8.70 E

Chess fact. On Earth, the queen-piece used to have the ability to move like a knight-piece in ‘L’ directions. Her ability to do this was removed by people who objected that a queen shouldn’t have the powers of a knight.

Also, possibly because her abilities made her too powerful. Chess, as a certain [Innkeeper] could have told anyone willing to listen, had evolved in the very rules of the game.

That wasn’t the interesting fact. The interesting fact was that Earth’s chess game had once had a super-queen.

And this world’s chess game had evolved too, which would have fascinated both the [Innkeeper], a certain Fraerling [Strategist], and almost anyone else who heard of that.

The difficulty of a balanced game was such that the chess board had gone back to the original. But other boards had been designed and subsequently lost.

Larger boards. Experimental 4-player battlegrounds. Entirely new pieces.

The [Mage] and [Bishop] pieces were largely synonymous, but some boards introduced the Archmage piece, which could teleport to any square not under threat by another piece like a coward, a clear insult to Wistram.

In the same way—there used to be Dragon pieces. Who would occupy a four-by-four square and whose deployment eradicated an entire area of pieces but on delay. The original rules had them breathing dragonfire, even if they were ‘slain’, so a player could preserve their Dragon or use them aggressively.

It was also common to apologize when using the Dragon-piece and congratulate the opponent for taking it out. A styling of higher-level players was to always take the Dragon out with a pawn-piece for maximum insult.

The rules, the customs around the piece, and the naturally oversized impact a Dragon-piece could have on those ancient chess boards were all a nod to the power of Dragons, those eternal meddlers. But the somewhat pathetic way they were used and the rules around them also pointed to another fact.

People really didn’t like Dragons. They were unpredictable, touchy, and worst of all, sometimes, principled.

One particular Dragon had been giving a being named Emerrhain trouble. In lands of the dead and through a mortal vessel, the ___ of magic and secrets was at work. Hurrying, rather.

Because he sensed what that fool had done.

Norechl had put a gambit into play that not even the ___ of luck and fortune would have risked. It risked throwing Emerrhain’s own designs into chaos. But first…

Take out the Dragon-piece. It was difficult, and he had opposition. But during periods of confluence, as symbolic as magical, like full moons, he had more influence.

“Write it like that. You have gotten your little wish, Aaron. Now it is my turn.”

A hand shook as Emerrhain concentrated hard. It messed up a straight line, and he made the young man correct it. He had to work to bridge the gaps between points of view. That was how it was for him; other people could not step between that fine line of life and death so easily.

He had to hurry. This was not his land. Kasigna was ruler here, and Norechl had brought a terrible plague into her domain. They might all die.

But still. Emerrhain’s head rose and turned across sea and land from Wistram, where he walked the halls.

They were still climbing. The ghosts of this place stood at the boundary, The Last Tide, transfixed. So, painstakingly, the ___ corrected his project.

He had time. He was even smiling; he had to admit, danger aside? It was a genius move to break the last three continents who held them back. Let the mortal souls tremble.

This game was theirs to win or lose. It just depended on which one won. It was not fair, of course. Some might call it rigged, and Emerrhain might agree to that.

It always had been.

 

——

 

“Glorious Calanfer. You know, as kingdoms of Terandria go, it truly is new. Six thousand years. Founded after the Creler Wars. Founded on a Dragonthrone. There are bricks in other kingdoms that are older.”

First fact, now history. Someone mused at the site of the Archmage’s Pass. Or Krawlnmak’s Pass. A choke-point where great battles had been won. But how ‘great’, really?

Calanfer was a young nation. So young that Khelt, which was called new by the Shield Kingdoms, was ancient of days compared to it.

The person speaking had no idea of the name or history. She kicked at a few stones, and her foot passed through.

“Stupid name for a pass. Who was Krawlnmak? Huh? Thronebearers? That’s a terrible name for a [Knight] Order. What, are they supposed to carry the Dragonthrone? Ten thousand of ‘em couldn’t! Might as well call them, uh…The Light Boys and Girls of Calanfer. I don’t know, fuck. It’s a stupid name. And the ‘Lightherald’? Calanfer isn’t about light.

Her audience was very few in number. Everyone else was transfixed by the horror at the edge of the world, but this woman had a point to make. She slapped her chest, and her gauntlet touched rather resplendent, golden armor.

However, the difference was that her armor was practical. It was made of Truegold, rather than following a motif. Indeed, one gauntlet was stained black, and she still bore the scars she had carried until her last days.

She was not as old as her deathbed moments; few were. But she had decided on her older self. Her mane of light brown hair was rather like a lion’s, but quashed by a helmet. She took it off now.

No red hair of royalty. But one of the resigned men standing by her, tall and austere, dressed in shimmering robes, was wincing at all this criticism. Another [King] with a glowing crown looked exceptionally unhappy—but also nervous as she tried to toss the helmet at him.

“So why the light?”

“I—it seemed fitting for Calanfer’s nature. It was the nation that stood during the Creler wars. Light, dawn, resurgence…”

Light’s weak. You ever see a [Light Arrow] spell? I could eat them. Thronebearers? It’s about the name. You should have called them, uh—the Crelerbane Order or something.”

“But that implies they would have had to fight Crelers, and the cost in lives—”

“Yeah? So we get fancy [Knights] who can’t wipe their own asses without hurting themselves instead of a bunch of girls and boys who stomp Crelers for breakfast. Wonderful!

The woman stormed across her small audience. Some of them, all who wore crowns, were [Kings] and [Queens] of Calanfer.

[Princesses] too, and [Princes]. Many, the majority, looked unused to war like this woman clearly was. Some had risen to battle, but most had lived without touching a sword except for ceremonial purposes.

They watched this woman with a kind of stunned horror, but none quite dared contradict her rather pithy insults to their nation. The royalty of Calanfer watched as the woman slapped her chest.

“Look. You did a good job. I said Calanfer should be a smart nation that had lots of cunning and diplomacy. I didn’t say we should forget how to fight. Dead gods, you even got the statues wrong!”

She pointed accusatorily, and the [Kings] of Calanfer, the first four who had reigned after its inception, ducked. The woman moved as if to go back to where the statues were, in the capital.

“It’s wrong. And you know what you got wrong?”

No one wanted to say it. So she slapped her chest.

“Even the ones without armor have breasts. Plural! Whereas I’m pretty sure I had to have one removed from all the Creler-poison! Not that it stopped me from breastfeeding you with one, right, Centis? Eh? Eh?”

Queen Marquin of Calanfer, the famed [Hero] who had rallied Terandria and fought her way onto Rhir, turned and elbowed King Centis du Marquin, the first [King] of Calanfer’s new bloodline.

He covered his face in his hands.

“Mother. Please.

He had not been the war-queen she had been. Marquin the Radiant’s reputation had been such that even as Centis established Calanfer as a new power, the legend of her had helped his entire reign.

He must have done a bad job, though, because Calanfer had lost some of the mentality from its inception. Certainly the levels and military prowess, as Marquin was pointing out. He, Centis, was thus being punished for his failures, because he had spent six thousand years with his mother in the afterlife.

His regal descendants looked upon Centis and then Marquin as she rubbed her nose in a decidedly warrior-like manner. She turned and spat, and one of the [Princesses] tried to swoon, but unconsciousness was not a boon one received here.

“Cleverness is good stuff, though. Just—with a bit more ability to punch the bastards, okay? If we had actual heirlooms and stuff, we should have said that. I’ve been shouting it for the last four thousand years. Do you think Crelers negotiated? Nope! Not until you were stomping through their brains! Hah!”

She laughed hugely. And her audience reflected that Calanfer had truly gone a different way than their founder.

Or had it? Marquin turned back and nodded at Centis.

“I’m mad you did the two-breast thing, son. What about the time all the Cyclopses…Cyclopi…those one-eyed giants gathered for the last Eye-Meets? Bunch of them stomping around, causing trouble, kicking [Knights] over hills. Someone had to deal with them and get them to stop stealing cattle and pay for stuff.”

“And how did you do that?”

A great, rumbling voice. All the royalty stopped as a vast head rose. Two crimson-scaled eyelids rose, revealing slitted eyes.

A Dragon, red like the very essence of fire, had been napping and listening to the ranting. Now, she seemed mildly interested. She had not known Marquin, but the [Queen] turned to her fearlessly. The Dragon murmured.

“Cyclopes are not weak. Their Eye-Meets were a great threat. My kin would hesitate to disrupt their number, and for all you were the hero of your era, you did not reach the peaks of your forebears.”

That was an insult, and Calanfer’s generations bristled at it. But Marquin just laughed.

“With diplomacy. Their leader said, ‘who are you to stand before us as equals’? And I? I said, ‘I am Queen Marquin of the Single Breast. So we’ve both got one important thing in common!’.

Dead, horrified silence from the mortals. The Dragon? Her cheeks bulged—and then she and three Giants sitting and waiting for the end started laughing so hard they all fell over. One clung to the small mountains, clutching at his side.

Marquin grinned.

“That was about what they did. I wasn’t as elegant as my descendants apparently were—but I met your kind too, Dragon. They gave me the Dragonthrone as well. I talked down [Barbarian] tribes. I remember the first time I did that. It was just me and their [Chieftains] screaming ‘diplomacy’ at each other and seeing who could do it longest and loudest.”

