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Book 3: Sun

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Chapter 1: Those Above Us

 

 

Rayla

 

Red stone cast ahead of us, arches of ancient lava, and peaks of orange earth that glow in the sun. I step foot on Xadian soil again.

 

The air feels freer here, the gentle thrum of magick I rarely notice. Its absence had been off putting.

 

Callum seems delighted. I turn to him.

 

“This is it, Callum. Xadia.”

 

For a moment, he is awestruck. Then he inhales, and not in a happy way.

 

I look behind me. A great dragon has awoken.

 

“Oh no. It’s him!

 

‘Sol Regem.”

 

The Arch Dragon of the Sun raises his head, his blinded eye towards us and I am momentarily breathless.

 

I make a quick calculation and I’m dismayed when I figure out what’s going to happen, unless I make a hard decision.

 

He takes a great inhale of the air around him, and the sky seems to ripple with heat. From here, the red scar lashed across his eye looks like a fire.

 

I look to Callum; he doesn’t realize that his life is almost forfeit

 

No time for hesitation; I make my choice. Im sorry.

 

“Don’t trust them. Don’t tell them about Zym. And don’t tell them who ya are.”

 

“What? Rayla, what are you talking-”

 

I spin, hidden behind a rock with Zym, who is restless in my arms.

 

“Shhh. Quiet! You’ll get him killed.”

 

Zym whines, but stops squirming.

 

Sol Regem stills. Then his long neck twists, the air snaps and all of a sudden he is face to face with Callum.

 

Great gusts of wind slam into my cover and curl towards me, as the force of Sol Regem’s quick flight finally catches up.

 

I hear Callum’s fearful breath quickening.

 

I judge that the angle won’t allow them to see where I am and where I’m going. I jump up on the rocks. Slink to the shadows. I keep running, and don’t look back.

 

Im sorry Im sorry Im sorry Im sorry.

 

I remember my act of mercy before, how it got all my comrades caught or killed, the only family I’d had left. I can’t afford that, not again; this way, Callum may survive until I am able to rescue him.

 

Sol Regem rumbles something which sounds like a heatwave feels, but the meaning of it rolls through me, inescapable.

 

“The Sky clutches onto the Moon, unthinkingly, unknowingly. But the Sun sees all faces of the Moon, knows it more intimately than anyone else ever can.”

 

He knows. He knows I’m here.

 

Can’t change that now. I keep running. Im sorry Im sorry Im sorry Im sorry.

 

“The shadows fall from you, alone in the light.”

 

Jump in a river, I think viciously. I scale another massive stone, taking pains to stay in the shade.

 

The rocks get more treacherous as I avoid the guard stations. I have to hold myself between two boulders for three solid minutes while two guards wander nearby. When they leave I almost sigh aloud before catching myself.

 

I left Callum. Im a coward. Im a traitor.

 

As these thoughts distract me, I slip and scrape my knee.

 

“Agh! Ugh, can you climb on your own? I’m having a difficult time here.”

 

I set him down. Zym scrambles up the rocks occasionally flying short distances. I try to retrace the steps I took to get to Katolis.

 

It would be super convenient if we had a secret tunnel system we could take back home, but no. If Moonshadow elves can’t sneak past the Sunfire guard, then they’re not worthy of sneaking into Katolis. Honourable philosophy, but really annoying when I’m traveling with a yippy baby dragon.

 

We huddle in a crevasse for about an hour while a group takes a lunch break mere feet from us. Zym seems to understand how much danger we’re in, despite the delicious smells from the group. My stomach growls, but fortunately they don’t notice.

 

There’s a whisper in the wind. Suddenly, the guards stop eating and rush away, leaving their food behind. I dart out and grab the leftovers, hoping they’ll assume a firefox ate them.

 

The sun has reached its zenith above us as we settle into a small clearing. I caution Zym away from a simmering sunspice soup, and he eats a pastry instead.

 

Once it’s done, he begins whining again.

 

“Huh? What’s wrong?”

 

My question is answered when there’s a bolt of gold above, and a massive shining form lands in front of me. Sol Regem’s jaws are a mere foot away from me. I want to make a quip about personal space but I think I just swallowed my tongue.

 

Zym starts sparking at the mouth. I grab my blades and my hands are shaking and I can’t breathe right in the hot billows of his breath. Everything snaps into too sharp focus and I think I’m hyperventilating.

