Kyo

Graduate
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  1. The bathroom in Vincent’s 1 bedroom flat on Dickson Street was. He was quite certain, once upon a time nothing but a fair sized cupboard. He had left the door to the tiny bathroom open and grungy rock music blared from somewhere within the flat, muddling itself with the hissing rush of the water coming from his shower head. “Whoa-oh, heaven knows! We belong way down below-oh!” He sang, off key, into the shower head, using it like a makeshift microphone. It took him another few minutes before he finally began to notice the rhythmic thumping that was travelling through his flat. He turned the shower off and stepped out, grabbing a towel to dry himself. 
    The thumping continued as he left the bathroom and went down his hall, and into his spacious livingroom/kitchen, the only reasonably sized room in his flat. He turned off the beaten up, old CD player that he had apparently recovered from some point in the early 90’s. He listened to the silence for another moment, and then came the thumping again. Someone was banging on his front door. He wrapped the towel around his waist and went back into the hall, making his way to the front door. On his way he grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the small table in his hall, and with only the slightest consideration of intense warmth, and passion, the end of the cigarette lit all by itself. He took a drag as he answered the door and blew smoke out into the hall, where two figures were standing. 
    Standing in front of him was a man who very nearly reached his own height. He was of a wider build than Vincent, a healthy man with what looked like natural weight and muscle. He had short, brown hair, cut neatly, with a tidy, trimmed beard. He was dressed in a simple, navy blue suit with the jacket open, a thin blue tie and a white shirt. He looked more than a little irritated by Vincent’s presence, yet he did not react. Clearly he was a patient man. 
    Behind him was a shorter woman dressed in a similar suit ensemble, but with no tie and a blouse instead of a shirt. She had short, blonde hair and looked decidedly more approachable than her partner. The man looked to be in his late 40’s, while the woman was a good ten years younger than that. Vincent couldn’t help but notice her briefly lower her gaze towards the towel at his waist, and then back up. 
    “Mister Hallow?” The man asked. 
    “Vincent, yes.” Vincent replied, raising his brow. “Can I help you?”
    “Detective Inspector Argent.” The man said. “And this is my Detective Inspector Evans. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
    “Oh come on, the music wasn’t that loud.” Vincent replied, frowning. 
    “We are not here about a noise complaint, I assure you.” Detective Argent said. “May we come in?”
    Vincent paused a moment, taking another drag of his cigarette as he considered the request. His nostrils flared and expelled smoke as he relented, then he stepped aside to allow them passage. “Yes, of course.” He said, smiling quite falsely. They nodded and entered, and Vincent closed the door and led them to his living room. He made his way to the small kitchen area as the two officers examined the room. Detective Argent took particular interest in the large bookcase on the far wall. It was crammed full of books. Most of them were nothing he had ever seen before, but he recognized the books that dedicated one section of the top shelf. Copies of various religious texts including the Bible, The Torah, The Quran, and various Sutras and Vedas. 
    “Religious, are you?” Vincent asked, noticing his stare. Argent turned and gave a soft smile. 
    “Just your average Catholic boy.” He admitted. “What about you? Trying to pick one or something?”
    “Well, why pick one?” Vincent replied, genuinely a little baffled by the question. “Anyway, can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”
    “No, thank you.” Detective Evans said with a polite smile. “We’re here on an investigation. If you don’t mind we’d like to confirm some details before we begin.”
    “Sure, fire away.” Vincent said as he leaned back against the kitchen counter. 
    “Firstly, you are Vincent Hallow, correct?” She asked. 
    “Yes.” He said with a nod. 
    “35 years old, you’ve been residing in Edinburgh for almost 5 years now. Your occupation is a…psychic?” She asked. 
    “Oh no.” Vincent shook his head. “Charlatans, the lot of them. No, no…I’m a wizard.” 
    “I wasn’t aware there was a difference.” Detective Argent chimed in. “Let’s just say you’re a…self employed freelance agent, shall we?”
    “If it makes you feel better.” Vincent said, rolling his eyes. He finished his cigarette and extinguished it in his kitchen sink. “So is there a point to all of this?”
    “Were you at the residence of a Miss Rachel Yates yesterday afternoon? Around 3 O’Clock?” Evans asked. 
    “Yes. She had a ghost problem. Well, still has actually. She decided against utilizing my services.” Vincent replied. 
    “Uh, right…” Evans said as she scribbled the details down on her little electronic tablet. “So you admit you were at her flat at 3PM yesterday afternoon?”
    “Well, yes.” Vincent said, frowning. “What’s going on?”
    “I’m afraid Miss Yates is dead, Mister Hallow.” Argent said. “Strangled. Nasty stuff.”
    “But…” Vincent’s frown deepened. “She was fine when I saw her. She lived alone, well, more or less.”
    “Indeed. And no one has been seen entering her premises since then. Which means, Mister Hallow, that you are our sole suspect.”
    “Me?” Vincent smirked. “Why would I do that? I don’t even know the woman.”
    “It’ll be up to the prosecution to figure that out, I’m afraid.” Argent said. “Vincent Hallow you are under arrest for suspicion of the murder of Rachel Yates. You have the right to remain silent, however anything you do say may…” Argent continued reading his rights, but Vincent wasn’t listening. It didn’t make any sense, the police were making a mistake. He hadn’t killed that woman, but who had? What if it had been the ghost he had seen? He didn’t seem the type, sure enough, but he had shown himself capable of moving physical objects. It was, at least, possible that he could strangle the woman. Not that the police would ever believe such a thing, of course. 
    “Uh, names and badge number please.” Vincent said, cutting Argent off. “Oh and since I am not resisting arrest, I do hope you’ll allow me to put some clothes on before you haul me out.”
    “Abigail Evans.” The woman said. “367. And yes, you can put some clothes on. David will monitor you.”
    “David?” Vincent asked, turning to Detective Argent. “David Argent, then?”
    “Indeed.” David replied. “Come along now, get dressed.” 
    David escorted Vincent to his room where he got dressed in the same clothes he had been wearing the day before. He took care to put on his watch and grab his Grimoire, fastening it to his belt. When he was done he walked into the hall with David and they rejoined Abigail, and together they made their way to the front door. 
    “Oh, can I go for a pee?” Vincent asked, nodding towards the bathroom. David walked to the bathroom and took a look inside. It was a small room with no windows. 
    “Fine, quickly.” He said. Vincent nodded and made his way to the bathroom door. He went to go in, but then paused and turned, closing the bathroom door shut. 
    “Oh, I did mean to say. While I’m not resisting arrest, I would like to point out that I’m denying the charges. I didn’t do it, you see.” As he spoke he pressed his fingers against the door, delicately feeling his way over the painted wood. 
    “If you are innocent then that will no doubt come out in the process.” David said. “I’ll take note of your lack of resistance, and if you truly are innocent I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”
    “Well, thank you very much.” Vincent said with a nod. “I’ll only be a moment.” He turned and opened the door, stepped inside and closed it behind him. The two inspectors waited outside for a couple of minutes. After the fourth minute passed David wrapped on the door of the bathroom. 
    “Mister Hallow?” He called. There was no reply. “Mister Hallow, I’m coming in.” He said a moment later. He turned the knob and entered, only to find himself staring at the same empty bathroom, sans Vincent. His eyes widened in utter bemusement. “Abby, put a call out. I want every officer looking for him!” He said frantically. 
    “He’s gone!?” Abigail replied, peering into the bathroom. “But…but how? There’s no way out!”
    “I…I don’t know.” David said as he knelt down on the bathroom floor, feeling for a lose floorboard, or some sort of secret escape hatch. There was nothing. “Something isn’t right…we need to find him. He could be extremely dangerous.”



    Doors are strange things. Most ordinary, non-magical folks, Mundanes Vincent liked to call them. Well Mundanes never really seemed to consider the concept of doors. They were points of entry and exit. Thresholds between one space and the next. Thresholds held a great deal of power. Now, Mundanes open doors and they always lead to the same place, day in and day out. Yet for those in the know, doors can reach multiple places. The world was not as simple and linear as people like to believe. A threshold, be it a door, a gate, an arch, or whatever else, is a portal between point A and point B. Yet sometimes, in certain places, there exists multiple point Bs. If Vincent’s bathroom was point B1, then with a little trickery and know-how, why could the door not lead him to another point B, a point B2? 
    Multiple locations operating within the same space, resonating on different frequencies. It was about as close as Vincent could ever explain the concept to a Mundane, at least. However the point was that while he had entered his bathroom door, he had not passed through in to the tiny room with a shower, a sink and a toilet all crammed together. He had arrived in a different place entirely. Yet even the universe is not beyond a sense of humour. For Vincent had arrived in a bathroom, of sorts. 
    He was standing in a steam-filled bath house. The walls were a beige-coloured marble, and before him lay a great pool of hot, steaming water. The occupants were far more colourful than the Mundanes he normally surrounded himself with. A couple were human, but there was also a man covered in horrible pustules, and another with scales for flesh. On the far side was a non-corporeal creature, hovering above the pool with only the vaguest shape of a form, and a pair of glowing orbs for eyes. Vincent had never seen a Djinn visit a bath house before, and wasn’t entirely sure why they would bother. 
    Yet he had no time nor desire to think more on it. He made his way out of the bath house and found himself on the hidden streets of Leith. While the overworld of Leith had become a somewhat rundown yet surprisingly multicultural burgh, it was also a waterside burgh. The Leith he stood in now, was one of the few areas not owned by man or beast. This was due to the river that ran through it that reached the Firth of Forth at the shore. The Water of Leith was a source of great power, so much so that it had manifested itself into an entity capable of consciousness. Thus Leith fell into the area where the great river spirit joined with the ocean, and it was here that his power and influence were strongest. 
    Vincent made his way up the Walk, the long road that led away from the shore. Where the overworld buildings consisted of pubs, chip shops, hairdressers and half a dozen polish and Chinese supermarkets, this version had stayed true to it’s roots. On either side of the road were hundreds of stalls selling various sea and river-related products. There was fish, and seaweed vendors, and a sudden warmth in the air indicated that glass-blowers were in the area, harvesting the sand to create vials and decorative ornaments. 
    Vincent had no time to stop and look around, however. In half an hour he had travelled across the nether-city of Edinburgh until he found himself at the Cowgate. The streets grew darker and more menacing. The residents began to turn more ugly, dirty and dangerous. Cowgate and the Grassmarket were considered the domain of the lower classes. It was where the more affordable housing was located, under the control of Baron Igithal, a man Vincent had never met, but by his rather bloody reputation, he was certain he had no desire to. 
    Therefore, as soon as he was able, Vincent found himself a door. He pressed his hand against it before opening it, once again delicately feeling the wood and weaving his will through it. He pushed it open and stepped through it, finding himself stepping out of a bathroom stall. He closed the door behind him and left the bathroom, to find himself in a busy pub. He knew it to be The Tron, a pub across the street from where Rachel Yates’ flat was. He exited the pub and made his way across the street of the over-city, and stopped outside Rachel’s flat. 
    He observed on the road nearby that two police cars were stationed outside. The investigation was still ongoing. Yet he had to get inside. Getting in would be easy, but the police might have been tipped off about him, and besides which they would never allow him to set foot on a crime scene. “…What a mess.” He said, sighing to himself. It was at this point that a sudden wave of dread rippled over his body. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck go rigid, a primal reaction he had little control over. He turned, sensing something off approaching. Something that was not often seen in the world of the mundane. It was a woman, and to any passing observer she looked perfectly ordinary, even quite attractive. Yet Vincent could see her for what she was, and the realization made him frown. 
    “Don’t see vampires in Edinburgh very much.” He said to the woman as she reached the door he was standing at on the street. His tone was suspicious. Why would a vampire be going in to Rachel’s building? 

    Ryoko's bright blue eyes looked the man up and down as a lop-sided smile spread across her face. "More's the pity." She retorted, looking over at the police stationed just outside the building before her gaze wandered over the man's grimoire, "So what's a wizard doing here then? Don't tell me you're a necromancer...?"
    “More like a jack of all trades.” Vincent replied, giving the police a nervous glance. “Are…” He wondered if it was okay to divulge his information, but at present he was disappointingly shy of allies, and considering where she was going, the woman was likely already involved. “Are you here because of the murder? The Mundanes have got me muddled up in all of this. I need to get in and find out what happened up there, but it’ll be tricky with all the police around.”
    "You say that humans have you muddled up in the crime," Ryoko nodded ahead, "Yet you wish to involve yourself further? Have you ever heard the phrase, 'cut and run'? As for me, I need to get inside that building, it won't be difficult..."
    “I already did the cut and run part, you just missed it.” Vincent replied. “Now I’m doing the part where I find out who’s responsible and make sure they fess up, so I can get on with my life. Which would be somewhat difficult from behind bars.” Vincent pressed his hand up against the buzzer and allowed his will to filter out into the wiring underneath. There was a buzz and a distinct click of the door unlocking, and he pushed it open. “After you, then.” He said. 
    Ryoko stepped through and looked around, the hall was quiet but she could hear voices upstairs. The police were likely in the apartment itself. "I could remove the police from the situation, that might be best..." She mused, as she started up the stairs.
    “You do your thing.” Vincent said as he followed her. He began to concentrate on the image of himself slowly fading away. He clung to uncomfortable thoughts, ones of fear, and the desire to hide. “I’m just gonna stand back and keep my mouth shut.” He added. Becoming invisible was tricky. There were so many senses to account for, that it usually required layers upon layers of magic, and most importantly the time to prepare. Vincent didn’t have those things so he settled for what he could do. With luck, while the officers would see him, if he kept quiet and didn’t do anything to attract their attention, they would find him to be quite insignificant. If he stayed quiet, he would be no more to them than a random passerby on the street. 
    "That might be best, if they saw you here, you wouldn't have much of an argument in, 'I came to prove my innocence'." Ryoko chuckled and as she reached the top of the stairs she clocked one of the police. She began checking her pockets as she approached, and the nearest officer paid her little attention. She pulled a set of keys from her pocket and turned to face the door to the adjacent apartment. As the officer turned his attention back to the inside of the apartment, Ryoko darted towards him and was on him in mere moments. She grabbed him from behind, clamping her hand over his mouth as she bit into his neck and began to drink. She took long, deep, ravenous gulps of blood. After a few seconds, she released him, licking his wounds which quickly healed leaving behind two small white dots for scars. When she laid him down in the hall, it was clear he was alive, but asleep. She stepped inside and there was a dull thud as the second officer collapsed to the floor, "You can come in now. This one is sleeping also."
    “I thought you were going to distract them, not eat them.” Vincent said with a scowl, and as he spoke his minor illusion shattered. He stepped inside the house and once again placed his fingers across his eyelids, as he had done the previous time, and he looked around for the ghost. “Something tells me you’ve done this sort of thing before. You’re a fixer, right?”
    "I was hungry, and they were an obstacle. I removed them from our path, sated my hunger and removed any chance that they might injure us, or we them." Ryoko looked around the room, spotting a phone in the centre of the floor, "If your intent is to chastise me for my actions, might I suggest you do so once you have finished snooping around the crime scene for which you are being investigated in connection with."
    “I’m not your mother, I was just…caught a little off guard.” Vincent replied, rolling his eyes. “Not everyone lives the high octane life of kicking arse and taking names. I just want to get back to making rent money.” Vincent looked around the room but the ghost was nowhere to be seen. He sighed. “Excuse me…hey…Mister Sheen!” He called out. “Get out here or I’m going to wipe my dirty shoes on this nice cream carpet.”
    “NoooOOOooo!” A ghostly wail reverberated around the room. Suddenly the ghost from before passed through the wall, a look of panic on his face. “Don’t you dare!”
    “Well that was easy.” Vincent said with a smirk. “Now, what the hell happened here? I hear your roommate was killed.”
    “Oh, tell me about it!” The ghost sighed. “It’s been a nightmare! I thought she was bad enough when she was alive, but ugh! Now she can see me and she just won’t shut up. She’s driving me crazy!”
    “Uh, that’s not what I-“ The ghost cut him off. 
    “You!” He said, pointing at Ryoko. “Are…are you the Fixer? It’s about time you showed up!”
    “Since when do ghosts hire Fixers?” Vincent asked, raising and eyebrow. 
    "They don't." Ryoko turned and made for the door, "How is a ghost going to pay me?" She asked, letting out an audible sigh. "You're not the only one with bills to pay, Wizard."
    “Oh, no, no, no…” The ghost protested, and he shot forward, whizzing past Ryoko and floating in front of her. “Please! You have to help get her out of here! She’s driving me nuts. She won’t stop crying, I just…there must be something I can give you. Anything!”
    “Wait, who’s crying?” Vincent asked. “Rachel? She’s here?”
    “Well who else?” the ghost replied. “She’s in her bedroom. Poor thing is having trouble accepting what happened…but that’s not my problem! I am NOT a shoulder to be cried on!”
    "She's having trouble accepting what happened?" Ryoko asked the ghost, she glanced at the wizard before turning back to the ghost, "This Rachel... she was the one who was killed?"
    “Yes.” Vincent replied, for the first time feeling a little sad for the victim. “I don’t know much about her. Just a client, well, she hired me then fired me without payment so whatever that is, I guess.”
    "She hired you, and then refused you payment, and now she's dead. Yes, I can see how that might look..." Ryoko couldn't help but smile despite the grim nature of their surroundings, "So now the important question - you're here to find the killer, but why? To clear your name, or to catch the killer?"
    “Catching killers is a job for a police officer, or whoever runs this fiefdom, or, well, you I suppose.” Vincent replied. “Me, on the other hand, I just do the odd exorcism and lift curses. That’s on a good day. Most of the time I’m rejecting requests for love potions and playing tourists out of their cash with card tricks. I’m a scholar, I study magic. I don’t use it to thwart the evils of either world.”
    "What a waste." Ryoko replied, "If you have the ability to do some good, why not do that? Who says that catching a killer is the sole work of a police officer? A bunch of humans who have never caught anything but a raise." Ryoko turned back to face the ghost, "You've both lived here at one point or another, you either learn to live with one another, or you move. You could start by showing some compassion, as I am for you, spirit." Ryoko then looked to the wizard, "I'm Ryoko, what's your name, wizard?"
    “Vincent Hallow.” Vincent replied. “Full name, Vincent, did not ask for a lecture, Hallow. So you’re some righteous do-gooder, well that’s just great for you. Fantastic. You go girl. I, on the other hand, am a grumpy, selfish man who just wants his life back. Now, Hajimemashite, dozo yoroshiku and all that jazz, I’m going to go speak to the recently departed.” Vincent walked away from Ryoko and went through the hall and into the bedroom. 
    There on the bed, the incorporeal form of Rachel Yates was sat quietly sobbing to herself. When he entered she looked up, a little shocked, and then stood up from the bed, still hovering a few feet in the air. “You!?” She said angrily. “G-go away.”
    “I’m not going to do that.” Vincent said calmly. He took a step inside the room. “I want to talk to you Rachel…I’m…sorry for what happened to you.”
    “I don’t care if you’re sorry! It’s none of your business.” She said, sobbing once more. Vincent let out a short sigh but tried to keep his expression neutral. It would do no good to mount his problems on her in the state she was in. It wasn’t going to get him anywhere. 
    “Rachel…let me help you through this.” Vincent said as he reached the foot of the bed. “It might be difficult but you have to accept this one, simple fact. You are dead. Nothing is going to change that.”
    “That’s your idea of helping!?” Rachel yelled at him, ghostly tears streaming down her transparent cheeks. “Do you think that makes me feel better!?”
    “No, of course not.” Vincent said. “But accepting things will. Now, your…house mate. He’s what we call a poltergeist. He’s haunting this house, and he seems quite happy with that. You, on the other hand. You’re tied to this place much like he is…but you don’t have to be. There are other places for the dead, better places.”
    “What…” Rachel sniffed. “You mean like Heaven?”
    “I…I don’t know for sure. It’s not for the living to know. However, I know there are demons, and I know there are angels. Seems likely that there’s some sort of God out there. What I do know, from experience, is that those who leave this world through acceptance, often do so with peace.”
    “But…I don’t want to leave my life.” Rachel said, shaking. 
    “I know…but perhaps you need to look at this another way.” Vincent said. “Have you ever been on holiday? Do you like travelling?”
    “I do but…I haven’t done it much.” Rachel said. “It’s quite expensive and I don’t make a lot. I went to Spain a couple of times.”
    “Well…now you can go wherever you like. Great thing about being dead is the free travel. And…now you have all the time in the world. You could go explore to your hearts content, or you could even go explore somewhere that you never could before.” Vincent smirked. “The next life. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be an experience like never before. If you could I’d even ask you to send me a postcard, and tell me what it’s like.”
    “I…I never thought about that.” Rachel said. “But…my family.”
    “You can see them whenever you like, too.” Vincent replied. “Or, if it’s what you really want, you can stay here with the clean freak.”
    “Oh…God.” Rachel said, shivering at the thought. “…I’m scared though.”
    “So you should be.” Vincent said, now coming closer and standing next to her. “Big adventure like this, you’d be a fool not to be. Whatever you do now is your choice, Rachel. You are truly free. That being said…if I can, I might ask something of you.”
    “What?” Rachel asked, her eyes suspicious. 
    “The police believe that I killed you.” Vincent said. “If I can, I want to make sure the person who did this to you gets the punishment they deserve. Do you think you could help me with that?”
    “I…” Rachel looked terrified. Reflexively she touched her own neck. “I don’t know…I just…someone came out of my bathroom. Like they just appeared out of nowhere. It was…It wasn’t human. It…I don’t think it meant to be here, it looked confused it first. But when it saw me it…it just came at me and…all I can remember afterwards is darkness, and just being so scared…and then I was like this.”
    “I…I see.” Vincent said, nodding. “This creature, can you describe it for me?”
    “It…it had horns on it’s head…and it’s body was furry. It was filthy, caked in dirt. I…I can’t remember. Except…” She paused. “It’s eyes…they were bright yellow…piercing and fierce. Eyes like snakes.”
    Vincent tried to think of who or what she could be describing. With the little info he had gotten, it could have been any number of things. Yet he had at least confirmed a few things. The killer had entered through the bathroom door, and it was unlikely it had crawled through her window. A door was a strange thing, but he knew how it worked. So now he had a lead.
    “Thank you, Rachel.” Vincent said finally. “Would you like me to come back and check on you later?”
    “I…you don’t have to but…” She gave the softest hint of a smile. “You’re much kinder than I remember.”
    “Don’t tell anyone.” He said with a smirk. “I have a reputation to uphold, after all.” He made his way out of the room. “I’ll come back in a few days, okay?”
    “Okay…thanks.” Rachel replied, and then he left her alone again. 
    When Vincent re-entered the main room, Ryoko was in the centre of the room, with her legs crossed, and her hands on her knees. She would have been sitting on the floor, had she not been floating two feet from it. Several other objects were floating around her as though she had some kind of gravitational pull. Her eyes were closed, but her sensitive hearing caught his approach.
    "So, a furry, horned thing, then?" She asked, raising an eyebrow while keeping her eyes closed. Then she stood up, still floating in the air, and as she turned to face him she landed back on the floor and the objects floating around her dropped to the ground.
    “Yes, Master Yoda.” Vincent replied, smirking. “What do you care anyway?”
    "I'm going to catch the killer." Ryoko replied, ignoring Vincent's comment. "You're welcome to come along, if you like. You are, after all, the primary suspect."
    “Thought you had bills to pay?” Vincent asked. “And besides, I think the folks at Lothian & Borders might have a hard time arresting a furry goat or whatever this thing is. Time to face facts, I’m pretty much screwed.”
    "She didn't say anything about goat. You shouldn't paint a picture in your mind with anything but the words she used to describe the creature. It had horns on it's head, had a furry body, so it was naked, at least from the waist up. It was covered in dirt... and it had yellow, snake-like eyes." Ryoko mused on the facts they'd collected so far, "I have bills to pay, but I will make do. Anyway..." Ryoko turned and started to leave, "I never said anything about arresting it."
    “Great, well I know where you can start.” Vincent said. He walked up to the bathroom door, pressed his hand up against the wood, infused it with his will, and then pulled it open. “Since nobody saw a scary horned thing rocking down Cowgate I’m going to guess that it left the way it came in. Have fun with that.”
    "Alright, thank you." Ryoko bowed slightly to Vincent, as she stepped through the doorway without hesitation, leaving Rachel's bathroom behind, entering the unknown.
    Vincent grabbed hold of the door and went to close it as Ryoko left. However just as it was about to close, another door opened. The front door of the flat swung open and a familiar face stepped through it in the form of Inspector David Argent. “You!” David yelled as he caught sight of Vincent. There were sounds of more people, likely police, ascending up the stairs. 
    “Ah, shhh-“
    “Come here!” David roared at him and suddenly the burly Scottish detective was coming at him with surprising speed and athleticism. Vincent turned in the only direction he could, he swung open the bathroom door and ran through after Ryoko. He pulled the door shut behind him, but was surprised when David squeezed through the gap and tackled him, sending them both crashing to the hard, cobbled floor. The door closed shut behind them. 

    “What in the-“ David gasped as he got up, grabbing Vincent and cuffing him with his hands behind his back. “How…you’re coming with me!” He said, and he opened the door again. However what he found on the other side was an old storage cupboard full of brooms. His mouth fell open, and he began to take stock of where he was. They were outside on the street now, and it was no street that the Inspector would likely recognize. The ground was filthy and cobbled, like something from the distant pass. They were in a wide alleyway, on the side of some as yet unknown street. “What is going on!?” David snarled at Vincent. 
    “That is…well…” Vincent paused for a moment. He had allowed a Mundane to venture into the nether-city. “…This is bad.”


  2. Edinburgh was always a city known for it’s rich culture and history. Recognised as Scotland’s capital from at least as far back as the 15th Century, it had become the home to nearly half a million residents. I was long known as a great institution for Education, primarily in Medicine, Law, and Literature. It could also be said that it was a somewhat peculiar place. Most cities were built up, cramped and difficult to navigate, but having been built on vast slopes, Edinburgh’s streets all seemed to be at different heights from one another, and no matter where you stood it was a simple task to see where you were going, and also what lay behind you.

    It was also a place of significant landmarks, with the busy Princes Street and it’s long, beautiful garden that stood in between the high street and Edinburgh Castle, stood proud atop a Volcanic Plug high over the city. There was also the Scot’s Monument, St. Giles Cathedral, and in the lower regions was the Scottish Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace, connected to the castle by the famous Royal Mile. A rare cultural treasure, the city always bustled with tourists in the summer and winter alike. Even it’s terrible history was no source of mystery, as the city celebrated it’s past, with various tours and trips that took tourist down into the winding closes, in hopes of spotting a ghost of the old city that lay under the ground.

    Tourists were the bane of those who lived in Edinburgh. They were everywhere, especially on a warm morning in the early summer months. Vincent particularly loathed tourists, which was odd as he had been one once, not so many years ago. He had travelled from his home in London 5 summers ago, but he had quickly picked up the local’s disdained for the international visitors that seemed to litter the place. To this end, Vincent had found himself hidden away in a lesser known café, Broughton Delicatessen, tucked away on Barony Street, far enough from the high street to avoid the curious eyes of tourists.

    He liked Broughton Deli for a few reasons. First of all, they made good, proper coffee just how he liked it. Black as the abyss, and rich and bitter to the taste. Secondly the Deli was housed in the Broughton barony, once upon a time famous for the practice of Witchcraft. Nowadays it was home to a number of specialty shops including quaint coffee shops, kitschy bars and even a shop where the owner made peculiar, alternative fashionwear out of real leather and fur. It was mostly frequented by unassuming hipsters, writers, and hipster writers. All of which were vastly more tolerable than the bloody tourists, or at least Vincent thought so.

    The third reason he liked the Broughton Deli was because they sold brunch up until 3pm, and Vincent could not recall ever waking before noon and not cursing the day. So he sat in the small café, sipping his coffee and picking at the remains of the chipotle pepper scrambled eggs he had ordered. All the while he was reading from a rather old, leather-bound book that was sat on the table in front of him. He seemed transfixed on it’s contents and, upon hearing the screeching wail of another patron’s baby, he winced from the sudden din that rang in his ears. He let out an irritated sigh and turned back to his book, frantically flicking through it’s pages.

    At last he happened upon the knowledge he required, and he focused himself. His mind turned to thoughts of tranquility, and peacefulness. He dreamt of secrecy, darkness and summoned the desire for quiet. He held on to that desire dearly, letting it ebb through his body, swirling within his mind, body, and soul. Then, at last, he pictured himself covered by a transparent bubble, and he loosed his will outward around him. Suddenly, and quite spectacularly, silence fell. Vincent glanced to the table where the mother and child sat, only to see that the bairn was still bawling, yet not a peep escaped it’s mouth. He allowed himself a smirk of satisfaction and went back to his reading.

