Ryoka Griffin took one moment to reflect upon her failings on her journey to meet the Archmage of Memory.
Just one. Perhaps it wasn’t even a true failing. The thing was—
She didn’t kill people. She was neither good at it nor did she have the ability to look at someone and do it.
No, seriously. Even Persua. Even that wretched girl who had broken Ryoka’s leg, tried to kill her by switching her healing potions for mana potions, and threatened Ivolethe.
Ryoka felt that was a normal thing. People fantasized about murder all the time, often in mundane office or workplace settings. But the number of people who would actually act on that impulse were low.
Infidelity, drunken fights, accidents—that was one thing. But if there was one thing this world had a monopoly on, it was a different mentality when it came to death. There were soldiers on Earth, or people who saw death far too often.
Killing—be it monsters or people or ‘monsters’ like Goblins—was more common here. Ryoka didn’t want to do it. And she thought that was fine.
Yet there was a lot of blood implicitly on Ryoka’s hands if she could not stop Tyrion’s advance. He had not gone to war just for her, but Sammial, the very real threat Ailendamus posed, and the kidnapping. Ryoka was culpable in that from trying to steal from Rhisveri, but the greatest good she could do was get him to turn back.
Rhisveri was open to the idea. That was the role Ryoka was willing, wanted to play. However…she came to a rest on one of the flat plateaus of Kaliv.
The mountain range bordered not only the north, but parts of Pheislant and Gaiil-Drome’s south. Ryoka could see some very tall trees to the south.
Ironically, there was actually different elevation in the forest nation too. Some trees were distinctly larger; a different species that occupied one corner? It must be fascinating, but Ryoka doubted she’d find three friendly kings and a magic sword in there. Or a Nama.
Maybe? If there were anywhere to go, it was further west of Gaiil-Drome, but not to Pheislant on the western coast. Ryoka might stop, if she had the time, and look over the land that even Terandrians had not yet reclaimed.
The blasted kingdom of Silvaria, still filled with death magic, where the Necromancer had once been.
The wind blew a cool breeze over the flat ground, filled with sparse and rather unpleasant weeds. But Ryoka’s wrapped feet felt none of the pricker-thorns from the long, flat weeds bursting through the rocky soil. Their long needle-spines on dark green leaves kept trying to lacerate the soles of her feet. It wasn’t mean; just self defense to keep her from stepping on them or eating them.
It didn’t work, of course. From her toes to her ankles, Ryoka’s feet were covered by the fae-wraps. Ryoka could literally hop up and down on glass and not feel a thing.
A gift from the lands of the fae. Even the giant goat-herd native to Kaliv grazing nearby gave Ryoka a look of grudging respect.
For her part, she eyed the massive goats who would make a bull think twice about rushing them. They weren’t as large as bulls, but they would outnumber one angry bovine, and they had huge horns.
“What do you eat to get this big?”
The goats chewed down on the tough weeds. None of your business. She felt that was fair. There was a point at which Ryoka had to just…understand that Ailendamus was Ailendamus. Events were happening.
“I just have to do my part so I don’t regret it later. I can’t save everyone.”
Right on, sister. A possibly-female Goat gave her a bowel movement of approval. Ryoka sighed. It beat talking to herself.
She pulled something out—well, two things—and the wind obligingly died down a bit to let her take a look at them.
Even in Ailendamus, even her private rooms, Ryoka had been very careful not to fiddle with either object that much. Especially not around anyone intelligent like Visophecin or the Agelum.
Rhisveri was an odd case; he was too reliant on his magic. Plus, he’d seen the strange technological blade break on his scales, so he didn’t see it as a threat. But Ryoka had asked for a [Translation] spell, and Visophecin had obligingly scribed it and asked why she needed it.
Well. Ryoka stared down at the alien writing as it made sense before her eyes. She had already read a bit of it, but now was the time for some quick studying.
Honestly—it was a bit embarrassing. If Ryoka had had even a week without someone trying to kill her, she felt she could have figured it out. The thing was—aliens weren’t stupid.
Oh, sure, give them some context. This was definitely a rush job. Ryoka didn’t know how long the Faerie King had given them, but they had clearly printed this off, and their technicians had rushed to figure out how to explain a modern, state-of-the-art weapon and all its functions to what was essentially a hairless monkey with rounded toenails.
It was like if she had to try to teach a monkey how to use a smartphone.
…Monkeys could use smartphones. Literally, they could use some apps and they could swipe, a skill older Humans failed to master. So it was definitely possible. But Ryoka still appreciated the logical way the aliens had done it.
First—images. Pictograms, but they had clearly realized that their concepts of even basic ideas were different from Ryoka’s. For instance, now she saw the basic instruction to squeeze the grip. How would Humans tell you to do that?
Well, with a diagram of squeezing the handle, maybe with arrows. The aliens took the opposite approach, highlighting the area and adding a symbol that Ryoka now realized meant ‘weight’. To her, it looked like a series of dots, increasing in size.
“Some kind of universal symbol for mass? Mass generates gravity…analogous to weight. They had multiple species in their federation. I mean—we have a weird one-ton block to symbolize weight.”
Maybe it just meant ‘force’. An increase in magnitude.
The point was, the engineers had tried to approximate symbols that even an…alien…would understand. But they’d done it on the fly. Probably with, what, hours or less to work this up?
So the pictograms and illustrations were part of the instructions, but then they’d run into the issue that modern technology had. Yes, you could tell the monkey to swipe left to get another picture or reject someone on Tinder or a dating app. But how did you tell the Ryoka that in order to repair a possibly damaged screen, you had to get a specialized screwdriver, open the casing, apply a gravitron solvent, etc. etc?
There were functions on this simple sword sidearm that were advanced. Ryoka supposed this was akin to an omnitool; it certainly seemed like it had a lot of functions.
She’d seen actual blueprints for buildings that had less space than this. At least the alien paper neither creased nor got dirty nor damaged.
Now—in order to solve the issue of having to just write their instructions, the aliens had given her a cipher. They had written their entire alphabet and generated all the codewords and syntax in the upper right-hand corner. But…uh…
It was still hard. Ryoka flushed with embarrassment. She was sure she could have gotten it! Just give her a few months of study. The problem was, they were trying to teach someone an entire language with no context, so they had filled the entire upper right corner with sample phrases. Some amusing ones—at least with [Translation] on.
The Federation is made up of equal peoples. Do not attack each other or we will punish you.
But they had broken it down, so it looked like
(The Federation)-is-(made up)-of-(equal)-(people).
Each word was clearly denoted, such that Ryoka could have inferred ‘The Federation’ was a proper noun, and ‘is’ was a connecting word. She took (made up) as a single word and wondered if the [Translation] spell was faulty.
“Wait. Does this just mean ‘comprised’?”
She tapped ‘made up’, and the word changed before her eyes to ‘comprised’. Instantly, the manual shifted slightly, and Ryoka saw more complicated words appearing. Her mouth worked silently.
“Motherf—I still have to be intelligent?”
Maybe this spell wasn’t as good as a Tier 6 [Translation] spell or something. What would that even look like? More nuance? Translating things without words?
Talking to goats?
One of the goats had plodded over, and Ryoka shooed it away.
“Go. Go. You really don’t want to get near this. Okay…”
She was studying the advanced functions, her ruminations on the nature of communication aside. Ryoka had gotten very little from gingerly experimenting with the handle. Squeeze it, bop it, throw it at the wall—it didn’t seem to let her do much other than turn it off and on and a few other functions.
Because no alien soldier wanted to pull up the help file during combat. The goat watched, possibly eying Ryoka’s hair as a nutritious meal as she cursed.
“So that’s why nothing works. Alright. Damnit. They did underline that. But they don’t underline the same way—”
She sighed, stopped making excuses, and placed a finger in the center of the hilt. This was definitely not meant for rapid configuration, although she could hotkey some functions by the looks of it.
“I’m not touching that. Okay. Finger here…tap here…and now I give it three squeezes?”
She got absolutely zero response from the sword hilt, which made her feel like an idiot. But then she saw a flicker, and the Kaliv goat and Ryoka saw a glowing interface rise out of the Faeblade where the sword would normally be. The bleating goat fled as Ryoka stared at what was probably a well-designed interface…covered with more translated words and options.
There were, on this first screen alone, about sixty-eight options, each in their own sub-menus. Ryoka covered her face. Then she eyed one button.
It had to be a translation approximating the word to her understanding of it. But Ryoka still…eyed ‘Communications’ and gingerly tapped it.
Instantly, the menu changed, and she saw ‘Battle Group’, ‘Victory Commander’, and ‘Ship’. Oh—and ‘Emergency Broadcast’.
It looked like these were not regular options, and ‘Emergency Broadcast’ had a number of warning symbols attached to it. Ryoka hesitated for a long time, but tapped ‘Battle Group’, then tried the other frequencies.
