Interlude – Another Time – The Wandering Inn

Interlude – Another Time

The sky was spitting blood down over the treetops that splintered like broken glass as the UH-1P helicopters roared over the forest.

Below, a thousand flickers of movement in the dense jungle cover gave the gunner too many targets. Not a single one actionable. The ground was alive; the radio was spitting almost as much fire from the major on the line as the hornets of gunfire echoing up from the ground.

The entire squad didn’t react as another artillery blast split the air. The half-Elf in the gunner’s seat just kept swinging the M60 left and right, searching for a new target.

On the other side of her, her squad sergeant was having a smoke. As the whop-whop-whop of the helicopter signaled they were descending, someone began blasting Fortunate Son against military regulations. But they were landing, and so Silvenia Ettertree, Private First Class, took hold of the M16 she’d just been issued and—

 

——

 

“Silvenia. Silvenia. Please stop.”

The helicopters still kept descending as a half-Elf wearing forest-green armor and a simple, rounded helmet leaned out of the helicopter’s window.

The illusion spell was very good. It even had music, the smell of oil, and the acrid fumes wafting from the cigarette.

Serinpotva could even feel the heat and humidity of the jungle, like that of Baleros. It probably wasn’t accurate; Silvenia had no idea what helicopter fumes actually smelled like, and using the memories of Earthers wasn’t anything like a real war.

“I asked you a straightforward question. Can you not…just be honest?”

“What? That was how it was back then.”

The Death of Magic, the real Silvenia, gave Serinpotva a salute as the image of the girl who looked barely sixteen froze in the projection. In reply, the largest living Harpy in the world, the Death of Wings, Serinpotva, exiled ruler of Harpies, just turned her head and pecked at Silvenia.

It was a default gesture, even if she had a Human’s torso and face, despite having avian wings. She was so vast that she could carry the Death of Magic and the looted chest of holding and tons of grain on her back and keep flying at max speed.

Mind you, not all the grain; the silos they’d struck in Taimaguros had been just one target, and Silvenia was levitating the rest behind them. The warhorns from their raid to steal as much food as possible were still echoing in Serinpotva’s ears.

However, the pursuit, if any had been attempted, would be fruitless. One did not simply catch two Deaths of the Demons. Even if there were Pegasus Riders or Griffin Riders who could move at astronomical speeds—what would they do if they caught up? Scream?

It was a classic raid for what Demons needed: uncontaminated food. Doubtless, the Blighted Kingdom would spin it as hard as they could, but even Silvenia’s magic couldn’t generate food forever. Besides—striking Taimaguros would exacerbate the traditional feuds between the two sides in that kingdom.

The Deaths had done it countless times. True, they hadn’t been able to until recovering their health, but Czautha had already petitioned for five dozen strikes against Slavers of Roshal, which would net coin, potential recruits, and most importantly, hope for her people.

It was a game of increasing risk and rewards—too many would galvanize the world against Demons. Serinpotva, as strategist and leader of Demons under the Demon King, had long done the assessment.

That didn’t matter. That wasn’t interesting. Serinpotva turned to the half-Elf sitting on her back. The Harpy Queen flapped her wings every now and then, but she moved with magic as much as physicality, so her wings sounded like vengeance and the weight of her fallen species.

Silvenia was lighter in temperament and nature. She lounged, despite the ruined body, effortlessly projecting an illusion for Serinpotva to see as she shielded the two from tracking, levitated many thousands of pounds of grain behind them, and probably used a dozen more spells at the same time.

She was the oldest living Demon. The strongest, at least in warfare. Serinpotva led armies. One might argue Czautha might have been a superior combatant. But neither could erase an army as fast as the Traitor of Terandria, the Archmage of the Forgotten Era, Islandbreaker—

Silvenia Ettertree.

Her company was not interesting after so long. What was interesting was…

“I asked you who you flew off to meet with. Tserre. A half-Elf you personally knew. When I asked about your relationship, you claimed she and you had known each other millenia in the past. When I requested a story about your past, you showed me that.”

“I thought it was more interesting.”

“You don’t wish to tell me stories of your past.”

Serinpotva’s voice was calm, if disappointed. Getting a story out of Silvenia was like wringing water from a rock if she didn’t want to tell it. For all she was ancient of days, she was surprisingly close-mouthed about her past.

Sure enough, Silvenia wriggled slightly as she sat on Serinpotva’s wing. She gestured at the Vietnam-Silvenia in the illusion.

“What about an illusion that’s a metaphor? I built half the movie already. It’s got lots of hidden lore. For instance, a UH-1P helicopter instead of a UH-1 is significant because—”

“Silvenia. Please. I just want to know about Tserre. Ally? Enemy? You can spare me the story if you don’t want to tell it.”

Strategy. Serinpotva interjected just the right amount of weariness and exasperation into her voice. A hint that this was her as the war leader speaking. Silvenia’s smile faltered. The half-Elf, who had embodied merciless war since the day Serinpotva was hatched, hesitated—and then sighed.

“—It’s not an easy story to tell. I could—no. Fine. I’ll tell you honestly. Give me ten minutes. I might as well show Flora and the new Demons a picture of what Rhir looked like in the past.”

She sat there pensively, silver hair streaming behind her, and Serinpotva nodded.

“Thank you, Silvenia. You needn’t do this if you do not wish.”

“…It’s fine. It’s just memory. Like scars, sometimes I wish they’d fade. And sometimes I regret each one I forget.”

The half-Elf gave the Death of Wings a crooked smile. Her eyes contained a multitude of lives, each one lived in magic’s name. The Death of Wings gave her a dignified nod again. Then, inwardly, Serinpotva pumped a mental wing in victory.

Yes. Success. 

She sent an instant [Memo] spell to Czautha to get all the interested Demons they knew for a story. And to bring popcorn.

 

——

 

“War-torn Rhir back at the height of the Creler Wars looked incomprehensible to the modern day. You may be wondering where the ground is. The smoke is from [Everburning Blaze] spells. The ground is mostly cratered earth. Later on, we realized the Crelers kept the blazes going because they helped them escape our eyes more than killed them.”

Silvenia’s voice floated through the illusion of a half-Elf girl, sixteen years old in appearance, clutching a wand and a glowing shield. She was sitting in a leather seat of sorts anchored to the Harpy’s back, the air blowing around her as, below, roiling clouds of black smoke filled the landscape.

It looked like they were flying above a sea of another world entirely, an inhospitable land. No, not in an attack helicopter.

But there were parallels. The gigantic Harpy dipped one wing and turned her head.

We are closing over the embattled zone. Prepare for descent.

“By your guidance, First of Wings.”

A Dullahan woman had been eating a nali-stick. She stood up, carelessly balancing on the vast Harpy’s back, as an entire group of nearly forty figures looked up.

Some were as young as Silvenia looked. The oldest was the Dullahan, barely forty years old. Her armor was pitted and scarred, but the Adamantium metal had survived all but a single gash that had torn up the midsection. It had been patched—but [Banehunter Captain] Loteiv had shown Silvenia the armor the day she’d come recruiting for the war effort.

She’d warned the half-Elf girl that some breeds of Crelers could tear through Adamantium and any barrier spell in a moment. But the Crelers had reached even the Ettertree Groves. Even the last Dryads and Treants had gone to war.

