(The author is now on a break until March 26th after writing a chapter a day for the last week! Whew…that was a lot. Don’t let me do it again unless it results in good writing.)
Sleep after great deeds was an endemic problem that most flesh-people faced. Some cloth-people too. They had to just collapse after great deeds were done. That was a natural response as the last endorphins or whatever it was that kept them upright, pure will sometimes, just drained away and they relaxed.
The trick was not to die in that moment of weakness. Of course, superior bodies did not need to sleep.
Yet Eldavin was weary. Somehow—Dioname had imposed the law of age, a mortal exhaustion, frailty of the bones, even weariness on a body that should not have age.
The Great General of Ages had perished, but she had left her mark even in passing. Politically, on those who had clashed with her—
And those she had left behind. In a very real sense, this battle was not the glorious victory the Dawn Concordat was hailing it to be. Yes, Ailendamus was in retreat and surrendering, but there were consequences that many had no idea of.
Still—amidst grief or bitter triumph or simply regret—you had to sleep. It was this world that made it so incongruous, though. Amidst loss, and sometimes the most heartbreaking tragedy, you were used to the sound, the voice. Even trained to expect it.
[Conditions Met: Aura Knight → Knight of the Dawn Class!]
[Knight of the Dawn Level 20!]
In the dark of night, a [Knight] rose.
His scream woke everyone in a thousand paces. And deafened Dame Meisa, who shot up, fumbling for a sword.
“New class! New class—wait. I woke up.”
The Hobgoblin realized he had a problem. He tried to lay back down. Yes, it was the same dispassionate voice that was probably repeating in the minds of everyone napping—those that hadn’t been woken by his scream, that was.
Because you were sort of awake in that hazy fugue-state. It was the moment before true oblivion or dreams came, when you slipped away—that was when the voice came. That perfect moment when you were finally sleeping, not gripped by insomnia. Able to process, in a vague way, what was going on. Even refuse…if someone were so foolish.
The trick was to wait. Drift off…and hear…
[Bound Spell: Steps of Light obtained!]
“Mobility! I get spell! I’m magic! Argh—I woke up again!”
This time, Meisa hit him in the side. Someone threw a helmet at him.
“People are trying to level up over here, too, you know!”
He lay back down, really trying this time to not react…and the voice came, rushing a bit, not irritated, but perhaps as if even this unknowing force were worried it would be cut off by the overeager Goblin.
[Skill – Lightsoaked Armaments obtained!]
[Condition – Body: Solar Storage obtained!]
Meisa had waited for the third outburst and the Hobgoblin’s genuine, even childish delight. But it never came. He definitely woke back up after another few minutes.
“Rabbit? Did you get something great?”
She thought he’d changed classes, but the troubled head turned, and a visor cracked open a bit. She saw a deep frown as Rabbiteater spoke.
“…I’m a plant.”
The two slumbering [Knights] in the open battlefield napped under the stars, too tired to bother with beds.
[Princesses] got beds, even in the chaotic aftermath of a battle. This particular one?
Well. They cheered her name. Her parents wanted to speak to her, and even her sisters looked in awe. She didn’t tell anyone she’d nearly wet herself or how terrified she’d been.
Her class, her levels, her journey were a continuation of the one she’d taken with the Singer of Terandria. So, context? Context was lacking, and it was going to be a problem. But at last she had found it. A strange road that she’d stepped onto. Seraphel du Marquin heard a voice.
[Deathtouch Princess Level 27!]
[Skill Change – Royal Slap → Ghost’s Hand!]
[Skill Consolidation: Deft Hand removed!]
[Skill – Hearts of Courage obtained!]
[Reputation: Infamy, Now My Fame obtained!]
[Skill – Royal Bodyguard: Two of Life, Two of Death obtained!]
[Order – Induction: Royal Bodyguard granted.]
[Skill – Lesser Toughness obtained!]
Her eyes snapped open at the massive, conflicting, strange boons granted. Her thoughts mixed and mingled.
Oh no. Oh yes!
In the background of it all, she could swear she heard someone shouting at her.
“Wear armor, stupid!”
Among the many and varied level-ups, not all entirely welcome…the most notable and arguably the most levels gained came to one person. One man.
[Diligent Lord Level 27!]
Amazing! It was rare for a [Lord]-type class to gain six levels in one event. In one battle! At twenty-eight years old, Lord Tyrion Veltras…
Would have been ecstatic about that. Especially since, even at twenty-eight years old, he had been embarrassingly older in age than levels as a Level 21 [Lord] at the time. Now, by the grace of having triumphed over a foe with no peer, risking his life day after day in a battle that had tested him to his last—
He was now twenty levels behind where he had once been. Lord Tyrion Veltras listened, so bone-weary with shock he didn’t even truly wake as a list of notifications he had never quite heard in that way played in his head.
[Skill – Lightning Hooves restored!]
[Skill – Fourfold Strike restored!]
Some were Skills he had once had and gained at that time. Others? [Fourfold Strike] would later consolidate into [Lancing Hydrastrike].
They felt…different in his mind, too. Almost cooler, as if there were some difference to regaining the Skills. If he had to describe it, well, he’d describe it like a breeze. Blue?
He remembered now—Level 21. His parents had been alive. This would be before the Second Antinium Wars, and unlike Magnolia Reinhart, he had not ridden to aid the Drakes. She had passed him around that time.
Tyrion Veltras would make his name and gain the most levels and come into his own during the disaster of the Goblin King’s rampage, as he took up the mantle of House Veltras. If Dioname had thrown him only…ten years instead of sixteen, he might have kept the lion’s portion of his strength.
Instead, he listened, waiting to hear the same Skills reobtained. What would this mean for House Veltras? The war? Jericha had more levels than he did, now. He would have to abdicate at once. But no one could know; it would be disastrous.
However, something did change. Tyrion heard a different set of words than he had, long ago. Amidst all the other Skills he’d regained, there were two that were…new.
[Skill – Greater Resistance: Chronos obtained!]
[Skill – A Second of Time obtained!]
Those sounded like…well, the first sounded highly situational and too late by far. But the second? That sounded…valuable.
Still, between that and twenty levels and just as many Skills, Tyrion knew which one he’d pick. Small blessings. He could only assume they had come from deed. Slaying the Great General of Ages had granted him a vestige of her power; it was not uncommon.
A younger body did not make up for this. If Tyrion Veltras were sixty, but with all his levels and Skills, he would have been able to take on two younger Tyrions at age 28. He might have more aches and pains, but his Skills…experience was one thing, but [Greater Speed] was not something you could learn! Did he even have [Lesser Speed] at this time? [Enhanced Speed] was at Level 30—
…Wait a second. Wait a second. Tyrion remembered something suddenly. He had forgotten, but he did have [Lesser Speed]. And—after giving him all his [Diligent Lord] levels, the voice should have stopped.
Now he remembered. Oh no. The [Lord]’s eyes opened, but he didn’t jump to his feet. He just listened as he recalled where he had been in that point in his life. And his…true…class began to chime in his head.
[Conditions Met: Peerless Lance → Lancer of the Ages Class!]
[Lancer of the Ages Level 34!]
[Skill Change – Ten-foot Strike → Twenty-foot Strike!]
The [Lancer] class! The one the prodigy on horseback, Tyrion Veltras, the young [Lord] of House Veltras, had been most gifted at and later consolidated!
A class that only leveled from combat, not a [Lord]’s class. Tyrion covered his face with one hand, but it wasn’t done.
[Skill – Mount: In Time, Your Truest Potential obtained!]
[Skill – Summon: The Phantom of My Legend obtained!]
[Skill – Lance: Touch of Age (temporary) obtained!]
Someone was mocking him. Three fantastical skills, a changed class…the newly-minted [Lord]-[Lancer] sat up in bed. He was stationed in the keep, of course, and pointed.
“[The Phantom of My Legend].”
In the darkness of night, the rather small room in the tight keep changed. The drapes over the closed window blew in a sudden breeze, and a faint, ethereal light filled the room.
Grey and calm, not beautiful except in how austere it was. A plain, revealing light without much beauty to it. Rather like a lance of steel, and the figure itself.
A man on horseback, middle-aged, if young for that, hair still dark, sitting tall upon a warhorse. Armored, lance in hand, Lord Tyrion Veltras rode forwards, searching for a foe. He sat there, poised…as a young Lord Tyrion watched him.
The summoned version of him lasted mere seconds. Yet in that short moment, the two locked gazes. One, dispassionate, a figment of a memory with no real personality. The other…
The younger man leapt. Sword flashing out.
[Fourfold Strike]! His sword danced, trying to recapture a form he knew—
The phantom Tyrion calmly blocked all four strikes on his shield, hand a blur. He didn’t bother drawing his sword, just angled his mount away. His expression was carefully neutral, which meant he was bored but trying not to show it. The phantom-him vanished in the next few seconds as Tyrion, panting, stared at the place he’d been.
“My lord? What was that sound?”
Someone immediately rapped on his door. Tyrion answered—he didn’t know what he said—then sat down on his bed.
Tyrion Veltras rubbed at his face.
“…I have a long way to go.”
The next few days would be spent healing the wounded, reorganizing, and debating a push into Ailendamus. Later, it would be debated whether that was a sound move, but Their Majesties of Calanfer, Gaiil-Drome, and even Kaliv were hot on the victory won and eager to advance.
Seeing Ailendamus’ greatest army, which had been led by a figure who had won almost every major conflict in their vast century of expansion, laid low—well, that had a big impact on morale and the ego.
Besides, they still had the Archmage of Memory and two of the Five Houses in force. Plus, the Order of Seasons and Pheislant were now in this war! His Majesty of Pheislant had declared formal war with Ailendamus…about an hour after the Great General fell.
This was the time to strike. Heck, even the Griffin Prince had made it! He’d dug himself out of the ground this morning, very upset at being buried alive.
No one knew Lord Tyrion had lost his levels…at least not publicly. To all, it seemed as if he had de-aged, of course, but that was a Skill he’d gotten, and Tyrion could not be [Appraised], so it made sense.
A great Skill for a [Lord], right? Of course, that was still a gamble. So, after a long conference with his most trusted allies, Lord Tyrion Veltras came up with the most cunning plan in his life—because he had to keep his weakness secret. In order to really sell his sudden youth as a positive…he made the excuse that would not only be believed, but bought wholesale.
“Sir. Sir…I know this is completely out of order, milord. But I hoped I could catch you?”
