We’ve only been walking for a few hours, but we have to rest. Or I have to rest. I didn’t want to pressure Claudia (considering I think she just did permanent damage to herself healing me from my own stupid mistakes), but walking with broken ribs really hurts.
“Ugh, are you tired already, Soren?”
“Uh, no. I just....” I poke myself in a ribs and wince.
“Oh, right! Duh.”
She stops supporting me, and I wobble backwards into a tree. I learn that I have extreme bruising on my back, which is fun.
“I’ll fix you up in juuuust....”
She starts rummaging around her ingredients stash. I guess she forgot that she used up all her healing stuff earlier in a totally ineffective way. Now she winces.
“Okay, so bad news is I used up all my healing stuff earlier, and I guess because I wasn’t focused on anything other than your spine, it didn’t really do anything.
‘But not to worry! There’s some shops around here, and I didn’t notice any magick shops, but there are fruit vendors, and-and grass! Grass is used in some things. Are-are you going to be okay if I leave you here for a bit?”
“Yeah, sure. Just set me down on that bench there.”
She tries to pull me and I start spinning. She catches me, and then starts spinning me around on my heels until I’m in front of the bench. She slowly lowers me, then drops me a few inches from the stone, which hurts.
“Okay, I’ll be right back, Soren, don’t worry.”
“I’ll be fine. Take the time to stock up. We need stuff, right?”
“Right. Stuff. Got it.... And, GO!”
She yells and runs off towards the nearest shop. I sigh and look up to the sky.
The clouds are really puffy right now. Cumulus clouds, I think they’re called. Dad taught Claudia all about clouds when he was teaching her to use the Primal Stone. One of the spells she learned with it was making tiny puffy clouds.
I’m pretty bored so I start thinking about what I’m going to do when I get home. I realize that most people would be more concerned about what my Dad told me to do than about him being mad at me, but I think I got all that angst out in the hospital. I didn’t kill Ezran and nothing I do now will make him more dead, but Dad can still make my life a living hell.
I decide to compose a poem to make him feel better. I have to make it a haiku so I can remember it, because I don’t have anything to write with.
It takes about 10 minutes, but I finally have a haiku worthy of Dad.
Eyes dark and mind bright
With gifted horn he becomes
A dragon himself
I like it. It’s fancy and important sounding, like Dad. I realize that there’s no way I’ll remember it a few weeks from now.
Claudia runs by me.
“Hey, Claudia, can you get me a notebook and a pencil?”
“Huh? Sure thing!” She races off again.
I wonder how she’s paying for everything, considering I have the money, but probably people are giving her stuff because she’s a hero.
Claudia comes towards me, holding two large bags.
“Okay.’ She drops the bags. ‘Ready, Soren?”
“You know it.”
“Good. Then wait.” She kneels on the ground.
Well, why did you ask me if I was ready?
She digs around in one of the bags and pulls out her ingredients. After freezing water around an egg, and slathering a slab of meat in aloe, she stands up.
“Okay, so this is kind of improv, so if you grow a tail or a third ear, it’s not to be unexpected.”
“Well, I don’t really have all the right ingredients. So I’m experimenting.”
“What? No. No, no, no; I’m okay with pain, really, it’s fine-”
“I was kidding about the tail and third ear; that’s not super likely.”
She starts her spell. The cold egg meat goo comes crashing towards me.
“Anas retilatot.” The words reverb in that haunting way they do. I feel the ingredients splash on my face and then a chill down my spine.
I breathe in and it’s like emerging from ice water. But I do feel much better. And, thankfully, the horrible mage mulch she hurled at my face is gone! Hurray!
The black takes a little longer to leave her eyes than normal.
Most people don’t get too close to Dark Magick users to notice, but when their eyes go black, you can see something in them. You have to look really close, but it’s like there’s two different people looking back at you through their eyes: your sister and/or Dad, and something else. Something really wrong.
Not that I’m to judge, considering I just spent the past few weeks trying to kill a kid who was one of my only friends, and I didn’t even have a problem with it until my spine broke.
Heck, you could probably see some messed up things in my eyes too.
“What?” Claudia asks.
