The Last Draconian 23: Betrayal

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Liys and Lyon gathered all of the outpost’s troops. They were wearing full armour and brandishing their weapons. There were twenty in all, not including the Prince, Lyon or Larick. They had twelve foot soldiers and eight archers.

Liys turned to Larick. “Are you sure that the trolls won’t win?”

“The trolls who are coming are no match for your forces,” Larick said. The Magi’s falcon swooped down from the sky and landed on his shoulder. “Everything shall be as it must.”

A small contingent of trolls appeared on the horizon. There were only five of them. They were carrying axes. They stopped just outside of the elven border.

“Archers, take aim,” Liys commanded. When he didn’t hear anything happen in response to his command he turned around.

His soldiers had been pierced through by stone spikes protruding from the ground. Their entrails were sliding along the spikes toward the ground. Those who weren’t dead were dying. Lyon was on the ground, he was breathing but unconscious. Liys looked up at Larick, disbelief clouding his face.

Larick pointed at Liys. One of the outpost’s branches grew in size and moved downwards like a serpent, forcing the elven Prince to the ground. Liys struggled to rise. He couldn’t move it off of him.

“Larick…” he gasped. “Why? Why did you lie to us?”

“I did not lie. The trolls did lack the power to complete this attack. I never said that they were your only enemies, or that I would help repel the attack.” Larick bent down and whispered, “I assure you, this is the way things must be.” He waved one of the trolls over. “You may have the honour,” he said. The last thing Liys saw was the troll’s axe coming down.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I tried to keep to myself during the ball, one last act of defiance while I was still free. Escape seemed less and less like an option.

Artura walked over to me. She stood in front of me for a moment before speaking. “If chosen, I’ll do my best to make you happy.” That was all she said. Afterwards, she walked away.

“Amazons,” a voice from behind. Elune was standing over my shoulder. “Face it, beauty,” she purred. “Only an elf truly understands how to satisfy an elf. That’s true whether you’re a dark elf or…” she caressed my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “a forest elf.” She gave me a big smile. Her white teeth creating a stark contrast to her obsidian flesh. She sauntered away, sending me one last wink as she went. She was so creepy.

*****

Leaf and Lofu rode their horses through the forest. A slight breeze was pushing the tree’s branches together. Lofu stopped his horse and studied the path ahead. “We will reach the checkpoint soon,” he said.

“That’s good,” Leaf said. “We can find out what Larick wants.”

Lofu remained perfectly still. “There’s something wrong,” he said. “Don’t you hear it?”

Leaf paused and listened. He heard the wind moving the branches. He heard a rabbit foraging. He heard a wolf treading the path on padded feet. He heard raucous laughter. “That isn’t the sound of elves,” he observed.

“That’s correct,” Lofu said. “Those are trolls. Remain here, I’ll scout ahead.”

Leaf shook his head. “No, Lofu. There is safety in numbers. We will leave the horses here and go together.”

“Very well,” Lofu agreed. “If the odds are against us we must not fight, no matter what we see. My life does not matter, but you are vital to our people.”

“I understand,” Leaf said. “Just don’t throw away your life if you can help it. I still need you.”

Lofu bowed “Your Highness is too kind.”

The two tread silently through the brush. They peered through at the outpost. There were five trolls sitting around a cooking fire. Bound and gagged behind them were two elves.

“Larick and Lyon,” Lofu observed.

“I would hate to see how large the troll force was when they arrived. Capturing a Magi is no easy task. Especially one with Apollo’s gift,” Leaf commented. “I just hope that my brother got out of it okay. Either way, we have to rescue them.” He turned to Lofu. “I know it’s dangerous but the Magi is more vital than I.”

“We’ll wait until it’s dark,” Lofu said, after considering it for a moment. “We’ll take out the one left on guard duty; rescue Larick and Lyon without waking the rest and escape to the capital but there will be no extra risks taken, agreed?”

“Agreed,” Leaf said.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 153: Meiling’s Desperate Flight

By the time Yuri & Elijah arrived, Meiling was nowhere to be seen. There were tracks leading off towards the forest. They weren’t human. They were large and clawed.

“I wonder if she went chasing after it,” Elijah muttered. “But why would’t she have waited?”

“These are not Yvlet tracks,” Yuri observed. “They are too large.”