Lord Pellmia Quellae, [Lord of Love and Wine], turned as a surreptitious [Knight] hurried over. The [Lord], who couldn’t help but notice hundreds if not thousands of eyes on him, leaned over.
The [Knight] was a Thronebearer of Calanfer, and she hesitated.
“I wouldn’t take up your time, Lord Quellae. However—we might never meet again, and I have heard that you are the most high-level—that is to say—if I may be honest, there is a young man of my affections that I have been looking after for years. But coincidence, relationships, even fate has never allowed me to say anything—and I have tried! Given your level, I thought…”
Pellmia blinked at her. She looked at him hopefully. He was only a [Matchmaker]—well, yes, he had consolidated his classes, but she was a Thronebearer, renowned for diplomacy!
Yet if ever there was a [Lord] fit for the greatest battlefield of all: love, it was him. The peerless hero beyond any other. Champion of the hopeless. Savior to even Lord Tyrion Veltras.
The Thronebearer glanced at Pellmia—then at Lord Tyrion Veltras, restored to youth by Pellmia’s Skill that he might pursue his paramour, backed by the flawless [Lord of Love and Wine].
Pellmia gave her an uneasy smile.
“I…could certainly hear you out.”
Only for you, Tyrion. The Thronebearer’s relieved smile lit up her face, and Lord Pellmia engaged in the most difficult path in his life yet. In truth—he was amazed Tyrion had thought of it. Pellmia didn’t know this, but House Quellae, upon hearing the revelation that their [Lord] could not only fix any relationship, however dire, but de-age someone, however rarely, had received over two thousand missives from around the world.
Including even a subtle inquiry from Chaldion of Pallass. Everyone needed hope.
Ailendamus was not laughing. Nor celebrating anything. Although Duke Rhisveri had—well, Itorin II had—but Rhisveri had declared a period of mourning for a year, and statues and memorials for their Great General. The people’s unshakable confidence in their nation, the infallible Kingdom of Glass and Glory, turned to fear as they heard of their great army, defeated.
They might have the number to replenish that army, but that army needed to be formed, armed, leaders trained…and it was not a simple game of logistics. The defeat of their Great General meant the Dawn Concordat had their opening.
So it was handshakes, congratulations, and introductions the day after the battle. Seraphel du Marquin met Tyrion Veltras, two heroes of the day—although you could very well argue one had done a lot more heroing.
Still, Calanfer had to have its [Princess], and the [Bards] were already, carefully, editing the story to give Tyrion an equal part to Seraphel du Marquin’s heroism and the Archmage of Memory. Calanfer could win any war of the words it wanted.
Lord Tyrion seemed to take his reduced credit in stride. At least—Seraphel saw not one muscle move on the man’s face besides his lips as he gave her a formal bow and greeted her.
“Your intervention was pivotal, Princess Seraphel. However, I must speak with Their Majesties of the Dawn Concordat at once. An advance into Ailendamus is not to be taken lightly.”
“I…am sure they will hear you as soon as possible, Lord Veltras. I do not make decisions for Calanfer.”
“Ah, then I will inquire with them. A brave charge, Princess Seraphel.”
And that was it? Seraphel blinked, and Aielef swept forwards to introduce the Griffin Prince formally. The man really was a sword given life.
Seraphel supposed she’d ask him about his reasons for entering the war and everything else she was intensely curious about later. These were only introductions…which spoke to Tyrion’s character that he brought up the war even now. He greeted the Griffin Prince, still dusty, and Seraphel was moved to interject as the Griffin Prince began to step away.
“…returning to harass Ailendamus, Lord Veltras. Keep me apprised. The Wing of Shame flies only in defense of Kaliv, but I will join any attack you think wise.”
“Wait. Wait a minute. Absolutely not.”
Tyrion and the Griffin Prince turned as Seraphel strode over. She looked around and saw how, even in the victorious aftermath, the Wing of Shame and the Griffin Prince stood far away from the others, ready to fly off.
Indeed, Kaliv’s forces were the most removed. Seraphel du Marquin took a breath.
“By the Eternal Throne, I will not have the Griffin Prince fly off and be forgotten for his deeds! Your Highness, you are unwashed, unrecognized, and I insist that you stay and be celebrated.”
She raised her voice and knew it was captured by the scrying orb recording all this. Aielef tried to signal her to stop, but Seraphel was a [Princess] of Calanfer. You could not unsay that kind of thing…and it worked.
Aielef instantly turned and beamed.
“Of course we must! My dear, dear sister is correct—despite his reputation, the Griffin Prince’s true character shines through in this dark hour. Three cheers for the Griffin Prince, and let us welcome him with all honors!”
The young man blinked at Seraphel as Aielef used a Skill to get her cheers. He ducked his head slightly, and Seraphel did likewise.
She did not know him—but his look of plain gratitude for something he didn’t expect said it all. She knew what it was like to be the cursed one.
Speaking of friendships not yet made, encounters on the battlefield…every head turned as someone strolled forwards.
Ser Solstice of Izril, the Goblin Slayer, stopped scratching at his armor under one armpit and looked around. He had been told he’d be meeting some people, but clearly lacked the regal context. He looked at Seraphel, began to wave…
Then spotted the others.
Griffin Prince. [Princesses]. Commanders of Calanfer, including the leader of the Thronebearers in the Lightherald’s absence, who looked at Rabbiteater with awe.
The next Lightherald? Seraphel had deep, deep suspicions about who had given Ser Solstice the blessing of the Eternal Throne. If it was who she thought it was…her little sister had just risen to the top of Seraphel’s favorite family members.
Dalimont would clue her in later. The boon still hung around Rabbiteater, but he just looked at one of the people turning with genuine enthusiasm to him.
“Ah, and this is Ser Solstice of Izril. The anonymous [Knight] who championed Calanfer.”
Aielef was introducing him as he walked forwards, still in battle-gear. Lord Tyrion Veltras turned and actually smiled.
“A [Knight] of ability. Ser Solstice—”
He hesitated. Jericha, the nobles of House Veltras, the onlookers…all sensed a certain…animosity fill the air.
Ser Solstice’s face was never visible, and the dented helm and armor were the same as ever. Did he walk differently? Was it simply his aura, or that animal instinct?
Tyrion Veltras stopped talking. Seraphel frowned, and a few of the Order of Seasons blinked as Ser Solstice strolled over the ground. Very quickly. A fast, long-legged stride as he reached up and put his hand on the haft of the enchanted axe he carried. He drew it in one motion and brought it down.
Lord Tyrion’s shield came up and the sound of the weapon meeting shield deafened Seraphel. Aielef shrieked and everyone shouted and drew their blades, coming together to—
Rabbiteater’s [Grand Slash] hit Lord Tyrion so hard the [Lord] staggered, even at full-guard. His sword was half-unsheathed, but neither he nor the strange [Knight] swung twice. Rabbiteater walked past him without a word.
“What was—do you two know—?”
Lord Tyrion stared after Rabbiteater as he caught himself. Jericha was already sweating over spinning that off as a surprise attack—Tyrion could obviously block that attack regularly, he was just tired.
The Lord of House Veltras saw Buscrei aiming an arrow but lifted a hand. There was only one conclusion to come to.
“This Ser Solstice never removes his helmet?”
He turned to the others, and Seraphel nodded.
“No one knows who he is.”
Tyrion nodded briefly. His eyes focused on Rabbiteater’s back as the helmeted head turned to him. Rabbiteater made a few gestures that made Aielef gasp and clutch at her mouth.
“…He must have been at Liscor. Or, if not that, the Bloodfields. I may have met him on some battlefield before.”
It was, for once, the most correct answer from Tyrion, who read Rabbiteater’s hostility right. Everyone turned to him and then eyed Rabbiteater with the sudden interest of people who knew exactly who he was…probably. Vernoue muttered behind Seraphel.
“If he’s from a tribe…tribes have magic. Walled Cities have huge libraries. I can do fur. Or scales.”
Seraphel and Aielef turned to eye her. So did Dame Meisa.
If Ser Solstice held a grudge against Tyrion Veltras, and the disgraced Griffin Prince was somewhat restored in battle, that was the largesse afforded to the victors.
By contrast, everyone in Ailendamus’ defeated army bore a share of the blame. Ironically, it was the Bear of Ailendamus, General Yerzhen, whose name was somewhat cleared, though still blackened.
His defeat at the hands of a lone [Knight] he had taken prisoner made more sense now that everyone saw it was the same soul who had bested the Dame of the Hills. Even so—he was in disgrace. The army was in disgrace.
Yet Dame Merila, the Hill-Knight, the only Great Knight on the field…she had failed her nation.
Twice. This was the second pivotal battle where a leader of Ailendamus had been slain, and she walked back in shame. Some even called for her to be stripped of her [Knight] class.
However, the crown and capital were silent for the moment. Itorin II and his war council were mustering troops, assessing the forces spared, arguing the ransom with the Dawn Concordat…
The immortals, though, said little at all. But if Merila were a blackened name, it was the biggest traitor, failure, and fool that had the most to reflect on.
She had watched the battle with Dioname sick at heart. Rhisveri and she had been…odd when she first came back. He had looked at her with plain shock for what she’d done, but she had neither stopped Tyrion nor Eldavin.
In fact, Sammial and Oesca had nearly died because someone had tried to kill her. Much of the last five days had simply been the Lucifen, Ailendamus’ best [Mages], the [Spymaster]—all working with Ryoka to find clues as to who had nearly killed her.
Queen Oiena of Ailendamus was on the warpath. However, the great battle had cast a pallor over all. Ryoka…
Ryoka Griffin did not collapse into a puddle of self-loathing. Or panic. Or run off. She visited Sammial, who was already up by the third day and demanding a tiara of his own just in case he had to keep hanging around with her. She hid from interviews and [Message] spells from people demanding to know if she was mind-controlled or just evil.
She tried to understand who was trying to kill her this time.
Queen Oiena didn’t know, incidentally. It wasn’t her. She checked. The [Queen] of Ailendamus, and formerly Princess of Gura of Taimaguros, had a purr in her voice when she was beyond anger. It meant she was about to have someone killed so horribly that the [Executioner] would have nightmares about it.
She had, as had been mentioned, her own network of agents, spies, and people separate from Ailendamus proper. She had imported it from Taimaguros and added to it with her power, such that even the Circle of Thorns had been taken in by her ruse.
