The Last Draconian 6: Elven Matters

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I could hear the lightning crack. I hated lightning, not being able to hear properly had always made me feel really helpless. Or was thunder the sound and lightning the bolts themselves? Michael had corrected me over getting that wrong once. Still, thanks to Drake, I didn’t feel entirely helpless. Why didn’t I feel as brave as I had during the last storm? It was an easy question to answer. Michael wasn’t here any more.

During the last big storm Michael had sat with me and told me legends of how life on Gaia began, or were they legends? Since he was a draconian he would know, right? Drake indicated that something was floating in the storm. I opened my window, and the object floated in, dripping rain on my hand and floor. I closed the window again before examining the object.

It was the same kind of device that Michael had used to send me a message before. I found the recess right away and pressed it. Unfortunately I didn’t hear a word properly since the lightning was still cracking.

Since I had to wait anyway I opened my dresser’s upper-left drawer. The first item that I felt was Drake’s soul stone. It vibrated lightly at my touch. I pulled out a warm vial of cow’s blood. I went to the windowsill where his bowl sat. The cork came loose easily, letting loose the rusty scent of blood. I poured the vial into the bowl. Drake tasted the air near the bowl. He greedily slurped up the liquid. When Drake was finished with his meal I took my silk handkerchief and gently wiped his face. He nuzzled my hand in appreciation. I had to wait for more than four hours until the storm subsided. Then I reactivated the orb. This time the voice was clear:

Illyana, I have completed my suit of armour. Now all that remains is the destruction of the lich. There is a ninety percent chance that I will succeed. In the unlikely event that the lich survives please make sure that he is brought to justice for his crimes. The evidence of his deeds can be found at Drahaven. Farewell, my friend.

I collapsed onto the floor. There was something about his voice. My chest tightened. “Michael, you don’t plan on surviving your battle, do you?”

*****

Luc was on her way to Het Wald. She passed another guard post without incident. It was built into a still-living elm tree. The openings that the guards watched from were only noticeable to those who knew where to look. The lines of the entrance vanished completely when it was closed.

Luc was glad to return home. She enjoyed her time in Wicadia, teaching, studying, living as a scholar of magic; but the dead buildings were so wasteful that it bordered on barbarism. As she arrived at the city limits a group of elves clad in golem-briar armour approached her. Of course they expected her; they had probably been informed of her arrival the moment she entered the forest. At their head was a tall male with light green hair and brown eyes.

“Well met, second daughter of the Elivy house. It was good of you to return. I am Leaf, second son of the Elfblood house.”

Luc bowed. “I greet you son of royalty.”

Leaf gestured toward a giant oak. “Come, Lady, I will explain the situation as we dine.”

Luc followed him. Leaf gestured at the oak’s trunk. A large segment of the trunk slid open. He held out his arm toward the opening. Luc walked in and Leaf followed, the opening closed behind them.

*****

A troubled elf clad in white silk and adorned with a crystal circlet descended the wooden steps. He had chestnut coloured hair that was speckled with flecks of grey. “Lan, where is your sister?”

Lan looked up from his book. His long ears drooped as he scratched his blond hair. “I believe that she mentioned wanting to play with the royal guards.”

The elf’s yellow eyes seemed to give off sparks. “She knows that I disapprove of such play. Where are your brothers?”

Lan thought for a moment. “Liys took a patrol to survey the border and Leaf went to meet the second daughter of the Elivy family.”

“Your brothers take their responsibilities seriously. You should look into it.”

“I do take my responsibilities seriously. I’ve been studying past conflicts between us and the trolls. If I can isolate the root of those hostilities we may be able to free ourselves from them.”

“You fool, trolls have no reason. They merely hate for hatred’s sake. You should be training to fight instead of wasting your time.” The elf turned away from his son and left their home.

*****

?????

There was a group of guards around us, watching. I ignored them and focused on my opponent. Her blade clashed against mine again and again.

Her strikes were slow. She wasn’t taking the match seriously. She would do what she always did, fight just hard enough to press me. I brought my own blade up to parry her downward strike. I quickly grabbed her wrist with my free hand and twisted. Her blade fell to the ground. It was unsatisfying, both because she hadn’t been taking it seriously and because I was quite certain that she could have kept her grip.

“Lais, what are you doing?” My father walked through the guards. They parted in deference to him.

Lais removed her helmet and bowed.

Her light pink hair fell loosely around her face. “Royal One, I was simply granting your daughter’s request for swordplay.”

Father turned towards me. His face was composed but I could see the anger in his eyes.

“Explain yourself, Lynai.”

I shrugged and looked away from him. “I was only having a little fun.”

“It is unseemly for a royal daughter to engage in swordplay.” He turned and beckoned me to follow. I moved in step beside him. “Why must you embarrass me?”

“I wasn’t trying to embarrass you.”

“And yet you have. Lynai, you are of age, you should be more concerned with items of import.”

“What’s of greater import than practising my swordplay? Especially now.”

“It is the duty of the royal sons to take up their blades. You have your own duty.”

I stepped back and slowly moved away. Father stopped me. “You will listen to me when I speak.”

I shook his arm away. “I’ve heard this before.”

“And yet you have done nothing about it. The suitors are growing impatient.”

“I don’t like any of them.”

“That is unfortunate, but ultimately of little import.”

“How can you even ask me to become the mate of someone I don’t care about?”

“It is a matter of duty. If you were not the only royal daughter I might be able to release you from this duty. Sadly, I can’t.”

We stood in silence for a moment, just staring at one another. Father eventually spoke. “What about prince Reynard of Torla?”

“He’s a weakling.”

“He is kind and gentle.”

“Don’t forget less interesting than watching grass grow.”

“The Lady Artura of Preklam?”

“She has all the emotions of a dandelion.”

“Sir Thomas of Relna?”

“He’s about as charming as a wild boar.”

“Lady Elune of Jervul?”

“She doesn’t even look at me like I’m a person. Besides, she carries that whip everywhere. It’s creepy.”

“Sir Steelspine of Helvek?”

“He’s short and I don’t think he ever bathes.”