Shouldn’t she? The question had led a girl of barely forty years to leave her village. She was hardly the youngest person here. She’d spent forty years studying magic and even receiving lessons from her elders returning from the battles against the Crelers.

The entire world was wrapped in conflict with the horrors. 

Leaping from a Harpy’s back into the heart of Rhir was, ironically, not the most dangerous thing you could be doing. Silvenia’s heart still bounced in her chest a thousand times a second. She saw the gigantic Harpy glancing at her and bowed.

“T-thank you for your passage, First of Wings.”

She didn’t even know the Harpy’s name. First of Wings was just her title; she flew alone, so she was given the title by default under Harpy military doctrines.

“Fly well, little half-Elf. You are young. Too—no. Thirty seconds, [Captain].”

“You heard her. Reconnaissance Team Septha, prepare to drop. Keep your spells muted.”

It was the umpteenth time the Dullahan had said it, but it bore repeating. One of the reasons Silvenia had been chosen was because she’d learned [Camouflaged Magic]. Now, she stood, stumbled, and nearly fell off the wing as she panicked and overbalanced.

A huge [Druid] caught her arm and grinned. He had a shaggy head of wild, brown hair, and he was bare-chested, wearing only tattered robes. No magical gear, unlike her carefully prepared artifacts and wand.

“Careful, little leaf-child. What’s your name? We barely had a moment to talk.”

“Silvenia. [Mage]. I’m from Terandria, Avel. The Ettertree Groves.”

“Rottervine. [Druid]. Izril’s forests. Now under House Veltras.”

They exchanged a glance for one second—then heard a shout.

Jump!

Silvenia hesitated. From wh—

Rottervine saw her hesitation and tossed her off the Harpy’s wing, then leapt after her with a howl lost in the wind. Silvenia flailed, screamed—then recast [Feathercatch]. She angled her body, diving down as the [Druid] pointed.

Thirty-nine figures dropped through the air as the Harpy banked overhead and flew back the way she’d come. They passed through burning smoke, and Silvenia’s lungs ached, despite the [Filtered Air] spell she’d applied. When she stared down past the first layer of smog, she gasped at the raging fires covering the land.

“This really is hell!”

She cried out, and someone laughed hoarsely.

Dropping towards the uninhabited earth. Aiming for a tiny patch of darkness amidst the ruined soil that was the entrance to the vast tunnel networks the Crelers had dug. They had to get in there fast. Otherwise, the constant bombardments from Wistram and other areas might hit them by accident.

The long-range bombardments would never kill the Crelers. Silvenia angled her body clumsily, trying to copy the other veterans. They had to find where the huge ones were hiding, the Elder Crelers, or ones specialized for laying broods. Or, failing that, find a nest, a brood colony where millions might spawn from and have it bombarded into oblivion.

If they found a single Ancient Creler—they’d all die. But if one were killed, it might shift the course of this war, and all their lives would be well spent. Either way—they would be spent.

Suicide mission. Far too much for a girl from Ettertree to be asked to participate in. But she was a gifted [Mage] and…

There had been no one else that wasn’t wounded or traumatized by the war. So Silvenia Ettertree first stepped foot on Rhir’s soil at forty-three years old. She pivoted, and a blast of wind shot dirt and dust into the air, catching her right before she landed. She saw the [Druid], Rottervine, land nimbly next to her as she stumbled and almost fell flat on her face.

“In the tunnels. Now.

He growled as she looked around for their [Captain].

“Wait, what about—”

Those star-suckling bastards! It’s a bombardment from the Walled Cities! One of the ancient Mershi scrolls! Run! Run!

A Drake shouted, and everyone looked up—and the clouds of smog overhead tore as meteors and comets blasted down. Straight towards them.

“That’s supposed to be five minutes later! Into the tunnels!”

[Bane Captain] Loteiv shouted, and Silvenia saw a constellation appear for a second through the clouds overhead. The smog tore away to reveal a snarling Drake, an illustration made of the very stars, pointing down, the tip of a claw glowing.

“Constellation magic.”

She breathed—then saw a meteor glowing like the forests of her home heading straight for her. Then the half-Elf realized everyone else had already run for the tunnel and ran after them, screaming. She leapt for the hole as the glow got brighter and brighter—

 

——

 

It was a very good illusion. Flora, Bazeth, Demon officers, even ones who looked like they were over a century old, all watched, forgetting to even eat their popcorn.

Why, Czautha and Serinpotva were both here, which told Flora how important this was. Even one of the Giants was sitting forwards to stare.

Apparently, not even the other Demons and Deaths knew much of Silvenia’s history. The half-Elf refused to tell them more than they needed to know, and only the Earthers’ presence had changed her mind.

The image of Silvenia diving for the hole was vivid in Flora’s mind. The magic of a top-tier illusion was not only the hot air on Flora’s skin or the smell of incomprehensible, vile organics mixed with scorched earth.

If Flora chose, she could watch Silvenia from afar or be in Silvenia’s skin, feeling her panic and the need to wet her pants. So transfixed was Flora that when the voice interrupted the illusion, she jumped.

Q-q-q-q-q-quest-t-t-t-t—

“Wait. Pause.”

Czautha spoke, and Silvenia obligingly halted the illusion. Everyone sighed, gasped, and blinked.

The voice had come from a shaking figure being supported by Czautha. The new Death of…well, they hadn’t given them a name yet. Even they had come out of recovery for this. Flora’s eyes jerked to the shaking limb being raised, then away.

It was painful to see; all the surviving Deaths were wounded beyond belief. But the Djinni leaned over, listened to a cracked whisper, then spoke.

“Question, Silvenia. Did you truly drop into Rhir on Harpy’s back?”

The Death of Magic puffed out her cheeks.

“I did!”

Serinpotva exchanged a dubious glance with Czautha. Silvenia just shook a finger at them.

“When I was young, Harpies were still respected like that.”

“What does this have to do with Tserre?”

Silvenia blinked.

“Tserre? You wanted to hear stories of the old days I thought, Serinpotva. You bugged me as a chick all the time about it. If it’s Tserre—I can fast forwards. She’s far younger than I. Drat. I had an entire story about my first foray into Rhir’s heart. I even met Antinium, though we had no idea who they were. Hold on…”

She conjured what looked suspiciously like Flora’s description of a remote and, sighing, fast-forwarded the memories. Everything rushed forward in a blur; Flora saw a half-Elf firing panicked spells at Crelers swarming up a tunnel mouth, separating from her team as a horrific worm-like Creler exploded through the tunnel. Racing for her life across the surface with a squad of four until a vast wolf ripped the worm-Creler to bits.

The [Druid], Rottervine, grinning as he spat a twitching leg out his mouth—

“No, no! We want to see the entire thing!”

Czautha protested. Silvenia paused and gave the Djinni a sinister stare.

“Well, make up your mind. Tserre’s one part of the story.”

“Just how long is this, Silvenia?”

“Only eight hours. It covers the first adventure I had, then it skips ahead. A lot of that’s dialogue—I cut out a lot, but you do a lot of talking between fighting for your life. I did include the first romance I ever had—”

The Demon’s leadership groaned, and one of them raised a hand.

“Can you at least conjure chairs for us, Death of Magic?”

Sighing, Silvenia did that and then brightened up.

