9.06

“Hail.”

A simple greeting yet, as with everything of their kind, the nuance had layers of history behind it.

Meaning that even they had forgotten.

Hail. The other Dragons spread their wings, answering the brief comment with motion, not words. He folded his own wings as he landed. A gesture of peace among allies, however contentious their pasts. When he opened those wings again—everything burned.

“Hail, Teriarch.”

It was not the largest among them that greeted him. Size did not equal strength among Dragons. True potency of spirit, true danger came from the quality of scale and fang. The intensity of their eyes and breath.

Even that could fool. Many of his kind had fallen to foes who did not signal their strength. Yet the Lord of Flame nodded back to his equal among this company.

This last gathering of Dragonlords.

“Khetieve-Xool.”

His name was longer. Just like ‘hail’, their language was economical. A sign of the times. In the past, they would have had flowery phrases, elaborate ways to signal meaning and respect. The way you adorned your scales. The flick of a tail, almost reminiscent of Goblin language. Subvocalizations.

Not now. Not here. Hail was a word with the oldest meaning. It was a universal greeting. Many cultures had adopted it, but the Dragonlord of Flame did not know the nation that had first adopted it. Perhaps…no species that had first drawn breath on this world had.

Perhaps it came from beyond, from travellers and knowledge older than the world’s soul. A simple world. Like Khetieve’s name.

The Dragonlord of Waters belonged in the sea. Everything about him was adapted for speed underwater; his neck bore no mane but fins. He had gills and lungs, and even his talons were different. They were serrated, to cut a foe and leave them bleeding.

His teeth—when he spoke—shifted slightly. Even now, they unsettled Teriarch, and they were long acquaintances.

Not teeth, but a kind of melding between hair and bone. Like ivory which could adapt, from tearing fangs to baleen-like structures from the mouths of whales that filtered simple algae.

Water Dragons—how much of the world knew them—were not carnivorous by nature. Typical Dragons of air and land were omnivores, but they preferred meat. Most Dragons who had evolved in the water did not hunt even by nature or inclination.

Yet Khetieve was fiercest of his kind. Far more deadly than any Dragon born in the modern ages. That was why he had survived.

He was long weary of war. The Dragonlord of Flame waited for Khetieve to reconfigure his mouth to form words as precisely as he wished. The Dragonlord of Water had perfect diction, even for his kind.

“Khetieve will do. Xool is no longer mine, even in name. I relinquished it. The Iron Vanguard has claimed it.”

“You did not contest them?”

Perhaps that was an insult if he had been driven off. However, the Dragonlord simply spat—such a disgusting gesture from an elegant personage. Yet it was how his kind expressed themselves in water.

“We need it not. The Seatouched will leave land be. I hear the Dullahans even kept the name. May they keep their cities and rot.”

His tone was no less bitter, despite the light way he spoke. He could have cursed them with language so powerful a [Witch] would struggle to match him with spells. Yet he was resigned.

“This era is breaking down. Will we ever reconvene here, I wonder?”

A Dragonlord with feathers, not scales, spoke as the two oldest Dragons exchanged words. Another time—Teriarch might have snarled at her, in pride, for there was an order here.

Hierarchy was dead. Dragons were dead. The Dragonthrone’s seats lay empty—the others had come for battle.

Some wore armor. One carried a glowing spear, which floated around him, dancing with disintegration. Some, like Khetieve, trusted only to their abilities.

Teriarch’s armor was blasted in places. The truegold corroded. Green smoke still rose from the metal. He broke off from his light conversation. Nodded.

“Whatever happens next, the Dragonthrone will be used. This is the last beach. The mortals have drawn back. Whomsoever chooses to leave—”

“Do not offer us three times, Terrium.”

A hissing retort from a Wyvern, her scales dark like shadows. Teriarch glanced at her and, for a moment, wished the last Dragonlord who could join them in this stand were here.

Dragonlord of War. But she fought seldom with allies of their kind.

In the days to come—the last three Dragonlords to survive would be he, Khetieve, and the absent Dragonlord. The others would not die here. Not all of them.

Only three would survive the following eras. When the Creler Wars began, they would not gather here. It would be a mockery, three in a Dragonthrone meant for dozens of Dragonlords and hundreds below them.

He did not know it, but he knew it. Teriarch exhaled and nodded, and the Dragonlords walked across the throne, towards the boundary where this reality merged with the next. Proudly, heads held high, lungs filled with magic.

“—I am weary.”

The Dragonlord of Flames spoke as he walked. His head emerged from the Dragonthrone, and he saw a beach, torn by smoking craters of acid. Dead mortals, who had fought next to titans.

“Weary. Let us end this. Mortals need not join this. Whatever comes of this moment—we shall settle this long war here.”

The Dragonthrone shone behind him. A vision—a physical presence that divided the sand and water. A gateway into one of the greatest treasures of Dragons.

The mortals were watching from their ships. Harpies, flying cover over half-Elves and the loyal Drakes. Gnoll adventurers and Drowned Folk and more.

Watching.

He was not just speaking to his kin. The Dragonlord’s claws crunched on sand turned to glass. Chandrar’s green landscape stretched out before him, and the Dragonlords began to count.

They were outnumbered. Six-to-one. Twelve Dragons and one Wyvern spread out, facing the twisting figures that turned from their feeding upon carrion on the beach.

Yet these were no monsters. No thoughtless foes. They were princes and princesses. And—making the Dragons seem as children before true giants—

The Great Wyrms of Chandrar. The Dragonlords halted, and Teriarch spoke. To his cousins as they laughed and mocked him, as three continents’ armies fled in defeat. In that fragile moment of overconfidence where they gathered against their overwhelmed foe for the greatest of prizes.

They were vulnerable. All it would take was resolve. A battle with no quarter. A simple trick.

“Seal the Dragonthrone once a third pass into it.”

Khetieve’s mental voice was so quiet even the Wyrms wouldn’t hear. The Dragonlord of Skies answered him with a single flap of her wings. There was nothing left to do now. So Teriarch, the Dragonlord of Flames, dipped his head once as he met the Wyrms upon the sands.

“Hail, cousins.”

 

——

 

It took but a moment. Then he was descending. And his body felt far heavier, his wings less sure, and he wore no armor and flew with no one at his side.

That was how memory worked. One second to see that particular shade of scales. Jade green, a pale underbelly like a riverbed shining bright under a path of grass.

Green eyes, green scales, not mismatched like so many Dragons. A different kind of green within, though, like the wilds of a world inside, an overgrown landscape. Capable of wisdom and intellect.

All the Brass Dragon remembered in those familiar eyes—and he had seen thousands—was wrath. Contempt. Greed.

One look and he knew who had spawned the last Wyrm he had ever thought to meet. A name rose to his lips.

“Zessoprica.”

A single Wyrm cunning enough to let the Great Wyrms charge before her. Wise enough to fall back at their disastrous defeat.

The last Great Wyrm of this world. Or so Teriarch had thought. Another lay before him, his body undulating with threat.

He wasn’t even young. This Wyrm was…if not the largest that Teriarch had ever seen, one in his prime. No Wyrm could reach that size in two thousand years.

He also had magical training—Teriarch detected a dozen quick pulses, as adept as anything he could have conjured. It caught him off-guard, but the Wyrm probably found nothing more than the residue of teleportation and a few ward spells.

Who taught this Wyrm magic? He was unsettlingly good. If Teriarch had engaged in a battle of spellcraft, he might have…well, it would have become a contest of magical depth as much as finesse.

In that sense, the Dragon was at a disadvantage. He did not understand why Rhisveri’s eyes narrowed so dangerously or why he swept past Teriarch’s own magical wards.

It was as if they’d met before. Or at least, some version of Teriarch had. The Dragon tried to adjust his pace.

He was walking forwards like he was preparing for battle. Calm—he lowered his head slightly, attempted to smile.

However, he felt like he was walking upon older battlefields. His wounds ached.

Was this why he’d been called back? No—and no again. Humility.

The Dragon had taken a measure of Ailendamus as he flew in. A new Terandrian kingdom with merely two hundred years of backing? He—didn’t recall it.

But he didn’t remember anything in the last century, only bare fragments. It was conceivable he hadn’t paid attention or noticed, but in hindsight, the sudden rise to power was obvious.

No matter where he looked, he saw immortals. They had signaled him away from the capital, towards what looked like a former battlefield. Recent; it must have been the site of the last conflict between the Dawn Concordat and Ailendamus.

More and more elements made sense as the Dragon glanced left and saw a line of wary figures stalking him. Dignified—they had the whiff of fire, but there was more darkness about them. Even without that or the other telltale features, like the teeth, horns, and tails he could spot through their illusions, there was no mistaking their kind.

“The Lucifen. Wonderful. And Agelum. When did they make peace?”

That made him rethink his decision—again. Lucifen ruling a nation seldom turned out well. Then he reminded himself he wasn’t coming to dictate anything.

The Merfolk put him exactly in the opposite direction. Teriarch blinked at them. He hadn’t expected to see…

A Griffin was flying around him as the Dragon walked forwards. He heard whisper-spells telling her to back away. She was challenging him, but she was barely a sixth his size; a child.

It was conceivable she had been born in Kaliv or another Griffin territory. If there were no others, she was a wild royal.

Was the Wyrm kidnapping children from other lands?

Peace. Peace. Teriarch had steeled his will against whatever he might see. However heinous—wait first, then act.

He could ill-afford battle. Especially here, but the world had greater issues before it, and he had no allies. None—unless a Walled City he had no knowledge of in its current form counted. Or…

The [Maid] claimed he had one of the Five Families on his side. It sounded too ludicrous to be a lie, even if she’d managed the Skills. However, he was wary of whatever that had looked like.

Reinharts. A Walled City. A Wyrm-led coalition of the immortalis. Not ideal allies. And he had so many foes to contend with.

The dead rulers. Seamwalkers. The ill-fated Necromancer he vaguely remembered. And the Antinium.

He had been asleep too long. Even his note-spells, such as they were, seemed to indicate he had been in contact with this Magnolia Reinhart less and less.

A mortal weariness in my bones. I couldn’t even fly to First Landing. 

…Who in their right minds had chosen him as the ghost to bring back and lay the burdens of the world upon? Anyone else! That high-and-mighty Xarkouth, Saracandre, even Yderigrisel! If there was any Dragon who would relish a nigh-impossible quest against some horrific foe…

All gone. How did a Dragon mourn? Teriarch had not done it yet. He had awoken in despair and duty and come here first, after seeing all that had passed. He walked towards the Wyrm until he stared up at the giant serpent, coiled upon himself as if to strike.

Already, the negotiations were not going well. The Wyrm was not even hiding his killing intent. He was, like a snake, ready to shoot forwards.

The silence thickened as the immortals surrounded him in a semi-circle. Some looked patently disbelieving. Others—wary. Why did he see fear in so many eyes?

What did my shadow do? Another stab of guilt, but the Dragon did his best.

He opened his mouth, and his pre-prepared speech came to his lips. As before, so again.

“Hail, Cousin. Hail, descendant of Zessoprica. Hail, Great Wyrm of Ailendamus. I greet thee as—wait. Where did you get that?

The narrow-eyed Wyrm was baring his fangs, venom-acid dripping from his furious maw, when the Brass Dragon suddenly turned, fixed Culnous, the leader of the Merfolk, with an incredulous stare, and pointed one claw.

The old Merfolk raised the trident instantly, and a globe of pale, pinkish water enveloped the Merfolk. They backed up, and half the immortals tensed, but Teriarch was staring at the trident.

“That’s Khetieve’s Warden Trident. You’re Merfolk under his protection. What happened to him?”

Culnous froze, eyes opened wide, but then, at the name of the Dragonlord of Waves, blurted a reply.

“You know the missing guardian? No one has seen him since the Creler Wars! The sanctuaries were abandoned. This is his relic.”

“Haven’t seen him since the—is he dead? He shouldn’t be. He was only wounded—very badly, but he cannot be dead.

The Dragon was horrified. Culnous looked at another of his people, and she called out.

“No one saw him. He retreated below where even we can swim—but then, an earthquake shook the entire sea floor. He never returned.”

“He wouldn’t have been buried. Even wounded, he could call for help. Wait. Earthquakes…was that when those idiotic [Archmages] tried to sink Rhir and it backfired?”

“We—don’t know. Only four of the Oldest were alive, then. With his passing, the monsters grew bolder and bolder. We had to flee our sanctuaries after the second Kraken attack. And after that—our tridents—”

Rhisveri opened and closed his mouth in the way of someone who really, really wanted to interrupt the conversation with an expletive or pure violence—but who was also aware he had no opening and was intrigued despite himself.

Teriarch had completely forgotten the Wyrm for a moment.

“He can’t be dead. He was so badly wounded, yes, a lesser Dragon would have succumbed. Those damn Crelers ate his first heart. But he was going to live. He was…the Warden Tridents are nearly out of power. He didn’t tell you how to recharge them?”

“They’re rechargeable?”

Culnous almost dropped the trident he was holding. Teriarch closed his eyes for a moment.

Khetieve. He always did favor rechargeability over permanence in artifacts to let him squeeze in more useless enchantments. Didn’t you have a Moontide leypool?”

“The Crelers—”

“Oh. Oh no. I see. They would have attacked that first. What a compounded disaster. The tridents naturally recharge on ambient mana, but to bring them to full strength, Khetieve probably made them artistically annoying. They only gather mana actively under the full moon or underwater or what not. I can take a look after this and…”

Teriarch’s mouth kept moving, but suddenly the Dragon’s scales rippled as if he shivered slightly. His right eye swiveled over to the Wyrm, and his voice adopted a slightly stilted quality, as of someone who realized he’d gotten way, way off topic.

“…naturally, the last Dragonlord of Waves’ fate is one of my deepest concerns. He was practically like a brother to me. It overwhelms my sense of propriety, which is why I greet this gathering of the immortalis with even more profound respect. For you harbor those under my kin’s protection. Hail, Cousin. I thank you twice, then, for your gracious role as protector.”

He swiveled the rest of him back to Rhisveri, and the Wyrm’s glower practically reflected itself in Teriarch’s huge smile with all his teeth. As pivots went—well.

Ryoka had seen worse.

 

——

 

She wasn’t standing next to the immortals. For one thing, Rhisveri didn’t trust her. For another, Visophecin himself didn’t trust her.

She was a bargaining chip, so they left her with the younger immortals like Paxere and the young Merfolk. They were watching via scrying spell, and Ryoka was about to pee herself with nerves.

It was him. And yet—it wasn’t quite him.

The distraction from the main topic? Entirely Teriarch. Yet she felt like he was still a bit—off. He was so—well.