“He’s a dwarf.”

“Does bad hygiene come with being a dwarf?”

“Sir Hetan of Strecner?”

I crinkled my nose. “I think that he was present when the first elves were born.”

“I will no longer play this game with you. I have invited your suitors to come as our guests in ten days. We will entertain them for three days; you will choose one of them for your mate at the end of that time. That is final.” He walked away, clearly not giving me a choice in the matter. As he turned away I stuck my tongue out at him. Childish, yes, but it made me feel a little better.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 136: Grieving Issues

 

Paul sat with an elderly akumillian.

“Doctor Albrecht,” she said. “It wasn’t your fault. You know that, right?”

“I do understand that,” Paul stated. “But she was under my care. It was my responsibility to save her. I just… I just keep going over it. Could I have done anything different? Could I have moved more quickly at a crucial time?”

She nodded. “I understand. You are a good doctor. You are very attached to your patients. you would do anything to save them. but this train of thought, it is not healthy. You will drive yourself to madness if you agonise over every lost patient to this extent. Let me tell you something, Doctor, I used to be a practised surgeon myself. And there are times in the career of any doctor who handles emergencies when a patient comes in with injuries so severe that they can not be saved. No matter how hard you try, how quickly you act or what you do. We still try. We still try damn hard but, ultimately, we’re going to fail most of the time we have a case like that. It must be especially difficult for you. You work on a small ship where the crew is very close-knit. These aren’t strangers you’re trying so desperately to save. They’re your friends, your family.” She put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “It must have been very difficult, seeing her in that condition.”

Paul nodded, tears flowing freely.

“I’m going to suggest something,” she said. “Talk to Miss Katie. she is the leader of your fighter squadron. I’m sure she shares your feelings of personal responsibility. I think talking it through with her, openly and honestly, will benefit you both.”

“It does make sense,” Paul conceded. “Leaders do tend to feel a sense of responsibility for the people working under them. I’ll talk with her.”

*****

“Hate this bloody thing,” Leon thought. “How does sitting still and focusing even help?” The machine powered on around him.

He remembered seeing Allison’s ship get hit out of the corner of his eye. He and Farah had provided covering fire so that Kat could retrieve her. Then the fight ended and the waiting began until…

He remembered how he had felt when the announcement had come. Furious, ready to snap but also hollow and tired.

A part of him wanted revenge, to hunt down all the people in the Alliance’s hierarchy who’d so much as read a memo about the operation but another just wanted an end to the conflict so he wouldn’t lose anyone else.

After all, how far could they push things before another one of them got shot down? Would Kat be next? Farah? Him? What if next time they damaged the Cerberus herself? If something happened to Paul he knew he’d lose it, absolutely and completely.

Still, didn’t his comrade, his friend, deserve to be avenged, no matter what the risks? Wasn’t that justice?

*****

“I liked her,” Farah said. “She made me feel welcome when I joined the crew. She was funny, confident. Like, there was always an energy about the room when she was around.”

“But I didn’t know her as well as I should have,” A second Farah said.

“I wanted to,” Farah said. “I really did.”

“But my romance with Grace came first,” the second Farah chimed in. “And then there were Paul and Leon. They treated me like family. I liked being around them.”

“I tried to get to know everyone on the ship,” Farah said.

“And now I feel like I should have taken more time for Allison,” the second Farah jumped in. “Like I should have taken more time with her when I had the chance.”

Farah could only nod to herself. “I know. I really, truly wish I had spent more time with her.”

*****

“Ophelia, start,” Lucy encouraged.

“This is dumb,” Ophelia said. “We don’t need to be here to talk.”

“We don’t,” Lucy said. “But here you can’t even try to lie to me or yourself. So, start.”

“I feel responsible, okay?” Ophelia said. “I brought Allison into space. I put her into danger. I sent her and the others in the fighters.”

“That’s a very human way to take the blame,” Lucy chided. “You offered her an opportunity that she loved. She loved flying the Nebula. She loved missions that let her feel like she was making a difference.” Lucy took a moment. “Did you know that she thought about leaving after the original Cerberus was destroyed?”

“No, I didn’t know that,” Ophelia said. “Are you certain?”

Lucy nodded. “She was afraid. Afraid of what almost happened.”

“She was right to be,” Ophelia said.

“But she stayed,” Lucy continued “because she loved us. Because she loved her life aboard the Cerberus. Ultimately, she knew the risks and she chose to stay and face them because that’s what we meant to her. Frankly, Dear Heart, it makes me a little angry to hear you belittle her ability to make decisions and try to take all the credit.”

“I…” Ophelia began.

“You gave her a life that meant that much to her,” Lucy said. “And we all contributed to that. Right now, you shouldn’t be feeling sorry for yourself. You should be grateful that you got to know her and saddened that there won’t be any more memories with her. Just don’t speak and think about that for a moment.”

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The Last Draconian 5: Armouring Up

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I always hated the academy meeting chamber. Something about it caused an echo and it was always hard for me to tell where people are as a result. There was also the scent, mildewy soil, it was nauseating. The first time I was brought here I thought it was a cave, until I was corrected.

“So Illyana, do you accept?”

Mum’s voice interrupted my reverie. Somewhere overhead I could hear Drake flap his leathery wings. Mentally, I ordered him to return to my shoulder. When he had landed I reached up and scratched his chin. “I will take the position if you need me to. But, where are you going?”

Her familiar arms came down on my shoulders and I felt the warmth of her robes. Drake flew into the air, screeching in protest at being forced to move. He settled back onto my shoulder once the robes were in place. “There’s trouble in Het Wald. I have to return and do what I can to help. After the trouble has passed I may return to reclaim my position.”

“If you choose to do so I will return your robes gladly.”

I felt her hand rub my cheek. Her fingers were long with well-trimmed nails. It was warm. “I will miss you… daughter.”

I felt my cheeks flush. She never called me daughter in public. “Headmistress…”

“Illyana,” she interrupted me. I heard a rebuke in her tone, but also sadness. “When I refer to you using familial terms I expect to be answered back in kind.”

