crafting the family to be that way.

      Can definitely see Tyrion and Ryoka. Also it almost sounds like Zelkyr is being set up as a possible final boss in the future, maybe even for Chandler to help deal with.

      • Zelkyr as a boss seems plausible and probable. I think he’s gonna be the mid Volume 8 boss.

        We haven’t seen the Liscor army and Antinium after the first few chapters and I think they are being kept in reserve for a Hectval battle ending. Placing bets on Olesm upgrading to General in this Volume. Maybe a bonus of Green Baron becoming a [Vanguard Crusader].

        • It doesn’t even look like Liscor has moved on the offensive yet. Both Olesm and Pawn were still in Liscor for the Potion of Regeneration moment so they are likely still preparing for war. I can see Olesm becoming a [General] after his last battle with Belgrade being their [Strategist].

        • On the topic of Zelkyr being a final boss… Wistram is literally set up to be a tower dungeon with floor bosses. Once Eldavin and company can go above the 4th floor, it will be pretty funny if each floor has a boss, each one another of Zelkyr’s attempts to make true life, with Zelkyr as the final floor boss. Even if Zelkyr is dead and gone, Cognita’s other ‘sister’ should still be alive.

          • From the beginning. Ryoka ran past one to get to the Horns of Hammerad for the first time, but they’re not D&D liches. It seems like it’s basically just the word for “skeleton mage.”

    • > Are Ryoka and Tyrion going to be a thing? I weirdly hope they end up being.

      How dare you – Tyrion killed Pyrite! He’s the third most evil person in this story!

      • Woah now that’s a bit high imo. Sure he’s one of the more evil people but the 6 dolts are way more evil than him! Then there’s the king of slavers, Belavieer, the death of magic, the mercenary king and of course the dead being that the ants are scared of!

  4. Really great pair of chapters! I maybe should have paced myself out so I wouldn’t have to wait to the tenth, but… Oh well.

    Very curious about what Teriarch forgot (my money is as always on the Nothings), but I myself will probably forget about it until next update.

    Thanks for the update!

    • Rereading the last section it seems that he forgot he was a dragon. He called himself a half elf from Terrandia. Maybe when he was close to death he automatically seperates from the main body due to chance of death rebounding the Teriarch

      • If Teriarch separates from the simulacrum, it should be catatonic since it at that point is only dead clump of cells with no connection to Terriarchs soul that allowes it to respond to stimuli.

        Because it’s fairly clear souls are separate and non-biological entities in innworld, judging by Numbtounges class and Erins deathworld adventures

        So unless Treys apparently unremarkable healing potion is somehow able to make that body generate whatever passes for a soul in innworld, Teriarch didn’t abandon it yet, and the more likely explanation is that Cognitas blow muddled the body mental faculties somewhat and made it forget that it’s a simulacrum.

        • Eldavin recalled Teriarch. But—in a while he’d not need to fear referring to himself as a Dragon or Teriarch. That was the danger with really good simulacra spells. You could lose yourself. But—the danger was far less with his body secure.
          Chapter 7.45

        • Another possibility is simply that a dragon’s simulacrum is FAR superior to those of mages… Big T saw the death coming, broke the connection, and yet Eldavin lives on, now an actual Half-Elf unlinked to Teriarch. Maybe. Hopefully, even!

        • I think that when he decided to fully engage the fight – after seeing the stolen Heartflame Boots – he changed the nature of his connection with his simulacrum by channeling all of his power from his real body. My guess is that he’s now completely stuck as a half-elf, with only the memories he bothered to put into the half-elf’s brain, for good.

          Only Magnolia, the maid-assassin whose name I forget, Ryoka, and Rags even know where his real body is, and even if they managed to convince Eldavin that he really is a dragon and needs to help them get his body back, I doubt they’d ever be able to get to it.

    • I think it’s more than just forgetting he is an dragon. He noted he put everyting into that last shield. He already used every drop of magic in his half-elf body so did he use everyting in his dragon body to? We know there is an very large power loss when he is transferring power to the simulacrum. There is an very good chance his main body is unconscious. Drained of magic. It might take days, weeks, months, years or decades to recover on it’s own. So there is an chance that if the simulacrum gets popped now he is out of this story. At least untill someone is able to brack into his cave.

      Unless I remember wrong the simulacrum can’t dismantle the wards beacuse that is an weekness from the outside for others to exploit. Only the main body can dismantle them. So if he wants to get back to the cave he might have to break in, then nurse his dragon body back to health again.