“What if I made a time-slowed theatre and brought the story to all the Demons? I could charge for admission. Two rocks a seat. An irradiated rock for a premium seat. A handful of sand for popcorn—”

You had to have fun in the lands of the Demons. Flora took a seat and began to eat more popcorn as Serinpotva protectively shielded the new Death’s ruined face.

“How much explicit material is in your memories, Silvenia? We don’t need to see you making eggs with someone.”

“How about tasteful nudity?”

The two began to argue as Flora hesitated, then leaned over to Bazeth, one of the Demons’ [Generals], if far lesser than Silvenia.

“Who’s Tserre and why does she matter so much, Bazeth?”

He whispered back.

“We have no idea.”

 

——

 

Voreca read out everything Erribathe knew on Tserre. Which wasn’t much.

“Tserre. Half-Elf from the Village of the Spring. True name unknown. Tserre Springwalker does not appear on any records. A ‘Tserre’ does appear in several of our records. Ancient records, Your Majesty. Some thousands of years old.”

King Nuvityn sat in the royal palace of Erribathe, sighing. The army was mustered. Warriors from across the Kingdom of Myths had come to his banner in a week’s time. They were set to march—and he was sitting here.

Because his visit to the Village of the Spring had proven more complicated than he’d thought.

Mysterious half-Elven [Mage] wants to join Prildor to save her grandniece? Half the courts had just nodded as if it were obvious. It happened.

Said half-Elf had a walking cottage? The Village of the Spring had launched a petition for Tserre to put it back, not because they were alarmed by her grand magic, but because it had really disrupted their understanding of geography.

Still fine—it meant Tserre was a powerful [Mage]; the best in the army, perhaps. All fine.

Said half-Elf attracted the Death of Magic for a one-on-one chat the moment she left the Village of Spring? That—that was a red flag.

King Nuvityn had done the logical thing: have someone investigate Tserre. He would have done it anyways. But there were problems.

“She’s old, then. Twice as old as Prildor, maybe more.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. She’s not just old for a half-Elf. She’s, well, old as Djinnis measure it.”

And only Djinnis and a few other half-Elves could equal her age. Dead gods. Well, Nuvityn focused.

“Is she waiting? Comfortable?”

“She has been eating cookies with tea, Your Majesty. She awaits in one of the sitting rooms; Her Majesty has been keeping Tserre company.”

“Good. Then we shall ask Magus Tserre personally who she is.”

They had to have answers, even of a kind. Nuvityn stared down at the transcripts of old documents the [Historians] had found.

The problem was that even enchanted books decayed after a mere ten thousand years with the best bindings and magic. And those were the best. Cross-referencing a single name across all their records was the job of madness—yet [Librarians] and [Historians] delved into the past, sometimes with boots on in case of what they found.

“Most of her records were excised, Your Majesty.”

“How?”

It was outrageous to Nuvityn that anyone would destroy records. The Kingdom of Myths had some of the most extensive recordings of world history—but Voreca just shook her head.

“Our notes indicate they were removed during the Purging of Ettertree.”

Nuvityn felt another blow to his chest.

“The Death of Magic’s name being excised from history?”

“Yes, sire.”

“I always wondered about that. It was such an extreme reaction. Her name being removed as a great defender of Rhir, yes. But so many stories and other tales being removed?”

“She was beloved at the time, sire. News of her ‘death’ at the hands of Demons was a scant four years past before she took their side. To preserve morale and establish a proper narrative, I gather that’s why Rhir gave the order.”

“Hm. But it seems this Tserre was also affected by the purge?”

“Yes, sire.”

The two came to a halt in the corridor before the tea room, and Nuvityn turned.

“—How likely is it she’s a Demon or allied with them?”

Voreca shook her head.

“I have had the royal guard stationed unobtrusively close by, but Prildor swears to her credibility. Moreover, the Blighted Kingdom does not let allies of Demons live, Your Majesty.”

“Unless she hid from them. She never left the Village of the Spring once according to the other half-Elves.”

Nuvityn had a bad feeling about all this, but he hadn’t sent a question to the Blighted Kingdom. And that prudence was rewarded when Voreca glanced around, as if anyone might be listening in.

“I would be more concerned, sire. But I remind you that we have had issues with the Blighted Kingdom before.”

“Leila Springwalker. Yes, I see. Then—we ask.”

Nuvityn nodded, then opened the doors and strode inside as a half-Elf slowly got to her feet. Tserre was wary, but she bowed slightly to him, and he sat, offering her a smile. When he did ask, it was politely and with genuine curiosity to know the truth as she saw it.

After all—

He did love stories.

 

——

 

Tserre was two hundred and six the day she first laid eyes on the Archmage of Magic’s Ire—or, as some called her, the Archmage of Hell—Silvenia Ettertree.

The half-Elf strode into the class of students she’d agreed to teach, wearing visible armor under her robes. Mithril shifted as she placed a staff down and it hovered there, and then the [Archmage] turned.

“So you’re the children who want a taste of Rhir.”

Silvenia looked barely forty years old. To be fair, Tserre looked fourteen. They had both slowed in their aging immensely, to the point where Tserre looked wildly young for her age and surprised even other half-Elves.

The girl squeaked as Silvenia’s eyes passed over her, and she clutched the cute wizard’s hat and wand she’d been given on her first day at Wistram. That made the half-Elf’s gaze swing back as Tserre’s hat bulged.

Tserre! You were supposed to leave Squishy at home!”

A half-Elf in the back row of the class hissed. Maura Springwalker, one of Tserre’s friends from the villages, was trying to hide the jiggling in the hat when Silvenia arched an eyebrow, and the hat tore upwards.

A wiggling, yellow slime danced around on Tserre’s head. A miniature monster, in grave dereliction of Wistram’s no-monster policy.

Both girls froze as the Archmage floated forwards. She was over a thousand years old. Among the greatest of [Mages] in the entire world, if not the best. She still had scars from the Creler Wars, and her eyes were cold and dispassionate.

“Names.”

Tserre’s head emptied of thought instantly. She stood there, knees shaking, as she stared into those dispassionate eyes. Thankfully, Maura was able to stutter a response.

“M-Maura, Archmage! From the Village of the Spring! And this is Tserre! From—”

“You want to visit Rhir. And you think bringing a slime is a good idea?”

Silvenia spoke over Maura, eyes flicking to Tserre. The girl was still tongue-tied, but Maura tried to defend her.

“It’s part of her class, Archmage! She wouldn’t bring Squishy there—”

This was just a test to see if they were even eligible to visit the continent where Crelers had sprung from. It was still hell, and the lone Archmage with the title of Hell’s Warden at Wistram had long advocated for more [Mages] to return there.

The Kingdom of Blight’s End needed help after all. At least, that was what they were calling it. The first wall was going up around a colony spot, and the Archmage of Hell had been there so often she hadn’t visited Wistram for the last few years!

“Are these what Archmage Valmira thinks capable students look like? You want to perform a semester of duty in Rhir. How old are you?”

Silvenia leaned forwards, eying Tserre and Maura skeptically. Both instantly spoke their ages, making a young Human man eyeing them jump.

“A hundred and forty-nine, Archmage!”

“Two hundred and six.”

Silvenia narrowed her eyes at Tserre.

“You’re both from the villages. What year?”

“Third—”

Third. And you think you can survive Rhir?”

Didn’t you survive it when you were only forty? Tserre managed a response, eager to assure Silvenia she could keep up.