 

“No matter the distance, the Moon always feels the gentle caress of my gaze. No matter the storm that clouds it, it can never hide.”

 

The details of the landscape are too sharp sharp sharp, and my eyes feel like they're being cut open. His scarred eye seems to tear right through me. I quiver, feeling exposed.

 

I am absolutely going to be killed, Zym is going to be killed, and this will all have been for nothing. My only solace is hoping that the Sun dragon gave Callum a quick death.

 

Im so stupid. Why didnt I make a plan? Why wasnt I smarter?

 

I can’t help thinking of Runaan, how I betrayed him, and how it was pointless. About how if he died, he probably died cursing my name.

 

Sol Regem's reptilian face, the massive fan of scales, obscures anything else, getting closer closer slowly. I can see every scratch in his scales, and it's as though all sound has died apart from his warm breathing. I bend my knees, preparing to strike only to realize my knees are wobbling. Im so sorry.

 

The world around me grows dark and I think I’ve been killed and just don’t know it yet.

 

But the ground beside me seems to whisper and the darkness shifts, swirls to a familiar shape. And in it I can see the round pale face of the Arch Dragon of the Moon, Neach-dèanamh mac-meanmna. The Dream Master and master illusionist.

 

Dominus Somnia.

 

She fully materializes, small and white in a hazy shadow. She glistens like a pearl and it’s all I can do not to fall to my knees in worship. She’s more beautiful than I imagined.

 

She looks at me. She doesn’t speak as Sol Regem does; I don’t hear the words in my mind, I see images. Scenes of people cheering for Zym, and for me. Riots when they discover our deaths.

 

The general meaning is clear. People know we are here and there will be consequences if either of us are killed.

 

I open my eyes, surprised that I’m still standing in the rocky deadlands.

 

Sol Regem has a deep laugh that makes me shiver. Dominus Somnia doesn’t react.

 

“My clever little shadow, my mirror of many things. How the light reflects off you so even I do not know.”

 

More images. Of predictability. Derision. Idiocy.

 

“Hungry for blood, I see. A moth to my flame. Delicate. Beautiful. Inviting my warm touch.”

 

The images I see are esoteric, leeches and fingers, but she seems to be calling him a creep.

 

He sneers briefly before controlling himself. He leers at her and I feel outraged. How dare he look at her that way! I grip my blades tighter, which is a mistake, because his head swivels back to look me in the eye. The milky orb in his face glows yellow for a moment.

 

Something interrupts the light. I see an image of myself riding a white dragon. I turn to look at her. Surely she doesn’t mean....

 

She nudges me with a slender tail. I heed the subtle command and climb aboard her smooth back. Sol Regem follows me with his eye, but doesn’t try to stop me. He does however scoop up a large rock.

 

I settle on the back of Dominus Somnia. Her scales are soft as silk and she smells vaguely of jasmine. The sensory overload ebbs away.

 

The dual crescent moons on her ears fold back and she streaks into the sky. I look back and see Zym twined in her three tails, and Sol Regem dropping the rock in surprise.

 

Haha!

 

We reach the clouds and her wings snap out to the side. It doesn’t feel like flying so much as gliding. We tilt with the air currents, her rhythm like a swaying river but I’m not afraid. This is the greatest honour of a lifetime and completely overwhelms my fear.

 

Some of my fear.

 

“Hey, uh. Do ya happen to know what happened to Callum, my lady?”

 

Images of Sunfire elves leading him away.

 

“Ah. Do ya know what will happen to him?”

 

Shadows and mystery. Threads leading in many directions. She doesn’t know.

 

“I see. Thank you very much.”

 

I hear Zym sparking in the back, holding his wings out to mimic flight in her tails.

 

I see an image of me looking for something. I think she’s asking if I have any more questions. I didn’t think I did, but one hits me like a fist to the jaw.

 

“Yes, um. My comrades, Moonshadow elves. They came with me to Katolis. Do ya know if any of them....”

 

In my mind, the bodies of my comrades lay eyes covered in eternal sleep. Runaan. She seems to have known them all.

 

“Ah.” I try not to cry. Finlay. Labhrainn. Cian. Dougal. Cearbhall. Runaan, Im so sorry. I don’t know how I’m going to look at Seitheach ever again. He might kill me.

 

We make a turn, dip beneath the clouds.

  

“What will happen when we land? I still have a mission to complete.”