She learned that aliens had a dial tone too. Also—there was no one in range. Ryoka wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. Then again, she didn’t know if she wanted to meet aliens in this world.
She went back to inspecting the functions. There were some cool things she wanted to try, but she had a purpose. And…she looked at the Faeblade.
She named it that, the Windsword, because it was good cover and it had come from the lands of the fae as much as space-faring aliens. But she never forgot what Oberon had said.
The time has come for you to do more than run.
The goats were getting tired of Ryoka’s crap—or lack thereof—by now, and the bright light she kept generating was hurting their eyes. It was getting dark. She was an uninvited guest.
They were just getting ready to eject her by literally ramming her off the plateau when she activated a different setting on what she now knew was a Hetshal-knife. The goats nearly went blind—took one look at what Ryoka had just created, and ran for it. Ryoka gulped.
“Okay. Okay. I’ve got it, Faerie King, aliens. But…who am I fighting?”
She had a feeling this sword wasn’t going to kill the enemies of Oberon himself. So. So…Ryoka stood up and, prepared, holstered the Faeblade. She took a breath, then leapt into the air to reach her destination by evening.
She had wanted to meet him. Feared the strange answers she’d gotten. Come to one terrible conclusion. But still.
When she found the Archmage of Memory, Ryoka Griffin was not prepared.
The Wind Runner landed in the Archmage of Memory’s camp and looked around, almost as wide-eyed as Flynn.
“Fuck me. Is that her?”
The Australian man breathed as he straightened. Pokey, his Needlehound dog, raced forwards, and Flynn called out.
“Pokey! No! Back!”
Heads rose at his shout, but Ryoka had already been seen. A [Mage] had escorted her into camp, and they’d nearly stopped her before Eldavin had told them to let her in.
He had spotted her. By now, there wasn’t a grasshopper on a leaf ten miles away he couldn’t spot.
The magic hummed in this camp, such that the Order of Seasons were complaining that some of their [Knights] who could see magic were nearly blind. Eldavin had told them to adjust their vision. Flynn was not used to this world, but he had the exact same look as the [Knights] and even Wistram’s [Mages].
This was the age of legends come to life. He was one of the Earthers who had come with Eldavin to Terandria. In fact, one of the last Earthers in Wistram’s custody since so many had fled.
Flynn had a lot of feelings on that, including Trey never telling him what he was planning. But he had gone with Eldavin, and his reward was superhero armor. He didn’t feel like he’d lost out, but he wished he had gone with Trey or talked with the guy more.
Pokey sniffed the Wind Runner and raced back. As the dog with aggressively-pointy fur did, the [Mage] landed somewhat unsteadily next to Ryoka.
He had robes and was far, far less graceful than Ryoka Griffin. She touched down, one foot wrapped in some pale linen, coming to rest on the ground as lightly as a feather.
High Mage Telim landed like a frog in a squat and groaned.
“My back! I do not know how you do that, Courier Griffin. It’s clearly practice. And I get fairly disoriented in the sky. Well—just as well the spell keeps me upright. Someone tried to do a loop-de-loop and threw up. But since they were doing a circle, they hit themselves.”
Clearly, Flynn had missed some banter. The young man hurried over as he heard a female voice, not accented as he’d presumed, but American, replying.
“I—yes. Lots of practice. Be very careful at high speeds. Thank you, [High Magus], was it?”
“High Magus Telim, at your service. Terras faction.”
He even had the symbol on his robes. Eldavin had just decided on the design—it looked from afar like a Venn diagram. And it would probably be reduced to that for the sake of secrecy. But if you looked closer…you’d realize they weren’t two circles, but two worlds, overlapping.
A message for the future. Flynn thought it was subtle enough. But Ryoka noticed it. And she noticed him in a moment. Well, Flynn couldn’t resist being cheeky about it.
“G’day, Miss Courier. Are you Ryoka Griffin? The Wind Runner?”
If there was ever a way to tell someone where you were from…she looked at him. Flynn waited for a shout or exclamation, but she had met people like him before. How else could she contain herself, blink a few times, then take his hand and shake it firmly.
“That’s me. But you can call me a yankee if you want.”
He laughed, then blinked as he realized the hand that shook his was firm—and missing two fingers. Ryoka noticed the gaze.
“No, sorry. Fuck. I’m making a fool out of myself.”
He felt instantly embarrassed by drawing attention to it, but the Wind Runner smiled.
“Drawbacks of the work. And you’re…with Archmage Eldavin’s Terras faction? I just landed. Er—High Magus. Is he expecting…?”
She looked around and found the Archmage’s tent. Well, tent was a strong word.
It was more like the concept of a tent transmogrified into an actual building via light-magic. It glowed with solid light construction, even actual stone—smooth as glass—that Eldavin had raised. Unlike a lesser construct, Eldavin had informed Flynn that it would ‘fold up’ and be able to be redeployed wherever he wanted.
This camp was still mobile since they were advancing into Ailendamus, but Eldavin was making something permanent. A powerful fortress unto itself.
Walls of light magic. Even guard-towers that [Mages] were practicing spells in, practically bunkers they could rain death down from.
Oh—and Golems and soldiers. Not the Order of Seasons. The [Knights] had agreed to attack on their own front.
Animated Earth Golems and spectral, summoned warriors. Eldavin was a peerless [Summoner] along with everything else he wanted, and so he had conjured a small army of defensive constructs. Once those [Mages] learning his magic mastered their spells, Eldavin had said that Terras might send up to two thousand soldiers into battle without so much as meeting the enemy.
‘Sip Sage’s Tea and win wars.’
That was one facet of this camp. It hurt Flynn’s head to take it all in. He had no idea how the Wind Runner wasn’t freaking out.
Because he thought that, he clearly didn’t know Ryoka Griffin. But her poker face was good, so she faced him and High Mage Telim as the man caught his breath.
“Archmage Eldavin will see you shortly, Miss Ryoka. Just give me a second—he doubtless knows you’re here. And don’t worry about, ah, covertacy. We all know you’re from Earth.”
She jumped as if someone had goosed her, and Flynn reassured her.
“Everyone at Wistram knows. At least, everyone in Eldavin’s faction who’s [High Mage] or higher. There were lots of us—recently. This is a whole story. Let me try again. I’m Flynn, from Australia. Melbourne, most recently. And this is Pokey. Don’t pet her; she’s got needle fur.”
Ryoka looked at the dog sniffing her, at Flynn, and blinked a few times. She saw two more Earthers hurrying over, the [Mages], all the magic in camp, and said…
Very little. She just drank it in. Telim flew off, still trying to master the [Levitation] spell he’d been taught. Ryoka Griffin watched him go. Faintly, she spoke.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed too, Flynn. Hi, Pokey, is it? That [High Mage] is using [Levitation]? Not [Flight], he said.”
“Yep. That’s Telim. A good sort.”
Ryoka nodded and glanced at Flynn.
“He seems that way. You know, [Personal Levitation] is considered a Tier 5 spell. It’s also complex enough—especially if you get it wrong—that virtually no [Mages] in the modern era use it. Only [Grand Mages] would be expected to know the spell. Archmage Valeterisa is the only [Mage] I have ever personally met capable of casting that.”
Flynn blinked at her rather in-depth knowledge of magic.
“I dunno about the specifics, but all that’s changed with magic. Archmage Eldavin’s been revolutionizing spellcasting for everyone. Even I’m thinking of picking it up—but I like the armor. Do you…know about that?”
He nodded to the gleaming stand of armor that he’d been working on, customizing elements to his liking. Ryoka gazed at the suit of plate armor, magically enhanced to let the wearers fly, cast lower-tier spells, and perform other magical feats. They had weaknesses; you could run out of casting power, and you weren’t invincible…but it turned any volunteer into someone on-par with a Level 30 [Warrior], if not in powerful Skills, then in utility.
She nodded briefly and looked at Flynn.
“The entire world saw it. I cannot believe my eyes. Oh—hi.”
“Are you from Earth? Oh my god!”
Someone ran forwards, and Ryoka Griffin was caught in a desperate hug. Flynn lost the chance to talk to her as more people came to introduce themselves. He wanted to catch her and insist they sit down and talk. Something about the way she’d looked when he mentioned Melbourne…
High Magus Telim came back for Ryoka, puffing and saying the Archmage would see her now. Not just him; the Summer’s Champion, Greysten, had spotted a Courier coming in and had requested a spot—after Eldavin.
“I have to go. I’m sorry. It’s great to meet you all…I want to chat. I really do. If possible, I’ll definitely stay and talk.”
Ryoka had to pry herself free of the others. She turned to Flynn, and he nodded reasonably as Pokey begged for scraps from Telim, the infinite bounty of food.