Humble. She had never, ever, seen Teriarch do anything like bow to someone, and even the head-bob he did was entirely awkward. But aside from that, he looked like she remembered. He didn’t sound like Eldavin—wrong from the first words out of his mouth.

Her heart was squeezing itself against her ribs, and Ryoka squeezed so tightly she heard a bah. Then the Sariant Lamb bit her.

The Wind Runner loosened her grip, and the lamb glared up at her, but even it was watching the moment. Azemith kept glancing at Ryoka.

“It’s a Dragon. A Gold Dragon?”

“No. More like…brass. A Brass Dragon? Does that mean it’s weaker?”

The other Lucifen were debating. Ryoka turned and stared.

“Weaker?”

“Gold surely beats brass in terms of metallics. Let me see—yes, Brass Dragons. No such thing as bronze. Silver, Gold…no Platinum. Perhaps we’re dealing with a weaker variant of the kind?”

Weaker? His simulacrum nearly stormed Ailendamus!”

Paxere’s eyes gleamed with triumph. Ryoka’s were filled with indignation.

“Aha. So it was the same Dragon. We Lucifen have battled their kind, you know. Rhisveri has fought them before.”

She looked triumphant at getting this tidbit out of Ryoka and immediately began whispering to Visophecin. Ryoka just stared at Paxere.

“…You’re no Visophecin. I told everyone that.”

Paxere’s triumphant look faded. She opened her mouth, but Visophecin himself spoke through the stone in their link.

“Brass Dragons are merely a type. They have no hierarchy metallically, Paxere. This is no ordinary Dragon. No younger Lucifen are to approach if an altercation begins. Sophridel has confirmed Ryoka’s name. This is Teriarch, a Dragonlord. One of the greatest Dragons ever to fly the world over. Do not let Ryoka Griffin approach him. Silence your communication spell.”

“Yes, Visophecin.”

Paxere fumbled with the stone, and Ryoka experienced a moment of vicarious pride. Right until it shifted back to worry.

They recognized him. Yes, some of them did. Many immortals, from Paterghost to Paxere, didn’t know the name. But the old ones did. They knew Teriarch like Ryoka knew of them.

Legends unto immortals. Sophridel’s masks, hanging in the veil of shadows, all turned to Teriarch with expressions of unease. Visophecin adjusted his posture as the Lucifen spread out into a battle formation. Rhisveri was still tensed, snarling.

 

——

 

“I wish we had a dragonslayer’s sword. We had a nice one before that damned Goblin King attacked.”

Uzine planted the eighteenth blade fifty paces away from the last one. He was still in his wheelchair. When he stood, he’d fight. But he might need even the scraps of energy it took to stand right now.

Dragonlord. Even the Agelum had few in their number who had met one—anymore. But then, they did die; their immortality was tainted by their shattered health.

Some of Visophecin’s predecessors had known Dragonlords, Uzine well knew. Not just met them, but had relationships both adversarial and amicable.

Damn. This wouldn’t be like fighting a regular Dragon. Eighteen blades, and each one was one of the finest weapons in Ailendamus’ armory, meant for their [Generals] or champions. Rhisveri had made three of them; the other immortals all but two.

Each one might break if it came to battle. Hence, Uzine spacing them out. The Dragon was alone, but Uzine didn’t want a war.

Not now. They’d all already lost enough. Fithea…

And Razia.

No one said she was dead. Not yet. Rhisveri had interrogated Ryoka and kept claiming she had something to do with it, but Uzine doubted it. Ryoka Griffin was not the sort of person who would or could do something like that. Make Razia disappear without a trace. The Human might be related to what had happened, but Uzine was a warrior.

He knew, already, what had happened. If not why or how.

Now we might waste more lives in a battle against the last Dragonlord of Flames. It would not come to that. Could not.

“If he fights, it will only be because Rhisveri loses his temper. See how he comes to us. He agreed to take this away from the capital. He spoke to Culnous as a friend.”

“Did you believe that part about the Dragonlord of Waves being his brother? I nearly shat myself laughing.”

The other Agelum smiled as she rolled her wheelchair forwards.

“Humility. He is trying to be reasonable.”

They were speaking, now. All the Agelum could hear it. Rhisveri’s voice was over-loud and full of ire, as much as they’d ever heard him speak.

—do not suffer Dragons upon my land lightly, ‘Dragonlord’. Or is it…Eldavin?”

The Agelum stiffened. The Archmage of Memory was alive. The fact that the Dragon could maintain such a powerful simulacrum and be here—perhaps the other one was weakened, but he had already shown his intentions. They waited, and Gadrea, holding a single axe in her frail hand, looked up sharply as the Dragon responded.

“…Who? That is not a name I would go by. Do you mean—imposter? In the old tongue? I assure you, I am the Dragonlord of Flame.”

“You—deny being Eldavin?”

Rhisveri’s voice sounded strangled. The Dragon hesitated.

“I—cannot deny my actions of late. If I was this Eldavin, I take full responsibility. However, I do not know what occurred. A magical incident robbed me of my memories. I am afraid a simulacrum with some of my knowledge went rogue earlier this year. Everything it has done is—lost.”

Uzine’s lips moved as Gadrea looked at him.

“You mean, we were afraid of an amnesiac Dragon’s alter ego?

The female Agelum’s lips twitched. Uzine gave her a wry smile.

“I told you we were losing our steps. First Curulac, now this. Are you really going to abandon us at this moment? You, Gadrea?”

The other Agelum turned her chair to face Uzine and sighed. Then…she stood up. She shifted a pack from her lap onto her shoulders, and Uzine saw her stretch her body.

He loved to see it. Relished the way her skin didn’t seem transparent any longer. Would have cried aloud with joy to see one of his kind stand and not break like glass.

Yet his smile was bittersweet. For Gadrea had a pack on, enchanted for holding, and she put the axe on her belt as she looked towards where Rhisveri was visible, rearing up in the distance. Past the illusion spell they were skirting, and it would look like an ordinary day.

“Now is perfect. If I hear Ailendamus is in flames, I’ll rush back. Otherwise—Rhisveri will be so distracted he won’t notice me gone. Visophecin as well.”

“We’ll claim you’re sick for a month and quarantining with the [Healer]’s orders. I doubt it will fool Visophecin more than a day if things are normal. Are you sure?”

He reached out to her, but Gadrea gripped his hand gently. Her eyes, so odd to other species, turned, and multiple pupils stared into the distance.

“I hear something, Uzine. Something calling me. Maybe this is what Razia followed. I must go. I am the second. Perhaps you will be third.”

He shook his head, tears spilling from his eyes.

“…Someone has to dream of our people. We may have a future, Gadrea. A future after all. Will you not stay and watch? A Dragon comes to Ailendamus.”

He looked up, and an Angel smiled. Not gently. Kindly—but with the same visage as a warrior of faith on a quest. Like an adventurer staring up at a distant mountain.

Full of life.

“And yet, I must go. I have always, my entire life, wished for a mortal’s lifespan to live fully, not waste away in kindness and frailty, Uzine. To death or whatever Razia found. A great purpose.”

He averted his gaze for a moment as Gadrea’s smile brightened. Then he heard the flap of wings. Just for a second. When he looked back…

She was gone. Uzine wiped at his eyes. Then he turned back to his home. The world was changing. Even immortals changed.

Or died.

 

——

 

“I did not come here to resume hostilities, Wyrm of Ailendamus. Any transgressions I have made—I intend to make recompense for upon this hour. Allow me first the chance to prove my sincerity and greet you as Dragonlord. To the last of the Great Wyrms of this world.”

He spoke well enough. Each line was a deliberate calculation, mixing the Terandrian formality with direct enough language so as not to provoke the venomous bile in Rhisveri’s chest.

Greet you as Dragonlord. Acknowledging him as a Great Wyrm—oh, so calculated. Suitable recompense for the damage he’d caused?

Yet…yet…Rhisveri longed with each passing second to attack, and it was more than even his hatred towards Ryoka. This was a rivalry bone-deep. Wyrm and Dragon. Even Teriarch’s presence was like an intrusion into Rhisveri’s lair.

We are more than beasts. So he had claimed to Ryoka. Proving that now—was far harder.

“You boast well for someone claiming the name of a famous Dragonlord. Have you any proof of it?”

“Endless proofs. The least of which I may share with you now. Yet I do not know your name, Great Wyrm. Will you not at least speak it, that all and sundry might bear it the rest of their days?”

The Brass Dragon was too flowery. Now, it reminded Rhisveri of the other Dragons he’d met. Arrogance in silver. Youth—a total ignorance of the rest of their kind—and in some, the same terrifying age as he beheld now.

If anyone belonged to Terandria, it was this Dragon. For he bore all the hallmarks of the kingdoms Rhisveri intended to tear down.

Clinging to past glories and a dead grandeur. Yet Rhisveri replied grudgingly.

“You speak to Rhisveri Zessoprical. Wyrm of the Great Zessoprica of Chandrar. Wyrm Queen of the Withering Age.”

He had looked up the rest of that long ago, yet he might never have claimed her. But for that conversation with ghosts.

 

——

 

Wyrm. Art thou mine?

The first thing she said to him was a question. He stared up at a Wyrm even grander than he, who seemed graceful and made his writhing about seem like energy wasted.

“I was born of your corpse. As were the thousands of others. Are you truly her ghost? Not one of our kin ever found you—and we see the dead! Why are you here? What is happening?”

For answer, Zessoprica lowered her head as the Dragonlords fought something he couldn’t see.

“Each of us a minute. Each, an explanation. To Baleros I went, with every other kin of scales. The last Elves died there, and their secrets are what we pass to you now. Listen, spawn of mine. Or just as you were born from my fall—turn and face your true foes. They command even death’s pall.”

She nodded left, and his scales burned with unease. Yet Rhisveri had so many questions not at all useful.

“What—what wisdom have you, Zessoprica?”

Mother? No—there was so little affection in those eyes. Just an intensity. And as if she heard that word unspoken, the Great Wyrm threw back her head and hissed like laughing waves.

My words are these to the spawn of my blood and flesh: we are Wyrms. Remember that, and do as you will. You will not die a noble death.

 

——

 

He had not seen Fithea before the ghosts vanished. He wondered what she would have said. Something less…quintessentially useless.

We are Wyrms. Now that he thought of it, Zessoprica had much of Teriarch’s air. A world-weary superiority and refusal to…

“I will remind you of what you have forgotten, then, oh mighty Teriarch. Your Archmage, your simulacrum has made war on Ailendamus. He has slain thousands of [Soldiers], and he was, in part, responsible for the death of my Great General, Dioname. But for his interference, thousands might live and a war’s course changed. He even kidnapped one of the ‘immortalis’ under my aegis. The Lucifen’s own. You claim you remember none of it?”

Teriarch’s eyes flickered left to Visophecin, but his face betrayed no emotion.

“—I do. I will amend these ills as best I may, cousin. I can only claim the madness of magic misused. I, myself, do not know what went wrong. If I could but guess—I attempted to do something so dangerous it backfired. Piercing Archmage Zelkyr’s last test comes to mind. Whatever guards Wistram may be more dangerous than I anticipated. Enough to wound a Dragon’s mind.”

Rhisveri hoped his own poker-face was good enough to keep his thoughts from revealing themselves. Archmage Zelkyr’s test? He said it so casually. Then again, Rhisveri had wondered if he, in his true body, might not break it in twain as well.

These were all good-faith statements. However, it was making the prickling ire worse. Rhisveri did not like feeling—looked down upon. But that was the effect he was getting, as a ruler entertaining the guest who had strode into his inner sanctum and demanded an audience.

Yes, that was what the Dragon had done wrong. He had teleported into Ailendamus and forced this meeting. His demeanor now was humble. No, wait.

He spoke as if one were supposed to be humble, but without a shred of it actually evident. Rhisveri decided he was losing control of his own tongue. He made a subtle signal, and Visophecin stepped forwards. He might have done it anyways.

“The Infernal Court greets thee, Dragonlord. I am Visophecin, First of Lucifen. It has been long since our kinds last met.”

His bow was careful and refined. Different from any other formal salute that Rhisveri had ever seen. It must be designed for Dragons, and as for those titles…Rhisveri hadn’t heard Visophecin claim that since their first meeting.

The Infernal Court was dead. House Shoel didn’t refer to themselves like that. Not after a Goblin King cut down their already thin numbers.

However, it was a probing greeting. Unfortunately for Visophecin? It seemed the Dragon was either fast on his feet or used to dealing with the Lucifen. Both, probably. The Dragon lifted a claw and drew it across his breast in a five-pointed star which made one of the other Lucifen catch their breath sharply.

“I greet thee, First of Law. Unto the Infernal Court, I come as supplicant only in hospitality’s sacred name. My admiration for the Infernal Court extends also to the Radiant Host. May I greet their Visionary?”

Visophecin only paused a second as he straightened out of his bow.

“He—is arriving presently. We regret that this meeting does not take place under more suitable auspices.”

The Lucifen acknowledged the simple battleground, and Teriarch replied.

“It is not the first time I have met the Infernal Court out of splendor, Lord Visophecin. Nor, I pray, shall it be the last.”

The two nodded, and Rhisveri thought Visophecin had lost that bout handily. Normally, that would really cheer him up, but it only added to the feeling in his chest. The Dragon was taking the time to greet everyone with names or titles he clearly remembered.

“Warden Culnous. A Keeper of Masks. May I know your name? Sophridel of Many Faces, a rare honor to meet one of your nature so diverse. And…”

He came to Lady Paterghost, and the touchy, supercilious suit of armor spoke up quickly. Of the immortals present, she was probably aware her nature was the least august.

“I am Lady Paterghost by dint of my long service to Taimaguros’ royal palace. With me stands Nube, my sworn companion, Dragonlord.”

The mimic waved one hand as Paterghost tried to bow. Now, how would he address her? The Dragon’s eyes fixed the animated suit of armor that had been around for a thousand years before it decided to start giving its opinions to everyone it saw.

“Ah, a Lady-of-Arms. You are well met indeed, Lady Paterghost, and Ailendamus could want for no finer a noble protectorate of the throne. Taima be with thee, and Gura shield you and your companion. A Treasurewarden and Lady-of-Arms is a potent combination of dignity.”

Paterghost looked delighted by the appellations. Rhisveri’s teeth ground together audibly.

She was going to refer to herself like that every time they gathered, wasn’t she?

However, that confirmed it. Rhisveri was almost, almost completely certain that Teriarch was making up names at this point. He based that on the convenience of the address…they were such obvious titles, ones that made sense, that Rhisveri suspected that if you had a fancy way to refer to an intelligent suit of armor or mimic, it wouldn’t sound like ‘Treasurewarden’ but some obscure name.

Secondly? If there was a grander way to refer to herself, Paterghost would have found and have been using it long ago.