 

More threads, but this time winding around people in deep conversation. All of them are set on scales, each interlocking above even larger scales. She seems to be emphasizing how important this conversation is.

 

“What will I have to do?”

 

Within the threads, I sit, with the moon glowing at my throat. I have no idea what that means, but I have no time to contemplate. We’re here.

 

I can see the dark forests swallowing the earth and my stomach drops. Stupidly, this was not where I expected her to take me; I wonder if I would be safer jumping to my death.

 

She’s taking me home, to the Shadowcasts.

 

 

Callum

 

Sol Regem had stared at me for a long time. His remaining eye radiated so much light I had to squint. I wondered vaguely if that’s how he blinded his other eye; by shining so brightly it burned.

 

Where the light touches, so my throne rests.”

 

Sol Regem’s last words to me, moments before Sunfire elves came to escort me away.

 

They weren’t cruel. They barely spoke. I was lead to a bare room with two metal chairs and a table. I’m sitting there now.

 

There’s a dripping in the corner. It splashes. My wrists hurt, the chains clanking against my joints painfully.

 

I sit alone in this room for at least an hour. The guards ignore me for the most part, but one of them rolls her eyes when I ask annoying questions.

 

I jump when the door opens. A Sunfire elf with arched back horns, glasses, and a floppy haircut. Unlike the other elves, this one is wearing black with only accents of gold. 

 

“Hi, kid. I’m Killian. What’s your name.” He sits across the table from me.

 

Dont tell them who ya are, memory Rayla tells me.

 

“Viren. My name is Viren.”

 

“Like, Lord Viren? Katolis’ High Mage?”

 

“Uh, yeah. My parents fought alongside him in the war.”

 

I could hit myself. Idiot! Why did I mention the war? Humans fought against the elves, dummy.

 

He hums in contemplation.

 

“I remember Viren. Saw him once, across the battlefield. Ruthless asshole, but efficient.

 

‘No judgment, of course. I’m sure he was a fine person off the battlefield.”

 

I haven’t heard an adult swear so casually in years. Not since my mom.

 

“None taken, I didn’t even really know him.”

 

“Right. Is he still alive?”

 

“Uhhh, maybe? My parents are dead. I think he saved my mom’s life, though. Before that.”

 

Tried to, my mind unhelpfully reminds.

 

“Hmm.” He nods and then eases back in his chair.

 

He asks questions, a lot of questions about things I didn’t think mattered. Things about what I like to do for fun, the weather in Katolis, jelly tarts. Then things start getting kind of embarrassing.

 

“Uh-ha! Uh, what?”

 

“Is there anyone you like? Romantically.” The Sunfire elf asks, casually.

 

He’s sitting across from me at the table, one ankle crossed over his knee. He has dark skin, and purple and gold tattoos rippling out from his eyes, but the confidence is very familiar. I’m reminded of Soren, and I relax. I’m feeling very tired, and I miss him, despite everything.

 

“Well, uh, there’s maybe someone I like. But why does that matter?”

 

“Well, if you’d been crossing the border to get some flowers for your lover, maybe I could have overlooked it.” He teases.

 

I laugh.

 

“I wish I’d thought of that. But no, sorry.”

 

He sighs.

 

“Me too, kid. Would make the paperwork easier to handle.”

 

I laugh. He leans in closer, and I mimic him.

 

“So tell me, what were you doing traveling with a Moonshadow elf?”

 

“She’s my friend.”

 

“She left you behind to be arrested. Some friend.”

 

“No, she’s not like that! Really! She just had- uh- something to do! Yeah, that’s it.”

 

He looks unimpressed.

 

“Okay, look, kid. I get that you want to protect your friend. But things will go a lot better for you and her if you just tell the truth. Because right now we have to treat her as a hostile invader.”

 

“What!? No, you can’t! She’s one of you!”

 

“Then why run from us?”

 

“I don’t know. Look, we’ve been on the road for a while, and she’s just jumpy. She probably assumed that you were a threat.”

 

“And she left you behind?”

 

“No! Well, yes, but- no! She just.... probably assumed I’d keep up.”

 

He looks at me sadly.

 

“Does she know that you’re not capable of keeping up?”

 

My skin burns and I feel squirmy inside.

 

I’m capable of lots of things! Magic, for one. Sort of. But telling this stranger that seems like a bad idea.

 

Dont trust them, Rayla’s last words to me echo in my head.

 

“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on with her.”