“You were staring. Are you okay? Did I kill you? Oh my god, I’m so sorry-”
“I’m fine, I feel great, actually. Amazing, even! Thanks.”
“No problem.... So what are you still staring for?”
The black isn’t completely gone. It’s almost gone, but not quiet.
“Am I still staring?”
“Yeah, Soren. What is it? Do I have something in my teeth?”
She pulls out a mirror and makes faces at herself. After a few moments, she starts making them just for fun rather than for teeth picking purposes.
“Oh! No, I was just looking at your new hair. It’s so.... Dad.”
“What? New hair?”
Claudia tilts the mirror. I stand up and roll my shoulders. I feel so shiny and new!
“Whoa, cool! It is like Dad. Do you think that’s how his hair got that way?”
“Maybe. How about you ask him when we get back?” I keep doing stretches.
“Ha! He’s going to be so psyched. I’m like a wise old mage now. Hey, Soren. Soren.”
She takes pieces of her hair and puts them overtop of her pursed lips. It hangs down like a mustache.
“Look, look. Um a wive old majze. Um Dad in twenty yeajz.”
Some of the words are a little hard to make out with her lips pushed out like that.
“That’s scary. If Dad looks like you in twenty years, I’ll have to make him wear a mask.”
She makes the ‘che’ noise she does when she’s annoyed with me. The mustache falls away.
“Come on, Soren. Do you think you could make Dad do anything? If you tried to make Dad wear a mask, he’d spell your eyes out.”
“That’s too predictable. He’d spell them open, so I could never look away.”
We both laugh because we always do.
We both know it’s not entirely a joke.
We both get serious too fast. I shiver.
“So, what did you do to me that was experimenting?”
“Well, I do know some Draconic. I’ve been wondering for a while why we don’t use Draconic in Dark Magick, and- I think I just figured out why.”
She swoons, literally swoons. I catch her. She only swoons like that when her training get too intense.
“You’ve done a lot of magick today. Maybe we should just stay in town for the night, head out in the morning.”
“Yeah. Maybe you’re right. But it worked, right?”
“Yeah! I don’t even hurt holding you like this. Hang on, wait.”
I adjust Claudia so I can pick up the bags on one arm.
“Okay, let’s go charm a room out of these villagers!”
“I’ll need the mirror again-”
“No, it’s okay, I got it.” I jingle the coins in my purse.
Ugh, I feel warm. And achy. I feel like I’ve been punched on every inch of my body.
“Your Majesty! You’re awake.”
“Your Majesty?” My brain struggles to remember why he’s calling that, but I have a sinking feeling Corvus is going to remind me. I keep my eyes closed.
“Your Majesty, your father, King Harrow, died several weeks ago.”
“Are you feeling alright? Here, I have some water.”
He tips some into my mouth. Bait grumbles the way he does when scared.
“Wha.... wha’ happen’?
“I don’t know, Your Majesty. You were communing with the Dragon Prince, about how he and the Moonshadow elf had separated from your brother, when you fell over with heatstroke!”
When he says that, it’s like the image is freshly burned into my eyes: Sol Regem ready to bite Rayla in two and swallow Zym whole. That scarred eye and the glowing one that was even worse.
I sit up straight.
“Zym! Wha- owwww.” My head is throbbing and I feel dizzy. It’s only when I land on the pillow that I realize I’ve fallen backwards and also that I’m in a bed. I seem to be in a hospital.
“Easy, King Ezran. You’re still in bad shape; the doctor said it could be several days until we’re okay to travel.”
My eyes are open now and I look down at myself. Boy, he wasn’t kidding when he said ‘bad shape’.
My skin is red and peeling. Now that I see it, I notice how much it throbs.
Bait licks me. It’s really nice of him, but it hurts so much that I bat him away.
I start panicking, breathing heavy, and noticing everything wrong with my body right now. The bottoms of my feet feel burned and my stomach feels bubbly, and my throat feels dry-
I’m scared. Even more scared than when Rayla was going to kill me and Callum, than when that giant fish in the river was going to eat us all, or when those spider illusions were hunting us-
“Your Majesty, please calm down; it’s not good for you to get so worked up right now! Nurse!”