    Vincent Hallow, or to use his full name; Vincent Gideon, Firstborn of Elias Emerich, of the Noble House of Hallow, was not any ordinary man. He was, in fact, a wizard. A warlock, conjurer, sorcerer, sage, magus, enchanter, thaumaturge. All terms were correct, but wizard was the more general term and the one he was most comfortable with. All Hallows were wizards, and notable ones at that. Yet Vincent was somewhat of a black sheep, and to look at him you would never think him of noble stock. The man was taller than most at just over 6ft, and he was skinny, pale, with a thin, scruffy beard from having not shaved in a few days. His hair was jet black, a little greasy, and tied back in a ponytail reaching just past his shoulders. He was dressed in a light grey shirt, with a slate waistcoat buttoned over it, a pair of pale blue jeans and scuffed, brown shoes.

    A light brown, long coat was draped over the back of the chair he sat on. All of his clothes were worn, wrinkled, and looked old and in need of replacing. Perhaps the only distinct thing about Vincent was his emerald green eyes, a characteristic trait of his noble House. After a while he lifted his arm and looked at the intricate timepiece on his wrist. The silver watch was, unlike the rest of him, quite pristine and looked incredibly valuable. As well as the typical hands telling him the time of days, there were also a number of smaller hands ticking away, apparently telling him of a variety of other unknown things.

    It was now two thirty in the afternoon, and he had an appointment to meet at three. With a sigh he reluctantly closed his book. The tome was quite thick, and the black leather bindings was etched with a vast array of complex runic symbols and knots. He clipped the latch around the front of the book, and gently ran his thumb over it, and the locking mechanism clicked shut at his touch. The book, much like his watch, was pristine and well-looked after, which perhaps alluded to how important it was to him. Wizards come to know a great many things, and as they tend to live longer than most ordinary folk do, usually around a century and a half, it has long been a tradition that they carry with them a record of their knowledge, both as their legacy and also for their own reference. Even with a longer life, the human mind is particularly good at forgetting the intricacies of knowledge. This book was known as a Grimoire.

    Vincent stood up from the table and walked away, and as he passed through his bubble he was suddenly greeted with the sudden wave of ambient noise that accompanied folks almost anywhere. He went to the counter at the front and paid his bill, and then left the café. He moved hastily up the steep streets of Broughton, his long legs making him swifter than most. When he reached the top of the street he reached a main road, where a Tram was waiting, bound for the airport on the outskirts of the city. He dutifully ignored it and crossed the road, deciding, as he always did, to make his journey on foot. He walked past the church and on to the stretch of land commonly referred as the “Top of the Walk” by locals.

    At the top of that street he finally began to reach tourist town, signaled by the distinct sound of a Peruvian flute band playing further ahead. Rather than head towards Princes Street he turned left and walked up the North Bridge towards the Royal Mile. The street was incredibly busy, and already beginning to fill up with bloody jugglers and dance troupes preparing for the Edinburgh Festival which was a whole two months away. As he ventured into the crowd Vincent tucked his Grimoire inside his coat, fastening it to his belt so that it bounced at his hip when he walked. He cut straight through the Royal Mile and made his way down a dark and quieter street near the Cowgate. It was here that he found the flat of the person who had requested his services. He walked up the front steps, inspected the buzzer for a moment, and then cautiously pressed on the number 7. A few moments passed before a voice crackled over the intercom.

    “Hello?” came a light female voice. She sounded local, and in her mid 30’s, much the same age as Vincent.
    “Hi.” Vincent replied, his tone was lower. “It’s Vincent Hallow, we spoke yesterday on the phone?” His voice betrayed his early years spent in Private School, one of the few remnants of his noble stock. He had managed to drop the accent slightly over the years, mixing in slang in a desperate attempt to sound even slightly more ordinary.
    “Oh, aye.” The female voice replied. “Come on up!” She added, followed by a loud buzzing noise and a click. Vincent pushed open the door and ascended the steps until he reached door number eight. The door opened just before he had reached it, and he was greeted by a mousy-looking woman dressed in slippers, pajama trousers, and a thick dressing gown. He smiled as politely as he could muster.

    “So…ghost problems, eh?” He asked. The woman looked around the stairwell nervously, searching for nosey neighbours that might have overheard. She opened the door further and ushered him inside. Once she had closed the door again, she turned back to him.
    “Aye, it’s like I said on the phone.” She said a little frantically. “Things keep moving about. Every time I leave my keys on the mantle they end up on the hook. I go to bed, and when I get up the dishes are done and stacked up neatly on the rack. It’s driving me mad!”
    “Doesn’t sound too bad to me.” Vincent said with a smirk. “You’ve got a poltergeist cleaning up after you, what’s the problem? Has he asked for a wage or something?”

    “It’s not funny!” The woman replied, looking worried. “I…so what do you do? I don’t need to sacrifice a goat or anything, do I?”
    “Can if you want.” Vincent replied with a shrug. “It won’t do anything but hey, whatever makes you feel good.”
    “N-no…I just meant-“
    “It’s a joke, love.” Vincent said, frowning. “Lighten up, let’s see if I can sort this out.”

    Vincent stepped further in to the small flat. Nothing seemed overly to be out of the ordinary. He noted that there was a slight chill. Sure enough, this was one of the signs of a spirit within a dwelling, but equally he had found in his experience it was the sign of a tight-fisted scots woman who couldn’t bring herself to put the heating on. He decided to try something different. He closed his eyes and gently ran his thumb and index finger over his eyes once. He imagined putting on a pair of glasses, and conjured mental images of light, then summoned his desire for revelation. He allowed the spell to manifest, and when he opened his eyes once more he had activated his true sight.

    The flat appeared, mostly, to not have changed. Yet as he looked around his sharpened senses focused on the new information that had been revealed to him. Marks on the wall glowed in a hazy, blue aura through his eyes. He knew this to be residual signs of ectoplasm, a material left by ghosts and spirits, usually unseen by the naked eye. Each marking represented points where the spirit had moved between the walls, it’s form not limited by any physical barriers. “Well there’s definitely some sort of spook in here.” Vincent said out loud. “Free reign, too. That means it’s not tied to any particular object or artefact.”

    “Eh…artewhat?” The mousy woman asked.
    “Artefact.” Vincent said again. “Ghosts can sometimes be tied by strong emotions from their passing. They get tied to objects that were important to them. Not always though, this one seems to come and go as he or she pleases.”
    “So it’s real, then?” She asked. “You’re not just taking the piss?”
    “I’d hardly charge 200 quid just to fool narrow-minded, unsuspecting…” Vincent stopped when he heard what he was saying. “No…I’m not taking the piss.”
    “Well good…so can you er…get rid of it? Like send it to heaven or whatever?”

    “Not sure about that.” Vincent replied. “Heaven’s not really my jurisdiction. But I can hopefully get it to leave the house.” Vincent cautiously stepped down the hall and pushed open the doorway to the living room. Ghosts weren’t always troublesome, but he had known a few that were quite volatile, and were prone to throwing him about the place. He had since learned to exercise caution. Yet on this occasion he soon learned he need do no such thing. For the ghost was sat on the sofa in the livingroom, it’s transluscent, incorporeal form rippled ever so slightly.

    The ghost, a thin looking man in what looked to be his late 40’s, turned to look at Vincent when he entered, and looked surprised to see Vincent staring directly back at him. “…Do you remember who you are?” Vincent asked calmly. “Do you know what calls you here, spirit?”
    “Nobody calls me any more.” The spirit replied with a soft chuckle. “I’m a bit dead so I can see why.”
    “Right…well I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.” Vincent said. “Your invading in this woman’s home.”
    “I lived here first!” The ghost replied hautily. “Still had 6 months left on my lease. Might as well use it.”
    “Uh…okay.” Vincent said, scratching his head. “But you’re scaring the current tenant in her own home. She say’s you’ve been moving things around without her permission.”

    “Not my fault she’s a midden.” The Ghost replied, folding his arms. “This place would be a tip if not for me!”
    “So…wait you really have been tidying up after her?” Vincent asked, raising his brow with a soft smirk.
    “What!?” The mousy woman shrieked behind him. “What did you say!?”
    “Oh I just…well the ghost said-“ Vincent began, turning back to the woman.
    “You are taking the piss, aren’t you?” The woman said crossly. “Who the hell are you to judge how I keep my flat? Eh!?”
    “No, it’s not like that-“ Vincent continued, holding his hands up in protest.

    “Get out! Ya bloody piss-taker!” The woman yelled as she tugged at Vincent, moving him back towards the front door.
    “Fanny.” He heard the ghost say, chuckling softly. Then Vincent was back out in the stairwell, and the woman’s door slammed shut behind him. He let out a soft sigh and looked around at the scabby walls of the old tenement flat he stood in and sighed in frustration. Another opportunity ripped from his grasp. If he didn’t make money soon he was going to miss his rent payment.
    “…Fuck.” He cursed to himself as he slowly made his way back down the stairs. He had made the trip for nothing. Yet there was now nothing else for him in the town. He decided to head back to his flat in Leith, where he could at least keep away from the bloody tourists.

     


  3. After giving Yoko a short time to calm herself, the woman pushed open the door to the Avatar's room and stepped in, looking around. "You know, that garment was hand woven by temple acolytes." She said in a calm but slightly annoyed tone. "People worked hard to make it, and you destroyed it without a second thought. Is that really a quality you wish to have within yourself?"
    "I dunno, it made me feel better." Yoko growled, as she shoved things into her pack.
    "And why, exactly, did you need to feel better?" The woman asked, raising her eyebrow. "I did not seek to embarrass you. I wish only for you to reach your full potential, something which I thought you also wanted. Yet I have been met with opposition from you which I, frankly, cannot fathom. Why would you refuse a teacher?"
    "Because I don't even know who you are." Yoko retorted, "Because I keep telling you my name, and you keep calling me 'Kiyoko', because you're a so-called teacher that said i'm worse than your worst student." Yoko shoved another garment into her now bulging pack, "Because I don't know where we're going, or what we'll do, and i've barely been outside these walls, never mind outside Republic City. The Order just keeps me here because it gives them something to do, otherwise they'd be extinct... Nobody knows what the Avatar is any more, and nobody cares. If the Avatar is bound together, then really we're the same person, Korra obviously knew something, because she left for the spirit realm and never came back. Now the world is at peace, we live in harmony wi--" Yoko trailed off as a small wisp of cloud flew through the wall to her right and coalesced into a little white orb of light which danced around her for a moment before gliding away, "... with spirits... and people sort their own problems out. Nobody wants me."

    "I see..." The woman said, lowering her head in thought. "Well, I never said you were worse than my worst student. None of my students are bad, I make sure of that. Air Bending is a diverse art, but it's primary use is for pacifism and defense. Naturally, my students are skilled in avoidance. As for where we are going, and what we will do...well that all depends on you." The woman smiled. "Air Temple Island is only a short ride over the water from Republic City, you can see it off the coast. That is my home, and where we will train. However I suggest we travel further afield in time, there is much to see in this world, and the Spirit World for that matter." The woman held out her hand and the little wisp returned to her, hovering around her hand for a moment, before bobbing up and down, swirling around her, and then flitting away again. "Do you know much of your predecessors? Korra, Aang...further still there was Roku, Kyoshi, Kuruk, Yangchen...I could go on." 

    "I have studied the history of our world, and of the Avatar. My father told me stories of Aang, and I have my own stories to tell of Korra." She said finally. "My name is Jinora. Aang was my grandfather, and Korra...a dear friend."
    "You're Jinora?" Yoko dropped her pack and turned back to face her.
    "Yes." Jinora replied with a smile. "I take it you know me?"
    "You?" Yoko pointed at her in disbelief, "You're Aang's granddaughter? You were part of the stealth team diversion that helped fight Kuvira... and you're Master Tenzin's daughter, and you single-handedly defeated Warlord Lokai Wen and restored peace to the fire country... you're that Jinora?!"
    "Well...I'm glad they let you read a book or two here." Jinora replied with a smile. "Yes, I am that Jinora. However, what I am most proud of is my hand in restoring my people after the Harmonic Convergence. My father, Tenzin, wanted nothing more than that and I helped him achieve it. I take no pleasure in my actions during the war with the Earth Nation, or my triumph over Lokai Wen. Korra believed that true peace came from understanding each other, not fighting. It is my hope that I can train you, so you can maintain the balance as your past lives once did."

    "What balance?" Yoko laughed, "There's no war, and humans and spirits live in peace, more or less." She sat down on the edge of her bed and shook her head in disbelief, "What is there for me to do? When the last Avatar was found, she was heralded and fussed over and people cared about how she would help shape the world, and take care of it. When I was found, I was taken from my parents and kept here... I don't even remember their faces any more..." Yoko shook herself out of her melancholy, "Look, what good do you think I can do that Korra hasn't already covered? She left for a reason. The time of the Avatar is gone. I don't even know why i'm here." Jinora frowned slightly, folding her arms in front of her. 

    "Korra was trained under the watch of the White Lotus just as you were. When my father refused to train her, she fled in secret from her home in the Northern Water Tribe. Korra was not always heralded by everyone, in fact there were times when she suffered their hate and fear. She struggled with her responsibility just as anyone would. She is remembered as a symbol, but please do not think that she was anything but an ordinary young woman like yourself, once. She did not have all the answers, and in the end she followed her heart. Her decision was right for the time, however..." Jinora paused, choosing her words carefully. "Aang lived a childhood of relative peace. Yet war was just on the horizon, yet he was not aware. Korra, too, began her journey from her home with only dreams of mastering her art and becoming a pro bender. Threats are always on the horizon."

    "I truly hope that you do not experience the hardships of your predecessors, but there is still much you can do. We live in a time of peace, but there is always people in need, and you can help them. I do not expect you to do this right away, Korra and Aang did not do so. Come with me, train, travel and learn. When the time comes, you can decide what your path is. How does that sound?"
    Yoko thought for a long while but eventually she found herself needing to ask another question, "How did you even know I was here? How did you get here so fast? Nobody uses cars any more, and I was told that the Order was only going to release information on finding and training me in the past two days."

    "Well, I met you once when you were a child." Jinora explained. "But it is true that your location for the past few years has been a mystery to me. As for how I got here, well..." Jinora turned for the door. "Join me outside and you will see." And with that she left Yoko to unpack. ".... what...?" Yoko picked up her pack, took one last look around her room, and realised then that she didn't actually have anything more to bring with her. And although she might miss the familiarity of these walls, she had never made friends here, nor turned her room into a place of comfort. Somehow she always thought she'd leave one day, and here it was. It was like she'd been on hold until now. She stood, grabbed her bag, and walked out.

    In the courtyard Jinora was stood next to a mountain of white fur with brown ears and brown stripes down it's back. The large Bison turned it's head as Yoko approached and let out a rumbling noise. Jinora stroked the large creature's furry head and giggled. "Yoko, I'd like you to meet Nutmeg. She's a very good friend of mine." Jinora smiled again and continued rubbing the Bison's fur. 
    "Nutmeg?" Yoko queried as her eyes betrayed her astonishment at the enormous creature before her, "This... this is a flying bison..." As she spoke, Nutmeg sidled forwards, and gently butted her head into Yoko's stomach, "H-Hey!" Yoko grabbed hold of her head and held on to stop herself from falling over, but quickly realised Nutmeg was asking to be scratched.

    "Correct." Jinora said with a nod. "Flying Bisons are very dear to my people. We each bond with one during our training. I bonded with Nutmeg's mother, Pepper when I was a young girl. There are more on Air Temple Island, if you'd like to meet them."
    "Can I bond with one?" Yoko asked, looking over expectantly to Jinora.
    "Well, that depends how seriously you take your training." Jinora replied. She extended her arms to show her tattoos. "It wasn't very common for non-air nomad Avatars to obtain the tattoos, or bond with a bison. It's less about air bending and more of a cultural thing, I suppose. But never say never." Jinora smiled brightly and climbed on to the large, circular saddle on Nutmeg's back. "Come on then, before the White Lotus decide to chase after you. They'll be welcome to stay and guard you at Air Temple Island, of course. but they'll have to catch up to us."
    "Uh..." Yoko walked around to Nutmeg's side and tried a number of different ways to pull herself up, but it was all too awkward. A few seconds passed, then she leapt up into the air, propelled by quickly summoned earth pillar beneath her foot. She landed gracefully on Nutmeg's back and let out a short sigh, "Let's go then, before I change my mind."

    "All right then, hold on." Jinora said as she gripped the Nutmeg's reigns. "Yip yip!" She said cheerily, and Nutmeg responded with an approving rumble, before pushing off against the ground on it's six legs, raising effortlessly into the sky with it's large, flat tail beating softly behind it. Nutmeg took them high up above the temple, before disappearing into the wild, mountainous regions, heading straight  for the Republic City far below, and onwards to the small island off the coast, Air Temple Island. 


  4. It is said that in ancient times our world, Gaia was a harsh and unforgiving place. In this time it was not our kind who ruled, but the beasts. In this time our kind, humans lived among the creatures of Gaia. To survive we had to live from the land, hunting creatures smaller and weaker than ourselves. In time, as our species grew and obtained knowledge, we learned how to manipulate the land. With care we treated the earth with water and seed, so that vegetation would grow just as we intended. We discovered that from nature’s elements we could craft tools to help us hunt, and grow, and build. We began to prosper, no longer merely surviving. Finally we began to live.

    In time humanity grew to heights beyond our imagination. The more we learned of our world, the more we discovered how to harness it’s power for our own gain. Science became our ideology, and technology our tool. We became so knowledgeable of our world that we learned the replicate the natural occurrences of our world, focusing and harnessing them to our own specifics and standards. Through our knowledge we have become the uncontested rulers of our world, we shape it as we see fit, and not even the sky is beyond our limitations. 

    In time other races followed similar paths, and we were joined by the proud and strong Komoda, the swift and valiant Lepan, the sneaky and resourceful Roden, and the strange and elusive Laxi. With such races joining our society, our culture shifted and blossomed, incorporating the vast talents of diversity. 
    Yet there is a part of our history that has become almost lost to us. For when humanity first began to understand nature, there were those who led the way. People with greater knowledge and understanding of nature, of the elements. Such people understood the intricate foundations of nature, and were able to harness it’s power through sheer will, using a strange and mystical art known as Alchemy. 

    These Alchemists, harnessing the very power of nature as an extension of themselves, paved the way for humanity. Through their understanding humanity established it’s own, baser knowledge of the world’s machinations, and through their tutelage alone were we able to survive as long as we have. And when war inevitably reared it’s ugly head, it was the Alchemist who settled the great battles, using their awesome power to cease all threats. And so the Alchemists became our protectors, our leaders. Yet as our knowledge grew and we gained our own prosperity, the power of the Alchemists became less needed, and soon their numbers dwindled, until their existence almost disappeared into legend. 
    Yet one man lives to prove their existence is more than mere legend. King August Vermillion Rhapsody, ruler of the lands of Velice, residing in the great city of Fortuna. Also known by his other title – The Branded King. King August and his family are the last of the Alchemists, and his power is the greatest of them all. For the needs of Alchemy have dwindled, and even among those able, the desire to learn has faded. Yet the loss of ancient practices is, perhaps not something to be mourned. For science has brought us power beyond that of Alchemists. With technology we not only shape the world, but shape ourselves, becoming faster, stronger, and capable of things that were never thought possible. The time of Alchemy has ended, now that all of humanity can become Gods. 

     


    The sky above Fortuna was cloudy, but streaks of sunlight cut through in places and provided a comfortable warmth to the city. In the lower districts, where the narrow streets were darkened by tall buildings towering above street level, the people seemed in quite a hurry. All manner of race were out in force, preparing for this very day. It was the annual Reverance Festival, where the city of Forrtuna celebrated the anniversary of its founding. Many had taken the day off work, and others were busy setting up stalls to sell their wares during the event. Sparkling lights littered the streets as old and young all wore crowns and hats decorated with tacky, multi-coloured lights that were always worn during the festival. In the higher reaches of the city, in the various plazas, street performers juggled batons of fire to the audible gasps of the rapidly growing crowds. A parade of floats made its way through the wider streets, led by a smartly dressed troupe, each playing musical instruments, while their leader twirled a baton as he marched ahead. 

    Each float was decorated in a different way. Some were shaped like the various native beasts of Velice, others decorated with beautiful floral arrangements, and yet more were dedicated to various companies, projects and art commissions made specially for the event. The crowd marveled at the life-like spectacle that led the floats. It was a giant stage with three enormous dancers, who were not real, of course, but rather were being projected by a series of bright blue laser-lights, their forms visible even in the light of day. The people roared and cheered as the floats passed them by, and watched intently until they moved out of sight. Then they continued on their way, towards Rhapsody Stadium, where a concert would be held, along with a speech from King Augustus Rhapsody himself. 

    Yet the concert would not begin until nightfall, and King Rhapsody was far from the cheering crowds, up in the highest reaches of Fortuna, in the large palace that stood as the jewel at the top of the city. Augustus was walking the across the sprawling balconies that looked down on the city below, but his attention was focused on the tablet in his hand. He scrolled through streams of text and graphs, sighing to himself in frustration. 

    The King looked to be in his late 50’s but in truth he was significantly older. He was a tan skinned man with a wrinkled, tired face. He had a thick head of jet black hair with thick wisps of silver, and a short goatee shaped to a point. He was dressed in a black and white pinstripe suit, with a red shirt and a black ascot tie with intricate, red floral patterns woven in to the silk. His dull gray-blue eyes scanned the contents of his device and he let out another frustrated sigh. 

    “Sire?” The man next to him was younger, in his late 30’s. He had tidy, blonde hair swept back over his head, and was dressed in an impeccable, white suit, with a black shirt, a thin white tie, and a red rose pinned to his lapel. He wore a pair of thin-framed sunglasses with red lenses, which seemed to occasionally streak with a fuzz of static on occasion. 
    “Speak, Lyude.” The King replied, not looking away from the screen. 
    “Perhaps if you allow me, Sire…” He said, holding out his hand. The King glanced at him for a moment with a frown, and then he let out a resigned sigh and handed the tablet to his younger companion. 

    “Let’s see then.” Lyude said as he ran his gloved hands over the device. He made a few swiping gestures, removing sections he deemed unimportant, and then he made another few taps and smiled, pleased with himself. “I think we should be okay. If you move your meeting with Duke Archibald to after the ceremony then that should free up enough time to take care of your other duties, no?”
    “Archibald has been requesting a meeting for months.” The King said, shaking his head. “I can’t make him wait any further. He wants to discuss the trade disputes going on with Avara at the moment. You know he has a firm stance on employment, and this dispute is costing jobs.”
    “Wouldn’t that be the responsibility of the Foreign Trade Council, Sire?” Lyude asked. 
    “Yes, but they keep dodging his requests for talks. He knows they wouldn’t ignore a direct request from me.” The King Replied
    “Well, that is quite the conundrum. However, the responsibility does lie with the FTC. If he wishes to raise issues he should be taking it up with the Internal Inquiries Division, surely?”

    “Yes…but he’s an old friend and…” The King sighed. “…it’s fine. Reschedule his meeting until after the ceremony. I have a duty to my people, first and foremost.”
    “As you say, Sire.” Lyude replied with a smile and a nod, and he went to work tapping away on the tablet again. The King allowed him, glad to have the blasted thing out of his hands for a moment. He looked out at his city from the balcony, and watched as hundreds of balloons rose up over the skyscrapers. He smiled contently. His work had become tiring of late, but he reminded himself that he would always endure, for the sake of his people. He turned back to Lyude. 

    “And what of my son?” He asked
    “Prince Oranyx remains locked up in his chambers, Sire.” Lyude said with a soft sigh. “I fear he is not in the mood for the festivities today.”
    “His mood is irrelevant.” The King growled in annoyance. “He has a responsibility. I am tired of his childish attitude.”
    “Well he is only a boy, Sire.” Lyude commented with a sympathetic smile. 
    “He’s 18, and that’s a man in my eyes.” The King replied. “Does he not answer his summons at all?”
    “Rather he says nothing, Sire.” Lyude replied. “Probably playing that game I should imagine.”
    “Blast it!” The King snapped, and he whirled around on the spot, marching back down the balcony and into the palace corridors, with Lyude hurriedly chasing after him. 

    “Sire, we have to-“
    “Quiet!” The King snarled. “I am sick and tired of this nonsense! The boy has no respect!” They continued down the corridor and then down two flights of steps, all the while the King’s anger bubbled beneath the surface. Finally they came to the door of the Prince’s bedroom and the King pulled open the door and marched inside. “Oranyx, now you listen to me, I-“ The King stopped. Sat on the edge of his bed, Prince Oranyx sat dressed in a pair of skinny, black jeans, and a plain gray t-shirt. He had a pair of headphones sat over his thick, messy-but-stylish, black hair. Over his eyes was a transluscent laser-light visor with streams of data and imagery flashing over it. The Prince was engrossed in the game he was playing, his thumbs twiddling over the controller he held between them. 

    With a furious growl his father charged towards him, snatching the visor from his face and throwing it against the wall, shattering it. “Wh- Hey!” Prince Oranyx gasped as he blinked, looking at his broken visor with sheer outrage. “What the hell, dad!?” He added. 
    “People have been calling for you for hours!” The King yelled. “And here I find you playing that…that stupid game!”
    “Only you think it’s stupid!” Oranyx bit back. “I suppose you’d rather I play your stupid game, then?”
    “Your responsibility to this city is not a game Oranyx.” The King replied. 
    “NYX!” The Prince yelled so loud that it echoed through the corridors outside of his room. “I’ve told you a thousand times to stop calling me that! It’s just Nyx, okay?”
    “And I’ve told you that Oranyx is your name, like it or not. It was your grandfather’s name.” The King said testily. 
    “Well you should have let him keep it.” Nyx replied, rolling his eyes. “Now get out of my room.”
    “I think you will find this is my room, young man.” The King replied with a frown. “As is every room in this entire palace.”

    “Oh here we go again!” Nyx yelled. “Yeah, yeah, it’s all yours dad. That’s great. Well why don’t I just get the hell out of your way then?”
    “That is not what I meant!” The King snapped back. He sighed, trying to calm himself. “Look, son, today is an important day for Fortuna. I only ask that you get dressed and come with me to the ceremony. The people expect to see you there.”
    “Yeah?” Nyx replied, scowling. “And what about what I want? I couldn’t care less about about this stupid festival.”
    “Ora-“ The King stopped himself. “…Nyx. You must understand that, while it can be hard, there are expectations of you as a Prince. You are my only son, and I have know that you have your father’s strength. One day you will lead these people, it’s important that you come to know them.”

    “I already know them better than you do.” Nyx said, shaking his head. “I’d be down there with them all right now if you’d only let me.”
    “You know I cannot just let you wander the city on your own like that, we’ve been over this. You are the Prince and-“
    “Well maybe I don’t want to be the Prince!” Nyx interrupted. “Did you ever think about that, dad? I don’t want any of this! I just want to be a regular kid, all right?”
    “Son…” The King said softly, he looked hurt by Nyx’s words. “Please…I know you don’t mean that.”

    “Yes I do.” Nyx replied, getting off of his bed and pushing past his father. He slipped on a pair of black leather boots lined with three buckles on each calf. Then he opened his wardrobe and pulled out a thin, black jacket, with silver buttons over the lapels, and silver pendant of a lion’s head attached to the front zip. He zipped up the jacket and put on a pair of blue-lensed sunglasses. “I’m out of here.” He said as he went for the door. 
    “Now just stop this right-“ The King began
    “Leave me alone!” Nyx snarled before quietly adding, “…I hate you.” As he left his room, and his father, who stood frozen by the pain and shock of his words, which had cut him deeper than any sword. 

    Nyx took off down the corridor until he reached the spiral staircase at the end and began to descend them. As he reached the bottom he noticed two of the King’s guards advancing up towards them. They were Laxi. They stood taller than humans, and their flesh was protected by a hard carapace shell that covered their entires bodies. The colour of the shell was a combination of oily black with patches of sickly yellow. Each of their six eyes were entirely black, maing it impossible to tell if they were looking directly at your or not. The moved towards him without words, not unlike them. The Laxi were excellent guards, unquestioning, hard-working and efficient. 
    As they met him on the stairs they reached out to grab them, but Nyx was ready. He leapt on to the railing of the staircase to avoid the first lunge at him, and quickly rebounded off again as the other reached for him. He landed on the stairs behind them and began sprinting hurriedly down the stairs. Unfortunately with their long legs the Laxi were also quite fast. They gained on him in no time as he reached the next floor and sprinted along the corridor. On the long, straight sprint his pursuers held the advantage and managed to grab him by the arms, holding him tight. “Let me go!” He yelled angrily. 
    “Apologies, young Master.” One of the Laxi said, there voice was strange to hear, you could hear a buzzing vibration behind it. “All the guards have been instructed not to let you leave the Palace unattended again.”