  5. Hey, I just really wanted to say thank you. It was an amazing (or 2) chapter. I always wanted to know more about the history of Innworld, there are so very few hints about older events. Like they are not important! It fills me with sadness… I mean, if I would arrive in a magical world with ten thousands (!!) of years of known history, I would definitely want to know more of its history. After so many millions of words, the things we know could still be summed in a chapter’s amount of words. None of the Earthers care? Such ignorance, such sin….
    Anyways, thanks for the chapter, it was epic in every sense of the word.
    P.S. Could you maybe write some (true) side stories taking place in different eras? It doesn’t even have to connect to the story… I would love to know how life was in the eras without magic. Or during the creler wars. Or…whatever you wish to write, I’m sure it would be awesome.

  6. This entire volume really has everyone falling apart…. And with Teriarchs temporary demise into Eldalvin, it looks like we will be waiting for Erin for quite awhile. Just like Erin, I hope we see Teriarch again soon! And I mean Teriarch not Eldalvin!!! Get better soon you two!!! They are my favorite characters, and it’s sad to see both now temporarily deposed.

      • You sent me looking for the reference. I’m still not sure if this means Teriarch’s forgetfulness was intended or not.

        From 7.45:
        “Eldavin recalled Teriarch. But—in a while he’d not need to fear referring to himself as a Dragon or Teriarch. That was the danger with really good simulacra spells. You could lose yourself. But—the danger was far less with his body secure.”

  7. “[剑圣 – 心火之刃]!” – DeepL translates this as “[Sword Saint – Blade of Heartfire]!”, with the ‘Heart’ in ‘Heartfire’ meaning something like ‘Spirit’ or ‘Soul’. Very fitting! Although I’m not quite sure on the ‘Saint’ part of the translation – it might be ‘Master’ instead. A search for ‘剑圣’ brought up mentions of ‘Yurnero the Juggernaut’ – a Blademaster from Warcraft III, the sword-wielding League of Legends character ‘Master Yi’, and even real historical Samurai masters like Kamiizumi Nobutsuna. So 剑圣 may have a better translation of ‘Sword Master’, rather than ‘Sword Saint’.

    • Sword Saint is fitting given that the Drath are basically meant to be [Cultivators] from Xianxia stories and Saint is usually used more as a skill ranking than a holy label. An example of a basic skill ranking system is like: Beginner, Intermediate, Master, Saint, King/Emperor, and God.

    • As a native speaker, I’d probably translate this as [Sword Saint–Soulflame Blade]. On an unrelated note, this is Mandarin, not Japanese, since the Mandarin 之 is used instead of the Japanese の, in case this has any relevance for possible speculation.

      • Japanese sometimes use extra chinese signs, or old complicated ones, when they want to look fancy. Claiming it’s chinese because of the use of this particle is a bit audacious. Especialy given how there has been no Chinese or even reference to anything chinese in the story yet, but certainly a bit of Japanese, with Venaz scrolls, and Magnolia saying Drath had Ninjas.

        But we don’t know, Drath could for all we know be the only place in the multiverse where Chineese and Japaneese actualy live together in harmony. Who knows, maybe there are even Koreans? Miracles may happen yet!
        Let’s RAFO!

        • It’s definitely Mandarin (or at least another mutually comprehensible dialect of Chinese) lmao 圣 isn’t even a word in Japanese and 剣 is the Japanese way to write sword, not 剑.

    • I mentioned elsewhere in the thread, but 剑圣 is literally “sword saint” but doesn’t really have the same religious connotations as the word “saint” in most situations – swordmaster or blademaster is a fine translation.

      心火 is actually a (slightly uncommon) phrase referring to intense emotions like anger or passion. For example, the 1997 period romance Firelight has 心火 as its Mandarin title. It also pops up in traditional Chinese medicine, but that’s presumably not the intended meaning here.

      So in this context, I’d probably translate [圣剑 – 心火之刃] as “Blademaster – Fervent Sword” or “Impassioned Sword”. Or maybe “Sword of Fervor” as 之 has a very literary feel and is often translated as “x of y” for that reason.

  8. So true— noses really are stupid!

    Also, looks like that dead witch who got reprimanded was the one who killed the magic temporarily? Erin might get that knowledge. In fact, after her training, she might save her own self!

  9. Poor Cognita.

    Zelkyr made 3 truestone golems it looks like.
    Her the human.
    Kharneva the gnoll who died fighting in Rhir.
    And the centaur.