 

He leans back and sighs.

 

“I get the feeling you’ve been played for a sucker, and I sympathize. But I can’t just let you go. The political situation between our nations is very delicate, and I don’t want to be the one to tip it over into all out war, you understand me?”

 

“You don’t have to worry about that.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“We think we figured out a way to ensure peace between our nations. That’s what Rayla’s doing.”

 

He goes stone still. The air seems to die, I feel a creeping heat.

 

His eyes go wide, his pupils slit and then he lowers his head. I feel very strange watching this, like there’s a significance I’m not understanding.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“I live right by the border with my wife and two kids. If this is true....”

 

He exhales a huge breath.

 

“What needs to happen for this peace to come about?”

 

“Rayla said that I have to retu- do a thing myself. That’s the gesture that matters. I have to do something.”

 

“Why you?”

 

“Because I’m human.”

 

“There are plenty of humans. Humans who are capable of navigating rocky terrain. Why you?”

 

I recoil a bit at the jab, but continue.

 

“Because we’re friends.”

 

“You said that, but you presumably weren’t when she invaded your country.”

 

“Wha- is it really an invasion when there aren’t massive armies all smashing at each other, like,” I tap my fists together and make explosion noises. Slish slash! He waits patiently while I finish fake fighting.

 

“Yes. And I also happen to know that a Moonshadow elf invasion happened just a couple of weeks ago, and ended with the assassination of your sovereign leader.”

 

Dad. Rayla-

 

“I-I guess. But Rayla’s not like that! She’d never kill anyone!”

 

“How do you know? Do you think she just happened to invade your country at the same time as her kin were moving to assassinate King Harrow?”

 

“No. Well, it’s.... more complicated than that.”

 

“I’m sure it is. But you realize how bad this looks, right?”

 

“Huh? What do you mean?”

 

He looks at me pityingly.

 

“I mean that you return with an assassin of Katolis royalty, claiming loyalty to her, and then seeking amnesty in Xadia.

 

‘As it stands, the gesture isn’t going to be heartwarming. It’s going to look like Xadia managed to turn you into an agent against Katolis. You may even be implicated for his murder.”

 

“What!?” I realize that I’ve jumped up out of my chair. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Me kill him?

 

“Easy, kid.”

 

“Easy, huh? You just said I killed my- King! That I’m a traitor!”

 

“I know you’re not a traitor. You’ve proven your loyalty a dozen times over in this conversation alone.”

 

“Everything alright in there?” A guard has opened the door and stands with her sword half pulled out of its scabbard.

 

“We’re fine. But could we get some lunch? I’m starving. What about you, kid? You hungry?”

 

“I could eat.” I feel a little awkward standing. I don’t think this is how diplomacy goes.

 

“Pasta, please.” He adds.

 

The guard nods at us, and her eyes soften. She closes the door gently.

 

I lower myself back down into my chair.

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell.”

 

“It’s okay. It’s a difficult time for you, I’m sure.”

 

Killian drops his voice to a whisper and leans in. I lean in too.

 

“Look. I believe you. But it doesn’t matter what I believe. It matters what’s everyone else believes. And as it stands, everyone else is going to believe that you’re some random kid who betrayed Katolis.”

 

“They won’t.” I say firmly.

 

He sighs and bows his head.

 

“Can you give me a hint? Just so I know whether or not to expect a battalion knocking on my front door in the middle of the night?”

 

Dont trust them, Rayla says. Dont trust them.

 

I want to tell him. I want to let him know that I’m not some random kid, but I almost paid a terrible price not trusting Rayla before. And even though I’m feeling a little betrayed that Rayla just left me to get arrested, I know that she’ll come back for me.

 

“All I can tell you is that no one will think the things you’re thinking they’ll think. I need to get out of here. The sooner the better.”

 

“Well, good luck with that, when I can’t tell my bosses why you shouldn’t just be thrown in a jail cell.”

 

“You’re not in charge?”

 

He laughs. “Kid, I hate to break it to you, but the people up the mountain don’t usually give enough of a shit to talk to common folk like us.”

 

I blink, surprised. I knew other places weren’t the same as home with dad, but to hear someone speak so disparagingly about their leaders is a bit of a shock.

 

“Oh. I didn’t realize.”

 

“Not to worry. You’re what? 16, 17?”

 

“Almost 15, actually.”

 

“Hmm. Mature for your age.”