I smiled. “I’ll miss you too, Mother.”

She reached down and hugged me. I heard her staff hit the stone floor. I hugged her back. I heard her bend down and pick up her staff. On her way out I heard her tell someone—Professor Mord, judging from the way he constantly tapped his staff against the floor. “I’m counting on you to aid my troublesome daughter.”

“It would be a pleasure.” The voice confirmed that it was Professor Mord.

I retired to my room. The only mother I had ever known was leaving and she had given me a great responsibility. Watching over the entire Academy. Was I really the most qualified? I needed time to think. I used my command over the earth and wind to make sure that I was alone. At around midnight I heard the wind pounding my window. At first I ignored it, but then Drake began screeching, something was out there. I opened the window, and the object glided into my room with a sharp gust of wind. It landed in the palm of my hand. It was circular and almost smooth. It felt cold and metallic. My probing fingers quickly found a recess. I put my finger into it and felt a switch give. At that moment I heard a voice say:

“Illyana, I regret that I have neglected to send you any news for these past years. I have mastered a multitude of swordsmanship techniques. Soon I will face my enemy in combat and have my revenge. I trust that you have learned much of the ways of magic. I thank you for keeping my existence a secret. For the time being I plan to return to Drahaven and forge a suit of armour. I will send you another message once that is complete.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

I returned to Drahaven. There were footprints in the ground. I could tell that they were fairly recent. These people had probably arrived five, perhaps six, days ago. I felt a burning sensation. How dare they attempt to loot my people’s home. When I looked closer I noticed that the ground had been heavily worn. A great number of people had come through here, probably looking for our technology. The star probe had been mostly gutted. All that remained was rust and a few broken circuits. It was of no consequence, the parts had already been rendered inoperable by Sadow’s attack. Even had they been salvageable, only a draconian would be capable of constructing anything with them. For any one else, they would serve as a curiosity.

Calming myself, I flew to the summit of the mountain directly south of the city. I located the crater immediately. It was in a flat area near the peak. Summoning a breeze I cleared the dust from a small area of the north-eastern wall. The cleared area looked like a flat sheet of rock with a slight recess to the left. I proceeded to put my left hand into the recess. The scanning device took a sample of my blood. While the analysis continued, I verbally entered the access code: “j73wb8kf4ne6i76je6jvgn56nfd56h6nold4y”

The door slid open and I entered the compound. It took ten seconds for the entrance to seal itself. I walked to the end of the corridor and felt my entire body being scanned. A mechanical arm emerged and took my pulse. I squeezed the knuckle of its pinky finger. The floor beneath me opened. My wings spread out with room to spare. Using them to slow my decent, I reached the heart of our compound. I moved past the museums where machines and other important objects were enshrined and into our laboratories. The first door led to the mechanical area, across from that was the chemistry area. Past them was the metallurgy laboratory, where I needed to go.

Fortunately, my people had learned blacksmith techniques from the dwarves. It was their way of showing gratitude for a mining device that we had given them. It took me two tries before I managed to successfully forge a suit of armour. Somehow I was unable to make my hands accomplish the perfect forging that I could see in my mind. The armour was mostly silver in colour with violet trim, the colours of our banner. Violet was chosen to represent the mind and silver to represent technology. It had to be light so that I could fly while wearing it without being slowed too much while still offering a great deal of protection. I included hatches just big enough for my tail and wings. Once my wings and tail were through, the hatches would close around them, allowing them freedom of movement without leaving potential entrance into the armour. Once the hatches closed the only way to take advantage of their existence would be to completely remove my tail or wings. For the chest emblem I used a dragon descending with its talons outstretched. My helmet contained two openings that perfectly matched the circumference of my horns.

As an after thought I built a messenger device. When that was complete I flew back up to the opening. As I hovered, the scanner checked me again and opened the floor above me. I exited the complex and flew from the crater. When I had landed I programmed a message into my device and sent it to apprise Illyana of my status. I held it out in my palm. “Wind, carry my message high so that it will not be intercepted and carry it fast.” Before letting it go I visualized Illyana’s room in Wicadia, then Wicadia itself from an aerial view. The wind responded and carried the orb from my hand. After that was complete, I constructed a crude altar to the Goddess and made an offering of incense and mule deer fat to her. “Sweet Nemesis, guide my hands.” I offered the short prayer. It was time. I simply had to make the journey to Strecner and then I would put an end to everything.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 135: Dolonis

Grace and Farah had never been to Dolonis. They were surprised by what they found. From the description, they were expecting a drab, sterile place, full of akumillians in lab coats with kind smiles. Instead, it was very colourful.

The colours weren’t bright, rather they were fairly muted but there were a lot of them. Blues, violets, greens, pale pinks & the like. The workers were similarly attired. When the Cerberus crew arrived, they were each led away by a separate akumillian.

Grace found herself with a petite man wearing a lavender suit. He sat in a comfortable chair and had her take a seat in an identical one beside his.

“I am Bilnious. When you’re ready, you can tell me about your grief,” he said. That was it. He closed his eyes and faced away from her. A part of Grace wanted to see how long he’d wait before saying anything else but it wasn’t the time or place. She took a little time to get her thoughts together and told him everything.

Everything about that last, horrible battle, about Allison’s final holo message and about her own sorrow about the whole thing.

All the while he listened. It was strange talking to him. Whenever she talked to Lucy, there was this… power emanating from her. This sense that at any moment she could easily end you. With Bilnious, that sensation wasn’t there. Rather, he radiated warmth and compassion. Grace figured it was probably a professional difference. That akumillians learned to project sensations that aided them in their regular work.

After listening to her, Bilnious looked like he was deep in thought. “I’m so sorry,” his voice was completely sincere. “I do hope we can help you. Given your personality type, I would suggest starting with reflective therapy. I would say that we should follow that up with solitary memory immersion therapy. After that, we can try some group exchange therapy and then we’ll see where you’re at.”

“What do those entail exactly?” Grace asked. Reflective therapy seemed obvious enough  but the other two… What exactly did “group exchange therapy” mean?