“No problem. I understand—a girl’s gotta fly, right?”
For the first time, she actually blinked and grinned at that. Ryoka gave Flynn an honest smile, breaking out of the blank look as she saw all of the magic and Eldavin’s faction around her. Just for a second.
“Absolutely. Melbourne was where you came from?”
“Yep. Have you ever been there?”
“Uh…some airport in Australia. I was young. Tell me—Flynn, right?”
He nodded. Ryoka pointed at him.
“Do you know a ‘Daly Sullivan’?”
The mention of his best friend’s name struck Flynn speechless. Everyone else looked at Ryoka as he surged forwards.
“Do you know Daly? Where is he? Have you met…?”
Ryoka shook her head and kept shaking it as Flynn realized he had to let her speak. She looked him in the eye.
“All I know is that he got grabbed too. People noticed you were missing. He might be somewhere in this world. If…”
If he’s not dead. Flynn stood there and felt a mix of hope and dread. Ryoka pointed at him.
“We’ll talk once I get out of there.”
“Yeah. Definitely. Thank you—thank you for telling me.”
He watched her go. Ryoka trotted into the Archmage’s tent, and he wondered who the heck she was. She had gazed at this amazing display of magic without losing her mind. As if she had been stunned—but not surprised.
Flynn had seen monsters, survived in Chandrar, and befriended Pokey in the time he’d been here. He’d gone through some very rough patches and seen a lot of good and ill.
He wondered what she’d seen if she didn’t blink at this. Then Flynn thought of his friend. And wondered if Daly were still out there. If he were—Flynn would find him. After all, he had magical armor.
Ryoka Griffin had seen a brass Dragon, scales gleaming like a different kind of gold, in a cave too small to truly encompass him, surrounded by wonders.
Multiple times, mind you. There was no experience she could ever equate to her first meeting with a true immortal, even as he was.
She would never forget that. As she trotted through Archmage Eldavin’s camp, though, Ryoka realized something.
She had seen a majesty of old, a legend hidden away and napping.
This was like seeing it all in its fullness. Like a flower that had closed as it slept—in full bloom, Eldavin’s power was all around her.
The Wind Runner was shaking so bad she was surprised no one saw, especially Flynn. Was it right to tell…?
Don’t think about it. Do what you believe is right. She believed telling him about Daly was right. Maybe tell him about Cara?
…No. She looked at the person in armor practicing flying over her head.
“Gravity magic. Nothing as adept as using wind currents to fly. Grand Magus—excuse me, Archmage Eldavin did point you out as a lesson in proper flight. He is a superb flier—the Garuda can’t match him, you know. We rely on telekinetic and gravitational magic. We fly like Drakes, in short.”
Telim was showing her up the hill to Eldavin’s…tent. It looked more like a magical fort, and Ryoka was sure the inside had dimensional magic.
The wind told her that; it was far larger on the inside than outside. She turned to Telim.
“And Eldavin made that?”
“In his spare time. Hah! It took him a single day to design the armor, and we were prototyping it within that span. Not that he didn’t have something to work off of. A young man from Earth—Aaron?”
“I know him. He made it?”
“He designed the concept. But I think it’s based on some concepts from your world?”
“Superheroes. Yes. Iron Man?”
Telim chuckled, and Ryoka felt so incredibly odd speaking to someone who got any reference from Earth.
“Yes! We have multiple devices from your world. The Archmage has even speculated about using memory magic to let people share more stories. Safely, of course. But that’s just the man, isn’t it? What you can think of—he can do. It’s the Archmages of old, coming to the present. I must tell you, I’m a fan. But I take it you know each other, so look at me blathering. Do excuse me.”
“Not at all.”
Ryoka was surprised at how cool she was. Even inside. It was like someone had taken their hand off the Ryoka-panic valve. Or it had overloaded and she was just…looking at it all.
Magic unleashed. She compared this with the scope of magic she knew. It was not hard.
Let’s take…Ceria. Or no, Falene. A proper, Wistram-trained Gold-rank. Practically at the highest-level of [Mage] you could expect to find. A semi-renowned name.
Or Grimalkin, even. Capable of fighting a Frost Wyvern Lord. The Strongest Mage in Pallass.
Neither one could fly. Maybe Grimalkin could cast the spell—but Ryoka suspected he considered it a waste of mana when he could run and too slow.
But could he create Golems? No. And these were new. Neither one could permanently just…create a building when they wanted to.
The thing that struck her the most was the armor. Flying armor that could let you shoot lightning bolts.
“Eldavin made that. How hard is it for him to make…any of this?”
Telim scratched at his beard.
“Well, if he needed to, I imagine he could make a suit of armor like that within an hour. Less, but he’d spend time adjusting it and experimenting. The man has more mana than I can blink at—he must have been holding back in Wistram! The only limit on him is time. Why, he’s promised to help Sa’la do a semi-permanent shapechanging spell into a Naga’s body. Pardon me, she’s a Selphid. She won’t be able to reverse it until she masters magic, but it would be a huge incentive for all Selphids.”
“So—he’s going to polymorph a Selphid into another species? A Naga?”
The plump [Mage] was a nice man. Indeed, he’d offered Ryoka a puff pastry, which she’d declined. He’d even cast [Stonehand] to pet the Needlehound dog and fed it some jerky.
“Yes, indeed. I know what you must be thinking. A Naga. Why not a Lamia or half-Elf? If I were to try it, maybe I’d become a Minotaur. But then—ah, no accounting for taste, eh?”
His wink let Ryoka know that he knew how ridiculous and amazing all this was. Ryoka smiled back.
Permanent shape changing. Armies of summoned warriors. Flying people. And Eldavin had just mass-teleported them all from Wistram and annihilated an army himself.
Oh—and he’d just outfought eight Lucifen and taken one prisoner. Ryoka Griffin had wondered, in her spare time, as she begged him to deal with the Goblin Lord or Az’kerash, lambasted him for staying put and not doing anything, what it would look like if a Dragon truly brought himself to care and intercede in the world once more.
This was her answer.
It was too much to believe, even seeing it up-close. Polymorphing? Ironically, if Eldavin had only done one of these things, she’d be in full freakout-mode.
But she was here, and he was so close…Telim moved the flap aside, the only part of the tent that actually remained.
“He should be just inside. He told me to send you right in—no one else can even step into his tent. I understand there was some kind of incident, so he’s rather touchy. But he wanted to see you. I hope we’ll be able to talk later, Miss Ryoka. Perhaps you can teach me how to fly.”
“Yes, thank you.”
Then she entered Eldavin’s tent.
If this were a cliché, Eldavin would have been talking on a phone or something analogous when Ryoka entered his tent, and she would have been left waiting.
She was not. The Archmage of Memory sat at a wide table that looked rather expensive, perhaps a gift, writing on a scroll of pristine paper. He glanced up, saw her, and let the quill hang there, mid-word.
“Ryoka. There you are.”
The Wind Runner, predictably, froze. But the first thing that happened in that moment of shock, of seeing him, the tall, impossibly perfect half-Elf with mismatched eyes, so familiar, was that Eldavin stepped forwards and hugged her.
It was a tight, quick squeeze, then he stepped back and regarded her, hands resting on her shoulders, looking her up and down with keen insight.
And they knew.
Ryoka glanced at the scroll Eldavin was working on, around the room. It had all of the paraphernalia of a true [Mage], but he hadn’t had time yet to let it devolve; there were multiple rooms adjoining this one. Dimensional magic indeed. What might have been a bedroom to the right and more workstations and so on to the left.
She didn’t see Paxere. Eldavin just stepped back.
“I confess, Ryoka, I am surprised to see you. Sit. Will you take food, drink?”
That brief pause was so fast that neither one spoke on it, but Ryoka had seen his eyes change. She had seen it at once.
This was not Teriarch. And he knew that she knew…something. But what?
“No, thank you. I haven’t seen you in a long time, Eldavin. This—this is wild.”
That was the understatement of everything. Eldavin sat and gestured, and two teacups appeared and filled with some lightly-scented tea anyways. Ryoka pulled out a high-backed chair and sat. The Archmage steepled his fingers and shrugged.
“Yes, well. I took you at your word. Half-assing it, I believe? After I saw the mess Wistram was in, I confess, I lost patience.”
A slow blink was all she gave him. So he remembered that? Eldavin went on.
“Then you got yourself kidnapped. By a second powerful magic user. My entry into Ailendamus’ war was motivated by that and my personal distaste for the nation when I studied them…but it is an odd thing to see you here. I have countless questions as to how you left. But I am sure you can explain. And as I note—it is not truly an escape, is it?”
He had noticed the restraining bangle on her arm the instant he looked over. Eldavin reached out, and Ryoka stopped him.
“I think it will literally liquidate me if I try to remove it.”