“I—I studied magic and practiced it for over a hundred and sixty years, Archmage! Maura for over seventy years!”

Maura nodded eagerly as the other students gave them dismayed looks. It was the kind of thing only a half-Elf of the true timeless villages could boast.

A hundred and sixty years of practice. Maura had gotten into her magic training later, but Tserre had happily practiced magic day in, day out since she was forty. It had shot her through Wistram’s basic classes so fast she had been able to take this class on Rhir. After all, the old half-Elven villages had spells the rest of the world had begun to forget after the Creler Wars.

Tserre was waiting for Silvenia to see something in her. Possibly to take Tserre under her wing and teach Tserre spells herself. She saw the Archmage of Hells look down at her—and then Silvenia stared past Tserre and Maura.

“Fail.”

The two stood there as Silvenia walked backwards. The Archmage turned back and glared, as if annoyed they were still here.

“Get out. Half-Elves who haven’t even seen real combat are no match for Rhir’s horrors. One day in the outside world is worth a decade of your ‘training’.”

“But I—”

Maura was already backing up. Tserre began to protest, and Silvenia flicked a hand.

That was how a screaming half-Elf girl—and a slime—plummeted past Archmage Valmira’s window as the woman was having a drink in the morning. And how the Winebreath Blaster was first invented.

 

——

 

“—You were taught by the Death of Magic when she was still the respected Archmage?”

After a while, Voreca confirmed this, and Tserre broke out of her memories to see the King and Queen of Myths staring at her.

“Hm? Oh, yes.”

It was the politest interrogation she’d ever had, and she had been a guest of the Blighted Kingdom. Tserre’s hand twitched at the memory, and she wondered if this had been a mistake.

She needed Nuvityn’s support to leave Erribathe safely. Trying to appear calm, the half-Elf kept drinking her tea.

“I cannot prove I was there then. But if you have truth spells or Skills…”

…They’re absolutely useless against the right magic, but they might make you feel better? To her relief, the King of Myths sat forwards.

“Continue, Magus Tserre. I thought you were a [Witch].”

“Oh. No. My exact class has some overlap, but I was always a student of magic itself.”

Tserre smiled faintly. She understood how he got there with the moving cottage. That, too, was part of her studies. Understanding how a cottage could walk, at least, had been a fun challenge.

“And your class would be…?”

“I prefer to keep that private. I am sure you understand my caution, Minister Voreca.”

The woman wasn’t pleased, but Nuvityn lifted a hand.

“I am merely curious as to your association with the Death of Magic. How—was that the only moment you had contact with her?”

It would be easier to lie, but the lie would soon be uncovered, so Tserre sighed.

“I grew to know her after that, Your Majesty. The next moment was nearly a dozen years later—our association was never as close as friends. But she and I well knew each other…perhaps if I recounted another brief tale?”

For answer, Nuvityn slowly pulled out a piece of the fake Elven bread and began to nibble on it. Tserre? All she had to do was close her eyes and—

 

——

 

The second time they met, the Archmage of Magic’s Ire recognized her. And she was slightly more complimentary.

“The girl with the slime. You made it to Rhir after all.”

Tserre jumped as a load of [Mages] were disembarking the flying chariot that had led them to the war front.

War in Rhir. The entire world was abuzz with fear of it, but seeing Silvenia here made Tserre feel, strongly, it was the right thing to do.

“Y-yes, Archmage. I won’t let you down this time. I’ve been practicing.”

The Archmage of Magic’s Ire just screwed up her lips and turned slightly. She carried a sword at her side and armor, not magical robes. Said armor had scorch marks, and her silvery locks had holes where something had sheared through them. The [Mages] under Silvenia’s command were fresh-faced. Tserre could see ranks of grim-faced warriors, including half-Elves from home, and even a Harpy.

“I’d take novices at this point. The Kingdom of Blight’s End is under attack, and no nation is willing to commit its armies?”

That provoked a response from the Harpy, who was sitting by himself, wings folded. They were golden wings, and his gaze was surly; everyone else avoided him, but he spoke in a loud, booming voice.

“They are afraid, Archmage of Hell. Afraid we will all be stains on the earth and any armies sent will be lost. You, I, and the brave warriors here are to remind the wavering rulers that courage and victory both exist.”

Tserre held her breath; the comment provoked the ire of many around the gigantic Harpy. However, Silvenia just nodded at him respectfully. Then she turned.

“Where’s your friend?”

“Maura? She—she didn’t come.”

She’s afraid. Who could blame her? It was one thing to visit Rhir, dangerous as that was, in times of peace. This had been a call to arms.

Silvenia just nodded.

“Then follow my orders. Your magic looks more precise than it was. Your barriers—double the layers if you can keep mobile. I don’t care what the mana cost is. These Soirethams pierce magic protections with their base spells. And keep behind your partner. Where are they?”

“U-um, mine should be there. She’s related to Maura, actually.”

Tserre’s voice quavered as the [Mages] were intercepted by a company of warriors. It was Silvenia’s initiative.

Shield & Sword. [Warrior] and [Mage]. Nothing else would do; a [Warrior] needed a [Mage]’s spells, and likewise, a [Mage] died in close-quarters combat without support.

Silvenia turned as a half-Elven warrior trudged over the ground towards them.

“Magus Tserre? I am Knightess Leila Springwalker. Your Shield in combat. Though I protest, Archmage. I don’t have time to guard a junior [Mage].”

A very unhappy-looking half-Elven woman stomped across the ground wearing armor like a [Knight] of Terandria. Tserre’s heart sank. Maura had said her older cousin was grumpy—she looked older than Tserre by far, and she seemed at home on the battlefield.

“Knightess. Humor me. You’ll need us [Mages] out there.”

Silvenia floated over, as cordial with Leila as could be. The half-Elf glanced at Tserre, who stepped forwards to introduce herself, and completely ignored the younger girl.

“We need more Archmages, if you’ll pardon me, Commander. And a Harpy?”

The huge avian was far, far different from Garuda. In response to the unspoken question, the Harpy rumbled.

“I am here to represent the exiled Empire of Wings. To show my people are not ignorant to the danger here, regardless of where we fly.”

Several glares from other species made Silvenia raise her voice.

“Then we are all here for common cause. Come. [Mages], report to me with your partners. You will never leave each other’s side until you depart Rhir. I need spells on our fortifications. Soiretham are coming. And I have heard there are even traitors fighting with them.”

Traitors? Tserre stared at Silvenia as Leila grabbed her by the arm and pulled her after the Archmage of Magic’s Ire. She felt her stomach churning and hoped her pet slime wouldn’t be too upset. Of course, telling Leila she had a pet slime might have been prudent.

Leila’s first introduction to Squishy was him crawling over her at night to get at a bag of green beans on her dressing table. And from there—

 

——

 

“Wait. You knew Leila? She never mentioned your name.”

Queen Eithelenidrel interrupted incredulously. Tserre broke off her explanations.

“I imagine she wouldn’t have.”

Her eyes were shifty. Nuvityn’s head hurt from all these revelations. Voreca was making notes, but she showed him a line she’d written down.

She’s dancing around the topic.

Yes, but fascinatingly so. Voreca was as engrossed by these tales of old as Nuvityn. The King of Myths felt like he was hearing something he shouldn’t; any positive tale of Silvenia was not told in Terandria. But it compelled questions.