“Oh, my apologies,” Bilnious stated. “I’d forgotten that it’s your first time. allow me to explain. For reflective therapy we put you in a capsule that looks similar to a stasis chamber. It’s designed to heighten your focus and your introspective abilities. Which will allow you to fully connect with your emotions surrounding your horrible loss. Memory immersion therapy uses the same principle, but instead of connecting to your emotions, it goes on a deeper level, allowing you to vividly recall times you spent with your dear friend. Group exchange therapy will broadcast your exact feelings to someone from your group and theirs to you.”

“I know how they feel,” Grace said. “We’re all suffering the same loss after all.”

“Forgive me, Miss,” Bilnious said “but that isn’t true. You may, indeed be suffering from the same loss, but you aren’t suffering the same way. Experiencing one another’s suffering will allow the both of you to place your own in perspective and sharing that moment of empathy will allow you to both better understand that you aren’t alone and aid you in facing your own challenges.”

“And who would I be doing this procedure with?” Grace asked.

“Whoever you wish,” Bilnious said. “Provided, of course, that they agree. You already have someone in mind?”

“I do,” Grace said.

“Then, you find the plan acceptable?”

“Well, you’re the expert on this stuff,” Grace said. “I’ll trust your judgement.”

“Thank you,” Bilnious said. “But the important thing is that you’re comfortable and that you get the help you need. You mustn’t hesitate to decline if something seems uncomfortable to you.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Grace said. “None of it seems bad.”

Bilnious nodded. “Very well. Then I’ll make the preparations for your reflective therapy. At the longest, it could be an hour. Will you be all right being by yourself for that time?”

“I’ll be fine,” Grace reassured him.

He bowed and made his way out, reassuring Grace that he would return shortly.

*****

Y4-R1’s Personal Log

My expedition has failed at its primary objective. However, it has aided me in an unanticipated way. Lunais has permitted me to remain within the garden, at least on a temporary basis. She has been listening to my feelings of loss and shown support for the turmoil I have been subjected to as a result of Allison’s death.

I am still damaged. I do not know if the damage will ever be repairable. Regardless, her assistance is gradually making my difficulties more bearable.

I do not know what extent of recovery will be necessary for me to return to the Cerberus. Nor do I know how much time will pass before I reach that point. I am not even certain how I will recognise it. I am still lost.

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The Last Draconian 4: Illyana’s Familiar

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

The carriage ride was bumpy, but not too bad. I could hear the horses’ hooves strike unevenly against the ground but they still managed to settle into a monotonous rhythm. Mother was with me. She’d insisted on going with me personally. I think she was still worried over that I’d disappear on some other adventure.

I’d told her that it was a one time thing because Sylvie and the others needed me, but she was protective. After all, I was blind and frail. Why shouldn’t she worry about me being out in dangerous situations?

I think she could also sense that I wasn’t telling the full truth about what had happened. I mean, I’d told her about Camila and how she’d tried to claim Inés by force. I’d told her about how I’d worked with Aunt Lais and the others to stop her but I hadn’t told her about Sylvie’s confession. About how she’d told me she loved me.

Truthfully, I was still having trouble processing it. I had told her that if she could say the same in a year, I’d be hers. That I was happy for her feelings. But I was also doubtful of them. Could she, or anyone else, love someone as hapless as me?

“We’re here,” Mother’s voice said. The scent of incense filled the air. I knew the scent. It was made from a dragon palm tree’s resin. “Once you leave this carriage,” mother continued “you’ll have thirty minutes to find a familiar.” She added something to the incense. Lavender? “Should you fail, it will be proof that Hecate has rejected you.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t disappoint you.”

“I know you won’t,” Mother said. “Remember, your familiar will be a part of you and you will be a part of it. The two of you will be bound. You must look out for one another and you must choose your familiar with care. Should you be forced to terminate your connection, not only will you not be able to get another familiar but a part of you will be missing.”

I heard Sweetgrass, my mother’s familiar, squeak. Sweetgrass was a field mouse. When mother had done her own ritual, she’d wanted a falcon but changed her mind when she felt a connection with Sweetgrass. I’d heard the story many times and I was sure that this was my mother’s way of telling me that it was okay to change my mind and get something besides a bat. “Good luck, Illyana.”

I left the carriage. The scent of the incense surrounded me. It remained as strong as it had been in the carriage. I moved about a dozen metres away from the carriage and sat in a meditative lotus position.

Now was the hard part. I had to form a sphere that perfectly reflected the nature of my magic. I started with void. Then I transmuted half of the ball into earth. I added fire and ice, making it a quarter each element. Then came water and air. Finally, I added thunder and aether. I carefully manipulated the eight elements, ensuring that each one took up an equal part of the ball. I allowed it to float in front of me and waited.

They started coming. My magic acting as a beacon to them. I could sense them. A wolf, a loner but proud. A bear, brave and composed, starting to grow old. A mole, curious and clever. A coral snake. An owl. then I sensed it. A bat, a blood drinker. He was probably half-starved but he was determined, inquisitive. From the moment our minds touched, I felt a bond.

I reached my left hand out towards him. “Hello, I would like to make a bond with you. If you’ll have me.”

I heard a rush of air. He swooped and landed in my palm. I sensed something emerging from his body. His soul stone. It burned with heat for a moment but the intense heat quickly cooled into a steady warmth. The stone throbbed in my hand and wouldn’t cool any further. I grabbed it with my other hand and pocketed it carefully.

“You’ll need a name,” I said. “How do you feel about Drake?”

Drake let out a screech of approval.

“Then it’s settled,” I said. “Let’s go back.”

Drake left my hand and settled onto my right shoulder. Together, we left the cave. All in all, the ritual had taken about twenty minutes.

I heard my mother whistle when we entered the carriage.

“That’s a big one? Is… is that a blood drinker?”

“He is,” I confirmed. His name is Drake.”

“I see,” Mother said. She didn’t sound too happy about me picking a blood drinker. “Well, you got done earlier than expected. Let’s head back and I’ll teach you how to borrow Drake’s senses.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

The desert was expansive. It had to be. It had, after all succeeded in largely isolating my people from the outside world for millennia. We had chosen it for that reason and it had played a role in our downfall. Still, it was an ideal place for training in the way of the sword.