In fact, some former [Assassins] from Izril were in her employ, having switched sides long ago. They had stayed out of poisoning House Veltras; she had wanted the Circle to fail. She bore Sammial Veltras no ill-will. And her daughter…
“Just so I am perfectly clear. I want honesty. I will have any lying tongues torn out of their mouths and hammered to the Taima-damned walls. I did not order Ryoka Griffin harmed in any way.”
Her people looked at her and shook their heads as one. The thing was…Queen Oiena was checking to make sure she hadn’t done it.
…Because she might have. The trick to lying was that if you didn’t remember what you’d done, you were de-facto innocent to many spells. It was conceivable she had ordered something, then carefully erased that knowledge herself.
Oiena had already been almost sure she hadn’t, though. A bomb of that magnitude in her own palace? She wasn’t an idiot! If she were going to kill Ryoka, she would have faked an allergic reaction and let the Wind Runner expire that way.
“No, Your Majesty. You did have our agents prepare subtle itching powder to be added to all her clothing upon your discretion.”
“Countermand that. So I didn’t order it. Who did?”
One of her new agents was a Face from Izril. The [Assassin] bowed.
“Your Majesty. I can tell you with complete certainty—I don’t know.”
“And why am I not hammering a nail into your forehead for that?”
The [Assassin] met her gaze levelly behind the mask he or she wore. The muffled response was quiet.
“Because, I cannot find any clues. Whoever it is knew the palace well enough to slip the package into the Courier’s room. It passed no security, was not inspected—it slipped past the [Knights] on duty, though they are not experts at surveillance and they were aware the Wind Runner had left the palace, and so were lax. If a foreign agent did this—they have the run of the palace, and your life is in danger.”
“…So why kill the Wind Runner alone if that? If there are more ‘presents’, that would be one thing. The other option is…”
Queen Oiena mused, thinking hard. And she came to a conclusion that was accurate—but lacking information.
It might have been someone within the palace, obviously. But who? And why? She sent her agents on a hunt. There was treachery in Ailendamus’ palace, and she wanted to root it out. Soon enough…she’d have at least one answer.
Treachery. Intrigue. Someone was working against Ailendamus, and they would soon be found.
The hints were there. Ryoka Griffin knew it. However, she did not have time to care about her life as much.
Sammial had nearly died. It was probably the case that she was meant to explode, but Sammial had nearly died and Oesca too.
He was actually under royal bodyguard now, and they did not let him run about alone.
Which goes to show, Queen Oiena has a heart. Unless she’s pretending? But why involve Oesca? Unless that was a mistake or the most heartless, genius distraction. I feel like Oiena would be more direct.
Well, the easier thing was to say who didn’t want Ryoka dead? Her list ranged from Eldavin to Persua to the Circle of Thorns survivors to possibly Magnolia, to…
Ryoka felt a chill. If anyone had the means, and if anyone really took Ryoka as a serious threat—and she was probably not high up for most other people given that she couldn’t even kill Eldavin in a traitorous…
She had to lean against a wall. No, think.
“The six hate me. They know what I’m up to. Whose side I’m on.”
Of the people who might hate Ryoka with that passion, it was the six, the Circle of Thorns, and Persua. And now, perhaps, Eldavin. But she doubted he would have set up a trap that fast.
And if he wanted her dead, he would have killed her when she was trying to cut his head off in the air. No…she did not suspect him.
Nor the immortals, frankly. Because if it were them—why would they hide it? Maybe the Lucifen or Visophecin had an angle? But it was not Rhisveri.
The Wyrm was the only person that Ryoka could trust. Why? Because if he wanted her dead, he’d just kill her.
He sat in his giant room, head resting on his claws, eyes narrowed to slits when she came in. Unlike every other time, the Wyrm said nothing. He just…lay there.
Dioname was dead. Ryoka had heard his roar. She looked at him and saw something familiar. She had seen it on Teriarch.
However, Ryoka didn’t speak the Great General’s name. She had given him one night. Her assassination, her meeting with Eldavin…they had discussed nothing more. The Wind Runner felt empty and worthless, but she would not curl up. Not yet.
He said nothing. Just watched her. Not wrathful…but with a long, thousand-mile stare. Ryoka Griffin knew he was listening.
“Tyrion is coming. I can’t stop Eldavin.”
“No. You can’t. You gave it a good shot. Dioname failed to kill him even when she crushed his heart. His body must be magical.”
The Wyrm whispered. Ryoka hesitated.
“Sammial Veltras nearly died. Tyrion is advancing. He will not stop until Sammial is free. Maybe me—but he must fear for Sammial’s life. Understandably.”
“…He’s younger, now. Dioname must have hurled him back in time. Weaker. Even in her last minutes, she thought of Ailendamus first.”
The Wyrm’s head snaked around. He looked blankly away from Ryoka, then back towards her. She hesitated, thrown from her course for a second. She had seen the transformation, but didn’t understand it.
“Tyrion’s younger? Why would that…?”
“He lost his levels. Only explanation.”
Ryoka’s eyes went round. He lost his levels with his age? She understood in a flash why that would be—
“Can she do that?”
The Wyrm blinked at her like a snake, eyelids closing vertically, and then the first bit of annoyance entered his tone.
“…No, she just de-aged Lord Veltras for a lark. And that [Lord of Love and Wine] got a Skill capable of wiping a decade off someone. If this Pellmia Quellae were Level…70 I’d believe that. Or 60! He is not. That [Lord] is weak, now. He might have levelled, but Dioname took his fangs. She was a Great General to her end.”
His voice rose, gained some kind of strength. Ryoka looked up at him. That wasn’t…good. If Tyrion was that much weaker, what level was he now?
“He might not be a threat—but he represents the Five Families. Sammial Veltras is in danger. Wellfar is advancing on your coasts. It might not end this war, not after all that’s happened, but for purely humanitarian reasons, for a father to see his son and know he’s safe—or at least, home, since Sammial might never be safe because he’s Sammy—I want your permission to send him home. I’ll do it if I have to. But he goes.”
Rhisveri blinked at Ryoka a few times.
“Fine. Done. Get rid of him.”
The Wind Runner hesitated. She peered up at Rhisveri.
“Someone tried to kill me.”
“I know. I’m not leaving the palace, either. Not yet. Eldavin…Eldavin’s here. But I have someone I came here for.”
“Steal my scroll and die.”
The Wyrm was really throwing her off. There was no rancor in his tone, no bluster. Ryoka shook her head.
“No. I won’t try that. I don’t need to. But if I lean on the other immortals, pay them or convince them…”
“They’re free to do what they want. Whatever. Permission granted. You’re not a prisoner of the palace. I, Rhisveri, Duke, authorize you. You want it in writing?”
He was really, seriously mourning Dioname? Ryoka wasn’t sure if that was an act. Now, she thought he was being serious. She backed up a few steps.
“I…okay. In that case I’ll just, um—leave you. Which you want. Thanks.”
She wavered between saying something more and wisely shutting up. For once, wisdom won. Ryoka Griffin trotted off, but slowly. She counted.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…
Eight seconds and she was halfway jogging out of the room when Rhisveri spoke.
“Just so you know. She would never have been revived with the Resurrection Scroll. It’s not just my vanity.”
Ryoka Griffin swung around.
“I never mentioned it.”
The Wyrm glared at her.
“You very loudly didn’t. She knew nothing about it. And even if she did—she’s a mortal.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“She may be a Great General, but she’s still a mortal.”
“I know. Even Visophecin isn’t eligible. Makes sense.”
The Wyrm of Ailendamus just stared at Ryoka, pushing for an argument—but all he got was air. Ryoka Griffin waited. For what, she didn’t know—then the Wyrm curled in on himself, his body entering a spiral.
Inwards, inwards…and his head rose above the huge coils of his body. It rested on his curled self, like…someone leaning on his arms.
“It…wouldn’t work anyways, you see.”
Ryoka Griffin made a sound, and Rhisveri just stared at her. She stopped the half-scoff and thought that if it came out of her mouth—she died.
“It. Would not. Work. I am not lying or prevaricating. If I…had the thought, I wouldn’t. A Scroll of Resurrection is one type of way to revive someone. There are lesser versions, you know.”
The Wyrm didn’t blink at her knowledge of things thought impossible in this world. He went on.
“This scroll is perfect. It can work on any being and bring them back to their body, no flaws, no lost levels, no ulterior costs. You’re not bound to some stupid phylactery, you don’t have only ten more years…but perfection is a cost. And that is that you return to your body as it was. Great General Dionamella ended her life by using time to strike down the Archmage of Memory and Tyrion Veltras.”
Rhisveri nodded. He looked sideways and laughed softly.
“She had no idea the scroll existed. If—I—she might turn to ash the moment she reappears. She vanished. Where? What threat? I do not know.”
“I’m sorry for—”
The Wind Runner hesitated. The Wyrm didn’t look at her. She backed up a step. Then a few hundred more. Ryoka hurried to the doorway. She hesitated, put herself behind the stone and archway, then called out.
Rhisveri looked at Ryoka. The Wind Runner froze.
She turned to run, but the ray curved, zapped her in the back, and teleported her two thousand feet straight up. The Wyrm wished it made him feel better. He lay there.
“Ghosts exist. That Human thinks she’s delivering the Book of Levels each time she opens her mouth.”
He muttered to himself, growing a bit more animated despite his…Rhisveri slithered around.
“I know ghosts exist. I taught you to see them, after all. Is that what you saw? What killed you? You left no body.”
He spoke to the air of the throne room. Rhisveri’s voice echoed, and the chamber was warded against all intrusions and voices. Yet he spoke…not to himself. His head rose. He looked right and left. Up and down.
“Are you angry at me? I should have sent you allies. Visophecin. You assured me you were in control, and I believed you. It isn’t my fault. Are you…sulking?”
His eyes narrowed, and he scanned the room. The Wyrm’s voice rose.
“Do you want me to apologize? Grovel for your forgiveness? You accepted my call! You could have retired or asked what you wanted! You already had your wish! Do you want me to—”
He caught himself, and his eyes went wide. Rhisveri looked around. Not the visible world, but…his voice dropped to a whisper.
“I’m sorry. There. I am sorry. Will you speak to me?”
Ghosts exist. Ryoka Griffin did not tell Rhisveri anything he didn’t already know. The Wyrm stared around a world unseen…and then something rose from the floor. Someone.
He could even hear them. If he tried. The stronger ones could even return to the mortal world, sometimes. Though they needed gaps or magic most times. Or just death magic. Yet a ghost slowly climbed upwards.
“It is good you apologize, Rhisveri. Let us put bygones behind us, Brother. I forgive you.”