“Soiretham. What are those, Magus Tserre? Forgive my ignorance. This was around the time of the advent of Demons, correct? The first Demon King?”

Tserre paused, a host of emotions running over her face at the mention of Demons, but then she looked surprised and offended.

“Soiretham, King of Myths. One of the many threats the Blighted Kingdom weathered. You surely recall them?”

“My…history is not so far back as that, Magus.”

Far b—

She paused, and he wondered just how long she’d been in the Village of the Spring. After a moment, Tserre ducked her head.

“They were a great threat to rival any but Crelers. If I may, I can describe them quite well.”

“Please do. You say the Archmage of Traitors—the Death of Magic fought them?”

Everyone leaned forwards as Tserre smiled bleakly.

“Oh, yes.”

 

——

 

Two years later.

Silvenia stared down at a stump of her hand as Tserre dragged Leila back.

Archmage!

“Hush. [Regeneration].”

Flesh began sprouting from the stump as Silvenia grimaced. She flexed her hand, but gestured at the lines of Soiretham forces.

“It took my gauntlet off, enchantments and all. So that’s their commander. All forces: rival [Archmage] on the field. Fall back. Prince Olisev, Knightess Leila, can you move?”

The Harpy [Prince] and the half-Elf were both wounded, but he uncovered his wings and rasped, and Leila staggered upright.

“Yes, Archmage.”

“Then here are my orders. Mage Corps. Every [Mage] under Level 50 will fall back. Every [Mage] over Level 50 will follow me forwards. Forget long-range casting. Use physical magic only. We must take them hand-to-hand.”

Was she insane? Tserre had been backing up when she heard the order. The Harpy Prince just glanced at Silvenia.

“Leave this to the warriors, Archmage. We cannot lose you.”

For an answer, Silvenia just drew a sword, and it hovered into place beside her head.

[Mithril Body]. Much good it will do me against their spells. [Physique of the Supreme Spellblade]. [Shapeform: Armaments of Molten Stone].”

Floating molten rock, lava, erupted from the ground and swirled upwards, coating Prince Olisev’s wings and body. It didn’t weigh him down; the burning rock was so hot it made Tserre back up another step.

“Once they collapse my magic, it will burn you, Prince. Try to engulf them in it.”

Silvenia warned the Harpy, and he sneered as he opened his wings further.

“I am descended from the last true Empress of Harpies. I will not die. Will you take on that one?”

He pointed a wing, and Silvenia turned and leaned out of the way as a thin beam of magic visible only as a glimmer cut through the air where Silvenia’s head had been.

She locked eyes with the leader of the Soiretham. At least—whatever eyes it had.

It had a huge, insectoid back and tail, like that of a roach’s carapace. However, it was tall and hunched; they stood on two spindly legs, and they had, well, dozens of thin limbs.

Like Crelers, but they were a species unto themselves. Each one had tiny eyes, but at least two rasping sets of mouths they cast incantations with. Their words were incomprehensible to Tserre, even after two years of battle, but she had long since identified the Soiretham species.

They would forever, always, remind her of the little pests that haunted libraries. And forever after this, she swore she would purge the area of all of their kind.

Silverfish. They looked like giant silverfish. Only, these ones carried staves, fought in formations. Had magic so powerful even Silvenia had fallen back in the face of fighting so many.

And traitors, too. Why any people would fight on the Soiretham’s side, much less soldiers—they bore the Blighted Kingdom’s armor. Silvenia narrowed her eyes as they began to beat their weapons against their shields.

“I will kill their [Archmage]. I can’t tell what Skills he has. Does anyone know?”

“[Parallel Thoughts]. Definitely [Autocasting], Archmage.”

Tserre spoke, unsure of whether this was helpful, and Silvenia just nodded.

“What level is he?”

She and the enemy [Archmage] hadn’t moved. For the first time, Tserre wondered if Silvenia was out-levelled by a foe. The half-Elf waited, supreme in magic—but her foe was as old as she was.

Where had they come from? And why—Tserre shuddered.

Why did the Soiretham have levels and Skills? At first, everyone had denied the reports as mere hysteria. But anyone who fought them could tell you it was undeniable.

There was no more time for musings. A strange keening filled the air—voices or sounds so high-pitched that they were barely audible to Tserre. The drumming of the Demons’ weapons on their shields intensified; the ranks of men and women wearing the armor of proud bravery in hell marred only by the taint of invisible treachery upon them.

Then the enemy [Archmage] rose into the air soft as a thought, and Tserre forgot how to write or read. But the Archmage of Hell, who would later be known as the Archmage of Demon’s Bane, rose to meet their charge. Tserre heard one of the commanders shouting desperately.

“The Archmage of Hell is holding off their assault! Send Roshal’s slave legions forwards. Send forwards the Selphids! Breach—breach the Minacien Wall!

It was all happening ahead and behind her, but for a moment, Silvenia just lingered where she stood, watching the enemy come towards her. Tserre could barely speak; the words were jumbled inside her head, being consumed by the being across from her, but the higher-level people resisted the influence.

Olisev spoke to Silvenia as Leila strode into place beside him.

“They’re chanting a name, Archmage.”

The Harpy Prince was tilting his head. Silvenia glanced at him as she began to float upwards.

“Really. What do they call that one?”

“—Death. Death. They shout ‘death. Death of Words.’”

The half-Elf paused, and Tserre saw the leader of the magical race of Silverfish open a tome with one feeler as it raised a staff and two wands. But it was a mockery; the book was empty.

They ate every magical word they came across. And in return—

The air warped, and Silvenia shouted.

Advance!

Then she was fending off a dozen spells whose very matrices were causing the air to visibly distort around them. Tserre would have gone after Leila or Silvenia, if she was able to, to help. But when she took one look up at the Tier 8 spell materializing in realspace, she just fled.

 

——

 

“Silverfish? With levels? I see their name in our annals—why were they not spoken of? Why are they not still listed as a threat from Rhir?”

Voreca was stunned by the revelation. For answer, Tserre just raised her weary brows.

“Because they are all dead. All of them, Minister. The Demon threat largely eclipsed theirs; by the time the ‘Demon King’ was a known quantity, the last of their magisters were serving amongst Demon forces. I had cause to encounter them. Time and again.”

“This was all still when the Death of Magic was an ally against them, though. I suppose in my studies of her, I understood she was a heroine of the Blighted Kingdom, but that is obviously eclipsed by her betrayal.”

Nuvityn was no fool. He was a King of Myths who knew history as well as most, it seemed, but it depressed Tserre to see the gaps in his understanding of the time she had lived in. She answered bitterly.

“Oh, yes. Heroine? She was the most celebrated Archmage in the Kingdom of Blight’s End. She built parts of the walls—her crusade against Rhir was endless from the day she fought in the Creler Wars. Yes, she left, but whenever I returned…”

Tserre’s voice trailed off.

 

——

 

Always, it was Silvenia. How many times?

 

“A call to arms has been issued by the Kingdom of Blight’s End.”

“The Kingdom of Blight’s End has invoked the concords. Magus, they have sent your name to—”

“Councilmagus Tserre, the Blighted Kingdom calls for aid! Will you join us on—”

 

How many times? 

Tserre didn’t know how many times they came calling. She wearied of it, in truth.