    “I’m not leaving the palace, I was just going to get some food from the kitchens.” Nyx protested
    “Apologies, young Master, but we will not fall for that one again.” The other Laxi replied. 
    “Ugh…fine.” Nyx said with a sigh. Then a slight smirk spread across his face, a capricious glint in his eyes. He felt a prickle on the back of his neck as he activated his power. From his jeans pocket two thin wires of metal shot out like a snake, and coiled itself around the feet of the two Laxi, wrapping tight and binding them together, until they both stumbled to the floor and let go of him. Nyx let out a mad chuckle and stepped away from them. “Sorry, didn’t want to have to resort to that!” He said with a grin. “Later!” He added with a wave, then he ran off down the corridor once more. 

    By the time he breached the palace doors he had 5 more guards sprinting after him shouting and hollering. He ran past one of the waiting staff who was carrying a metal tray of plates and cups across the garden. As he passed her he grabbed the metal tray, and the woman shrieked as her tray morphed from it’s original state in Nyx’s hands, and by the time he hurled it at the floor behind him, the tray had shattered into a mess of shiny, metal ball bearings that rolled across the ground behind him. The guards tried to stop but they could not in time, and slipped over the ball bearings, crashing in a heap on the ground. 

    Finally Nyx reached the enormous, metal grates that were closed and barred, blocking his way into the city. He gripped the gates in his hand and the metal re-shaped as he willed it to, creating foot holds up the bars for him to climb. As he scrambled up the gate the footholds disappeared behind him, until he reached the top and vaulted over it, landing with a thud on the either side. He quickly picked himself up and dusted off his jeans. With a final smirk he looked back at the guard who were stuck on the other side of the gate. He pulled his headphones over his head and gave them a final, casual salute, before turning and disappearing into the city.
     


  5. Before he left for the evening Jona had explained Vaedwyn's itinerary for her time at Luftjall. He instructed that each morning she would wake at the dawn, and before eating she would meet with Agron for sparring practice. Once Agron dismissed her, she would then be allowed to have breakfast, followed by bathing herself and changing in to some fresh clothes. Afterward Turiel would take Auriel for training and she would spend the rest of the morning and the afternoon with Jona. Afterward she would be allowed time on her own with Auriel to fly, and to explore the lands with which she was to make her home. When the night fell they would have dinner, and then she would have studies before bed. Jona had asked that she read the Elven texts in the library, to have a better understanding of the words of her people. He also asked that she learn the language of the Dwarves, and the Nords. When he was finished he bid her goodnight, and then he left her. 

    When the sun rose the next day there was a sudden, loud noise as a hefty fist battered against her door like it was trying to break it down. "Wakey wakey, lass!" Agron's voice bellowed cheerfully from the other side. "Get yer sword and bring Auriel. I've got some fun in store for us!"
    "Oh, Gods..." Vaedwyn muttered, pulling herself out of bed.
    "The Gods'll no help ye here, lass. Get yer arse out o' bed an' meet me in the courtyard. The snow's stopped, looks quite braw actually!" The sound of footsteps fading away signaled that Agron had left her. 
    Are you awake? Vaedwyn asked, as she finished getting dressed.
    Let sleeping Dragons lie, Auriel muttered, not moving. Vaedwyn rolled her eyes, grabbed her sword and nudged her Dragon as she walked for the door.
    Come on, it's your fault i'm here, you're not leaving me to this...
    I take issue with that line of reasoning, Auriel muttered in response.
    Without flying, the journey here might have taken months, for all we know. So come on, Vaedwyn walked out the door and started down the steps.
    Charming. Auriel stretched out her body, her limbs and lastly, her talons. Then yawned and trundled down the stairs after her partner.

    When they met at the courtyard outside the main doors it had been cleared of snow by Agron. He stood waiting, for the first time free of the armour he had traveled in. Instead he wore brown trousers and a dark blue tunic that was made of thick, warm material and beautifully detailed with intricate knot-like designs. The neck and shoulders held a thick fur line, and he wore similar gloves and boots. In his hand he held Skovaer, and he grinned cheerily as he saw Vaedwyn. "Nothin' like chilly baws tae get ye up in the mornin', eh?" He said with a chuckle. 
    Vaedwyn shivered reflexively and looked around curiously, "I think I prefer the forest." She noted, "But i'll adjust..."
    "Ach ye'll warm up soon enough, lass." Agron said with a grin. He inclined his head upwards, and Turiel emerged from one of the higher roosts, and dropped off the edge, descending in a vertical dive, before finally levelling off and landing behind Agron, his frame curling around his Rider defensively. "Today's sparrin' will be a wee bit different." Agron explained. "Today ye fight as ye should, as Rider an' Dragon. Extra power, an' extra responsibility. Also, I'll be usin' magic as I have been previously. If ye want tae get anywhere, ye better learn quick, or ye'll be hurtin' real bad by the time Jona get's ye."

    A string of curses left Vaedwyn's mouth as she climbed onto Auriel's back, "Warm indeed..." She muttered, "It's colder up there than it is down here!" She held on tight as Auriel launched them into the sky.
    "Just ye wait till the adrenaline kicks in." Agron said with a chuckle. He climbed on Turiel's back and tied the harnesses round his feet. "Now, in a fight in the sky there's a lot o' considerations tae be made. Magic is the main threat, followed closely by tooth, claw an' breath. If ye get close enough tae use yer sword then do so, but I doubt it'll get tae that. Yer lesson today is about strategy. Use wardin' words tae protect Auriel, or a decent Rider'll drop her fae the skies with a click o' his fingers, ken?"
    Nodding silently, Vaedwyn cast an aura over both herself and Auriel, she tried to make it deflective rather than reversing anything. Hopefully that would mean anything striking them would be redirected with enough force to protect them, and at as little a cost to her energy level. Once finished, Auriel turned and banked back down towards Turiel, ready to land on the Dragon and knock him out of the sky before they barely had a chance to pull away from the ground.

    "Och yer no playin' fair!" Agron yelled. He thrust his palm outwards towards Auriel, and unseen force crashed into Vaedwyn's ward like a cannon ball, knocking her from her course long enough for Turiel to launch himself into the sky, flying low over the ruins of the town, and letting out a prideful roar, goading them to give chase. 
    Auriel tucked her wings tight into her body, dropping from the sky. She picked up enough speed, opened her wings and flashed towards Turiel like a bolt of lightning. She opened her mouth and a beam of fire and electricity ripped through the sky towards them. While slower, Turiel had experience on Auriel, and had anticipated her attack. He deftly swerved out of it's trajectory with a spin, and with a beat of his wings he suddenly rose up in a half loop, tilting round to right himself in the air, and came tearing back towards Auriel. With a roar his jaws opened and his fire burst from his jaws, menacing through the air between them like a wildfire burning it's way rapidly through a forest. 

    Auriel flew faster and faster towards the inferno until Vaedwyn was forced to tuck herself tightly into Auriel's body. The fire approached them and at the last second Vaedwyn let Auriel know she was ready. Auriel lent her strength to her Rider, and Vaedwyn held her hand out in front of her, the diamond scar on her forehead glowed as she channelled her magic and reinforced the power of her wards. The fire burst around them, leaving them relatively unscathed, and Auriel crashed into Turiel at speed. The two dragons spun through the air, locked in a frenzy with one another from the impact, and spiraled towards the ground. Gritting his teeth Agron spat a few words in Elvish, and suddenly the snow from the ground rose up, chasing towards them with speed. The snow began to hammer into Auriel, clinging to her body, and covering her eyes, before a final flurry smashed into Vaedwyn's face. Turiel took the opportunity to throw Auriel from him, and hurtled towards the ground, catching the wind just before he hit it, and rising skyward once more. Auriel darted back down towards Turiel as he rose up to meet her, she dodged his raking claws and snatched at Agron, trying to pull him from his saddle as Vaedwyn deflected Turiel's attacks.

    Agron drew Skovaer as Auriel's claws came at him, and with a hefty swing he sliced at her, cutting at her talons and staving off her attack. At the same time Turiel twisted and coiled around Auriel, the claws of his hind legs raking at her scales, his powerful jaws gnashing at her, trying to break through Vaedwyn's wards with sheer, brute force. 
    Vaedwyn did everything she could to try and retain control of their duel but she was no longer focused on attack. She had been forced into switching her attention to maintaining her wards. When Turiel choose to attack them with full force, as Agron sliced at Auriel like an angry mosquito, Vaedwyn found herself unable to maintain them. She felt the warmth leak from her bones like a great crack in a dam. Auriel roared as the ward broke and Turiel's hind leg sliced through her flank, then Vaedwyn found she could no longer hold onto the bar of the saddle, her fingers could not do so much as close into a fist let alone grip, and she fell from Auriel, plummeting towards the ground as she drifted out of consciousness.

    Turiel immediately detached himself from Auriel and backed off as Agron prepared a spell to catch Vaedwyn, but he needn't have bothered. Even with her injuries Auriel was quick to descend and snatch Vaedwyn from the air, and began making her way back to the courtyard, with Turiel and Agron following close behind. When they landed Agron got down from Turiel and approached Auriel as she laid Vaedwyn on the ground. He sighed and knelt down next to her, placing his hands over her chest and head. Drawing energy from Turiel, he began his healing spell, allowing the power within him to flow through into Vaedwyn, and with it he sent her warmth to settle her chilled body. "C'mon lass..." He said, frowning. 
    Slowly, Vaedwyn opened her eyes. But as the rrealizationof what had happened dawned on her she closed them again with exasperation. "I'm so sick of getting tossed about like a feather in the wind!" She griped, "Did it take you this long?" She asked Agron.

    "Longer." Agron replied with a smirk. "Yer trainin' wi' Jona should help. Y'see a battle between two spellweavers is a tricky thing, It's a battle o' the mind more than anythin' else." Agron grabbed Vaedwyn by the arm and helped her up from the ground. "Ye did well for a first attempt. Yer wards are strong but yer funnelin' too much o' yer power intae them. It's better tae create a series of small, delicate wards that each do a simple thing than tae create a big catch all. Deflective barriers are essential at times but they should be a last resort, as they can eat away at yer power. Ye should layer other wards on top o' them that aren't as taxing but can deal with more specific attacks. It helps tae know what yer opponent is thinkin'. Auriel had her defences up, her mind was like a fortress, but dragons are naturally talented at that. Yours was wide open though, lass."

    "But I don't know how to protect my mind!" Vaedwyn growled irritably. "I don't need reminders on what I'm not good at, I need lessons to fix it..." Vaedwyn brushed herself off and adjusted her sword before walking back to Auriel.
    "An' that's exactly what ye'll get." Agron said with a nod. "Go get yersel' some grub and get cleaned up. Meet Jona in the library. I need tae go speak tae Bradan about some things. We'll be headin' out fer a while but we'll be back for tea time, eh."
    "Alright." Vaedwyn nodded sullenly, and left to find Jona. She had a feeling that the past few weeks had meant little. Her real training had begun. She took a deep breath, and quickened her pace, raising her head with a renewed resolution.


    After she had eaten and bathed, Jona met with Vaedwyn in the library while Auriel left to train with Turiel. When Vaedwyn arrived Jona was waiting by a table among the various shelves of books. On the table was a single candle lighting the room, as well as a pot of tea and two cups. He made a motion for Vaedwyn to sit, and poured her a cup of tea. He slid the cup across the table towards her and gave a soft smile. "So, I watched your sparring match this morning. Truly you are a creature meant for the skies. In future you might want to harness your legs, but do not take that as a negative comment, you and Auriel fly well together, you move gracefully with her. I was pleasantly surprised, most novice Riders would have fallen off much sooner."
    "Wonderful. I'll just find a tactic where falling off my Dragon beats Aemon. Maybe if I land on him..." She muttered. Vaedwyn sat down and pulled the cup of tea to her and studied it for a moment before taking a sip. "What was it like?" She asked, looking up, "As a Rider, back then? Every time I've asked Agron he goes quiet."

    "A natural reaction of soldiers who have experienced the cruelty of war." Jona said with a knowing nod. "However, I have promised to give you any answers I can, and so I will tell you." Jona took a sip of the tea and let out an approving gasp, savoring it's taste. Then he placed the cup down and leaned forward on the table. "While Agron is a long-lived man, he has the mind of a short-lived species. He remembers the most recent events with much more clarity then he does the ones further back. He had a happy childhood, a loving mother and father, two brothers and a sister. It might surprise you to hear that his family were carpenters. Agron spent his early years of manhood crafting sturdy and beautiful furniture. Doesn't sound very like the man you know now, does it?"

    "He made furniture?" Vaedwyn's brow raised dangerously high. "I can't imagine that..."
    "Well, we can't all be warriors." Jona said. "However, that all changed when Agron went to see Ethanriel's eggs. When Turiel hatched it was perhaps harder for him than myself. I, of course, am a mutt of sorts. Never truly feeling like I belonged, when Sariel hatched for me it truly was the greatest moment of my life. Agron had a family though, and becoming a Rider meant walking away from his responsibility to them. He had brothers who could take the reigns of the business for him, but it is difficult to leave your family like that. Yet he could not ignore his bond with Turiel, and he soon came to accept his destiny. At this time there were a lot of Riders, and there was procedure in how we trained newcomers. Agron and I were subjected to a busy schedule of training much like what you are going through now, but it was a slower process. Magic, for example, was something we only trained Riders with when they were considered ready. A luxury we do not have currently."

    Jona took another sip of his tea before resuming. "Battles were fought often throughout our life, but none were quite so horrific as the war with Aemon and his Lieutenants. Many lives were lost, and distrust grew like a sickness throughout the nations. People of all races began to tire of the constant hardship, and the Riders felt this as well. With each battle we began to lose a bit of ourselves. So much death takes its toll on even the bravest of men and women. We lost our brothers and sisters slowly but surely, until only a few remained. I still remember the moment where we knew that we could not win this war. During a particularly long and grueling battle we had managed to pin down all three of Aemon's remaining Lieutenants. They were no match for Magar and his dragon, Ethanriel. However, Aemon arrived sooner than we expected. Together with his dragon he killed Magar, and with him Ethanriel, the mother to our dragons, and a great symbol to all the Riders. With her death all remaining hope was bled from us. It saddens me that you could not meet Ethanriel...her wisdom knew no bounds. She seemed to always know what was happening before it did, and while she was a fierce warrior, she was the most gentle of souls."

    "I wish I'd seen her too." Vaedwyn smiled and took a sip of tea before asking another question, "Why did Aemon do all this? And why was he able to overcome so many powerful riders?"
    "That...is a complex question to answer." Jona said solemnly. "But, I will try. First of all you have to understand that Aemon was not always the tyrant you know him to be. In the time of the Riders he was a brilliant man, gifted in magic and swordplay. He was also a very charismatic fellow, well liked by his colleagues. Really...I fear things could have went very differently for him. He was, at one time, a decent man." Jona wrapped his hands around his cup and looked up at the ceiling wistfully. "I did not know him as well as others. He was not of the North like Agron and I, but we each met him on a number of occasions, and he never seemed to be anything other than honest and decent. However, he was born of a time when the Riders were most powerful, and their numbers had swelled. Arrogance and entitlement were always sure to follow. We are not above corruption, and while our order always maintained our neutrality, Riders began to take sides, to favour their own, or those who paid more handsomely."

    "We all share our part in that particular failing. Agron is a proud Nord, he held his people in greater favour than others, even still to some extent, although the war humbled him significantly. It might be difficult to hear this but Agron was not always the man you know, he was once young, arrogant and prideful. He has many regrets...as do I." Jona sighed and shook his head. "Aemon was very vocal about his distaste of the Rider's corruption, and he grew increasingly irritated by the law and order enforced by our leaders. Eventually he won the hearts of many Riders, and rallied them against their own order. By the time they realised that Aemon's righteous thoughts had been twisted to a need for absolute power and control, it was already too late. In the end it was the unwavering goodness in his heart that led him to fall so deeply into the dark."

    "I'm afraid." Vaedwyn replied, "if he was amongst the best of the riders, but still fell to darkness... I'm afraid I have little hope. "
    "Do not let Aemon's path shape your own." Jona said. "Aemon made a choice to walk the path he does. He chose to enforce his vision upon Suros, no matter the cost. Yet you, Vaedwyn, so far I have only seen you stand for the vision of others. Both you and Aemon may have the same values of what is right, but the difference is that Aemon believes that his way is right, and you do not know what way is right, but you try your best for everyone around you. You are a selfless soul, Vaedwyn. Be proud of who you are."
    "I..." Vaedwyn stopped herself and reconsidered her question. She didn't want to talk about that any more. "What about you, Jona? I know so little, if you're to teach me, I'd like to know more about you ."

    "Ah, well there is much I can tell you in that regard." Jona said, brightening with a slight smile. "My mother was born of a Nord man and a dark-skinned human woman, and my father was an Elf. Obviously I was born and raised in Nordúr. My father was a Rider before me, he rode with Krioch. I never saw him very much, he was stationed in the south of Suros. My mother was a seamstress. I tried to make my trade as a hunter before I became a Rider. Afterwards Agron and I became very close. Sariel is Turiel's twin, they shared a close bond and as such so did their Riders. It is fair to say that if Agron was a proud and passionate Nord, then I was quite the opposite. I held little regard for my people when I was a young man. Rather, I was obsessed with proving my worth as a Rider. There was a time when common folk feared me. I say this with no pride in the matter...but I was quite something on the battlefield once upon a time. I killed many, and I rather enjoyed it, shameful as that is to admit. Sariel was my closest friend, I fear I allowed myself to become too much like a dragon. People died by my blade, and I felt nothing, it was just the way of things."

    "That is, until I spent time with the Elves." Jona said with a smile. "It was through their teaching that I learned of the sanctity of life. Yet by that point I had already shed much blood unnecessarily, and it was too difficult for me to stay there with them. I returned to Nordúr as a changed man, but one willing to do the horrible things that were necessary. The war was in full swing by that point, I could not bring myself to live a pacifists life. And then...then I lost everything." Jona winced as if the memories had inflicted him like a physical wound. "I'm sorry...I do not wish to speak of that time any more. Are you ready to begin your lesson?"
    Vaedwyn listened in silence, nodding and watching Jona with a new appreciation for her teacher. She let out a short sigh, "Yes, I'm ready."

    "Good." Jona said with a nod. "Now in order to protect your mind, you must understand what you are protecting against. The link you have formed with Auriel, it is something you can do naturally with her, but in reality the magic itself is something you can do with anyone. Spellweavers can take a great many years to learn such a thing, and there are many more who simply cannot touch another's mind. Yet even those people can be taught the basics of how to protect their own mind from mages and Riders. So, tell me, have you ever encountered it. Have you ever, say, tried to speak with Auriel, and found that you could not?"

    "Yes, there have been times when I tried to speak with her when she was angry or upset and I felt like I was hitting a wall." Something occurred to her, "So can anyone learn to invade a person's mind?"
    "No, only those who can use magic. Something which is quite rare among most folk, but it is a talent inherent in Riders." Jona explained. "Now, Auriel will be naturally very good at blocking her mind. Dragon's think differently, it is easier for them to form the thought of an impenetrable wall, and keep it closed even in the heat of battle. The same technique is what is taught to most people who require it. It is a simple concept, but one that requires a lot of skill. You need to find something that is important to you, something that you can focus on and let it fill your mind, blocking out anything else. Now, there are more advanced techniques but, for now, let's start with the basics." Jona rested his hand on the table. "I am going to reach in to your mind now. It will be painful, as I will be forcing my way through. This is so you can feel it happening, that's important. You must learn to notice that sensation because a skilled spellweaver will enter your mind delicately, and quietly. So, find something to focus on, and then tell me when you're ready."

    "Okay," Vaedwyn concentrated for a short while, then when she was ready, she raised her head, met Jona's gaze and gave him a quick nod, bracing herself as she did so. Jona didn't make so much as a single motion to convey he had begun. He reached out with his mind and quickly found Vaedwyn's. He pushed into her consciousness forcefully, and he saw her visibly wince at the action. Immediately the image of a wall appeared in his mind. It was old, and comprised of stone bricks that were held together with crumbling concrete fixtures. With a single, sudden push the wall crumbled under his will and he could feel Vaedwyn's panic and pain as his will began to rifle through her thoughts and memories like dark tendrils, clawing at her flesh. Focus His voice thundered inside her mind. Do not get distracted. Rebuild your defensives, quickly!
    Vaedwyn concentrated, trying to recoup from the initial assault. She could still feel the presence in her mind, and despite knowing it was Jona, she couldn't help but instinctually want to remove the uninvited intruder to her mindscape. She tried to focus on the wall she had created and tried to reimagine it as she had experienced in Auriel's mind.

    Another wall rose up, barring Jona's path. He nodded approvingly, as this one was crafted much better. It was a solid wall, with no cracks he could find. He tested his will against it and found that he could go no further, but it was not the last trick up his sleeve by far. Suddenly he slammed his fist on the table with a loud bang, and in that instant he felt Vaedwyn's wall crumble. He wasted no time delving deeper in to her mind, rifling through her memories from Baile, forcing her to relive the horrible experience of her defeat by the sorceress who took her eye. Do not get distracted. His voice echoed through her mind. You must close yourself off from the world around you
    Vaedwyn yelped in fear, lashing out. She scrambled out of her chair, reaching for her sword.

    "Peace!" Jona said, holding his hands up as he retreated from her mind. "Calm down, Vaedwyn."
    Panting fervently, Vaedwyn couldn't remove her hand from her sword hilt even though she knew on some level that the woman who had attacked her was probably thousands of miles away. "I can't!" She growled, wrestling with herself.
    "Then you will die." Jona said softly, blunt as it was, his tone was full of sadness. "That will be enough for today. Please go rest until Auriel returns, then fly with her and ease your mind. I will see you at dinner." He stood up from his chair, looking entirely ashamed of himself. "That brought me no pleasure, Vaedwyn. But if one of Aemon's lieutenants reaches into your mind like that, they will not allow you to draw your sword. They will immobilise you and break you, and then kill you." He looked down at the floor for a moment. "When you are ready...I would like to talk about that woman. Her presence...it troubles me."
    "I don't ever want to talk about her again." Vaedwyn growled, pulling her hand slowly from her sword hilt. Then she hurriedly thanked Jona for the tea, and left, feeling ashamed of her inability to protect her mind, and more so, that she found a deep-routed fear of the woman who had attacked her.


  6. When the time came for them to leave, Agron had spent a great deal of time going over the essentials of dragon flight with Bradan, Turiel had an expression of mild irritation and overall annoyance as Agron used him as a prop for his explanations. "So the saddle is necessary cus the scales'll rip right through yer breeks." He said as he indicated to Turiel's large, copper scales. "Now y'see these?" He lifted a set of leather straps that hung loosely at the feet of his saddle. "Normally we tie these tae our feet if we're gonnae be doin' some crazy flying, otherwise ye'll end up fallin' aff, ken? Oh that's 'nother thing I need to 'splain to Vaedwyn. Or Auriel I suppose. See the air get's dead thin the further up ye go. Then it just...stops, ken? The dragon flies too high ye could suffocate, so mind o' that as well. Oh an if a dragon ever does this..." And so he went on and on, listing a variety of situations and scenarios that could ultimately end up in death or serious injury when riding a dragon. Until finally he said, "...but truth be telt, Vaedwyn an' Auriel will keep ye right anyway. Ye can just enjoy the view, ken?"
    "R-Right..." Bradan nodded, seeming to take everything in, but shook his head and quietly muttered, "Is not right... Flyin' Dwarf..."
    "Och, away an' dinnae talk pish!" Agron said, slapping Bradan on the back. "The dragons dae the flyin', no you. Me and Vaedwyn fly jus' as well as a Dwarf does; like a fuckin' rock!" Agron laughed heartily, entirely unaware that he probably wasn't making the Dwarf feel any better. 

    "I noticed it was harder to breath when we came to the tip of the mountain." Vaedwyn placed her supplies on her saddlebags. "But don't worry about it, Bradan."
    "Don' worry?" Bradan laughed, "All ah do is worry these days, girl. Is all a great modern mess! A Dwarf on a Dragon... me mam would pitch a fit."
    "Well ye wanted tae come." Agron replied with a grin. Then he climbed on Turiel's back and got himself settled in his saddle. "Come on then, time's wastin', I want tae reach Luftjall in a week, so we've got a lot o' ground tae cover, even on a dragon."
    Vaedwyn leapt up onto Auriel and sat in the saddle, then shifted forwards so there was enough space for Bradan. "Well come on then, if you're coming!" Vaedwyn laughed. 
    "Gimme a second!" Bradan growled irritability. He tried to come at Auriel from a number of different angles and positions, unsure of how to scale her. 
    Oh for goodness sake, Auriel turned and snatched at Bradan, lifting him from his shirt as a cat would her kitten, then plonked him down behind Vaedwyn.

    "One last thing, a'fore we go." Agron said. "Normally Riders can talk tae each other through our links. But, for now, if ye need tae speak tae me, jus' tell Auriel and she can speak tae Turiel, an' he can relay it tae me, ken?" 
    "I've tried. But I haven't been able to speak with anyone but Auriel." Vaedwyn held the handles of her saddle and readied to fly.
    "Well just speak tae Auriel an' she'll handle the rest." Agron said. He gave an excited grin. "Been a thousan' years since a had someone ride at ma side, am fair chuffed, lass!"
    Then let's go. Turiel said and he let out a soft, crooning call. Then without warning he bounded forwarded, fanning out his wings, and straightening his tail, before suddenly leaping off of the ledge and soaring upwards through the mountain city of Baile, rising almost vertically towards the exit at it's summit. 

    Auriel trumpeted in excitement and leapt into the air, beating her wings swiftly to rise faster and faster as Vaedwyn laughed, gripped tightly around her waist by Bradan who was making the most horrific wailing. In seconds, they beached the mountain top and felt the freezing cold air on their skin. Auriel banked to the side and caught up to Turiel, playfully nipping at his heels as she passed him. Turiel responded by gently flicking Auriel's snout with his tail, which amused him enough to let out a rumbling laugh. This continued for a while, both Turiel and Auriel doing various things to pester one another, and Auriel constantly trying to show off with her speed and grace, which Turiel made a point to ignore wholeheartedly, as a matter of principle. Before long they had been flying for hours. The lush scenery of greens and browns began to shift to a scene of thin plains of snow, and mountainous rocks of blue, gray and slate. Large evergreen trees formed small forest pockets in between the many rocky hills and mountains they passed. 

    Each evening they would make camp and rest. After hunting for food they would sit around a fire and tell stories. Agron continued to train Vaedwyn in swordplay. He began to use Skovaer when fighting her, noting that she would need to understand the power of a Rider's sword, and how to combat it. Each day he began to introduce magic in to their training. Using it to misdirect Vaedwyn, or throw her off guard. 
    Though Vaedwyn slowly progressed with her use of, and knowledge in magic, she found it difficult to adjust to the loss of her left eye. Her depth perception was off, and she had to make a mental adjustment in all her actions, which was at times quite difficult. Most often when Agron pressed his advantage and she found herself cornered. Yet Agron never offered her any respite when they trained. He was as hard on her as he had always been, perhaps harder than before at times. He kept telling her that her enemies would not care about her impaired vision, and would not go easy on her because of it. 

    On the 6th day of their journey, the winds in the mountains of Nordúr had become bitter and biting, especially up in the sky. Snow and hail battered into them, freezing their knuckles and toes, and the dragons could not fly as quickly or as effectively as they usually could. Yet Agron would not allow them to stop for rest and to wait out the storm. He knew they were now so close to their destination. After hours of enduring the dreadful chills of winter, Turiel let out a low, far reaching cry, signalling for them to descend. Though the snow was so thick and heavy they could not see very far, Turiel descended first and Auriel followed. Before long they reached the ground, and in the heavy snow they could see shapes emerging. Old, broken long houses were blanketed in snow. Carts and stalls were left on the sides of the roads, and the destroyed remnants of ancient stone statues lay among the ruined town they now stood in. Agron stepped down from Turiel and trudged through the snow covered ground, stopping short of one of the broken statues. He bent down and swept the snow from one of the pieces, revealing it to be a shattered piece of a dragon's head. "We're here." He called loudly through the heavy snow. He stood once more and looked ahead of the group, deeper in to the ruined town. 

    A hint of something larger lay ahead of them, mostly hidden by the fierce storm. But as they drew closer the shape became clearer. A set of grand, enormous steps led up to what appeared to be a tall, thin mountain. Then as they reached the foot of the steps, the storm began to settle a little. As the snow thinned out in the breeze, a series of lofts began to emerge around the rocks, so high above that they could only be reached from the sky. "Dragon roosts." Agron explained. "The caverns within are dark and deep, perfect for Turiel and Auriel. But the Rider's lived just ahead." He encouraged the group to follow him up the steps, where at the top they stood on a large, round courtyard that looked out on to the town that, at one time, held many people. A large, stone door stood at the base of the pointed rock ahead, it's face carved into a rough but strangely beautiful etching of seven dragons and Riders, all gathered around an 8th dragon, that towered above the rest, a true giant even of it's own race. 