A female Wyrm, far smaller than Rhisveri, slithered up from the floor. The Wyrm of Ailendamus blinked at the person he hadn’t expected.
“Of course. And I forgive—”
He hit her with a spell, and she shrieked as she was cast into the aether, somewhere else. Rhisveri snarled.
Ailendamus’ palace was warded against ghosts. It was one of the places they could not walk—but he had relaxed the magics and wards today. He waited, looking around.
“Dioname. Speak to me. You told me to meet you…here.”
He lost his patience. Rhisveri began chanting in a dead tongue. Magic that had fallen out of use long ago.
“By bone and blood I summon thee…”
Old magic. Chanted magic, even as he activated a spell.
“[Nekhret’s Ritual of the Underworld — Summon Soul: Dionamella]!”
He drew a magical ritual on the ground, slapped his tail, and the room flashed with magic.
No one appeared.
Rhisveri’s anger turned to sudden…he hesitated.
“But that does work. My idiotic brother himself answers it. [Nekhret’s Ritual of the Underworld — Summon Soul: Dioname]?”
It took him fifteen more minutes, and he was panting when he cast it again. Yet the flash of magic, the summoning—
He tried one more time.
“[Nekhret’s Ritual of the Underworld — Summon Soul: Dionamella of Ailendamus]! Why does it not work? I know her name! [Scrying] spells work on her, so why…”
Had she erased herself from time itself? Rhisveri cast about. He didn’t understand. He called her name in vain.
This was a story of multiple…realities. Points of view.
Queen Marquin of Calanfer stood there, amid the ghosts of the dead, both Calanfer and Ailendamus. As yet, they joined the countless of Terandria. Some had been consumed, but even as the dead went to watch the end of all rising from beyond The Last Tide…
Terandria’s shores were held. None of the six were here.
Yet there was a strangeness that made even Marquin the Radiant uneasy. A victory had been won. A Great General had fallen…but she was a woman, and Marquin regretted that they had ever come to blows, such a pointless war, even if a Wyrm were orchestrating it.
The dead knew all secrets. Yet—something was wrong. She had waited, but she needn’t have, in truth. She had looked about, in case the Great General had moved slightly in her last moments. But the truth, as her people came to her and reported in, was undeniable.
Dioname was nowhere in the lands of the dead. But then—who had erased her?
It had not been one of the six. That, Marquin knew.
This was a story beyond one kingdom. Beyond one world, even.
As Rhisveri mourned, as Ryoka Griffin did whatever she did—perhaps she was vaguely aware they were pieces of another story.
One that the Wyrm had set in motion by cunning, but intersected with the Faerie King. Those stories seldom went how anyone expected.
Yet the auspices of greatness touched it. As the mortal realm fought and traitors and people discovered, planned, or just ran about in one world…
The realm of the fae lay in chaos. Not for Ryoka Griffin or a single Wyrm or Dragon. They had loads.
Rather—for magic. For something that was rare across any reality and available here in a neat, perfect scroll. Rarely was the law of death broken so accessibly. Sometimes, a great hero with the blood of gods could venture into the underworld, overcome great guardians and trials, and in the end, fail to bring back a single soul.
Sometimes, a great sacrifice could be made, a life for a life, always at cost.
Sometimes, a dark relic could be constructed, a ring forged, a cauldron fouled such that life or half-life remained.
Preserving oneself from death was easier. Even if the method was taking your soul, shattering it like a cheap vase, and hiding the pieces. That…tended to have consequences.
Yet the real stuff? The genuine, accept-no-substitutes, actual come back from death for whomever you wanted? Even if it were only once? With no costs, drawbacks, and again, self-contained in a scroll?
Well now. That had begun one of the largest auctions, bidding wars, and fights in any reality.
Not just the fae’s realm. Not all the gateways were closed, and the Faerie King had guests. Word had spread. Emissaries were sent, plots hatched.
Kingdoms were sending bids in, and the inhabitants of the lands of the fae stirred. Even those who had been offered sanctuary had brought something.
As myths and legends went, yes, some of it was merely handbags—but nice, designer-quality handbags. But would you ever believe any Wyrm in existence would flee her home without secreting at least one or two truly valuable objects? Just to have? Just in case?
The metaphorical piggy-banks were being smashed open, and the immortals counted what they had, made deals to combine it. For one life.
What wouldn’t you trade for one life?
Even the Faerie King, perhaps. What could he offer?
Rhisveri did not know what he had started. Ryoka might if she worried about that—the Faerie King’s rule was absolute.
But for that scroll, even the denizens of his lands and his guests and visitors might…plot…certain things. If nothing else, to disobey or oppose his bid. And that was enough.
The first battles between the guests were small. Quickly, it became worse. An army marched through one gate and clashed with another.
Describing such conflicts and the whos and whys of each would take a thousand books. Enough to say they were as varied as the places they came from. Nor were the matches fair; a Dragon might well think to rob some emissaries of their own gifts and find out that technology had advanced enough for space-flight and that it wasn’t a colorful floating wagon he was robbing.
…But the Faerie King brooked no strife here. So when fights occurred, his people, the strength of the fae, at least one aspect of them, emerged.
The Wild Hunt. Champions of the fae. A single warrior strode between raging giants, and they backed down. If someone violated the Faerie King’s laws…well, they were free to. Even his own subjects did.
There were simply, always, the consequences. The problem was—each warrior was timeless, wielding magic beyond the pale of any sorcerer of mortal make, and a warrior fit to lock blades with legends. Even the King of Knights acknowledged their might.
But the lands of the fae held legends too. It was never an easy fight—but some of the denizens did challenge even the Faerie King’s order.
All for a scroll. The day was coming. Time was subjective in this place, but soon the Wyrm would offer it, and, most likely, choose what he would trade for. Everyone was preparing for that moment. Even if they didn’t want it themselves, it was an object beyond price.
They would all have their turn. Even if the entire thing went fairly—the Faerie King had a mess on his hands for what came thereafter. He was a being that even Dragons hesitated to even name, to think of…
But what would you do for that damn scroll? The oldest laws in the world were of that kind. Hospitality, fair trade for trade.
And if you wanted something and failed to get it every other way…take it.
Time until that moment was drawing closer and closer together. Like inevitability, walking to meet destiny. The Faerie King waited. His plans unknown to all but himself.
Ryoka Griffin beseeched the immortals for the aid she knew she needed. She had a plan. Sammial could not stay here.
Oh, he bitterly fought, tried to kick her shins…but listened when she sat him down and spoke to him like an adult.
“Sammial. If Tyrion, Jericha, Swey, Buscrei, and the others come here to battle Rhisveri and Ailendamus, they’ll die.”
“No they won’t! Swey only lost a hand! My father can beat anyone! I don’t want to go! Come with me, then?”
“Why? Because you’re busy kissing those [Knights]? Did Rhisveri do something to your head?”
Ryoka Griffin just looked the [Lord] solemnly in the eyes.
“No, Sammy. I have to finish what I began with Eldavin.”
The boy hesitated.
“Are you going…to kill him?”
The Wind Runner was still for a long time.
“I’m going to try.”
He gulped. The fight went out of Sammial as Ryoka looked at him, so she took him by the hand.
“How are you going to get me home? We’re on Terandria, you know.”
“Do you actually have a plan?”
Ryoka Griffin shrugged.
Sammial Veltras considered that. He squinted up at Ryoka.
“Well, you cured me once. I guess you might know what you’re doing.”
His dubious consent earned, Ryoka had to now figure out a way to get Sammial Veltras, a [Lord] who was worth a lot as a ransom and might have people wanting to kill him—at the very least, a vulnerable target—
To Tyrion, or House Veltras, or just ‘safety’.
It was an easier job than dealing with Eldavin. In some ways, breaking a [Lord] out of Ailendamus with a Wyrm’s disinterested consent after she’d nearly ruined her life and betrayed one of her friends was Ryoka Griffin’s area of expertise. And she had people who could help her.
Cara O’Sullivan met Ryoka outside of the caravan. Her band was practicing in the distance, but the audience wasn’t really in the mood for music.
They were in that they needed it—but it was a hushed feeling in Ailendamus. They didn’t want a band, so Cara sang to them.
No one was allowed within a hundred feet of the caravan. Cara’s guard was up for reasons Ryoka didn’t fully understand.
One of them was Ryoka herself. The [Singer] had a scratchy voice as she drank a potion. Had she been singing?
The answer was yes, but Cara looked at Ryoka like a stranger. Nearly killing an Archmage on camera did that to your relationship.
“I guess there’s more you didn’t tell me. Just—tell me this. Do you regret it?”
Ryoka Griffin looked at Cara as the [Singer] offered Sammial some toffee. It instantly glued his teeth together, and Ryoka learned a new way to deal with the boy.
“I regret all my mistakes. But…I had my reasons, Cara.”
The [Popstar] rose and shrugged. Her hands in her pocket, she stood back from Ryoka, looking her up and down, eying the Faeblade.
“I bet. I can’t help you. I want to, but Sammial Veltras is too famous for my band, and we’re not bound for any port. Ailendamus has some on the west coast.”
The Kingdom of Glass and Glory stretched so far it did have ports on the west, above Pheislant…but only there. Ryoka could get Sammial to Tyrion, but Tyrion was going to war.
“Okay. But if you—”
“No. Sorry. I’m canceling my contract with Ailendamus too, Ryoka. I…can’t stay. Nor can I stick around as this nation fights these terrible wars.”
Ryoka understood that after seeing that bloody five-day battle. Yet she tried to stop Cara.
“I thought you were going to sue for peace. If there was any time…now’s your chance. Our chance. I’ll help you.”
“By killing an Archmage? Or are you going to stab everyone who wants to keep fighting? I grant you, if it works it works. But no. I have to go. Soon.”
Cara’s eyes shifted, and Ryoka glanced over her shoulder. Was it one of them? Cara?
Cara waved to the distant band, rehearsing without her. She looked at her audience.
“One more day, Ryoka. One more night. I’m doing a few quiet songs—then I’m bouncing. We’ll have to talk later.”
She was…off. So much so that Ryoka Griffin had already realized that Cara was a bad bet. And in truth, she had a better option.
“I want unlimited money to get Sammial home. Unlimited money, magical help…and I could use an artifact that just cancels all hostile magic on me.”
That last one was an extra. Viscount Visophecin raised his brows.
“…And you want me to provide it?”
The Devil tapped his fingers together.
“…No. I don’t believe I wish to grant that request. Why would I do that?”