    He programmed them to love him, left Cognita to guard his hoard, and chose the Centaur to go galavanting off in search of more power.

    Cognita’s great task of testing the mages was also a lie.
    So no love, no purpose, and her father picked the other child.

    Whatever happened to the Heart flame boots?
    I guess the golems still have it.

    Great chapter! Certainly worth reading twice.
    Big T really has a soft spot for young maidens, crying or not.

    I wonder why he aimed at The Necromancer with his story?
    To make Zelkyr look worse in comparison? Success!
    Or maybe rehabilitate the living Perril’s reputation a bit?

    • Teriarch said in the story. It wasn’t aimed at either per say. It was the story Cognita needed to hear. He wanted to contrast two men that Cognita knew and were important to the foundational beginning of her life. Her ‘father’ that she sees as above reproach and was sort of a monster, and another that everyone sees as a monster but was mostly above reproach in his ‘life’. Cognita probably interacted with both more than anyone else in InnWorld and knows intellectually that Zelkyr isn’t the man she’s compelled to believe he is as well as having a personal connection to another who was a better man. The entire news hijacking wasn’t for the world, it was for an audience of one. Teriarch knew doing it on the news out in the open for the world to see would make sure Cognita saw the story without being able to run from it as she had every other time they had spoken.

    • I think that he was trying to tell Chandler that he knows what really happened and that he considers Chandler as an unfortunate victim rather than as an enemy.

  10. It seems like you’re taking away ever potential avenue for Erin to wake up. First the doctor and now the Eldavin and is forgetting he’s a dragon.

    • Heh, I really enjoyed Erin’s protection carefully being peeled away week by week before being skewered.

      Relc sent away.
      Klb being cut in half.
      Gold rank teams moving on.

      When the 2 men with hats asked to take the day off, I was sweating bullets.

      Then the attack from the drake city came, and it was almost comedic.
      No worries hah

    • Yup and this kinda frustrating because all of that will be dragging the plot even further with the worst-case scenario Erin will not even be revived in Volume 8.

      With this debacle, the more plausible and fastest scenario is the scroll of Ailendamus. But again will be dragging to long wait for the cast assembled. Ryoka with Veltras, Lyon with the Drakes and Will Kallinad to connect Pheislant join forces with Calenfer and a bunch of other kingdoms, Rabbiteater and Order of Season, Astetiel involves Desonis and Lord Belchaus to the conflict.

    • I mean, the story can’t have Erin back too soon. She needs time in the land of the dead to learn to be a Super Saiyan Wandering Witchkeeper.

  11. Whoo boy that sure was something. I had to take break in the middle just so I could remember to breath. For some reason I just had this epiphany that Eldavin is like Batman, as long as you give him prep time he can win against anything :D
    Jokes aside THAT was one hellawa story and a glorious fight at the end. And as always your writing is impeccable Pirate, I feel sucked in to the story everytime I read your work. AND finally that one thing about the test thats been bugging me for a while was answered, whats with the “crappy regular” golem, cool to think it was just a diversion from the real golem inside it. But damn Zelkyr really started to show his racial fault so to speak at the end of his life, speaking of the hoarding ofc.

    Keep up the great work and stay classy Pirate. Have nice break (again);D

  12. Wait just how old is Regis? Has he been pretending to ‘only’ be ~3500 years old cause it said he was older than Karsaeu and she talks about missing the gods. Also it sounds like this is how Vampires were originally made.

    Huh magical slime creation is a known thing, at least to Teriarch. Toren was even able to turn Healing Slime into a tri-version as well.

    Did an Earther just introduce lace for the whole lingerie aspect…

    I wonder what the Death of Voices and the Death of Dust were. They were called giant figures so maybe a Treant and a Half-Giant.

    And man Chandler’s and Zelkyr’s stories were different then I thought they would be especially Zelkyr’s greed. Also it still left out the parts of Chandler’s Wistram removal and Zelkyr permanently damaging a Walled City’s wall.

    • Zelkyr damaging a wall wasn’t anything special. He just got drunk one day and did it for a bet, which now sounds exactly like something he’d do. But yeah, I do wonder how Az’Kerash’s trial fits into that timeline.

      • Oh I thought it was more serious than that. Like I was wondering if Zelkyr damaging the a Wall caused or at least partially caused the degradation of the Walled City teleport network. Teriarch seemed surprised Pallass’ network was down when he visited Erin’s inn but he doesn’t see anything wrong when Zelkyr is on Pallass’ Wall.

