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.