Someone sniggered, and Ryoka glanced at Azemith. Paxere, who was a ‘missing finger buddy’, watched Ryoka as her parents, the other Lucifen, and the Agelum heard Ryoka out in their rooms in the palace.
“Does saving Paxere count for nothing?”
“It most certainly counts. Just not for what might be a poor strategic move. Sammial Veltras’ safety might best be ensured here.”
“Where he nearly got blown up?”
Visophecin raised his brows.
“A journey into a warzone—or sending him back overseas—is just as dangerous. There are ways, but the cost, the magical expenditure—why do these things now?”
“Because he might be in danger. And I’ve had enough of putting people I like in danger.”
Ryoka rested her hands on the table, and Sammial looked up from punching into Uzine’s palms. The Agelum was training him to fist-fight.
“See? She is a good person. I don’t get why she stabbed the Archmage, but I’m sure it was a good reason.”
The Lucifen eyed Sammial, who was, in some ways, their exact opposite. The Agelum laughed and nodded, and Ryoka played her trap card.
“You’ll provide everything I want, Visophecin. I can guarantee it.”
Paxere was watching Ryoka curiously. Even the Lucifen girl didn’t seem willing to just open House Shoel’s treasuries for Ryoka. The Wind Runner knew that, so she looked straight past Visophecin.
“…Because I bet your fairer cousins won’t let him die if it’s just a matter of coin. Right, Gadrea? Uzine?”
Visophecin closed his eyes as the Agelum turned in their wheelchairs and gave Ryoka wide grins.
“No. Hear her out, Visophecin. And do what Ryoka wants! The boy should be with his family. What’s a few hundred thousand gold? We’re rich!”
The Devil gave Ryoka a mild look of respect before pinching the bridge of his nose. He might not like being forced into something any more than anyone else…but Ryoka suspected he rather admired someone who rubbed their opponent’s nose in their weakness and played dirty.
“I am listening. But the quality of the plan does matter, Uzine. What did you have in mind, Ryoka?”
Sammial looked up eagerly as Ryoka outlined her plan with a breath.
“First…how far could House Shoel teleport someone? And I am going to need money. A lot of it. Not hundreds of thousands or even a hundred thousand…but maybe a few thousand.”
The trick was thinking of every move Ryoka could reasonably make—but thinking of how it could go wrong.
Let’s say I bring Sammial to Tyrion. Smart move, right? Bring a kid into a warzone.
Wrong! Stupid idea! Classic Ryoka idea! Children? Warzones? Did not mix!
Do the most practical, non-idiotic thing possible. Not un-dramatic…the Lucifen and Agelum liked the dramatic, and Ryoka had to get Sammial on-board as well.
She made a few [Message] spells, did some arranging. Really, it was all about having unlimited funds, the reputation of House Shoel behind you, and spellcasters on an Archmage level. Everything seemed so easy when you had that.
The disaster came that evening, as Ryoka Griffin was saying farewell to Sammial. He clung to her hand.
“Can’t I stay? Please?”
“You nearly died. People are in danger around me, Sammial. And even if that’s okay normally…I think it’s about to get bad here.”
Eldavin, Rhisveri’s auction…the [Lord] kicked at the ground as the Lucifen waited. He pointed at someone waiting to say farewell, too.
Oesca was surrounded by so many bodyguards, including two Great Knights—not Gilaw—that Ryoka could barely see her. But she had apparently convinced her mother she had to say farewell. The [Lord] aimed a finger at her and spoke loudly.
“It’s not fair! I like the people here! Like Uzine! And Uzine! And mostly Uzine, but also Oesca! Can I take her with me?”
“…She’s a [Princess], Sammial.”
“Well, Rhisveri kidnapped me.”
The bodyguards did not seem amused by the banter, and before Ryoka could be tackled by a linebacker wearing plate armor, she spoke.
“Maybe you can visit if the war ends.”
“Or I shall visit you, Sammial! You have to give me a tour of House Veltras. I’ll ask my mother and father to end the war—and so should you! It’s silly—we’re not on opposite sides! Just on different continents!”
Oesca came forwards, and Ryoka gave the [Princess] a smile. The [Princess of Trousers]—and Ryoka dearly hoped she got the class—had done away with a skirt today.
Sammial Veltras shook her hand and turned to Ryoka with a sigh. But he brightened up when he saw his escort.
Dame Chorisa and the Thirsting Veil [Knights] under Rhisveri’s command had good reasons to leave the palace themselves. They had volunteered for this ride—with some persuasion by Uzine. They were all waiting in the teleportation circle that would send them across Ailendamus.
Teleportation is safer than me carrying him…? Yes. Teleportation by Lucifen is safer than me, Ryoka Griffin, strapping Sammial to my glider.
Sammial Veltras being in the company of [Knights] who were not prone to Ryoka’s drama? Also check.
“It’s not a long ride, Lord Veltras. We should be at the port by nightfall on the third day. It is our honor to escort you.”
“Alright. But only if you show me how to poison my dagger!”
Dame Chorisa gave Ryoka a look, but Ryoka just nodded to her. I’m not making your life easier. Sammial Veltras walked away from Ryoka and glanced back a few times as the spell began.
“Are you coming home?”
“As soon as I can. I promise.”
He vanished in a flash of light, and Ryoka sniffed hard. Uzine patted her on the back.
“There, there. He’s perfectly safe. Your plan is very logical. Even Visophecin agreed. Why not distract yourself? I haven’t seen that young man who you brought to your rooms. What was his name? Greg? No accounting for taste, but maybe he’s around.”
Ryoka covered her face as Oesca looked at her. Greg.
Damn you, Greg!
Yet she didn’t see Greg that night. Only Cara, who was preparing for a somber song about the loss, a tribute to Dioname.
She didn’t see Rae or the others, either, and assumed the band was coming. Word of the Singer leaving abruptly had spread, but no one was mourning it hard given the true loss of their Great General.
…Except Menorkel, that was.
“Ryoka. Ryoka! You have to help smuggle me into Miss Cara’s caravan!”
The Titan tried to drag Ryoka over to the caravan still off-limits to all. Ryoka tried to get free, but her legs kicked a few feet off the ground. Gilaw captured them, and they began to carry her off.
“Menorkel! You can’t go, and you know it. Gilaw! Don’t help him!”
The Titan’s face was a mask of grief.
“I just met her and she’s leaving! Was it something I did? Why does she have to go? I love her, and she told me I could be a singer, and she doesn’t even know I have two heads!”
It wasn’t about him at all, but he thought it was. Talk about self-absorbed.
So thought pot-Ryoka as Gilaw nodded a few times. The Great Knight herself looked interested in going…but it was impossible.
“You’re a Griffin and a Titan. Even if you could make the magic stick, you know that Rhisveri wouldn’t allow it. I’m sorry, Menorkel. I don’t know why Cara’s leaving but…maybe she’ll come back?”
The Titan sagged as Ryoka patted him on the hip. Gilaw smacked Ryoka’s shoulder, but Ryoka just retreated.
“I can’t stop her, and hitting me won’t help, Gilaw! I’ll tell Fithea!”
She had to admit—it was odd that Cara was leaving so soon. But Ryoka also sort of understood why.
I’m at a confluence of stories, like the fae. She’s had her own issues with Ailendamus, so she has to leave. Seraphel and Merila were people she knew.
It had already been a risk. Frowning, Ryoka thought about it as Cara took the stage and Menorkel ran over to hear her last songs. Gilaw hopped over too, staring up at Cara as the [Popstar] began to light up the stage with quiet colors, a song for the fallen. She sang beautifully, and Ryoka thought she did sing with real sadness and regret.
Perhaps not for Ailendamus’ dead, though. She mentioned Afiele. That’s somewhere in Noelictus, which fought against Ailendamus. She’s leaving soon…because she tried to kill me?
Or was it something she did that I didn’t notice? Did she pick up on Rhisveri? Or is it…
They were on the same side, weren’t they? The Singer met Ryoka’s eyes across the crowded hall, two spotlights of magic illuminating her. A shadow glimmered against the curtain she’d set up as she sang alone, pale silver and deep violet. No bangles or jewelry, just quiet clothing with no sparkle, a frizz of brown hair as her head moved back and the lips moved.
We’re from the same world. Are we friends? Or…
Ryoka looked around as the quiet gathering in the banquet hall, devoid of any true notables except maybe Menorkel, Gilaw, and Cara. Someone else she recognized moved through the crowd, and Ryoka Griffin’s brows crossed at once.
She sensed the disaster before it struck. Just pure intuition from the messes she caused, the moment. Ryoka reached for her Faeblade and adjusted the weapon to a new setting as someone stepped through the crowd.
She would give them this: they were direct. The figure who moved through Ailendamus was well-known to Ryoka and others.
They did not run, nor hide. The bared blade in their hands had a faint glow to it. Like a rind of orange. Not intimidating…
However, the look in Baron Regalius’ eyes made Ryoka Griffin know he was serious. The [Baron of Ceremonies] was even smiling. But it was that set smile of a man staring at death. The listeners, the audience, turned and backed out of the way as the [Baron] strode through them.
He looked like he had stepped out of one of his ceremonies—a vigil for the fallen [Knights], perhaps. Indeed, confused [Knights] from all three Orders in Ailendamus trailed him.
Regalius’ attire was perfect, a billowing cloak like blood—cloth, not liquid—and a garb that let him move as freely as he liked. He had pinned a single white orchid onto his chest.
That was all he said. Ryoka Griffin appreciated that, too. She turned to him, reaching for the Faeblade. So this was it? How fast could he be? How large was the cabal? Why?
The [Baron] slowed as Ryoka turned to face him. He blinked at her—and walked right past Ryoka Griffin. She blinked.
Oh. This one wasn’t about her this time. The [Baron] advanced through the crowd as they parted. On-stage, the Singer of Terandria fell silent. He pointed the sword at her, one arm extended.
“Cara O’Sullivan, Singer of Terandria. Upon my name as Baron Regalius du Ecte, I must ask you cease singing. Upon my reputation and the honor of House Ecte—I accuse you of taking arms against the Kingdom of Glass and Glory.”
Gasps. Menorkel whirled, confused, and Ryoka Griffin herself started.
A smiling [Thespian] upon her stage gave away nothing but polite confusion. But that was a tell in itself. She did not look frightened or confused, just poised.
The [Baron]’s eyes locked on Cara’s like a hawk’s. His own expression was grim. Triumphant.
“I will stand before His Majesty and accept any disgrace if I am wrong. Yet I am not.”