It was strange. At first, she looked nothing like those who had come after. Until you realized there was something there.

After she had defeated the Crelers, Queen Marquin of Calanfer had put down her sword and raised it only six more times in her life. She had never fought in a war again.

She came to rest and sat, one bushy brown head among mostly reds—dyed or otherwise. The Dragon stopped laughing and regarded Marquin with something like respect. Her voice rumbled as she spoke.

“I begin to see why you earned the respect of the Dragons, what few of them remained.”

Marquin saluted her with one hand.

“I don’t see any of the ones I met. One of them died on Rhir. I saw that myself. But he must have gone to another continent or…”

She glanced towards the shores, and every soul went silent. The six enemies were out there. And worse was yet coming. Yet Marquin just sat cross-legged, hands on her knees.

“Shame. The Dwarves are all elsewhere, yeah?”

“Their descendants remain. But yes. They gathered elsewhere. I am an emissary of Baleros; they are there. We may see them yet before the end.”

The red Dragon murmured. Marquin sighed. She looked again towards the edge of the world.

“Part of me wants to see what’s coming. I feel a terrible pull, but I yanked the rest of you away to sit here.”

She had resisted that urge for two reasons. Even the Giants and Dragon had not, but Queen Marquin now grew somber as all listened.

“I felt that pull just once. As a mortal woman, when even the oldest Crelers died. I’m told I’m not the greatest who’s ever lived, but a greater gathering of heroes and stories never was seen while I lived. We took back Rhir, and the Crelers formed small mountains of corpses. Then, as the others planned to build a kingdom to stop this from ever happening again, some of the adventurers and heroes—even an Archmage—decided to descend into that darkness. To find the root of it all and tear it out.”

Her audience listened. Marquin’s lips twisted.

“We were warned not to. That strange [Bard] of the insects and the others told us it would be our deaths. I listened. I felt that call and left Rhir and never returned. In doing so, I saved my soul.”

She shuddered and looked across the flat deadlands. Marquin went on, after a moment. She was a warrior who had become a diplomat, and that was what her descendants had taken. Grown overly proud, lost their way. But she looked at them all with a grandparent’s pride. Stern pride, judging them, but still.

“They made a nation, the Blighted Kingdom, over a trap. And I’ve heard they too lost their way. But I will not rise and leave Terandria’s shores, even to see the end. Or go to Rhir. Until such time as I can hurt my foe…”

She clenched one helpless hand. All her levels and strength were useless against her foes here. The six.

She turned to Centis, to the others, shamefaced.

“I should have told you to covet the relics of Terandria. To build power such that it could be wielded even in death. I did not know such foes waited for us here. After I was named [Queen] and given a nation to rule, I laid down my sword. Men. Women. Half-Elves, dogs, even ‘monsters’ like Goblins and Cyclopes. After Crelers, I saw nothing I could call a foe. I had no desire to kill anything.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Now, I feel it again. A true foe of the world, like Crelers. Yet here I sit, as a new nation invades my own. A pointless war; unable to tell my descendants how to fight or where the enemy lies.”

Her head bowed, and her voice grew quieter.

“It is a small thing. Calanfer. No great kingdom. Six thousand years old. By all accounts, pettier than it should be. Not one Lightherald named to champion the ‘Eternal Throne’ has ever matched me. Increasingly scrawny [Kings] and [Queens] and [Princesses].”

Indignant glares, but no one dared interrupt. The Dragon listened as Marquin sighed. Then her head rose, and the [Queen] looked around. Marquin the Radiant gazed solemnly at the land and smiled.

“…Yet I made this. The last Dragons bequeathed their throne to me as a sign of respect. This was blasted land after the Crelers ravaged it, and yet—six thousand years a nation has stood that I founded. For better or worse. I must see how it ends.”

She smiled proudly. And every ghost of Calanfer bowed their heads to her, even the Giants.

Predictably, the female Dragon did not, but she thoughtfully fanned her wings and looked at Marquin. Then she gave a regal nod and spoke as the [Queen] looked at her.

“We are kin, then, in purpose, Queen Marquin. I too have come here to face my end. I wish to see how something…someone I knew meets his destiny.”

The [Queen] nodded, and the Dragon and she stood there, waiting for the newly-dead to tell them news of the present. For Marquin of Calanfer, she waited here at this pass to see whether her beloved nation would fall to Ailendamus’ advance.

The Dragon? She waited for a name, a false name, but one that she knew. She had followed him across the sea, from Izril to Wistram, chasing rumors. Of Eldavin. Or Teriarch.

Lord of Flame.

 

——

 

Archmage Eldavin, the Archmage of Memory, looked like a half-Elf modeled after some ancient statues of Earth. He had, to those sculptors, the idealized form. Symmetry in face, strength of body, even though his hair was white.

It was an illusion, and even Eldavin knew it.

“The physical form can be changed. I, clearly, altered my own appearance to best suit my needs. You see, there are [Mages] and schools of thought like the esteemed Grimalkin of Pallass that prioritize the body. Shapeshifting. Bodily alteration. That does intersect with [Alchemists] and other classes of shapechangers, but we can do it with magic! Some may consider it a side-path to true magic, and that is fair. But it is possible.”

He wondered what his original face looked like. He didn’t know.

His audience, of course, was hanging on every word. From Magus Telim to Sa’la, who waved a hand.

“Archmage Eldavin. Would a Selphid be able to change into another form…?”

Eldavin pondered the question.

“To a Human, for instance? Of course. But the most obvious change would be to something of smaller mass like a beaver or whatnot. Selphids have less bodily mass, so it would be harder. I would imagine the difference is a Level 20 [Shapeshifter Mage] transforming into a squirrel. A Level 40 one becomes a Human.”

His audience looked at each other. No Level 20 [Mage] in all of Wistram could just…transform. But that was Eldavin’s standard, and he knew it was right.

He had seen it. But where?

The half-Elf did not know, and the things he did not know increased the more he tried to find out one concrete thing he did know. He continued his lecture.

“I believe the basis of magic that is lost is the ability to alter one’s own magical nature. Or others.”

“Archmage! No one can just alter someone’s mana from afar! Even [Necromancers] need touch.”

A [Mage] protested, and Eldavin pointed at her.

“You are wrong. It can be done. Touch makes it easier by far; willingness likewise. But how else would someone transform an enemy into a squishable frog? It is possible. Now, I am going to give you a basis of the concept, and if I hear ‘no one can do this’, or ‘impossible’, or ‘never been done’, I will eject you from the class. At altitude.”

The threat quelled most voices, but what also did the trick was Eldavin’s confidence. And the fact that he could do what he was talking about.

The age of legends walked among mortal [Mages], dispensing magics as he pleased. Small wonder he had created the largest faction in Wistram practically overnight. Eldavin was more knowledgeable than all the Archmages combined. He stood on the platform of hardlight as it floated across the road.

Below, the students riding along or using spells to follow stared up in awe. Travellers looked up at a platform a hundred feet by a hundred feet made of beautiful light as solid as rock just…floating overhead. A pedestal from which Eldavin could see, talk, and sleep if need be while they headed to their destination.

Around them, armored figures flew. Some did loop-de-loops or flew high; others were wary of such extreme movement, but even if they slammed into the ground at speed, the enchanted armor kept them safe. A few tried out spells in the air, which sometimes earned them censure if they started fires.

Especially by the wary [Knights] following them. If Eldavin looked left, he could see the Order of Seasons and Ser Greysten, the Summer’s Champion, keeping pace with Eldavin’s faction.

They just watched, in a kind of awe, as the Archmage of Memory advanced into Ailendamus’ territory and taught magic at the same time.

Awe and wariness. Eldavin was no fool. He knew he was making possible enemies with his displays of power. He knew that he had a giant target on his chest and that Ailendamus would not take this lying down lightly. He knew his fellow Archmages would conspire against him.

Yet he didn’t care. Eldavin had so little time. So he spent every moment of it leaving behind…sparks.

Why do I feel this way? He touched at his heart absently and waited.

“The fundamentals of altering your mana is changing the very quality of your magic. [Elementalists] do it…the [Icebody] spell is a good place to start if you can cast it. Shapeshifting is that idea taken to an extreme. You have to know the form you wish to embody and lock it into place. That’s essential. If it wavers once, you waver, turning into some kind of agonized puddle of flesh will not be pleasant. And that is the best scenario.”

His students blanched, and Eldavin heard it at last.

Lub…dub…

He had spoken for over half a minute. His fingers had felt only warm flesh. Then—

His heart beat.

Once.

Eldavin was no biological expert, although he could have probably taught that too given the standards in this world. But he was fairly certain your heart beating about twice-per-minute was a bad thing.

Something was happening. After the last—incident—Eldavin had realized his heart was slowing down. He could still move, his blood circulated, as if it were being pumped, but his heart had changed.

What is wrong with me?

Sa’la was in the audience of [Mages] and watching Eldavin carefully as the others tried his lesson. She alone knew what was going on, and Eldavin intended to keep it this way. He could not afford to show weakness.

But he had to know what was going on. So Eldavin cast every spell he could think of.