Etymologically, Rhisveri had to admit he was a bit fascinated by this. Was this when the lexicon changed? Just a Dragon spouting bullshit? Actually—that was how most words developed.

Time to end the pleasantries. Rhisveri hadn’t just been simmering with active hostility. He had been planning a retort.

“I trust Lord Uzine and the other immortals will have time to meet you, cousin. However, I must insist that our business is concluded here first. Ryoka Griffin herself is my guest, and until you provide assurances to back up your insults to Ailendamus, she must stay out of sight.”

Teriarch’s head came up at that name. He turned to Rhisveri, and the Wyrm smiled. Right up until Teriarch spoke.

“Ah…Ryoka Griffin…? I believe I have met her. Hail once more to the Rulers of Mountains. The royal line does not die so long as their people remain.”

He gave a very respectful nod to the Griffin perched in a tree, ignoring her elders telling her to get lost. Rhisveri and all the immortals looked left, and the Wyrm’s mouth opened as he saw Teriarch addressing—Gilaw.

Gilaw looked confused and offended. Teriarch noticed and coughed.

“Er—was I perhaps mistaken?”

“Ryoka Griffin? The Wind Runner, the Human you—Archmage Eldavin seemed to hold in some regard? The thief who stole the scr—who helped return you to your body?

He didn’t want to mention the Scroll of Resurrection, although Visophecin and the others might have learned of its existence. Teriarch blinked at Rhisveri.

“Ah, Ryoka. Forgive me, Featherfriend.”

He nodded at Gilaw and then turned back to Rhisveri.

“—I would be interested in meeting with her, briefly. I understand she is a prisoner of Ailendamus. Her own crimes I would also like to amend and see her returned to her life without grudge nor enmity. I shall repay that debt, but we need not hold her between us as a point of issue, cousin.”

“You don’t—wish to speak with her?”

Rhisveri hesitated. The Dragon’s face was still almost completely unreadable, but his nonchalant attitude didn’t seem forced. Once more, Teriarch paused.

“I believe our acquaintance may also have been memories lost to me. It is regrettable, but as such things have come to pass, I hope simply to make amends. Come now. Let us not discuss mortal foibles.”

It was there Teriarch made his first mistake. It was all too likely that the Dragonlord said that after carefully considering how to speak to Rhisveri. Analyzing Ailendamus and so on.

However, his comment did not pass well among Visophecin or any of the other immortals. In fact—Rhisveri found his own mouth moving despite himself.

“The Wind Runner of Reizmelt is a Courier who broke into Ailendamus’ own vaults for you, Dragonlord. She not only bested several of my finest [Knights], but saved the life of an Ailendamus [Princess] and has the respect of the Faerie King.”

Visophecin’s mouth opened slightly as he looked sideways at Rhisveri. Technically…true? Beating Dame Chorisa in a footrace counted, and Ryoka had saved Oesca…even if the bomb were meant for her.

However, that last comment made Teriarch’s head snap up.

“The Faerie King has contacted this world? Truly?”

“Only through a gateway for Ryoka Griffin. And myself. I have exchanged words with him and had some business with the Lands of the Fae.”

Rhisveri’s comments would have been true under most truth spells. Teriarch actually backed up a step, and when he spoke again, his tone was quite different.

“I had no knowledge that Ailendamus was in contact with the travellers of the Tuatha Dé. Truly, then, this kingdom has the potential to shadow even the great gatherings of old. I only hope it shall be ruled with wisdom and foresight for the mutual dangers to come.”

Rhisveri twitched.

“Shadows of the great gatherings of old…? It seems as though you find the Kingdom of Glass and Glory less than magnificent, Dragonlord.

Teriarch hesitated, and his wings opened slightly.

“I misspoke, cousin. I merely mentioned this in reference to the previous Wyrm-Empires I have had the—pleasure—of visiting. Or making regrettable war against. Do not hold it against me. I walked the last Cormornest of Harpies. I have spoken to the rulers of half-Elves, whose palaces are but dust built upon by the later rulers of this land. Ailendamus is a powerful nation in this era. But as I hope we both know—some foes can humble even the Faerie King’s court. And theirs is the fount of all legends, myths, and stories.”

The immortals exchanged glances at this, but Rhisveri’s blood just ran colder and colder. Now came the hints, the threats, even implicitly.

“—And if we do not make peace, how long does Ailendamus have to last?”

The Dragon lifted one claw, his mismatched eyes focusing on Rhisveri’s. He didn’t blink as the Wyrm and Dragon locked gazes.

“Be it forever, as I intend to raise no claw nor speak against it so long as we can come to an accord. Cousin. I do come in peace, personally. Look—I bear no armor nor blade.”

“As you would know, cousin—we need neither.”

Somewhere behind them, Ryoka Griffin was crying. Hiding it in a Sariant Lamb’s wool so no one would hear her unless you had a scrying spell monitoring her reactions. Looking at the Dragon who didn’t even remember her name.

Challenge a Wyrm, steal a scroll, all for him. The Wyrm hissed.

“One last thing. You claim you can make amends, but your ally, Ryoka Griffin, slew a vassal of mine. Of the immortals you see present. She was—suborned by foreign powers. Yet Fithea, the last Dryad of the world, is dead. Will you answer for that, Dragonlord?”

Teriarch’s eyes flashed, and he raised his head.

“A Dryad? One still lived? And—no child, no mere Sapborn as some might find, but a true Dryad of the great forests? Dead?”

Rhisveri nodded. There were some ‘Dryads’ the world knew. Fithea likened them to half-conscious manifestations of trees, incapable of speech. Give them a hundred years and they might become the basis of what she was. But she was the last of a Great Forest. Even the Vail Forest of Izril could not produce her kind anymore.

“Dead. By your Wind Runner’s hand, in self-defense.”

The Dragonlord closed his eyes.

“—I take responsibility for that. Never could I condone such actions. I offer my greatest regrets. The last child of the forests upon land is gone.”

Rhisveri slowly nodded. The bubbling anger in him began to subside until he saw Teriarch’s eyes open slowly.

“Just remember, cousin. Such is the price of rulership over mortals. I hope we may discuss governance ere I leave. I would not wish Ailendamus to mirror some of the flawed nations I have seen before. Even mortals cannot suffer silently forever.”

He glanced to the side. Before Rhisveri could speak, Teriarch nodded at the Lucifen.

“I make such comments only out of familiarity with the Infernal Court, of course. They have attempted…theses of proper ruling that have gone astray in the past. As even they would admit.”

Visophecin’s red gaze fixed on the Dragonlord without a word. Rhisveri actually lifted one corner of his mouth as he bared his fangs.

A principled Dragon, then. One who came with charm but also that arrogance of old. Power and what he probably thought of as dignity.

A statesman of older lands. A champion of dead peoples. A mentor of the past.

Now, the Dragon moved a claw in the air, tracing what looked like a simple unlocking spell for a vault or some other holding device.

“If I may, I would like to speak now of a concrete gift to the Great Wyrm of Ailendamus and the immortals gathered here. A worthy bridge over the hostilities.”

The Wyrm smiled. He uncoiled from his striking posture and nodded.

“Naturally. Tribute to the tyrant, to appease. Will we swear friendship or merely a truce between cousins, Dragonlord Teriarch? After you inspect my kingdom for faults? Or shall I sign a pact not to invade other kingdoms?”

Rhisveri—

Culnous whispered, but Teriarch glanced up, and again, the air actually turned darker as the two locked magical stares.

“I do not overestimate my power, Great Rhisveri. I am well aware of the history…and reasons behind your war with the Dawn Concordat. I trust that you and I both know there are greater foes at hand.”

This time, Visophecin’s eyes locked on Rhisveri. He had not heard the Dragonlords’ warnings. Rhisveri had.

There might be no finer ally than this Dragon, yet Rhisveri’s mouth exposed all of his fangs.

“So you intend to interfere not at all with Ailendamus’ business? Very well. I intend to repay each and every nation that has troubled my borders soon enough.”

Noelictus, Pheislant, even Desonis and Nadel…the entire south of Terandria would be engulfed in flames. Even his other immortals looked alarmed at that, but Teriarch didn’t call the bluff.

“I am sure a Great Wyrm will choose his enemies as he wills. I only hope this: the safety of Ryoka Griffin and that the wrongs I have committed will also be a prelude to peace.”

The vault was opening. Rhisveri caught sight of a cave and realized the Dragon was transporting something from a continent away. The immortals tensed, but Teriarch spoke.

“A great tragedy has occurred, as I am sure all are aware. The ghosts of every age are gone forevermore. That they died once is tragedy enough, yet the peoples—my peoples, yours, Great Rhisveri—are gone. There are not enough of our kind left to mourn a species. Hundreds would be equally insufficient. But there is a tradition amongst Dragons I thought long on when pondering my journey. You see…in times of old, to mark the passing of our kind, we would give up a gift that mattered to us more than any other.”

Slowly, something began to move through the air. Visophecin didn’t even bother at a pretense of casualness—the immortals moved back and magical wards began appearing. Yet Teriarch was just focused on Rhisveri.

The Wyrm’s eyes were locked on something being drawn through the air. Teriarch continued, his voice low, solemn—and, yes, pained.

“This war has been bitter. One of forever’s children is dead, and her species dies with her. Let this be an end to it. The mortals need not trouble you, cousin. Allow them their hollow homes, built on our legacy. I offer you this in its place. Calanfer was built upon another, but that was gifted to Marquin the Radiant for her deeds by my peers. This…this Dragonthrone was never taken. It was home to the last gatherings of Dragon, Wyrm, and Wyvern. Let it be a fitting place for the last Great Wyrm of this world.”

He held a glowing orb in one claw. No—a contained world, so vast that it could hold hundreds of Dragons and still have room. Rhisveri saw tiny thrones made of material so powerful he had not more than scraps for his [Wizards] to research. The immortals around him gasped in pure shock. Visophecin’s own voice shook slightly.

“You are offering us…your Dragonthrone?”

The Dragonlord of Flames stared down at one of his greatest possessions. A sign of his authority. The legacy of Dragons.

Even his claw shook, so minutely only Rhisveri’s eyes saw it. Yet he let the Dragonthrone hover in the air, waiting to be unbound or entered. You could bring it into reality or use it as a hiding spot, have an inner sanctum no one could enter in the heart of your palace…

Every reason Rhisveri had used to convince the others to make war on Calanfer came back to him in a flash. This was the mark of power that no species could deny. The crowning jewel of Dragons.

Teriarch offered it to Rhisveri, and the Wyrm looked at the old Dragon.

“This is your gift? Truly?”

He couldn’t hide the surprise, the incredulity from his tone. Teriarch inclined his head slowly. A bow from Dragon to Wyrm.

“I do. I can offer no greater mark of my sincerity.”

The Wyrm’s gaze stared upon a wonder even he had not seen in eleven thousand years. A treasure to replace even a Scroll of Resurrection. His body trembled as he bent down to stare at the Dragonthrone—then up at Teriarch. He nodded slowly.

“I refuse your gift, Teriarch. I have no need of it.”

The Dragonlord’s eyes went wide, the first unguarded sign of true shock, and then narrowed a second before he resumed his mask.

Rhisveri!

Azemith called out, but the Wyrm was slithering back.

“Does something about it displease you, Rhisveri? This is my Dragonthrone. Home to the Dragonlords, and yes, even Great Wyrms. It was a shelter when magic died. A bastion to fight against—”

“I know. I do not want it. I do not want the leavings of an old Dragonlord too cowardly to do more than pay me off. I do not need a worn relic. And most of all, I scorn the notion that you could buy me as if I were as greedy as a lesser Wyrm.”

With each word, Rhisveri felt himself shaking. With glee. With satisfaction—purely for the anger now travelling across Teriarch’s face, no matter how hard he tried to hide it.

“Lesser Wyrms? Do you mean Zessoprica or the Wyrm Kings and Queens who made war for this very Dragonthrone? Every single species has set foot in this Dragonthrone as supplicants or enemies.”

“And? I have not ever moved within it. So until now, there is little to boast of. If you wish, I will do a circuit of the Dragonthrone before you leave that you might boast of it from now on.”

Duke Rhisveri. We must speak to you now. Dragonlord, we will not scorn your gift so lightly.”

Culnous interrupted urgently, and the other immortals surrounded Rhisveri, but no one could just ‘drag him back’, even if Menorkel were there. And Teriarch’s eyes were glowing. Was that smoke in the air?

“Great Wyrm. I have been—I hope—nothing but respectful in my address. I had hoped you would reciprocate the courtesy. I do not pretend to take no offense from your comments.”

Rhisveri hissed, and the laughter was bubbling in his throat.

“You pretend to be humble and graceful well, Dragonlord. All I see is old peacockishness befitting of a preening [Earl] expecting half the court to bow to his rank and bursting midriff. You are old, out of shape, and deluded if you think I am impressed by mere words and pageantry. You claim to be here for peace—because you know what would happen if you tempted my wrath, let alone those gathered here.”

The Dragonlord blinked slowly as the immortals of Ailendamus froze and then began moving away from Rhisveri. Slowly, Teriarch exhaled, and there was smoke on his breath.

“I sense a challenge, Rhisveri. The young often sought to prove themselves in the past. I came to find a ruler, not a hatchling. May I speak to the Great Wyrm, not his impetuous pride?”

Rhisveri spoke with a giddy laugh.

I would have thought you knew Wyrms, Dragon.

Teriarch stared at Rhisveri, whose fangs were beginning to drip with venom that ran onto the dirt and cut holes into the earth. He nodded.

“I do. I have looked for change—but I see I was only speaking to a memory. Hail, cousin.

The two, Wyrm and Dragon, rested there, Teriarch on his claws almost sedately, tail curled, reminiscent of a cat or Sphinx of old. The Wyrm was slightly relaxed, uncurled from his striking pose, head lowered so as to be of a height with the smaller Brass Dragon.

The silence was broken by Rhisveri’s smile. Wide and unadorned by pretense. He said:

“[Blood Demon’s Lightning].”

 

——

 

You know, as conversations between Wyrms and Dragons went, this one had been on the better end of interactions.

The first bolt of crimson lightning struck the Brass Dragon—or tried to. It evaporated inches from Teriarch’s chest as it hit a ward spell and broke into fuzzy filaments. Which was impressive, because that was at least a Tier 5 spell.

Tier 6?

The problem for Sophridel, the Elemental of Masks, was that the categorization of magic got…silly when it came to higher tiers.

[Blood Demon’s Lightning] was an exceptionally advanced spell that was a curse melded into a lightning bolt. However, it was meant for a single, small target, and was thus not like [Valmira’s Comet Storm]. It was harder to cast than [Valmira’s Comet Storm], though, but less mana-intensive.