The half-Elf nodded.
“Sensible. So I will deactivate the magic and remove it—or you may return, inert, depending on how you feel. It is perfectly safe; the magic is made well, but it is not superior to mine.”
Ryoka hesitated, then nodded. So he began to work on the bangle; she lost track of the magic he was using in the first minute. It was so complex, yet he kept up the light banter with her.
“Magnolia Reinhart did speak to me as well. She was rather odd. Or found me odd, I suspect. I must imagine after our last conversations you felt the same way.”
“You…did refuse to do anything, even stop a Goblin Lord. Now you’re handing out Tier 5+ spells like they’re candy.”
The half-Elf laughed softly.
“Thank you for being direct. I—dislike admitting it, but I may have been wrong.”
That sounded so much like him that Ryoka lifted her head.
“May have been?”
Eldavin exhaled and glowered at her. She imagined a Dragon huffily blowing smoke in her direction.
“I was wrong. In part! I stand by my statements, but it is a disgraceful situation that Wistram is in. Morally and magically bankrupt. They treated the children of another world like toys and frankly—their own number as well. Did you hear about Archmage Amerys escaping?”
Ryoka bookmarked this for later, and Eldavin gave her the briefest of rundowns.
“Another issue. The King of Destruction, other people discovering Earthers—just this morning, someone finally deigned to mention how many were in the Blighted Kingdom. Too many to be coincidental or even accidentally discovered. Well, Silvenia, the Death of Magic, might well be behind your appearances. I noticed the magic twisting towards Rhir, but I thought it might have something to do with your meeting the fae.”
Ryoka frowned deeply as she took a sip of tea despite herself. Eldavin kept poking the solid crystal bracelet. He looked up, though, and spoke slowly.
“…Did you find what you wanted? Your friend? Ivolethe?”
“I did. But I didn’t save Erin. Actually, trying to find a cure landed me in this mess.”
His gaze softened.
“Ah. Fae rules and logic. Nothing without a cost. I told you that—but perhaps it’s all part of one of their little games. You were there. You heard that all the pieces are in place. Your friend will live.”
The Wind Runner looked up and talked to him earnestly. At least about this.
“Do you think that [Doctor] is right? It’s not grand magic.”
The Archmage harrumphed.
“It is intelligent, a collection of many high-level parts, and I saw no flaw in it. Not everything need be solved by the highest-leveled spell, my dear.”
My dear. Ryoka stopped…and nodded. Eldavin watched her and took his hands away from the bangle.
Ryoka eyed Rhisveri’s bracelet, still hovering around her arm. It still glowed and looked the same as before.
“What? Just like that?”
For answer, Eldavin tugged at it, and it floated off Ryoka’s arm. She jerked, and he handed it to her.
“Adeptly made. I will own, superior spellcasting. But hasty. You understand? Whomever made it—Duke Rhisveri, I presume—assumed no one was capable of matching his expertise. So he spent little actual effort.”
Ryoka shook her head, almost smiling.
“He is going to hate that.”
“So you are speaking to him. He is not—forcing you to be here. Or rather, you are more messenger than prisoner I hope? Has he done anything?”
Eldavin sat back, and Ryoka looked at him. The Archmage of Memory’s gaze was sharp on her face. Ryoka hesitated.
“That is a hugely complicated problem. I hope you can appreciate that?”
Eldavin snorted, but softly.
“My girl, I am used to any mess you could envision. Including this one. Even the cadence of your voice is so familiar…”
He trailed off. Before Ryoka could go on, he held up a finger.
“Let me first say a few things. Firstly, no one is listening to us. No one can. Not ghost nor powerful spellcaster. Not even the Death of Magic. If anything does watch us, it is so unimaginable to me as to be beyond even him. The Faerie King himself.”
“That’s a bold claim.”
Ryoka sat up, heart beating faster. Eldavin just nodded at her.
“It is, but I recognize fae-gaze as well as the eyes of the dead. You can see them, you know. Not just ghosts.”
“I…did not know that.”
Eldavin waved it off.
“They keep trying to spy. Or others do. Actually, I could write a list of observers, ones I recognize and those too powerful to trace. But nothing is here. Not even the dead. There was a particularly ornery ghost in Wistram. I only realized it later. But I’ll just turn the academy into a null spot where it can’t inhabit. Cruel—but ghosts are like that.”
Ryoka blinked at him. No fucking way. Eldavin went on, flicking another finger up.
“Second, I appreciate how dangerous this Rhisveri character is. Not just him—you must know I ran into eight exceptionally dangerous…people. People that I do not know. Perhaps I’ve forgotten them, but they were truly, amazingly deadly, if not as powerful as Rhisveri. I nearly died.”
A tiny flutter in his voice, and he took a breath.
“I nearly died, and believe me, that was a terrifying moment. I underestimated my foes, and I will not do so again. Hence the paranoia.”
He waved a hand around the entire camp. Ryoka just listened as Eldavin looked at her.
“You’ve come because of that young woman. If you are being coerced—if that [Lord], Sammial Veltras, is in danger, I urge you to tell me whatever you need. Because, Ryoka, I can protect you here. I can lean, diplomatically, on Ailendamus, perhaps even exchange prisoners. But I cannot protect you outside of my immediate location. I would like to talk and be honest. Can we do that, or have you more reservations?”
He looked at her with genuine concern. She believed it, in every line of the way he looked at her, the way he sat, a bit too far forwards, the tone of his voice.
Yet she just looked at him.
“You’ve changed, Eldavin. You wouldn’t do this—teach all the [Mages] this magic. Never, you told me. Never.”
His lips parted, and he sighed so faintly she only sensed the air leaving his lungs.
“Yes. I suppose I have, haven’t I?”
He gave her a long look.
“…Am I that much worse than you remember me?”
Ryoka’s eyes stung. She looked at him, half-shook her head, and stared out the tent at the camp.
“No. I see what you’re doing and why. But the consequences, the risk—giving people magic? What’s your reason?”
Eldavin scratched a finger over the saucer, levitated up the teacup, and took a sip. He thought for a long time, then looked at her.
Ryoka’s head rose. Eldavin clarified.
“Outrage over petty people, wasting lives. Outrage over tyrants, or those who stand still and say nothing but shout loud when lives can be saved. If I hide away, I am culpable of doing nothing. If I do something, anything—I must do all I can. I hid until you dared me to try. When I did, I was ashamed.”
She opened her mouth, but Eldavin put a finger to her lips—or would have if she hadn’t recoiled. He went on.
“The second part is—fear. When these…House Shoel children attacked me, I feared I would die. I realized there was some group with power equivalent to mine—and they had longer to prepare. I am giving magic away because I need to combat them. See here.”
He showed her the scroll he was working on.
“Plans to improve the power of enchanting. To layer multiple effects or simply make what would be beyond Gold-rank enchantments today.”
“House Wellfar. They’ll be able to build better boats. Ships. Those giant tugboats. Nothing on the level of The Pride of the Wellfar—yet, but perhaps in time? I am giving them hints. It was part of their fee to enter the war, you see.”
“Why? Why are you pitting yourself against Ailendamus? For me? They’re not your enemies.”
Eldavin’s head rose and gave Ryoka a sardonic look.
“My dear Ryoka Griffin. Not even for you would I risk that much. I am a practical person. I would be less overtly aggressive after seeing the odds—and I confess, I thought it would be far easier yesterday. No. They offend me. That is it. Pure and simple.”
He rose, and Ryoka saw him gesture to the left rooms.
“No doubt you wish to meet Paxere. I hope you will tell me what you can. You are not prohibited from doing so by spell or Skill. As I said…”
“You would know. I’m aware.”
He half-turned, saw Ryoka standing, and hesitated. They locked gazes, and Eldavin strode forwards.
“Well then. Let me tell you what I have intuited and see.”
Ryoka followed slowly. She felt like she was in that dream-like state of almost believing this was fake. But knowing it was real. A sense of surreality, but she followed Eldavin, hanging on his words.
“I see a cabal of powerful individuals. Perhaps…no. I will not speculate, but a true power behind Ailendamus. So magically powerful that they put the Archmages of today to shame. Not, perhaps, this Paxere, but she casts magic as strongly, and if she is a child, I shudder to imagine how many and how powerful they are. What I see, then, Ryoka, are tyrants. Who manipulate their people into wars for their gain.”
Eldavin’s voice floated down the corridor as she followed him. He turned once, eyes flashing.
“I have fought that kind of injustice. I—remember—fighting, risking my life to end it. Once. Once, I killed my own people to end it.”
The Dragonlord of Flame. She saw him there, battling other Dragons. When? When the Walled Cities stood tall, and when Dragons ruled other species?
Crossing the skies of Chandrar, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Humans like the Quarass? Eldavin’s voice was harsh, his gaze wrathful.