“Then, something else showed up,” Elijah said. “Predator?”

“It is likely,” Yuri answered.

“So, if she didn’t follow the Yvlet, where did Meiling go?” Elijah asked.

Yuri focused on the clawed tracks. “I fear she was being chased.”

Elijah knelt down to examine the tracks himself. “Oh, I get it. You can still see a bit of human track sticking out there.”

“I will pursue them,” Yuri stated. “You will wake Alexandria and let her know everything.”

Without waiting for a response, Yuri was gone. Moving at a speed that most humans couldn’t manage, much less maintain.

Elijah decided to heed her advice and ran towards the camp. He wasn’t as fast as Yuri, but he was strong, rested & feeling decidedly unchill. He made fantastic time, considering the conditions.

*****

Meiling ran for her life. She was rapidly losing her stamina and the beast was inching ever closer. It lumbered on two legs. It wasn’t fast, but it was suited to the climate and had a lot more stamina than her. She’d managed to make a u-turn but she was becoming more and more certain that it would catch up to her before she could reach the camp and the others would be able to help her.

She glanced back to try and gauge how long it would take it to reach her. That’s when she slipped on the ice and fell.

The beast saw its chance and lunged. It drew back with shock and surprise when its strike was halted by a pair of mechanical arms.

“Meiling, are you injured?” Yuri inquired.

“Just a little scratched from falling,” Meiling answered.

“That is good to hear,” Yuri stated. The beast tried to pull away from her, but it was caught in her grip and, as strong as it was, her mechanical might was greater. “Do you know what this creature is?”

“It’s called a Veissdigo,” Meiling answered. “It’s sort of like a cross between a bear and an ape, but that’s a simplified explanation. The important thing is that it’s a predator with a voracious appetite.”

“Are they endangered in any capacity?”

“No, they have pretty strong population numbers,” Meiling answered.

“Then it is not necessary to hold back.” Yuri pulled the  Veissdigo towards her with one arm and crushed its throat with a swift hit of her other. She let it drop and moved to help Meiling get up.

“I take it that the Veissdigo took you by surprise.”

“It did,” Meiling said. “I didn’t expect to see any in this area. They normally roam closer to the coast line. I guess it was probably ousted from its pack and wandered out here and just happened to stumble across me while I was observing the Yvlet. Thank you, for saving me.”

“It was no trouble,” Yuri stated. “I take it the Yvlet escaped back into its burrow?”

“Correct,” Meiling said. “I guess that I looked like the easier prey. ” She looked around. “Where’s Elijah?”

“It was faster to catch up to you by myself,” Yuri answered. “I instructed him to apprise Alexandria of the situation.”

Meiling sighed, heavily. “I guess it had to be done, but I’m not looking forward to her response.”

*****

Meiling and Yuri met Elijah and Alexandria on their way back to camp. Alexandria ran over and lifted Meiling right off of the ground, swinging her around before holding her close. “Mei, I was so worried,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I failed to protect you.”

Meiling shook her head. “It’s not your fault, Alex. I was careless. I should have accounted for the possibility of that happening. Luckily, Yuri was there to rescue me.”

Alexandria turned to Yuri, still holding Meiling in her arms. “You have my eternal gratitude. I will not forget that.”

“So, we need to rethink the watch situation, yeah?” Elijah asked.

“I will share Mei’s watch,” Alexandria said. “You two may take turns resting for the other shifts.”

“Cool by me,” Elijah said. “Lovers should be together.”

“We know that the burrow Meiling & Alexandria were watching is in use,” Yuri stated. “We will keep the same shifts, but we will all watch that egress. We will keep weapons handy. Then, there will not be another similar incident.”

“Right idea, wrong exit,” Meiling said. “The Yvlet left through that one and found itself fleeing from a predator. It won’t be used for a while. We’ll take positions by the one you and Elijah were watching.”

“Repairs to my ship should be done,” Elijah said. “I’ll have my other friends come down and help us out. They…” he paused. “Actually, I’ll have Antoine help us out. Ussie is cold-blooded, so I’ll have her stay on the ship.”

“Another hand would be appreciated,” Meiling said. “Thank you.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get it next time,” Elijah said. “Or the time after that. Doesn’t matter. I’m not in a great hurry.”