Did you call that Tier 5 or Tier 6? Tier 6 in complexity, Tier 5 in scale. Anyways, the Elemental would have liked to know how a Dragon took the spell head-on without protections.

Knowledge was a wonder. Sophridel watched as the Dragon took into the air, and Rhisveri lunged like a striking snake. Even for his size, he was faster than a viper—yet he missed. Teriarch popped out of existence and wavered into place a hundred feet up.

Then the fight began. Sophridel was aware of Visophecin organizing the other immortals to support Rhisveri and stop the conflict, but as he understood it, this was almost inevitable.

Wyrms and Dragons hated uncertainty. They would often fight—not even to the death—to determine who was stronger if they were in close proximity. Perhaps this would be for the best if they came to a mutually respectful end.

He suggested this to Visophecin, and the Lucifen’s cursing indicated what he thought of the idea. However, Sophridel maintained his calm—mostly because he had retreated to a safe distance and he had fourteen ward spells on him.

“My book is quite clear that Teriarch, the Dragonlord, often engaged in such duels for supremacy.”

Your what?

“I have a book on him. House Shoel’s libraries are quite replete for ancient texts, even if they have lost many entries. As is my own collection. Although this may have come from Rhisveri’s stolen library. Would you like to borrow it later?”

He was staring at Teriarch as the Dragon roared. Yes, this was definitely Teriarch, Lord of Flames. The Dragonthrone proved it.

It was just…Sophridel stared at the book with his many masks. Each one was his ‘face’, so he read the text from many angles, but it said the same thing. He glanced up at the Dragon, stared at the book.

A few frowning masks clustered around the text. There was a passage here, one of the first ones, that really described him in this book of tales about Teriarch, among other famous Dragons.

 

One eye shone like the violet skies of the Continent of Glass whence evening fell. The other—the deep, clear skies of autumn’s repose. He strode through the Palace of Seasons, each scale flashing under sunlight. His mane flowing copper, his lithe stance unto Dragons as [Swordmasters] were to half-Elves with no knowledge of war.

 

Sophridel’s masks swiveled upwards to watch the Dragon as he dodged a shower of acid. He hadn’t attacked back yet—he seemed to be trying to cease the fighting.

The eyes fit. Heliotrope and cerulean, quite magnificent. The mane? Check. The scales? Yes, most definitely.

The…picture the [Artist] had captured of the Dragon was where it became a problem. Oh, all the other elements were the same, and so Sophridel decided this book might have a lot of historical accuracy—even if you had to take into account historical bias.

He wouldn’t have even noticed the discrepancy if he’d met Teriarch normally. This was the first Dragon that Sophridel had met in safety at any length. It was just—

The Dragonlord in the picture looked a bit more lithe than the one flying through the air. A lot more. Maybe it was also the [Artist] clearly defining muscle groups, but Sophridel saw a lot less of that.

The Elemental of Masks was fairly sure Teriarch was out of shape. He watched, unconcerned, as a shower of acid splashed off glowing shields like armor coating the Brass Dragon’s body.

This was unto territorial marking and disputes between hyenas and Needlehounds in Chandrar. All species save his were ruled by biological impulses.

Even Elementals knew arrogance. Sophridel heard Rhisveri chanting—with two voices? He was splitting his magic up into increasing complexities that only Sophridel’s best masks could follow. He twisted up into the sky, flying, the Wyrm’s head striking like a snake. The Dragon flapped left, swearing and neutralizing spells.

“Prepare to support Rhisveri. [Teleportation] lockdown—”

Visophecin’s terse voice interrupted Sophridel’s notes. The Elemental of Masks spoke.

“The fighting will end within fifteen minutes, Visophecin. Do not—”

Rhisveri finished his spell overhead.

[—olcanic Ashtorm].

The Mask Elemental looked up just in time to see the first fiery column pouring out of the sky. Ash and fire, like the fury of a volcano. And it was coming down straight at—he slowly swallowed his book to keep it safe.

 

——

 

“Sophridel?”

No one was raising the Elemental of Masks via spell. Seeing him was impossible; a wave of ash was billowing across the ground, followed by a heat so intense the grass and earth were bursting into flames.

Ryoka would have long been in the air and flying—but the Lucifen were shielding their location. The ash billowed in front of ruby shields of magic, but even at a distance, Paxere looked—nervous.

“That spell hit us. What is he doing?

She shouted, to Ryoka more than the other immortals shouting at the others to take cover. Ryoka just stared up as a howling Wyrm burst through the maelstrom like the city-destroying nightmare out of a monster movie.

By contrast, the ‘small’ Dragon was merely the size of the largest commercial airplanes known to man. He flew left, swearing at Rhisveri—both their voices were loud enough to be heard over the dull roar of the spells.

—did not come here to do battle! Desist, Wyrm! This will end poorly for both of us!

So you claim. [Grand Lightning]!

A bolt blasted into Teriarch’s shields, and Ryoka saw it disperse over shimmering, overlaid plates of magic. Like a rainbow. However, that was just a feint; Rhisveri lunged, and his mouth was so wide he would have bitten deep into much of Teriarch’s body.

Save for the Dragon flickering out of existence again. His magical shields ate three more lightning bolts, two brilliant white-yellow, another crimson. Rhisveri’s next lunge slammed Teriarch back in the air; the Dragon caught himself with two wingbeats, and Ryoka heard him snarl.

A Dragon and Wyrm fought. For petty reasons, for no reason if you were uncharitable—but Ryoka had seen this coming.

Rhisveri was too prideful, too hurt. Even if Teriarch had given him two Dragonthrones, it might have come to this. Because, what Sophridel wouldn’t have understood was that, feelings aside, incentives aside—

Here was a Dragonlord. The legend of old. Rhisveri was comparatively—and it was really comparatively—young. He had bested his own kind and maybe other Dragons, but this was him proving how strong he was. Like how a hotheaded young boxer might rashly challenge the world champion.

How serious it got and how far Teriarch was past his prime—it could go a lot of ways. That uncertainty was why even Ryoka was hugging the Sariant Lamb, Lady Heppe, to her chest. Actually, the Sariant Lamb might have been hugging Ryoka on the basis that the Wind Runner could carry her to safety.

The striking Wyrm cleaved the air, leaving passages in the smoke as Teriarch kept dodging. He ate another strike, and again, the magical barrier howled, but resisted the strikes.

“Who’s winning?”

Menorkel was staring up as an ash-covered Gilaw came flapping into the protective barriers. Some of her feathers were on fire. Ryoka realized Paxere and the others were looking at her.

“I don’t—they’re not fighting hard yet. I think.”

“That’s not fighting hard?”

It was about perspective. Rhisveri had been firing off low-tier spells for him, and he was attacking with his body. Teriarch?

How would she describe this? To…Alber and Fierre? Yes, if she were trying to relate it—

Rhisveri was the younger fighter, taking a lot of wild swings at Teriarch. Too amped up on emotion and, perhaps, nerves. He kept lashing out with his body. He was big and had an immeasurable weight and size advantage on Teriarch.

On the ground, the Dragon would be in trouble. In the air—Rhisveri was trying to ground him to use his full weight.

Teriarch, on the other hand, was far older, smaller, but he had all the magical power of a Dragonlord, and he was turtling, blocking everything with his magical shields. He didn’t maneuver much—he mostly kept airborne, teleporting out of the way of attacks.

Impeccable footwork, still trying to calm Rhisveri down. It lasted right up until Visophecin locked down teleportation.

Ryoka saw Teriarch try to teleport—and then Rhisveri slammed into him and opened his maw.

Die, Dragonlord!

And he unleashed his venomous acid at point-blank range. Ryoka saw a cloud deadlier than even the volcanic ashstorm fill the skies, and the roar of pain was followed by a thunderous impact.

Teriarch slammed into the ground and got up just in time to see Visophecin chanting.

“[Summon: Avatar of the Wyrm Queen].”

The skies began to open. The battle went from about 21 to 100 in a moment. Teriarch looked up and roared.

If it’s a fight you want, upstart, then—

Rhisveri whirled around, and his serpentine body cracked out like a whip. Teriarch’s magical shields finally exploded as a ghostly Wyrm began drifting out of the heavens. The Dragon went tumbling across the ground, and Ryoka cried out.

“[Arise, Forests of Estiphole]!”

The Wyrm of Ailendamus had been practicing for battle against foes like Teriarch all his life. Ryoka had seen his workout routine once—she realized, as giant trees sprouted from the ground, what he was going to do.

Towering trunks of wood, every color from light beige to new greenwood, as large as the ancient redwoods of her world. And this was a spell—they formed entangling canopies, a network of vast columns.

Rhisveri’s body shot into the trees as Teriarch tried to fly and found the branches and trees stifling his mobility. The second Wyrm descended, and the coils of their body danced from tree to tree.

Like a snake, encircling the arena, able to strike from any direction. How they fought underground—adapted for an aerial foe.

Two Wyrms circled the Brass Dragon, and Ryoka saw Teriarch’s head turning left, right as he tried to gain altitude.

But so—slowly. Ryoka Griffin could fly faster than that. The Brass Dragon’s laboring wings were slow. He was so heavy that he really couldn’t zoom through the air.

And Rhisveri? He could fly as fast as a striking snake, amplified by his thousands of feet of body. He had caught her.

The two Wyrms struck in tandem, one going low, the other high. Teriarch saw the [Avatar of the Wyrm Queen] coming at him and dove down—straight into Rhisveri’s jaws.

No!

Ryoka didn’t know how strong his scales were, but nothing could take the impact from Rhisveri like that. The Wyrm slammed into the Dragon unable to teleport—

And then the sound that rang through the air made Ryoka and all the immortals clap their hands to their ears. It was followed by an ear-splitting shriek from Rhisveri.

The Wyrm writhed, howling, on the ground, and Ryoka Griffin looked up just in time to see a Dragon land on Rhisveri’s body and slam the Wyrm back into the ground. Ryoka’s eyes went round.

Then—she realized she’d never seen Rhisveri fight. Eldavin?

Rhisveri could have probably killed Eldavin. Especially with his true body. Especially against the Archmage of Memory who fought like a Dragon, with a Dragon’s arrogance and none of his qualities.

Teriarch was a Dragonlord. And as his scales flashed and he roared, Ryoka realized—

She actually knew squat about Dragons. Because Rhisveri had hit Teriarch, biting, put the full weight of his body into the blow. He hadn’t missed, nor had Teriarch attacked back.

He didn’t have to. The Brass Dragon stood as Rhisveri writhed, weighing down the Wyrm as Rhisveri fought to get free. He was so heavy the Wyrm couldn’t lift him off easily.

Because—he was made of metal.

He had always looked like his scales were metallic. Now? It was like a statue of a Dragon. Solid metal—solid enough for a Wyrm to chip his fangs on impact.

Brass Dragon. Rhisveri’s head came up. He aimed at the Dragon, and his mouth opened.

Wyrm’s venomous breath. Teriarch inhaled. Ryoka saw his mouth open, and again—he surprised her. Because what emanated from his maw, as Rhisveri began to exhale, was faster than any fire.

A storm of lightning engulfed Rhisveri’s face. Bolts which, like Dragonfire, were tinged purple, clinging to the scales as they discharged their energy. The Wyrm reeled backwards.

He’d lost the exchange of Dragonfire. Ryoka’s mouth was wide open.

He could do that? But fire—lightning was another kind of energy. It wasn’t as vivid as his fiery breath. But the Dragonlord had done what Rafaema hadn’t against the Wyvern Lord.

Practiced.

Wyrm and Dragon opened their mouths again. This time, the flames hit a stream of venom, and the explosion of steam engulfed both. Ryoka saw the vibrant flames pressing towards Rhisveri’s face. Equal in intensity—but Teriarch projected his like a spear of flame.

Rhiveri’s head dodged the flames, which still clung to his face as he screamed. He opened his mouth and exhaled black bile. Teriarch blasted it out of the air. He exhaled—then stopped. Ryoka saw him dodge aside.

The panting Dragonlord leapt away as the Wyrm followed him, still breathing acid. Neither seemed to have a limit to the Dragonbreath they could produce. But Teriarch was panting——

He was out of breath. Smoke trailed from his mouth as he ran on the ground. Ryoka recognized the blur of movement as [Haste]. Or [Greater Haste].

You pathetic Dragon! Die!

The summoned Wyrm dove straight down as Teriarch looked up. He opened his mouth—and exhaled.

This time, it was a ball of fire. It had been gathering in his mouth, compressing—and he spat it straight up into the open mouth of the Avatar. Ryoka saw the light enter the artificial Wyrm’s body.

Then she went blind. And deaf. Ryoka stumbled around until someone slapped her, literally.

“[Remove Blindness]! [Remove Deafness]!”

Ryoka could see again. The sunspots in her vision faded, and she felt the ringing in her ears clear up. Paxere pointed up.

“Look!”

Rhisveri was dueling in a firestorm of spells with Teriarch, shredding the magical forest. He was advancing—Teriarch was retreating, knocking down the magical spells.

Much like he had in Wistram. Only, this time—the Dragon was under attack from multiple sides.

The Lucifen had entered the fight. Azemith shot one of the deadly black bolts that had gone through Eldavin when he was first ambushed in Ailendamus. The Brass Dragon didn’t see the attack. It struck his scales—

And bounced straight into the dirt. Paxere choked.

But that worked on—

“Pathetic! Is this the best a Dragonlord can do?

One of Rhisveri’s spells, a swarm of [Shatterbolts], struck Teriarch. Rather than evade or block, the Dragon just put his head down, and the bolts glanced off him. Ryoka’s eyes were wide.

Was Rhisveri better than Teriarch at magic? Once again, Teriarch seemed to be on the back foot—until Ryoka saw he was retreating out of Rhisveri’s battleground of trees. The Dragon backed into a boulder and grunted as one of the Lucifen sent a [Fireball] blasting into his side.

Fall back. Lower-tier spells are completely ineffective.”

Visophecin met Teriarch’s gaze as the Dragon glowered his way. The Dragon glanced at the boulder, nearly his size, unearthed by the fighting. He slapped it once with his tail.

“I can use this. Are you done venting your pique, Rhisveri?

“I have not even begun to do battle. Do you think your fire has even injured me?”

The Wyrm came slithering out of the forest. He was scorched and burnt from the fire and lightning breath. He’d hurt himself striking the metal Dragon—but besides that, he was truly unharmed.

Worse—he was getting angrier. Rhisveri’s scales began to ripple ominously, and this time—he began chanting his first self-enchantment spells.

[Crackling Armor of the Lightning Emperor].

“Ah. Void take it.”

Teriarch swore mildly. He looked up as a bolt of lightning shot down—and encircled Rhisveri’s body. It formed a helmet, a jagged lance of lightning at the top, and armor, oscillating with every microsecond.