I reached out with air magic. There were no travellers in the area. I removed my cloak and stretched my wings.

I spread some sheep’s blood on the ground, knowing exactly what kind of predator it would attract. I flew upwards, knowing it imprudent to be on the ground when it arrived.

There was a loud rumbling sound. I could see the sands being disrupted as it travelled beneath.

The sand wyrm was a fierce predator with armoured scales as hard as steel covering its body and a squid-like snout covering a wide opening with serrated teeth leading down its gullet, making for a painful end for any prey it managed to swallow alive. It also possessed acid shooting tubes, usually three or four, on its back. Regardless of the danger, I waited for it to peek its head from the sands and tossed a stone in order to provoke it.

The wyrm was roughly thrice my own size. It roared and lunged for me.

I half flew, half rolled backwards. The wyrm’s lunge missed me. I moved further up in the air and dodged to the side as the wyrm lunged through the sand and snapped at me.

I drew my blade and swooped downward. The wyrm’s tubes opened and clear acid jetted at me. The stream barely missed as I flapped over it. I swooped back down. The creature roared and snapped at me as I came. I rolled in mid-air, avoiding the snapping jaws. I plunged my blade through the wyrm’s eye and pierced its brain. The creature collapsed onto the sand.

I burned it as a sacrifice to the goddess Nemesis. I was almost proficient enough in the way of the sword to challenge the Magi, almost.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 134: The Trip to Dolonis

“Dolonis… Dolonis…” Farah muttered. “Found it! It’s a mourning planet.”

“Mourning planet?” Grace asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It looks like they have facilities designed to make you examine and come to terms with grief,” Farah answered. “In a traditional akumillian way.”

“So, people come visit this planet just to grieve,” Grace stated. “Certainly sounds akumillian. Maybe I’ll stay on the ship.”

“Well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to try it,” Farah suggested. “Losing her hit us all hard. Maybe going through this will help ease the pain. Even if only a little.”

“That’s part of what I’m worried about,” Grace said. “Right now… it’s hard to explain.”

“Try me,” Farah said, gently taking Grace’s hand.

“Right now I feel like I should be in pain,” Grace said. “Like, it’s too soon to really be over it.”

“I understand,” Farah said. “But I don’t think it’s the right way to think. I mean, you’re seeing it as a betrayal of her memory to start feeling better. But I think she would prefer her memory to be surrounded by light and laughter, you know? That’s the kind of person she was.”

“I know that,” Grace said. “I know that Allison would probably be cracking some stupid joke or other and trying to make us all feel better, But, right now, I just feel like it’s better to be hurting. If that makes any sense.”

“I get it,” Farah said. “Then let’s stay behind together.”

“You don’t have to miss out for me,” Grace said.

“I know,” Farah said. “You wouldn’t complain or even be upset if I did go. But at times like this it’s better to be near the one you love.”

Grace studied her. “Fine, we’ll  go.”

*****

“I got your things all packed up,” Lucy said. “How long until we get there? Around an hour?”

“An hour and a quarter,” Ophelia answered. She looked over to Lucy. “You know, someone should stay with the ship. Maybe…”

“Don’t you dare suggest it,” Lucy said. “You are going.”

“Worth a shot,” Ophelia said. “So, what will they make us do?”

“They won’t make you do anything,” Lucy said. “They will make suggestions and we will be following those suggestions.”

“I’m surprised you’re going to be,” Ophelia said. “You usually don’t follow suggestions.”

“True,” Lucy admitted. “But we’re in it together. I wouldn’t tell you to do it if I wasn’t willing to.”

“I appreciate that about you,” Ophelia said. “So, what can I expect from this place?”

Lucy considered it for a moment. “They’ll get in your head and it won’t be easy for you,” Lucy said. “But it will be good for you.”

*****

“Where are we going first?”  Leon asked.

“It might be better if we each go on our own and meet up for meals and at the end of the day,” Paul said. He noticed the look on Leon’s face. “What?”

“We don’t get much time off duty without some mission or other on the horizon and you wanna spend it alone?”

“This isn’t leisure time, Fuzzy,” Paul said. “It’s time to sort through our emotions and thoughts… To come to terms. And there are aspects of that that need another person just like there are aspects that need solitude.”

“So, we can go together for the stuff that needs another person, right?” Leon asked.

Sure,” Paul answered. “I’d rather have you with me for that than anyone else. But, for the first few days at least, can’t we try to focus on the other stuff?”

“Hey, I’m not that needy,” Leon said. “What? I’m not!”

*****

“Attention, Everyone.” Ophelia’s voice came over the ship’s intercom. “We’ll be landing in twenty minutes. If you’re going to be spending this time on Dolonis, Please get your bags and be ready near the door.”

Lucy turned to her. “Don’t be so anxious, Love. Trust me. This will be good for you.”

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The Last Draconian 3: A Fond Farewell

Previous Chapter

Illyana Fensen

I walked down the corridor. I didn’t need to use magic to guide me around the Academy. Not any more. I listened for other students, keeping out of their way. Two more steps and the door was on my right. I turned and knocked.

“Come in.” My mother’s voice  was inviting, even though she didn’t know it was me. That’s why she was such a good headmistress for the Academy. She was always there for any student.

I grasped the latch and opened the door.

“Illyana!” Mother’s voice was happy. “What can I do for you?”

“Pardon my intrusion, Headmistress Elivy,” I said. “But I was hoping you could tell me more of the draconians.”

“Honestly,” Mother sounded ever so slightly annoyed. “What is your morbid fascination with that extinct species?”

“Well, since they’re extinct I believe that it’s important to remember them. I’m sorry if I’m asking for too much.” I hoped my answer didn’t sound too rehearsed.

I heard the slight squeal of mother’s chair and the soft movement of air indicating that she was getting up. Her footsteps were very slight as she moved over to me. Her hand gently brushed some loose strands of hair from my forehead to the side.