“They threaten me with death if I expose them. But if I expose them—that is a risky move. Other nations are already watching Ailendamus. Perhaps we fight in the shadows, things unsaid, but I oppose them. I suffer tyrants, and I have seen and left evil unopposed like the Necromancer. But evil that does not end—do you know Nerrhavia? The immortal tyrant?”
“I’ve heard of her.”
Ryoka whispered, though she didn’t know the Chandrarian tales. Eldavin hesitated as they came to a door.
“…I see how dangerous it could be. But forgive me. I have taken drastic measures, arming children with weapons and ideas from your world. I will not condone that which will change this world for the worse. But sometimes we must unveil all we have to combat evil.”
She just looked at him. The door was plain, and probably enchanted, but Ryoka reached out and turned the handle. Eldavin watched her as she hesitated, then opened the door himself and stepped inside.
Paxere’s cell was no dingy dungeon with moss and cracked stones. There were no implements of torture. The room was actually pure white.
A void. Nothing to grab or see or use. She sat in a circle of magic, without chains or other restraining objects besides…spells.
But she was a prisoner. The instant the door opened, Ryoka heard Paxere’s voice. The young, arrogant Lucifen was speaking. She stopped and heard Paxere, not precisely enunciating words, but speaking so fast she tripped over herself, a string of nonsense, of phrases of…
“—not qualified to judge, Mother? Igolze was younger. You said yourself you don’t agree with all the decisions. How am I to prove myself with stifling—Sariant Lambs are so pretty, Razia. I love them. Yes, that is irony—the value of sugar because of the Baleros monopoly—Menorkel, just tell Rhisveri you don’t want to train—”
She was switching from topic to topic without pause, and her head was lolling. The Lucifen girl’s gaze was unfocused, and Ryoka saw a healed stump where her pointer-finger was missing on her left hand.
Her horns were visible, and her Devil’s tail. The grey-skinned young woman neither saw nor noticed Ryoka and Eldavin as Ryoka came to a standstill.
The only other objects in the room were a sheet of parchment and a quill, which took down her entire confusing dictation like a blur. Eldavin lifted a hand, and Paxere’s voice muted, though her mouth kept moving.
Ryoka stared at the Lucifen, and her skin crawled. Now she felt sick. Now the shoe dropped.
“What have you—”
Eldavin was watching her. Carefully.
“[Babble]. A superior version of—it doesn’t matter. She has a death spell on her if she reveals anything important, but she refused to answer any questions, and I did not wish to…torture her. But I did have to know. I know there are more—that Rhisveri and this ‘Visophecin’ are among the best. I have a list of names, and I understand how dangerous she is.”
Ryoka just looked at Paxere. Then at the Dragon.
He nodded, almost blocking her vision of Paxere. He looked…guilty.
And wary. Of her.
“Yes. She is actually immune to Tier 1-2 spells. Which is not astonishing in and of itself, but her resistance to magic is one thing. I believe she is strong, innately talented with darkness and fire magic, and capable of using some kinds of abilities or shared powers I don’t know. She is weak to light. And a certain…chaotic subset of magic.”
“How do you know that?”
Eldavin folded his hands in his robes.
“I did not hurt her, Ryoka. But there are dozens of her kind, aren’t there? How old does she grow? How dangerous would they be? They rule one of the largest powers in Terandria. They must be stopped. She eats people.”
“I know. Criminals.”
Eldavin’s brows snapped together.
“You know…? Criminals by whose standards? No—no, there is nuance here.”
He paced back and forth, then turned to her.
“It matters not. These are the rulers of Ailendamus, aren’t they? I had cause enough to oppose them—now I see. Do you know…Vampires? They are extinct, although I truly doubt that. But they once ruled with such terror that the world barely stopped them. Vampire Humans were bad enough. They could become Vampire Lords or Kings—those, though, had different names for them. A stupid system. Wyvern Lords. Goblin Lords. Vampire Lords. It comes from our notion of how to categorize threats.”
He went on, ignoring her, speaking too fast, speaking over her. Like a lecturing old man, regardless of species. Ryoka looked at Paxere. She looked at Eldavin.
“Let me finish. Regular species becoming Vampires were bad enough, but have you ever conceived of a Vampire Kraken? Vampiric Selphids? Vampires of any species. And believe me—they only did a Vampire Kraken once. Even their own kind realized how disastrous that was when it ate its own kind, ate every fleet it could find, and—”
“Eldavin. You are a Dragon!”
There was a better way to say that. A better time. Ryoka didn’t care. Now was the moment. It had been bubbling in her chest the very moment she had walked into his tent, and she had been weighing the dangers. Trying to see him.
It came out now, as she stared at an immortal, a dangerous one who had tried to kill him…but a child, babbling under magic. At Eldavin’s paranoid gifts of magic.
At his morality and nobility changed by his forgetfulness.
The half-Elf stopped speaking. At first, it seemed like he was going to snap at Ryoka to not interrupt—then he heard her.
He staggered back. Eldavin clutched at his chest, and his eyes went wide. Ryoka thought he was having a heart-attack.
He just stood there. Frozen, panting, looking at her without words in his mouth. Stunned…and she felt her own heart beating painfully.
“You are a Dragon. You are better than this, Eldavin. Teriarch. What happened?”
The Archmage of Memory looked at Ryoka, and then his lips moved.
“I…forgot. I still cannot remember. I am trapped, Ryoka.”
He reached out to her and then stared at his hand. The half-Elf…the Dragon…Eldavin looked at the fragment of Teriarch and how Ryoka saw him.
At last, he knew.
Paxere sat, head in her hands. No longer babbling in her cell. She could not hear what the Wind Runner and Archmage were saying, but the magic was gone.
Ryoka and Eldavin sat back at his table. The half-Elf kept starting and stopping. When he did manage something coherent, he just said…
“Vampires. There were Vampire Dragons too, you know.”
Of all the things to bring up—Ryoka just shook her head. She felt like he was giving her another lecture, like he did in his cave, but it was Eldavin still. He was not Teriarch.
“They were slain. Believe me. That kind of power mixed with vampiric nature? They were slain. I know it. I think I…killed some. I was not tempted. I saw the rot and obsession, the need for blood. You see, I can remember these things. Some of my memory is here. The rest is gone. Such as my true nature.”
She nodded. He was explaining how it came to be.
“How did it happen?”
The Archmage was shamefaced.
“…Would you believe I was struck in the head?”
Ryoka lifted her teacup to throw it at him, and he raised his hands.
“I was struck by a Truestone Golem, the most potentially magically-disruptive entity in the world. In battle. Cognita of Wistram hit me while I was unguarded, trying to undo the magics binding her to loyalty to that poor excuse for an Archmage, Zelkyr. It is still a poor excuse—but in context, it is what happened.”
Ryoka lowered the teacup.
“Cognita of Wistram? Why were you trying to free her?”
“I don’t recall. No, stop threatening me with porcelain! I don’t recall everything. Some of it is gone, but I can only assume I found her slavery abhorrent. She was compelled to love her creator, you see. Do you understand…?”
Ryoka did and felt sick. Yes, if there were ever something to motivate Teriarch to risk it all—it would be that. She looked at Eldavin.
“Can you reestablish the link? Fix it?”
“No. Not without going to my body. It’s like fixing something within a bottle. The link is severed so I, that is…Teriarch…would have to do it from the outside. Now I know. So that’s who I drew mana from.”
Ryoka was instantly alarmed. Eldavin clarified.
“I needed it to survive my battle with the Lucifen! I will be exceedingly careful. But I’m a Dragon. I thought I’d die.”
“And if you died in this body…”
“The potential for a simulacra spell, which is what I was sure I used, to kill the host is not impossible. Mind you, it’s rare. I am a Dragon. Well, thank goodness! I was worried I was something else!”
He laughed in genuine relief, and Ryoka started.
“What? You knew?”
Eldavin raised a brow.
“Ryoka, I am not blind. I noticed there were problems to begin with, but I didn’t know—a Dragon. It suits me. I thought I was a Unicorn or worse, some kind of magical plant or object that gained sentience! They can do that, you know.”
Eldavin eyed Ryoka, and she realized he’d picked up on that. Lady Patergost was a suit of armor that had come to life. She closed her mouth, but Eldavin leaned forwards.
“Ryoka, I understand now why Magnolia and you were so alarmed. Believe me—I can well imagine how nervous you might have been. Fear not. I swear I will head back to Izril, wake up my body, and the Teriarch you know will be back.”
Ryoka exhaled. She didn’t know what she’d feared, to be honest. It was still Eldavin.
“Good! Can you go now? Or do you not have the ability to teleport that far? I could…I have to go back, but if you can take me, I’ll go with you. And then can we see Erin?”