The kind of armor that would deliver a fatal charge to anyone, especially a conductive Dragon, on impact. The Wyrm dove at him, and Teriarch flapped his wings. Flames swirled around him as he took to the air again.

He cannot teleport. The network is holding.

Visophecin had switched back to containment after seeing the ineffectual attacks. The Dragonlord glared at the Lucifen staying far behind their shields, but he didn’t have time to fight them.

The Wyrm was coming straight at him. The Dragonlord saw the Great Wyrm twisting through the air like a lance of lightning. If it hit him—well, he was sure he’d survive one impact. Whomever Rhisveri had been—he’d fought other Wyrms. This was a move to pierce their hides, tear even their infamously tough forms, and rend them apart.

So Teriarch opened his wings and flew. He raced for the skies. Immortals around him. The charging Wyrm.

Gilaw, don’t!

The rising Dragon was under attack by a tiny form. A screaming Griffin, heedless of the danger. She dove in the classic hawk’s dive, the second-fastest creature in the skies aside from the Wyrm.

She missed. The diving Griffin aborted her charge, and Rhisveri’s glowing body nearly struck her as he lunged—then twisted around.

What the—?

They were both going at post-Ryoka speeds. If it had been Ryoka, she would have been splattered by the impacts. Yet Teriarch was gone.

“Teleportation?”

No, it was still—Rhisveri’s eyes climbed. And there was the Brass Dragon, flying upwards.

How? Rhisveri shot into the air as he teleported Gilaw into the palace. The idiotic child appeared in his quarters as the Wyrm lunged again.

You—

This time, he slowed enough to see what happened. The Dragon saw him coming. Did he use the Dragonthrone? Was it a clone? An illusion? A spell?

No—he flapped his wings and rolled out of the way of Rhisveri. Then, as the disbelieving Wyrm turned to catch him—Teriarch sped up.

“Impossible.”

When you said things like that—you knew you were in trouble. Rhisveri lunged, striking across five hundred feet in a second.

Teriarch was already twice that distance away and accelerating faster. Impossible! The Wyrm’s eyes bulged. How fast were his wings moving? They were flapping so fast that they looked like they were—

Not moving at all. Then Rhisveri felt the hot air. Then he saw—

The burning blue flames blasting from wingtip to wingtip behind the Dragon. The Dragonlord of Flames shot away as his fire burned behind him.

Like a—Rhisveri didn’t have a good analogy.

Ryoka—did.

 

——

 

A fucking fighter jet? What? What? WHAT?”

Teriarch wasn’t even flying anymore! Not with his wings—he just spread them like an airplane and let combustion do the rest. He accelerated as the disbelieving Wyrm fell into the distance. Then he turned—and Ryoka saw him circling like a fighter plane.

Ready for a dogfight. A dragonfight. 

The Brass Dragon came roaring back through the air, and Ryoka saw a shockwave of air travelling behind him. He had just breached the sound barrier—and he was coming right at Rhisveri in a straight-on charge.

The Wyrm of Ailendamus howled as he charged, encased in his lightning-armor. Willing to trade the impact.

The Dragonlord stared at the Wyrm coming at him—then he did a twisting corkscrew up and down through the air. Rhisveri was locked onto him, refusing to let him get around the Wyrm. They were going to collide! Ryoka cried out—

And then saw something flash on the ground.

 

——

 

Visophecin was so engrossed in listening to Ryoka and seeing the Dragon fight, he hadn’t realized the other effect of the Dragon’s speed. He looked up sharply and shouted.

Rhisveri—he escaped the teleportation lock! Watch—

Too late. The Lucifen felt the Dragon’s magic flow past him and whirled. He turned, and the boulder that the Brass Dragon had tapped flashed. Visophecin stared at it.

Between the moments when the Dragon had evaded the Wyrm till now, a subtle spell had been coating the stone. Chipping bits of it away, contouring it like an automated [Sculptor]. It was still mostly a giant block of stone.

Only, someone had shaped it into a giant claw. A Dragon’s claw—curled into a fist—

 

——

 

The Brass Dragon popped out of the air. He appeared in front of Visophecin at a complete stand-still. In his place, in the air, appeared a block of stone shaped like a giant fist.

It hit Rhisveri at about Mach 1. The thunder nearly deafened Ryoka again. But when Rhisveri landed, even the mortals in the capital, blissfully ignorant of the fighting, felt the tremor run through their houses and homes, sending valuables clattering off shelves.

The stunned Wyrm lay on his back and tasted his own blood. He was up in fifteen seconds with one thought in his mind.

That. Hurt.

His brother had been the last person to wound him that badly. He might have broken bones in his face.

And yet—he twisted around and saw the Dragonlord in the air. Rhisveri’s howl was followed by a lunge—

Teriarch shot up. did a vertical roll, and flew over Rhisveri’s back. His mouth opened. and he coated Rhisveri’s entire body in Dragonfire. The screaming Wyrm rolled around and then shouted.

“[Crimson Storm of the Blood Demon]!”

This time, he unleashed a thousand bolts of lightning which criss-crossed the skies. Teriarch contemptuously dipped one wing.

Dragonlord of Flame! He performed an aileron roll followed by a dizzying dive—all pushing the sound barrier, still accelerating as he built up speed. As Archmage Eldavin, so Teriarch.

He was second to none in the skies. He had brought down every foe, even other Dragonlords of the air, with a Fire Dragon’s speed. Rhisveri was larger, tougher—but he couldn’t even begin to catch Teriarch.

The Wyrm saw a flicker, and [Valmira’s Comets] began to slam into him as he tried to cast a spell and hit Teriarch. They were more like the lightest of punches thrown by a child, even with the Dragonlord’s power behind them, but the Dragon kept throwing them.

And he was speeding up again. Rhisveri was in a mortal terror of the second object the Dragon threw at him. All he had to do was swap places with a rock, and the impact could punch a hole through a fort if it were fast and heavy enough.

Or him. The Wyrm began chanting barrier spells, but the Dragon blazed past him like a living comet. He dove low to the ground, one wing snapping out to turn him at an angle. A Garuda’s Reversal, as precise as a 45º angle. He winced at the pain in his wings. Then the near-vertical ascent, dodging the immortal’s spells—they couldn’t even catch him with homing spells.

The Harpy Empress’ dive—Teriarch’s wings opened as flames shot below him to send him into the stratosphere. And he felt a muscle give.

“Oh—”

 

——

 

Ryoka Griffin hadn’t been breathing at the greatest display of aerial combat in this or any world. Right up until she saw Teriarch open his wings, saw one falter and close slightly—and him slam into the ground.

No. No. Slam was not the right word. Slam was hitting a door that closed in your face at a mild jog. Slam might break your nose at the worst.

This? This was a train engine crash. A runaway impact from an airplane crashing into the ground at the speed of sound.

The Brass Dragon twisted as his wings failed to open. He rotated—hit the ground along his back—and then went crashing across the ground, head over heels, sideways, wings and face and claws tearing up the dirt.

He skipped like a stone for a thousand feet, hitting the ground each time before he finally slowed, rolled over, and came to a stop.

Dead gods!

Oh. Oh! Oooooh!

Even the other immortals were groaning. Ryoka saw Paxere covering her mouth. Ryoka was half-screaming, half gasping. Was he…?

Even Rhisveri looked uncertain. The Dragonlord lay there, mouth slightly open—and then he rose. He got to his feet, and Ryoka thought at least one scale had been torn; there was some red on him. Teriarch gazed around dizzily, then whirled to face Rhisveri.

The Wyrm was encased in protective magic. The Dragonlord spoke after merely a half-second. He coughed and then nodded.

“You—well done. You knocked me out of the skies. Few can boast of that, Wyrm.”

Rhisveri’s mouth opened. Ryoka saw him stare at Teriarch, then reply.

“…No. You did that to yourself.”

“Nonsense. I felt the spell. I will not underestimate you twice.”

The Dragonlord’s face was completely straight, but Ryoka saw a familiar…look he was trying to hide. Rhisveri saw Teriarch cough into one claw.

“Shall we continue? We have both dealt the other a blow. Be warned—my next attack shall not take you so lightly.”

Bluff or not, the Wyrm hesitated. He saw a plume of smoke escaping Teriarch’s nostrils, and the Dragonlord’s eyes burned. Embarrassed he might be, but if he did that again—

Had he begun to fight?

What the Wyrm didn’t know was that Teriarch’s own facade was hiding a world of agony. The Wyrm hesitated—then snarled.

“Looking for mercy now? Show me something to be afraid of, Dragonlord of Flames.

I can’t feel my face. He kept swallowing blood, and Teriarch was sure that was not a good sign. Yet the rest of his body was intact. The Dragonlord of Flames crouched as Rhisveri called his bluff. The Wyrm charged, only to realize the mistake of young warriors.

The wounded Dragon only became deadlier. Teriarch flickered, and Rhisveri traced the magic straight up. He looked up. Then up.

Then…

 

——

 

Up. The Dragon was still flying higher, flames blasting above him, and the air was growing cold. He was hurt. The Wyrm could kill him.

So. He had flown like this before. The Dragon whispered no magic. He cast no spells. The Wyrm might be his equal in the magic he knew, which twisted like Dryads and had been learned from other immortals.

Yet he had never seen this. He had never fought in wars where Dragons were as footsoldiers in number. Teriarch had seen armies as dreadful as the Seamwalkers he had glimpsed in the lands of the dead.

Death. Blood ran in his lungs like poisonous vapors. He flew higher until the air vanished and the cold sting of starlight burned across his scales.

He flew through the Harpy Wars, roaring. Coming down as Wyrms fled. A charge, alone, with the last three Dragonlords against the Crelers.

He would die when he landed. Not before. The Dragon turned and began dropping through the skies. Claws outstretched.

The air, so cold on his scales, began to warm again as he re-entered the atmosphere. It grew hot—but no hotter than the bursting fury in his chest. It grew hotter still as Dragonfire engulfed him.

A manifestation of his rage. He was wounded. Yet he was the oldest of Dragons. He had seen them all die. He had killed far too many.

The Dragon descended faster. Now, he felt his scales turning to metal. Heavier…the weight of age. Gold was heavier than lead. He was denser still, a meteor coming down to earth.

A Djinni had once seen a Dragon’s killing blow and copied it. This? Fire and metal. It could wipe out a city.

 

——

 

Or burn a wound across a continent. 

The Elemental of Masks looked up. Some of his masks were cracked, but he barely felt the damage. He looked up—and tried to find somewhere to run or hide. But where?

The book. The book—Rhisveri was flying upwards, and it seemed like an ocean of magic was distorting the world around him. He was trying to open a hole in the world. Sophridel shook as he looked up.

It was just like the book.

 

The Dragonlord of Flame took wing. He burned with the last three Dragonlords, gouging a hole across the sands. Across Chandrar. Sand fused to glass. The very desert caught fire, and Wyrms burned, screaming. Eight days and nights, the fire burned. Even now, the wound remains. The Glass Straits, endless miles carved by Dragonfire. 

 

Down, like armageddon. A blow so powerful it would crack his own bones. The Wyrm had made a mistake. He wasn’t fighting Teriarch. He was fighting a memory.

 

——

 

The Dragonlord of Flame was coming. Visophecin pointed, and Menorkel ran into the door he had opened. Everyone was evacuating. Sophridel rushed past Ryoka, flowing in a mass through the door.

Stop!

She had heard them shouting it at Rhisveri after Teriarch had crashed. Ryoka wasn’t saying it. She was gazing upwards, head craned back.

Was she smiling? The Devil looked at the young woman insane enough to dance with him, to befriend immortals. He began to understand how she had befriended a Dragon.

“Ryoka Griffin. Come with me.”

Even Uzine wasn’t mad enough to stay in one spot. The Agelum turned, and Visophecin shouted.

Where is Gadrea?

“Already gone! Ryoka—”

“I have to stop it. Tell Tyrion I’m ashes if he asks. And Erin—”

The Wind Runner spoke dreamily. Visophecin was so astonished he was too slow. He grabbed for her—and she was already leaping into the air. He stared upwards. The climbing Wyrm shrieked at the Dragon carving a blazing path through the skies.

Even the mortals of Ailendamus looked up and pointed at and feared the comet falling to earth. Yet the wind rose, and a Human shouted as she drew her sword.

Neither one could hear her. Ryoka knew that. Even if they could hear the wind howling in their ears, her voice was like a whisper before two colliding planets.

Who could stop them by force? No one. Yet Ryoka flew up, the air tearing at her flesh, trying to get close enough. She had mere seconds as the Faeblade burned with flame.

Yet even plasma seemed paltry before the fiery Dragonlord. Even alien technology could not warp space like the Wyrm twisting through the void.

Ryoka’s other hand reached down for the only weapon she had. She tore it out from her belt pouch and screamed.

“Dragon and Wyrm fight, and both will fall! And upon their bodies, I, Merlin, say to build a castle tall! Upon their bones, in King Arthur’s name! Just as planned—Oberon’s twisted game!”

She did the rhyming just in case it helped. The single piece of paper tried to tear itself free as she held it aloft. Just a…signature. From King Arthur Pendragon.

The most famous Dragonslayer. The Faerie King’s name. But most of all—what she hoped and prayed a Dragon would remember.

A famous story, yes, from another world. But a famous story about how two Dragons died.

The autograph was just a name. So was the Faerie King. Neither element could stop the collision, but the most primal, instinctive motivation in both Rhisveri and Teriarch’s heads might. She thought she saw the Wyrm’s eye flicker as he shot past her. And she saw that brief, welcome flash of the thing Dragons and Wyrms shared, besides their arrogance, greed, immortality, and pride.

Paranoia.

A—trap. Ryoka felt the searing heat baking her skin and then—suddenly—disappear. The Wyrm twisted in midair, and Ryoka saw a twisted land opening in a cut in the sky aimed at her. A dirt path and a really scared-looking white Gnoll appeared before her eyes as Rhisveri screamed—

“Traitor!”

The dimensional hole vanished. Ryoka saw Teriarch flash down, leveling off and away as Rhisveri howled. She sighed in relief a second before Rhisveri’s tail slapped her out of the skies.

 

——

 

The Wyrm of Ailendamus came back to his senses as the fear this was all a ploy by Visophecin to get him killed—some long con—turned into a realization of what Ryoka had done. He saw Teriarch flapping back and exhaled as he looked up at the vapor trail in the clouds and realized how close he’d come to—

Then he saw the falling Human and hesitated.

“Oh.”

He might have broken her ribs. All of them. And he was staring at part of her lungs. From the outside. The Wyrm caught her gently on the tip of his tail. He whispered a healing spell as Teriarch turned to stare at the strange young woman. Rhisveri heard him murmur.