[Memory Search]. [Annie’s Contemplation of the Mind: Ryoka Griffin]? [Annie’s Contemplation of the Mind: Magic, No, Blast It, That’s Too Generic]. [Annie’s Contemplation of the Mind: Identity]. [Crystalized Thoughts]. [Superior Analysis: Self]…

Annie was a [Mage] who had once delved deep into the realms of mental magics. Hence the name. Not everyone was named…Thresk. Or Az’kerash.

Eldavin knew there were holes in his memory. He knew something was wrong. But what, exactly, still eluded him. The thing was—

What he did remember was confusing too.

 

——

 

“[Beam of Fire].”

A beam-spell blasted from Eldavin’s finger, hit a tree, and everything along the line of fire exploded. Eldavin raised a finger as Ser Greysten watched.

“That is a classic Tier…5 spell? Tier 4 if you reduce the effects. A simple beam of fire. The problem is, it is eminently dodgeable. Slower than a regular arrow. [Mages] unused to combat would use that. Of course, the Albezian school of magic changed that completely. Now consider this. [Thresk’s Seekers]!

He fired six short beams of magic that wove through the air like hungry snakes. They even had a motif like that; instead of a boring beam of blazing fire, they transformed into writhing serpents of fire which attacked, curving towards their foe and following the little pigeon of light Eldavin conjured as a target.

“Seeking, diffusion of the magic, and far more varied. Warmage Thresk pioneered this magic along with the other Albez [Mages] in a brief renaissance. Among them were the [Temporal Mage] Udatron, the [War Mage] Thresk, and the [Knight of Spells], Siza. If acceptable, I would prefer to grant your Order, or rather, this Season of Fall about fourteen spells you can copy and use in battle.”

The Summer’s Champion looked at Eldavin. The Archmage of Memory folded his hands behind his back as Greysten thought.

“That…would be extraordinarily kind, Archmage. You mean—spell scrolls?”

“No, I mean the spells themselves. Spell scrolls? Young man, I believe we all are aware this war might be difficult. It is a shame only your [Autumn Knights] can cast magic, but if they can all cast a Tier 5 spell, it will be for the better, don’t you agree?”

The Summer’s Champion looked at Dame Voost and Ser Zulv, two of the most senior [Knights] in his Order. One of the Fall Knights was trying not to punch the air and throw up their hands in delight.

Would it be for the better if every Knight of Autumn could cast a Tier 5 spell? Greysten thought about it.

Well, yes. And it would also make the Season of Autumn, whose value to the Order of Seasons was often academic, not only the most useful faction outside of combat, but arguably the most useful group in battle too.

His code of honor was such that Greysten refused to bring up the sting to his pride, so he just bowed.

“That would be a great boon, Archmage.”

…What do you want for it? But the half-Elf, who was actually taller than Greysten and looked as physically fit, just nodded.

“Excellent. In that case, I will scribe the teaching scrolls…tonight. I apologize, but I am managing too much. Would it be acceptable if I forwarded the spells to you at dawn? Or I can send them to your Fall’s Sentinel if teleportation isn’t off-limits in your keep.”

Greysten had just been fighting for his life against the Dame of the Hills two days ago. He had realized that the Order of the Hydra and Ailendamus were a greater threat than he had previously thought and had been prepared to lay his life down to win their safety. Rabbiteater’s daring charge had barely, barely let them regroup, yet the Order of the Hydra had been pressing them hard, and Greysten had been holding out for reinforcements.

They had come, but not from Pheislant or Knight-Commander Calirn or the Winter’s Watcher. Instead, Eldavin and his faction had appeared and calmly blasted the entire army that had held the Season of Summer at bay into flight in less than twenty minutes.

Greysten was a bit peeved about that. It devalued the sacrifices of his people. And yet—

That was Eldavin. So the Summer’s Champion just bowed again as Eldavin smiled benignly. What Greysten noticed, but put down to something else or his imagination, was the slight…reddening of Eldavin’s cheeks.

 

——

 

Eldavin was embarrassed.

He was mortified.

Eldavin was ashamed, and he was relieved the [Knight] didn’t comment on his blush. The half-Elf didn’t know why until he thought about it, but that interaction was emblematic of the mystery that was him.

He was embarrassed, but it took the half-Elf a few minutes of striding about to figure out why.

He was embarrassed because he was teaching Warmage Thresk’s magic?

Yes! If he thought about that, the embarrassment definitely came from that. But why? It was good magic. It did the job.

It was intensely embarrassing to teach this no-name [War Mage]’s magic. Someone who was not a truly famed mage.

But why, then, do I know it?

That question unlocked a door in Eldavin’s memory. Understanding. And with that—he understood more of himself.

 

Ah. I learned Thresk’s magic and Albez’s magic to tell Ryoka Griffin. Because it was so important to her, I was going to tease her about it.

I regard this magic as inferior because it is just ‘new’ magic that are copies of older spells already invented. Albez was no true renaissance. Everything they discovered and created was a reinvention of the old.

I learned this information recently. I know spells that date back tens of thousands of years. This is nothing to me.

Who am I?

 

It hit him, and he almost fell over. A sudden realization that came with the context. Yes! Yes, he had memorized that and put the knowledge in him just so he could make topical conversation with Ryoka Griffin about that door or the adventurers.

But that wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was realizing he knew spells that old. No…not just knew.

He had been there when they were new. Therefore, he was old. So old this half-Elf’s body, as old as it looked, wasn’t nearly a reflection of him unless he had used time magic to preserve it. Had he remade his body?

Was he a half-Elf or something else?

The first clue in the puzzle came to Eldavin as Telim ran up to him. Eldavin was distracted.

“Not now, High Mage. Unless someone’s transformed their stomach into teeth, I am busy—”

Grand Magus! There’s been a disaster at Wistram! Archmage Amerys is free and…”

Eldavin turned and heard about Trey Atwood’s escape. That hurt him more than anything else.

The betrayal was too…familiar. It cut deep because it was a fresh cut on top of countless old wounds. Eldavin understood that Amerys was free but took a better view of it than anyone else.

“She has little reason to oppose me. The casualties and loss of Earthers are regrettable, but we got most of what was valuable. If anything—this will highlight the fact that Fissival and the Drowned Folk are opposed to us. We have been too tight and grasping, as I said. Perhaps this will also motivate Wistram to do something about the King of Destruction.”

The [Mages] were aghast.

“But Archmage! Nailihuaile is dead! The Quarass of Ger stole a relic and…”

Ah. Eldavin hesitated. The Star Lamia was dead. He cleared his throat.

“Archmage Nailihuaile’s death is regrettable, of course. As for the Quarass?”

He found himself about to blush again. Why?

Because he knew the Quarass. And she had been under his nose? Yes, she was an amalgamation of souls as ancient as most beings.

But how embarrassing! And he’d taught her like she were some child.

 

When next we meet, she will never let me live this down.

When next we meet? I knew her of old. When she was new. 

How old am I?

 

——

 

He realized that if he had failed to recognize the Quarass, she had failed to recognize him. Because they had met. The fact of that memory was clear.

But she didn’t know Eldavin. Ergo, she did not know me. I remember meeting her as I am. But who…

He didn’t know who it was, but he recalled looking down at the Quarass as a grown woman. The memory was fragmented, fuzzy. But it spoke to a growing conclusion in Eldavin.

He sent rapid [Message] spells to restore what order he could in Wistram. The other Archmages were panicking, and all three were trying to get him to do something.

…What, exactly? Fly off and face a [Pirate Captain] on a famous ship and an Archmage and this Gazi of Reim at sea?

Eldavin was too busy! For one thing, he had decided that the [Mages] of his faction and the children in armor would advance with the Order of Seasons—but carefully.

“The Pride of the Wellfar is coming up the coast. However, I imagine that if Ailendamus sends any kind of proper fleet, they will flee.”

“Flee?”

Ser Greysten was patently incredulous. Eldavin flicked his fingers.

“Tactically withdraw or however you would like to put it. Even if they are a Citadel-class warship, they are alone. Pheislant must support them. Or we need more ships! If your Order of Seasons is truly advancing up the main road, you could well push into Ailendamus from the west. My [Mages] are not yet ready for battle, but our [Magearmor Soldiers]—”

“Is that their class?”

Eldavin shrugged.

“Among others. There appears to be nuance in how some regard their armor.”

Like the Earthers. Eldavin went on blithely, ignoring the looks from Greysten and the other commanders.

“—I place under your capable commanders, Ser Greysten. I suggest you appoint one of your most senior [Knights] to ensure not one of them is lost. Commit them to strikes and withdrawals; they can be captured or killed if surrounded. Perhaps your Dame Voost?”

She seemed like a high-level, careful leader. Greysten hesitated.

“Not you yourself, Archmage?”

The half-Elf gave him a calm smile.

“I am no war leader. I could fill the role, but my time is better served elsewhere. I will contact The Pride of the Wellfar and coordinate its advance. Then—we will truly push Ailendamus.”

Thus far, he had not actually fought in more than one battle. But Eldavin considered that his contribution to the war was more than spellcasting. He’d get to that, but uniting opposition against Ailendamus?

That was how you won wars. So he stepped out of the war tent as Greysten hurried out.

“I will be back by…oh, supper? I would be very grateful if you taught my Magearmor candidates to avoid being captured. Perhaps some self-defense techniques? They are relying on their armor too much, but I can well envision them being roped or captured or simply someone hitting them with a sufficiently large hammer. They are drunk on power. Which is expected. Thank you, Summer’s Champion. Now—[Fly: Speed of the Swallow].”