        • Eldavin wasn’t surprised the Fissival-Network was down in Pallass. He was surprised they’d connected to a budding network again (and an unsecured one at that!) when they intentionally disoconnected from Fissival’s.

  13. I wonder if this is one of the ways dragons die. They lock themselves away in a dimension with one key and then the key is severed.

    • Based on 7.45, Teriarch knew he might forget who he was, but that seemed to be an acceptable risk. The danger seemed to be if he forgot himself while his true body was in danger, but he is confident in his spell. As long as another Erin doesn’t pop in, he might be safe (otherwise that Earther could go from level 0 to lv 20+ dragon slayer in one go). The other threat hinted at is that Griffon Hunt knows there is a dragon’s lair in the High Passes, and might go after it at some point. Not sure how they would find it and get in, but since they already believe it exists and very roughly where to look for it that might come to a head without Teriarch able to wake up.

  14. The good thing is that this new completely-eldavin still remembers ryoka who knows he’s a dragon, so that gives one way for him to re-remember. I like that this awe inspiring dragon’s greatest flaw is he’s too kind to people, between Erin and Ryoka, to Cognita, to the harpy queen.

    There is the conspicuous centaur truestone golem, I agree with Dan, I think it’s with Zelkyr and points to him still being alive. This also is setting up the full heartflame set, the breastplate from Liscor, the other part from the village of death and now the boots. I’m betting on the big battle with the gods having them appear heavily. Also I think zelkyr is alivebut would he really sit in the upper floors for so long? Is there an unexplained part of the world, he doesn’t seem subtle?

    • Theres also many obscure places we havent explored completely yet….Liscor’s Dungeon secret area, Drath Empire, Edge of the world, etc etc

      • I don’t think it means much that Zelkyr did not appear in the land of the dead. Too many people there, even with the numbers being reduced by the six. If he is alive, some of Wistram’s higher floors could very well contain more space than the rest of the island. Who knows? Eldavin seemed to suggest he was going crazy and becoming more isolated. Not sure what his state of mind will be if they find him.

    • I mean, Valeterisa didn’t intend to be away for as long as she was. He might still be trying to make something “perfect”… or be trapped in part by his own creations, depending on just what he tasked them to do on the above floors.

      • Zelkyr might have turned himself into golem/cyborg and the golem part somehowe taken control and uses Zelkyr as a magical batery or something.

        • Consider Eldavin’s comment about bloodsand golems, it is entirely possible that Zelkyr had some breakthrough somewhere between them and truestone and got the golem a little *too* perfect, yeah. Or he managed something like turning himself into a golem and is obsessively working on perfection. Or he created a golem in his image to do so.

          So many possibilities. Can’t wait.

      • She does?

        Where does Cognita ever indicate that she thinks he is alive? Are you reading all this into her lamentation “Why did you leave me behind, why did you take her”?

        Someone dieing is also refered to as “leaving others behind”, and this “her” she’s refering to could well be just another golem on the upper floors as he died.

        • When Eldavin says that he abandoned her, she says that he will return. He’s not a [Necromancer]; can’t return if he’s dead.

          • I don’t think she was telling the truth there. Previously, she refused to give Eldavin an answer about Zelkyr, and he said something along the lines of, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you just did.” She acted like he wouldn’t be able to read her, but he did. It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s heavily implied that he’s dead.

            • She’s not in the right mindset to lie, though she might be doing the childish rejection of reality thing. And I took that earlier exchange differently: I figured she showed Eldavin that she did think he was alive, and therefore the loyalty protocols were still in full effect and there was no point trying to talk her around.

  15. Theres also many obscure places we havent explored completely yet….Liscor’s Dungeon secret area, Drath Empire, Edge of the world, etc etc

  16. “He had to get a [Healer], raise the alarm with all the Archmages, and tell Gazi and Calac they were running like hell because all of Wistram’s Golems were going to kill them“

    Is Gazi with Trey at Wistram? This makes it seem like she is, and there is a Half-Gazer in Trey’s class. The Half-Gazer is supposedly male but maybe Gazi in disguise?

    • Huh yeah I didnt catch that “Gazi” in there on my first read, I must have been caught up in the flow of the story. I guess it could somewhat liberaly be interpreted as *Trey telling Gazi he and Calac were running* but that’s a stretch. I’d say she’s definitively either in wistram or close enough to be hurt by a golem rampage.