“What’s going on? Baron, have you taken leave of your senses?”
A [Marquis] cried out, and Regalius swept around, sword still aimed, coat billowing as he addressed the crowd. Someone with the same presence as Cara. A fitting match. Indeed…as Ryoka listened and the pieces fell into place, she realized this was more than fitting.
“My peers of Ailendamus! I remind you of something not long past, yet it seems an age ago. Last year, you surely recall when an incident on our borders involved the Kingdom of Shade, Noelictus, and ours. One [Baron] besieged the earldom of Ovela. There, he perished, despite the presence of Dame Merila.”
Every eye swung to Regalius, and Ryoka felt a sudden chill race down her body. He had mentioned his brother passed away. But so soon…
To regain the honor Regalius had besmirched. His eyes glittered, but his arm never wavered.
“That tragic event was one of my brother’s doing; he did invade over the dispute, but Ovela had struck his lands too.”
Murmurs of agreement. Anger and loss. Until a voice called out from the stage.
“Yet it was Ovela who was invaded, not Ailendamus’ lands. The Baron of House Ecte came to slaughter all present. Just as he sowed dissent earlier.”
The Singer of Terandria stood on that stage, looking down at Regalius. Ryoka’s head swung to her, and the Wind Runner recalled something that Cara had once said.
“Afiele and Ovela.”
Regalius’ sword cut the air. He nodded.
“There were many strange oddities during that time. The Kingdom of Shade has its secrets. Yet as I recall, the 4th Princess of Calanfer was there. Coincidence? I know not. I cannot explain all of what I heard from survivors of that place. But what I remember clearly is that they spoke of…a strange phenomenon. A voice which raised the dead against Ailendamus.”
Ryoka began to remember a part of the battle that had unfolded near the end. When the 4th Princess had charged, she had seen something completely at odds with Terandrian customs. The undead fighting for her. She had assumed Seraphel did it.
But now she recalled a faint sound.
“A singer. I gave it no thought, for many voices are powerful, and I assumed it had to be one of Noelictus’ own. Now…I watched the terrible battle in which our Great General fell. At the end, I heard something familiar. It took me too long to connect the pieces. Yet now—though the voice was different, I come to one conclusion. To someone who has friends in Calanfer and Noelictus. To a name. Singer of Terandria. Cara—and the title given to her.”
The [Baron] led his audience to their conclusion, such that they realized it a second before he said it. Every eye swung to the young woman on stage, and she waited, face impassive as Regalius pointed the tip of his blade at her.
“The Gravesinger of Afiele.”
Ryoka gasped. She turned beet red as Cara raised a brow, but that had taken her by surprise. And then she saw the [Singer] on stage, the [Actor]…slowly smile.
Cara took a bow, and when she replied, her voice was calm. Like someone reaching the end of her act. Nearly time to step off the stage.
“Ailendamus made a terrible incursion into Ovela. They sent a rogue [Necromancer] to despoil the lands of Afiele. All on the orders of one [Baron]. Regalius du Ecte, your brother was no good man to me.”
Regalius’ sword hilt trembled in his hand, but his eyes burned.
“Whatever he did, and I do not trust your words—he was my brother. I will have you surrender for questioning, Miss Cara. That is fair. That is right…”
His chest rose and fell heavily.
“…That is what I offer you.”
He wanted to do more, but he was a [Baron of Ceremonies]. Yet the Singer of Terandria just tossed her head back.
“He was monstrous to me. A man who made war purely to conquer. I watched him die. Yes, I sang then and here. I will not stand idly by as Ailendamus erases every nation of people on this continent.”
The [Knights] and nobility looked up at her with cries of shock. Regalius’ eyes narrowed. Ryoka had her three fingers in her mouth. If Cara were playing the heel…she was doing too good a job.
Cara looked down on Ryoka, then pointed down at Regalius.
“I will not surrender to Ailendamus’ unkind mercies. Nor are you wrong, Baron Regalius du Ecte! I am the Gravesinger of Afiele! And I say to you all: Ovela stands! Ovela and Afiele, and the Kingdom of Shade!”
Baron Regalius’ lips parted in a snarl, but before he could speak, someone interrupted. Ryoka was shoved aside.
“This is insane. I am reporting to you live, Sir Relz—it’s confirmed that Cara, The Singer of Terandria, was involved in a conflict against Ailendamus! Hello, Sir Relz? I hope you got that. We were just observing a ceremony for the fallen when the [Baron] left the stage and—”
A Drake pushed his way past Ryoka, holding a scrying orb. Of course this was on television. A [Reporter] probably had a Skill for it.
The moment was sufficient to throw even Cara and Regalius, the two actors in the middle of this moment. Cara rolled her eyes, and her painted eyelids flickered. She muttered so quietly only the wind told Ryoka what she said.
“Wonderful. That’s going to go down well…”
Then she raised her voice.
“Yes, I am the Gravesinger! And I came here to prevent war! But it seems as though the Kingdom of Glass and Glory has only false artifice painted in the shape of honor; they will not consider true peace. Even children are not safe here!”
“Sort of unfair.”
Ryoka muttered. But Cara was playing to her audience, and again…Ryoka had no idea what Regalius was talking about.
Nor did it matter. The [Baron]’s jaw tightened, and he nodded to the [Knights].
Ryoka went to stop him, but the [Baron] just held up a hand. He was breathing hard as Cara backed up and the audience gasped, watching the arrest.
“This is not your kingdom, Courier Ryoka. This…this is a matter of war. I know the Singer is acquainted with you, but please, do not try to interfere.”
Ryoka hesitated. Cara was waiting as the [Knights] came up the stage. She had a microphone held loosely in one hand, but she was just a [Popstar] and [Thespian]. She addressed Regalius in that moment.
“He could have left. He was a harsh man.”
Regalius looked up at her, and his eyes were lost.
“You may tell me the truth, Singer. It falls upon deaf ears. He was my brother.”
She nodded. That was all. Cara’s head bowed as a [Knight] reached for her.
“Surrender quietly, [Singer]. Do not use a Skill—”
Cara’s head rose slightly. Her eyes gleamed. Ryoka saw her look up—and Cara’s polite veneer, her poise—all of that faded away.
Cara, the real Cara, who had spoken to Ryoka Griffin, who was prickly and intelligent and furious, raised her head. She lifted the microphone to her lips.
“No, thank you. I will be leaving and wish you all the worst, ladies and gentlemen. And as a parting gift—”
The [Knight] grabbed for her—too late. The Singer of Terandria had no sword. They did, and armor. She was no warrior…but she had survived the Spider of Terandria.
She was the highest-level person in that room. The [Knights] and Regalius were trained warriors who could cut someone down in a moment.
Sound was still faster.
Cara’s shriek into the microphone deafened Ryoka, and the Wind Runner had put her hands over her ears, guessing what was coming. Ryoka was expecting that—
But not to go blind.
[Banshee’s Voice]. The howl turned Ryoka’s vision dark, and she stumbled into Regalius. The entire room collapsed, clutching their heads. When Ryoka got up, head breaking, Cara was making a break for it.
“Sound the alarm!”
Regalius rose to his feet and howled above the ringing in every ear. But Cara had already vaulted the stage and was halfway down the hallway. Ryoka stared.
She ran like—
Ryoka. Like she was an athlete, and fast. Was she copying Ryoka with a Skill? Then Cara popped a vial and sped up.
Potion of Speed. She hadn’t been unprepared for a getaway. But the palace was in uproar, and the alarms were ringing. Ryoka looked around and ran for the only place she could think of, as Cara tried to escape.
Baron Regalius and the [Knights] made to follow, but they ran into a problem. For the third time since Ovela, a half-Giant disgraced the Kingdom of Glass and Glory.
“I can’t let you hurt her! Stop!”
Menorkel shouted. Gilaw was looking between him and the escaping prey, still shaking her head to get rid of the Skill.
“One side, young man!”
Regalius bellowed. Menorkel shoved him back, and the [Baron] went stumbling. That was it—the [Knights] had enough.
“Arrest him and sort it out later!”
They went for him. [Knights] leapt at the ‘half-Giant’. He was so tall they spared no force. Not when a state criminal was escaping. One of the Thirsting Veil grabbed Menorkel.
“[Grip of Paralysis]!”
The Titan punched her. The woman had no helmet on in the palace, and she dropped without a word. A Drell Knight hesitated and raised a fist.
He would have been really useful against Rabbiteater. Menorkel caught the fist, and the Drell Knight hesitated. He raised a hand—and Menorkel punched him.
It was just…a fast punch. That was how it looked. Baron Regalius turned his head as the Drell Knight, a Level 34 one…dropped. The other [Knights] saw that and drew their blades.
Menorkel grabbed a chair.
The immortals of Ailendamus reacted to the alarm with…alarm. They were ready to kill anything and instantly thought of Ryoka.
It was one of the Lucifen, Igolze, who reached the sound of fighting first. Not the [Singer]. What he found made even him stop.
The Agelum were the fair counterparts to the Lucifen. One was most skilled at magic. The other the physical element of war.
That wasn’t unique to immortals, though. Even as a young one, Gilaw was already on-par with a Great Knight. Ailendamus let immortals train their already prodigious talents. Rhisveri himself was a Wyrm who had improved himself and continued to do so.
Menorkel, Fithea’s ward, had to take combat lessons, but the Titan was infamous for evading them to practice his not-so-secret passion of singing. Igolze knew all this with little interest.
It had never occurred to him to ask why Rhisveri was so insistent a Titan learn to fight. Ryoka could have told Igolze some stories about Titans. They were not Giants.
In some mythologies, they predated the ___s. And so Igolze found Menorkel wielding a pair of chairs he’d picked up—
Fighting off over three dozen [Knights].
They weren’t trying to kill him, but they were baring their blades. One swung at Menorkel in a [Flash Cut]. The Titan’s two heads saw it, and he stepped back—then hit his opponent in the chest with a kick.
The [Knight] took out six more before he landed. Igolze saw Gilaw beating down someone trying to stop Menorkel. He whirled. Baron Regalius seized the Lucifen; the impeccable clothing was torn. But Regalius was still upright.
“Where is the Singer?”
A [Knight] went flying as Menorkel tossed him. Distraction or not, the Titan was one person, and the entire palace was up in arms. Regalius and Igolze ran towards the Singer’s obvious escape route.
The caravan. Her band hadn’t left! The colorful wagons were right there, and Regalius howled.
“Surrender in the name of the Kingdom of Glass and Glory!”