Someone runs into view and pours a potion into my mouth. I don’t even swallow and it knocks me out. My dreams are of fire and fear.
They’ve trapped me in my own dungeon, where I stole the elf away into a coin. In the very same chains, in fact.
I think of that elf, and his stoic pride; his commitment to his silence actually impressed me a little. He had to have known I was capable of much worse than what I did.
I huff in bitter amusement at how my mercy backfired. Moonshadow elf blood would be very handy right about now.
“Your children have failed you.” Aaravos tells me, nestled within my own skull. I wonder idly if I’m hallucinating.
“Not altogether surprising. Having had time to think, I really didn’t plan things out well, did I?”
“Yeah, no kidding.” The guard scoffs at me. I should really keep my voice down.
“You have me now; that’s enough for your success.”
I make a vague hum.
“I mean, what were you thinking, calling all the monarchs of the human kingdoms? You had to have known you’d be caught.”
What was I thinking? I was thinking that Xadia had just sent assassins to murder our sovereign leader and was gathering forces at the border and that maybe doing nothing wasn’t the best response.
Speaking of nothing, I’m sure that’s exactly what he was thinking, so I won’t ask.
“Guess you spent all that time in books and never thought about how the real world works.”
This guard is still talking? Hasn’t anyone told him not to speak to prisoners? It actually makes me embarrassed that Aaravos can see what Katolis security is like.
“Xadians are no smarter than humans, trust me.”
“are you reading my thoughts?” I whisper as I hang my head.
“No. I just know you so well. I’ve been watching you for a while.”
I raise an eyebrow, wondering if that will suffice as a response.
“You’re very intelligent person, Viren. I wonder if you know what your enemies are going to do next.”
For the first time in a while I think about Claudia and Soren.
“they’re going to arrest my children.”
“Yeah, probably. You sent them off to do your dirty work, whatever that it.”
“They need to stay away from Katolis.”
“my wife’s in Delbar, they could go-”
“No. Send them into Xadia.”
“what? they’ll be killed.”
“Not if they follow my instructions.”
I don’t like taking orders, but seeing how I need-
“Don’t worry; once you’re out of this situation, you’ll be able to handle things as you see fit.”
Oh. It’s certainly nice to have someone who understands me so well. Harrow and I could barely have a single conversation without him grievously misunderstanding what I was saying.
I feel my fingers move in a familiar pattern; the Sky rune glitters in front of me. The guard doesn’t react. I believe I actually am hallucinating this time.
It sounds too quiet; I think I accidentally cured Soren’s snoring. There are crickets though. That’s nice. But I’m still shivering.
Any cool I had during the day has totally sloshed off of me. All the panic and emotions I should have felt earlier have shot right back through my nerves. Soren. Ezran. Dad. That fucking dragon and that fucking elf. Callum.
Callum. What was he thinking trying Dark Magick? He doesn’t know the first thing about magick, and he thinks just watching it once is enough? Yeah, okay Callum; I spend my days in a dusty library just doodling. It doesn’t require serious study or anything.
And why was he defending that thing? That fiery sky lizard that had just killed a bunch of innocent people in one of the worst ways possible. I clench my fists and I think I’m going to puke or cry.
The burning.... was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. The worst thing I’ve ever heard- the worst thing I’ve ever smelled.
Like seriously. It was undoubtedly the most sickening thing to ever snorf up my nose, and I’ve been in the room as Dad carved open a dead cat. And a dead snake. And a dead- he’s carved open a lot of dead things is all.
You wouldn’t think a smell could carry that high, but I guess the wind was just right.
Walking through the village was worse, but I had forced myself to focus on Soren. The screaming hadn’t stopped. I should have helped; I wasn’t doing Soren any good. I should have helped.
I’m an idiot. I should apologize and fix the hospital I trashed earlier.
I’m an idiot.
Through the window, there’s a grassy hill under the moon. I hate the moon now; fuck you, moon.
I’m not tired so I get out of bed. Soren insisted on paying, so our room kind of sucks because we’re broke. I go outside.