And he took off. The Summer’s Champion’s jaw dropped as Eldavin spread his arms and took off, faster than any ordinary man or woman on a horse. As if it were the easiest thing in the world.

Too easy. He didn’t belong in this era. Eldavin was coming to an unfortunate realization. Obvious, really.

He was not a half-Elf. So who was he? The unhappy Archmage began piecing it together with the facts.

I have no class or levels. My magic is ancient. The half-Elf falsehood, the white hair, all these people I’ve met and my fragmented memory—it must have been after Cognita hit me. But I know who I might be. It’s obvious.

My enmity with the Necromancer? Where I was hiding in Izril? Oh no. Oh dear.

I’m a Unicorn.

He hated that conclusion. But it made sense. The white hair was a dead giveaway. Not to mention the long life? The superior spellcasting?

Actually, his reaction made Eldavin suspect that was the wrong conclusion, so he ran down the list. Some of the things he could be were rather…well. He needed proof. And Eldavin actually suspected he knew at least two people who knew what he was.

Ryoka Griffin and Magnolia Reinhart.

But one was captured and the other was curiously silent. She had talked to him, but something about their conversation had changed matters. Yes, Magnolia was under siege in Oteslia, but he knew the girl. She could conduct any clandestine conversation she wanted.

That she was refusing to talk to him meant—she suspected something was wrong with him.

He hoped she didn’t do anything rash. Eldavin was sure he was acting in accordance to what he would normally do. Was reviving Wistram, fighting a foe like Ailendamus, not what he would do?

Surely it was. Eldavin was still on the Unicorn thing, though. The thought unearthed another memory.

More and more, he was convinced he had somehow partitioned his mind into chunks and dumped information into the parts he could access. That was almost as stupid as what Valeterisa had done, and he had no idea why he would do something that stupid.

Unless it was an accident caused by a Truestone Golem punching him, which was a valid reason for most magical things to go wrong. Or…

He had a bad feeling, but Eldavin just wrote it on the list of hypotheses. For now—Unicorns. What did he know? Eldavin’s spell collected the data.

[Annie’s Contemplation of the Mind: Unicorn].

 

There is still a Unicorn living on Izril…at least there was last I checked, twelve years ago. Odds are he is still alive.

The last living Unicorn of the Vale Forest is a Valesian-trained duelist, adept at war magic and sword…hornplay? Which is an unfortunate choice of words because he is also exceptionally randy.

Which is a word I will never use. But he has sired children among horses, such that his offspring sometimes appear in stables with superior qualities, much to the mystification of those trying to figure out the breeding stock.

I have no idea about young, virginal women not of the horse variety. One would hope…not.

I regret remembering this.

 

Eldavin’s factoids and remembered information was regrettably specific at times. The Archmage slowed as he passed the coastline. Swallows flew fast, especially when you cast [Haste] on them.

But he did slow, mainly because he sensed about two dozen hostile spells suddenly targeting him—and these were of a caliber such that he actually respected them. Eldavin cast [Loud Voice] and spoke.

I am Archmage Eldavin. Here to parlay with Etril Wellfar! May I come aboard?

A vast ship was sailing off the coast, and The Pride of The Wellfar slowed. Eldavin saw a figure stride out onto the deck and confer with a crowd, but brush them aside.

Etril Wellfar was not someone he knew at all, Eldavin was sure. But his research into the man had told him his personality was amenable to this sort of thing.

Sure enough—Eldavin was landing and taking Etril Wellfar’s hand as the [Lord] looked him up and down.

“Salt of the seas. You are an [Archmage] of old.”

The half-Elf smiled.

“Accept no inferior copies. And you are the only Wellfar daring enough to bring this great vessel to sea. Wellfar never made a name for themselves cowering in their ports.”

Etril’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he decided to take it as a compliment rather than an insult.

“What can we do for you, Archmage of Memory? I didn’t look to meet with you. Truth be told, I was dismayed you were in Pheislant. It means there’s less use for The Pride here.”

He wanted to attack Ailendamus, and his ship could certainly threaten hundreds of miles of coastline—but nothing inland, certainly not where the Dawn Concordat was fighting. The frustration on Etril’s face was plain; since the Terras faction had appeared, there wasn’t even any real need for his support with the Order of Seasons.

Eldavin nodded in agreement to all of this.

“Indeed not. And I suspect that when Ailendamus sends a fleet, you will wisely retreat. The Pride of the Wellfar cannot be lost. Let alone if the Taimaguros Dominion enters the conflict.”

The young Wellfar didn’t bother hiding his glower.

“If you could magic a fleet up, we’d risk it, but you are right. No one sails into a war without an escort, Archmage. Pheislant has good ships of its own, but I cannot…risk…them sailing in close proximity with my ship.”

Just in case Pheislant decides it wants a relic-class ship of old. It was understandable paranoia, but it tied the man’s hands. Same for Nadel, even if you could convince Nadel to enter the war. Or Desonis.

Eldavin had considered all the nations near Ailendamus, and that was separate from his meeting with Etril here. He nodded to all of this.

“Well reasoned. I am glad to see you are a practical [Captain]. I have a proposed solution to your problems.”

“Go on, Archmage?”

The [Lord] was not one to take anyone—even an Archmage—lying down, and his annoyance at being talked down to slightly, let alone accosted on his own ship, was politely suppressed. In a way, Eldavin liked that more than Greysten’s carefulness. Or perhaps it meant the Summer’s Champion was even more wary of Eldavin, given his reputation as an honest, straightforward man.

Either way, Eldavin didn’t care. Unicorns, Thresk…there was a growing certainty in his mind. He had his hand on his heart, absently, as he spoke.

 

I am running out of time.

I should leave. This is dangerous.

 

That certainty was in him. And that was his true feeling. But at the same time, Eldavin thought differently.

But I cannot abandon Ryoka Griffin. I will repay this Duke Rhisveri his insult. 

There it was. The dissonance. There were two parts of him, warring. One wanted to—leave. To disavow Terras, to vanish. This part of him, the part that felt awake and alive, told him to continue. To make magic shine bright.

To live.

He obeyed the latter’s call. So he turned to Etril, smiled benignly, and produced…a contract scroll. The [Lord] squinted at it.

“What’s this, now?”

“Oh, merely a magical contract. Not a blood-contract, but it can be signed by a proxy of the Wellfar family. I don’t wish to fly all the way to Izril or teleport. It gives me gas. Would you, Lord Wellfar, please contact House Wellfar for an immediate consultation? I would like to hire them to enter this war. I am prepared to sell you a monopoly on weather magic.”

Etril Wellfar looked at Archmage Eldavin, then uttered a faint curse as someone squeaked. Eldavin just smiled, eyes shining bright, mismatched heliotrope and cerulean.

He had gold if Wellfar were so crass, but he suspected selling them spells beyond the pale of any academy—that might do nicely too. Eldavin had been very displeased to learn how little money he had, so he’d been rebuilding his fortunes.

The nice thing about being the undisputed master of magic was that everyone was a buyer. Eldavin turned to someone—another [Lady] of Wellfar? Yes, he read her class.

“Ah, young woman. I forget myself. While Lord Etril is setting up the call—I believe gifts are very customary.”

Sea gifts for goodwill and all that, even if negotiations fell through. Eldavin produced a beautiful scroll made of bright, sky-blue paper, frayed at the edges purely for cosmetic effect, and bound by a golden string. He handed it to her with a flourish.

“What is this, Arch—”

She choked as she took it, stumbled, and nearly fell overboard. Two [Sailors] had to grab her and keep her from going over the railing. Eldavin polished his nails on his robes as Etril whirled. Yes, truly gratifying.

A lesser, more unhelpful [Mage] would have made adventurers’ lives difficult by not writing the spell on the scroll. Well, in this case, Eldavin suspected any adventurer who found this scroll would take it to an [Enchanter] first. Then try to copy it, but scribing a temporary scroll wasn’t like teaching someone magic. It was possible for a true expert to reverse-engineer it, but he’d sell it to Wellfar too if they sent, oh, twenty ships to battle?

The scroll Eldavin had so casually handed the young [Deckhand Lady] had a simple word written on it in plain language:

[Flight].

Eldavin beamed at the expressions of those around him and began to say that if they would like proof that was a genuine scroll, he was happy to enchant anyone for a test-run. But the words never came out.

Lub…dub?

His heart beat once. Eldavin collapsed.

 

——

 

When Eldavin woke up, it was in Etril’s personal cabin. He sat up and felt it.

The connection wavered.

That was it. There was something that had bothered Eldavin from the start. His weak mana supply for someone with his magical ability. The sense that this entire body was artificial.

Because…it was.

“I am quite alright, Lord Wellfar. I overexerted myself, and it is age more than anything. You can see why I need House Wellfar to enter this conflict, yes?”

He carefully lied as he assured the [Lord] all was well. Eldavin swanned into the meeting with Wellfar’s seafaring nobility and took two damned hours in getting them to agree to enter the war.

Two hours!

Heh. Two hours and one of the Five Families sent thirty ships to sail with Pheislant against Ailendamus. Nadel, Desonis—every nation in Terandria had to be counting the odds.