“Nor am I,” Yuri assured her. She didn’t mention that she wasn’t ready to return to her former ship and crew. It was still a bit of a sensitive point. She wondered, how long did it normally take before you were ready to return home? Surely, it varied by species. In which case, she had no baseline to give her even a slight hint.

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The Last Draconian 22: The Seer’s Head

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Lynai Elfblood

The old vampire approached me with his slow stride. “Greetings, Princess. I apologise for not being more attentive towards you.” We stood in silence for a moment. What did he even want? Was it seriously just a quick apology for being largely absence during this mess? Truth be told, I kind of preferred not having to deal with him. “For that and a few personal reasons,” He continued. “I must remove myself from your list of suitors.” He bowed and walked away.

As soon as he had gone, before I could even start to respond, Prince Dull walked over. “I haven’t been entirely honest with you. You see,” he paused, ruffled his hair and continued. “I’m in love with someone else.”

“Really?” I asked. Not that I cared. I just hoped he wasn’t going to tell me about it.

“Yes, she’s a knight in my kingdom,” Reynard said. “I’m not sure how she feels about me, but it wouldn’t be fair to ask you to be my mate in light of that fact. I’d like your permission to withdraw as your suitor.”

“Go ahead,” I said. “I shan’t think less of you or your kingdom.” Inwardly, I was rejoicing. I had been hoping for something like this ever since I had been introduced to my suitors years ago. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was happening now. Right when it was so close to the final stretch.

Thomas Frug ambled over to me next. He looked over his shoulder constantly, as though an enemy was going to drop from the ceiling and take his head. “I give up,” he said. “Pick someone else.” He practically ran from the ballroom.

“Some people are so fragile,” Callie ‘s voice said. I turned my head sharply, almost jumping with surprise. She had gotten very close to my back.

“Do… do you have something to do with this?” I asked. Although I already knew the answer. It had to be her. She was the reason.

Callie assumed an innocent look. “What could I possibly have to do with this?”

“Callie…” I began, annoyed that she was playing dumb.

“All I did was talk to them,” Callie interrupted. “Some things may have come up that caused them to reach their decision to withdraw.”

“What things?” I asked. I was more curious than anything else.

Callie laughed softly. “My grandfather simply realised that I would serve better as my people’s representative. After all, he is far too old for you. Prince Reynard’s conscience caught up to him and he decided that he couldn’t go through with it.”

“And, the troll?” I inquired.

Callie reached out and moved a strand of hair away from my eyes. “I merely told him that I would hold him personally responsible if anything unfortunate were to happen to you. After all, your people will likely be at war before too long. It would be a pity if you were used as a hostage.” I felt my face flush. “Besides,” Callie continued. “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”

I tried to speak, but I couldn’t get any words to form. What do you say when you’ve just been handed a gift like that? So, I simply nodded.

Callie’s smile widened. “I’m so glad. I would hate to have acted against your interests.”

*****

Sadow went into his chamber. A ghoul knelt as he entered. “Is the meeting over already, my Lord?” He asked in a raspy voice.

“I have cancelled the meeting for today,” Sadow stated. “Thank you for watching my chamber. Please stand guard outside.”

“As you wish,” The ghoul said. He lumbered from the chamber.

Sadow waited until he was gone and retrieved a round object, covered by a white cloth from his belongings. He stripped the cloth away to reveal the head of a female human. Her face was just beginning to show signs of wrinkles. She had short greying blonde hair.

“Awaken, Laina Rexx,” Sadow commanded. “I find myself in need of you once more.”

The woman’s eyes opened. Words emerged from the severed head. “Release my soul to Thanatos,” Laina entreated.

“We’ve been through this before,” Sadow said. “You will be released when I desire it, not before. Now, do your duty.”

“What do you want from me, Sadow of Strecner?” she asked.

“There is a girl, this academy’s headmistress, she knows about the draconians. I’m sure of it.”

“You seek approval?” the head asked. “I warned you that your actions would come back to you. It is an unavoidable law of this world. Actions and consequence, Magi.”

“Perhaps,” Sadow said. “But how did she find out? You must tell me!”

“I no longer possess Apollo’s gift,” Laina said. “You should have known that this would be the case when you took my head from its proper place.”

“Still, you must know something,” Sadow insisted.”You were always prying, always learning.”