“It does not matter how many times you ask. I will not return to Rhir.”

“It is war, Councilmagus.”

Each time, she’d be met by a grave-faced young person. Always a bit younger than she was, eyes shining with urgency, and they’d tell her of some new horror. But Tserre would just shake her head.

She didn’t know how Silvenia did it. She’d snap back.

The war never ends. They should just sink Rhir into the sea and have done with it! Leave me be. My final answer is no.”

And then she’d force them out, or ignore them, and go back to angling for an Archmage’s candidacy. She wasn’t really an [Archmage], nor would she ever be in class. But position? You could dream.

However, then, whether it be in Terandria, in her half-Elven village, in Wistram, or even exploring another continent, happily advancing her real passion and class—that woman would find her.

She’d just…float down out of the skies, laughing and calling her name. Once, she’d just had Leila dangling under one arm, and the half-Elves would wave at Tserre, and the [Mage]—well, not really [Mage], but that was the term for anyone who did magic—would weakly wave up at Silvenia.

Try to protest. But when Silvenia floated down, all the arguments would vanish.

“Tserre. I need your help.”

So Tserre went. Each and every damn time, because if she was weary, if she raged against the futility of it all, these damn Demons who seemed to refuse to die, even with so much arrayed against them—how much worse was it for Silvenia?

 

——

 

Nuvityn had a list of people he could call on in Erribathe’s darkest hours. Every ruler did. Not just warriors. Anyone over Level 40 was sure to appear on a list. Anyone over Level 30, frankly.

Prildor was Nuvityn’s go-to name. They knew each other. Nuvityn respected him. Yet he understood the cost. Prildor had served the Kingdom of Myths too many times. He had gone to Rhir. Yet—this old woman before him?

“How many times were you recalled?”

“Too many.”

That was all the half-Elf said. She sat there, eyes lost, then shook herself. Tserre gave the King of Myths a look as she put down her cup, and Queen Eithelenidrel hurried to refill it.

“There is far more to tell, Your Majesty. There always is. But if you doubt me, you have only one question to ask. Did I know? Did I join her?”

All three leaned forwards as Tserre’s lips twisted.

“No. I saw the signs. But no. It was—”

She paused. Her eyes flickered, and she passed a hand across her face as if trying to wipe something away. Guilt? Or—

“It was obvious. In hindsight.”

 

——

 

Silvenia had a nostalgic, bitter look upon her face as she recalled the war that had defined her existence since she was a child. Species, monsters, times and dates, flew by as she switched from moment to moment. So many that Flora couldn’t begin to even form a coherent timeline of events.

Neither could the other Deaths. Even some of the Djinni didn’t know all the foes Silvenia had met.

“The Soiretham. I know there were their [Magisters] in the Demon army’s ranks when I was a chick, but I barely remember any of their names. Nor did I think they were a people.”

“Those ones were dying of age. They remembered me. We never truly interacted. I should be glad the last of the last even deigned suffer my company after so long.”

Silvenia looked up and shook her head. Flora raised a hand.

“They didn’t try to reproduce?”

The Death of Magic sat there, and the magic waned around her and revealed just a woman. A tired one filled with regrets that rose and sometimes burst over her countenance.

“How? And why? We wiped their species out. Murdered them so efficiently that if they had been Crelers, no more would remain. I did that. The stones filled with—radiation you called it, Flora? The ones the Blighted Kingdom hurls at us? I helped invent those to wipe the Soiretham out. I used every tool against the foes that assailed the Blighted Kingdom. And there were so many.

She sat there, once the greatest enemy of Demons. Then a wing softly enveloped Silvenia’s body. A feathered hug from Serinpotva.

“Tell me what it was like, Silvenia. Holding that line.”

“How many Demons I killed in the name of protecting the world from them?”

Silvenia’s lips twisted, but Czautha spoke up.

“No. Demons and the Blighted Kingdom—and Antinium—strive against what emerges from Rhir still. Soiretham—were there others?”

The half-Elf glanced up, and her features came alive again.

“Oh, yes. Every few centuries—a thousand years was the longest time between new things I remember. And then something truly nasty emerged. But most of my time observing all that was as the Death of Magic. When I was in the Blighted Kingdom, it was never so obvious. Even so, when those first few walls were going up, the rest of the world’s attention would wane, and we’d struggle—until the Demons emerged.”

“Obviously.”

Serinpotva nodded quietly, and the new Death made a garbled whispering sound. The Harpy Empress leaned down, and Flora peeked at the Death of…well, they hadn’t decided their name yet.

New Death. New—and let the Blighted Kingdom tremble when they were ready. They hadn’t shown their face much; Silvenia’s stories truly brought out everyone. They were—shy.

Yeah. Shy was one way to describe it. A trembling limb jerked a shawl over their features, and Flora glanced away respectfully as Serinpotva listened, then nodded.

“—She would like to know how the politics of other nations affected the Blighted Kingdom before the Demons justified a constant threat.”

Serinpotva translated, and Silvenia pondered a moment, eyes lighting up with a more academic interest.

“I almost wish I were back in the academy. I could have taught a class on politics. The most prescient example is the way we tolerated imperiums. The Nagatine Empires…every time the Lizardfolk formed one, or declared one was being founded with the Eyes of Baleros, we did nothing. Rhir, that was. I remember toasting them forming one with one of the Blighted Queens one time.”

“Why? Didn’t Lizardfolk conquer too much and have to be overthrown?”

Flora burst in, holding her hand up, and Silvenia cocked a silver eyebrow at her.

“Well, yes. But that was someone else’s problem. Whenever the Lizardfolk first formed the Nagatine Empires, Rhir looked forwards to getting a wave of thousands of Nagas as reinforcements. Then, after a few years or decades, the generosity ceased. It happened twice before I joined the Demons. Both times, I got to relax for a while—the second time I ended up flying to Baleros to join the fighting because the Nagatine Empire was threatening Wistram.”

She sighed nostalgically.

“I even got my hands on one of the Eyes of Baleros. I never did figure out all its features, and it bothered me so much I was debating chucking it over the edge of the world when someone stole it from me. [Thieves]. I chased that stupid Dwarf over the waves for miles, lobbing spells the entire way. She was running on top of the water, and I was laughing too hard to aim straight.”

She laughed to herself, then fell quiet.

“It was easier like that. Demons. That was when—I could have kept going back to Rhir if they had never existed. Again and again. But the Demons bothered me. So—Tserre?”

She began to conjure another illusion and looked into the past with a sigh.

“I wonder, if I had asked her, if she would have gone. I never did, though. She was never a boon companion or the greatest of my allies. I like to think that she and I were friendly enough, though.”

 

——

 

The last times they met, they were equals. Of sorts.

They never would be, not really. But Tserre could pretend, when she saw Silvenia leaning on a balcony, that it was acceptable to just walk over with a cup of wine and stand next to a legend.

The Archmage of Elves they called her now. So old—well, Tserre looked older now. Yet Silvenia was ever the undisputed master of magics. The…

The same she’d been, in a sense, ever since the Creler Wars. There was no one who could hold a candle to her, not least because magic was fading.

“Did you see the expressions on that [High Magus]’ face when you told him [Featherfall] was a spell for infants, Silvenia? [Feathercatch] being the default for [Mages]—they don’t teach them like they used to.”