Eldavin declined Etril’s offer to drop him off anywhere. He flew back to the Order of Season’s camp and enjoyed the expressions of the [Knights] there. Ser Greysten just looked at him.

“House Wellfar has declared their part in the war against Ailendamus, Archmage. Supporting House Veltras. Did you arrange that?”

“Politics, Ser Greysten. Politics. A word in someone’s ear—this is proper Wistram politics. Direct, efficient—take notes, all of you!”

Eldavin beamed at the other [Mages] in his faction and felt buoyant.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

His smile flickered out, and he frowned. Greysten, watching him, saw the Archmage feel at his chest.

“Archmage Eldavin? Do you want to speak now? About anything?”

Sa’la hurried forwards. The Selphid [Herbalist] looked at Eldavin intently, but she was surprised when the half-Elf turned to her with a calm smile.

“No, Sa’la. I believe I am as well as can be. Thank you.”

She stared at him, patently confused. But Eldavin had figured it out.

 

——

 

That night, Eldavin drew a complex magical circle and tried to check the quality of his connection to his real body.

Not in the camp. He flew to a hill, cleared the area, and spent nearly an hour setting up a complex monitoring spell trying to backtrace, well, his magic.

He’d done a devilishly good job. Well done, Eldavin. The half-Elf spent the next four hours cursing himself and kicking rocks and hopping on one toe before casting [Stoneskin].

Even knowing what was happening, he could barely tell that he was being connected to something. But it was that which was causing all these irregularities.

Not him. In fact, Eldavin realized his mana supply was just based on his own, fake body! He had created…this half-Elf’s body and imbued it with enough power to go toe-to-toe with an Archmage with the right cunning. While his main body had…how much power?

Who am I?

What was clear was that the link had not been made for this range and possibly had been damaged by Cognita’s punch. Damn that Golem! Worse, Eldavin couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was like being in a bottle and trying to fix a crack from the inside. He found a few broken links in the spell he could mend but knew there was only one way to fix it.

However, the fact that he did have a body—elsewhere—made him feel curious. Ryoka must know who he was. And Magnolia.

Was he…a Dryad? No, no. He hated earth. Damn bugs. Then again, Dryads didn’t like bugs eating their roots either.

Was he some kind of Djinni? Very possible. Eldavin disliked Roshal and the idea of chains. Maybe the last Jinn? But he didn’t feel a burning desire for vengeance. Maybe he’d suppressed it?

A Ki’rin of Drath? He spoke quite fluent Drathian! All the dialects. In fact, Eldavin stopped kicking stones to take a brief call.

“Hello? Hello? Who is this? I am Archmage Eldavin, and I’m quite busy—”

Then he realized who it was and adopted a quite different tone. And different language, and realized he was fluent. After introductions and a quite lengthy conversation, he found himself speaking to—

“(Your Eminence of Drath, I apologize for the delay. I am Archmage Eldavin. What?)”

He hesitated.

“(…Yes, that spell was indeed used by me. I, ah—yes, the sword. A beautifully constructed spell which I assure you was employed only in the most dire need. 剑圣 – 心火之刃, indeed.)”

He didn’t often sweat, and the conversation was very polite, but the edge in the speaker’s voice, the ruler of all of Drath—or what remained of it—made Eldavin sure that a wrong answer might end up with a nation as fearsome as Khelt on his back.

And the problem was—

“(I am permitted to use that spell, Your Eminence. With the utmost respect, my knowledge of it is answer enough. That you do not know this individual of Archmage Eldavin is of little consequence. Who, may I ask, would be permitted to use such magic? Who has ever been granted that right?)”

The silence was telling. It was a careful move from Eldavin. If he got an answer, then he knew who he might be.

Otherwise? Drath’s [Emperor] was not keen on revealing the list of names who had been granted access to a spell that was literally locked to those permitted to use it.

The rough translation was [Sword Saint: Edge of Heart’s Fire]. A spell of such magnitude that being granted access to it was a right that could pass from generation to generation, a spell in the form of an heirloom.

But who had Eldavin been, to win the right to it?

Well, the call was abrupt. The [Emperor] was in a tetchy mood. Interestingly, he asked Eldavin one more question in his native tongue rather than rely on the speaker. Which meant it was personal and he wanted no one else to hear.

“(Archmage Eldavin. Are you aware of any disturbance around The Last Tide?)”

“(Not at this time, Your Majesty. But I am far from there.)”

Of all the questions—Eldavin did not like when an [Emperor] of a nation sworn to guard against the horrors that came up from there got nervous. He added it to his list of things to do.

Which was…pick up every Tier 7+ spell, fly to the edge of the world, and start chucking them down if he didn’t like what he saw.

There were so many things he could do, and this might revolve around the fate of the world. So why was he…here?

Eldavin touched his chest absently.

Well. Because a young woman he had sworn to protect was captive of Ailendamus.

And he did not abandon those he had sworn to protect.

He knew, somehow, in his heart. Eldavin closed his eyes.

 

He had never abandoned them. Not once.

 

The next day, Archmage Eldavin flew into Ailendamus’ territory for war. And he realized something else about himself.

 

——

 

If Greysten knew what Eldavin was planning, he would have tried to stop the half-Elf.

If anyone had known Eldavin’s plan, they would have said even Eldavin was cracked in the head.

However, Eldavin knew, somehow, that direct, outrageous attacks sometimes worked. He was aware there was at least one powerful spellcaster on his level in Ailendamus. He had even…lost…a distant battle of control against this Duke Rhisveri, the most probable spellcaster.

However, Rhisveri had been prepared, and Eldavin had been casting off-the-cuff from Wistram. Technically, he hadn’t lost.

Besides, this time, Eldavin prepared for a very simple plan in concept. Only he could pull it off, and if he did—why, he’d resolve any number of problems. No one knew the limits of his power. And this Rhisveri was not an equal to him.

[Bound Spells] were a magic that [Mages] had not lost. It was a simple spell where you prepared something then unleashed it.

Of course, [Mages] had lost a lot of other spellcasting techniques. Not just shapeshifting. They had lost the ability to auto-cast spells. Forgotten a lot of linked magics that combined disciplines.

They could barely create dimensional magics and had almost no grasp on the other dimensions they could access. Time magic? Hah! There was one [Mage] in Rhir who knew how to use time magic. Although Eldavin admitted that time was tricky, even for him. He didn’t mess with the stuff.

He stuck with [Bound Spells] because they were simple, elegant if done right, and he could bind up to a hundred spells, unlike Grimalkin, who could do…two loci. One in each fist. Maybe four. One in each foot too.

Embarrassing.

Eldavin had to admit, he wasn’t playing fair. He muttered as he cast some spells in his tent.

“[Disintegration]. [Siege Fireball], I guess. Er—[Chain Lightning]. What else can I fit in here? Well, if it’s for destruction, maybe [Mass Paralysis]. That will do.”

Carefully, he flexed his pointer finger. Four spells would activate if he pointed and willed it. That was as much as he could get in one finger.

All nine of his other ones waggled. Eldavin frowned.

“Let’s do [Diamondheart] for the girl. Er—[Greater Invisibility]—damn. That’s all. Well, that’ll do for her. Wait, wasn’t there that young [Lord]? Two fingers, then. Maybe double [Diamondheart] on one finger. Yes, that works.”

His plan was just to slap them with a [Teleport] spell and pop them back here. Eldavin had carefully inscribed a runestone, put it on a pillar in his tent, and it would act as a beacon for a [Teleport] spell. No waiting around—just touch and go.

Of course, the other spells were for getting there. Eldavin bound varied spells to each finger, then began muttering more spells.

“[Flight]. [Tenfold Refraction Barrier]. [Greater Invisibility]. [Greater Haste]. [Magic Void]—better surround myself with that. Don’t forget the soles of the feet.”

Everyone forgot the soles of their feet. Eldavin sprang into the air and flew so fast he left a wake. Then he slowed, casting a frictionless spell to get rid of air resistance and hide his trail.

The plan was simple. Fly into Ailendamus, find Ryoka Griffin and Sammial Veltras, extract. He’d get a measure of how good this ‘Rhisveri’ was too.

If he ran into trouble, Eldavin pointed his first finger. If [Disintegrate] didn’t work, that was a problem.

But he hadn’t found many things [Disintegrate] didn’t solve. Eldavin wasn’t in this for innocent deaths, so he didn’t bind something like [Tempest of the Lightning Giant]. But he was ready to obliterate anything he ran into.

On the way, Eldavin would also be scouting Ailendamus’ movements. He had a lot of the nation to cover, even at ridiculous speed, under haste, flying, and without air friction to slow him. He wouldn’t attack any targets and give himself away. He was covert, stealthy, invisible to any Archmage of Wistram.

Even if they all worked together, frankly, Eldavin suspected that he was armed to the extent that he could have killed them all. Amerys was the only unknown factor. With ten fingers he could have killed four Archmages of Wistram.

It was risky, overly daring, and he knew he had just spent time organizing Wellfar’s entry into the war because it was foolhardy to rely on a single hero. But he was also Eldavin. If he had expressed the feeling in his heart in honest terms, it was a simple belief:

There is nothing and no one who is my equal.

So he went after Ryoka to prove that was the case, expecting a confrontation with Duke Rhisveri.