    Vaedwyn hopped off Auriel and covered herself in her cloak. Bradan jumped off and half his body disappeared into the snow. 
    "Oof! Gawds, bloody snow!" He muttered and started to push his way across the snow, while Vaedwyn was able to move across its surface, barely breaching the snow. 
    "Are we here?!" Vaedwyn yelled over the howling wind.
    "Aye!" Agron replied. "This is ma home, lass. An' I hope ye find it fit enough tae be yours tae." He smiled at her, but before they could continue their conversation the doors to the ancient fortress opened. Through the thin crack between the doors a jet of dark grey cut through the snow, bounding towards them at speed. The creature stopped only a few feet from them. The wolf was larger than any seen in the lower regions of Suros. It's bright, blue eyes were deep and penetrating as it watched each of them, wary but unafraid. Then, it padded towards Vaedwyn, staring at her the longest, as if lost in her form. 
    Vaedwyn knelt before the Wolf and ushered it into her arms where she whispered to it as she stroked it's side. When she stood, the wolf stepped back, examining her a while longer before moving away.

    "This is Maugrim." Agron said, more for Bradan's benefit. "He's a big fella but he's a nae harm." Agron approached the wolf and scratched him behind the ear, which Maugrim seemed to enjoy. He let out a soft chuff, and then he walked back towards the doors, and the rest of them followed. Agron pulled the doors open properly so that everyone could fit inside. The doors led to a long corridor lit by torches along the walls. The corridor was wide, and the walls were the same stone as the spire the fortress had been built in to. Along the walls were ancient Nordic runes, carved in decorative stripes across the length of the corridor. Various armors and weapons were mounted to the walls, along with pieces of thick, heavy armor that was too large to be worn by any race but a dragon. Maugrim disappeared down the corridor and stopped short of a man who patted him softly on the head, and turned to greet his visitors. 

    "I have been waiting for you Vaedwyn, Gardwyn vas Auriel" The man said with a soft smile. He was tall with a lightly tanned complexion. His black hair was long and tied back in thick braids, and while his height suggested he was Nord, his muscles were lean and slight. His features appeared more delicate than Nords were meant to have, and while his accent was similar to Agron's it was also eloquent, and delicate. Most notable, however, were the man's ears. They were pointed, like an Elves'. "Welcome to Luftjall, friends of Agron, Gardwyn vas Turie. I am Jona."
    Vaedwyn nodded to the man, greeting him with a bow. Auriel pushed her way through the snow and stood beside Vaedwyn.
    "Ah, you are much more radiant in person, Auriel." Jona said as he gazed upon the dragon, bowing. Then he turned to the rest of his guests in turn. 

    "Bradan, it has been long since I have gazed upon your people." Jona said as he bowed to the Dwarf. "For you to find courage to ride in the sky, where none of your kin have before you, it is truly an honor to meet one such as yourself." He bowed a second time. Before Jona could address Agron, Turiel shoved his head between them and let out a pleasant growl, lowering his head so that Jona could touch him. The Elf smiled and gently placed his hand on Turiel's snout. "Of course, it is a great pleasure to see you again, my old friend." Jona said. Turiel chuffed, closing his eyes in a content, peaceful manner. There was a long pause as Turiel and Jona conversed at length, in the privacy of their minds. Afterwards Jona simply smiled and nodded. Finally he turned to Agron. "Always finding yourself in the heart of excitement, aren't you, my brother?" He said. 
    "It finds me whether ah seek it or not." Agron said with a chuckle. He held out his hand and gripped Jona's firmly, then he pulled the Elf in for an brief embrace. "Sorry ah took longer than expected. A lot has happened."

    "Indeed." Jona said with a nod as he stepped away from Agron. "I have watched your journey through the water. It has been perilous, to say the least. We have much to do, and much to say." Jona wheeled around gracefully and addressed Vaedwyn once more. "I have long wished to have words with you, Vaedwyn. I have many questions for you, and I hope that you will have some for me, as well. But first, you have had a long journey, you must be weary. I must let you get cleaned up, and I will prepare some food. You must all be starving."
    "Thank you, I'm--" Vaedwyn started. 
    "--Bloody starvin', where's this grub then?" Bradan marched on ahead to the bemused expressions of the rest of the party.

    "Small in stature but large in appetite, if I recall." Jona said with a genuine smile. "Please go an explore, Vaedwyn. Our halls once held many, but now there is only myself and Maugrim. You may stay in any room that pleases you. Or, if you prefer, you may live in one of the roosts above, with Auriel. There are less comforts up there, but many Riders enjoyed to rest with their dragons in the past, and you are welcome to do the same if you choose." 
    "Away an' have a look aroun', lass." Agron agreed. "Jona and I need tae catch up. Ye'll like it here. There's a library full o' books about our history, an' there's some songs and poems in there as well. Auriel should be able tae follow ye everywhere, this place was built with dragons in mind." Agron gave her a light pat on the shoulder, and then he, Turiel, Jona and Maugrim all left to follow Bradan and prepare some food. 


  7. As the days passed by Agron saw little of Vaedwyn. Her injuries and defeat had left her vulnerable, and lacking her usual optimism and passion. Equally Agron was torn up by his own failure to uphold his responsibility to her, and the promises he had made to himself to keep her safe. He spent the days busying himself in preparation to leave. He helped the Dwarves in the recovery of this terrible event that had resulted in the loss of many of their proud warriors and guardians, charged with keeping them safe. Unrest washed over the city like a noxious fog, sewing seeds of distrust and bitterness among a race that were renowned for their long-held grudges. The very revelation of Aemon's machinations to covertly manipulate the Dwarven inner council was devastating for the common folk, and sparked outrage in the loyal clan lords, who began to question the effectiveness of their elected King. 

    I must fix this. Agron projected to Turiel as the pair sat on a ledge upon the higher reaches of the underground city, watching people move around below, getting on with their lives. I came here an' spoke o' debts owed, an' the changin' o' the ages, yet in the end it is I who now owe much to these people.
    You know full well that such manipulation takes time and planning. Aemon's dark tendrils has already rooted themselves deep within the rocks before we arrived. Turiel's head lowered and snaked over the ledge, sweeping from left to right, watching over the people below with far keener eyes than Agron. At the very least the subterfuge has been revealed, and King Iron Blood will not rest until he has rid his proud city of the festering weeds that lie deep within it. His title may be the cost he pays, but I feel that will do little to stop him. With the distrust among the clan lords, it will be difficult for them to unanimously decide on a new ruler, and so Iron Blood may yet keep his crown.
    Perhaps. Agron said with a sigh. He got down from the ledge and dusted himself off. I'll speak wi' him. There are other things we need before we leave, an' with luck he may help us.

    Very well, then I shall see that no more of our time is wasted. Turiel replied, rising up to his full height. It is time for the little one to cease her sulking. A duty that lies with Auriel. And so, she too must stop her sulking. Emboldening her, however, is a duty that lies with me.
    Well, I don't want you to push her. She's been through a lot. Agron said. 
    You need not concern yourself with how I choose to train my charge. Turiel replied The breeze has no right to tell the tempest to calm itself. The tempest rages, and so too, do dragons. With that Turiel pushed off from the edge, and descended down through the city, leaving Agron to set off to have words with the King. 


    Turiel found Auriel in the same place he had always found her the last few days, waiting outside the small infirmary room where Vaedwyn had been resting. He approached her slowly, making no effort to hide his presence, and when he reached her side he waited, silently. 
    For a long time, Auriel remained silent, content to remain motionless and still, like a statue. When she finally spoke, it sounded more to herself than Turiel.
    She has not spoken to me in three days, Auriel lowered her head, Her mind has always been a forest, dense and alien. Yet now night has fallen, and it has become an altogether different place. The sounds which comforted me, now in the darkness, make me fearful of what lies within. I failed her.
    That you did. Turiel replied, his voice without any reassurance, and he did not move to comfort her. I sense your shame, and well you should welcome it. It is what you deserve.

    Auriel's talons raked the ground as they dug deep into the stone. Then leave me to my shame, old one. Turiel did not speak immediately, but his nostrils flared and thick plumes of smoke jetted from them, billowing and dancing in the calm, windless air. Then he said, A pity. You chose a strong Rider, one that few, if any, compare to. For her to be tied to a dragon who is weak and pathetic. No...not a dragon. Dragon's do not allow such qualities to infect them. A lizard, then? Is that what you are?"
    Would you like this lizard to scratch out your eyes? To be blinded by one so weak and pathetic would be shameful indeed... Auriel snarled, her gaze never leaving the room she knew Vaedwyn to be in. Plumes of smoke vented from her nostrils as her tail flicked back and forth dangerously. Turiel's amber eyes focused, his pupils becoming tiny, sharp slits. He moved suddenly, and with speed that seemed unnatural for such a large creature. With a throaty growl he snapped at Auriel, and though she was quick to react to his snapping bite, she was not quick enough to move out of his way as his huge frame charged into her, bashing his crested head into hers, before bringing his claws up and swiping her neck, pushing her down to the ground, digging his claws in to her throat. 

    I am not Agron, and I will not tolerate insolent pups! He snarled at her. You will show respect, or you will be punished accordingly. That is how our race operate. You have no right to sulk and lick your wounds, you have no right to snap at elders, and you certainly have no right to threaten, for you are of no threat to me. Clearly you need to be educated, and at haste. Lesson one; when I speak, you listen. When I command, you fulfill it. You will be given no leniency, you will succeed, or you will fail. That is how it will be, always, until you are strong enough to stand against me. Do I make myself clear?
    Auriel scrambled beneath Turiel, her talons lashing out and despite her strength, they barely pierced the surface of his scales. She hissed and snapped at his face, trying as hard as she could to take his eyes. Furious rage took over and her tail lashed out from beneath him and whipped the old dragon across the face, but despite drawing blood from her whip-like tail, despite everything, she was unable to move him. As she reached forwards to bite him again, she was drawn up and slammed against the ground a second time and the wind was knocked from her lungs. 
    Remove yourself from me... She snarled, settling down.

    Either remove me yourself, or yield. Turiel replied flatly. Your demands are meaningless. Only strength will be respected. I could kill you right now, effortlessly. Vaedwyn has grown stronger each day, she excels in ways she does not even realize. She pushes herself with all of her might, she is fire, and more dragon than you. And now she lies broken, her flames dim and dying. That is because while she grows strong, you are still weak. You and Vaedwyn are one, her strength is yours, and your weakness is hers. So, what will you do? Only by becoming strong can you ever hope to stoke her flames.
    Auriel roared at Turiel, her scales smoking and crackling as she struggled beneath him. She stretched, as her muscles tensed, and she began to grow. Her tail lengthened, the wings at her back grew larger and wider, stretching down her back. Her talons lengthened even as her legs stretched out and gripped Turiel's ankles. Her body grew in size as her neck lengthened and broadened, and as she grew her scales seemed to vibrate with electricity. In a matter of seconds, she had reached maturity. Though small for a female, she almost rivalled Turiel in size, yet not in bulk. She latched onto him with her talons and instinctively drew in breath. Crackling electricity danced along her mouth and when she opened her maw, a beam of heat and light, flame and electricity shot out, scorching Turiel from chest to neck.

    With a pained roar, Turiel's jaws erupted in brilliant, white hot fire that coalesced with Auriel's own breath, and the pair of dragons were engulfed in a raging storm of fire, lightning and smoke. Dwarves began to scream and cry out, gathering around the explosive scene. The two dragons thrashed, their limbs and tails whipping in and out of the smoke, until finally Auriel was thrown out of the smoke and crashed on the ground, but quickly got back up, rearing to face Turiel's next assault. He emerged as the smoke began to settle. As his body came in to view his scales on his chest and neck were blackened, with an orange glow and they hissed and sizzled. His eyes were ablaze with fury, his pride wounded, and the pain of his injuries all combined to send his temper soaring. Even with her sudden growth, she could not match the bulkier dragons sheer, brutal strength. Yet when he considered her now, his movements were careful, and far less brazen, for in that instant she had become an opponent worthy of his attention. He stalked her for a moment, snarling and growling, seething with anger at her rebellious and insolent nature. Then, with an annoyed chuffing sound, he lowered his head in a bowing motion, letting his chin sit but a few inches from the ground. Well met, Auriel. He said in an approving tone. At last, we truly meet.

    Auriel reared back, spread her wings, and roared. Her bellowing echoed through the cavernous city of Baile. The Dwarves marvelled as their cups shook, and their seats vibrated. The lamps surrounding Auriel glowed brighter and brighter until the fire inside them shattered the glass. Deep within the Palace, Vaedwyn stirred. 
    Auriel!? Vaedwyn shot up in bed, and started to get dressed. She paused, looking at herself in the mirror. But then she ran out into the hall, and ignoring the protests of the nurses charged down the stairs and ran out into the street as Auriel landed back on her forelegs. Turiel turned, alerted to her presence. When he looked at her, he only let out a soft growl, and stepped aside to let her pass him, for even if he has words, he doubted he could yet reach her mind. 

    Vaedwyn paused just long enough to nod to Turiel, before running to Auriel. She had to lower her neck for Vaedwyn to be able to touch her muzzle, and Vaedwyn looked into Auriel's eyes, each of which were nearly the size of her head. She was magnificent, regal and powerful all at once. 
    You've grown, Vaedwyn smiled weakly, "Even I can see that..." 
    Do not be sad, Vaedwyn. Two eyes, one eye, it matters not. You are my Rider, Auriel replied, pressing the side of her head into Vaedwyn's chest.
    Our journey has barely begun, but I don't even recognise myself in the mirror any more... She took a deep breath and let it out.
    Good, Auriel replied, Then we are stronger than our past selves.
    Next time will be different, Vaedwyn stated, thinking of the masked woman, Next time, we'll be ready...

    In the higher reaches above the scene Agron watched from a ledge as the events unfolded. At the resolution of it all, he could not help but force a small smile. Then he turned away, leaving Vaedwyn to have her moment on her own, and he made his way towards the palace to confront Eirnin. He was greeted to a greater display of security than he had saw previously, with the guard patrols trippled in number. Fortunately he was welcomed inside and made his ways through the halls to find Eirnin. The King was not sat upon his throne as usual, but was in the middle of speaking quite passionately with a unit of Dwarven warriors. The palace seemed bustling with activity, and it was clear that Eirnin was not taking recent events lying down. He stopped speaking as Agron approached, and quickly relieved the guards and turned to greet the Rider. 
    "A see yer gettin' yer hands dirty, Sire." Agron said with a greeting nod and a soft smile. "If there's anythin' I can dae tae help, be sure tae let me know afore we leave."

    "There's noo a thin'," King Eirnin replied gruffly, he looked as though he'd been missing sleep. "Ah've given call fer m'folk t'up an' leave Baile, with ye both leavin' an' with an agent o' Aemon skulkin' about, we've not enough t'defend a'selves with. But we'll be alright, Baile will home the Dwarves again." A paper was handed to the King as he spoke, and he signed it and focused back on Agron, "But now a'think about it, there's a couple thin's yeh coul' do."
    "Name them." Agron said with a dutiful nod. "An' I'll see tae it that they're done."
    "Ah would've asked Moira t'make 'em, may the stone take 'er an' bind 'er..." Eirnin seemed to become sullen for a moment, but picked up, "But, first... ah've had ar'smiths make youn' Vaedwyn a light armour, somethin' fer everyday use. Ah'd ask she wear it tonight, afore ye leave, there's a celebration in 'er honour, an' in yeh own. The Clans've decided, Vaedwyn will be named Dwarf-kin, an honour that's not been given in a thousan' yers."

    Agron was silent for a moment, biting back an urge to say something, but then he thought better of it. He nodded in response. "A'm sure she'll be honoured. I'll see that she gets it. Thank ye...but perhaps I can ask for a few things in return?"
    Eirnin's expression shifted as he watched Agron, "Yeh don' approve, Rider..."
    "I don't." Agron replied, but seeing Eirnin's expression he was quick to add; "No disrespect, Sire. Yer people are a fine bunch, an' they've had a profound impact on Vaedwyn. It's...just who I am. Riders of ma time, s'much as they tried, always got tangled in politics, an' allegiances. It was a costly error. Yer sentiments are sound, an' I know ye dinnae dae this tae manipulate her, but Riders live long. When yer reign ends, who's tae say yer successor feels the same way? Or the one after that, for that matter. I dinnae wish tae see her make promises tae people, only tae have it used against her further down the line. But...it's her decision. Old as a am, ma view is jus' as jaded as anyone elses. So indulge an old man in his worries, an' let's leave it at that. I'll no stand in yer way."

    Eirnin nodded quietly, "Right'," he muttered, "Ah can see why that'd give yeh pause." He breathed deep and considered for a while, "It's not been done b'fore, but ah'll say it clear when 'r if she accepts, none can hold sway o'er the Riders. She may become a part o' us, but she owes us none, an' we her much. An' what is yeh requests, Agron?"
    "The first is simple enough." Agron said. "Auriel needs a saddle. I've got the coin fer it, I just need it made. Ye might need tae take her measures, though. She's...grown a fair bit." He gave a soft chuckle. 
    "Yeh coin're useless 'ear, Rider." Eirnin shook his head, "Not a word from me, but ah'd wager there's not ah Dwarf'd accept yeh money if ye dipped it in whiskey. Yeh'll have yer saddle by dawn, an' no later. Is'er anythin' else?"

    "Aye, an this yin is a bit trickier." Agron said. He removed Skovaer from his back and place it in Eirnin's hands, the great claymore being more than twice the height of the Dwarf. "Check the blade an ye'll no doubt ken what this sword is. The works from yer forge are spectacular, but they'll no stand up against a Rider's blade. Vaedwyn will need one, an' the ways in which it's made is lost tae even me. But I'm no master smith. Tell me, is it within yer skill tae make such a blade?"
    Eirnin loosed a deep muttering in Dwarvish, the likes of which should not be repeated, "Ah've heard 'em say a Rider's blade was such but i'd dare not believed it meself..." He studied the blade for a few minutes, drinking it in. Looking over every inch of the weapon. "There's much wi'in are power, Rider. This ain't it. There's things needed fer such a blade. Moira could'a told yeh what... there's only one left alive now tha' could, Moira's teacher, an' he an't held a hammer since Aemon took 'is wife an' bab."

    "I understand." Agron nodded. "But could he be convinced tae make exception? I would'nae ask if it weren't important." 
    "Yeh'd have t'ask 'im yehself," Eirnin replied, and whistled for the attention of the nearest guard. He spoke to the Dwarf in a hushed voice, and the guard ran from the palace at speed. A few minutes passed, and the guard came back with another stood beside him.
    "Yeh summoned me, King?" Bradan asked, stepping forwards, a frown etched on his brow. 
    "Bradan...you're the one who..." Agron lt out a soft chuckle to himself. "I should o' known." Agron quickly reiterated what he had said to Eirnin, and allowed Bradan to also examine Skovaer. When he had finally finished he said. "I'm aware o' yer situation...but I still have tae ask, can you do it, Bradan? For Vaedwyn."
    Bradan examined the sword from a distance, as he tamped his pipe, lighting it before taking a long draw. As he exhaled the smoke, he gave his answer, "No."

    Agron let out a heavy sigh through his nose. "I...am disappointed, Bradan. Sure enough a' understand yer reasons, an' I'll respect yer choice, but should ye reconsider at any time, be sure tae find us. This is'nae just something I want fer Vaedwyn. She needs it, ken?"
    "'Cus ah were ah stupid ape, an' wanted t'live above groun' with the sun on m'back an' tha grass 'tween muh toes, ah fought m'wife, told 'er tha' Baile was not a place fer raisin' a bab, tha' we could live free in the woods." Bradan replied, "An we did, yes. Fer a while, an' then Aemon's soldiers swept o'er the wood, lookin' fer Baile an' the remnants o' the rebels. Didn't matter we weren't with the rebels, that we were peaceful. Didn't matter that ah told Aemon 'isself that i'd ne'er make another sword again fer as long as ah live, but fer him. Ah stood there, an' swore i'd do whatever 'e asked, jus' t'let 'em go. Know what 'e did, Agron?" Bradan's nostrils were flaring wildly as the pipe hung loosely from his trembling lips, dropping to the floor as he grew in volume and speed, "Aemon took mah wife an' fed 'er t'tha great brute o' 'is an' still I tol' 'im i'd do anythin' fer 'im, i'd spy an' steal an' kill an' make him an' army o' m'Clan, an' he fed m'daughter t'the beast..." Bradan's hands were trembling uncontrollably, "It didn' matter t'him. Aemon didn't care what ah did. He wanted a blade, an' ah made 'im one. He took mah wife, mah daughter, an' ah made 'im a sword! An' then 'e tried t'kill me wi' it!!" Bradan undid the piece of armour he wore over his chest, letting it drop to the floor with a clatter, and then lifted his shirt. A terrible scar ran up through his belly, winding a path like an errant river.

    Agron let his head drop to his feet. He felt shameful for asking Bradan to do such a thing. He felt shameful for pressuring a broken man that had already suffered so much. And he also felt shameful, knowing that even with this knowledge, he would continue to press him. "Bradan...ye need explain no further. I understand all the reasons why ye refuse the request, an' I can only hope that ye understand an' forgive me for pressin' the matter, but ye know that a must." Agron looked the Dwarf in the eyes, and his gaze was pained but steely with resolve. "The fact that Aemon carries a Rider's sword only reinforces ma request. Vaedwyn needs a worthy blade if she is tae face that man and his army. She has nae hope without it."
    "Ah couldn' do it if ah wanted!" Bradan yelled, "Ah don' have th'metal, or the runes, or the know-how! It's lost t'me, Agron, don' yeh understan?!" He growled at Agron, "Tha' monster reached into m'head an' stole the knowledge from me, along wi' the faces o' mah wife an' child, jus' so i'd not remember 'em afore ah died. But ah survived an' now ah can't even tell yeh the colour o' mah wife's hair!!" Bradan's face turned red and tears began streaking down his cheeks. "Even if ah wanted to ah can't..."

    Agron put his hand on Bradan's shoulder, and he nodded in empathy. "Say no more, friend." He said softly. "If it cannae be done then so be it. When the time comes, I'll face that bastard masel' if I have tae, an I'll make sure he pays for what he's done tae ye."
    "Metal, runes, knowledge," Bradan repeated these three things, "Yeh find 'em... yeh'll know where t'find me." Bradan looked at his pipe on the floor, then turned and left them and it behind. 
    Eirnin sighed and rubbed his temples, "Tha' man 'as suffered worse'an most. Do as he says, an' maybe a sword can be forged. Nothin' more can be promised. Ah'm tired, Rider. Take yeh things an' ready yer ward, fer tonight we celebrate. But for now, leave me t'mine."
    "Aye." Agron said with a nod to both of them. "Thank ye, both o' ye." With another nod he turned and left the men, and decided to make his way back to Vaedwyn. In the morning, with luck, she would be ready to continue their training.


  8. They returned, briefly, to their quarters where Agron retrieved Skovaer and strapped the great blade to his back. He also took a short sword and attached it around the belt at his hip. He had removed his weapons inside Baile as a courtesy to the Dwarves, but the time for courtesy had long passed. "Arm yersel', lass." He said to Vaedwyn. "All ye can carry and use comfortably. I'll no have us bein' caught wi' our pants round're ankles again." He retrieved a small dagger from his belongings and slid it in to his boot. 
    "Do you think we'll be attacked again?" Vaedwyn asked, as she tied a quiver to her back, and then shouldered a longbow.
    "Perhaps, but it's best tae be prepared aw the same, lass." Agron said. They left their quarters and when they returned to the streets outside Turiel and Auriel were waiting for them. "Turiel, I'll need ye tae keep watch o'er us. If we're followed, let me ken." The dragon nodded in response, and without another word he turned and took off into the skies. Bradan was also waiting for them, puffing on his pipe as usual. 

    "Howya, Vargr?" Bradan asked, taking one last puff of his pipe before knocking out the still-burning ash.
    "What did you call me?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning.
    "Vargr..." Bradan repeated the word, tamping his pipe. "Don' tell us ye don' know Vargr?" Bradan scowled, looking to Agron with a look of expectation, then pointed the end of his pipe at the man, "Ye great dope, why ain't ye learnin'er Dwarvish 'istry?!" 
    "Oh aye, course." Agron nodded. "I telt her about the last thousan' years o' yer contributions tae Suros, that is tae say, fuck all."

    "Ah ye a dry shite..." Bradan muttered irritably, "Ahright then, lissen, long afore 'em pointy-ears turned up - yeh soun' though," He pointed out to Vaedwyn, "An' way long afore any o' 'em tall folk turned up, it were jus' us an' the scalies, right? An' they were'no bound scalies like what y'are, right? Were meaner 'en mean. Killed an' scoffed us, an' are sheep an' such, an' our crops an' homes... Well, ye get the idea. Anyway, chief o' these scalies was one, 'is scales were black as night, an' he brought great storms with 'im. Crackin' lightnin' an' thunder like ye ne'er believe. We thought we'd all be scoffed, bu'then one day a young girly was at pickin' flowers, an' there was this great scaly, ready t'just scoff her, right? Well this great black dragon swept down, an' killed the other one and spoke with the girl."
    "But..." Vaedwyn interrupted, "Only Riders can hear Dragons...?" 

    "Will'ye let me tell yeh?!" Bradan growled, huffing. "So, this dragon says to the girl, that ye'll bring the Clans together, an' be Queen o' the Dwarves. First o' the line." 
    "What was the dragon's name?" Vaedwyn asked, captivated by the story. At this, Bradan frowned.
    "Well, I... well... there's..." Bradan chuckled uncomfortably, "I don't... there's no names given Dragons in our stories, sorry girl."
    An oversight we will have to rectify. Auriel replied, which Vaedwyn repeated.
    "Ah-- aye." Bradan smiled, "Point is, are first Queen's name jus' so happened t'mean, 'One-That-Watches'. Now, tha' name was only given t'one after, thousands a' years ago. Ye once leader o' the Riders, as a sign o' respect. But, since ye took that blade in ye chest, i've heard none but speak ye name 'Vargr'. The one that watches o'er all."

    Agron folded his arms and rolled his eyes, unimpressed. After a moment he cleared his throat to speak. "She has a name, an' it's Vaedwyn. A fine name it is, an' if she's tae be remembered, it should'nae be by the name o' some long dead Queen."
    "Yoo shut'chu fookin' mout!" Bradan growled, getting genuinely quite angry at Agron, "Ye Dragon made it clear back 'der that he's the sensible one, but i'd no realised you were so quick t'chuck mud on the fledgling respect are folk 'ave given ye, long overdue though it were, they's tryin'!!" Bradan huffed smoke through his nose, turning to face Vaedwyn, "Took all the--" Bradan muttered, while pulling something from his back, "--fun-suckin' tree-legged--" He walked up to Vaedwyn and thrust a weapon into her hands. "Have it, and may yeh stick'im widdit first!" Bradan growled, and then marched off down the steps towards Moira's house, content to walk alone for a time. Vaedwyn held the longsword in her hands for a time before she unsheathed it. The work was exquisite, incredibly sharp and lighter than the standard sword she'd been using. It was not a Rider's sword, but it had to have been a gift fit for royalty. Vaedwyn turned to Agron as she fitted her new sword to her belt.

    "Why did you have to say it like that? He was being kind. They're all being kind! We came here to seek safety and build some kind of relationship with the Dwarves, and you're still spitting venom at them. We have to learn to forgive, Agron!" Vaedwyn adjusted the bow on her back and waited for Agron, showing him she was ready to go. Agron walked with her, and as he did he explained his previous comments. "I've nae quarrel wi' Bradan." He said, shaking his head. "But that stunt ye pulled back there, it has ramifications. Whether ye meant it or no, back then ye showed just what kind o' Rider ye are. Ye scoffed at their traditions, their ways, an ye made it clear yer status as a Rider put ye above them. Other Riders were like that, including Aemon. That's no tae say I think poorly of yer decision, far from it. But ye need tae decide how people are gonnae see ye. Sure, I could compare ye tae the old tales of ma people, and yer the spit of Mahveir, another Elven Rider. But dae ye want people tae remember ye as the legacy o' someone that came afore ye, or dae ye want tae be remembered as Vaedwyn?" 

    Agron let out a huffing sigh and resigned himself. "Maybe a spoke oot o' turn. It's yer own decision in the end. But I'll warn ye against placatin' tae the wants of others. Make enough promises an' sooner or later ye'll find yerself caught between loyalties. It's a treacherous game, but it's one ye have tae play. Like it or not yer words carry weight."
    "I've promised nothing but to dethrone Aemon." Vaedwyn replied, "As for being remembered, I don't care. History will choose to remember me as it likes, I won't be able to stop or change that but by my actions, not by who i'm likened to. They mean it only as endearment to a figure they care about."
    Even so, Agron has a point. You must be careful. Auriel added, walking behind them slowly, so as to keep pace. The Dwarves seem quick to praise, and quick to forget when needed most...
    Bradan wouldn't forget us, Vaedwyn replied irritably.
    We barely know him, Auriel replied. Just listen to Agron, Turiel and I. We're on your side. You're the Rider, if you say we are to fight, then we will fight. If you say we are to flee, then we shall flee. But you will take my council.
    Always, Vaedwyn replied, apologising. "I'm sorry." Vaedwyn said aloud, at last, glancing at Agron, "I'm just trying to figure things out."