It was a safe conversation topic, at least, Tserre felt. Silvenia leaned on one of the balconies of Wistram, so high up they could see the sea for hundreds of miles. She had a pensive look on her face. A maudlin expression that had grown more and more of late.

“Levels are waning, Tserre. Not just magic. If you don’t have a Level 40-plus [Spellscribe], you can’t write Tier 6 magic.”

“What Level 40 [Spellscribes] do you know, and where can I hire them?”

That drew a smile from Silvenia, and Tserre offered her a cup as one of her familiars rolled forwards.

Squishy CXLII bobbed up and down until Silvenia took the cup, but she didn’t sip. Nor was she in the mood to laugh at the ‘young’ [Mages] and their new notions of magic.

“The Harpies have officially joined the Demons, Tserre.”

Tserre’s wine went sour in her mouth.

“No. Even if they were exiled from Terandria and—they fought Demons.”

“The very first mission I took against Crelers was on a Harpy’s back. I don’t understand. They’ve warred and made battle against other species, but they remember Rhir. Why would they…?”

Silvenia rubbed at the lines on her face, and Tserre tried to speculate.

“Maybe it’s the corruption of Rhir? Mind-control spells? If the Harpies were promised their kingdom—”

“They had nowhere to go. But it still makes no sense. Demons. It’s always Demons these days.”

“Are you going back for another tour of Rhir?”

Tserre held her breath. Please don’t. She didn’t have the time nor energy for it. But to her surprise, Silvenia, the tireless, the endless warrior for Rhir, just shook her head.

“No.”

“N…no? But aren’t the Demons still attacking the 3rd Wall of the Kingdom of Blight’s—what do they call it, the Blighted Kingdom?”

The Archmage nodded absently.

“They are. And yet…I’m not needed. Or rather, I am. But I’m not. The Demons attacked all across Terandria’s coast via the Harpy drops last month. When I saw that—I petitioned the Giants to act.”

“The Giants?

If anyone could ask them for any favor, it would be Silvenia. The half-Elf nodded. She went on, voice musing.

“Then I approached the Blighted Kingdom’s Burnished Courts for…it was a fascinating conversation. With a [Prince]. Tell me something, Tserre. If I wiped out the Demons tomorrow, what do you think would happen?”

Was this a trick question? Tserre thought.

“Well, after they buried you in more medals and commendations and honorary titles…you’d have a drink?”

The Archmage chuckled at this.

“No, no. What happens after I defeat the Demons?”

“The Blighted Kingdom builds more walls. They make sure no Creler nests are hiding in the old tunnels. They investigate those ‘Antinium’ rumors, and we’re done.”

Silvenia twitched at the mention of ‘Antinium’, but she’d never elaborated on the name when it was brought up. She nodded at Tserre’s words.

“That’s what I thought. But apparently, I’m wrong.”

“Pardon? How so?”

“Apparently, if I wiped out the Demons with the last Giants—if they marched, and they’re willing to, one last march in the world’s name—I haven’t considered what comes next. After the Demon King is dead.”

The reply stumped Tserre. She stood there, wishing she’d switched the wine for water after all.

“But—the Demons are the pivotal threat of Rhir.”

“Apparently. Yet apparently, there’s a ‘next’. Enough for my volunteering to storm the Demon King’s citadel with thirty Giants—nevermind. Nevermind, Tserre. I’m just maudlin.”

Silvenia got up on the balcony and sat there a while, legs dangling over the surf below where sounds of merriment were echoing from Wistram. Tserre got up next to her and, eventually, changed the subject.

“Leila’s getting married.”

“Who’d marry an old woman like her?”

Tserre performed the Winebreath Blaster almost in the exact same spot where it had been invented. She laughed, and Silvenia smiled.

“Alright, who is it? I can at least show up for that wedding.”

“Please don’t. Well, do, but she wants it low-key.”

“So…magical cornucopia as a wedding gift or not? I’m still building them for nations who want them. Though I think undead farming is so much more efficient.”

Tserre just shook her head and felt bad about all the power games in Wistram. In her spare time, Silvenia did things like that. Tserre explained the circumstances of the marriage, and Silvenia made jokes that Tserre hoped wouldn’t appear at the wedding.

And smiled. Tserre heard Silvenia had flown out the next day. She did that, and Tserre, like their kind were wont to do, just waited for the next time they met since they had so long to do so.

But Silvenia never attended the wedding. Five months later, she was declared dead by the Blighted Kingdom following a march of the last Giants into the lands of the Demon King, and Tserre was in denial and shock. Silvenia should have taken half of Rhir with her.

Then—four years later—

The Death of Magic led an invasion that crushed the Third Wall of Rhir, and another worldly war began.

 

——

 

The final scene with Tserre before the Death of Magic’s betrayal of the world played out in silence, and Silvenia blew her nose with a handkerchief noisily. That broke the other Demons out from their trance of watching.

The story of Silvenia Ettertree, a prequel to the events of this world, was a sixteen-hour movie marathon with possible adaptation to novels or comics.

But since Silvenia could produce magical illusions far better than she could write or illustrate—let alone compose poetry—she left it there.

“So, you see. Tserre is no real ally of ours, Serinpotva. I never attempted to recruit her. She is more of a thorn in the Blighted Kingdom’s side, but one they would be wary to pluck.”

The Harpy nodded thoughtfully. Her heart hurt at the images of her forebears long gone, but her mind was alert.

“So I see. The full truth has always harmed the Blighted Kingdom.”

“Not enough. And they have always been good at strangling it, even when I tried to shout it to the world.”

Silvenia tapped her lips with a crooked grin, and Czautha shook her head. She was not able to muster a smile when discussing the Blighted Kingdom.

“How dangerous is she? To you, Silvenia.”

Silvenia produced an illusion of her last meeting with Tserre, complete with a nostalgic soundtrack. She fondly looked at the old half-Elf’s face, then turned to Czautha, and her eyes were steady and calm. The Death of Magic once more, Silvenia put away pity to answer the question simply.

“I could kill her if I had to. If she has an army like Erribathe’s around her, it gets tricky. She knows how to fight, but she’s not on my level. She’s more of a problem for the Blighted Kingdom than us, though. She knows better than to pick a fight with me.”

That seemed to assure the Deaths, but one of the Demons stared at the image of Tserre and her moving cottage—and the two loaded chickens with a bit of dismay.

“Is her magic that powerful, Death of Magic? Cottage aside—were you really chased off by a chicken, Lady Silvenia?”

The Death of Magic turned with an affronted look as the Demon flinched. But for answer, Silvenia just jabbed a finger at the illusion, and her smile widened once more.

Heh. That’s the response I was looking for. I truly hope the Blighted Kingdom doesn’t really remember her. You fools. That’s not a chicken.

Okay. That made Flora never want to meet the half-Elf with the walking cottage. She felt a shiver run down her back and touched the holster at her belt. However, Czautha’s weary sigh interrupted any more questions. The Death of Chains leaned forwards, memorizing Tserre’s face with a resigned look. She shook her head as she muttered to herself.

“So another powerful spellcaster enters the modern age. How many more are there? If I flip over a rock, will I be fighting a Level 80 [Druid]? How many more Dragonlords or potential allies or enemies, Silvenia?”

It was a flippant question, but a serious one. For answer, the Archmage of Hell just raised a hand, and her eyes flashed. One final scene played out.