 

——

 

The Archmage of Memory got fourteen miles past Ailendamus’ established borders before he nearly died.

It was fast. One second he was flying, humming under his breath and wondering what to have for lunch—but alert!—the next something put a hole in his shoulder.

How—?

Eldavin dove as three more bolts missed him. Only a spell pre-programmed to activate had saved his life.

[Time Slow]. It allowed him to twist, and see three more black shards of magic appearing out of nowhere and aiming for him.

Barrier-piercing magic. His spell wore off, and Eldavin dove. He had one chance as his body screamed in agony at him, but he ignored the pain.

They would expect him to dive, cast a defensive spell—and he was dead if he did that. Experience told Eldavin there was only one move.

[Earthshift: Stone Flows Through Me]!

He hit the grass and passed through it. The earth dislodged around Eldavin and rippled as he passed through it like he was entering the water.

Stone, soil, all moved aside for Eldavin. An ordinary mole saw a huge half-Elf pass through his burrow and stared at the super-mole.

Then the mole vanished as a vortex of dark magic swallowed it and everything around it, and more of those deadly bolts of magic struck the earth. They chewed through the ground, only stopping after fifty feet had been vaporized.

Eldavin kept diving. Then he stopped and cast another spell.

“[Displacement]. [Lesser Teleport]. [Clone of Cete].”

An Eldavin lay there, panting, but the genuine article vanished and reappeared fifty feet away and further down. Only then did Eldavin feel the pain and begin healing.

“What hit me? Argh! It’s—”

It was agonizing. Something had blasted through his shoulder where it met his armpit. It had nearly taken his arm off!

Not [Disintegration]. No…Eldavin could think from experience in taking wounds before. An unwelcome realization to know how much he’d been hurt.

This is dark magic. Localized vaporization. They sent a vortex spell after me. I’m up against dark mages. Someone like Depth Magus Doroumata? 

No, she was an expert in defensive magic. And she would have blinded him first. Disoriented him.

Eldavin realized the potion wasn’t working. He had to neutralize the dark magic! So he gritted his teeth.

“[Pure Radiance].”

The spell blasted whatever was eating his flesh away, and the healing took. He had top-quality potions he’d made himself, and his flesh knitted. Shaking, Eldavin muttered.

But what was that? [Replay Memory]!”

He analyzed the attack as he monitored his clone. It wasn’t being attacked. Interesting. Either he had dove too deep or they were setting up traps or searching for the real him.

Eldavin assumed all three. He also got a lot more information as he analyzed the ambush.

Firstly—the magics were not unique to one caster. There were minute variations, but it seemed like he’d been hit by multiple spellcasters, all using the same spell. That was unpleasant enough, but Eldavin realized something else.

“They tossed those spells at me. They’re sniping me from afar!

They were scrying him and attacking! He was outraged, impressed—and worried at the same time. Firstly, this meant that he wasn’t necessarily up against Rhisveri. But he might soon be if the Duke were alerted.

That was bad because it meant multiple high-grade spellcasters were in Ailendamus. Who? Visophecin? ‘Viscount V’ from the chat?

That they had seen him told Eldavin a few things. He was now sensing cautious probe-spells searching for him. They found his decoy and halted, but one passed through Eldavin as he flinched.

Oh, interesting. There was a pause—then a bolt of magic, eight of them, lanced the clone of Eldavin. The body, filled with holes, collapsed, and the probe spells traced around it, again, passing through Eldavin’s magic.

The Archmage lay there, thinking. That was…very interesting.

He wondered who he was up against.

 

——

 

Paxere was excited as she and seven of the Lucifen on ‘guard-duty’ cast more spells.

“Did we get him? Was that it? I thought he was the best Archmage in centuries!”

They were all younger Lucifen, for a given value of ‘younger’. One was the very same Lucifen who had been on duty watching the manor that Visophecin had met. Vultapheles was the oldest and the one who’d sensed Eldavin passing over the border.

Ailendamus might not have. The Lucifen were the primary magical safeguard. Fithea and Rhisveri were both magical geniuses, but the Wyrm’s own protections were closer to the capital.

The Lucifen had far more wide-reaching spells out of paranoia. Even to guard against their own kind.

Indeed, the custom-altered mirror was one Visophecin had personally enchanted to watch for enemies. Even Rhisveri couldn’t hide from it. Visophecin might not have the pure magical power of a full Wyrm, but his expertise was second to none.

As this encounter showed. The eight Lucifen had all been in the manor, having been prohibited from visiting the capital.

Paxere had wanted to do her first ruling, and she had been angry that Igolze and Azemith hadn’t trusted her. They had pointed to some of her interactions with Ryoka as a sign of immaturity.

Well, she had been called upon by Vultapheles and was pleased she had stayed after all. Even if she was young, the Lucifen made sure their children could cast deadly spells. For self-defense.

And for times they might have to go to battle. They were ‘only’ what a [Mage] would classify as a Tier 6 spell.

A Tier 6 spell with the same reputation [Shatterbolt] held at lower levels. A mage-killing, barrier-piercing spell. And the Lucifen had all learned how to remotely cast it.

They’d been surprised by the Archmage’s dive, but they’d found him with location spells and killed him as he tried in vain to heal. The Lucifen had a number of powers, like their ability to gateway to other locations that [Mages] lacked. Their magic required you to know how to counter it or it wouldn’t heal.

“Should we recover the corpse?”

The eight were arguing. None were young—they aged like half-Elves, though they could live forever. So even Paxere was in her thirties. But they had lived through eras of peace, unlike the ‘old’ ones. The old ones remembered the Goblin King, Curulac of a Hundred Days. They had fought him.

Even Paxere could admit—she was glad to have been spared that. Agelum and Lucifen had died, but they had thrown him back at cost. And while her blood was running hot, they were still Lucifen.

“No. Let’s alert Visophecin and the others. Who’s in the manor? The eldest?”

“Ah—Razia?”

The Agelum was no spellcaster, though, so after a moment of hesitation, the Lucifen decided to send a report to the capital. Visophecin might be here in moments, so they relaxed.

And that was their mistake. Their view of the hole they’d cut into the earth never changed, but one of the Lucifen held up his hand.

“Hold on. I think I sense—”

A blaring siren blasted through the manor and the room they were sitting in. All eight Lucifen jumped, and someone shouted.

Magical attack!

Razia came blurring into the room, out of her wheelchair, looking for a sword. The Agelum hurt herself with that movement alone; her frail flesh tore, but she moved faster than anyone could believe.

“What’s happening? Where—Vultapheles?”

More Agelum joined her, scaring the [Servants] to bits with their sudden reaction. They looked around, and Razia cursed.

All eight Lucifen had just—vanished. She grabbed the nearest speaking stone and raised the alarm.

 

——

 

“Good evening. [Chain Lightning].”

It took him four tries to shatter whatever safeguards they had, but Eldavin did it. The hostile teleportation spell had grabbed no less than eight of the strange young men and women, and brought them here.

He burst out of the ground as they staggered and unleashed one prepared spell to see how they took it. It might kill them, but if they were at all competent, it wouldn’t.

And frankly? Eldavin was angry.

But his opponents had made a few mistakes. Eldavin analyzed them as time slowed, to give him a vantage.

Nobility? They had oddly grey skin. Was that a tail? Not Drake—completely foreign but I feel I should know it. More missing memories? Horns too, but not long.

Strange. They smelled of metal and oil, and their eyes were fairly red.

Some species he had never met. Oh—and they were protected. The lightning cracked around them, and he saw barriers flaring, heard cries of pain.

Then the fight began. Eldavin was ready this time, though.

They had made a few mistakes. Or rather, he realized some things about them.

Firstly—they had a powerful artifact that had seen and detected him. But these eight were not on the level of the artifact. For proof? They had missed him when he dove into the earth, and their individual spells had not located him.

They were dependent on it. And they hadn’t the skill to hide where they were casting from. He had located them, and the magic on them had been strong—

But they were overconfident.

He’s alive! Kill him!

Sound the alarm! Tell Vis—

Get to safety, fools!

They all immediately tried to fire back, and Eldavin dodged a spell. He began flicking spells at them. He didn’t want to kill them.

Not yet. But he changed his mind as the first vortex opened and he nearly went into it.

Their offensive magic is on another level! They might not have nuance, but it was like facing a bunch of children with crossbows. No finesse, no tact or ability to scout—but a deadly weapon.

“[Disintegration].”

Eldavin unleashed the spells on his fingers, and one screamed—but an amulet exploded instead.

And they all have Gold-rank gear or better! Who are they?

Eldavin realized their spells were capable of killing him as the Lucifen realized they were outmatched by the angry Archmage. So they tried to run, and he saw them step into…

What is that? Some kind of portal?

He dove, and the closing portal held itself open as a block of magic inserted itself. Eldavin tackled a young man with all the force of a falling meteor. Then he looked up.

“Ah.”

The sky had just turned black. Dark, like the death of suns. Eldavin looked around and saw only blasted ground. He smelled that scent even more now. Oil and metal. And he realized he had made a mistake.

He was in their area.

Seven figures around him. Eldavin looked up and saw them walking on stairways of magic. They vanished through portals, pointing at him.

The black death spells crisscrossed the air as he threw himself sideways in a blur. Eldavin flew. No more games—

“[Arrows of the Lightning Queen]!”