    "Aye, no easy task." Agron said with a nod. "The Rider's tales are excitin', and they fill hearts wi' hope an' passion. But they're jus' tales, lass. Don't ye go thinkin' we had it all figured out. History paints us as a united clan that held dominion o'er all, but life's rarely so simple. Sororheim Makirog, they were the Rider's o' Luftjall, maself included. Make no mistake, we were Rider's o' Nordúr, first an' foremost. There were other fortresses, other Riders, an' while each made a dutiful effort tae help all o' Suros, there were times when we didn't see eye tae eye. The Elven, fer example, concerned themselves very little wi' the affairs o' others. Yer very different fae yer kin, y'ken?"
    "Am I?" Vaedwyn shrugged her shoulders, "I've never seen Valir, I wouldn't know. Mogwé..."  Vaedwyn hesitated on her adoptive mother's name. "She, uhm... she said once that people in my village aren't like other Elves. She said it would be difficult for me... if I ever met Valirian Elves, that is."

    "Aye, I imagine it would, lass." Agron nodded. "Took me a very long time tae get used tae it. Aw the pleasantries, the bowin', and dinnae get me started on the bloody dancin', eywis dancin', could'nae stop 'em!" Agron let out a hearty chuckle and the pair fell into a brief silence, as they came across Moira's home, where Bradan waited. Agron nodded to the Dwarf as he met him. "Du'vrit or vasr knovar, Bradan." He said in the Dwarves own tongue. It was an apology. He pushed open the door of Moira's house and lowered his head as he stepped through the door. 
    As Agron, Vaedwyn and Bradan stepped into Moira's home, they were greeted with Moira's corpse. Vaedwyn noticed that it had been unmoved, untouched. Being in the room again made her feel sick. She wanted to run out as quickly as she could. But she knew she had to stay. She glanced at Moira's still-staring head which lay several feet from her body.

    "Why hasn't she been buried?" Vaedwyn asked, turning away. 
    Bradan shook his head with disgust, "Dwarves who were disgraced don' get teh sit amongs' the stone. She'll rot there 'till there's naught left bu' bones." Despite what had transpired between them, Vaedwyn felt pity for the woman. She didn't understand why she'd attacked her, but it didn't matter. If there's an afterlife, she shouldn't be refused. She was dead now, she'd paid enough. Something caught her eye, and she looked to the back of the room. There was a closet, and something was sticking out from the bottom of the closet door which was slightly ajar. Vaedwyn drew her blade and approached.

    "Careful, girl!" Bradan warned, his hand already on his axe. Vaedwyn nodded and then grabbed the door of the closet and pulled it open swiftly. Before she could react, she was pinned to the floor and let out a yell in surprise. But Bradan and Agron moved quickly to pull her attacker off her. It was a body. It was Moira. 
    "But then... what's... what or who is that?" Vaedwyn asked, turning to look at the decapitated corpse. Just then, a noise made everyone in the room spin back around to the closet, and from behind a layer of coats, stepped down a young Dwarven girl, no older than twelve or thirteen.
    "Aw gawds, is Moira's snapper, Aoife. Nobody gave 'er a thought..." Bradan knelt down and held out his hands, but the girl remained frozen. Her eyes staring off into space. "Ahright 'der girl," Bradan delicately picked her up and put her face into his chest, shielding her from her mother's body and the decapitated doppelganger. "Poor thin' musta seen it all an' got trapped in there with 'er an all..."

    Agron let out a growl of disapproval at the situation. "Take the wee lass intae another room, eh?" He said as he knelt down over the doppelganger's corpse. "A lassie should'nae hauf tae see this." He began to examine the corpse, turning his face away from the group. A sensation of overwhelming guilt washed over him. How could he have been so mistaken? A deep frown emerged over his face and he became deathly silent. 
    Bradan nodded and carried the girl into the kitchen, while Vaedwyn knelt down beside Agron, "So it wasn't Moira that tried to kill me?" Vaedwyn asked, her gaze turning from the doppelganger to Moira's body and back again. They looked identical, how was that possible? Agron rubbed at his beard for a moment, silent as he cast his eye over the corpse. It was identical to the real thing in every way. Even a twin wouldn't look as perfect. 

    "S'worse than a thought." Agron said finally. "Somethin' like this is'nae just a danger tae us, it's a danger tae all the Dwarves. This here, lass...this is some serious magic. No a trick or an illusion." He gently prodded the face of the corpse as he spoke. "Flesh shaped and contorted. Brutal and painful fer the subject. What lies underneath...impossible tae tell. Could be 'nother Dwarf, or somethin' else."
    "Poor Moira..." Vaedwyn muttered, "I didn't even know she had a child." Her gaze turned to the kitchen as she wondered about the girl's future. She couldn't even imagine what it would be like for her going forwards. "Does this mean that Aemon is directly involved?" 
    Aemon, one of his lieutenants or perhaps a particularly powerful mage? Auriel replied after the images of the room were shared back to her across their link. A dark thing, indeed.

    "Let's no jump tae conclusions. We've done enough o' that already." Agron said. "Search her body. There might be somethin' that can lead us tae whoever orchestrated this."
    "It wouldn't be very smart to leave something that could be traced back to a Clan Lord." Vaedwyn replied, as she leant over and tried to turn the doppelganger's body onto it's side. 
    Unless they were sure it would succeed, Auriel replied grimly. 
    As Vaedwyn pulled, she yelped and darted back as the corpse turned grey, cracks spread across the body and even the clothes she wore, and then the body fell in on itself, turning to ash. Vaedwyn let a string of Elven curses fly before she regained her composure. Her yells brought Bradan back into the room, having left the young Aoife in the kitchen. 
    "Wha'whassit?! How're--" Bradan was shocked into silence.
    "She just..." Vaedwyn shook her head, unable to find the right word. But something glinted and gleamed from amongst the ash. Carefully, Vaedwyn reached forwards and grabbed hold of a small metal ring with a symbol of a ram's head on it. "Look." She passed it to Bradan who growled a curse and then spat on the ground.
    "Duinn. Clan Duinn. Them feckin' evil..." Bradan gathered himself, reminded that there was a young child in the next room, "Well... what noo?"

    "We confront 'em." Agron said as he rose. "Their Clan leader better have a guid explanation fer-" He cut off from what he was saying. 
    Agron, something is happening. Turiel's voice echoed in his head. 
    What's goin' on? Were we followed?" Agron asked. 
    No...but there is a lot of activity. Guards lie dead at the palace. Turiel replied gravely. 
    "Piss an' shite!" Agron swore. "Bradan, blood's been shed at the palace. Go, protect yer kin. An' Vaedwyn..." He paused, his lips tightening. He knew Vaedwyn would not like what he was about to say. "Take care of the wee yin, I'll deal wi' this."

    "I can't let you deal with this yourself, you don't even know what's happening! There could be anything up there, you don't know!!" Vaedwyn yelled, as Agron ran for the door, she chased after him. As Agron crossed the threshold he turned around and barred Vaedwyn's passage, his figure like a mountain in front of the small Dwarven door. "Yer not ready fer a battle, Vaedwyn. Ye can duel admirably, but in a battle against who knows how many opponents, ye've nae idea how differen' it is. Stay close tae Auriel, an' help the people here. I'm no askin' ye, I'm tellin' ye." There was a thunderous crunch from outside, and when Agron left the home Turiel was waiting outside. He heaved himself on to the dragon's back and looked back at Vaedwyn, and he looked saddened by his own actions. Then Turiel took off into the air and left Vaedwyn alone with Auriel. 

    "I'm not waiting around any more," Vaedwyn growled, checking the sword Bradan had given her. She paced around the room for a few seconds, weighing up her options. But she'd already made up her mind. Vaedwyn rushed for the door, only for the room to suddenly be cast in shadow as a large body landed in front of it. 
    I didn't wait a thousand years for you to get yourself killed, Auriel stated, simply. 
    Enraged at the betrayal, Vaedwyn opened her mouth to curse at Auriel, but she was unable to say 'I hate you!' in Elvish. It was simply not true. As her mouth tried to form the words it was as though she had forgotten them, frustrated by the barriers of her own language, she yelled, "I'm very angry with you!" And to her surprise and satisfaction Auriel recoiled, stung by her words. Vaedwyn stalked back to the dining table and sat in one of the chairs.
    "I-Is it safe to come out yet?" Asked a quiet voice from the kitchen. Vaedwyn turned to see Aoife waiting in the doorway, and suddenly all her anger and bile washed away as she was reminded that some more than others needed protecting. She held out her hand and the little girl ran into her arms and together they sat, waiting for Agron's return.

    Turiel tore off across the city at speed, and in only a few short minutes he had reached the castle. They landed at the steps and Agron hopped off, drawing the short sword at his belt. Turiel sniffed the air and growled in disapproval. Blood, he said. ...and...a wicked stench. Our enemies are within. He craned his head towards the palace entrance. 
    "Go." Agron said with a nod, and in response Turiel let out a clicking snarl and bounded forward. His wings spread out and he was airborne once more, descending into the depths of the palace. Agron ascended the steps, stopping to observe the corpses of the slain guards. They had been wickedly ravaged, not just by blade, but by magic. Agron let out a curse and kept going. He reached the gates and disappeared inside. More corpses greeted him as he passed through the great halls, and as he heard Turiel's blood curdling roar he quickened his pace. He sprinted through the doors of the main hall and emerged on a bloody scene. Turiel was stalking around in the corner of the room, sniffing and snarling. More guards lay slain, and a few of the Clan chiefs were cowering, shaken from their ordeal. Eirnin stood over a body, a great hammer clutched in his strong hands. He turned when Agron approached him, and his expression was one of grave and furious anger. 
    "Yeh too late, Rider." Eirnin said between breaths, "Duin's Clan Lord's dead."

     


  9. Mere hours had passed, but it was long enough that Agron had sobered himself. It had taken time to gather the clan chiefs, and more time afterwards for them to confer on their own. Eventually the enormous doors to the great hall opened, and it was Bradan who met with Agron and Turiel, and escorted them once more through the enormous room. There was no wonder or merriment this time. They walked in silence, and before long they ascended the steps to the throne. Turiel leaped the height and length of them with little effort, and when Agron joined him at the top, the mighty dragon moved around him, and sat at the edge of the stairs, barring anyone the chance to leave the way they had came. The room was completely silent, the clan chiefs looking to one another, some a little nervous, and then their eyes finally fell to the King. Agron folded his arms across his chest, but he said nothing. All that he wanted to say was written on his face. His eyes were dark and furious, and they demanded an explanation. 

    "Ah can make no apology t'make up fer this," King Eirnin spoke at last, adjusting his seating on the throne, "A terrible business, but wha' would ye ask o' me, Rider?" Agron took his time when answering. A ripple moved across his mouth as he chewed on his tongue, his eyes narrowed for a moment. 
    "And what use is a request tae ye?" He replied, finally. "Barely a day gone and I find daggers thrust in oor backs. Vaedwyn, ma charge, near lost 'er life, an wi' it any hope o' stoppin' King Aemon. An ye haud yer hands up at me, aw aye, terrible business, awfy sorry pal, what kin a dae for ye. Ye owe me much, an' so soon tae. Keep this up an ye'll be bankrupt by the weeks end."
    The King sat stoic upon his throne, weathering the insults, when Agron paused, he sat forward and held his hands up, "Should a King be held responsible fer all his kin, so? If ye wish it, exact ye vengeance on me, would it make ye feel better, Rider. I've already lost two a'mine, s'don' think yeh alone in this evil. Ah don' know wha' made 'er, but Moira took tha' life o' a young ma, an' ah find it herd t'believe tha' Moira, who was'a pillar o' tha community, could do such a thin' but there we are. She did."

    "Tha's exactly what a King should be held responsible fer!" Agron snapped, his anger rising. "That is yer burden, an' may ye feel it's weight on yer shou'ders for aw o' yer reign, and then some years after. But killin' ye helps nae'body. Moira's dead, an they'll be nae tears sheddin' fae ma eyes fer her. A came here tae keep Vaedwyn safe, but a've brought her tae the viper's pit. Naw, we'll be takin' oor leave. But just ye mind what a said tae ye. I said Aemon wis gonnae come knockin', didn't I? Well take a guid look aroun' ye, cause he's awready here."
    "I see." The King nodded, considering Agron's words, "She were alone? Neither o' ye would take ah guard, so she had ah dragon so?" Eirnin paused, raising an eyebrow expectantly, "No?" He frowned, "So I see, then. Ah shoulda known ma blacksmith o'er hundred and FORTY FECKIN' YERS WAS AH..." The King panted, trying to control his rage, and took a deep breath, "... was ah spy fer Aemon, ah worse yet, he did somethin' with 'er." The King let out his breath and wiped his nose with the back of his hand, "Ah don't know yeh pain, Agron. Here, i'll do as ah can. But if yeh want, so go? Ah won' stop ye."

    "Ah...there it is." Agron said. "Fear. Guid, at least ye've sense enough fer tha'. Well, a hope it keeps ye wary enough tae survive what's tae come. If ye'd caught me on a better day, a might've helped, but Vaedwyn is far too important. That's what ye failed tae grasp, Eirnin. She's the on'y chance we have." Agron shook his head. He turned and walked back towards the steps, and as he reached Turiel he stopped, waiting for the dragon to step aside. When he did not, Agron put his hands on his hips. Just what are ye daein'? We're leavin', now.
    The blame is shared. Turiel replied, and he did not so much as budge. You were reckless. If Vaedwyn had died, it would have been your fault just as much as it was any of these people.
    Turiel, get out of ma way, now. Agron projected sternly. Turiel's head lurched forward like the crack of a whip. A thunderous roar filled the hall, shaking the foundations and echoing for almost a full minute after. Agron stepped back, scowling at the great beast. He let out a heavy sigh and rubbed his nose, before turning back around to face the king. 

    "I think..." Agron turned his head and gave a cursory glance at Turiel, scowling at him once more, before turning back. "I think he wants a word. Will ye hear 'im?"
    "If'n 'e has a touch more respec' fer moi King tha' yoo, tha'--" Bradan pointed accusingly at Agron. 
    "Enough, Bradan. The man's u'set, leave 'im be. Speak yeh mind, Dragon." The King leant back on his throne and waited patiently for the Dragon's words to come rolling out of Agron's lips. Agron nodded, and there was a pause. Agron seemed to be communicating silently with Turiel for a moment, and then he took a deep breath, and closed his eyes, concentrating. His eyes remained closed, but Turiel brought his head closer, so that it sat in the space above Agron's, his eyes ever watchful. 
    "Greetings to you, Iron Blood. I am Turiel." The words came from Agron, and it was still very much his voice, but he had lost his thick accent, replaced by one more commanding and regal. "Son of Ethanriel, The Great Northern Squall, Dragon of the Sororheim Makirog. Make no mistake, to speak directly with me is a privilege awarded to few, and it is one I extend to you, and yours." Turiel turned his head to gaze at each of the clan chiefs, and finally to Bradan, before turning back to the King. "Agron speaks with anger, but do not fault him, for his kind are young, and are slaves to their emotions. All who stand here have sworn to protect Vaedwyn, oaths spoken freely, or implied through service. All of us have failed to uphold that oath, myself and Agron included. I propose that we do not waste time further lingering on who is to blame, and accept our parts in this, each of us. A disease infects your proud city. Let us cleanse it, together."

    "This is no fer me t'answer, Copper King, yeh've got m'sword whether the Lords agree t'help or not, but ye would suffer greatly wi'out it." King Eirnin turned to face the Clan Lords, "An' yoo?!" He asked in a loud voice, "Have yoo no shame? No a word a'tween yeh, that ye stan' silent... but as it is..." The King shook his head and sighed, "Clan Lords, yeh've the right t'refuse, bu' ah urge yeh... help 'em." 
    "The Clan Lords will vote." One of the Dwarves spoke up, "D'we lend our resources, time an' more or leave th' rude, ungrateful grasslanders t'the'selves? Speak."


    "Clan Mordha denies support a'them what spits fire at our backs."
    "Feck th' lot o' ye, Clan Craith denies ye."
    "Our Clan Padraag supports ye, Rider. Ye have quartz fer'blood."
    "Faolain wi' ha' none o' this shite."
    "Clan Aodenn lends ye what we can, so." 
    "The great Clan Dufaigh says yeh've wax in ye box if ye refuse t'help. Ye have ours."
    "Baoill ne'er refused a Rider afore, an' we won't stop now." 
    "Ya are all feckin' mad, ya are. Duinn will have no part in it."
    "Bhaine offer ye our help, Rider, an' may they fear it."
    "The Clan Conmara are at'ye side, Rider."
    "But we'll not. Clan Dunvar stand apart."
    "Aye, nor we. The Clan Yuul will no help a Nordling an' his mad beastie."


    "Six against six. The Lords are tied o' their support?" The King raised his brow but before an answer could be given.
    "Are'ey feck!" Bradan stepped forwards proudly and banged his fist off his chest armour, "The mighty fine Clan O'Ruairc stands a'side tha' Riders, an' always well. Feck t'all the knob-slobbers what say otherwise ya great flippin' feckers!" He barked at the other Lords, "Aye, am lookin' at Yuul, ya moist pipe!" Bradan spat at the floor and laughed at those Lords who took offence, silently cursing the loud Dwarf.
    "Then the vote is no longer tied... the Lords will assist ye, Rider." The King let out a sigh, "An' yeh'll need it."
    "Feck luck! We've feckin' Dragons don'tcha know, Kingy?" Bradan grinned.

    Turiel let out an approving growl and nodded his head. He spoke once more through Agron. "An agreement has been made, and a wise one it is. No good will come of the Mad King's influence, and so I give fair and much needed warning. Those who serve the Mad King will do so only briefly, for we will reveal their trickery, and I will ensure they are given just reward." And with that Turiel retreated from Agron's mind, and the fiery-haired Nord opened his eyes, letting out a relieved sigh. 
    "Hmm...well...looks like a ken who the boss is noo, eh?" He said, turning the Turiel and frowning. Thank ye, ol' friend He added, projecting to Turiel. The dragon only gave a small nod in response. Agron turned to Bradan and folded his arms across his chest. "Right then, pal. If there's trust tae be given, it's tae yersel'. Ye've shown Vaedwyn kindness as if she were yer own. Let's go see how she is, and then we can talk. If we're gonnae dae this I'm gonnae need to hear a lot from ye on how tae proceed." 


  10. The coming hours were full of food, drink and merriment. Bradan and the other Dwarves had gathered in an enormous hall, Rows of tables were lined up across the length of it with benches for each, and there were hundreds of Dwarves seated around them. They had moved some tables and made space in the corner of the room for Auriel, and Turiel had joined them as well. The group sat in the tables nearby the two dragons and they gorged themselves on roasted boar, with plenty of bread, cheese, grapes and apples to go around. Agron had set aside a large section of his plate for potatoes, that had been chopped up and deep fried in large vats of boiled grease. 
    "Ah fuckin' missed chips!" He said happily as he stuffed another handful in to his mouth. He was on his 11th or 12th pint by now, and he had become rosy in the cheeks, with a glassy stair. "Now...where was I? Oh, aye!" He cried, gesticulating wildly with the large chip in his hand. The Dwarves settled in, listening intently. 

    "So there we were! Just me an' Jona...and we're dragons anaw, ken?" He flailed his arm towards Turiel, who gave shook his head disapprovingly, but his eyes glinted with amusement. "This fuckin' upstart Lord, Vemryn was his name. Well, this was...whit...well it was fuckin' ages ago, ken? Anyway, This wee cunt managed to rally a couple' hunner folk tae follow 'im. Came marchin' up fae Brae Mor, torched three fuckin' villages along the way. Took the fuckin' fight right tae oor door, kin ye fuckin' believe the bollocks on 'im?" A grumbling noise of agreement settled across the table as the drunken Dwarves nodded. "So the rest o' the Riders have fucked off doon tae Makarash for some fuckin' council nonsense. So s'me an' Jona versus a few hunner numpties wi' swords an bows. So I ride doon on Turiel, ken, and am a young lad back then, eh, so I'm fuckin' rarin' for a swedge an' they cunts were askin' for it. Time a git doon there, Sariel's swoopin' o'er the whole fuckin' brigade. Archer's were pish, not a fuckin' bolt hit 'im. Sariel lands next tae this Vemryn bastard, fuckin' knock his horse oot fae under 'um wi' a swish o' his tail!"

    The ripple of laughter coursed over the table, but then people settled once more. "So Vemryn's on his arse, an Jona fuckin' hops off and grabs the poor cunt. He punches the bastard square in the puss, strips him down and takes his keks aff. Ties the fuckers tae the own boy's spear and hauds it in the air, waving the fuckin' thing back and forth. And he yells 'that's it lads, ye've surrendered, now fuck off back to yer shiteholes 'fore ye hauf tae tell yer missus why ye've nae breeks left!" The table erupted in raucous laughter, and Turiel let out a growl of mild irritation. He turned to Auriel.
    He tells this story every time he get's drunk. Each time it differs. Turiel shook his head. The thing is I have no recollection of the events for the life of me. I am almost certain he dreamt it once after too much whisky.

    Oh lighten up, will you, Auriel playfully nudged her side into Turiel. Let them have some fun, She turned to watch Vaedwyn laughing at Agron's story. Usually she felt a constant thrum emanating from the young girl. Pain, fear, doubt. But right now, it was almost gone. Auriel wanted that to last, at least a little while. She let out a long sigh that made several of the nearest Dwarves shuffle uncomfortably. They've earned it. Turiel fell silent in contemplation, glancing over at the table every so often. Meanwhile Agron was silent once more on account of his mouth being crammed full of another large handful of chips. The table fell silent for a moment, everyone sipped at their drinks, and mumbled to themselves, waiting for someone to speak up. 
    "Sho wish ye lot bin doin' aw thesh yearsh, eh?" Agron asked, his mouth still full of chips. 
    "Livin'," Bradan spoke up, interrupting the Dwarf beside him who tried to answer. Bradan packed his pipe before hanging it from the corner of his mouth, "Wha' ye'spect? We've no King ruinin' are day. Ged up, has a drink, plough, kiss 'er g'bye an' work the fiel'," He lit his pipe, "An' wha'bout yoo, Rider? Where yoo been then, eh? Me great daddo said the Riders wouldn' stop until they'd taken the throne from Aemon. We might be coards, aye, whats yer excuse?"

    Agron's expression became sober for a moment. He examined the contents of his tankard for a moment, considering how to answer. "Thir ur some stories a kin tell...an' others I cannot." He replied finally. "It were winter...the snows had fallen heavy, but oan tha' day..." Agron sucked in a shaky breath as he recalled. "...The snow wis stained red. History books tell ye the last stand wis at Myre's Gap. Many o' the men folk had turned sides a' that time, but few still remained loyal. Men o' Lendsay, Rekash, an' Damascia. The Nords stood strong but they had fallen greatly in number. The Elves, o' course, wir the most resilien', but the old yins think about the long game, ken. They could tell tha' we wir fightin' a loosin' battle. Eighteen Riders still lived, but on'y five dragons. By the end o' the battle there wir on'y two. Those that lived fled, or surrendered. I dinnae blame a one o' them fir tha' though." Agron drained the last of the contents from his tankard. 

    "But...history is told by the winners, they say. Another battle came after that. Jona and I, an' a few other brave souls, we faced off one last time against Aemon an' his Riders. A foolish choice. In the end...I'd be dead anaw, and Turiel, had it no been for Jona an' Sariel's sacrifice. Turiel lost the last o' his brothers, the last of his kin. That's when it sunk in. If a died...if Turiel died, there'd be nae dragons left 'cept Aemon's. So I fled, an' I hid. On'y one bit o' good came fae that battle." Agron put his arm around Vaedwyn like a proud father, and he beamed as he looked at her, and then to Auriel. "See...I did'nae flee wi' out a wee prize for ma troubles. I stole an egg...a female. The last chance o' a bright future." Agron removed his arm from Vaedwyn, and leaned across the table, with a serious look. "There's more tae tha' story, Bradan. But I cannae tell ye it. Things ha' been happenin' aw this time, aw these years. We never stopped fightin'. There are forces that move in the shadows...ones that move tae strike out against Aemon when the time is right. Ye'll just have tae trust that they ken what they're doin'...cause I cannae tell ye no more."

    Bradan was silent for the entire story, his face unreadable. By the time the story was told, the room had fallen silent. Not a single Dwarf remained jovial, they hung their heads in their cups and tankards. Bradan held the end of his pipe and took a long drag, chewing the smoke before exhaling it, "Thas' a sour taste..." He muttered, not referring to his pipe. The Dwarves murmured their agreement.
    "We bin actin' the pack 'o fools," A woman spoke up, as she approached the table, a pint in her hand and her face and fingers stained with soot, which didn't dull her raw, wild beauty, "Bunch o' yahoos wi'faces in'a rock. While tha' lot been dyin'. Am sorry, Rider, fe'me an' mine. We wronged ye." 
    "Aye Moira, we have an'that." Bradan buried his face in his mug as he brushed tears away.

    "Perhaps it'd o' been different if folks like yersel' had been around at the time." Agron replied. "But a hold nae grudges. It's easy tae call ye cowards, or say ye wronged us. But yer people had a home that could protect them fae what was tae come. I wonder if any o' the other races o' Suros wid dae any differen' if they were in yer shoes. In the end we protect ourselves, an' thas nae thing tae be ashamed o', after all ye are aw here now, an' there's nae tellin' if that'd be the case if ye'd rallied tae the call, ken?"
    "Thank you, for taking us in." Vaedwyn spoke up at last. She stood up and the eyes of the room turned to her, "Auriel and I want you to know that we'll do everything we can to dethrone Aemon."

    "Ye can star' with takin' is 'ead!" Bradan added quickly, and the room erupted into laughter.
    "Ah had somethin' made up fer ya," Moira nodded back at the kitchen, and a dozen Dwarves entered the main drinking hall, carrying two enormous barrels. Each one must have had more liquid in them than everyone's drinks in the room combined, and then some. They placed them down in front of Turiel and Auriel and quickly retreated, "Are thanks t'ye, Dragons. We needn' be afrai' a yer sort, an' we're tankful a' all ye done." Turiel lowered his head and sniffed at the barrels, before rearing back in disgust. 
    This is...poison. He said to Agron
    "it's fuckin' Dwarven Whiskey ya daft ol' lizard!" Agron replied out loud, laughing heartily. 
    It smells like the oil they burn for their siege weapons... Turiel said. 
    "Aye, well...they use it for that tae but..." Agron replied, scratching his head. 

    Turiel gave Agron a skeptical look, and then he tentatively lowered his head to the barrel, and lapped up the contents briefly, but he reeled back, his eyes closed shut. He started retching, his jaws snapping wildly as he hissed and coughed. Then a thunderous belch followed and a plume of fire erupted from his mouth, causing a number of the Dwarves to step back in surprise. Agron slapped his knee and broke into a fit of laughter, tears streaming from his eyes. He laughed so hard that he fell off of his chair and then continued laughing. 
    I don' know whats the fuss about, ish fine, you big old baby! Auriel shared her reply with Turiel and Vaedwyn and she laughed as she realised she'd already consumed a large portion of the barrel. Then regretted laughing as she found herself gripping onto her table as the room span around her. She'd deliberately not taken as much as a sip of alcohol for fear of getting drunk, but it seemed that Auriel was unable to control her senses across their link. It was everything or nothing. And regrettably, it was everything. 
    You're drunk. Vaedwyn poked her jokingly. 
    Dargons don't get drunk, I know my limitsh. Auriel muttered, holding her head up high, as though she was above it all. And i'll thank you not to make the shame comparishun again. Then she started to stand, wobbled and the Dwarves at the end of the table panicked and tried to get away.
    Lie down! Vaedwyn demanded with a smile, walking up to Auriel while holding the edge of the table for support. She placed her hand on the black Dragon's muzzle. I'm going to step outside for some air, you're making me dizzy.