“Very well. Let’s talk about the draconians. Come, sit with me.”

*****

Michael Ryufan

In my slumber, I saw it all happen again. The memories of my people’s final moments were reconstructed with extreme clarity. I felt their wounds, heard the crack of thunder, felt the heat of the flames. Sadow’s hollow laughter surrounded me all the while.

I was awakened by the sound of my own screams. I sat upright in my bed. I was hyperventilating and both of my hearts were beating abnormally quickly.

I reached up with my hands and wiped the heavy perspiration from my brow. At this point, moving around my horns had become natural.

I rose from bed and examined myself in the heavy oaken mirror. My hair was dishevelled. My pupils were dilated and bloodshot. The contrast of red against my own natural violet was somewhat disconcerting.

I calmed myself with the monotony of brushing my hair. when the task was thoroughly completed, I took out a strong black cord and tied it into a ponytail.

The ponytail went down to my eighth vertebrae, right betwixt my wings. I wondered if it might not be prudent to cut it off before it grew much longer. However, I hesitated to take that step for purely sentimental reasons. After all, my hair was the same shimmering silver colour as my mother’s had been.

I put on proper attire, packed my hair brush, and tucked my coin pouch into my belt. I did not put on my cloak. I pondered why I had tarried so long as I secured my blade. I had finished mastering the spells I needed to know ninety two days ago and yet, I had encountered considerable difficulty in deciding to leave.

Had I become complacent and overly attached to the Academy? Was I frightened of facing Sadow? Perhaps I had simply desired some respite in my quest for vengeance. Or…

A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. I hurriedly grasped my cloak “Who is it?”

“Illyana.”

I allowed my grip to relax. “Are you alone?”

“I am.”

I released the cloak and moved to unlatch and open the door. “You may enter.”

Illyana strode in, concealing something beneath a cloth. I closed the door behind her.

Her hands moved the cloth aside to reveal a frosted confectionery. “Happy sixteenth birthday!”

“I had forgotten,” I stated.

“Liar!” Illyana declared, sitting on my bed. “You never forget anything.”

“Well, you are somewhat correct,” I conceded. “I had not forgotten the anniversary of my birth. I simply had not attached any importance to it.”

“Have some,” she held out her confectionery. “Mother helped me make it.”

I acquiesced to her request and consumed a small amount.

“Can you believe that next year we’ll have gotten far enough to have our own familiars and everything?” Illyana asked. “So, what are you going to pick?”

I refrained from shrugging since she would not notice any way. “That is not important. What about you?”

Illyana rose and elbowed me in the ribs. “You should be able to answer a simple question. I’m going to get a bat.”

“That seems like an unusual choice.” I scratched my head, right behind my horns. “May I ask why?”

Illyana crossed her arms over her chest. “If you can’t answer a simple question then don’t expect me to.”

“I apologise for my rudeness,” I said.

Illyana lay back on the bed. “That’s fine, I can tell you. I like bats because they sense things in a completely different way. Just like I do. And they have the freedom of the sky.”

“I understand,” I stated. I briefly considered whether or not I should tell her the truth. It would hurt her to discover it after the fact. I steadied myself and spoke. “Illyana, I am done.”

Illyana sat straight up. “What do you mean?”

“I have learned all the magic that I need. It is time for me to learn the ways of the sword.”

“I see.” Illyana stood. After a minute of silence she spoke up. “Does this have to do with what happened to your people?”

My voice was unsteady. “I…I do not know what you mean.”

“But, you’re a draconian, right?” I froze, incapable of speaking. She knew! I had been so cautious but it had availed me naught. “Don’t worry, I haven’t told anyone.”

“How did you find out?”

Illyana chuckled.  There was sorrow in her voice. “Just because I can’t see doesn’t mean that I’m completely senseless. Your footsteps have always been unusually light, and when we’re alone I can hear the light slither of something… your tail, I think, moving around and the light flap of your wings.”

Of course! I had been complacent believing that she would not notice.

Illyana sighed. “I didn’t mention it before because I had always hoped that you would tell me on your own. Tell me, what really happened to the other draconians?”

“Perhaps the story that you have heard is accurate.”

Illyana walked over and lightly punched my back, directly under the left wing. “The Far Darter wouldn’t have missed you. You can’t tell me?”

I turned away from her. Telling her would be a risk, but she had kept my confidence when I was unaware that she even had it. “It was the lich, Sadow. He wiped the rest of the draconians out. Only I survived his assault.”

Illyana stepped back. “Why would he? How could he?”

“I do not know why. None of us did, but I have sworn to make him answer for that crime.”

Illyana wrung her hands together. “It won’t be easy to defeat one of the Magi.”

“I am aware of the difficulties, but I must fight nevertheless.”

“Do you need help?”

I allowed myself a slight smile, realising why it had been difficult to leave. “I thank you for the offer, but I must do this on my own.”

“Will you ever come back?”

“If I survive, I will return. Farewell Illyana Fensen. May you find your place in this world.”

“Hold on a moment!”

“I can not tarry any longer.” I opened the window and spread my wings.

Illyana grabbed my arm, pulling me slightly back. “I just have one last request.”

I sighed and stepped away from the window. “I will listen, but I will make no guarantees.”

Illyana moved her arms away from me and pressed her hands together. “Can I—touch your face?”

I looked up at her. “If you truly wish, I will comply with that request.”

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 133: Yuri Seeks Out Lunais

Yuri made her landing in the garden, created and maintained by Lunais. Yuri wasn’t sure if this would go her way, but she had to make the attempt.

“We welcome you back to our abode, Cerberus android.” Lunais appeared in front of her, or at least a projection of her did. Her dark blue hair remained still, even in the wind. “Why have you returned to our home? To view the results of the mission we gave you? To learn more about us, perhaps?”

“I would request an audience in person,” Yuri stated. “Please, it is important.”

“Very well,” Lunais said. “We will bring you to us.”

Yuri found herself inside the floating castle. In the same entrance that she and Kat had been taken to such a long time ago.