 

——

 

The last Giants numbered thirty-eight in all. They stood like the hills, towering so far over the city of Paranfer that even the tallest buildings were only of a height with their chests. Even the palace.

Silvenia floated there, eyes on the horizon where the Demon King waited. The [Prince] was trying to dissuade them once more.

“Great Giants of old, Archmage, the world can ill afford to lose you. If the Creler Wars should happen again—”

A booming voice cut him off.

“If they happen, they happen, Prince of the Blighted Kingdom. We are tired. We who stand before you are the last Giants of all. In the name of the Archmage of Elves—we will fall upon the Demons. It is a worthy end to our kind. One last service in the name of the future we have no place in.”

His words shook Silvenia’s soul, and she heard voices crying out. A great congregation of Dwarves and half-Elves and half-Giants had followed them, all of whom had tried futilely to stop their kindred.

Lamentations. But the Giants’ eyes were calm, and the [Prince] of Rhir looked up and smiled.

“Don’t—don’t say it so, Ser Giant. How would the world be if there were not the possibility of someone climbing a mountain of ice to see it move and eyes appear? Or for a traveller to pass under the leg of a sleeping Lava Giant? There will always be more Giants, surely, just as there are Dragons.”

The look he received from above was not scorn. Not exactly. But it was like Silvenia’s eyes. The [Prince] faltered as the Giant bent over, casting a shadow over him and his wary escort.

“I understand your words, mortal [Prince]. Yet I tell you this: the Tallest are gone. There are no more Giants. You believe one or two will remain. No. We are the last.”

The lamentations rose, and the [Prince] of Rhir faltered. His eyes found the three dozen giants.

“All…? But surely—”

A female Giant boomed, her voice ringing with amusement and loss.

“Surely. Such a funny word. Remember this, mortal man. ‘Someday again’, ‘one more’, and ‘another day’. These things run out. You do not see it. I tell you now: there will be a day when tomorrow becomes the final day. It has arrived for us. Archmage. There is no more breath to waste. Will you lead us to the end?”

Silvenia flew upwards as the voices from below were drowned out. She looked ahead at where she would find answers or death—and raised a staff high.

“Forwards then, friends. To the end of Demons.”

Or to the truth. She led them past Rhir’s walls as horns rose like some pitiful heraldry of what the world was losing. The Giants just hummed as they walked, and the land shook.

When they reached the end of the Walls, and when they passed through Monarch’s Pass—Silvenia saw the Demons arrayed in vast concert. Even the bug-peoples standing there, warily, and she smiled like their Death.

—Then she saw the Demon King advancing alone to welcome her, and she slowed a second as the Giants drew their weapons. She floated down to speak.

That was how she came home.

 

——

 

Apparently, there had been recordings of that moment until they were all purged. Nuvityn wished he could have seen them, but Tserre’s words and the illusions she conjured were, by themselves, enough to stir the feeling.

“I never took her side. No one will gainsay that. When we went to Rhir, Leila, myself—her old students and friends—we met her in combat. None of us could stop her. But believe me—”

Tserre felt at her arms bitterly.

“—we never took her side.”

Nuvityn felt like he was in the presence of one of the old legends. His heart was beating fast, and he wondered what her class was. And more importantly…

“Then why did she not kill you?”

She met his eyes, and there was a refusal there to share the final part. Tserre hesitated.

“I have—a past that did not endear me to the Blighted Kingdom, Your Majesty. If I should leave Erribathe, the wrath of Silvenia is not my greatest fear.”

“You have no bounty with the Blighted Kingdom, Magus Tserre.”

Voreca double-checked that, but her brows were suspicious. Tserre just shrugged.

“Likely, that is true. They will remember me. I was waiting until they collapsed. Or simply…forgot about me. If I travel in His Majesty of Myth’s company, I believe they may keep their distance.”

“Did you attack their agents?”

“I acted in self-defense.”

Not what Nuvityn wanted to hear. The Blighted Kingdom was among the few that could give him pause, if only because their ancient pacts guaranteed support. He leaned forwards and looked at Tserre.

“I must ask, Magus. What did you do that would incur enmity after so long? If you will not share it with me now, at least enough that we may consider ourselves companions for my long journey.”

She studied him appraisingly he felt, as if to gain a measure of his character and weigh that against the danger to herself.

All for Ceria, a girl she had forgotten about in her long exile. No—that wasn’t right.

All for a memory. A single connection to the few people who remained. Nuvityn understood that.

At length, Tserre exhaled.

“Why, it is simply that I asked questions when the Archmage of Magic’s Ire became traitor to the world, Your Majesty. I denounced her actions. I still do. I fought against her. I have scars. But I did what I should not have, in hindsight. I had questions.”

Nuvityn exchanged glances with Voreca and his wife, and this meeting was now sealed to the crown beyond the shadow of a doubt.

“What—questions could leave enmity to this day, Magus Tserre?”

For answer, the half-Elf just took another sip of tea, and her face was carefully, perfectly blank.

“That’s a good one to begin with, King Nuvityn. The others I’d prefer to keep to myself to avoid—entanglements. As for the truth? Only Silvenia herself knows. And we are enemies.”

She looked at him.

“So. May I accompany your army?”

The King of Myths considered what he’d learned. The answers were wholly tantalizing and unsatisfying, but he only thought a minute before standing.

“Perhaps I shall hear the rest of the answers when you are willing, Magus Tserre. Until then, you are a welcome ally and companion. I accept your service and offer you Erribathe’s protection on one condition.”

She raised her brows warily, and he smiled at her.

“—You tell me more stories.”

Of herself. Of Silvenia. The [Mage] nodded, smiled, and stood to bow before Nuvityn again, but when she raised her eyes, it was still in her gaze.

The question she herself had never answered. The memory of an Archmage’s smile.

Tserre and Silvenia.

Silvenia and Tserre.

The last two half-Elves of the place that never would be again. The Groves of Ettertree.

Tserre Ettertree.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note:

There is a chapter coming out tomorrow as well. 10.17. I wrote this one because I could.

It occurred to me that I did a lot of stuff I liked with the last chapter involving Tserre and Nuvityn. But I could have done more to set her up.

So I did.

This is just a silly little interlude. There’s not much to learn here. Nosiree. Also, I have been hooked, absolutely hooked on a webcomic I just caught up to now—Dumbing of Age. It’s been a while since I found a story that pulled me in like people describe The Wandering Inn.

I’ll write a blog post on it, maybe. Ack, I still need to do the Puerto Rico one before the details vanish.

But you know what? I can do it because I have time. This week was actually less productive in the sense that I already had a chapter done, so I was taking care of other non-writing business work.

However, I got to write this mini-chapter because I felt like it was needed, and I’m more relaxed now. Do you want to know how I know that?

I’m having dreams again. For the last few years, I’d stopped dreaming entirely—or never remembered them. But I can remember the dreams I’ve had, or at least know I had them, all last week. I think it’s a sign this schedule is helping. If the writing improves, or I keep coming out with ‘extra’ bits, then we’re golden. Thanks for reading—and enjoy a chapter tomorrow too!

 

 

Silvenia in Rhir by butts, commissioned by pirateaba! (Yes, I did listen to Fortunate Son on repeat while writing the first part of the chapter.)

Twitter: https://twitter.com/buttscord

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/buttsarts

 


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