  11. A long, deep growl reverberated through the room, and the Dwarves present looked to Turiel, their gaze tense and their hands looked ready to grab their weapons at any moment. Easy..., Agron said calmly to Turiel. There was a long, tense silence as Agron watched the King with a furrowed brow, his eyes narrow, considering the man. "Yer men have already attacked me and mine without provocation on this day, and I'd advise yer Excellency against doin' so again. Ye've been shut up in here a long time, but I know yer people, ye clutch on hard tae anythin' o' value, including yer history. As such ye know our policy when it comes to unprovoked assault." Agron's voice was firm, but he was careful with his tone. What he said was not a threat, more like advice, or a warning. Yet he was unsure if King Eirnin would see it as such. 
    "I asked ye t'explain yehself, Rider, when a'wan' advice, i'll ask." The King looked to Turiel and Auriel, then his eyes wandered over Vaedwyn for a moment before returning to Agron, "I don' care if my kin struck ye first. My lands are m'own t'protect, an' I do as I damn well please. If ye know the Rider King as ye should, then ye know I've reason t'make the first move."

    "Aye, an' just the same, if ye know the Rider King, ye know why we're here." Agron replied. "There is no safer place in Suros tae hide from King Aemon. Vaedwyn here is an Elf, so I ken her age might be difficult tae discern, but I assure ye she's but a few decades intae her life. Yet here she stands before ye, a Rider. The first in over a thousan' years. Too long have I been the last Rider, and that time has passed. Nowhere else is safe for Vaedwyn. She's young, and has much tae learn. It is my wish that she trains here."
    "I want t'help ye, Rider. I do. But y'understan' that keepin' ye both here is a great danger to my people?" King Eirnin shook his head in frustration. "That man is a blight..."
    "Agreed." Agron nodded. "But I know Aemon...personally. He is nothin' if not thorough. As soon as he finds a way tae do so, he'll be at yer door whether we're here or no. But this lass right here..." Agron held his hand out and grabbed Vaedwyn roughly by the shoulder. "She can be a force that stands at yer side, or one that stands against ye. Aemon won't see any value in her death. He wants her alive, another Rider for his ranks. An' believe me, he'll make her serve him the way she is right now. The ones who serve him now...they were good people, once. Sure, us bein' here is a risk to ye, but another Rider in Aemon's rank is a greater risk. No just for ye, but for all of Suros."

    The King loosed a long sigh as he ran a hand through his beard in thoughtful contemplation, "There's no lying in ye, Agron. I like that. Makes a change from our Clan Lords, of that there's no doubt." King Eirnin looked to his right, where a dozen dwarves were stood and Vaedwyn realised at last that they were unlike the others present. They had to be the heads of the Clans. So the Dwarves had some kind of democratic process?
    The Clan Lords decide who will be King, and they can change this decision at any time they wish, as long as there is a unanimous vote, Auriel confirmed. 
    I have to do something to help... Vaedwyn replied, looking from Agron to the King. 
    You must be careful, Vaedwyn. You can't know the extent of the King's machinations.
    I have to try. Vaedwyn stepped forwards, and the King turned his attention to her.
    "And yeh've been strangely quiet fer a Rider, she-Elf," The King noted, curiosity on his face.
    "My name is Vaedwyn, King Eirnin." She corrected him and the King raised his brow at her and looked to Agron.

    "The lass told ye her name." Agron said, folding his arms. "Why are ye lookin' at me? As she just showed ye, she's got a tongue of her own."
    "That she does." King Eirnin turned back to Vaedwyn, "Apologies, Vaedwyn. To both of you. It has been a long time since we've entertained guests. 200 years, or thereabouts, an' we've never been good hosts." The King stood and walked down the steps from his throne.
    "We've come a long way, King Eirnin. My family and friends have been killed, my village burned to the ground. I've nothing to go back to, because Aemon decided he had to have dominion over everyone and everything. I spent the first twenty years of my life hearing tales of Dragons and Riders, and the fall of their..." She paused, smiling, "Of our order. I've pledged to kill Aemon, and restore peace to Suros. But I need your help, please..."
    "Come," The King ushered Vaedwyn and Agron down the hall, away from the prying ears of the Clan Lords, and in a hushed tone he added, "What I have chosen to do, will be contested. It is possible, with enough support, I may be dethroned. I have shown you opposition in the hopes of softening the Clan Lords disquiet but I fear it may not be enough."

    "We dinnae benefit from dysfunctional leadership." Agron said. "I'll no cause ye any more trouble than is necessary. Better yet, if we can dae anythin' tae help yer people, we will. Our best hope for the future is if the Dwarven people are united. King Aemon would seek out any source o' disquiet in yer council, and he would use it tae destroy ye from within. People fear his Riders most of all, but his true power lies in his keen understanding of Suros' political structure. How dae ye think he gathered enough power tae take control in the first place. Spies, subterfuge, workin' fae the shadows. I'll no be responsible for any weakness in yer ranks."
    "I fear his spies have long lai' dormant in my Kingdom," Eirnin spoke confirmation but did not acknowledge with his expression, he glanced at the Clan Lords, "The best ye can do, is show my people wha' the Riders can be. All they have are stories o'death and carnage, in-fightin' and chaos. Give 'em hope, help them while yeh here in whatever way ye can, but I warn ye..." The King gripped Vaedwyn's shoulder, "Mind yer back. Trust no-one. Our politics're known to make use of assassination and a great many unsavoury things. I wouldn't be surprised if a Clan Lord thought t'kill ye in hopes of gainin' favour with Aemon, or the other Lords." 
    "I'll be careful." Vaedwyn nodded, looking to Agron.

    "Ye'll do better than that." Agron said with a nod. "Ye'll show them how fierce ye are, so that they'll think better o' tryin' tae seek quarrel with ye." Agron smirked and turned back to the King. "We'll need quarters, and the dragons can hunt and take care of themselves. I'll need plenty o' time tae train Vaedwyn, but otherwise consider us one o' yer own. Put us tae task in whatever way ye see fit." 


  12. With Vaedwyn more than a little inebriated, Agron decided to leave her to recover in her own time and decided to spend the rest of the day taking a tour of Babbleridge. The town, in some ways, looked much the same as he had remembered. The buildings were the same, if a little more run down, and the way of life seemed the same, if a little harder going. However he had remembered the town as being quite busy, always with new faces passing through. Yet now, so it seemed, travelers turned up less and less. This was troublesome, as travelling merchants were important to the town's economy. The farmers would trade their stock for gold and useful supplies. Yet, by the looks of things, this was not happening nearly as often. He stopped in the market to speak with one of the venders who was tending to a small stall that with 5 skinned pheasants hanging from it's roof. 
    "A crown each, if you're interested." The vendor said, turning around to face Agron. As he turned the skinny gentleman craned his neck up to meet Agron's gaze. "My...you're a big fella, aren't you?"
    "So they tell me." Agron replied. "A crown each for these?" He said, pointing at the birds. "Not that it's any of my business but aren't ye sellin' yerself a bit short wi' that price? Pheasant goes for 3 crowns up in Amerus."

    "Trust me I'd sell them for more if anyone would buy them." The vendor replied. 
    "That bad, eh?" Agron asked. "What happened tae this place? I mind it bein' quite busy when I was last here. Must have been...only a decade or so ago."
    "Mm, yes things were better then." The vendor replied with a nod. "We had a long winter a few years passed. Bad harvest meant we weren't able to keep up with the demand. The merchants were pretty understanding but that didn't help that we couldn't satisfy their demand. Made their trips a lot tougher, a few folk died. The next year round word had spread, people began to take other routes that were considered safer. Things might have picked up but to make matters worse the bridge to Angar broke. Not many travellers are willing to make the journey through the valley, and the Elves are not fond of outsiders traversing their forest."
    "Ah, that's a real shame." Agron said with a sigh. "Well I hope things will pick up, eh. I'll take all of yoer birds." He said, and he retrieved 15 crowns from his pouch and placed them on the stand. 

    "Ah, that's very generous." The man said. "But I won't take charity."
    "It's no charity, it's a fair price." Agron replied. "Tell ye what, have another 3 ready for me tomorrow, and there's another 6 crowns in it for you as well. Sound fair?"
    "I...thank you." The vendor nodded. He retrieved two of the birds and handed them to Agron. "Her you go. Thanks, once again."
    "Take care." Agron said with a nod, then he left the stall and made his way to another. After that he made his way to another, and another, and then to the butcher's, and then he paid a visit to the farm.

    "What's this for?" The innkeeper asked as Agron walked in with his arms full of produce. He placed them on the table by the door and turned to the innkeeper. 
    "Well, I had a wee thought." Agron said. "There's more of this outside. If yer wife is up for it, I thought you could cook all this up tonight, how's that sound?"
    "But...what for?" The innkeeper frowned. "There's barely a soul in this place."
    "Dinnae you worry about that." Agron replied. "Just make sure there's a mighty fine feast waiting for when I return." The innkeeper scratched his head and let out a resigned sigh. 
    "Well, if you're sure. Don't see the harm since you paid for it." He said, and he started collecting the food and taking it through to the kitchen. Meanwhile Agron retreated up the stairs and went to Vaedwyn's room, and found her laying on the bed. 

    "Sobered up yet?" He asked with a grin. "I've got work for ye."
    "The room is spinning." Vaedwyn growled, her forearm over her eyes, "I can't move, or I think i'll be sick. Why do humans drink this?"
    "Because when yer no a wee lightweight, it gives ye a nice buzz. Warm's yer heart, let's ye forget yer worries, an' it takes the pain away." Agron said. "But I'm afraid ye've had enough time for rest, lass. Time for ye to do some good, so up ye get."
    Slowly, Vaedwyn slid herself to the end of the bed, and dripped off the end of it and pulled herself up to standing - just barely. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head, trying to clear the fog in her mind, which felt like it helped a little. "You're a liar, and i'll never drink that again." She muttered, "What am I doing?" Vaedwyn asked, looking up at him through squinted eyes.

    "Yer goin' tae cheer a few folk up, that's what." Agron said. He urged Vaedwyn to follow and he led her down the stairs and out of the inn. They walked through the streets of Babbleridge and Agron began to explain. "Riders were the guardians o' Suros, their responsibility was to bring balance and order tae the world. When those maddened by power ever decided tae rise up, the riders would be there to stand up for the common man. That time will come once again, lass, ye can be sure o' that. For now, though, we can do good in other ways. This town was once a favoured stop for travelling merchants, and it meant good business for the folks who live here. Through no fault of their own, their business has dried up and left them strugglin'. Now, there's little we can do about that for now, but what we can do is bring a little cheer to their hearts, if only temporarily."

    "Is this part of my training...?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning at Agron.
    "Aye and naw." Agron replied. "Ye'll no be learnin' how tae swing a sword much on this venture, but maybe ye'll learn something more important." Agron led them to the stables where they got their horses, and he saddled them up ready to leave. "We're heading back up the road." Agron said. "It's a fair few miles away, then I'll show ye what we need tae dae." He said. With that they were off. The travelled back the way they came, but did not head back to the Valley. Instead they travelled further north up the main road, and in about half an hour they reached their destination. 

    They had arrived at a large expanse of water. To the left led out towards the Eastern Bluffs that faced the ocean, and the distant roaring of a waterfall rushed through the air. To the right the water led deep in to the mountainous valleys. The bridge was the only way that travelers could cross from this side. "Y'see the bother?" Agron asked. He got off his horse and stepped on to the bridge, pointing across the length of it. "Broken out there in the middle. Tough tae fix without the right equipment. The current sweeps everythin' away. Ye need skilled bridge makers to fix that. Dwarves, or Elves I suppose." He grinned at Vaedwyn. "Oh, yer an Elf, I almost forgot." He added. "Well, go on then, fix it."

    "I'm twenty." Vaedwyn muttered, "And i'm not a bridge builder." She shrugged her shoulders at the bridge, "Whether we're master craftsmen or not, that takes hundreds of years to master, i'll be no better at fixing that than any man in this village."
    "Oh, right, my mistake." Agron said with a nod. "I'll go tell the lads back at the town tae just use their dragons and their magic tae help them, shall I?"
    "Is it safe for Auriel to land near the road like this?" Vaedwyn asked, she stepped out onto the bridge and tested her weight on it. "I've never fixed a bridge before, and I've barely started using magic," She let out an exasperated sigh. This was not what she had pictured when she imagined having a real adventure.
    "Think o' it as a creative exercise." Agron said. "Aye, it's a main road, but there's few that come this way with the bridge bein' broken. Sure, someone might come along, but Auriel has a view fae the skies, she'll have a better idea than you of what is, and is'nae safe. As fer the bridge, ye just need tae think about it. Powerful magic takes a lot out o' ye, but delicate, simple magic isnae so bad. Use yer brain, and think small. It's about complexity, not complication, ye understand?"

    "I think so..." 
    Use your magic, use your mind. Auriel added, and showed her that there was nobody for miles in any direction. The bridge itself seemed study enough, she didn't need to support its structure, just repair the damage. 
    "So I need the planks or something that would fill the gap and something to bind it... Couldn't I just bind the planks with magic?"
    "Perhaps." Agron said. "Much like a lemon ye'll have tae suck it an' see. But consider what this bridge is used for. Dae ye think a few planks will hold when an entire caravans are passin' o'er it?"

    "Right." Vaedwyn muttered, staring at the bridge. 
    Where are the missing planks? The nails? Auriel suggested.
    Vaedwyn realised where they had to be. I think i'm going to get wet... She replied, and walked down to the water's edge. Vaedwyn leant down and plunged her hand into the water. It was freezing cold. She quickly withdrew her hand, looking up at the nearby waterfall. Just from putting her hand into the water she could feel how strong the current was as well. It would be very dangerous for her to step into the water, but she was pretty sure she wouldn't be strong enough to pull planks of that size out of silt, mud and water. I could use a hand, you know? Vaedwyn added, she heard laughter and then a few seconds later she heard a distant howling. A large shadow swept over her and Auriel came swooping down through the clouds, slowing her descent with rapid wing beats until she landed with a dull thud.
    I can see them, they're partially buried. Auriel swept her gaze over the water, her keen eyes quickly locating the wooden planks.
    Have you grown? Vaedwyn asked, standing next to Auriel. She realised that Auriel's shoulder was now almost at her head. 
    I'm trying to quicken my growth so you can ride me, there's no time to wait.
    Vaedwyn put her hand to Auriel's side and stroked her, I never asked you to do that.

    I know. Auriel replied, sweeping her long neck around so she faced her rider. She lowered her head until they were next to one another and then pressed her forehead firmly against Vaedwyn's, before pulling back and wading into the water. As she did so, the water level rose and the banks threatened to burst. Now get the planks!
    Thanking Auriel, Vaedwyn quickly stumbled down into the now knee-high water and mud. It was still freezing cold, but at least she wasn't up to her neck in it. One by one, she grabbed each of the planks and heaved them out of the mud and clambered back up onto the bank with them, feeling refreshed each time the spray around Auriel's edges hit her, cooling her from the tiring work. It took nearly an hour, but she finally fished the last plank out of the mud. Her skin felt numb, but now there were a dozen planks laying on the bank. Vaedwyn crawled onto the grass, caked in mud and shivering and collapsed onto the ground, then Auriel leapt out of the water and bounded onto the grass and laid beside her.

    Come here, i'll warm you. Auriel lifted her wing, ushering Vaedwyn inside who did so without complaint. As she crawled inside, Auriel pulled her wing back down and close into her, covering Vaedwyn, then exhaled her hot breath into the living tent. Her shivering stopped within a minute, and soon enough, she felt good as new - though still covered from head-to-toe in dry mud.
    "I just need to find the nails somehow..." Vaedwyn called to Agron from beneath Auriel's wing.
    "Well, we could ride back to town and get some." Agron said. "Or ye could look tae nature for help." He added. "Remember when we rode here? I used magic tae have the trees block yer path. Trees need light and water tae grow, somethin' we have plenty of. The strain on yer will tae use such magic isnae as severe as ye might expect. Provided ye give the tree the means tae grow, it can make use o' that, instead o' yer own will. Yer people were the first tae use nature in such a way, creating structures o' great beauty that complimented the wilderness surroundin' it."

    "Grow a tree, sure..." Vaedwyn pulled herself out from under Auriel's wing and brushed off some of the excess mud that had caked to her clothes. She walked back down to the edge of the water, dipped her hands and washed her face until most of the mud was gone. Then she turned her attention back to the bridge. One by one, she pulled the planks back into place and laid them loosely next to one another. This in itself would allow her to walk across it, but anything more substantial, perhaps even a strong wind, would be the end of the bridge.
    You have three options, from my perspective. Auriel spoke up, catching Vaedwyn's eye as she turned back, Either return for more nails, retrieve them from the river, or bind the planks through magic.

    Vaedwyn considered each option for a long while. If she returned to the village to ask for nails, she knew that she would be taking valuable resources from an already poor people. She could dredge up the nails from the riverbed, but there was no telling how many she'd need, or how much strength the magic would take from her just in finding and pulling one from the mud. Then there was the third option. The one that Agron had mentioned. Using nature to help meant she could use her magic to encourage, rather than forcibly direct. It would be less involved. Potentially more chaotic, but far less risky. She had seen her people sing to the trees in order to grow their homes. But they were skilled masters, with thousands of years of experience. She was just a child. 
    A Rider. With magic that will one day far exceed their own. Auriel interrupted her thought-process which had been infected with self-doubt. She nodded to her partner with a smile and took a deep breath. Not to mention, a rather impressive young Dragon. Vaedwyn couldn't help herself, she started laughing, and had to explain their conversation to Agron upon his bemused expression. 
    "Alright," Vaedwyn said at last, "I'm going to try and use magic..."

    "Aye, okay." Agron said with a nod and folded his arms. "Mind what I've taught ye, and proceed when yer ready. I'll stay close and keep an eye on ye." He moved so he was stood near her, so that he could step in should any trouble arise. 
    "Okay." Vaedwyn took a deep breath and exhaled, hoping her fears and doubts would follow. They didn't, but at least she felt a little better. She took another deep breath, looking the bridge over. She could feel Auriel and Agron's eyes upon her back, as she approached it. Placing her hand on the edge of the bridge, she waited. She wasn't sure what she was waiting for. Maybe a sign. Maybe she was still wrestling with doubt. She tried to consider all the words she could use to call nature to her bidding. Every time she did, she found herself making more and more complicated requests. But the more she did that, the more faults she found with them. She could hear Agron and Auriel's words banging around in her memories, reminding her to keep it simple. To make sure not to bind herself to the magic, or use an absolute. Eventually, the long, cleverly worded spells fell away from her choices. She found too many problems, and worried more about what problems she had yet to find in their meaning. Instead, she choose one word. The word she kept falling back to. So she gripped the edge of the bridge, and feeling the heat of the scar on her forehead as it began to glow with a brilliant white light, she spoke a single word in Elvish.

    "Life."

    The ground rumbled in front of her, and Vaedwyn gasped as she felt a tingling in her fingertips. She could feel the magic being drawn from her. Suddenly roots shot up out of the water, wrapping themselves around the bridge, weaving through planks both fixed and loose, constricting as they reached up over the sides of the bridge as enormous saplings breached the surface of the water beside the bridge. The saplings rose up, growing rapidly, turning into trees that could rival the size of those in her homeland. The roots embedded deep beneath the water, and the grass all surrounding them suddenly sprouted with thousands of wild flowers, their vibrant colours spreading out like a rainbow all around them, blooming in a great wave. Vaedwyn felt a numbness in her hands, and slowly pulled away from the magic. For a panicking moment, she thought she would be unable to let go, that the magic had hold of her. Then as she pulled away, it reluctantly released her and the trees groaned to a halt as their branches blossomed with large dark green leaves, dotted with tiny white flowers. Vaedwyn stumbled back and fell into the grass, now as much a field of flowers as anything. 
    Beautiful, Auriel said quietly, as Vaedwyn stared in disbelief at what she had done.

    "Well..." Agron said as he put his hands on his hips. "I daresay yer capability with magic is quite strong, stronger than it was wi' me. Perhaps due to yer lineage, perhaps just because of who ye are, or perhaps its both. At any rate...ye've done very well, lass." Agron nodded at her approvingly and gave a little smile. "Come on, let's head back to the town. No doubt ye'll be hungry after that."
    "I... I didn't..." Vaedwyn shook her head in disbelief. She felt cold, and her limbs were tingling like they were asleep. "I did that?" She asked herself, frowning. She couldn't believe that something like that had come from her. She'd never used magic before. In truth, she wasn't even sure if that was what she had intended to do. But Agron was right, she was starving. She pulled herself to her feet, sharing a moment with Auriel before the dragon leapt into the sky and disappeared. "Alright, I need to eat." She replied, "A lot."


    When they returned to the town they said nothing of Vaedwyn's afternoon spent fixing the bridge, after Agron instructed her not to. He explained that they didn't need that kind of attention, or praise, and that the doing of the deed was reward enough. However word got back to the town very quickly, as other travelers caught sight of the marvelous bridge that had shot up out of the water when nobody was looking. The excitement and joy that followed the news had quite rightly lead the village to celebration, just as Agron had hoped. That evening the Inn was packed full. The food he had provided made for a wonderful spread, and the people of the town ate, drank, and sang merry songs at the thought of a future that looked decidedly less bleak. 

    Agron tossed a bare turkey leg on to the plate in front of him, he had eaten every scrap of meat from it, and would have probably ate the bone as well if his teeth were stronger. He let out a loud belch and patted his stomach in contentment before washing down a few gulps of ale. "So, dae ye understand why I had ye do that?" Agron asked to Vaedwyn as he cast his arm out, gesturing to the busy inn full of happy, cheerful people. 
    "I never realised fixing the bridge would impact their lives so much..." Vaedwyn whispered from across the table, she stuffed a wad of bread in her mouth and started chewing, chasing it with a mouthful of water. She'd decided ale was a bad idea. While chewing and swallowing a large mouthful of stew, Vaedwyn began to wonder just how little these people had. Was the inn as stocked as it appeared? Did the townsfolk eat like they were now? Were they even able to procure meat and fresh vegetables? If fixing the bridge had created this surge of happiness, just how dire a situation were they in? Life was hard for them, far harder than she'd ever imagined.

    "Aye, for a town like this a bridge really does make a difference. But they aren't alone in their troubles." Agron said, finishing the last of his ale. "It wasn't always like this though. And it'll no be like this forever if I have anythin' tae say about it." Agron was about to rise to get another ale, when an image flashed in his mind. He was suddenly flying low over the trees, arcing over a small town. Then his eyes were focused on the bluffs farther ahead, he flew lower, and faster. Turiel was back, and going to their arranged meeting place. But he had no words for his rider. And the speed in which he moved was troubling. "Come." Agron said suddenly as he rose for the table. "Gather your things, we're going."
    Vaedwyn rose from the table, grabbed her things and relayed the message to Auriel before leaving the inn after Agron. "What's wrong?" She asked, looking around for signs of danger.

    "Turiel has returned, which means our stay here has ended." Agron replied, not wanting to unnecessarily alarm Vaedwyn until he knew what was going on. "Call Auriel when we get outside the town. Tell her to head for Eastern Bluffs." They made their way to the stables in a hurry, and Agron quickly packed their equipment on to the horses and they rode off into the night. As Vaedwyn pulled herself onto her horse, she reached out to Auriel. Something was wrong. Where normally she could sense a distant thrum of emotion and thought, now there was only a void. The harder she pressed, the more she found a wall blocking her from her dragon. Just as Vaedwyn was starting to panic, she found an opening but she almost instantly regretted her discovery. A flash of white hot pain washed over her, muddied with panicked anger and sadness. Vaedwyn yelped and fell from her horse in surprise.

    Vaedwyn!? Are you alright?! I'm so sorry!! Auriel called to her from across their link. The painful ringing in her head slowly ebbed into a background thrum.
    What was that? Vaedwyn asked, trying to blink back the pain. She pulled herself up and tried to calm her horse.
    Later! You must hurry! Turiel is hurt, Vaedwyn!
    She could feel the pain and panic in Auriel's tone and her feelings were in turmoil. Truthfully, Vaedwyn panicked too, at the thought of so powerful and unique a being as Turiel being hurt. She couldn't even picture the great, old dragon coming to harm. What could have done that? She pulled herself back onto her horse, and followed Agron out of town. It was about 20 minutes out of the town before they reached the rocky bluffs that faced out on to the sea. In among the white oak trees, a dark form lay on the ground, groaning. 

    Agron got off of his horse instantly and ran towards Turiel. He briefly acknowledged Auriel before he reached out with his hand, and also with his mind. He pressed against Turiel's consciousness, and found it resistant. Flashes of fear and anger flickered in his mind. Images of a battle in the sky. Fire raged, and dragons roared. But Turiel would not speak to him. "Light" He practically swore in Elvish and there was a sudden flash, that quickly dimmed and became a cool, blue orb of light, that shone like the moon. Agron gestured and the light cast itself over Turiel's body. His scales were harder than diamond, and while there were signs of scorches, his body looked fine. Agron moved around, inspecting the tail, and then he checked the wings. He returned to Turiel's head and laid his hand over the horn over his nose. He cast the light over the dragon's eyes, and found them closed tightly. Open them. His voice was calm, but it was clear it was not a request. Turiel opened his eyes, and Agron frowned. The amber colour of Turiel's eyes had faded, blotted out by a thick, black ink-like material that was dancing menacingly around his iris. 

    Vaedwyn quickly dismounted, chasing after Agron, arriving as Turiel opened his eyes. She gasped upon seeing the strange, inky blackness squirming across the dragon's iris. "What is it?!" She asked, trying to catch her breath. She looked to Auriel for answers but her dragon was just as panicked and frantic as she felt.  "What happened?!"
    "He's been in a fight." Agron said. "He keeps showing me images of it, but it's fragmented. He's strugglin' tae keep a connection wi' me. It can happen when one or the other is in immense pain, or trauma." Agron indicated at Turiels eyes. "Sinister magic." He said. "Dragon's are difficult tae injure, as ye might have guessed. So they've used magic tae cast this stuff intae his eyes. It's a rare oil made from the sap of a Karist tree. Not many of them left in this land. It burns like all hell, and they've not just thrown it over his eye, they've pushed it inside, and sealed it there with magic. 

    Auriel roared at the sky, raking the ground with her talons as her tail swished back and forth in irritation. She stalked back and forth, glancing back at Turiel occasionally.
    "But you can fix it, can't you?" Vaedwyn asked, her fists clenching as she tried to wrap her head around the fact that there was anyone in their land who would do such a thing, to anyone or anything.
    "Aye, I can." Agron said with a nod. "But this is...the worst kind o' magic, due to it bein' so effective. It's an easier thing tae cast than it is tae remove. I'll be more than a bit sleepy, ken?" Agron sighed and held his hand up at Turiels eye. Peace, old friend, He said to him privately. Turiel's breathing settled as he concentrated, focused by Agron's voice. When Agron spoke again it was in elvish. "Cleanse." He said first, and the scar on his shoulder and neck burned bright. The muscles in his arm tensed as he drew the dark liquid from Turiel's eyes, and slowly the liquid began to disappear, burned away by the cleansing magic. "Heal" He said afterwards. His arms began to shake, and Agron felt cold all of a sudden. The milky, damaged tissue in and around Turiel's eyes began to repair, and slowly his eye returned to the golden amber it had been before. Agron released his magic, and he slumped over, turning his body so he could sit on the ground. He rested his head in his hands, being very still and silent. 
    Thank you., Turiel's voice echoed through his mind, and he felt a surge of relief. 

    "Is he alright?" Vaedwyn asked, looking from Turiel to Agron and back again.
    Better than before, at least. Turiel replied, gently pressing his consciousness against Vaedwyn's mind. He did not yet know if she could hear him, but at the very least she would be able to sense his presence by now. 
    "He'll live." Agron said weakly. "I'll need a minute or two..." He added, swaying a little. 
    "You should rest." Vaedwyn corrected Agron, "Both of you." She looked to Turiel, but expected to hear his response from his Rider, "Were you followed? Who did this to you?" She paused, thinking, "We need to find somewhere safe and secluded..."

    I would not have returned were it not safe Turiel said, this time directing it at Agron. Agron...Vaedwyn's village. He burnt it to the ground. All but one perished.
    What dae ye mean? Agron replied. Someone survived? Turiel let out a displeased growl. 
    I gave chase. Anger got the better of me. He explained, It was Kardran. Uruk carried an Eladrin girl. Fortunate, in a way. Had he not been preoccupied with the girl's safety, I might not have survived. He caught me with that spell, but I caught Uruk with my claws, and fled. I managed to gain some distance from them. I made sure to leave a trail, with luck they will think we are headed to Makarash in the south. It will not be long before they discover they were wrong, we must make haste and gain as much distance from them as possible.

    North, then. Agron replied. That girl troubles me, why would he take her?
    I do not know. Perhaps he thinks she will lead him to Vaedwyn. Whatever it is, it is not good.
    "Right, well..." Agron finally spoke aloud. "Vaedwyn...I'm sorry, lass. This'll hurt ye, but I dinnae like keepin' secrets. Ye'd only resent it more when ye find out later."
    "What are you talking about?" Vaedwyn asked.
    Steel yourself, little one, Auriel replied, cautioning her. 
    "What's going on? What's happened?!" Vaedwyn snapped, looking to Agron.