“I know only what should be obvious, even to you,” Laina said. “She must have gained this knowledge from a source outside of herself. There is a third who knows of the events at Drahaven, one who is known to neither you nor I. This person spread the knowledge to the girl.”

“You didn’t foresee anything like this?” Sadow asked.

“I foresaw many things,” Laina said. “Before my second sight was stolen from me. It is difficult to remember everything. Perhaps a different Oracle…”

“You know I can’t do that,” Sadow said.

“Because allowing them to peer into your future would reveal your past,” Laina said. “And your reputation as the justice-bringer would end. With it would come the fate you fear.”

“Return to limbo,” Sadow commanded. Laina’s eyes closed. Sadow sat in the dark, contemplating his options.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 152: Yvlet Hunt

Alexandria and Elijah went to work setting up a base camp while Yuri and Meiling went searching for signs of the burrow.

“If we see anything that looks promising we’ll mark it and set up a surveillance watch,” Meiling said. “It’s possible that we could find an old burrow that isn’t in use any more or that we’ll find an old entrance. So, we’ll try and find two to watch.”

“I assume that we will be splitting into surveillance teams,” Yuri observed.

“Exactly,” Meiling said. “Me and Alexandria will observe one, sleeping in shifts. You and Elijah can take the other. Or are you going to insist on watching it all the time? I imagine that you don’t require sleep.”

“I do not,” Yuri said. “However, I do understand the importance of recreation. I will utilise the time I would be granted for slumber in that fashion.”

“Good,” Meiling said. “I wouldn’t want you to suffer from over-working. So, what does an android do for fun?”

“I can not speak for other androids,” Yuri stated. “Though I am currently the only sapient one as far as I know. Personally, I enjoy reading. Due to certain circumstances, I also acquired a taste for games. I do not, however, believe that they would function properly in this environment. So, I will not risk causing them damage. I am concerned about the rest of you. You will be sleeping, watching the possible burrow entrance and doing little else.”

“Alex and I will be fine,” Meiling said. “We enjoy talking and there will be plenty of time for that while we’re on lookout together. Make sure you talk with Elijah too. I think he’ll need it.”

“Do not worry,” Yuri said. “I am well versed in a multitude of conversational topics.”

“In my experience, most avid readers are,” Meiling said. she scrutinised Yuri for a moment. “You certainly are unique. I’d love a chance to study you some time.”

“I will consider it,” Yuri said.

They continued and, eventually located two likely spots. They returned to the landing site where Alexandria and Elijah had set up two portable, heated cabins.

They worked out a schedule for breaks and got to work. Elijah got to rest first while Yuri observed their assigned location. After he returned, Yuri went to the camp site, arriving at the same time as Meiling. The two exchanged pleasantries before going to separate cabins. Yuri spent her time reading Asimov, Adams & Simone. Then it was time for them to return to their posts. Yuri knew that Alexandria would be next.

“Hey,” Elijah greeted her. His eyes were a little bloodshot.

“You have been smoking,” Yuri observed.

“A little,” Elijah admitted. He tossed her his hand held. “We got a message.”

It was an exceedingly long message from Ussie. The gist of it was that she was very unhappy with Elijah for taking on such an extended job without consulting anyone.

“Think she’ll still be mad when we get back?” Elijah asked.

Yuri thought for a moment. “I think that Miss Ussie has long since accepted your capricious decisions. I think that she protests out of habit and not out of protest over your whims.”

Elijah scratched his head. “You think?”

“I do not believe that she could have retained her sanity while serving aboard your ship for this long if she did not feel a sense of pride in what you have accomplished,” Yuri answered. “And your accomplishments do stem from your impulsivity. Miss Ussie is highly intelligent and observant. She has noticed that.”

“Maybe,” Elijah said. “I just… I just can’t leave someone alone when they need help, you know? Whether it’s slaves, Turing station people or you, I just want to find a way to help.”

“It is an admirable sentiment,” Yuri said. “I do not know why I was included.”

“Because you’re suffering,” Elijah answered. “don’t act surprised. I may smoke a lot and seem kind of air-headed, but I pay attention.” He looked away from Yuri and stared into the distance. “Not that anyone can blame you. You lost someone beyond precious to you. That would mess anyone up.”

Yuri was about to speak when their conversation was interrupted.