Eldavin drummed his fingers on the table.
“That’s a continent-wide jump. I’d need a ritual site. Which I can build. But I might as well use the Order of Seasons’. They have an inefficient version, but I can do it. You do know [Greater Teleport] is the most obnoxiously mana-intensive spell, don’t you? Scrolls are valuable, even to me.”
“Well, how long to get there?”
Ryoka rose and put her hands on the table. She was trying to think. Tyrion needed to stop his advance. She realized that they had to get Sammial to him or at least stop this impending battle, or Veltras’ part in it. Return Paxere, then—but how to tell them about Eldavin?
The Archmage was frowning.
“I think Valeterisa set up a teleportation network. I just ask her for the coordinates to the nearest one to my…cave? Did you say I lived in a cave?”
“It’s better on the inside.”
“I should hope so! The High Passes. Why would I settle there? It’s dangerous—even for a Dragon! By the way—which color am I?”
“Brass. Hm. Well, that’s good. I couldn’t stand to be gold. Snooty. Is that instinct or just bias in my current stage? So I ask Valeterisa for coordinates. That expedites the matter. I’ll head back as soon as I’m prepared. After this war is over.”
Ryoka’s head turned. She stopped grinning like a loon and focused on Eldavin.
The Archmage looked at Ryoka, calmly, eyes alight with relief and confidence. He knew who he was. That just made the words coming out of his mouth all the more surreal.
“After the war. I cannot abandon the forces here. And these cabal members are far too dangerous, even if I don’t expose them. Now that I know I am a Dragon, I can rely on that knowledge. I wonder if I can access my memory? Either way, I can be more daring in my attacks.”
“Wh—what are you saying? No! Go back to your cave and wake up! Now!”
“I must prepare first, Ryoka—”
“What’s stopping you? You know who you are! Go and become you again!”
She surged upright, but Eldavin caught her hands as she went to shake him. He was effortlessly strong and hesitated. Ryoka drew breath to scream, and the Archmage whispered the final clue in the dread that was returning tenfold.
“I…do not wish to die, Ryoka.”
Die? What was he talking ab—then Ryoka looked at him.
Him. Eldavin. And the Archmage’s eyes were terribly afraid.
“You won’t die. You’re a Dragon.”
“I know. I know Teriarch is. But I am a distinct entity, Ryoka. I’ve heard of it happening. Simulacra that experience distortion. Eldavin has no longer synced with Teriarch. Therefore, when I wake him—Eldavin will vanish. Unless I separate the two via magic. If I wake him now, I vanish. I am sure it is painless. Welcome, perhaps. Perhaps he would remember who I am. But I…”
She saw it. The very core of the Teriarch she knew. Nothing changed, just him—in Eldavin’s body. Fear. Old fear, the greatest survivor, beyond even Rhisveri, who had seen his kind perish.
Teriarch, Eldavin, whispered it in a cracked voice, as if asking her to understand and forgive.
“I do not want to die. Please, understand that.”
Her hands and legs were so weak, Ryoka sagged. Eldavin patted them and let go. He looked at Ryoka.
“I…fear death, Ryoka. I fear it so much I cannot explain it. I must be old.”
“Ancient of days. Dragonlord of Flame.”
He twitched at that.
“I? How old…no. Teriarch. I know that name. He is not just ten thousand years old. He is so old…! Khelt is a child that was never born when he flew the skies. I am him? No wonder he hides. No wonder I—do I know Ailendamus?”
“Go back. Please?”
She begged him like a girl, but Eldavin was shaking his head.
“After the war. It won’t take long, Ryoka. And if I die—well, I can be more daring. There is no risk to me. Or little. Listen—I will return this Paxere if you wish, but I would rather exchange her for Sammial Veltras. It can be done within the hour. Less! I will tell this Rhisveri. Oh damn, I have those gnats bothering me for an interview on House Wellfar.”
There was a faint clamor outside his tent, of Telim arguing with [Mages] and…Drassi’s voice? Eldavin glanced at Ryoka.
“Let’s resolve this first. They won’t get in unless I will it. I swear, Ryoka, Teriarch is not in danger. Neither am I, unless I take a truly dangerous wound and die.”
He was distracting, deflecting. Ryoka mumbled as Eldavin turned.
“What do you mean? A simulacra…”
“…Can influence the host. The trauma of the death or injury matters, Ryoka. But I’m a Dragon, not a giant, ten-thousand year-old Sage’s Grass plant. Why, I can imagine Cognita might have killed me badly enough if I really just stood there, but a mundane wound?”
Eldavin grinned and brushed down his robes.
“Not that I am likely to take it. But they would have had to hit me as hard as they hit Lesegoth!”
Ryoka’s head was low. Eldavin was chattering on, relieved, even energized.
“Another fragment of memory. You know, I have all this useless information about Warmage Thresk? I must have added it to my memory here so I could tell you. A mysterious fellow—Albez was wiped out by some horrific beastial creature, and Thresk I think was eaten along with a nearby tribe before a Gnoll slew it. One of those old stories. But, ah, the other great [Mages] of Albez didn’t all die. In fact, his closest companion, I think his lover, the [Temporal Mage]…Udatron? He vanished in the last battle. [Time Mages] do that sort of thing. Useless. Where was I? Lesegoth?”
“How hard did they get hit? Why does this matter, Eldavin?”
The problem was, Eldavin had true stories. Fascinating stories. All he had to do was turn and say…
“The City of Shields. The most defensive city of the Drakes ever built. Dragons like me failed to take it. You know Manus? Still around? It had nothing on the City of Shields.”
“But someone still destroyed it?”
Eldavin scoffed at Ryoka’s raised brow.
“Just listen. Every city can simply be overwhelmed by too many high-level foes. Yes, countless armies had besieged it for over three decades when the final blow came. After all that fighting, the highest-levelled individuals—and immortal beings—dealt the final blow. They launched a volcano at it.”
“An entire volcano. Ash, lava—”
“They threw a volcano at the City of Shields.”
Eldavin chuckled. But there was a note of sadness in his tone, and he and Ryoka stopped and heard it. The Archmage of Memory grew somber.
“No. No, that was not how Lesegoth fell. It survived. So then the greatest [Alchemist] of that time used a grand experiment with devastating effects. It turned every ordinary bit of metal into something that exploded when it reached contact with the air. Or maybe it was just…unstable. Every scrap of metal in the City of Shields. Including the elements in the body.”
Ryoka’s blood chilled at the notion. Now, Eldavin was caught in the memory.
“Yet still the City of Shields stood, in wreckage, defiant. Still they held. Then—and only then—the combined armies cast a Tier 9 spell. And Lesegoth fell.”
“They cast a Tier 9 spell? None of that was…?”
Ryoka’s head rose. Eldavin shuddered, shaking his head and turning away from the vivid memory he must have seen.
“Yes. They offered the Drakes every chance to surrender and leave without retribution. They refused.”
“So someone would have to hit you as hard as that to kill you?”
Ryoka’s voice was incredibly sarcastic, and Eldavin turned his head to glare at her. He searched around for the [Message] scroll he had been talking to Duke Rhisveri with. Was he…? He’d have to get it out of Ryoka.
“I’m sure you know hyperbole, my dear. It’s an analogy. I can’t survive that kind of trauma, but Dragons survived fistfights with Giants. I will be careful not to give myself that kind of shock. Short of that? Tsing. I won’t fear—”
Eldavin stopped talking abruptly. His eyes unfocused. He didn’t see, as his eyes stared vacantly ahead, the brilliantly pink blade made out of light protruding from his neck.
Then the blade moved and severed the Archmage of Memory’s head from his body.
There was so little blood. It was the cleanest cut imaginable.
She still felt it. Ryoka Griffin stood, arms shaking out of control as the body collapsed and blood began to run. His head lay there, lips still parted.
“I’m sorry. Please wake up.”
She hadn’t been able to cut him anywhere else. The Faeblade would have snapped like cheap glass on his enchanted robes.
Ryoka stared at her hands. She nearly dropped the Faeblade—but then turned to retch. He had to wake up. She had to—
No one had expected it. Not her, when she entered this place. Not Eldavin.
Not Emerrhain. The ___ of secrets, hovering in frustration at the edges of Terandria’s shores and trying to see past the wary defenders, frowned. His mouth opened as he sensed it.
“Did she just—what did she just do?”
Ryoka Griffin appeared in front of Paxere, looking violently ill. The Lucifen rose.
“You can tell that Archmage—what’s wrong?”
She could hear nothing, but she saw Ryoka checking the magical barrier around Paxere. She swung her Faeblade, yet it broke into a million pieces of dissolving light.
“Well, that did nothing. What…what are you doing? Where did the Archmage go?”