She proceeded directly up into Lunais’ personal chamber on the fourth floor, assuming she’d be there like she was the last time. It turned out to be a correct assumption. Lunais was sitting in one of her cushions. She closed the book she had been reading and set it in front of her. Yuri recognised it. Allison had had the same book. It was a highly erotic lesbian romance.

“We welcome you back to our home,” Lunais greeted her. “We were most pleased by the task you performed for us last time. Thanks to your assistance, our garden’s population has more than quadrupled. Now, tell us, what do you wish?”

“I have not forgotten the power you demonstrated,” Yuri stated. “you have the ability to create and alter life. I  wish to know, can you also repair someone who has been broken beyond repair?”

Lunais seemed taken aback for a moment. “We can not bring back the dead, no. Nor can we create highly advanced life. At best we could construct a being in the likeness of the dead person but the being would be without the personality or intelligence of the original. Tell me, Android, who did the Cerberus lose?”

“It does not matter now,” Yuri answered. “I am sorry to have wasted your time. Please, return me to the shuttle.”

“Hold!” Lunais commanded. “You would not have come to us were it not important to you. We know not who was lost or how. But we do know that dealing with grief is a long, painful process. One that can be aided by a sympathetic ear to air one’s grievances to. We will provide you with that ear. Should you wish.”

Yuri paused and considered Lunais’ offer. “It will be a long story.”

“We will listen intently.”

*****

Ophelia looked through various missions being advertised.

“Love of mine, that’s enough,” Lucy said.

“What, have you found something?” Ophelia asked.

“I haven’t been looking,” Lucy answered. “But I know you’re trying too hard.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Ophelia lied.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Lucy said. “Or maybe I’m just too good at seeing through falsehoods. Whatever the case may be, it’s obvious what you’re doing.”

“And just what is that?” Ophelia demanded.

“Keeping busy,” Lucy said. “You don’t want to take too much time to think about Allison and mourn. So you’re hurrying to find the next mission. Just like you did with the Turing station thing.”

“They needed us,” Ophelia protested. “Paul helped save a lot of people. You and the others solved the mystery of just what happened. It was a great success.”

“That’s a separate issue,” Lucy said. “The issue at hand is that we need a break. Not just you, but everyone on the ship. Leon, Kat, Paul, Grace, Farah, You and Me. We need time to process our grief.”

“And what do you suggest we do?” Ophelia asked. “Head to some resort planet and take a week off?”

“No,” Lucy stated. “We need time off, but not at a resort. I propose that we go to Dolonis.”

“Dolonis?” Yuri asked. “That might suit you and other akumillians at a time like this but our crew is made up of humans.”

“It works for humans as well,” Lucy said. “It’s received many over the years  and I know it helped Kat, Leon and Paul when they went there the last time we lost a member of our crew.”

“That was different,” Ophelia said. “We had to find replacements. Damian and Stephen left us. Jane…”

“It’s not different at all,” Lucy said. “Except that this time you and I will join the others.”

“I couldn’t possibly,” Ophelia said. “I have to…”

“Stop right there!” Lucy declared, her voice commanding. We are not going through another rough patch where you let your guilt and sense of loss affect everything you do for months. Where you spend so much time working yourself half to death that everyone worries about you and Paul has to step in and coerce you into taking time off. This time, you’re facing your grief directly. Understand, My Heart?”

“I….” Ophelia began. She quickly noted the look on Lucy’s face. “Yes, Dear. I’ll set course for Dolonis.”

“And I’ll inform the crew,” Lucy said.

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The Last Draconian 2: The Academy

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

I was taken to the Academy. The grounds were massive. They had five buildings, all surrounded by an ornate marble fence. The largest building at the centre was where classes were held. The buildings directly to its left and right housed the student dormitories. Directly behind the main building was a crystal tower, which housed the library. The building at the gate was a storehouse.

The instructor, who had introduced himself as Professor Mord, was explaining the layout to me. I did not pay much heed to his words. I appreciated him trying to be helpful, but the layout was much the same as it had been the last time a draconian had visited. My racial memory rendered his guidance redundant.

We were stopped on our tour by an elven woman. She had aqua coloured hair and light brown eyes. Her robes were a shadowy grey, identifying her as the Academy’s head. “Bastian, who is this?”

Professor Mord bowed in deference to her. “This is Michael Ryufan. He’s seven and very skilled for his age. Michael this is Luc Elivy, the academy’s current headmistress.”

She offered me her hand. I reached my own out to take it. “In all my time at the academy there have never been two children on the grounds at once.” She studied me as she spoke. “Is there something wrong with your eyes?” I hurriedly averted my gaze to look at the ground. I would have to be careful around her. Her vision was sharp.

“No matter,” she spoke quickly. Apparently interpreting my actions as a symptom of sensitivity. “Get him a room and test his current abilities so that we can get a proper curriculum in place.” She paused for a moment. “But first introduce him to Illyana.”

“Understood,” Professor Mord turned to me. “Follow me.” He gestured towards the dormitory on the left. I followed without a word.

Professor Mord led me into the garden. A human girl was sitting on the grass. She had golden blonde hair. She was roughly my height but significantly smaller. If she had weighed slightly less, I could have described her as emaciated. Her eyes were tightly shut and a walking stick was laying by her feet. I deduced that she was likely sightless.

She cocked her head towards us as we approached.

“Illyana,” Professor Mord made an effort to make his voice sound soothing. “Can you come here for a moment please?”

She retrieved her stick and approached us. Swinging her stick from side to side to detect potential obstacles.

Profesor Mord put his right hand on her shoulder and his left hand on mine. “Illyana, this is Michael. He’s one year younger than you. He’s going to be joining us at the academy. Michael, this is Illyana. She’s lived here for the past two years.”

“I am pleased to meet you,” I stated.

“Likewise,” she said.

*****

I was in my room. My wings kept me elevated. A couple violet scales fell to the flooring. I would have to dispose of them later. It would be unacceptable for a class mate to find them. Their curiosity was becoming burdensome.

I was looking forward to completing my time at the Academy. I only needed to master a few more spells for my battle against the lich: Cutting Winds, Binding Breath & Typhoon.