“Everyone,” Meiling’s voice came over the communicator. She was speaking in a loud whisper. “It’s here. Please come quickly. I don’t know if I can capture it on my own.”

“We’ll be right over,” Elijah said. “Just stay cool and try not to scare it.” He looked at Yuri. “We can continue this later, if you want to.”

“Agreed,” Yuri said. “We must hurry.”

The pair of them took off towards Meiling’s post as quickly as they could.

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The Last Draconian 21: Illyana & the Magi

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Illyana Fensen

“The situation is that,” Entrik stated. “Interference is not welcomed by Larick. An internal matter, he wishes it to be.” He’d spent several minutes talking about the inevitability of war betwixt the elves and trolls and how Larick wished the other Magi to keep their distance from it.

I heard the sound of robes rustling, a chair being pushed back. Sadow’s deep voice echoed. “Is it not unseemly for a Magi to become involved in matters of war? Can we really justify giving him free reign in this matter without reserving the right to interfere?” I wanted to point out that if any of the Magi were going to act without regard for ethics or morals, it would be him but I refrained.

“The elves are his people,” Pran said. “A Magi getting involved in problems faced by hir people is not unheard of.”

“Stranger it would be, if uninvolved he was. Business, we do not have in this matter,” Entrick said. “Justify getting involved, can we?”

“It is beneath me to get involved in the affairs of lesser races,” Solan said. “Let them slay each other and be done with it.”

I kept quiet. I wanted to ask if he really thought that feralials were superior and who gave him the right to look down on others, but it wouldn’t do any good. Why listen to one blind girl?

“Gentlemen,” Sadow began. “It is our duty to hold ourselves to a high moral standard. If Larick intends to commit any unseemly deeds it is our duty to handle the situation. After all, ordinary people are no match for a Magi.”

“I’d had enough. It was my turn to rise from my chair. “Please excuse me, Magi,” I said. “I need a rest.” I headed out of the chamber and sat by the door. I could still hear them inside.

Squen laughed. “Your speeches have that effect on me sometimes.”

“She does not like you,” Pran observed. He was definitely talking to Sadow. “She has many doubts of your integrity.”

“So it would seem,” Sadow’s voice sounded confused. “I wonder why.”

I left the doors and moved towards mother’s… my office. Let them bicker for a while.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I could feel it coming, the time when I would be required to make a decision. I’d barely had time to prepare myself. I was still hoping against hope for some escape. Even as I was being led to the ballroom. Lais was smiling and trying to reassure me. She didn’t know anything about what I was going through. My father and his cronies met up with us.

“Tonight will be the time of decision,” he said. “Do you have a preference?” I ignored his question and hung my head in the manner of a prisoner being taken to the gallows. “I see that you have no intention of being mature about this,” he continued. “I truly wish that you could find some happiness in doing your duty.”

“Father,” I said. “You can force me to take a mate, but you can’t control how I feel about the matter.”

We arrived in the ballroom. Candles had been placed throughout it. There was a table covered with various delicacies at the back. Steelspine and Thomas were conversing in front of the table. In the front was an elevated area. Right now it had a group of musicians and their instruments on it. Later, I would be expected to announce my decision from there. In that sense, I was like a prisoner being led to the gallows.

*****

Michael Ryufan

I completed my calculations. After escaping from my cell I would arrive in Wicadia in thirteen days, seventeen hours, and fifteen minutes at the earliest. Depending on the nature of the Magi’s meeting that could be ample time or not nearly enough.

As soon as I escaped I would have to find a quiet place where I could send a message to Illyana. I still had two messenger devices, all that I had to do was find out what the elves had done with them.

I walked to the bars and peered at my guard. “Where are my belongings?” I asked.

He seemed hesitant. Perhaps he was considering the implications of the question; perhaps he was under orders not to tell me. Whatever the situation, speculation was not a viable option.

I had already gained my means of escape by refusing to eat. It was doubtful that the same trick would work twice. I decided to try reason. “Surely, telling me could not hurt. I am quite helpless in this cell. Simply knowing where my possessions are could not rectify that situation.”

He still seemed uncertain. His eyes darted about as though he were seeking guidance from the walls. Perhaps an appeal to pride would persuade him. “I see,” I said, sighing heavily for emphasis. “You stole my possessions when I was brought here. That is why you are unable to tell me where they are.”