Igolze’s eyes narrowed. The [Baron] ignored him and charged…straight through an illusion of Rae playing the bass. He whirled, slashing at the air, and Igolze blinked.
The entire caravan was…
Everyone had a secret. Everyone had come to this world and survived. If you were here, you had depths.
Even Greg. He lay on his back, staring up at the clouds.
“I think she fancied me, you know. Everyone was talking about me and her—I never got a chance to even talk to her, but—you know, Rae?”
“No. Shut up, Greg.”
The entire band was a bit dispirited and confused. Especially since they were crammed into the wagons and unable to even advertise their presence. Greg stared through a glass skylight in the wagon as he rested his head on a pillow.
“Why’d we have to leave in secret?”
They had gone nearly non-stop for two days, breaking for the southeast, the closest border—with all the speed that Abebi could get out of the [Caravan Master] and their enchanted wheels. Abebi snapped as she unfurled a [Message] scroll. She went pale.
“…Because something’s going down. That’s it—”
“We’re going to stop?”
Thien sat up. He really, really needed to pee. The dark wagons around them had no colorful paint; they could change color so that they could hide. Cara had spent a fortune on them in what most assumed was paranoia.
…Or not. Abebi shook her head.
“Nope. Get me the [Caravan Master]. Everyone—gallop! Cara’s on the run, and Ailendamus is going to chase us and lock us up forever if they catch us. Get to the border! Cara will find us.”
Greg sat up.
“Shut up, Greg!”
Cara was the only person left anywhere near Ailendamus’ capital…but it was Cara that they all wanted.
Rhisveri was, himself, watching her flee. He was muttering.
“So that’s who it was. Someone from your world.”
He looked up as Ryoka Griffin came to a standstill. The Wyrm stretched.
“Ecte’s failure was unexpected, but it makes sense now. So this Singer was always against us. Did you know? No…it doesn’t matter. What do you want?”
Ryoka was panting.
“Let her go.”
“You say the most outrageous things. Let her go…? Why?”
Ryoka Griffin pointed at Rhisveri.
“She…you don’t really care why she did it, do you? You know everything.”
“Most things. But she is an enemy of the state. Not a particularly dangerous one to me, but it’s good to have an enemy to try. Fairly, I imagine.”
Rhisveri allowed. Ryoka Griffin shook her head.
“Just…just let her go. Or don’t get involved. Let’s make a bet. I help her go free—you don’t lift a claw. Not one spell. If she gets free—”
The Wyrm snapped.
“You are trying my patience. This time, I’ll teleport you underground and see if your precious wind magic saves you! You have three seconds to get out of my sight! One, two…”
“Menorkel will riot. And you owe me this.”
Ryoka pointed her finger at Rhisveri, and the Wyrm stopped.
“…I forgot the Titan was obsessed with her. And ‘owe you’? I owe you, Thief—”
The Wind Runner shouted at Rhisveri, and her voice echoed around the room and palace.
“I stabbed the Archmage of Memories for you! I have proven I care about your life, Rhisveri! Give me this!”
He stopped, and Ryoka shouted on, into the silence.
“Haven’t you had enough death? Just make a bet with me and let her go. Please. She defended herself and her friend from Ailendamus. She pleaded for an end to this war. You owe me this. Does a Wyrm have no respect for anyone but himself?”
She called on the one favor and thing she had and saw the Wyrm draw himself up. He glared at her and barked back.
“Of course not!”
Then he hesitated.
“…But it makes no sense to create a martyr. Very well. A bet, you said? If she crosses the borders, I’ll relent. So will every immortal—to help or hinder. You are free to do what you wish. But you will pay for any transgression.”
He sat back as Ryoka nodded shortly.
“So be it.”
Cara O’ Sullivan called the dead to defend her.
…Or tried to.
The problem with Ailendamus’ palace was that there were very few helpful dead bodies. The Singer of Terandria ran, cursing.
At first, it seemed like she would make it. Then someone turned her magic off. Someone suppressed the Skill and spells she was trying to use.
Then—just as abruptly—she felt her Skills return. Cara didn’t know what was going on, but she had a chance if she could use her Skills.
Her heart sank when she saw Ryoka Griffin. The Wind Runner touched down as Cara began to activate her trump card. Her final Skills.
Baron Regalius du Ecte stopped, looking as exasperated as Cara as the Wind Runner spread her arms.
“Stand aside, Ryoka.”
“I can’t let you hurt her. Cara—run.”
You fecking idiot! Cara backed up as [Riders] surrounded her. Did she have to rescue Ryoka too? What was she doing?
Whose side was she on? Regalius dismounted and walked past Ryoka. Or tried to. She barred his way, and he turned to face her, a look of true anger on his face.
“You have fought for Ailendamus, Ryoka. I consider you a friend. Please—do not try to play every side.”
“The Duke will let her go if she crosses the border. She’s against Ailendamus, but she just sang a song.”
“A song can kill. It has killed. My brother’s death is part of her.”
The Wind Runner gripped something tightly in one hand.
“Please, Regalius. I’ll stop you if I must. Cara—get out of here.”
“You are the dumbest, most addle-brained piece of shite who ever—”
The [Singer]’s voice broke off as Regalius pushed past Ryoka and strode towards Cara, sword drawn and a pair of magical cuffs in the other hand.
“You will have to—tsing—kill me, Ryoka…”
Then he stared down at the glowing blade poking out of his chest. Cara’s eyes went wide, and everyone turned as the brilliant blade of the Windsword emerged from Regalius’ chest.
But not an immortal Archmage. Just a man. The sparkling, bright yellow blade swept through Regalius as he turned and looked up at Ryoka with pure betrayal as he fell.
She was used to that. Ryoka turned, and the sword passed through a [Knight]’s chest and armor, enchanted metal and all. Cara backed up, eyes wide, as Ryoka murdered another [Knight], then ran through a third.
“Would you run already?”
A [Knight] tried to parry the Faeblade, but it passed through his sword, armor, and…Cara looked back.
Left no cut? Hm?
Hadn’t Ryoka claimed that the Faeblade, sharp as anything—couldn’t cut through magic? But it went straight through an enchanted breastplate, and her opponent dropped without a word. But it didn’t…cut them.
“What’s…what kind of magic is that?”
As the [Knights] backed away from the shining, yellow blade that was distinctly different from the hardlight projection, someone whispered it up. Baron Regalius, his face locked in betrayal, looked up at Ryoka. He was…quivering. Trying to move, but his entire body had suddenly gone as limp as a rag. A [Knight] was staring at his hands.
“My body won’t move. What’s…?”
The Faeblade swept through a fourth figure, and they keeled over, muscles relaxing. Going limp as the Faeblade’s nonlethal setting cut them down.
Set fucking phasers to stun. Ryoka Griffin leapt forwards, wind blowing her around as she attacked with all the will in the world. She was bad at killing people. But she would definitely give them muscle paralysis.
Cara saw enough. She ran. She had no horse, and now more pursuers were coming.
“Grab on! I’ll fly you—”
“Get your hands off me! I have a plan! Just cover my back, alright?”
Cara swatted at Ryoka and began her escape. The Wind Runner leapt into the air. She circled—and the wind slammed a [Rider] off their saddle. Ryoka Griffin dropped, stabbing, and a horse and [Knight] fell, stunned.
Dead gods, she’s a menace! The Wind Runner flew like Eldavin, blade flashing around, wind howling. A Griffin screamed and was thrown to nearly crash into the ground before the wind stopped it.
No time to talk to the Wind Runner or find out the rest. If they met again—Cara looked back just once, and the Wind Runner caught her eye. Cara offered her one last look and gesture to express how she felt about their brief meeting.
Then she began to activate her final Skill. The power of a [Popstar].
Predictably—Cara began to sing.
Ryoka Griffin had no idea what Cara was planning. She was deep in enemy territory and she ran fast, but she was already clutching at a stitch in her side.
Tyrion Veltras himself would have hesitated to just blitz across Ailendamus. But Ryoka knew Cara had a plan.
Which was to use the power of her class. Something only a [Popstar] could do. Her voice caught the wind, and Ryoka turned and saw the Singer of Terandra light up. A spotlight shone down from the heavens, her costume glittered, and in front of the scrying orbs, Ryoka, and the world, she sang.
“[Remember My Name]/[For Every Soul I Entertain, Goodwill Remains]/[I Can Do Anything I Claim]!”
Ryoka Griffin’s eyes widened. Cara leapt…and her feet left the ground and stayed there. She drifted upwards, and Ryoka Griffin saw Cara turn.
“[Fame Is My Magic].”
She was flying. Ryoka saw Cara’s face shining with sweat, burning through…
The concerts. Fame? All that accumulated fame and attention—the [Singer] saluted Ryoka with two fingers.
“You’re not the only one who can fly. See you around, Ryoka.”
Then she took off into the sky. Cara flew through Ailendamus, following her band’s path, and came crashing down like a rock…six miles short of her wagons. They had to turn to pick her up as she lay on the ground, exhausted.
Abebi dragged her up, and the [Singer] let them pull her into the wagon.
“The Wind Runner covered you?”
“Yeah. I’m not sure what her game is, but she’s staying. Hopefully they don’t reanimate her corpse. Either way—we’re out of here. Cat’s out of the bag…send the signal. I’ve failed.”
Cara collapsed into a chair as Abebi hovered there. Thien, Rae, Greg, and the others not-in-the-know looked confused as Cara’s head lolled. She’d failed the instant the Great General took the field.
No Wind Runner saved, nor war averted. But at least Seraphel made it. Damn it, it didn’t feel like a victory.
Thien demanded. Cara cracked one eye open.
“Grab a scrying orb. Do you think that Pheislant’s the only nation who was waiting for an excuse to go up against Ailendamus? There wasn’t a chance before this. Now…they’d better sue for peace. And if they do, it will be more than they ever gave others.”
On the borders of Ailendamus, their northwestern defenses were substantial. House Ecte and Noelictus had clashed often enough that it was not beyond belief that an attack might come from the nation beyond.
The Kingdom of Shade, Noelictus. Even the skies turned grayer at the borders of that kingdom plagued by death.
A strange land that people thought was filled with mad folk, who lived in a place with that much death magic. Yet it was filled with fields that produced much of Ailendamus’ grown food.
This particular section of the border, next to Ovela…this was most heavily reinforced of all. Last winter, Ailendamus had gone into Ovela and nearly taken it.
Nearly. But the [Baron] had fallen, and both sides agreed to a formal ceasefire for a time. Bad blood remained, though, oceans of it.