“That was—impressive. Especially for a mortal. Is that—an autograph?”

 

——

 

Some might think that the greatest politician, the most implacable, devious, and impossible-to-read being in the world would be a Dragonlord. Or—failing that, perhaps a Wyrm so used to cunning and subterfuge he had built a kingdom to rule in secret. Failing that, what about a being of literal masks, or a Devil?

Whoever thought that was, of course, a fool. For the being whom even Sariant Lambs could not match in the art of faking his emotions was none other than King Itorin II of Ailendamus.

He stood at the windows of his palace where the comet had landed. A comet out of thin air, along with a minor quake.

The moment Itorin had felt the quake, he knew Ryoka Griffin had something to do with it. In that way he had learned to survive his own immortals, he was aware today some judgment was being carried out.

He had—carefully—expressed his desire that she live to Rhisveri, but Itorin II had only been able to hope for the best. Now?

The court was ashambles with minor alarm. The [Geomancers] thought something heavy had impacted the ground or an unnatural cause, because this was no tectonic tremor. As for that comet…

Every eye was on the King of Ailendamus. And what did he do?

He turned, quirking one lip, and held up a hand, as of a man trying to hide a self-evident smirk.

“I must apologize to the royal court. I was aware, of course, of our [Mages] trialing a new spell. They assured me it would be private. Evidently not. The throne shall make its statement later today.”

What genius. What improvisation. Just the slight hint—the glance of evident regret and biting of his tongue to suggest he’d let slip some secret project in a moment of indulgence, and the court calmed down. The [Spies] composed frantic reports, and Itorin II hoped there would be an afternoon for him to do the cover up in.

He returned to his throne, the lone performer deserving of every award. He hoped Ryoka was alive.

 

——

 

Near-apocalyptic events had a way of diffusing the situation. Once you saw someone actually, accidentally slap the big red button, you reconsidered very quickly whether you actually wanted to get to this point or if there were another way out.

When the Dragon and Wyrm’s fury cooled, they both had minor heart-attacks at how close they’d both come to killing each other and, more importantly, themselves.

The only person closer to having their heart actually pop out of their chest was Wer, who decided he was never going to use this damn Skill ever again. First the Witch, now…?

It was not worth whatever the damn <Quest> was offering.

At any rate, everyone stood down. They waited—mostly watching and commenting on the young woman lying on the ground.

“Just push it back in, Paxere.”

“Push it back—it’s not supposed to come out. Those are her lungs!”

“Move aside, I’ll do it. Is this—healable?”

“[Restoration]. [Restoration]—bodies are incredibly resilient. Her heart stopped once—exploded, rather—and I was able to return her to life.”

“Canceling my puppeteering…lungs are working. Heart is beating, blood seems to be contained in veins without help. Ribs are…one, two, three…there’s a bit of bone there. Someone pull it out. [Pain Null] is still working? You would think that if you could heal this, whatever that other Human had with the crossbow bolts wouldn’t be so dire.”

“Indeed. Well, magic has deteriorated to the point where [Stasis Field] was not even an option, apparently. As for freezing a body solid—the aftereffects were so severe even the Potion of Regeneration hadn’t fully dealt with the issue when I did a checkup of the individual. The bodily possession did not help, frankly. A Drake was using the other Human’s muscles as if they were galas-muscle and possibly starting development in said body. Throw that all together and then have the body try to go back to normal functionality—”

“Fascinating. Gilaw. Stop that. I said, stop—

A claw was poking her in the face. Ryoka could see it, but not move her head. Nor, thankfully, feel any pain.

Incidentally, the feeling of someone maneuvering an internal organ back into your body with all the delicacy of someone stuffing a sandwich into a bag was unforgettable. Ryoka Griffin resolved never to buy Barbie dolls or any other toy where you forcibly assembled or disassembled them.

It was only as bad as getting a tooth pulled under anesthesia—aside from the mental trauma. However, unlike modern medicine—

“I think she’s good. Someone, check her body. Not like that, all of you disgusting—no younger immortals. Wouldn’t [Restoration] have fixed it?”

That was Rhisveri. The second voice was familiar. Teriarch’s.

“Er…[Restoration] only assumes a set amount of damage. And it merely restores.”

“Ah, of course. [Restoration] one more time. Canceling [Pain Null]—”

A second later, after the scream had finished ringing in the air, Rhisveri spoke very calmly again.

“—and it is back. Er…what caused that?”

“Maybe a stone was lodged in a nerve? Is she still…?”

Someone poked Ryoka in the head. Azemith, and the world’s ills became so wonderfully inconsequential, and the young woman began giggling.

“[Delirious Happiness]. Oh, look. Flip her over. One of the ribs you broke is sticking out her back. The spell must not push it out of the body. Want me to yank it out?”

“Ah. That might be the culprit. But let’s make sure there’s no other causes.”

Here was the thing. Was this the foundation of all the nightmares and trauma therapy for the rest of her life?

Absolutely. Did she regret her actions?

No. Seeing someone else in that level of pain really brought people together. If only in mutual sympathy. And most importantly—when Ryoka Griffin got up and assured everyone she felt fine with all the enchantments dispelled, even Gilaw gave her a pat on the head.

There was nothing like watching someone get cracked open like a clam to make a tiny bit of amends. Menorkel looked like he’d been sick at least once, and even the Lucifen were a teensy bit sympathetic.

She looked up at Rhisveri and Teriarch. The Wyrm withdrew his head, and the Dragon harrumphed as he realized all eyes were on him again.

“I had—apparently—saved your life once before. Miss Ryoka Griffin? Please understand. To me, this is the first time we have met. Yet I am aware of your deeds.”

She looked up into that familiar face and almost asked him to break her ribs again. This was harder still, but Ryoka stared up at the Dragon and nodded.

“I…you did. And we did know each other.”

Teriarch looked sadly down at Ryoka.

“Indeed? I would say that is astonishing, surprising, and unlikely. But I cannot profess that after that last moment of bravery. I am sorry. I understand this ‘Eldavin’ has caused you much grief.”

“He did. I mean…he was confused.”

Teriarch’s head bowed lower as Rhisveri watched Ryoka with the other immortals. He was longing to jump in, but he had calmed down, vented his pique, and was just observing. Ryoka looked up as Teriarch stared down.

“Did I do the right thing?”

“Hm? Oh—yes. I was dead. The backlash—something occurred. I do not know what, but it must have disrupted the connection enough to slay the host, myself. You brought me back.”

He said it gently, even, Ryoka thought, trying to thank her. But there was a note of accusation there he couldn’t hide.

If they were in his cave, she would have asked him to explain it to her. Yet the Dragon here did not elaborate. He simply nodded.

“I am in your debt. I shall repay it, Miss Griffin. I intend firstly to return you to Izril or the place of your convenience. Allow me a moment to—settle matters.”

He glanced at the immortals of Ailendamus, and Ryoka almost nodded. He was so aloof. She called out to Teriarch.

“Are you still planning on changing Wistram?”

He glanced over his shoulder. It was the only thing she could think to say to him. The Brass Dragon gave her a puzzled look, then a rueful laugh.

“Restore it to glory? So that was what I was attempting to do, I assume. No, no. I am pressed with—greater tasks.”

She wondered what they were. She wondered if she knew or could help. Yet the Dragon smiled at her in that fake way, and Ryoka almost reached out. She put her hands behind her back.

“—Then I guess you’ll make Eldavin vanish too, in time.”

Visophecin was listening sharply to their conversation, and Ryoka assumed Teriarch would give her a light response if anything. The Brass Dragon’s placating smile…froze on his face.

“…Make him vanish?”

Then, Rhisveri’s returning ire, the writhing pain in Ryoka’s stomach and urge to blurt out the last message from his daughter, the fear over conflict with Ailendamus—

All of it became a side-show to the look of dawning horror in Teriarch’s eyes. Pieces, falling together. Rhisveri’s comments, a familiar name—but that was the thing about arrogance. He had assumed his simulacrum was dead. As if his mistakes were so easy to erase. The immortals of Ailendamus gazed upon the Dragon’s true moment of fear and realized this new world would be trickier than they thought.

Teriarch had not known Eldavin was alive. Or rather, he had not known Eldavin was him. He had been asleep most of his travel across Izril, and he was not used to the television that was now commonplace in the world.

He also could tell everyone, instantly, that the Dragon and Archmage were not connected. One look—and the Dragon began to be very worried indeed. Very worried, guilty, and tired.

When she saw that, Ryoka Griffin almost burst into tears herself, because that…

That was the Teriarch she knew.

 

——

 

“My demands yet stand. Ryoka Griffin is to be exiled. Send her back to the palace and then out of my lands.”

“Without a geas. I must insist. The threat of death is unacceptable.”

The Wyrm’s jaw clenched, but he inclined his head very slowly—all without ever looking at Teriarch.

“It occurs to me, purely based on the initial wording of the geas, that emergencies do occur. Psychologically, it would not do for Princess Oesca to inadvertently murder Ryoka Griffin by sending her a [Message] spell. That tends to disrupt development in young minds.”

The young woman looked between Dragon and Wyrm.

“Rhisveri—”

“Get out of my sight. More pressing matters have arisen. Dragonlord, we shall discuss matters. Alone.”

The other immortals didn’t like that, but it beat the two brawling. It was the young woman that the Dragon noted. She wanted to say something to the Wyrm, but now was not the time.

When she looked at him—he found himself avoiding her gaze.

They had known each other, that was what his notes told him. He wanted to believe that it had not been much of a relationship. That he had mingled little with the mortals of this age.

Yet he looked at her and saw too many similarities to the other children he had met. It was, then, notable that he never met her eyes. Perhaps he was more afraid of speaking with her than Rhisveri.

“Teriarch…will I see you again?”

“My business on Terandria will not last long. I shall seek you out at least one last time, Miss Griffin. You have my word.”

He nodded stiffly to her. The look she gave him before she bowed back was…

In silence, she walked back to the palace with Visophecin and the other immortals in tow. The Wyrm and Dragon watched, both pretending to be aloof. Glancing at each other.

Stalemate. Or at least, a mutual understanding that neither could bring down the other without unacceptable cost. Or preparation.

Yet it seemed that even Rhisveri wasn’t about to grab a metaphorical half-brick, stuff it in a sock, and come back swinging. The Wyrm spoke, tracing a truth sigil in the air.

“I call a truce. Give me five minutes?”

The Brass Dragon inclined his head. Rhisveri slithered off towards the palace. He shot into the air and cloaked his body in a moment.

He can turn his entire body invisible. The Wyrm really was good at magic. Even if you had the mana of a Great Wyrm, turning that much mass invisible seamlessly was a trick.

What really rankled Teriarch—slightly—was that Rhisveri didn’t make any amateur mistakes, like forgetting to hide his shadow or concealing his presence in the clouds.

What was he going for, an artifact? A magical scroll contract? Healing himself?

Paranoia was a terrible thing, and Ryoka Griffin truly had figured out how to unnerve a Dragon and Wyrm. Yet the Dragonlord forced himself to wait, trying to stretch out a wing and accelerate his own healing. The trouble with being so magical was that, while you could put together a Human like a puzzle—[Restoration] on a Dragon was more like spitting on a wound and hoping it helped.

The Wyrm returned in three minutes. He came twisting back through the air, landing lightly, and faced the Dragon. They both sized each other up, then Rhisveri deposited something on the ground with his mouth.

“Here. One of the small benefits of ruling a nation. I do not propose we do something as mundane as downsize to crack open some ancient vintage like…nobility.

He sneered lightly, and Teriarch was glad he hadn’t proposed doing just that. He blinked at what Rhisveri had brought.

Namely…what turned out to be two massive silos, the kind one used in a brewery. Rhisveri had taken two malt beers, and he offered one to Teriarch.

Given the size differential, one was more than enough for Teriarch. He watched Rhisveri use his claw to puncture a hole in the top of one silo, pour the frothing drink into his maw, and drain over half in one gulp. He produced two more silos and set them down next to the Dragon.

Hardly elegant. If he were with another Dragonlord, it might have been wine. Or, depending on the Dragon, a roasted yak. Beer?

Then again, it was fairly sweet, and Teriarch found it novel to drink with his actual body. He was so used to adopting a smaller form that he understood the appeal after several foamy mouthfuls.

“This—is not entirely unpalatable. Does this particular, ah, beverage have a name?”

Glassmalt. The theme of Ailendamus, you know? We created enough dedicated barley and hop fields to supply the nation, oh…sixty years ago? All vineyards up till then, but the popular drinks weren’t wine in taverns. So we made an agricultural push.”

“Ah. Naturally. You know, I did not, in my study of your nation, ever inquire as to why Ailendamus was the Kingdom of Glass and Glory. Why glass?”

Rhisveri snorted lightly as he glanced down at his cup. He drank, tossed the first one aside, and reached for another.

“Glass? The first cities I personally oversaw featured glass windows in even commonfolk homes. I’m sure you know how poorly glass is blown outside of dedicated cities? I merely introduced proper refining techniques—Ailendamus doesn’t even have that much sand! A decade later, we were supplying glass to nations around the world.”

Teriarch’s brows rose.

“Is that why I noticed so much glass even in Drake cities like Liscor?”

Rhisveri looked quite pleased.

“It’s not all from us. Diffusion over two hundred years means the techniques resurfaced worldwide. But yes, that is likely Ailendamus’ influence. It’s quite a lucrative market—[Repair] spells are the best most [Mages] can do, so glass contributes to a substantial amount of our exports to some countries.”

“I see. You know, it reminds me much of this Chandrarian kingdom I visited, oh, five thousand years ago? They were also glass experts. Glass homes—opaque, naturally—but wonderfully colorful from sand. Glass roads, smooth as could be. Glass Golems—”

“It must have been as hot as a volcano there.”

Rhisveri commented. Teriarch’s brows rose.

“Oh, entirely. That was how they destroyed themselves, or so I heard. Someone built an edifice that was too reflective—and it started melting everything around it. Then that glass became reflective and—”

Rhisveri chuckled at the notion of an entire kingdom literally refracting itself to destruction.

“That is the stupidest construction I’ve ever…no, wait. I can top that.”

“Indeed?”

Rhisveri inclined his head as he glanced sideways at Teriarch. Still slightly challenging, but he kept his tone pleasant. As pleasant as Teriarch was trying to sound. Casual, that was it.

“Not that I’m a Dragonlord of such age, but I have seen a few amusing buildings in my time. Have you ever seen Sariant Lambs try to build a tower?”

“No.”

Even the Brass Dragon smiled. Rhisveri nodded slightly northeast.

“The Lucifen and Agelum love the damn things. Well, Agelum. We had so many at one point that they had an entire colony in secret. When Visophecin tracked them back, he found a damn tower being built by Sariant Lambs out of scrap.”