      The gazer you brought up, Goelv is supposedly a full-gazer though? With hand-lazers, and Teriarch hasn’t commented on any illusions there, even though he was getting critiqued on his spellscasting in Teriarchs class. Him beeing a gazer also seems like a pirate diversionairy target. If Gazi is any of the new students I’d say she’s the terandrian princess.

      I’ll just fly a theory though, Gazi could be infiltrating posing as a Earther? They face little scrutiny and are not expected to do anything. She certainly has had time to pump Trey and Teresa for enough knowledge to pass for one, at least to non-earthers.

      • I had forgotten Golev is a full Gazer so there’s that theory out the window but yeah, I’m still thinking Gazi is there somewhere. I like that idea, posing as an Earther, maybe using one or some of Mars’ illusion artifacts. I guess we’ll find out.

  17. Thank you for not killing Eldavin yet. Thank you for the double chapter. Thank you in general! If you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, please do. I would really like this story to be finished.

  18. The pacing of this chapter was brilliant. The story of Perill Chandler’s betrayal was simpler than I had imagined though.
    The golem battle was crazy. I’m mad at Cognita, even if it was coded into her, that stupidity almost cost the life of someone more important than her.
    Is there a chance of Griffon Hunt stumbling upon a disconnected dragon in his cave? I think the protections should still hold?
    Thank you Pirate. Hope you had a good rest!

    • It was actually made more complex than initially shown, though.

      As shown by Az’Kerash himself initially in that chapter where he made the events play out as illusions in the hall of his castle, it had looked more like he had been in love with the daughter of the King but had been refused due to his station, and a Knight was even shown attacking Perril for her, with Bea dying during the ensuing battle when the King and knights turned against Perril and attacked him from all around.

      It had initially also been said that Perril Chandler had turned into an undead publicly during that battle, even making a speech about abandoning his humanity while making his final stand as a mortal. That speech was even quoted by Pisces in a chapter when he thought he would be abandoned by his team, and Az’Kerash (who was spying on him) recognized the words.

      However, in the story as shown by Teriarch now, Bea turned on Perril and even married the King later on, and they both died much later, a decade after Perril had been executed as a mortal man, but whose magic had enabled to come back as a Revenant.

      • Maybe the famous speach was held at a later point, as he came back for vengence on the land and royal line of Silvaria. Under a illusion spell, looking human, holding his speech and then shedding the illusion?

      • Thanks I honestly didn’t remember all of the past story points clearly. That’s the issue with this type of story I guess. Unless you made notes or had a great memory.

    • The Griffon Hunt tie-in is what I’m waiting for. Maybe they’ll find his hoard and take his stuff while he sleeps. I will be very amused if Teriarch wakes up from being Eldavin because he meets people wearing some of his treasures.

  19. Thank you for doing what you do! Hands down one of my favorite pieces of literature. %100 earned a spot in my personal hall of fame right next to Jordan, Feist, Sanderson, Salvatore, Anthony, Brooks, and Pratchett.

  20. To go from a chapter about SOCCER, to actual fantasy world action and epic-ness, this was an exhilarating read.
    On a side note, I don’t really like that the author suggested simulacrums can kill the caster, albeit at a VERY small chance, which, given by the frequency of the times it was suggested by Teriarch, is probably going to be very small * plot convenience = 100%. I just don’t see how a physical hologram connection could kill you. Anyway, when he does die, I hope its him fighting in his dragon form against gods or what not, not a simulacrum, his is supposed to be perfect. I would if a caster died from his basic simulacrum having being destroyed, but not from a perfect simulacrum from the greatest dragon to live in 10000 years or what not, probably lvl 90/95+ equivalent.

    I

    • Wow! Thank you for the amazing chapter!!
      Ok so is Eldavin going to go all-out now that he’s forgotten that he’s Teriarch? I was just thinking he was going to go overboard… but maybe that won’t happen because he’s in a half-elf body and can’t do some things without his dragon body.
      And I just wanted to put this out there but Eldavin doesn’t have Skills or use spells right? Won’t he find something wrong with that? You know because he’s supposed to be Eldavin a half-elf from Terandria and not Teriarch a Dragon?

      • Ok, yeah this is embarrassing, but I didn’t want to reply to a comment I wanted to make my own comment and I just noticed that this was why my comment wasn’t the last one.