It’s cold and empty outside. I gag a little when I breathe; the air is still smoky. Crickets are singing their nightly melody; I try to make the sounds back at them, but human vocal chords don’t work that way. Also I don’t really know spells to manipulate sound.
When Soren and I were little, Dad would steal animals voices and swallow them to entertain us. Mom used to be furious with him, telling him to stop tormenting the animals. Then Dad would get mad and yell at her to shut up; one time he did and he forgot that he had swallowed a bird’s voice and so he just squawked at her. We all laughed and the argument was abandoned.
I never got why she married him if she was so opposed to killing animals. Wonder if she’d be angry with me. I finger the grey streak in my hair.
I walk past a pub full to the brim. It’s a warm looking place, but I can hear crying inside, no mystery as to why.
Would they hate me or praise me if I went in there? I decide to keep walking.
It takes about 20 minutes to get up the grassy hill I saw from my window. I make a rude gesture to the moon. I hope the Moonshadow elf knows that someone hates her.
I turn my back on that floating white blob. The rest of the sky is more interesting; it’s kind of extraordinary how the sky turns clear at night, and we can see all these other balls of light shining in the distance.
Something cold prods me hard in the back of my head.
“Ow! What was that for, you.... ghost?” I turn around and see no one. Then it’s as if the wind rakes icy fingers down my back. I yelp.
“Wha- Dad?! Are you invisible?”
I look from side to side quickly to find him, only to realize that if he’s invisible I wouldn’t be able to see him.
“No. I am communicating with you telepathically.”
“Ooooh. I see... No, actually I don’t. Get it? Because you’re just a voice inside my head.”
“.... Yes, Claudia. I have further instructions for you.”
“Dad, I feel like I should tell you.... we failed in our mission. Missions. Ezran is alive and so is the Dragon Prince. I’m sorry.”
“That’s quite alright. Things have changed on this end, anyway. Listen, I need you and your brother to go to Xadia.”
“Xadia? Why? To follow Callum and the elf? They have the Dragon Prince with them-”
“No. I need you to go as a diplomat to the Dragon Queen and make a deal with her.”
“Uhhh, won’t they kill us?”
“Not if you follow my instructions; we may be able to avoid the coming catastrophe if we play this carefully.”
“Carefully. Catastrophe. That almost rhymes!” I say nervously.
“This is serious, Claudia. What Callum is doing is putting the entire human race at risk. He believes that he is doing the right thing, but returning a weapon that potent to an unstable kingdom... it’s beyond foolish.”
“Should we go to General Amaya?”
“No. The Katolis soldiers will almost certainly stop you. I can guide you down a secret path once you get there. You should leave now.”
“Wait! Dad! We haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?”
“.... I’m fine. And.... you and your brother?”
“Yeah! I mean, we’re good, I guess.”
“Good. I’ll give you more instructions soon.”
I sigh as he disappears. The cool breeze blanketing my body disperses. That’s pretty much as warm as Dad gets.
I march back to the inn. I am a woman on a mission and I slam the door open dramatically. But I catch it before it hits the wall.
“Soren. Soren, wake up. Dad has another mission for us.”
“Wha-wha- again? Why? It’s still night out. Asking us to kill kids should only happen during daytime hours.”
“He said we just need to act as diplomats.”
He sits up in bed. I throw his clothes on his head.
“Like, talking and stuff? Yeah, I can do that. I’m the very concept of charm.”
“So, your charm is purely theoretical?”
“You know what I mean!”
“Don’t talk about my body; it’s weird.”
“Haha. Now hurry up and pack.”
We spend a little more time than strictly needed making sure we forget nothing, then fussing around with most efficient packing. It’s another hour until we’re all out of excuses.
Then we stare at each other nervously. We both know this is dangerous and we might not make it out alive.
I salute Soren and he salutes back.
“Let’s steel ourselves, soldier. We’re going into the dragons’ den.”
The paper’s back is soaked through with blood. We 5 say nothing as the 6th of us reads aloud.
“Now time has meaning
Despite nightmare's seed
Speaks Antiqua Figura,
‘We shall not proceed’”