    "Ah...this is not easy for me tae say." Agron said. "A man named Kardran visited yer village. He's one of the King's Lieutenants. I'm...I'm sorry, lass. The bastard destroyed it. Only one survived, because he took her. A young girl, apparently. He's likely usin' her tae try tae find ye."
    The words struck her like arrows. The dull pain rattling around in her mind seemed to warp and become a cacophony of white noise. Sound seemed to drain away, as she watched Agron's lips move, but nothing reached her. Everyone in her village was dead. Her friends, her family, the Elders. People who had lived and known one another for tens of thousands of years. Snuffed out of existence. Only one remained alive, a young girl? Vaedwyn didn't need to ask who that was. Children were highly valued in their society, but also as equally rare. There were only five children in their village, and only two girls. She was one of them, and her best friend, Torenth, was the other. Vaedwyn took a step back but caught her heel on the ground and fell onto her backside where she remained, staring off into space. Tears silently slid down her cheeks.

    It may sound cruel, Turiel turned to Auriel, speaking directly to her. However...we cannot stay here for long.
    "Lass...I..." Agron sighed, defeated. There were no words to make this better. 
    Get up, Vaedwyn, you must get up, Auriel pushed her muzzle into Vaedwyn's side.
    They're all dead...
    Please get up, Auriel pushed harder, coaxing her to her feet. Auriel then refocused on Turiel and tried to make a connection. Though only Riders and mages are able to project themselves into other's minds, dragons are not bound to the solitude of mortals. At least, not those dragons who have bonded with a Rider. Auriel finally solidified the weak connection that Turiel had begun days ago, speaking to him directly at last. She has closed herself to me, but we must move before Kardran can find us. She found the elder dragon's mind to be powerful, and deep. Elves are strange creatures, their thoughts are unlike humans, and it is like being swallowed by an endless ocean. Yet to her surprise, Auriel found Turiel's mind to be far more alien and intimidating than she had expected. It was as though she was thrown into a void, where she could not move or breathe, for the presence bearing down on her.

    Auriel... Turiel's voice spoke the name with a tone of weight and gravity. Their link fully established, the name had come to him naturally, to him it was only obvious, once she had allowed him to see who she truly was. Time is of the essence, indeed. However, this is perhaps a moment where we must leave things to Agron. You have watched him, you have seen how he trains her. Each lesson is layered and multifaceted. A moral for every swing of a sword. It is the way of his kind, their minds so young they need to learn so much. Even this experience is a lesson for her. Turiel considered Vaedwyn for a moment. While the girl was truly broken in that moment, he was waiting for what he knew to be hidden within her. Give her time...her sorrow will ignite her heart. She will become fire. You already know this, even if you do not realise.
    "Lass?" Agron spoke, interupting the conversation of the two dragons. Slowly he had managed to get up, but he still felt tired and cold. "...Be sad, lass. Don't let anyone tell ye that ye cannae be sad. Hold on tae that feelin', remember it always. But, an' this is important, channel it. Peaceful scholars might tell ye that revenge is never worth it. They are wrong. Your loved ones are dead, and there is'nae anythin' ye can do about that. But ye can stop the one that did this."

    Vaedwyn gripped the pommel of her sword tightly, the knuckles on her hand turning white. She wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her forearm and held out her hand to touch to Auriel's forehead, "I will." She replied, "I swear it." She fought back her tears and turned to face Agron. He, in turn, picked up his own sword. He gripped the claymore in both hands, and with a single pull he drew the long, thick blade from it's sheathe. It's blade glinted a golden-copper colour under his magical light. As Turiel rose up to stand behind him, his own scales shimmered in a colour that was almost identical. "Skaevolg." he said as he raised the sword up for her to inspect. "In Nordic it means Calamity of the Sky. Forged wi' the strongest materials, in one o' the best forges, usin' secret techniques passed down by the Eladrin. It will never dull, and never break. The blade is forged with a gift, y'see. A gift only a Rider can be bestowed, and can only be given freely by a dragon." Agron turned to Auriel and gave her a brief nod. "No more buildin' bridges, lass." He said as he focused on Vaedwyn again. "We ride north. On the way I'll train ye properly. It'll take weeks tae reach the Dwarven capital, and in that time, I promise ye two things. First, I'll make ye a warrior fit tae wield a sword like Skaevolg. Second..." Agron sheathed his blade once more and turned to Auriel. "Ye'll fly."

    "We're going to see the dwarves?" Vaedwyn asked, her brow raising in surprise, "Why?" Then as an afterthought, she added, "I've never met a dwarf..."
    "Aye." Agron nodded. "There's a few reasons for that. Firstly it takes us north, and further away from the King's reach. Secondly, ye'll be safest there. The Dwarven cities are almost impenetrable. Third, and perhaps most important, The Dwarves have the best forges in Suros. Ye need armor, and a decent blade, and only the best will dae." Agron smirked a little and made his way to the horses. "Saddle up, lass. We've a long way tae go."

     


  13. On 2/29/2016 at 0:37 PM, Erogenous Enigma said:

    He likes drinking, I don't want to be the reason he doesn't. Just seems stupid to me just because of one comment that may or may not be related to him drinking.

    I guess. I suppose I don't know the full story so could well be getting the wrong end of the stick. Even if you like something, though, doesn't mean you aren't willing to forgo it for people you care about. It might not be about how you feel about it, and more to do with his own feelings about it. I know I'm a lot more careful with drinking, having had experiences where I have acted out of character or in a way I dislike. Fun as it may be, it's not worth it in my opinion. I mean, I haven't stopped drinking in fairness, but I'm certainly a lot more careful about the practice. 


  14. Those kinds of things are to be expected. A lot of media was that way in the past, even in the west, and still is to some degree or another. I suppose Japan is a little behind in that regard. Equally the writing is no doubt perpetuated by the audience they have, and there's a lot of wish fulfillment and fantasy in female characters that are no doubt quite appealing to young heterosexual boys. 


  15. Agron had awoken shortly before dawn. He had left Vaedwyn to sleep for a little longer in the cave, curled up next to Auriel. She needed the rest more than he did, and besides, he couldn't rest well knowing Turiel was still out there. He was too far away for Agron to reach him, to check if he was okay, and the thought unsettled him. So he got his things together and left the cave. He strolled down to the river just as the day's first light began to rise over the valley. By the river he stripped out of his armor and clothing, and stepped into the river, cleaning himself. The cold water was bracing, but refreshing all the same. Afterwards he dressed and gathered his things. On his way back to the cave he walked through the trees, gathering plants and herbs from the ground. He found some Amaranth, and some Burdock, both plants you could eat. He also managed to find some blackberries, and when he was done he placed all he had found in a cloth and wrapped them up, before heading back to the cave. 

    He had wrapped the leftover bear meat in wraps of cloth the night before. He took a couple of the slabs and chopped them up. Then he made a small fire and filled a pot with water from the river. After the water had boiled enough, he threw in the Amaranth, and the Burdock, both quite bitter when eaten raw, but much tastier after being boiled. Once that was done he emptied the pot and began to fry off the chunks of meat. The sizzling of the pan and the smell of cooked meat quickly roused his companions from their sleep. "Mornin'!" Agron said quite loudly, intending to wake them further. He sprinkled some salt on to the steak while it cooked, and retrieved a small pestle and mortar, and placed the blueberries inside, grinding them up in to a paste. 
    Vaedwyn began to yawn as she awoke, only to be drowned out by Auriel's long, loud yawn. "Morning..." Vaedwyn pulled herself up, having been resting against Auriel's torso. "Smells good." She muttered, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

    "Aye, well so it should. Breakfast is the most important meal o' the day, ken." Agron said with a smile. "And dinnae fret, Auriel, there's plenty left for ye." He pointed over to the cloth-wrapped slabs of meat that were sitting near the wall of the cave. "Dig in, we're headin' for town today, so there's nae point rationin' it." He stirred the pot as he spoke, and when the meat was thoroughly cooked, he dropped it in to two bowls, along with the burdock and amaranth. Then he took the blueberry paste and drizzled it over the top of each. He held a bowl out for Vaedwyn to take. "Come on, eat up and go clean yersel' up by the river. I want tae get going as soon as yer done."

    Vaedwyn ate in silence. Hungrily consuming her breakfast. As she ate, she glanced at Agron while he was busy packing up, then returned to her food.
    He's nothing like I pictured a rider...
    And how did you picture a rider? Auriel asked, finishing the last slab of meat with a satisfying crunch.
    I don't know... Vaedwyn replied, thinking about it. All the stories I heard about riders growing up were about great battles, heroic deeds.
    You shouldn't confuse a story with the reality. They can be both, or neither. Even heroes wake up, cook their breakfast and clean their pots and pans. The good ones, anyway.
    I guess you're right. Vaedwyn nodded, finishing the last of her breakfast. She thanked Agron for the meal and walked down to the river, followed closely by Auriel. The water was cold, much colder than she'd like, but she washed her clothes quickly and as Auriel suggested, placed them on her torso where they quickly dried while she washed herself. Once she was dressed, she picked at her torn sleeves.
    Thank you, for that, by the way. Auriel nodded at the bite wound on her shoulder, which was healing nicely. She sunk her face into the river and took long, draining gulps as Vaedwyn sighed.
    Doesn't do much for my image though, does it? She smirked, picking at her sleeves again. Come on, Agron's waiting for us. And they walked briskly back to camp.

    When they returned Agron was outside packing their supplies on to the horses. "There ye are." He said as they approached. "I've got somethin' for ye." He added. He reached over to a the ground next to him and picked up a few things. First he handed Vaedwyn the sword she had been using for training, complete with a sheathe and belt for her to wear. "Use it keep yerself safe, and Auriel tae." he said as he handed it to her. "Also there's this." He said, and he handed her a length of folded, black cloth with a thick fur-lined inside, and on top was a silver pin shaped like an intricate Nordic knot. "Might be a bit big on ye, but it'll keep ye warm. And we cannae have ye walkin' about lookin' like a beggar now, can we?"
    "Oh, thank you..." Vaedwyn smiled, taking the cloak. She unfurled it's length and swung it around her back, fastening it with the pin. Then she felt the inside and lifted the large hood. It was a little large, but warm and light. 
    Very fetching. Auriel added, a little amused.
    Vaedwyn shot her a look then turned to Agron, "Why are we going to town?"

    "Babbleridge is a wee town not far from here." Agron explained. "Friendly wee place. A lot o' travellers pass through there, they get all sorts, so most folks winnae look twice at an Elf and a Nord. We can rest there, get some decent supplies and hopefully lay low." He smiled weakly as he thought of the other reason they had to go there. "Also, its where Turiel is gonnae meet us. He's...taking care of a few things. Makin' sure we stay safe."
    "But Auriel can't come into the village?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning.
    I'll fly high enough that i'll appear as a bird of prey, Auriel replied.
    Vaedwyn nodded, "Where do we go from there? I don't understand what i'm supposed to be doing. I know we have to oppose the King, and I have to train, but how do we fight the King?"

    "Och, lass." Agron shook his head. "That's the end goal. We're a long way from that. Right now we need to keep movin' and keep trainin' ye. Right now ye need to focus on that. Speaking of..." He turned around and got on the back of his horse. "Yer takin' the charge today. There are times much like this where a rider and dragon must travel apart. But even then we still work as a team. Suros is massive, and navigatin' the land can be a slow process, and we've no got time tae spare. But it's much easier tae see the lay of the land when ye've got a birds eye view, or, dragon's eye in this case." He gestured for Vaedwyn to climb on her horse. "Turiel's no here tae keep us right, and I cannae train ye wi' a sword when we're ridin', so since ye seem tae be bonding so well wi' Auriel, both of ye are gonnae work together to take us tae Babbleridge. Sound good?"

    "Alright. We can do that, right?" Vaedwyn nodded to Auriel who lowered her head slightly to acknowledge Agron. "Alright!" She pulled herself onto her horse and took off, then Auriel bounded forwards and quickly leapt into the air, bursting into the sky. She disappeared into the clouds in seconds. Agron took off after Vaedwyn and quickly caught up, riding alongside her. 
    "This should be interestin' tae see." Agron said. "Yer connection wi' Auriel only goes so far. If she moves out o' range ye'll no be able to hear her. Besides, speaking with her is just the first step. When ye start really bonding, ye'll be able to feel each other's emotions, yer senses, including sight. Auriel might be able to tell ye where tae go, but can she show ye?"
    Vaedwyn laughed and repeated Auriel's reply, "I think we'll take that one step at a time, shall we?"

    "I like yer confidence, lass." Agron said with a grin. "So how about another challenge. Y'see, I already ken the way there. Let's see if ye can work together and beat me there. If ye win, then I'll buy ye somethin' nice when we get tae Babbleridge. Whatever ye like."
    "You'll regret that!" Vaedwyn laughed and then leant down and whispered something to her horse as it galloped along, and suddenly the creature burst forwards, working twice as hard. It's hooves beat across the ground, carrying her ahead of Agron in a matter of seconds, "Keep up, old man!" She cheered and felt the laughter coming from Auriel high above the clouds.
    "That's the spirit lass!" Agron cheered after her, laughing heartily. He dug in his heels and urged his horse to go faster. Then as he got a little closer to Vaedwyn, he held out his hand and whispered something delicately. The scar on his neck flashed white hot for a moment, and then without warning, the trees up ahead started growing at incredible speed, their branches twisting and coiling around each other, diving to the ground and creating a thick mesh barrier in front of Vaedwyn. As her horse suddenly stalled to turn Agron pulled away from her and sped off in front. "See ye at the finish line, lass!" He called back to her, roaring with laughter. 

    Vaedwyn loosed a curse in Elvish and spurred her horse onwards, trying to make up for lost ground, but Agron had a clear lead now. She wanted to call Auriel down to spook his horse, but there were two issues with that. First it was just as likely to spook her own, and second, if they were anywhere near the village it would be too dangerous for Auriel to descend. Then it occurred to her. If Agron wasn't above using magic, why not match tactics? She mimicked him, raising her hand to aim at Agron's back and thought carefully. She had to command something, but do so without requesting a certainty. She also had no idea how much energy using the magic would take from her. It could leave her weakened to a dangerous point. Reluctantly, she closed her fist and decided against it. She'd only used magic once before, and it had almost killed her. She wasn't willing to try again quite so soon. Instead, she urged her horse to close the gap between them, whispering words of encouragement in Elvish. As Vaedwyn gained on him, Agron gave a delighted chuckle. They had a fair few hours of their journey ahead. This was going to be interesting. 

     


    Turiel flew low over the trees of the Elven forest. He knew he was close now, all he had to do was follow the smell of ash, and death. Soon he found himself flying into a black fog of smoke and ash, and snarled angrily as he navigated through it, descending lower until he emerged on the blackened, scorched earth of the courtyard he had stood not days before. Despite it being dawn, the skies were blackened with smoke, leaving the Elven village plunged in darkness. Embers crackled all around him as he paced the courtyard, his long neck weaving from side to side, searching and sniffing at the air. Most of the village had already burned to a blackened pile of ash, he had missed the perpetrator by a few hours at least. He snarled viciously, cursing what he felt was a blatant misuse of a dragon's fire. 

    Wretched, he thought as he paced the eerily quiet village. Mad King...just what hell have you wrought on my brethren? Turiel stopped in his tracks, smelling at the air, before turning and stopping by a pile of charred remains. The first figure was difficult to make out, the body was so mangled and burnt. He brought his head down and sniffed at the remains, inspecting them. Then he brought back his head in horror, as he realised it was not one body, but two. A woman's charred body, cradled protectively over that of a small child. He let out a long, rattling snarl of digust, and turned to the next corpse. Another female, her body blackened, but he could see that she had been wounded previously from where she clutched her own body. His slit-like pupils narrowed as he realized who she was. No...the Elder, he thought. The mighty dragon pressed his muzzle up against Mogwé's corpse, and he could feel the heat permeating out of her charred remains, but it did not burn him. As his scales touched her, however, he felt the tiniest whispers of her presence that lied within. 

    She was dead, that much was certain. What he felt emanating from her was something beyond death, something that he, even with all of his years, could not truly explain. He felt her pain, and the terrible burden put upon her as the protector of the village. He sensed her sorrow, her guilt of failing at her duties. But beneath that he also felt her pride, and passion, and her fierce loyalty, and her warmth. He had felt the same in Vaedwyn, the qualities which the Dragons often referred to simply as 'fire'. Something welled up inside him, and threatened to surge outwards. The shear evil of this deed was weighing on him, and the sickening infection of madness and chaos hammered at the walls of his mind, urging him to give in. However, he would not, ever, give in to it. A debt is owed, he thought, Oaths bound and strengthened through the ages, passed on from mother to child. Eladrin...our first allies, our awakeners, even now you risk all to defend us. I vow it, I will not let this debt go unpaid. I will take your vengeance, and I will add it to my own. They will know my fire!

    Suddenly Turiel's head shot up to the sky as he leaned back, his wings stretching out to their full span, and he let out an almighty, furious roar that shook the crumbling wreckage of the village, and echoed through the entire forest. Flame shot from his open mouth, burning hot and bright like a beacon, cutting through the black smoke, menacing it until finally it breached the dark clouds, and light pierced through on the the ground of the courtyard. When he stopped, Turiel let out an angry snort and plumes of smoke steamed from his nostrils. Then he turned and leapt, and went skyward once more, beating his wings as quickly as he could, he soared across the forest hellbent on finding the ones who had done this, he had to, he could not let them find Agron and Vaedwyn. He would stop them, no matter the cost. 


  16. As the hours passed Agron had steered the horses away from the main roads and disappeared across the flat, open prairies to the West of the Elven forest. He rode quickly and silently, and seemed to be in deep concentration. He clung close to the hills where he could, and whenever they passed a small wood he would steer into it for cover. As they rode the sky overhead turned golden to sign the coming of dusk. They had passed through the prairies and reached a large valley with a river running through it, and lush trees growing all around it. As they drew closer, Agron felt an all too familiar sensation of something pressing against his consciousness. He welcomed it in, and suddenly an image of the valley, seen from the skies above, played in his mind. Through Turiel's eyes he saw his path ahead from a new perspective. Then the image changed, as the dragon's keen eyes focused in on a small cave tucked away in the depths of the valley. There, He heard Turiel's voice call out in his mind, Get inside, we must speak in private.

    Agron sped through the valley and within 10 minutes he had reached the cave and came to a stop. He got off and let Vaedwyn get down. 
    "Quick, lass, inside." He said hurriedly. "Take the horses." He added and ushered her inside with the two mares. Then he turned around and looked skyward. Turiel wasted no time descending from the skies, the newborn in tow behind him. The large dragon looked on edge, and Agron sensed his urgency. "Speak, old friend." He said. "What's on your mind?" Turiel let out a snort in response, and paced back and forth in agitation. 
    It is as we feared, Agron. Turiel said. They reached us far too quickly. There are no encampments close enough to Eladrowan, even on horseback they could not make it in mere days. You know what that means. 

    "Aye, it means he sent one of his lieutenants." Agron replied. Turiel let out a long, foreboding growl. 
    I must leave, Agron. You can run day and night, but all you will accomplish is broken steads and hungry bellies. Turiel looked up at the sky. I will head back and face them. It will buy you some more time.
    "Absolutely not." Agron replied fiercely. "Ye'll get yerself killed!"
    Do you forget who you speak to, old friend? Turiel replied, a prideful note to his voice. I am Turiel, son of Ethanriel. Nordlings sing songs in my honor. I am the great Northern Squall, Eldest brother of the Sororheim Makirog. I will not be bested by Enslaved children.

    "They aren't children any more." Agron protested. "Ye may be the eldest of your kind, but Aemon's dragons aren't younglings any more. Ye don't know how many were sent, what if all three of them are there?"
    Three against one hardly seems fair. Turiel replied, but quickly added, For them. Agron sighed and ran his hand over his pleated beard. 
    "Turiel...I dinnae like this." He said worriedly. 
    I do not like it either, Turiel replied, But given the circumstances it is the only option we have. Better the dragon than it's rider, is that not how the saying goes?

    "It's a shite saying." Agron replied gruffly. "But...ye've already decided. I cannae stop ye. Fine, but I'm givin' ye three days, Turiel."
    Good. Turiel replied. Take what you need. Rest here for tonight, and at dawn head for Babbleridge. Continue through the valley then go south, follow the river until you reach the main roads again. The town is but a few miles down the road. The humans there are quite welcoming, if I recall. Get settled, and wait for my call, then I will meet you at the eastern bluff, by the white oaks. Turiel leaned down, extending his neck so that Agron could reach the the supplies he carried. Agron removed the blankets, the last few bread rolls, and a thick length of fabric that was tied up with ropes. As he backed away he grabbed hold of Turiel by the large horn on his nose. 
    "Be careful, I mean it." He said. 

    Turiel gave an appreciative growl in response, then turned around to face Vaedwyn's dragon. Little Gardiel He said directly to the dragon, Protect Vaedwyn, at all costs. Remember what I have taught you in these past hours. Listen to Agron. You must trust him, for he too wishes Vaedwyn to be safe at all costs. Grow strong, for when I return, your true training begins.
    The dragon stalked to the front of the cave entrance, turned to face Turiel and bellowed at him before disappearing into the cave. Turiel chuffed in response, and gave Agron a quick bow of his head, before turning and bounding off across the ground, before leaping and tearing off in to the skies. Agron watched him leave, and kept watching until Turiel had completely disappeared from view. He picked up his supplies and walked in to the cave. 

    "Right then!" Agron said as he entered the cave. He tossed the supplies on the ground and patted his stomach. "Well, lass, I am famished. How about you?"
    "Oh!" Vaedwyn grinned sheepishly, "I haven't eaten since I found the egg..." She rubbed her abdomen, realising for the first time just how hungry she was.
    "Excellent!" Agron replied with a grin. He removed the ropes around the bundle of wrapped blankets and revealed what was a small armory of weapons. It included two regular swords, a longbow and quiver of arrows, a variety of daggers, a hatchet axe, and one very large claymore that seemed to be in an all together different league than the rest. It was covered by a red sheathe, with a dark steel cross hilt, with a Nordish knot design at the end, a red leather grip, and a dark steel pommel crafted in the shape of a dragon's head. The huge sword was built to be used by the tall, hardy Nords, and Agron swiftly removed it from the pile. "Right then, pick a weapon." Agron said. 

    Vaedwyn frowned as though she thought she'd heard him wrong, "Didn't you just ask me if I was hungry?" She asked, her eyes wandering across the weapons, yet her gaze kept falling back to Agron's claymore.
    "Aye, I did." Agron replied with a nod. "Bein' hungry is a great source of motivation. Now pick up a weapon."
    Vaedwyn let out a short, frustrated sigh. "Can't we eat first and train after?"
    "Are yer ears clogged, lass?" Agron asked, frowning. "I told ye tae pick up a weapon. Ye dinnae eat until I'm satisfied. Is that clear?"
    "Fine." She growled, then looked over the available weapons. The axe didn't interest her, nor did the dagger. She picked up both blades, one was a shortsword with a surprising amount of weight. The other was a longsword, a little lighter and with greater range, but it didn't have the striking force behind it that the shortsword had. She opted for the longsword. She held the weapon in her right hand and shrugged, "Now what?" She asked, irritably.

    "Now we see how much work I have cut out for me." Agron replied. He picked up the shorter sword, it's extra weight being no trouble for him. "Outside." He said, and they both walked outside of the cave, the sky was now a beautiful, crimson glow. "Tell me, Vaedwyn, how old are ye?" He asked as he flourished the sword in his hand. 
    Vaedwyn's dragon followed them outside and sat at the mouth of the cave, watching in silence. "I'm twenty." She replied, looking at the sword in her hand.
    "So by yer people's standards, still very much a child." Agron said. "Nord children work and train from the age of ten. They are considered adults by the age of fifteen. As far as I'm concerned, yer a young woman, so I'll no be givin' ye any leeway."
    At being reminded of her age and status, Vaedwyn clenched her fist in an attempt to temper her annoyance. "I started training with a sword a few months ago." She replied, "There wasn't a lot of call for warriors in my village."

    "Well, lass, in case ye haven't noticed, we're no in yer village any more. Yer an elf, though, so I should be thankful for that. Yer people might look like a bunch o' wimps, but I've never seen any other race learn as quick as ye do." Agron held his sword loosely at his waist. "Time tae prove it tae me. Let's see yer offence, lass. Ye'll notice that's no a wooden stick yer holdin', ye need tae learn quick, so ye come at me with the intent tae kill me, or I'll knock ye on yer arse, understand?"
    "I think I get the gist." A lop-sided smile spread across her face as she raised her sword. Swift as a bird of prey, Vaedwyn darted forwards, slashing with her blade. But to her surprise, Agron countered it effortlessly. She attacked several more times, her form was exactly as she had been taught, she was agile, had perfect reflexes, and yet still Agron bested her. Was this because of his training, or because he was a rider, or both? She had only been training for a few months, but she had neglected to mention she was one of the top students. She took to fencing like a natural. But right now, she was getting frustrated. Especially as she had always been taught that no elf could be beaten by a human.

    "Good." Agron said with a smirk. "Excellent form, ye'd do no bad in a wee competition. But this is life or death I'm teachin' ye, lass. In a real fight, yer opponent won't just wait around for ye to eventually stick 'em with a lucky strike." Agron suddenly lashed out with a vicious swipe, clashing with Vaedwyn's blade and knocking it from her hands, before holding the tip of his blade to her neck. "Dead." He said, frowning. He stepped back from her and relaxed his blade. "Right then, pick it up, and try again."
    Vaedwyn gingerly held her wrist and walked over to pick up her sword but suddenly her dragon charged at her and knocked her to the ground. The dragon stood over her and roared at Agron, and Vaedwyn realised then that he had moved to attack her when her back was to him. She wanted to yell at him, but every complaint she made, she realised he'd have an answer to. This only frustrated her more.
    "Stop it!" She growled, pushing her dragon off her, "Get off!" She pushed the her dragon away, and pulled herself to her feet, while her dragon sullenly stalked back to her spot at the mouth of the cave.

    "Vaedwyn." Agron said sternly. "The wee yin was only tryin' tae protect ye." He sighed with a note of irritation, and perhaps a little disappointment. "Ye've a lot tae learn, clearly." He said, and suddenly Agron advanced on her, attacking relentlessly, even somewhat cruelly, considering their gap in skill. Again and again he swung at her, ensuring that she was kept on the defense, and giving her no room to maneuver. "What is a rider on her own, eh!?" He yelled. "Just a wee girl, nothin' more, that's what!"
    Vaedwyn wanted to yell at him but she couldn't find the breath, she was doing everything she could to stop his attacks from connecting. Her muscles felt like they were on fire, and her wrist felt like it was ready to snap. "When yer dragon comes to defend ye, do ye know what she's risking!?" He yelled at her as he kept attacking. "Her life! That's what! Do ye think she does'nae bleed!? And what's more, lass." Agron finished with an almighty swing, knocking the sword from Vaedwyn's hand again, before sweeping her off her feet with a swift kick to the back of her leg, and pointed his blade, once more, at her throat. "When you die, she dies! Your life isn't just yer own any more!" He pointed towards the dragon, fuming with anger. "It's hers too!"

    Vaedwyn gasped as the air was knocked from her lungs, she looked back at her dragon, still panting from exhaustion, and reconsidered what she'd done. She felt shame for having lashed out at her for coming to her rescue. But just then, a thought occurred to her. Her dragon met her gaze and for the first time, Vaedwyn didn't wait for her dragon to make contact with her. She took a deep breath, and tried reaching out with her mind. She didn't know if she could reach her, but maybe with a simple enough message. Two words.
    Scare him!
    Quick as a flash, her dragon charged Agron, roaring and baring her fangs. She leapt into the air, talons glistening but as Agron reacted, Vaedwyn reached up, grabbed the hilt of his sword in one hand and sucker-punched him with the other. Agron stepped back from the blow and reached for his lip. Silence fell over the valley for a moment, that could well have been an eternity. Agron looked at the blood on his fingers that had came from his busted lips. He looked at Vaedwyn, still angry with her, but he felt like perhaps there was hope for her. 

    "Yer lucky that she's loyal." Agron said, pointing at the dragon. "That's how ye should be fightin'. Dragon and rider, as one. But ye cannae rely on her tae always bail ye out. Ye have tae protect her tae." Agron walked over and picked up Vedwyn's sword, gathering it with his own and started walking back to the cave. "I've had enough for now. Both o' ye need to work on yer connection, an that's somethin' I cannae teach ye. Take the bow and go hunt us some dinner. Take the dragon wi' ye, perhaps she'll show ye a thing or two." And with that Agron went back in to the cave. 