“These are Sariant Lambs, yes? Tiny? No opposable digits…? No mutations?”

Rhisveri’s mouth opened wide.

“None. Imagine a lamb trying to swing a hammer. I don’t even know how many casualties they took getting it that high. It was fifty feet tall, and it looked like weather had knocked it over three times.”

“That is actually ridiculous.”

Despite himself, Teriarch felt himself snorting. He was moved to contribute a story of his own.

“I’ve seen similar stunts, you know. Wyverns have built their own structures.”

“…No. Those inbred lizards?”

“Ah, the greater species are intelligent, and their royal versions can shapeshift. But regular Wyverns—indeed. It is amazing—Ogres, trolls, even monkey tribes do far better jobs when they have the time.”

Rhisveri chuckled.

“I wish I had seen that. It reminds me of when we decided to take apart the damn tower. The Sariants kept trying to fight anyone dismantling it. So I set fire to the building, and they ran around shrieking as if we were broiling them. Sariant Lambs, trying to form a bucket chain…”

That sounded more like cruelty to Teriarch. And he knew full well that Sariants were the most devious, untrustworthy little monsters you could find as pets. He bared his teeth and chuckled politely.

The Wyrm noticed the forced smile. He took a longer sip from his drink, and Teriarch did the same.

“—Forgive me. I forgot I was addressing the noble Dragonlord, champion of a thousand kingdoms. You’ve probably seen countless cyclical events before.”

“I would not go that far. It’s true that events repeat themselves—but seldom in the same way. Species love to build tall towers—I suppose that’s just a general consensus many come to. Height breeding authority and whatnot…”

Teriarch waved a wing and winced at his sore muscles. Rhisveri nodded, listening. Teriarch went on.

“…But the way species return to the same idea is always unique. For instance, if you recall our healing of Miss Griffin—it was lucky she had no actual galas-muscle or unique bones. Even so, the best ‘[Healer]’ on Izril is simply capable of casting [Restoration].”

“Hah. That beats Terandria in large.”

The Brass Dragon nodded, smiling ruefully.

“Yes, well. They’ve forgotten almost all shapeshifting and bodily manipulation magic too. When I was in Liscor healing that other individual—I saw the most extraordinarily muscled Drake. All manually developed.”

“…How muscular are we talking about? If you mean bulky—”

“No, no. I mean—he had muscles along his neck, just so—he didn’t just have trapezius muscles—when I saw him move, his sides had muscles. And his legs! It was like an anatomy course every time he flexed. And he did flex. He even was touting some kind of physical regime with suspended weights. All of this commendable effort when you could just…shape muscle.”

The Wyrm snorted lightly.

“That sounds like modern mortal mindsets. Not that training with blades is wrong—”

“No, of course not. But building muscle? I was almost tempted to tell him to visit A’ctelios Salash.”

He was still the same Dragon. He made the same observations, ignorant of the fact that he’d actually said as much before. Teriarch saw Rhisveri was smiling—almost as politely as he was. It was that kind of conversation. Forced amiability over a drink after a fist-fight. If they were anything like mortals. Which they weren’t.

Galas-muscle, now. I would respect it if the Drake advanced into building that. If he were trying to shapeshift those muscles into his body—hah! People have tried compressing mana into muscle.”

“—I’ve heard and even looked into the practice, but I heard it was ineffective…?”

Teriarch grimaced. He actually found he was halfway through the silo, so he took another drink—Rhisveri seemed to have quite a number in stock.

“No, it works. At least, it can work. You could build a body out of galas—I didn’t, even for my simulacrum, I’m sure. Regular muscle. One mistake in building even a strand of it and that’s a good way to blow half the scales off your body. Let alone our sinew and bone.”

“Not worth the risk. Although I noticed you had a bit of a paunch, Dragonlord. Threw out your wings a bit? You might want to do a few laps around a mountain each day.”

Teriarch chuckled lightly.

“Oh, I intend to. A millenia or two of rest will do that. Although I notice you were fighting head-first. Good form on your striking, but you were entirely too stationary until you grew that forest. Not classically trained in any academy.”

“There were academies for Wyrms to learn fighting?”

“Only a few. But those that did take the time to learn avoided the simplistic, natural way of Wyrms fighting. Rather like a self-taught [Barbarian] versus a [Blademaster] practicing non-naturalistic fighting forms.”

This time, the Wyrm’s laugh had a slight edge to it.

“—Well, I haven’t had many foes of my caliber before. It was quite the trick you pulled in the sky. Do all Flame Dragons fly like that?”

“Only myself. It was considered a technique far beyond most Dragons.”

“I can see why. Watching you smash yourself into the ground like that was the most amazing self-inflicted wound I’ve ever seen.”

The Brass Dragon took a second to take a longer drink before laughing loudly.

“Yes, quite! I could go faster, you know. But I wouldn’t have wanted to injure you that severely.”

“Or yourself. Hahahahaha.”

“Ohohoho. Quite.”

The laughter was getting less natural and more like…someone imitating the sounds. The Wyrm and Dragon stared at each other over their drinks. The convivial air, never that strong to begin with, faded away. Teriarch’s mouth opened wider, showing all his teeth. Rhisveri calmly crunched one of the silos and tossed it to one side while picking up another with his tail.

The Brass Dragon dropped the smile.

“Take my Dragonthrone.”

“No. I don’t need it nor want it.”

Rhisveri spat, and the Dragonlord of Flame growled.

“Don’t play games with me, Rhisveri. You won’t find a treasure equal to my Dragonthrone anywhere in this world.”

“I don’t want it. I’d cherish it if it were a prize taken from you in battle. A gift? A bribe? A patronizing little gesture for the ghosts? Give it to the Sariant Lambs. Ailendamus refuses.”

“You are arrogant beyond belief.”

Teriarch hissed. Rhisveri flicked his tail, rising slightly.

“Do you want to try again, elder Dragon? I am not the one feeling my age. Nor will you stop Ailendamus from doing as it wishes.”

“Do you think your nation is the largest I’ve seen burn? Mortals struck down your vaunted armies, my help or not.”

The Dragon paced left, and Rhisveri slithered, uncoiling slightly. The Great Wyrm snarled.

“If you want to back the other nations, be my guest. Shall we make it a proxy war or will I see you on the battlefield? I’ve defeated other Dragons. I fought in the Creler Wars and before that. Do you remember the Silver Dragonknight? I sent him crawling away in battle.”

Teriarch snorted a gout of purple flame in amusement, and Rhisveri hesitated, uncertain.

“Yderigrisel? He loses to everyone. Lost to. I remember a Necromancer beat him nearly a hundred times in a row. Yderigrisel was a Silver Dragon. Better at escaping or illusions. That idiot wore armor and fancied himself a [Knight]. He was no Dragonlord. Unless you fought him with an army at his back, that would be the last Dragon to boast of defeating.”

Rhisveri’s eyes narrowed.

“It must be so convenient to be the famous Dragonlord. No one can ever match the foes you’ve met, nor live up to some ancient kingdom of Crelercrap that existed two hundred thousand years ago and built Adamantium towers out of mud sticks. You have no right to demand anything of me. I am the last Wyrm.”

“And I am the last Dragonlord of Flame. I did not come here to make demands on Ailendamus nor you—”

“Oh, no. Just to assume I was a tyrant and tell me to change my ways or face rebellion. Do not prevaricate with me, Teriarch. I understand nuance.”

The Wyrm and Dragon narrowed the gap. Teriarch was trying to draw back from another heated exchange, but he was a fire Dragon.

He went in hot.

“If you keep conquering Terandria, I will not have to do anything. I came here seeking an ally. You know what’s coming back. Dead…gods.”

He spoke it into the silence, and the Wyrm recoiled. Rhisveri looked at Teriarch, and the Dragon’s pulse thundered.

Even saying their nature was anathema. Their natures…Rhisveri nodded slowly.

“I know. It’s impossible to fight what doesn’t exist yet, though.”

“There are ways to combat them. On this continent alone, no less. And more, in places even I do not know, hidden. Perhaps the new lands.”

“If so, Ailendamus will find and use them. We do not want your meddling. My advisors, my allies I trust. Not you. If you had come here with even the shred of humility—”

I offered you my Dragonthrone.

Your agent killed Fithea, the last Dryad! Ryoka Griffin stole my Scroll of Resurrection and used it on you!

The two roared at each other, so close they could taste each other’s breath, close to igniting or spraying acid. Teriarch had the sudden desire to copy a trick he’d seen the Dragonlord of War do. Which was plant a kiss on the head of a Dragon howling in her face. Then kick the upstart into the sea when they charged.

Not his style. The Brass Dragon’s voice turned into a low growl, and Rhisveri backed up as Teriarch’s body changed again.

Metal scales. Metal eyes. Only this time, it was pure Adamantium. That was what Rhisveri had collided with midair. Flames seethed from the gaps between Teriarch’s scales, coating his body in glowing magenta fire.

Listen to me, boy. The Lucifen are not your friends. Do you think they’re fine allies? They twist and manipulate and predate on mortals by their very nature.”

“You generalize. I expected better of a Dragonlord. Are all species defined by a single individual?”

Rhisveri backed up. Teriarch growled as he took a step; he was sinking into the ground with his weight.

“I remember all their sins. Ask yourself this—where were the Lucifen before they came to Terandria? You don’t know, do you? The Infernal Court weren’t always allies with the Agelum. Did they ever say what drove them into hiding as petty Human nobles?”

The Wyrm’s silence was all the answer Teriarch needed. He hissed.

They were on Rhir. Before the Blighted Kingdom! Before the Crelers! Another failed containment for whatever is buried down there. But unlike the current guardians—the Lucifen were exiled from Rhir. Do you know how depraved you have to be for that to happen?”

Rhisveri backed away, uncertain. Teriarch shifted back to normal—even that was draining, but the effect had worked.

“Count your allies alongside your enemies, Great Wyrm. Don’t think the Glorious Host is any less dangerous. An Elemental of Masks? A Dryad? Not all of their forests were kind, you know. The mortals drove Treants into the sea to their shame, but some Dryads spilled blood like water and sacrificed innocents upon their groves.”

“Do not speak of Dryads to me.”

The Wyrm’s voice was deadly calm. Teriarch backed down a step—Rhisveri had gone still, and the Dragonlord realized another word on that subject and this would escalate beyond the realms of mere anger.

The two moved apart and glared at each other. Rhisveri spoke first, laying his body like a line in the sand.

“…Stay away from Ailendamus, Dragonlord. Stay out of my affairs.”

“Make your peace with mortals and relish your kingdom as it is, Rhisveri Zessoprical. Your nation is grand for this era. I have seen wondrous civilizations burn before threats greater than Crelers. And worse is coming still.”

The Dragonlord turned. He spread his wings, and the Wyrm watched him begin to fly away. Rhisveri’s teeth ground together—then the Wyrm shouted.

Dragonlord! WHO IS KASIGNA?

He saw the Brass Dragon flinch in the skies. A head turned, and two ancient eyes burned down at Rhisveri. But the Wyrm saw the fear.

“You aren’t ready to battle them. Not yet. If they find their full flesh—my fire will barely scratch them.”

He whirled and soared away. Rhisveri was left staring up at the sky. The Wyrm bitterly drained the last of his drink.

“So there’s the hierarchy? Mortals before Wyrm, before God?”

Rhisveri spat onto the ground, and the venom hissed and bubbled away, eating at the firmament of the world.

“In time, neither Dragonlord nor dead specter will threaten my kingdom. Flee back to Izril. I’ll even let you have the Wind Runner. She can run wherever she pleases, until all she ever sees will be Ailendamus’ banners, hanging from shore to distant shore.”

 

——

 

If Ryoka Griffin had heard Rhisveri’s oath, she might have been less surprised by how she left Ailendamus.

Not in a bag. Nor teleported. Nor while being herded through the streets as people spat on her while being beaten with sticks by sock puppets. And yes, amazingly, that was one of the outside options.

Even she was surprised by her exit, though. However, it was entirely in keeping with Rhisveri’s nature.

Pride—but also cunning. Perhaps Teriarch had forced him to release Ryoka Griffin unharmed. Somehow, she thought that this had been planned from the outset.

Especially because it was no easy task to convene thousands of people—in the throne room, no less. Ryoka stared at her bare feet and wished, for the first time in her life, she’d put on shoes.

Viscount Visophecin looked surprised—or he had in the first moment when she’d been summoned. Now, he watched her from the ranks of Ailendamus’ nobility.

Queen Oiena of Ailendamus had a smile on her lips, but her eyes were searching Ryoka’s face. Yet it was King Itorin II who spoke and beckoned Ryoka as Oesca and Ivenius stood next to the throne.

Oesca had her hands folded in her dress, very demurely. Ivenius jiggled slightly with impatience, but he’d done quite well.

Baron Regalius had spoken for nearly ten whole minutes, and in royal time, that was a lot. Ryoka Griffin walked forwards in a bit of a daze.

Um. What was going on here? Dame Chorisa, standing among the many [Knights] flanking her approach to the throne, looked like she felt like she was having a fever dream.

Such was Rhisveri’s plan. King Itorin II spoke into the silence.

“…We recognize the Wind Runner’s exemplary service in no less than our personal token of esteem, to be granted from our own hand. Kneel, Courier Griffin.”

She knelt—someone would have kicked her in the legs otherwise. Ryoka stared up at Itorin as he accepted a medal made half of glass, the other half of some shining metal representing glory. He placed it around her neck, and the applause and cheering began on cue.

Ryoka Griffin stared at the Signet of Glass and Glory and then at Itorin II. He gave her a rueful smile of amusement before he schooled his expression and rose.

And that was how Ryoka Griffin left Ailendamus. Exiled—and also with the highest medal of honor dangling around her chest.

Because, like Itorin’s ability to bluff, Rhisveri had a simple choice. Pretend Ryoka had been a mistake, an enemy, and all the things she’d done had been out of his control.

Or pat her on the head and claim her deeds as Ailendamus’ own. Not least of which was muddling the claims of House Veltras and Archmage Eldavin.

It was really, really going to make Ryoka’s life complicated. And that, she thought privately, was probably the principle reason the Wyrm had done this.

She might never return. Viscount Visophecin walked her towards the border after a silent ride in his portal-door.

“…You have guests waiting for you, Ryoka. Time will tell whether or not you answer Rhisveri’s demands. I trust you will. It behooves Ailendamus to have—interesting—mortals like yourself in its company. I believe even Rhisveri understands this.”

It was the most straightforward way of saying things Ryoka could expect from the Lucifen. She turned, and Visophecin held out a hand. Ryoka shook it.