 

The door opens and a hunched over man carries a tray in. The guard from earlier gives me a little wave, which I return.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Thank you, Gabriel.”

 

The old man smiles, his golden tattoos glimmering. He walks out and the door closes.

 

“Now. Let’s dig in.”

 

The cutlery is a little strange, shorter than I’m used to. But I manage not to flail noodles everywhere, and manage not to spit up the flowery tasting sauce. The conversation distracts me from how gross it is.

 

We talk about sword fighting, about how I’m terrible at it, about how hes terrible at it, and so he usually just mimes during a fight. I honestly cannot stop laughing.

 

“Everyone thought I was a sword fighting prodigy for like, six years, but then my dad caught me switching places with my younger brother, and he realized that his dreams of us both being fearsomefires were dashed. So then I say, ‘no no! I can still be a fearsomefire! I just need to distract everyone while someone else does the fighting for me!’”

 

One time Soren tried to do that for me, taking my place when a notoriously strict swordmaster came to whip me into shape. When our parents found out a week later, he got yelled at by his dad. I’m so painfully homesick that my laughter starts to slide into crying.

 

“You okay, kid?”

 

“I miss home, you know? I’ve been away, only for a couple of weeks, but it feels like months. We left kind of suddenly, and then we were on the road a lot, and then I had a falling out with my friends...”

 

I feel my throat start to close up.

 

“That sounds tough.”

 

“Yeah. It hasn’t been all bad. I started learning magic, and that’s been amazing.”

 

“Oh?”

 

I have a flickering memory of Lujanne getting offended at the mention of Dark Magic and I cringe.

 

“Sorry, I know elves don’t really like Dark Magic.”

 

“Sunfire elves don’t have that irrational hatred of Dark Magic. Humans had to find some way to defend themselves, right?”

 

“Yeah, I guess. I still don’t really like Dark Magic, though. I don’t know why, it just feels.... creepy.”

 

“You just said you were learning magic.”

 

“Yeah, but it’s not like that, though.”

 

He looks at me like I’m a dumb kid, and he’s so like Soren in that moment that I laugh at him.

 

“Glad I could amuse you.”

 

“Sorry, you just reminded me of someone.”

 

“Someone handsome, I hope.”

 

“Haha. Yeah, I guess he is. He’s also an annoying jerk.”

 

Killian raises his eyebrow and smirks at my embarrassment.

 

“But not that youre that way! It’s just- he was kind of like an older brother to me. He always used to tease me, but had my back when it counted. He was strong and funny, and I could always trust him..... until I couldn’t.”

 

My eyes start watering. I squeeze them shut and try to will the tears away.

 

“Oh. That’s rough.”

 

“Yeah, it was hard. I don’t even know how I’m going to sort out my feelings about Claudia.”

 

“Who’s Gaudia?”

 

“She’s Soren’s sister; the girl I like. Liked. She kind of betrayed me and tried to kidnap Zym. And I don’t even know why! She wouldn’t explain herself and-”

 

“Kid? What are you saying?”

 

“Huh? Wha ah oo dagging abou?”

 

I realize that my tongue is swollen and my mouth is burning. My words are so slurred I don’t know how I didn’t notice before. They just kept pouring out of me.

 

The floor is tilting, and so is the table, and then I feel the pasta course up my throat and through my mouth and land sideways- huh? No wait, that’s on the floor. Im sideways.

 

“Kid? Kid! Hey, need help in here!”

 

There’s thumping and then the light starts to dim.

Chapter Text

Soren

 

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.”

 

“What?”

 

“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.”

 

“Oh great-”

 

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.

 

“Huh?”

 

“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.

 

 

Ezran

 

Ugh, I feel warm. And achy. I feel like I’ve been punched on every inch of my body.

 

“Uuugh.”

 

“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.”

 

“Oh yeah.”

 

“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.

 

 

Viren

 

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; thats 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.

 

He chuckles.

 

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. Ive been watching you for a while.”

 

I raise an eyebrow, wondering if that will suffice as a response.

 

Youre 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-

 

Dont worry; once youre out of this situation, youll 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.

 

 

Claudia

 

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.

 

Claudia.”

 

“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.”

 

Thats 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.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Farewell-”

 

“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!”

 

“Embodiment.”

 

“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

Fickle fioritura

Permanence weaning

 

Despite nightmare's seed

Speaks Antiqua Figura,

‘We shall not proceed’”