Paxere’s voice was uncertain. She had just felt his magical signature vanish. But that couldn’t mean what she thought it did? Then she saw Ryoka fumbling with the Faeblade. Ryoka motioned to Paxere.
Get back. The Lucifen backed up, and her eyes widened.
“What is that?”
The barrier broke as the Faeblade blasted the containment spell apart. The Archmage had made it well—yet Ryoka annihilated it. Paxere stuttered.
“That’s not an artifact—how did—?”
“We have to go. I just killed Eldavin.”
Ryoka rasped. The Lucifen girl looked at her.
“Huh? You…but I thought he was your patron.”
Ryoka didn’t answer. She just grabbed Paxere, and the Lucifen felt her connection with the outside world returning. Instantly, someone realized it.
“Is that you? Where’s that damned Archmage? He just stopped talking to me!”
Two simultaneous commands, from Visophecin and Rhisveri respectively. Paxere stumbled after Ryoka, stopped, and murmured a reply.
“Ryoka Griffin just killed him. I’m…I’m staring at his headless corpse.”
Visophecin went silent, but Rhisveri’s exclamation was deafening in Paxere’s head. Ryoka was peeking outside. Paxere backed away from both the Wind Runner and the body.
“We have to go. Can you get us back to Ailendamus? Tell Rhisveri to free Sammial. Or do it.”
“I…I can do that. I can open a gateway. The Lucifen’s way. Is that okay?”
Paxere looked at Ryoka. The Wind Runner turned, half blind. Was she crying? She still held the Faeblade.
“Yes. Do it.”
Paxere had the gateway open and was looking around the tent. Both Rhisveri and Visophecin were demanding clarification, and the Wyrm was also telling her to grab anything she could. One look at Ryoka’s expression, and Paxere was disinclined to.
“Should we just…?”
Paxere saw Ryoka hesitate. She swept around the room.
“No. Just go!”
“Rhisveri wants me to erase any recordings. If we can—”
“Fucking go! You can do it later!”
Ryoka shouted at Paxere, and the Lucifen went pale. With fright? The Wind Runner controlled herself and then realized—
Paxere wasn’t staring at her. Slowly, Ryoka Griffin’s head turned.
For a second, a sleeping Dragon drew breath. His eyes fluttered and his heart beat. Just once. Then—
Ryoka Griffin had made a terrible mistake. She had taken Eldavin at his word. He had trusted her in that moment enough with the truth. But she had made a single mistake, and it was this:
She had assumed a Dragon would create a simulacra that could die from something like being beheaded.
A severed head’s eyes moved. Unfocused. The blood began moving back into the body. The body jerked, flailed around, and then Eldavin’s torso rose. The head drifted back into place, but facing the wrong way. The blood pooling in the eyes had turned the whites red. Two unfocused pupils slowly drifted together.
And looked at her. Eldavin’s body swiveled around as Paxere froze, and Ryoka just stared in horror at him. She saw the line of blood slowly closing, and then Eldavin focused. On her.
His look of betrayal was complete.
“What did they do to you? Why—”
He looked up, lifted an arm, and the Faeblade shattered on contact. Ryoka had hit the wrong button, and the blade broke on his robes.
The Archmage was stumbling, disoriented, and retreating. Ryoka whirled the blade at his head again as it reappeared. Eldavin, stumbling, blood on his robes, backed out of the tent as she lunged and missed his head.
That was the scene that played out on the scrying orb for Tyrion Veltras. The waiting Wistram television crew saw the Archmage of Memory fall down, hands raised, as the Wind Runner of Reizmelt stabbed down and missed his head. He shouted.
Then the Archmage’s camp and the Terras faction exploded into fighting. Flynn was in the enchanted lavatories when he heard the first spell coming down.
“Someone’s throwing spells at the camp! Get to safety!”
As he raced outside, Pokey barking, Flynn heard a mix of voices.
“It’s the Wind Runner! She tried to assassinate the Archmage!”
“No, capture her!”
Ryoka? Flynn couldn’t believe his ears, but then he saw a fiery meteor hit the barrier spells above his head and detonate. Regardless, he was getting into his armor.
He pointed her to the safest place he could think of, and the Needlehound dog ran. Flynn took minutes getting into the armor and into the sky.
When he did get up there, he thought he’d made a mistake. Eldavin’s barriers were dueling with spells that punched through, some obliterating his summoned creatures or targeting the camp.
Yet the Archmage of Memory himself was up there. And—was he fighting or fleeing the Wind Runner?
None of the spells were tracking her. If anything, they were shielding her from the [Mages]. One punched down, a black bolt, and Flynn twisted to avoid it. He saw someone falling, and his heart froze as he saw a hole in a breastplate.
I thought the armor was—
Flynn dove for cover. But then he saw Ryoka fighting.
She was chasing Eldavin, the glowing sword in her hands swinging at his neck. He thought he heard her screaming and Eldavin shouting at her.
Net spells, capture spells flew around the two, but neither one was caught. They dodged and chased across the field past Telim, who flew like a rock. Ryoka curved around an armored figure, and the wind slammed one of them into the ground. She tried to behead Eldavin twice. Both times he twisted or blocked her with magic.
Flynn heard the Archmage howling as the Wind Runner seemed to realize she would never kill him. The [Mages] of the Terras faction were regrouping, and the Order of Seasons had galloped into the camp. They couldn’t fight the bombardments, but their combined auras were blocking spells.
She turned to flee, and Eldavin followed her. Flynn witnessed the last moments, as Ryoka turned, screaming something at him. Why did he slow? He was furious, face white, eyes wide. They shouted confusing things at each other.
“What did they do to you?”
That came from Eldavin, and Flynn understood something of that. The betrayed Archmage of Memory dove with wings of fire, shaking. He almost had Ryoka when she shouted, and then the air twisted around her.
Did he see a clawed hand grab her out of the sky? She vanished in a distortion, and Eldavin howled his fury.
But he had hesitated. Throughout the rest of it, Flynn wondered what it had meant. That one thing Ryoka had shouted at Eldavin.
There was more to this than just one Human girl’s relationship with a Dragon. It was about a war…the Dragon just happened to be a very big, pivotal part of the war. The Human had done everything she had thought was for the best, and it had backfired in her face in the most monumental way.
The fallout was just beginning. But of note was, perhaps, the Wyrm’s look of bafflement and almost-respect when Visophecin pulled Ryoka back into Ailendamus’ palace.
“Did you do that for me?”
She just began to laugh, hysterically, in his face. But the immortals certainly looked at her differently. Especially Paxere.
So…why? The immortals stood in curious judgment. They had to know. Ryoka looked at them, and gave them the same answer she would give Cara if…when she explained. To Magnolia. Of all of them, Magnolia might understand.
“Why did you do it? I thought you liked him. Did someone…did Rhisveri make you?”
Everyone turned to the Wyrm as Paxere spoke, still shaky from her rescue, but Ryoka shook her head. She turned to the gathered immortals looking at her.
Lucifen and Agelum, Fithea, Sophridel, Rhisveri, and more. They understood something of betrayal. She croaked as she tried to tell them why.
“Eldavin was not…the person I came here to find. He’s just a fragment. Part of the person I know. The person I respected. A hero.”
The only hero she knew. A true hero, who never spoke of what he had done, but who showed it in every weary line, every scar, and hid from a world he had fought too long for. Paxere glanced behind Ryoka uncertainly.
“But then why—he seemed like he was making the [Mages] stronger, but he did nothing to merit—that.”
Azemith herself was uncertain.
Ryoka shook her head. She realized…she had gone there knowing it would end this way. That was why she had looked up the Faeblade’s controls. She had known. But she had to explain.
“He was. It wasn’t for that. Not for the weapons or the magic…it was because of what he did to you. He’s killed before. But all of that?”
She looked around blindly. Terras, great magics of old. Her voice cracked.
“…Do you believe you can die of guilt? The longer he…he’d weep for what he did. When he came to his senses.”
Now he never would. The immortals didn’t understand. Perhaps save Rhisveri or a few who suspected something. Yet even the Archmage was now less threatening.
“He can be slain. We will do it.”
Fithea murmured. Fithea! Everyone else nodded. They were so contemptuous. They talked about Eldavin as if he had captured Paxere as a fluke, as if he’d gotten lucky. Ryoka shouted at all of them present.
“Don’t—don’t look like that! You think this was an accident? You think Visophecin or the others could have beaten him? If they tried, they would die. Even Rhisveri.”
She pointed a shaking finger at the Wyrm, who looked affronted. Yet Ryoka kept going, looking at each one in turn.
“You have no idea what Eldavin could do. You think you do. You think you’re the greatest beings to ever walk this world. But he could bring you all to ruin. He was preparing for war, and if any one person can end your dream of Ailendamus, it will be him. He would have woken you with fire and blood, and the more he tried, the longer he stood against you, the worse it would have been. I did not want to see him stride through the palace and leave only ash behind.”