“I’ll try. I—I’ll come back, Visophecin. Once I’ve settled my debt. I hope I’ll be welcome. I want to make amends and…”

And. The Lucifen nodded, and Ryoka took one more look at the strange kingdom of Ailendamus. Terrible, glorious—and she wondered if Rhisveri were out there, watching her leave.

She walked, slowly, towards the border, glancing up at the sky every now and then for a flash of crimson lightning.

None came. Nor sock puppet. Nor Wyrm in any other form or fashion. When she looked back—Visophecin was gone too.

Was it all over? Ryoka felt disbelief, sadness for her meeting with Teriarch, uncertainty for the future, and general worry—standard emotions—running through her veins. And she saw a reflection of that in the group of people she saw gathered as she climbed a small hill, waiting for her.

Lord Tyrion Veltras and the Five Families saw the Wind Runner slow as she jogged forwards. Pellmia pointed, and Buscrei shouted.

“There she is! Look at the damn traitor! Put five arrows in her and let’s go home!”

She loosed an arrow, and Ryoka yelped as the shaft thunked into the ground a good ten feet wide of her, but Buscrei was already riding forwards. Swey, grinning, followed. But it was Lord Tyrion Veltras who got there first.

Ryoka Griffin stared up at the young man sitting in his saddle.

“Uh—”

She didn’t recognize him for a moment. Who was this guy? Jet black hair, a serious face, dark blue eyes…

Then she realized who it had to be. Only, instead of the middle-aged man, she found herself looking at a younger man, under thirty years.

Tyrion Veltras dismounted as Ryoka’s mouth opened and stayed there. She had known about Dioname’s last gift to Tyrion, but seeing him up close?

“Ryoka. I imagine I look—different. I was apparently made more youthful. By…Pellmia’s Skill.”

The [Lord of Love and Wine] sighed as Ryoka Griffin turned her gaze to him—then caught onto the lie. She goggled a second, then blurted out what she needed to say.

“Tyrion! I’m sorry that I got—Sammial’s fine. He’s with two Couriers and headed to Izril.”

“Yes. He arrived in First Landing four days ago. He is in our people’s care. Miss Ryoka. Good job.”

Jericha rode over, looking—well. Almost as bewildered by recent events as everyone else. She actually nodded to Ryoka, and the Wind Runner hung her head.

She was going to apologize to Tyrion for, well, everything that had happened since Pellmia’s manor was attacked. Explain, or try to, how she had ended up on Ailendamus’ side. Say something about this war, the death, the bloodshed, and her culpability in all of it.

Tyrion beat her to the punch. The younger man removed his helmet and then, adjusting his armor slightly, sank down to one knee.

Oh no. Oh, dead gods.

Ryoka turned white. Before anything else could happen, Pellmia kicked Tyrion in the back slightly. The [Lord] turned—then coughed and stood back up.

He stared at the sky, then at Ryoka, then glanced at his cousins, who were watching him with both deep reservation, and, at least for Buscrei, great excitement. It could be terrible, despite all their advice.

It could be gloriously horrible or great. The [Lord] spoke after a moment, looking Ryoka straight in the eye.

“I have a number of things I would like to discuss with you, Ryoka. But I feel…rather foolish at this moment in time.”

She blinked at him, and Tyrion went on, staring at Ailendamus’ quiet borders. At least—for now. The war was going on, but here was House Veltras’ last quarry. He glanced at his hands, felt the youthful energy in his body and a far weaker class hovering above him.

“…I set out to right a wrong, in my eyes. A simple cause that demanded no further inquiry beyond the need to act. Now—I must ask myself a question. Did I make everything worse for my people? Did I do what was best? Could I have saved more lives, done better, another way?”

He glanced at her, and Ryoka Griffin saw, to her amazement, Tyrion flush.

“Forgive me. This is my responsibility. I set out to make the world better in some small way, and I do not know if I did. I hope you are well. I fear I had little involvement in your trials.”

This was not what he’d meant to say to her…but it was exactly why Pellmia sighed in relief. Ryoka Griffin stood there, looking at Tyrion, and in his guilty expression, the uncertain look in his eyes, the difficult future—

Well. She sighed and nodded.

“I know what comes next. At least—for me.”

“Oh?”

The [Lord] of House Veltras waited, hopefully, and Ryoka’s smile was entirely crooked as the Wyrm watched her covertly. He saw her look down at her feet, brush some hair blowing into her face, and then reply.

“What you do next, Tyrion, is…lie.”

“Lie?”

His face turned to ice, but Ryoka went on.

“You lie. To other people, but yourself as well. You say…‘next time. Next time, I’ll do it better. Next time, I won’t make as many mistakes’. Then, of course, you do them all over again.”

Ryoka looked back over her shoulder at Ailendamus.

“…I really thought I was on the right track for a second. It’s hard to really change. Next time—”

She broke off.

“I guess I’ve got to try again. So. What happens now?”

She looked at the members of the Five Families. Lord Tyrion Veltras gazed at Ryoka and then nodded to Jericha and the others. He turned and pointed south. A ship was waiting for them in Calanfer’s ports.

“We go home.”

The company sighed, and the Five Families’ immediate part in the war was over. The Wind Runner looked up, and Pellmia gave it a perfect score.

Just 10/10. 11/10, really, not on an objective basis, but for the people involved specifically. He was about to rest easy, levelless, but content in the future, when Lord Tyrion turned.

“Would you—care to ride side-saddle with me on our journey back, Ryoka?”

Pellmia eyed Ryoka’s expression, and Buscrei and Swey began laughing so hard they both nearly fell out of their saddles. And yet—the [Lord of Love and Wine] had to admit—

It was a start.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: 20,000 words.

They were harder to write than twice that much last chapter. Not because the other chapter was easier—because I was far, far, far more tired for this one.

That’s the energy-flow of a web serial. You have to manage it like a gauge in a video game. If I draw too heavily one chapter the next has a deficit.

However, I am content with a shorter chapter because, as I said, not needing to push for 30,000 or even 24,000 per chapter lets me regain power. I only wish I could do it Dragonball Z style and scream in a field for an hour. Or do it like Kirby and half of manga protagonists and eat weird food.

Alas, all I get is energy from ‘good sleep’, ‘healthy eating’, ‘exercise’, and wholesome activities. Bleh. That’s all from me—I hope you enjoyed this semi-follow up to last chapter.

Can you believe I thought this all would fit in the last chapter? Even with cutting…well, that’s classic me. See you next time! Not sure when I’m taking my break, but there’s that AMA on the 26th, so it’ll definitely be around then.

Take it easy!

 

Outside The Wandering Inn by tobinkusuma!

 

Stink Squad by pkay!

 

Lyonette and Mrsha by slaetus!

 


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39 thoughts on “9.06

  1. Leave a typo for your favorite scale-thing! We all know who it is.

    (Wyrm readers: MrWiggles, Litwickee, Gorexn, Quynin, Maladal, Franklin)*

    *Survey paid for by the Kingdom of Glass and Glory.

    • “Nor while being herded through the streets as people spat on her while being beaten with sticks by sock puppets.”

      When I read this, it sounds like the people are the ones being beaten. Possibly “while she was being beaten”.

    • Sorry but is Uziel the Agelum a different person from Uzine, or are Uziel and Uzine the same person?

      Am asking because Uziel had only appeared (as far as I know) in only 2 Chapters; 8.70 E and 9.05 NPR, and in both of them it would have made more sense if Uzine had been the one to appear instead.

  2. My favorite scale thing… Well, the dragon sucks. The wyrm sucks. The Relc… uh.

    Sucks.

    Erin’s Scale Soup. Making everyone weary of tasting ass. Hysterical. THAT is my favorite scale thing.

    Is Ryoka gonna let Relc down? I’m not the biggest fan of Relc after how he did Rags like he did. Beheading her family and nearly going after her, AFTER knocking Erin out of the way.

    Even so, he was hopeful of being in something possibly serious.

    I can’t not sympathize with that.

    She gone and played the field while under guard. Innuendo!

    And I can only hope this drama plays out between the Lord of the Joust vs the Spearmaster of Liscor.

    How’s Tyrion going to act when he finds out Ryoka bedded a Drake. No less one from Liscor. One with thoughts of being an item.

    Oh! The madness and mayhem is merely beginning and the fun hasn’t yet started.

    Erin, you certainly might need to take a vacation after all this BS comes to the Inn.

    Sariant lambs being the butt of jokes is… just… wonderful.

    Witches wanting to kill them…
    Them being interrogated… The body snatching immortal making them into lamb chops. And now, their attempt is destroyed by fire. Ryoka nearly being pardoned for kicking one. Than hugging one for dear life while it hugs back.

    Just… wonderful.

    Oh don’t get me started on the Stitch Witch comedy.

    So many things from this series keeps me chuckling just thinking about them.

    How about when the smack literally rocked the family tree in the last volume. That had me breathless.

    A+ for some memorable scenes.

    Kind of like Snoop said during that boxing match. Uncles fighting at the BBQ.

    Dragon and Wyrm.

    Just… wonderful.

  3. ‘Rhisveri hoped his own poker-face’
    Card face.

    ‘She sighed in relief a second before Rhisveri’s tail slapped her out of the skies.’
    If Teriarch is the size of A380/Boeing 747, Rhisveri’s length is comparable to a freight train. That tail slap would be like human body vs 10,000+ ton train at full speed, with the result of impact being much more gruesome and deadly than broken ribs.

    • *Just broken ribs*- A lung was ejected from her body! Point still stands, however. Ryoka would have been closer to a grease stain on Rhis’s tail.

    • Maybe the wind helped her partially dodge, cushioning the blow. She was flying in the same direction as Rhisveri, and pretty fast too. Rhisveri may be the length of a freight train, but he didn’t hit her head on, just with his tail as he passed her by, meaning it could be more of a glancing blow.

  4. A dragon and a Wyrm talk as a human goes out to be the better politician to trick/ease the people. A gamble by a [Runner] and complication by a kingdom make for a fine mess.

    Yet I have to say the Wyrm was my favorite for even wanting to strike down a dead god for daring to take away one of the immortals he cared about the most.

    Still I am curious to at how the Devils and Angels got together as it is obvious that their peaceful relationship with each other had changed them a lot from what they once were.

    Though that being banished bit with the horrible actions might be tied to why the Devils still have a realm of their own and the Angels slowly recovering their power as Pawn keeps preaching and trying to build heaven.

    Maybe the acts were so vile because they needed to build a Hell not tied to the dead gods?

    • The Devils are a race of clinical sociopaths that needs to eat humans. Now, they’re also quite efficient, and not cruel, as a rule, because deliberate cruelty implies the fact that the torturer cares about its victims, and the Devils do not. So it’s all very casual. Casual sociopathy and cannibalism.

      It isn’t difficult to see how a nation of Devils could snowball into something absolutely monstrous. Hell, technically, the society that would fit the most the Devil’s mindset would probably be a slave society where human children are raised outside of their family in castes for manual labor, with regular culling of the “food” caste and the too old to work. Very efficient. Very practical.

      The screams heard at night were bad for moral, but don’t fret over it, we soundproofed the slave’s pen. We are civilized here. We treat our subjects well. They’ve even got bellies full of food and health assurance! As long as the objective cost-to-return ratio is positive, I mean. After that, in the kitchen they go.

      They found an equilibrium in Ailendamus, and probably learned one or two things about what is considered unacceptable by humanity at large, if only to survive. And also what kind of society is unhealthy in the long run. But yeah, in the past, with numbers, and left alone? Teriarch has probably seen some serious shit when he visited whatever nation they had on Rhir.

  5. I know some people still hate Tyrion for being an antagonist earlier in the series but I’m hoping for the Ryoka/Tryrion ship to work out.

  6. Ok. Crazy good. Dragon and Wyrm fight. Just excellent action. Excellent creative amazing writing. Reminded me of a favorite scene, when Eldavan got into the magic fight at dinner when he first arrived at Wistrim. That also was amazing.

    You are a super talented creative writer. No one better on this planet

  7. A great capstone to a great new setting and a great new cast of characters.

    Truly wild to me that people are complaining in the comments in subtle ways, or trying to nudge things back in this way or that.

    This was a top 10 chapter for sure.

    Well done, Pirate.

  8. “Dragon and Wyrm fight, and both will fall! And upon their bodies, I, Merlin, say to build a castle tall! Upon their bones, in King Arthur’s name! Just as planned—Oberon’s twisted game!”

    Sooo… Ryoka is Merlin to Erins King Arthur? She’ll have to hurry if she doesn’t want to get left in the dust in the magical department.

  9. All these Tyrants, rulers, and immortals. Rhisveri, Teriarch, Visophecin, Tyrion, Magnolia, Itorin, Yisame. Yet for all of the power there is not one true leader in the bunch.

  10. I would like to know Teriarch’s thoughts on the new quest mechanic as that’s something even he hasn’t seen before.

    • Doubtful that he hasn’t, if it’s something that existed at some point of the world’s past, he’s seen it.

      And I could be wrong, but I don’t recall the Quest skills being colored in the new/unique skill colors.

      • I think Pirate has confirmed that it was something that’s always been there, but this is the first time it’s been turned on. So it should be new even to Teriarch

  11. ‘Teriarch had not known Eldavin was alive (1). Or rather, he had not known Eldavin was him (2). He had been asleep most of his travel across Izril, and he was not used to the television that was now commonplace in the world (3).’
    1 and 3 contradict Chapter 9.04:
    ‘Someone who wasn’t concerned by the announcement was a Brass Dragon who watched the announcement with a huge frown on his face.’
    2 is dubious. He didn’t realise Eldavin was his sim, yet Teri claimed responsibility for his actions?

  12. Today I learned that a certain brass dragon has the power to turn himself into the equivalent of a ballistic missile.
    I never knew how much I wanted to know that until today.

    • He was traveling the Roads of Izril, the one that Erin put the quest up for and the same place he paste Bel and her daughter before. It seems to be like a kind of long wormhole.

  13. I really do hope Teriarch and Rhisveri continue to interact in increasingly petty ways. Not just so they can like overcome their differences and defeat the dead gods but cause they’re hilarious together.

    Man the ryoka Tyrion relationship is starting to grow on me. Like every interaction is like a comady of errors and they get more cartoony as time goes on. Also it helps when i feel like they’re never gonna get together? Tyrion’s done some messed up stuff and ryoka is in all sorts of self loating.

  14. In Chapter 8.82 (Pt. 2), we see the ghost of a Dragonlord of Waves. Does anyone know if that was Khetieve or not?

  15. The arrogance of Aliendamus and it’s immortals still amazes me, I understand the reasons behind that but still..
    Rhisveri is good for someone self taught huh. I wonder how good he would be against a Teriarch in his prime and going all out.
    Thanks as always Pirate.

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