A three hundred arrow salute shot through the sky, fast as electricity could move. And they—missed—the Lucifen.

She was so fast! Paxere ducked into a portal, appeared on Eldavin’s side, and put a hole in his leg. He roared, and light flashed, blinding the others. His finger turned as he healed himself with a potion.

Thresk’s idiotic beam!

This time eight tracers shot from his finger and tried to hit all eight Lucifen. All eight missed.

They tracked their targets peerlessly, but the Lucifen vanished—and reappeared elsewhere.

This area lets them teleport without end. I’ve entered into a place perfect for them.

Eldavin flew. They followed, trying to hit him. He tried to break out.

“[Teleport]. [Emergency Exit]…it has to be a [Dimensional Sh—]. Argh!

He needed time to cast a proper exit spell, but another spell hit him. Dark magic? No, not this time.

A burning cloud of ash and fire engulfed him. Eldavin blew it apart—and ran into a hail of magma. He screamed, though his protective spells spared him the worst of it.

But he was furious.

Fire? They were trying to burn him? The Archmage whirled.

“[Volcanic Rain of the Ash Giant]!”

 

——

 

Paxere did not like fighting for her life after all. Teeth bared, she was poised, dodging the spells coming her way.

This was the Lucifens’ territory, though. The problem was—the Archmage was good. What was saving his life wasn’t just his spells.

They were mostly elemental. He had some kind of penchant for them. As she ducked a meteor of burning ash and fire, Paxere stepped across this battleground and reappeared. She aimed at his back, fired a spell, and he dodged.

What both the Lucifen and Eldavin realized was that the Archmage was a battle-expert. More than spells? More than experience or quick-thinking?

He flew. Even as he cast magic, he was doing a terrain-following maneuver, inches off the ground, whirling around spires of ash, changing course unpredictably. Paxere had never seen anyone fly like that.

He’s quick! If we had our war forms—

“Don’t give him anything. He’s seen us. He has to die.

The other Lucifen were arguing. They would have already left if not for Eldavin seeing their identities. They had to lock him down until Visophecin or one of the others could get here.

They were too weak to kill him, but one shot was all it took, and he couldn’t tag them. The Archmage’s dodging was also limited; if all eight coordinated their shots, even his amazing agility wouldn’t save his life.

He seemed to realize that too. Paxere heard his voice as he created mirror images of himself, weaving across the battlefield.

Slow. Why is [Flight] slow…children. Children are holding me? Children!?”

He was losing his temper. Another bolt of lightning flashed—[Bolt of the Lightning Giant]. But one of the Lucifen sucked it into a void spell with a laugh.

“He doesn’t have the magic to beat us!”

That was it. Paxere did grin, then. The Archmage was using exceptionally economical spells. His mana supply was weaker than theirs. Mockingly, they began throwing fire at him, such that he was flying into clouds of ash and darkness and fire. Paxere aimed her finger and shot six barbs of darkness into the cloud. She drank a potion and heard him scream in pain. She waited for him to emerge as the other Lucifen threw magic into the cloud.

Then she hesitated. Paxere shaded her eyes as the weakening mana-presence of the Archmage suddenly got…a lot brighter. And she realized.

“Oh no. He’s counter-levelling.

She was of course—

Wrong.

 

——

 

His body had so little mana. Because it was a fake! Eldavin thought he even knew the spell he had cast. He had not intended it for battles.

Any Archmage—even Feor and Viltach—had more mana than him. They had Skills to make spells more efficient than they should be.

He was limited, for all his power. And the fury of being ambushed, the embarrassment of realizing children were besting him, and their mockery?

Eldavin snapped. In his fury, he tapped into something that he had forgotten since fighting Cognita. Like a switch in his mind—a reconnected bridge—he reached for what he knew he had.

He tapped into a well of mana like nothing he had ever felt.

A ______’s magic.

“[Wings of the Phoenix].”

The first spell Eldavin cast created two burning wings on his back. The Lucifen saw something break out of the cloud.

A man with white hair. Two pointed ears, two mismatched eyes. And burning wings of feathers that were made up of glorious flame.

Green fire, molded into a feather. Violet flame, licking at the air of this blasted place. The wings beat, and he shot through the sky. Up—one of the Lucifen licked their lips.

“Should we retr—”

“[Cometfall of the Harpy Queen].”

Valmira’s Comets was a Tier 4 spell. Tier 5 was when you used a storm of them. They flew slowly. They did a lot of damage.

Eldavin’s spell conjured bolts of magic that hit the ground so fast and with such velocity that Paxere tasted blood and found herself staring at the ground before she knew what had hit her. Then she saw Eldavin pointing at her.

“[Wave of Mercury].”

The Archmage’s other finger was pointing under his arm. He was struggling with the vast flow of mana, but he felt it. Power without end. Enough to do—

“[Ten Thousand Spriggan Stakes].”

Fast spells. Nothing complex. Fast spells—but a hundred feet ignited around another Lucifen. A third was aiming at Eldavin when the invisible [Fireball] hit him.

“[Spire of Mud].”

…Four. A burning Lucifen, one ensnared in mud, another fried, and the fourth covered in poisonous metal. The last was diving for a doorway.

“[Aquatic Sinkhole].”

The figure took a step into an abyss of water two thousand feet deep.

Five Lucifen were engulfed by spells, but none of them were killed—even the one covered in poison. They were tough, naturally, with magic, artifacts—and the last three of their kin were protecting them.

But they were still children. All the Lucifen aimed at Eldavin, and he saw their teeth lengthening. Their tails…were they trying to change? He didn’t care. He stood around the five he’d hit and sighed.

They didn’t even see it. Then—Eldavin tapped the ground with one foot. Eight dark spells struck him—

And broke as harmlessly as shadows on his skin. The Lucifen looked at their fingers in fear and sudden trepidation. Then the first one that Eldavin had hit glanced down.

“Oh no. Oh, nononono—”

She was covered in mercury, a metal, and Eldavin stood away from her. Across from her—Vultapheles, burned by the fireball, was getting up.

Next to Paxere and Vultapheles, but still at a roughly equidistant position, was the Lucifen who’d been engulfed in mud, still trying to blast his way out. And then across from him was the hole with the Lucifen engulfed by water. One last Lucifen was trying to heal and tear stakes of wood that had torn her flesh.

A Vampire-killer’s spell.

But think about it. Wood, fire, water, metal, earth…that was a very specific combination of elements. The spell didn’t matter.

But the positioning of all five in a rough pentagram around the Archmage did. And so did the ritual he invoked.

“[Pentagram of the Five Alchemies: Protection].”

All five Lucifen embodying an element felt the magic working on them. Taking—their nature! And their spells were suddenly shadows that bounced off the Archmage.

Run! Get to the others! Run—r—

Eldavin looked around as Paxere screamed. She grabbed an emergency artifact and twisted the ring.

The others had done the same. A shimmering set of feathers engulfed all eight. It folded around them, and they began to…vanish? The Archmage’s eyes widened. The spell around him whirled as he pointed.

“[Five Alchemies: Anchorage]!”

The Agelum-made artifact screamed as it met the spell. Paxere shrieked as she felt her entire body pulled back to the safe room by the magic—and her entire being anchored by the spell Eldavin had used, which used her very nature against her. She flickered—the ring exploded

And she collapsed. Eldavin, panting, saw the dimension he’d entered begin to unravel and the real world appear around him. He looked down at the Lucifen girl and winced.

“That is why you don’t use rings but amulets. Their Viscount is coming. So is that damned Duke.”

He swayed, suddenly exhausted, despite the magic buoying him up. The Lucifen girl was unconscious—and the ring had detonated, taking her finger with it.

“This was a mistake. I didn’t expect—”

Eldavin looked around, and a golden chariot appeared. Eldavin leapt into it, and his fiery wings vanished. The Lucifen girl lay in the back as he took off like a meteor, racing back to safety.

Less than a minute later, six figures stepped out of gateways where the fighting had taken place. Three dark-skinned Lucifen, Visophecin included, and three Agelum. They looked around and found no Paxere or Eldavin.

The air seemed…darker…around Visophecin. He looked around, eyes glowing, and adjusted his suit, which looked like the cloth had been made from something other than mere fabric.

“This will mean retribution. If she is dead—”

Azemith had found a single scorched finger. Igolze stood over it, face blank—but that was only how he looked. Gadrea, Uziel, and the third Agelum who had been at the capital when they got the alert looked at each other.

“It will, Azemith. But hold.”

“If she is dead—”

“He has a Lucifen. Hold your ground.

Azemith held, and Visophecin nodded.

“Clear the area. Igolze, Azemith, with me. We must speak to Ryoka Griffin. Now.”

The immortals vanished. After five minutes, the ground appeared grassy and normal, and nothing, not even a magical footprint, hinted they’d been there.

 

——

 

Archmage Eldavin realized three things after that battle. Firstly, he was an idiot who had rushed in, overconfident of his abilities. Or perhaps…he hadn’t realized who was truly behind Ailendamus’ rise to power.

Because whoever they were—they were on par with true [Archmages].

Regardless, the second point was that whoever he was, he flew. He didn’t fly or move like a fool with [Levitation]—he had flown battlefields.