I was not overly concerned. After all, I was still an adolescent and those spells were difficult. I knew that further growth would lead to greater power and with that power combined with practice, mastery would come. It was inevitable.

A knock interrupted my reverie. “Who is there please?”

“It’s Illyana.”

“Is anyone there with you?”

I could detect Illyana using magic to probe her surroundings. “No, I’m alone.”

I ceased flapping my wings and landed. I walked to the door and unlocked it. “You may enter.”

Illyana entered my room. She was still somewhat thin, but far healthier looking than she had been when we first met. She had recently undergone a growth spurt and currently stood at just over a hundred eighty five centimetres tall. Her skin was pale. Strangely so, given how much time she expended in the gardens. She was currently clad in light blue robes and carrying a book under her left arm.

“The new students are arriving today.”

I felt my tail shift. “I am aware of that.”

Illyana smiled. “There are finally students our age here. Maybe we can make some friends.”

I sighed and pressed my left hand against my forehead, betwixt my horns. “You have already made ample friends among the priestess trainees. You are trying to get me to socialise more. Tell me, why would I wish to waste my time in such an endeavour?”

Illyana frowned. “You can’t live like a hermit forever.”

I decided to change the topic. “You did not come here to discuss the new students.”

Illyana laughed a little. “Professor Mord gave me this book.” She held it out. “Could you help me with it?”

I took it. I recognised the book and was capable of reciting the contents verbatim but flipped through it for the sake of appearances. Illyana sat down on my bed. “It is by a dwarven omnimage named Tron Greystone who lived 734 years ago. He is espousing the view that the physical difficulties are more than offset by the experience of possessing all of the possible inborn elements. He continues to describe the experience in detail.”

Illyana’s voice shook. “Does it say what problems he had?”

The book neglected to mention it but I answered her query. “Tron was incapable of walking. His heart was weakened. The condition caused his death at the age of 28.”

“But he could see?”

“Yes, he could see.”

Tears were falling down Illyana’s face. “I would give anything for that ability. Anything.”

I did not believe she meant that. She had probably brought the book hoping that it would display some understanding of her own difficulties. Her frustration and sorrow were still evident. I moved my wings so that they were sticking straight back. I reached out and lightly hugged Illyana while she cried. She put her hands on my lower back and wept into my chest. I sighed with relief when she missed touching my wings.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 132: Lucy’s Anger

Angela, Paul & Lucas worked feverishly producing and administering their cure to the residents of Turing Station. Once they were done, they began tests for side effects and work on decontaminating the station. They worked for several days with barely any sleep among them, but they were finally able to declare Turing clear.

“Thank you for your help, Paul,” Angela said. “Will you and your crew stay around for a while?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” Paul said. “Ophelia likes to keep us moving. I rather think most of the crew enjoys travelling through the cosmos.”

“You say that like you don’t,” Angela said.

Paul rubbed the back of his head. “I do quite enjoy the journey. It’s the dangerous missions I’m not fond of. I mean, there are times like this where it’s gratifying to be able to help people who really need it. Then there are the other times… Times we come under fire or where our people go into dangerous territory to save some trinket or other. I always wonder, is it worth it?”

Angela gently hugged him. “You lost someone recently, didn’t you?”

Paul didn’t say anything. He rested his head on her shoulder and nodded.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Angela said. “But they’re your family and they need you. Especially at a time like this.”

“I know,” Paul said. “Thank you, Angela.”

“Bang!”

The two of them looked down. Hannah had her toy robot near Paul’s legs. She glared up at him.

Paul moved away from Angela. “I’m sorry, Lass, was I too close to your mom there?”

Angela laughed. “Don’t feel bad, Paul. She doesn’t even like it when Femi and I are too affectionate in front of her. I think she just doesn’t like to share attention.” Angela knelt down and picked up her daughter. “She is her mommies’ little diva.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” Femi said, walking in. She scrutinised Paul and held out her hand. “Thank you, for your service to Turing. Should you or your crew ever need a haven, we will be glad to have you.”

“Thank you,” Paul said, accepting her hand.

Leon stood behind them, biting his thumb. “Too close to my Paul,” he whispered.

Farah nudged him. “Calm down,” she said. “They’re just being friendly.”

“I’ll see you at the next akumillian medical symposium,” Angela said. “If you need anything or just want to chat, you can write me.”

“I will,” Paul said. “Thank you.”

“Yo,” Lucas spoke up. “Is it all right if I mail you too? you know, if I need advice or anything.”

“Of course,” Paul said. He put a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “You’re a valued colleague.”

*****

Lucy waited until the Cerberus had pulled away from Turing and was well on the way before moving to the communications console in her quarters. She activated all the privacy protections before making her transmission. A chubby akumillian appeared on the screen.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Luciverianna,” he said. “Is the Cerberus looking for intelligence work?”

“You know why I’m calling, Methilis” Lucy said. “Let’s not pretend. And don’t worry. This is a secure channel.”

“So it is,” Methilis confirmed. “I’d heard your crew got called to Turing.”

“It was a solid plan,” Lucy said. “Make the evidence suggest that the alliance had framed akumil. Sure, they mistrusted you for a while but after finding that it’ll all be cleared up. Do we really need allies that badly?”

“The need is not grave,” Methilis stated. “But it is prudent to have as many as possible. You object?”

“Strongly!” Lucy declared. “You made Turing highly vulnerable, which could have grossly backfired. Not only that, but you dragged our ship and crew into it.”

“You knew and yet you still played your part,” Methilis said. “We thank you for your service, Luciverianna.”

“And I warn you,” Lucy said. “If you ever pull us into your machinations again, I will make certain that the entire truth comes out. My mate and I are not your pawns. Our crew is not your pawns. We will not, I emphasise, not be toyed with.”

“Message understood,” Methilis said. “We will not rouse your anger further.”

The transmission cut off.

*****

Y4-R1’s Personal Log:

I am entering Yujin’s orbit. I will attempt to land the shuttle with Lunais’ garden. There are things I must discuss with her. If things go well, I may be able to return to the Cerberus soon.

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