  17. On 2/27/2016 at 3:03 PM, Ice said:

    I've actually been thinking about this recently! So Ima respond :D

    App!!!!! I open my phone and go in order, open my FB app and scroll, open my 9gag app and scroll, check my email using my app. But then I get the checking S*T and I have to open my chrome and go to the url. After using nothing but apps, it comes off as a hassle(not one I'm not willing to take, I love this place, lots of love <3)

    Also, maybe I just haven't figured it out yet, but when I get on and see someone new has posted(on my phone), I can't click and it take me directly to the newest post. I have to go into the section, find the thing that was posted in, the scroll to the newest response. I dunno if it's fixable but bleh.

    I probably have more comments but I'm in class. Shhhh~

    Tapatalk is a pretty well used forum app. However I think ack! would probably have to, like, register Surreality on tapatalk, or something. I dunno. 

    21 hours ago, AnimeFreak said:

    Yes but those don't tend to work very well, at least I don't liek them all to much. The mobile website interface for Reddit is pretty solid.

    Alien Blue for iOS is pretty awesome as far as UX/UI is concerned. If you're Android and not a fan of bacon reader there is also Reddit Sync. =)

    7 hours ago, HerculeHastings said:

    The main thing for millennials now, i think, is to be constantly entertained almost every minute, which is hard unless forums have tons of members. They want to have news, new information, every single time they refresh, like Facebook or Reddit. And forums simply cannot keep up with their demand for instant-speed content.

    This is a pretty valid point that I just can't argue with. Perhaps the solution is social media integration. I get that for general info/new and updates the social media outlets are better. But if you want to write long passages collaboratively, this is still the best platform in my opinion. People rp on Tumblr but it looks a little clumsy to me, at a glance. 


  18. The ground shook as the great beast dropped down from the sky. Guards armed with spears and shields quickly gathered around it, terrified but standing strong as was their duty. The dragon's amber eyes darted around in it's head, it's pupils tightening in to tiny, black slits. It let out a slow, clicking snarl as it turned it's body around in circles, over and over again, it's head and tail swishing back and forth, watching, waiting. It's copper scales shimmered in the light as it dared the circle of guards surrounding it to come forth. One of the guards, out of nerves more than anything, shifted on his spot, moving just an inch to the left. The dragon's head whipped round at the sudden noise, nostrils flaring as it bucked it's head, thrusting with the single, large horn on top of it's snout. Then it opened it's mouth, exposing an enormous maw of fanged teeth, and it let out a blood curdling roar, and the people began to scream. The guard dropped his shield and ran, and the other's hesitated. The dragon roared again, spreading it's wings out in an aggressive gesture, and that was enough to cause the rest of the guards to flee. 

    "Aw right ya big show off!" A broad, rough voice yelled. The dragon immediately stopped roaring, and let out a short snarl, followed by a chuffing noise. It lowered it's head and neck to the ground, and a man stepped out of the saddle on it's back and put his feet on the ground. He was incredibly tall, towering over the elven villagers nearby. He wore thick armor over his broad frame. The leather fixings were coated with intricate knot patterns, and the plated gauntlets and pauldrons were etched with rough, scratch-like symbols known as runes. His armor was lined with thick, tawny fur. "Right then ye can stop puffin' yer chest, the pale yins have put their pointy sticks down." He said to the dragon. The man had a head of thick, wild, hair. It was the colour of fire, reaching his shoulders, tied loosely behind his head, with two thin braids dangling from the right side of his face. He ran his hand over the thick braid of his beard and sighed, looking out at the terrified courtyard in front of him. 

    "Okay!" He called out. "It's okay! He's a big softie, really. Turiel's no gonnae hurt any o' ye, I promise. Come on out!" The dragon let out another unimpressed chuffing noise and growled irritably, indicating he might have been having second thoughts about hurting them. 
    From out of one of the tree houses, a she-elf approached. She stood defiant before them, while the rest of the village disappeared within seconds. "My name is Mogwé, I am an Elder of this village. You may be a rider, but no rider has entered this forest in a thousand years. We have a long memory, our last one of dragons was of fire raining from the sky, torching our forests and our homes and slaughtering our people. I do not recognise your face, rider. I know you are not the King, but sadly..." She paused as a bitter tone etched into her words, "... we could not see their faces from so far above our forest."

    "Awright, hen." The man said with a nod. "Well the name's Agron, and this here..." He stuck his thumb out and pointed over his shoulder at the angry dragon standing behind him. "This is Turiel. Now he's just a bit pissed aff, he does'nae like spears, ken? On account of folk keep chuckin' them at 'em. Anyway, am no here for a wee chat. I'm lookin' fer a dragon. No as big as Turiel, mind. A wee yin." Agron held his hands up in front of him, only a few inches apart to indicate the size. 
    "The dragon would be a newborn?" Mogwé asked.
    "Aye." Agron said with a nod. "Just a wee thing. No doubt hidin' wi' a new pal. One wi' a funny lookin' scar. Y'ken the drill, hen. Yer old enough."

    "I'm sorry to disappoint you," Mogwé raised the dagger in her hand and threw it to the ground where it stuck, "The dragon is dead. I won't allow it to fall into the hands of the King."
    "Away an dinnae talk pish, hen." Agron replied, waving his hand dismissively at her. "Ye think a dinnae ken when a newborn falls near me?" He tapped his chest. "That kind o' tragedy does'nae escape an old heart. Now, unless ye want the Tyrant to come knockin', ye better show me where they are." He sighed, a mixture of empathy for the woman, and frustration. "I'm here to protect it. The wee thing's found it's rider, an' it's been a long time comin'. If ye don't help me, then the dragon an' it's rider will be a lovely pair of corpses soon enough, and yer whole town along wi' them."

    Mogwé bunched her hands into fists as she stood before the rider, then eventually she buckled and shook her head, "I don't know where they are." She held up her arm, showing him the bite mark, "She fled the village, fearing you were the King."
    "Smart." Agron said with a grin. "Right, well, c'mon then." He said and he started walking towards Mogwé. "Y'ken this forest better than me." He said. Then he turned back towards Turiel. "Dinnae just sit there, away an scout ahead!" He yelled. Turiel stood up with another soft growl, but did not protest. Then his wings fanned out, causing more villagers to gasp, and he leapt up, beating his wings and taking off into the sky, disappearing from the village and descending in to the depths of the forest, flying low over the trees. 
    "I think I know where she'll go..." Mogwé turned and led Agron out of the village. As they walked, she looked the human up and down, "So, where have you been all these years, Gardwyn?"

    "North, with my kin." Agron replied. "Even the Tyrant's eyes don't see far in the Fjords. Yer an old yin, hen. Can ye not see it? Feel it?" Agron sniffed and held his arms out openly in front of him as he walked. "There's been a change in the winds. A millenia we've waited fer it. The Riders had to stay hidden...but maybe no fer much longer."
    "I suggest you go back to the north and stay there." Mogwé replied coolly, "The King and his riders all but destroyed your order. The age of the Gardwyn is over." 
    "Expected more from one such as yerself, if I'm honest." Agron replied. "Ye dinnae get tae decide that any more than I do. Suros has spent too long in the dark. I mind when you lot were the wisest of us all. I mind yer kind as bein' more fierce, ken? Ye were the people the Gardiel respected enough to stand beside." Agron let out a soft chuckle. "...Naw, ye dinnae get tae decide, hen." He pointed skywards, and Turiel's shadowy form swooped over the trees, blackening the forest for a fleeting moment before tearing off again. "They decide." He said finally. 

    "You're as wise as they say, Gardwyn," Mogwé nodded, "Our people have forgotten themselves. As has much of Suros. If an awakening is to happen, it will need the riders. Vaedwyn is a special child," Mogwé laughed then, as though she'd only just realised, "You are a rider, you know our ancient tongue. You must see the irony in her name."
    "Hmph." Agron smiled. "More like a sign, if ye ask me." They continued through the forest for a while, and on occasion Agron would make odd expressions, as if he was conversing with someone, but he didn't make a sound. Then finally he spoke again. "Where are we goin'?" He asked. 
    "To the southern glade. We're here, see?" Mogwé stepped forwards and pushed through a heavy section of brush, and sure enough, the forest opened out into a glade with an old, broken tree in the centre. Mogwé looked up at the old tree and its broken branches, and then saw Vaedwyn sat in front of the tree with the newborn dragon prancing around in front of her as though goading her to play. "I had a feeling she'd be here. She comes here often."

    "Ah..." Agron said as he looked upon Vaedwyn, and the newborn dragon. "Aye...a good match." He said with a smile. He stepped further in to the Glade but stopped walking as he saw Vaedwyn look at him, a concerned expression on her face. "Greetings." Agron said softly. "Sorry if I scared ye back there, lass. How's yerr wee pal doin'?" Agron took a couple of steps further, slowly and carefully. "Bonny thing, isn't she?"
    "Leave us alone!" Vaedwyn quickly leapt up and put her back to the tree, at her surprise and fear, the little dragon turned on Agron, growling and baring it's teeth.
    "Now there we go!" Agron said with a wide grin. "Look at that, fierce fresh out the shell. Oh, aye, yer gonnae be a handful, I can tell." Agron crouched down on one knee, looking the dragon in the eyes. He tugged at the fur around his neck, craning his head to expose his lower neck on his right. A white scar sprawled across that side of his neck, jagged like lightning. "Ye've nothin' to fear o' me, wee yin. Me an' yer pal Vaedwyn, we're the same."
    The little black dragon eyed his mark, but either he'd gotten too close or she still didn't trust him, as she snapped at his neck. "She doesn't like you!" Vaedwyn yelled at him, "I don't like you!" She added, "I won't let you take her..."

    "Who said I'm gonnae take her, eh?" Agron said, and he stood up and backed off a few steps. "The pair o' ye are bonded now. Dae ye understand what that means? There's no friendship quite like it, lass." Agron looked up, and Turiel's black shadow cut through the sky and then disappeared again. Agron nodded, agreeing to words that no one had spoke. "Turiel says ye've got courage. High praise comin' from that grumpy ol' lizard, let me tell ye." 
    A sliver of doubt appeared on Vaedwyn's face, and she looked to Mogwé for guidance. Mogwé sighed and nodded to confirm what the man was saying. Vaedwyn let out a breath she'd been holding for the past couple of minutes and her shoulders relaxed, "Why are you here? If you're not here to take her away, what are you here for?"
    "Well, I wisnae plannin' on bein' here at all, actually." Agron admitted. "Y'see, lass, that dragon...she was with me. She's been with me fer a long time. She didnae fall from the heavens, she fell out of my satchel." Agron pointed up at the sky. "Turiel and I were just passin' through. But the dragon, well, she sensed ye. She knew she had to be with ye, so, she took matters intae her own hands."

    "Turiel?" Vaedwyn glanced up at the sky, but saw nothing. "I thought the riders were all dead..." She muttered, looking him up and down, "All except the King."
    "Aye, and so does the King." Agron replied. "And I'd like tae keep it that way." He put his hands on his hips and looked up at the sky again. "Turiel and I are like you and, er, well we'll just call her the wee yin for now. He's a bit bigger, mind, but he's no all bad. He's waitin' up there, does'nae want tae scare ye, ken?  But, well, if ye'd like, ye can meet him."
    "Meet... Turiel?" Vaedwyn looked up at the sky again, "You have a dragon..." She whispered in awe. Just then, she felt something strange. And she jerked backwards out of surprise, backing up into the tree. "What was that?!" She asked, frowning and looking around. "It felt like..." She shook her head in confusion, "I don't know, I never felt anything like that before. It was excitement, but... I wasn't excited. I can't..."

    "Settle down, lass." Agron said, holding his hand out. "I know it's a little strange at first, but yer gonnae have tae get used tae it. The wee yin is bonded tae ye." He placed his hand on his heart. "Yer hearts are one. Ye can feel each other's joys an' fears. But ye have tae be careful, ken?" Agron indicated to the little dragon. "When ye get scared, she does too, ken?"
    Vaedwyn looked down at the little black dragon, and it stopped growling at Agron long enough to look up at her, "You did that?" She asked, frowning. The dragon sat back on it's haunches, staring up at her. Then she felt something pushing against the edges of her mind. At first, she resisted it instinctively. But somehow she knew the strange presence belonged to the little dragon. Eventually she managed to calm her mind, and a wave of complex emotions not of her own, washed over her. A mixture of confusion and reflexive anger persisted, which was likely her own fault. But far stronger was a feeling of contentment, trust and love so powerful that it overwhelmed her.

    "Hmm...now yer gettin' it." Agron said with a nod. "It'll get easier. By the time yer my age it'll be as natural as takin' a breath."
    "What do you mean?" Vaedwyn asked, looking from Agron to Mogwé and back again, "Does this mean i'm a rider?!" The disbelief was clear on her face.
    "Aye, of course it does." Agron said with a nod. "What else would ye be? Dragon's are shite at ploughin' fields, ken?"
    "You hear that, little one..." Vaedwyn grinned, and the little dragon continued to stare up at her, "I'm your rider..." She held out her hand and knelt down and the dragon closed the gap between them and pressed the top of it's head into her palm.
    "Well, ye might need to wait until it gets a wee bit bigger." Agron said with a soft chuckle. 

    Suddenly there was a rush of wind and the sky blackened. Turiel broke through the trees and landed on the ground behind Agron, scraping his claws along the earth and chuffing irritably. "What is taking so long, Agron?" The voice was low and booming, but it could only be heard by Agron. 
    "I told you to wait." Agron replied out loud, as a courtesy to others. "Ye could have scared the poor lass half to death!"
    "If she is so easily frightened she will never last the trials ahead anyway." Turiel replied. He moved forward, passing Agron, his head lowering until he was only a few feet from Vaedwyn and the newborn. He sniffed the air around her, and then simply stared at them both for a long moment. 
    The little dragon pounced onto Turiel's snout, grabbing it by her talons and clinging to him, sinking her teeth harmlessly into his scales and growling.
    "You're a little out-classed, little one... come back!" Vaedwyn held her hand out and to her great surprise the dragon released it's grip and vaulted off the end of Turiel's snout and landed beside her.

    Turiel let out an approving growl, and tilted his head only slightly. "See, Agron? This one is not so easily startled. Their bond is strong, even at this early stage. The pup, she sees it. The Cloud Rider...." Agron's eyes narrowed as if it was searching for something hidden deep within Vaedwyn. Then he let out another approving growl. "This one has...fire."
    "Are ye feelin' alright?" Agron said, folding his arms. "That's the second time you've complimented someone today. That has to be the first for this century."
    "Today...is a special day." Turiel replied, closing his eyes for a moment. "...For the first time in a long time...I am with kin."
    "Are you..." Vaedwyn looked to Turiel then back to Agron, "Are you talking to your dragon?" She shrugged, "I don't hear anything. Can I talk to my dragon? Will she talk to me?"

    "She will." Agron said. "In time. She's just a baby, does'nae know how tae yet. But perhaps in a day or two, maybe less, maybe more. But, aye, I can hear Turiel, he speaks tae me in my mind, and I can speak directly in tae his, if I want tae. And they'll talk tae each other as well, soon enough."
    "She listens, though." Turiel added, and he gazed at the little dragon. "You can hear me, little one, can you not?"
    The little black dragon pulled her head back from Vaedwyn's palm and turned to stare at Turiel, she sat upright on her haunches and examined him with a critical eye.
    "I don't know what to say. This morning, I thought the dragons were gone. Now there's two, and one of them is mine..." Vaedwyn blinked in shock. "What... what am I supposed to do now...?"

    "Well..." Agron said, and he let out a heavy sigh. 
    "You have to tell her." Turiel said, and he turned away from Vaedwyn and the newborn and padded off to the other side of the glade, and lay down. "I would tell her for you if she would only open her ears."
    "Right, right..." Agron said, shaking his head. Then he folded his arms and looked at Vaedwyn. "King Aemon and his three Lieutenants are the only other dragon riders who still retain their dragons. The rest are all gone. There are a few riders left, but their dragons have perished, their wills broken. Ye and I, lass...we're the only ones left who can stop King Aemon. Tae accomplish that much, I will have to train ye. And to do that..." Agron sighed. "...Ye will have tae leave this place."
    "But... this is my home." Vaedwyn shook her head, "I've never left the forest before." The little dragon leapt up into her arms and she held it up as it nestled into the nape of her neck, "And besides, what difference am I going to make? I'm not a warrior."

    "Not yet." Agron said. "But you can become one, if you come with me. I can teach ye how tae use a sword, an axe, a bow, or whatever ye choose. I can teach ye how tae use magic, and how tae fly. Ye'll never learn that stuff on yer own, lass."
    "Tell her the whole truth." Turiel said, and he let out an annoyed growl. 
    "I was gettin' to it!" Agron replied heatedly. He let out another sigh. "But...more importantly. Vaedwyn, when ye made a bond with the wee yin, I felt it. Every rider feels it. Even King Aemon. He's going tae look for ye. If ye stay here, he'll find ye. What's more...he'll kill everyone who lives here." Vaedwyn shook her head, there was a dozen different emotions rushing through her mind and she struggled to know what to think. But then the presence of her dragon pressed against her mind, reassuring her. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself and looked to Agron. "I'll do it." She nodded, "I must, to protect my people." 
    "You ask a lot of her, Gardwyn." Mogwé spoke up at last, "I don't expect you to make a promise you can't keep. To keep her safe from harm. But if you swear to me, in the ancient tongue, that you will do everything in your power to see that she is trained as a rider and equipped with the skills to defend herself, her dragon, and Suros... then you may leave with her."

    "May leave?" Turiel growled, his eyes narrowing on Mogwé. "The Eladrin thinks this is her decision. Amusing."
    "Aye." Agron said with a nod, ignoring Turiel. He let out a brief sigh and then looked directly at Mogwé, and when he spoke it was in the elvish tongue. "I swear to you, Mogwé, Elder of Eladrin, on my honour as a Gardwyn, that I will do all in my power to ensure that Vaedwyn is trained in the ways of Gardiel and Wyn, and make her a protector of Suros, one that the Eladrin will be proud of."
    "So be it." Mogwé replied, "And you must always remember, Agron..." Her face became stern, "While the dragons are above our laws and ways, you are as bound to us as the rest of Suros. The riders are not above the law. You cannot simply take who you please simply because it is to your benefit. Doing so against the will of the rider, or their guardian," She indicated herself, "Would set you down a path our King now treads."
    "Then I can go?" Vaedwyn asked, turning to Mogwé for confirmation.
    "You are old enough to make your own choices, though many of our people would disagree. You must do what is right for you, and for Suros."
    "I will." Vaedwyn grinned, "I'll become a dragon rider, and i'll find a way to stop King Aemon, I don't know how, but I will..." She felt a weighted thump against her chest and looked down at her dragon, "Right. We will."

    "Finally." Turiel said, and he stood up from his spot on the ground. "Can we leave before the Eladrin has another bout of parental madness?"
    "I guess I'd be foolish tae hope for more than two compliments in one day." Agron said, rolling his eyes. "Well, then we best be off." Agron turned to Vaedwyn. "Ye can go say yer goodbyes if ye like, but they'll have tae be quick. King Aemon is a far ride fae here, but we'll want to get as far ahead of him as we can. Besides, he'll move quicker than us in the sky. We'll need to take horses for now."
    "I can't waste the time..." Vaedwyn reluctantly admitted. She turned and hugged Mogwé, "Tell Torenth why I had to leave, she might not understand."
    "I will." Mogwé returned the hug, her voice broke but she contained her tears.
    "Alright..." Vaedwyn took a deep breath and let it out, "I'm ready." Then she turned back into the forest, brought her thumb and index finger to her lips and let out a long shrill whistle with a dozen rapid changes. Seconds later, two horses came galloping out of the forest and trotted up to her. She patted them down and led them to Agron, "Shall we?" She asked, a lop-sided grin spreading across her face.

    "Already provin' useful." Agron said with a grin. He turned to Turiel. "You take tae the sky an' keep watch for us. I'll ride wi' Vaedwyn."
    "Well I was hardly going to get on the horse now, was I?" Turiel replied, rolling his eyes. Then with a beat of his huge wings he took off in to the sky once more and disappeared beyond the tree tops. Agron pulled himself on to the back of one of the horses and grabbed the reigns. "Come on then, lass." He said with a grin, then he dug his heels in to the horse and took off. 


  19. Shaun was sat at a fixed desk in a large lecture theater. It had been a couple of days since he had trained with Rose. That night had been a welcome catharsis for him, and the next day he felt decidedly more calm about his situation. He agreed to attend college, and Rose made a few calls, and before he knew it he was enrolled in his junior year of the Bachelor of Arts English Literature major in Darkpine College. And so now he sat in the lecture theater for his first class, and stared down at the sheet of paper in front of him. It was a list of all his classes for the year. Introduction to Literature, Creative Writing, History of the English Language, Shakespeare, Medieval Literature, History of the English Novel, The American Novel, and the list just went on. Granted, these were lessons he would learn over the course of a few years, but it all seemed incredibly daunting to him. 

    Being in a classroom environment again began to make him feel a little sick and anxious. A sea of faces were sat all around him, quietly chatting among each other, and yet despite being surrounded by people, he felt incredibly alone. He had read through the syllabus for this particular class and realized that he was already behind by three books. Reading a book a week seemed to be the standard, which he supposed seemed an easy thing for him to catch up on. After all, not requiring sleep made the days that much longer, and he had already burned through another two books the day before. When he had first received the syllabus he was also pleased to see that the vast majority of the books were already in Rose's bookshelf. 

    He leaned back on his chair and sighed. Rose had taken him to get new clothes the day before. He was wearing a pair of black, skinny jeans and a pair of black, pointed toe boots, with a strap and silver buckle around the ankle. He also wore a long-sleeved T-shirt with black and white horizontal stripes, and a black denim jacket. He had accessorized with a white gold chain, as silver was a no-go, and a leather belt with a black and yellow Batman buckle. The new look was refreshing, but when he'd put on some new clothes he had suddenly became acutely aware of his hair, which was badly in need of a change. The door to the lecture theater opened and a man in his early 40's entered. 

    "All right, settle down." He said, projecting his voice clearly across the room. "Books open. We'll be picking up where we left off last week. We're covering Othello today. Please look over the exercise sheet, remember that everything you argue should have it's basis in the language of the play." The Professor sat down at his desk for a moment while everyone in the class began to scan over their notes. Shaun's fingers clenched, panicked and overwhelmed already, and the class had only just began. He opened up his copy of Othello and began reading through it hurriedly, hoping he could at least understand some of what was going to be talked about. 

    "All right so I expect most of you will be more familiar with Othello than other plays we have covered so far. As a play it's considered somewhat of a great one, and no doubt some of you have seen it performed. Othello has had a profound effect on culture and institutions across the globe." The Professor said after a moment, and he stood up from his desk and began to pace. He was dressed in blue jeans, brown boots and a brown leather jacket, his hair the color of hay, medium length and scruffy. "So let's open the floor. What sort of themes do we see in Othello?" As soon as he had asked, a few hands shot up. He pointed at a girl. 

    "Race." She called out, and the Professor nodded. 
    "Good, yes." He said. "Anything else?" He pointed to another girl. 
    "Evil." Came the response. He nodded again.
    "Another?" He pointed to a boy sitting two seats away from Shaun. 
    "Order and chaos." The boy said. 
    "Yes, excellent." The Professor replied, although there was no enthusiasm in his tone. 

    The lecture went on, and Shaun made a point of keeping his hand down when questions were asked. He scribbled down notes based on what people were saying, but they made little sense to him, as he had not read the book. By the two hour mark Shaun felt utterly defeated as the class and the Professor talked about the play, to which he understood very little. "It's a tragedy about love." The Professor said to the class as he began to wind down. "But it's a tragedy that is disabled and enabled by notions of oneself in various public arenas, including the marshal world, but also this world. This complicated world that we were talking about how race, or colour, or otherness is valued and devalued. At how you take yourself at other people's valuation. That's one of the things that functions very powerfully in this play. That any sense of self that any character has, except perhaps Desdemona, almost everybody else gets their sense of self from another discourse."

    The Professor went to his desk and started to gather his things. "Many of these same things will return when we cover King Lear next week. We'll see, again, the father and the daughter, and we'll see again the public, and the private. And we'll see, again, the impossibility of full knowledge of someone that you love. So, until next time." The class suddenly got loud as everyone got up en masse and began to leave the room. Shaun grabbed his things and left his desk, descending down the stairs in the center and making a sharp right for the door. "Mister Meyer, a moment of your time, please." The Professor called to him. Shaun froze on the spot. How did the Professor know who he was? He turned slowly and walked back to the Professor, and waited. 

    "Shaun." The Professor said. "I received a notice that you'd be joining this class. A little late in the semester, I have to say I'm quite surprised. They tell me your parents died suddenly in an accident, and you had to move here with your sister, is that right?"
    "Uh, yes." Shaun said with a nod. He and Rose had planned this lie together. 
    "Well I'm very sorry for your loss, but I'm a little concerned about your academic path. This is a very intense course, and a late start is just going to add to the pressure."
    "Uh...yeah." Shaun said with a nod. "I'm sorry I didn't contribute much. I've been trying to catch up on the syllabus."
    "Right, well while I admire the effort, make sure you are up to speed on what we're currently covering before you start reading through what we've already covered."

    "Right, sorry." Shaun said with a nod. "King Lear, for next week, right?"
    "Right." The Professor nodded. "I'm going to be picking you out during discussions as of next week, to make sure you're keeping up. So be prepared."
    "I will." Shaun said. "Oh, um...sorry I..."
    "Professor Shanks." Came the response with a knowing look. "David Shanks. Nice to meet you, Shaun."
    "And you." Shaun said, smiling weakly. "I'll see you next week." He added, and then he turned and left. 


    As the early evening approached, three cars were parked outside an old house in the forest. Curtis Archer stepped out of the front door holding two crates of beer in his arms. Dominic followed closely behind him with another two crates and they both began putting them in the trunk of the cars. Finally Justin emerged carrying 6 large bottles of whisky which he placed in the trunk with the rest. "Claire should be back with the groceries soon." Dominic said with a soft smile that did little to hide the tension he was obviously experiencing. "Kid's are with the sitter. I yelled at Elijah this morning for taking too long with his breakfast." Dominic sighed, a look of guilt on his face. 
    "He'll understand in a few years." Curtis said, patting his uncle on the shoulder. "It doesn't get much easier, even when you get old, huh?"
    "Yeah, well you'll never have to go through that." Dominic said to Curtis. "Mr Alpha." 

    "True." Curtis said with a nod. "But that just means I bear the responsibility of reigning you all in. I never envied dad for that. I always thought he was lucky for not having to go through the change like we did. For being able to control himself like that."
    "Well he had it harder than you." Justin said. "He had seven wolves to keep watch over, you only have three."
    "...Yeah." Curtis said with a sigh. A few years ago he had lost several members of his family. His cousin, Justin's older brother, had killed Curtis' father in order to take his place as the Alpha of the pack. Justin's father and mother had sided with their eldest son, but Justin sided with Curtis and Dominic. In the end they had all been killed in the fight that ensued. Curtis' cousin, Marcus, had died at Curtis' hand. But it had almost went the other way, if it hadn't been for Lex, the vampire he quite literally owed his life to. 

    "Hey, you okay?" Justin asked. 
    "Yeah, fine." Curtis said. "Just...bad memories."
    "Sorry..." Justin said, shifting nervously. "It wasn't your fault, man."
    "If I'd done things differently...maybe they'd still be alive." Curtis said. 
    "Curtis, you were just a kid." Justin said. "Trust me, we're better off without my old man and my brother."
    "And Rowan?" Curtis asked. Justin looked uncomfortable at hearing his mother's name, and he turned away from Curtis. 
    "Yeah...okay, you're right on that." He said. "I miss her."

    "She always put the pack first." Dominic said. "If she were here now she'd be telling you to make some babies on the double."
    "Well, maybe once they figure out male pregnancy." Curtis said with a smirk. 
    "You could just start dating, you know." Justin said with a grin. "Have you seen the girls on Tinder? Like, seriously..."
    "Shut up." Curtis said, rolling his eyes. "Get the rest of the beer. We're leaving for the cabin when Claire get's back."
    "Yes boss." Justin said with a smirk, and he disappeared back in to the house. 

    "Do you think he'll ever grow up?" Dominic asked. 
    "Nope." Curtis replied. "But I'm okay with that."
    "Mm...he is right though." Dominic said. "I mean, not about Tinder, but you should get out there. It's been 5 years."
    "Maybe." Curtis said, but his lips tightened after he spoke. "...it's not that easy. Do you think you could ever move on from Claire?"
    "Ah...I take your point." Dominic said. "Come on, let's get inside and help him." Curtis nodded and he went with his uncle back inside the house. 

     


  20. Incredibly sleep deprived. Totally messed my sleeping pattern up over the weekend and now I'm trying to fix it. Havent slept in about 20 hours and I'm about to go into a 3 hour lecture, followed by a trip to the library to use the printer, then an afternoon of data analysis. 

    Some please shoot me. Like, with a sleep dart or something, y'know.