That silenced them. Because Ryoka had seen them, knew them, and she still claimed it. Rhisveri’s eyes flickered, but the Lucifen stood in silent judgment. Paxere sounded like Igolze, her voice distant and cold as she turned to Ryoka.
“Yet you could have reasoned with him. Did you try to change his mind? Did you ask or did you execute him in cold blood?”
Ryoka spat phlegm and bile and guilt onto the floor.
“No. No, I didn’t. I couldn’t change his mind. He fears death more than anything else. So I betrayed him. I thought…I hoped it would save his soul. He should never have gone to Wistram. He was right. There is one last great war that I could have ever asked of him. I hope he’ll forgive me. I hope someday…he’ll tell me I did the right thing. Perhaps he never will.”
She had known Teriarch, the Dragonlord of Flame. Respected him, hated his inaction, but looked up to him. She did not know Eldavin, the Archmage of Memory. To Ryoka, one was just a shadow parroting the body of the other. Hurting him without even knowing why. Ryoka sat down.
Eldavin was different than Teriarch. The two were linked, but one was a stranger and the other hostage to the first’s life. Eldavin had done nothing wrong other than exist. Still, she looked up. When she met Rhisveri’s eyes, she spoke to him, and only him, and all of them…but to him.
“In another time, in another world and another if, he would have been right here. Among you all. He would have protected you without a second thought and sacrificed everything to keep you alive. For hope. I couldn’t let him destroy his own kind. If he ever wakes, that knowledge will never leave him.”
A gasp ran around the room. Rhisveri just looked at her and sighed. He already knew, but Ryoka gazed at him and then the others.
“Please. Kill him.”
It was all about Rhisveri. But it wasn’t about him. Ryoka had just made her attack on Eldavin a worldwide event, dramatic, and Tyrion Veltras had seen it.
So had Magnolia Reinhart. And she took the worst of the worst from what she saw. She could only speculate what it meant until she spoke to either…but she knew.
As for Tyrion? He kept watching as Drassi discussed the fallout with whomever she could find—not Eldavin—and then the news cycle cut to a horrible, discordant view of…
It should not have, but Eldavin had ordered them to stop broadcasting now. And…well…Ailendamus had paid for the time slot. Promises had to be kept. So the audience, who had just witnessed a rather upsetting battle, were treated to the magnificent vistas of Ailendamus.
“The Kingdom of Glass and Glory’s capital seems far away from the front. But here I am in a rare tour of the palace. I believe that’s a real Pegasus in the background being groomed; Ailendamus does not lack for magical animals of any kind, as we’ll see, and they incorporate culture and knowledge from around the world…”
A [Presenter] was reading from a script, blissfully ignorant of the drama in the world. At the very least, the tour of Ailendamus was tone-deaf, but it had layers of horribility.
Like, for instance, the possibility of capturing an Agelum or Lucifen on screen. Or Gilaw doing something. Or Ryoka Griffin just walking out of a hallway talking to Rhisveri, or…
The sheer possibilities were endless. However, interestingly, the camera did not capture Ryoka Griffin and a Wyrm. Mainly because the recording crew were not allowed anywhere near the royal wing.
They did just happen to run across a [Princess] and young [Lord] racing about in a real display of youth, athleticism, and friendliness between cultures. Oesca had been briefed and stopped to give a charming smile and bow to the camera—but Sammial had not.
“Where’s Ryoka? She’s always running off! Who are you?”
He was kicking around, furious at being left alone—and the Singer of Terandria hadn’t even been entertaining! The camera focused on him as he was shown to the Five Families, and his father, to be well—and, well, Sammial.
“Wistram? I’m on the news?”
When the [Lord] heard this he was agog. He peered at the camera.
“Eh. This is boring. It’s just a scrying orb.”
He lost interest at once, shoved a finger up his nose, and the [Mages] were treated to a real close up of—
“Er…did you say Ryoka Griffin, young man?”
One of the Wistram [Mages] wanted to be a reporter for the Terandrian broadcast of Wistram News Network, and he could read [Message] spells.
The aspiring [Reporter] saw Sammial glance up, and everyone traded glances as Sammial wiped his hand on his coat.
“Yep. She has a room here. Want to see? I wonder if she’s back. Maybe she is. Sometimes there are all kinds of weird people in there. Naked people, Viscounts…she’s never boring. Oesca, let’s go check!”
The…implications of what he was saying aside, the [Lord] ran, and Oesca ran too, hiking up her dress and trying to run in heels.
Another proof that trousers were the more efficient mode of transportation! She quite liked Sammial, and even if her mother hadn’t asked for the moment, she would have followed the [Lord] around.
Ryoka was interesting? Sammial was interesting! He was unrestrained, and to Oesca, that was great.
Sammial yanked the doors open to Ryoka’s room—an unwise move—having the magical passkey, but found neither [Knights] nor anyone else inside.
The Wistram team was just running down the hallway—which was right next to the royal section where Rhisveri was—clutching at their sides. They were not in great shape, and the flustered [Presenter] had lost the footrace to Oesca and Sammial, who ran like children. Eternally quick until they dropped.
“Fecking idiot! That cunt isn’t here!”
Sammial happily bellowed, using some of Cara’s adjectives about Ryoka Griffin. The TV crew were debating whether they should stay on this topic or go back to the tour and the [Presenter] was dragging them back to a safe place when Sammial’s voice drifted out of the room.
“Oh hey. She’s gotten a present. I wonder what this is?”
A brief pause, and then Oesca’s voice was suddenly high-pitched, terrified.
“Sammial! My rings! Don’t t—”
Then—on live television—the entire screen flashed. Sound was lost. When, after ten heart-pounding moments, the vision was restored, someone was screaming.
Two bodies were lying there—Wistram’s crew. A dizzy face of a Human came into focus, and the [Reporter], looking dazed, reached for the scrying orb.
“What happened. What…was that a spell?”
His voice was the only audible thing. Someone began blowing a horn next, and then there was shouting.
A roaring voice came out of nowhere, and then there were [Knights], rushing around. Servants screaming and panic.
But through it all, the [Reporter] pressed forwards, one thought in his mind. And indeed—everyone’s mind.
The two children. What had…?
The blast had taken out most of Ryoka’s room and part of the palace. It left only open air, and the dust and debris was such that nothing was visible at first. [Bodyguards] rushed around, but it was the [Reporter] who followed a [Nursemaid] who leapt into the dust and began digging, heedless of the dust and cuts on her hands from the shards.
“She’s here! She’s right—”
The [Knights] joined her and furiously began digging. As the shaky camera watched, a figure appeared out of the dust. No…
Lord Sammial Veltras and Princess Oesca of Ailendamus lay there, unconscious, Oesca bleeding from her nose.
But unharmed. The [Princess] had clasped her arms around Sammial Veltras, and her tiara was cracked down the stem. The protective magics had shielded them both.
They were alive. More than that was unclear, as a [Knight] noticed the scrying orb, grabbed for it—and everything went dark. Queen Oiena’s first royal broadcast of Ailendamus and Sammial Veltras’ clear and unequivocal wellbeing turned off as Tyrion Veltras watched.
The wine cup rolled around on the floor as the [Lord] of House Veltras inhaled once. A shuddering breath of someone who realized his son was still alive. His heart was still intact. Then the quiet [Lord]’s head rose, and a sword rasped in its sheath as he drew it. There was no foe in front of him, nothing but the shocked exhalations, the gasps and choked sounds of his family.
But Tyrion Veltras swore that the blade that he held under the grip that ground his bones against flesh and metal would not be sheathed until he was holding his son.
As for Queen Oiena? She took one look at her daughter, dazed but alive, bleeding in her home, and made a simpler oath:
For this, someone would die.
Author’s Notes: Day 4. So. Where it went wrong was Day 3.
Not the story. The story…I will let you discuss on Reddit, here, Discord, and wherever. It’s not over, but we’re getting there. I wonder how you’ll feel at the end of Volume 8? But we are moving fast for it.
But back to my writing of these 7 days. The flaw was Day 3—I wanted to have the Eldavin section in there.
Which I failed, and this entire chapter resolves that. True, I did make it a full chapter, but it’s messing with my timelines.
Nothing for it, though. I have to do what I can, and I was not about to write another chapter as long as this one. This is live-writing, web serial writing, and it changed based on factors besides the actual writing itself, if that makes sense. If I get sick, I write when I’m sick.
Or I dunno, die, but that’s an outside chance. Hopefully I’m a simulacra and when I get to my real body I find out I’ve been taking it easy this entire time.
I’m not sick. This is an analogy. Hope you…hm. I’m not sure enjoy is always the right word. Hope you find it worth reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
Domehead by Enuryn!