So when the first movement started across Noelictus’ soil, practically monochrome, bleached of color, either dark black or pale white, an alarm was raised.
The Greatbows of Ailendamus aimed at whatever was coming; Noelictus could send armies, and they would not so easily take the fortresses. However, this was not angry [Soldiers] on a raid from Ovela.
This was something else. The watchers on the walls frowned.
“What’s the count? How many detachments?”
The commander demanded, but no one could give him a straight answer.
“Contact on nine points…but I can’t pull the sizes of each. I just sense movement, lord.”
One of the [Scouts] had a [Sensor Network] variant that detected movement on the ground. But it should have provided rough estimates of a hundred soldiers here, ten here, thousands…
There was only one conclusion, which became evident as the trespassers broke through the treeline.
It wasn’t an army. At least…not in numbers.
Nine figures cleared the trees, which were grey, even the leaves, pale bark shining like strange faces in the ever-gloom, even under the day.
They were instantly recognizable to Ailendamus’ [Soldiers]. But the Greatbow archers hesitated as they saw the tall hats, dark clothing, and even capes. Clothing that revealed no skin for a monster or zombie to bite.
Dark leather and cloth. As bleakly stylish in its way as Regalius’ clothing. Nine figures—then ten—advancing in a wide, wide, scattered formation, carrying crossbows and swords. Weapons suited for their work.
[Hunters] of Noelictus. The famous Hunter’s Guild, which contained [Undead Hunters], [Witch Hunters]…
They were definitely hostile. The [Commander] saw one aim a crossbow and sent a flare into the sky. Another aimed their crossbow up, and a single bolt flew up, exploded into a shower, and sent people shouting for cover.
“Greatbows! Aim! Sound the alarm! Noelictus may be invading!”
The [Commander]’s gut churned. So soon after the Great General had fallen? They’d only received word today.
No…they had been waiting for something. This moment. A weakness. Ovela had never forgotten Ailendamus’ incursion.
The Greatbows fired, and the arrows snapped like thunder and flew, giant iron missiles. They targeted the [Hunters] and…
One threw themselves sideways in a [Perfect Dodge], the arrow passing past their clothing. Another just leaned out of the way, and the [Counter Fire] took an [Archer] through the chest.
Ranged experts. The [Commander] realized they had to be the first wave, to take out the Greatbows. More enchanted quarrels were hitting the walls.
“Prepare for an all-out assault!”
Then he saw something rolling through the trees and looked up.
“Lance-arrows protect me—send word to the capital! The Hunter’s Guild is on the assault! I see banners of Afiele! Ovela—they’ve brought the siege weapons of the Hunter’s Guild! This is all-out war!”
The furious people of Noelictus followed the Hunters. And the Singer of Terandria, the Gravesinger’s voice.
Ovela stands. The advancing Hunters slowed a moment as something crashed through the trees. Those watching the battle on the border forts would see Noelictus’ declaration of war as it entered the conflict—the giant contraption, a siege weapon specialized to Noelictus.
The first gigantic impact stuck in the enchanted walls. Another blasted soldiers off the battlements. A third crashed into the gates and stuck there, preventing it from being fully raised.
The weapon was a tool of the Hunter’s Guild. It was known, colloquially, as a Bloodbeast Slayer. Why, exactly, no one could say but the oldest [Hunters] or those who recalled when it had been used.
The projectiles launched from the oversized ballista looked and were always made out of wood, incidentally. They looked like giant stakes.
Noelictus entered the war against Ailendamus the day after Pheislant. First two nations—who sent their forces to harass the Kingdom of Glass and Glory or link with the Dawn Concordat—then more.
If not outright war, then Desonis announcing it had closed its borders to any [Merchants] or forces of Ailendamus. Other nations sending funds or [Mercenaries]. Weighing the benefits to the dangers.
Taimaguros stood with Ailendamus. That was something. The two giant nations made all but the most belligerent think twice about all-out war.
Even so, this was a disaster. The rulers of Ailendamus, the immortals, gathered for a conference with the Wyrm.
Rhisveri. He lay there as they argued, the center of ire as much as anyone, because it was he who had pushed for war after war. They could have heeded the Wind Runner—they could have bided their time.
“Now we face the Dawn Concordat’s main army. We can muster a force to defeat them. But the psychological impact and loss of Dioname is most pressing. The Archmage of Memory is the most dangerous individual by far.”
Visophecin summed the situation up calmly. He looked at the Wyrm, not mistaking Rhisveri’s silence for fear or confusion.
The Wyrm was too quiet. Such that the other immortals waited for his words. Rhisveri raised his head, looking tired.
Okay? The Merfolk’s representative was agitated. Paterghost herself raised a gauntleted fist.
“If you will not let us punish that insolent Wind Runner—then at least give us leave to combat the enemy, Rhisveri! I will go to battle Noelictus! Let Visophecin and Sophridel contribute.”
Rhisveri spoke curtly, and Paterghost began to object when he turned and looked at her. The immortal fell silent, and Visophecin waited.
“Pull no army. The capital will link with the retreating forces. [Royal Knights]…even Baron Regalius and his staff. A grand, desperate army, which will meet the Dawn Concordat at best speed. Within the week.”
“That’s no army. Who will lead it?”
It would be a cluster of forces unused to working together. True, lots of [Knights] and high-level forces, but it would take a genius to use them all. The immortals waited for a name. One of the Great Generals? Two? Rhisveri’s head rose, and then Visophecin saw it.
The Wyrm’s wrath. Rhisveri hissed as everyone backed up.
“Everyone. Visophecin. You will head to the front.”
He’d lead it? Even Paterghost was surprised. Then they caught what Rhisveri meant.
“Sophridel. Four of your most dangerous war-masks. Gilaw.”
“I don’t care. Not Gilaw if you want. No children if you must—but every adult Lucifen. At least six Agelum. Every single one of us. I will send my body. The Archmage of Memory is there? I will crush him. Every Great Knight who can make it—every Great General. Everyone. No tricks or gambles. We wipe them out so badly there is nothing but ash.”
The immortals went silent. All eyes turned to Visophecin. The Viscount had never gone to war fully. Nor had Rhisveri. There was no need to.
Send Visophecin alone, and he could hold back the Dawn Concordat. Visophecin, Rhisveri, every single adult Lucifen, Sophridel, Fithea, and the others?
Paterghost had dueled Named Adventurers, and she wasn’t among the mightiest of them. It was beyond overkill, and yet…Rhisveri’s words had a seductive allure.
Everyone. Make an example. The kind of overwhelming victory that would reverse all losses. Duke Rhisveri hissed.
“If I must, I will melt Tyrion Veltras, the Archmage, the Griffin Prince, and the 4th Princess myself! Tell Dame Merila to assemble and wait for us. Everyone is going to wipe them out.”
In the next week, as Ailendamus began to defend itself from multiple nations, the Dawn Concordat’s army would advance to meet a quickly rallied army in the field. To the populace, a desperate stand as even the famous House Shoel, Baron Regalius, and even ministers like Sophridel took to the field.
All or nothing. Enlistment surged to defend Ailendamus, the capital, from this army. The immortals marched upon the Dawn Concordat for the first time, and only a Wind Runner remained.
Waiting for an auction, a terrible battle, searching for a way to resolve it all. Or perhaps…convince the Dawn Concordat to flee. This was no joke. This was not even the Great General of Ages alone.
This was the Wyrm of Ailendamus, come to kill everything. The Wyrm, the Devils and Angels, the Dryad, Elementals, and more.
Shortly before the two met in battle, the last Seamwalker crawled over the edge. A month passed during that week, and the dead of this world saw the end. Amid it all, the confluences of war and battle, desperation at every corner, Ryoka Griffin took one small solace.
If she failed here, at least Sammial Veltras would be safe. Two days before King Fetohep of Khelt heard the herald of dire news, Sammial Veltras reached a port city of Ailendamus. There, he found an escort waiting to take him to Izril.
Not just [Knights]. Nor The Pride of the Wellfar or a navy. Those were highly dangerous, highly contentious figures. Ryoka Griffin entrusted the wellbeing of Sammial Veltras to the two figures who met the young man at the port.
Who could protect Sammial Veltras, who had learned from Ryoka Griffin? Who could take him to Izril, across seas where [Pirates] and worse than Krakens lurked?
The boy was sulking, waiting to meet a Wellfar [Lord] or [Lady] or sit on a stupid vessel. But he perked up when he saw who it was.
“You’re the ones Ryoka sent?”
Two figures stood there. Well, two figures and a monkey. The monkey scratched under one arm as a gigantic Beastkin rumbled.
“A Courier calls. She bows to the sea—for a Courier we answer. I, because Gnolls owe Ryoka Griffin a debt. The Bearkin of Baleros heed our distant kin—no Gnoll by sea could answer, so I stand in their place.”
The Waterbear folded her arms, and the second, a smaller man, bowed, and his tattoos flashed under the sun. The Hundredfriend Courier, Seve-Alrelious, bowed to the awed [Lord].
“For the Wind Runner of Reizmelt, I too answer the call. For a fellow Courier, and the one who helped spread the Yellow Rivers cure. Lord Sammial Veltras, you are bound for your home, and we will not fail that charge. Let no one in the world slow our passage. Couriers outbound.”
Deliveries and runs. That was Ryoka’s specialty. She took comfort in one thing, as it all came to a close.
Before the King of Khelt panicked for the first time in ages.
Before the last shape crawled over the Last Tide.
A week before the worst came to the worst…at least she had this. She read a [Message] and closed her eyes in relief, as she sent all she could across the world. To help. To speed their way.
A week before the dead woke from their dream, the Great Goblin Chieftain, Rags, flew across Izril. Returned to the place where it all started. Liscor and The Wandering Inn.
To wake Erin Solstice.
Author’s Note: Day Seven. I am now on break. I think I can safely call it a hundred thousand words in a week.
My body hurts. Not just my arms and actually not much. It’s just a grind. I will take two updates off. I know that’s a lot, but we got through a lot. I will write two more chapters after that and then—
Then I think it will be the final month of Volume 8. You know I have a terrible time with deadlines, but in seven days I got where I wanted with this.
Super fast. Courier fast. But we did get there. There’s a different cadence to different types of writing. This is not slice-of-life. But I do hope you enjoyed. Break until the…26th, when a chapter will be out. I am exhausted, but thanks for reading.
Two Rats by ArtsyNada!
Cara and ??? by Dinkel!
Crusader 57 and BobaQueen by Mg!