    • It’s not a hologram connection. The mage, or dragon in this case, is literally stretching the soul from the real body to the simulacrum. In most cases if the simulacrum is destroyed or overloaded it would be just comparatively minor damage but in cases where you put too much of your soul into the thing or someone knows spells (or has skills) specifically made to attack the whole soul through the connection it could end badly.

  21. I got chills from that story, i have pity for are evil wronged man even if his actions horrible, still I bet he be a better father then Zelkyr, side on happy that his old king a truly lesser person that his name gonna be dragged in the mud now! Zelkyr a piece of work I feel a little worry for the centaur!

    hope eldavin does another Storytime probably be a random special but the floodgate is open now and none shall beat eldavin he master at storytelling!
    hope pierce get a copy of that tale there has to be one copy!
    cognita poor gal a unloving parent/master is so very painful to work through you tried Eldavin glad you survive the attempt but it take time… a lot of time for her to learn to live after all this time first challenge of her life and she hate it but it a start!

    loving the little facts on are life sand golem Minizi I imagine with a type of cape of providence, a blood syringe and a way to preserve blood could be a boost to prevent certain blood draining/hunting and chaining for are sand mage to worry about a more independent Minizi for better or worse! if that problem fixed could more be born? i could see Minizi be leader or guide of the mini sand earther or mini copies!

  22. Great chapter, I am very glad to see that Teriarch wasn’t killed outright, just got nerfed by amnesia. An elegant way to not quite remove a big good from play.

    The only thing that irks me a bit is how lightly Zelkyr got off in the documentary. Okay, it kinda makes sense that Teriarch would self-censor a bit for the sake of Cognita but while Perril Chandler became a monster in undeath, it turns out Zelkyr was always one in life and, as far as we know, got away with it entirely!

    From the tidbits before and this we now know he’s:
    – greedy;
    – arrogant;
    – so egocentric that he holds no love for anything or anyone other than himself;
    – a thief;
    – a murderer;
    – power-hungry;
    – a slaver (of sentient and cognizant golems);
    – a rapist (of sentient and cognizant golems)

    No wonder Challdion was so desperate to shut down the broadcast. It’s quite the disgrace that the Walled Cities tolerated someone worse than AZ’Kerash just because they needed his strength.

    If nothing else, now I actually care about the Terras faction gaining enough strength to utterly destroy Zelkyr’s legacy/plot!

    The small tidbits of general history makes me think the timeline is getting way too messed up, earlier chapters need edits:
    – Gnolls were regular mages in Fissival as recently as 200-150 years ago, seems quite puzzling that the Gnoll tribes completely forgot this in such a short amount of time. Did a grand ritual/curse/whatever cause mass amnesia or something?
    – the last big war in Rhir was less than a 150 years ago but under a different Blighted King? Didn’t the current one live for centuries thanks to the time-mage shenanigans?

  23. an interesting question arises.

    is it intentional design that the simulacrum body has an actual functional physical brain and so can keep on trucking with what is currently in it when the connection to the driver is broken or is it just a side effect of teriarch being a perfectionist in designing it.

    that it has one is of course not surprising, teriarch noted last chapter that he is thinking much more clearly then usual because he left most of the memories and clutter in his
    dragon body so obviously the simulacrum isn’t running exclusively on the same hardware.

    wonder how confused the simulacrum willl get when it rests and heals and realizes things like how it knows it has no classes and to do magic raw but not how that happened.

    Or when it tries to do teriarch level magical mastery and his puny meat brain can’t handle the calculation involved without the ability to offload to the Big brain.

  24. The work Teriach sought was Crucible. A moment, a turning point, a time when you have a choice. To become greater than your trauma, or to wallow in it and be lost. It is a kindness, a harsh one, but at times a neccisary one.

    Can you be forged anew in such a Cruicible, take the reigns of your own fate and defy those who had afflicted you with such poison it must be burned away at your soul?

    Cognita is the abused child… desperate for a parent’s approval who only saw flaw and failure; Clinging to the only things she knew to keep whole. So long that anything else is madness. Now, she is free. And what she becomes at the end of the Crucible will be a Great or Tragic Tale.

    -A Survivor. A Friend. And an ear never deaf to the cry of Help.

  25. They should seriously just give eldavin his own channel to just narrate historical events he happened to be part of.

  26. I’m rereading this now and just realizing that Redoris was stabbed by a bone NEEDLE. I can definitely see this being part of one of Belavierr’s schemes.

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