Third? He now had access to a mana supply that dwarfed even the current Archmages of Wistram. So next time—

Well, next time he’d have the mana to cast any truly powerful spell he wanted.

But the danger was now that Ailendamus was aware of him. Yet he did have a hostage.

Eldavin landed in Wistram’s camp and began casting the highest-level security spells he could, drawing on that mana from his true body without reserve, ignoring the babbled questions. He’d cloaked the girl.

Be safe. Be protected. Even Rhisveri wouldn’t be able to challenge him on his home-turf, with all this magic. But when he left it—he was in danger.

That was the new situation. Eldavin pulled enough magic to cast a Tier 7 ward, and Telim fainted dead away. There was no time to hide it.

It was a tremendous amount of mana. Eldavin knew even his body didn’t have enough to cast Tier 7 spells without reserve. Even the greatest [Mages] he had ever known could cast one Tier 9 spell and then lie in a corner and die for the next three weeks.

How much am I drawing from my body? He didn’t know. He couldn’t feel it. But he pulled as much as he could to keep himself safe.

By the time he was done, an army could have charged him, and he could have walked naked in front of every [Mage] in the Terras faction as they did everything they could and he’d be safe.

That was all Eldavin could do for a temporary fix. But he was…

Afraid. He was up against foes who could kill him, and he suspected—no, he knew—that he had fought eight children. And their parents or guardians or something else were out there.

So that was why, panting, he walked into the tent. He heard his heart beating.

Lub. Dub. Lub. Dub.

Faster, now. It sounded labored. Eldavin cloaked the room in more magic and saw his captive sitting there.

“I am a member of Ailendamus. You do not want to kill me.”

Paxere was calm, or looked like it, as Eldavin came to a stop. The Archmagus snorted softly.

“Kill you? My dear, I am not an idiot.”

That was good, and she relaxed, but the Archmage didn’t look ready to let her go. He sealed the tent with privacy spells, then walked over to her and took a seat.

Wearily. She could not believe how much mana he’d just used. She had felt it outside. Even Rhisveri would struggle to use that much. Surely that had a consequence?

But his face didn’t show it. The ‘half-Elf’ sat there and regarded Paxere. He did not waste time, immediately asking questions.

“Who is Viscount Visophecin? Who is Duke Rhisveri, and what is your nature?”

She bit her tongue.

“No answer? I must know.”

“I will tell you nothing. Torturing me will not work!”

She was—nervous. Insofar as the Lucifen ever got afraid. Not just of the torture. Eldavin eyed Paxere.

“Ah. Death spells for revealing it. That—might be complicated. Of course. It’s too much to hope I’m facing idiots, isn’t it?”

He scrubbed at his hair and looked exceptionally tired. Then he smiled, and his mismatched eyes lit up with a cold fire.

“I suppose I must not condescend, but use everything. Fascinating. I haven’t felt this way in—”

He caught himself and looked at her. Sympathetically. Paxere was staring at the stump on her hand. He’d healed it, but her finger? She was an immortal, and regeneration potions were not easy.

He would pay for that. But the Lucifen saw Eldavin sigh.

“Alas. What is your name, young woman?”

She glared at him. The Archmage shrugged.

“I will find out soon enough. And I…well. I apologize in advance for what you may have to endure during this captivity. Hopefully, I will secure the release of those I desire, but it seems like this may not come to a happy end.”

The ones he desired? Who? Paxere watched him as Eldavin began murmuring spells. Then…he produced something, and she hissed.

“What are you doing? I am a prisoner and a noble of Ailendamus.”

“I quite understand. And believe me, I take no joy in this. But I do not know you. I shall endeavor to make it painless…but I need to know my enemy.”

The Archmage produced a single spark of lightning, then fire, and then ice, and set them on a palette of magic. He made the first dance on her skin, frowning at the way fire barely tickled her hand. Paxere watched him and grew more nervous still.

Two cold eyes watched her. Cold…but made more chilling still because she saw the little pinpoints of fear behind the half-Elf’s gaze. She began to grimace, as he tried to see what hurt her. And…she knew she was a Lucifen in his captivity. Rhisveri and Visophecin and the others might well crush him, but if he told the rest of the world what House Shoel was…

She did not want to die. And she feared that the Archmage of Memory would never forget this moment. What would it mean for Ailendamus? For everyone?

 

——

 

Eldavin’s heart hurt. With emotion, as much as anything.

You do not treat prisoners like that. Not like experiments to find their weaknesses. What was he doing?

Surviving. He was afraid. Eldavin began to draw up plans for more protections, tried to figure out his next move. He had [Messages] from Ailendamus. And word of a disastrous loss on the Dawn Concordat’s side.

“Damn them. Am I the only competent person here?”

Eldavin shouted, losing his temper. He sat there and realized his hands were trembling. He did not want to die.

His time was running out.

The Archmage of Memory sat there, wondering what was next, what to do, and who he was. Until the wind whispered an answer. He looked up and heard Ryoka Griffin’s name.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: Day two is tougher. I need to keep stretching, keep sleeping good, and keep to the plan.

Which I did! Okay. True. I had this entire part as ‘also in maybe day 1’s chapter’, but I think we all knew that wasn’t going to happen. And I also had ‘maybe squeeze in Rabbiteater and/or Ryoka’.

I’m bad at estimating word count. It’s just not something I think in terms of. However, I got the chapter done and that’s what matters! I hope you enjoyed it?

Day 2 of 7. Is it too fast? Is it what you want? Do you want to see this person next? Or that? Let me know! I have a plan and I think it’ll work. That’s all from me for now. Please give extra heart, hands, and maybe a brain.

 

Duck, Mrsha Heart, Sheared Sariant and more by Kalmia!

 

Crusader 57 and Feeding Time by AuspiciousOctopi!

 

Erin, Throwing-Pan Ready by VulpyDoodlesStudios, commissioned by ShiningSpanner

 


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48 thoughts on “8.70 E

  1. Leave a typo if you have a secret identity! Or if you’re a secret simulacra. Are you batman? Is batman real?

    (Secret readers: Gorexn, MrWiggles, Quynin, Litwickee, dradford)

  2. Thanks Pirate another excellent chapter.

    I think everyone would agree that it is better for us to wait for chapters than you having burn out.

    Look after yourself, we all care for our favourite author.

    • I agree, it feels a bit more satisfying to have an author who is able to write at their strongest capacity rather than to have a burnout moment with chapters that barely scrape the imaginative depth I’ve come to expect. Also I’ve heard it is important to have enough off-time to refill the well so to speak. This chapter is definitely an example of the depth I expect.

  3. spent this whole chapter thinking it was an erin chapter, very anxious why it was following Eldavin the whole time given his thought process…

    prettty apparent from the two viewpoints we’ve seen so far, and their content, that they’re nothing but one giant deathflag.

    • Could just be a false flag though. Seems unlikely pirate would kill off her only dragon character in a less than glorious fashion, let alone against a second-tier – being generous – villain like Rhis.

      • I don’t think big T is going to die maybe his simulacrum is destroyed and he’s wounded badly and out of the story for a while. I definitely think he’s going to be needed later on in the story.

  4. Why doesn’t Edalvin go to his lair and see what he is? I thought he made his archmage assistant lay down those greater teleport relays or whatever so he could quickly go there and see.

    • I don’t think he’d be able to get in. He sealed up his cave tightly to safeguard his body, and without the magical “password” that he no longer remembers I think he’d be stuck outside.

  5. Oh my god. He’s split into two, his memories are chunked into two sections, he feels opposite pulls between doing nothing and doing everything…

    Because he told Ryoka (Erin? I dont remember) he would do everything in _half measures._

    • >He’s split into two, his memories are chunked into two sections, he feels opposite pulls

      And he’s beating the stuffing out of everything he encounters.

  6. “Ailendamus would not take this lying down lightly.”
    seems like a mishmash of sayings. perhaps better simplified to:
    “Ailendamus would not take this lying down.”
    or:
    “Ailendamus would not take this lightly.”

  7. In the first section when the first Marquin was speaking, she made reference to the Antinium.

    Strange bard of the insects.

    Huh, he has been alive all this time?

    That’s like centuries old.
    Wow.

    I know they have the Rite, but still it means the Rhir Antinium retained their old might.

  8. Oh wow, this chapter was amazing! So much Eldavin development, plus it’s ways nice to see him astonishing everyone he comes across.

    I’m surprised he was able to start drawing from the Gods it seems like, or certainly some source of divine magic.

  9. Things are starting to make a little sense. On top of the damage from the battle with Cognita, is Emmerhain tampering with his mind so he doesn’t think “Dragon”?

  10. I hope you enjoy all of this writing, to me that’s all that matters I’ll always enjoy reading it so will my roommate who poked me every day until I’d start it

  11. Yeah please don’t kill Teriarch/Eldavin. I rember reading if the vessel dies the backlash could be severe enough to kill the caster. I hope he survives and keeps up this gung-ho roll he’s been on

  12. Feedback: the end of the chapter was rough in a way I’ve seen in a few of your chapters. It feels like you are aiming for something evocative that doesn’t come through. Either that or its a matter of taste.

    What are other people’s thoughts?

  13. So… We know where another piece of the heartfire set is. And it’s owned as an heirloom artifact in Drath with a bound spell associated with it.

    Juggernaut – Heartfire Blade

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