He became incensed. “I did no such thing!” He opened the stone cabinet. “Your things are in here. Confirm it for yourself!”

Once I had tilted my head slightly I was able to confirm the accuracy of his report. I turned away from him. He had served his purpose. Now, I just had to wait a little longer.

*****

Illyana Fensen

I strode forward to the council chamber. It was time for a new session and I’d had plenty of time to settle myself. I stopped for a moment. There were footsteps behind me. They were very soft and approaching quickly.

“Who’s there?” I asked.

“I’m terribly sorry,” it was Sadow speaking. I recognized his hollow tone. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

I continued walking. Then I felt a jagged hand on my shoulder.

“Have I given you some cause for offence?” Sadow asked.

“I have no desire to converse with a murderer,” I stated.

“Murderer?” he sounded shocked, his hand fell from my shoulder.

I hurried past him and continued into the chambers. He’d gotten to me. I was worried that I might have said too much.

“Miss Fensen,” Solan’s voice said. “You are early.”

“I was under the impression that we were starting early,” I responded.

I heard feathers shift. “That may be so,” Solan continued. “But courtesy dictates that you should be the last to arrive. Sadow and Squen have yet to show up.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll leave.”

“Stay,” Pran stated. I heard him shift in his seat afterwards. “You should leave her alone. She may join our ranks in time.”

“Let the lady who is young come at the time she desires,” Entrik said. “An outdated formality that is.”

The council chamber opened behind me. “All right. I’m here, we can get started,” Squen’s voice said.

“Not yet,” Solan said. “Sadow has yet to arrive.”

“Hope, I have that he will not be late always,” Entrik stated.

I had passed him just outside the door. He should have been there already. Although, I didn’t tell the other Magi that. I didn’t want them to ask questions about our conversation. It would be too difficult to explain where I got my knowledge from and I certainly couldn’t lie to ones such as they. Besides, I had promised Michael that I would let him have an opportunity to get revenge before I acted to bring Sadow to justice.

I just had to hope that I hadn’t given him cause to be too suspicious.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 151: Yuri Makes Friends

The trip down to the planet was nice and peaceful. the travellers engaged in conversation to pass the time.

“Yuri,” Meiling said. “I love your hair. Do you get it dyed professionally or do you do it yourself?”

“It is like this naturally,” Yuri answered. “I am an android.”

“Android?” Meiling asked. “Then you must be the one from the Cerberus. There are a lot of scientists aboard Turing who would love to meet you.”

“Careful, Mei,” Alexandria said. “There is no guarantee that this android has the same sense of morality that we do. She may be dangerous.”

“It is a fact that I am capable of making my own decisions, both ethical and otherwise,” Yuri stated. “However, it is also a fact that I do possess a sense of morality and empathy towards others.”

“Yeah, she’s good people,” Elijah said. “You don’t have to worry.”

“Please don’t think badly of Alex,” Meiling said. “She’s just very protective of me and, sometimes, that leads to her assuming the worst of others.”

“I understand,” Yuri stated. “i once had a woman I  felt the same way about.”

“So, how long until planet fall?” Elijah asked, quickly changing the conversation.

“Twelve and a  half minutes,” Meiling answered. “Alex, why don’t you and Yuri prepare the equipment?”

The equipment was mostly for luring the creature in. There were also laser nets, some heavy parkas and a couple cages. Yuri helped Alexandria divide the lures and nets and select the most effective ones for the rather barren environment they’d be entering.

Yuri decided to break the ice. “Your dedication to Miss Meiling is admirable. You must love her a great deal.”

“I do, yes,” Alexandria said. “I always want to hug her tight, like a big bear. I would do anything to shield her from harm.”

“Such feelings are to be treasured,” Yuri said. “I can not blame you for mistrusting me. After all, Elijah & I are strangers to you.”

“I appreciate the understanding,” Alexandria said. They worked in silence for a time. It was Alexandria who ended up breaking the silence. “This woman you mentioned, things did not go well with her?”

“She perished,” Yuri answered. “I have been incomplete since.”

“My apologies,” Alexandria said. “I did not mean to open your wounds.”

“There was no reasonable way for you to know,” Yuri said. “Do not worry. I have learned to cope with my incompleteness.”

Alexandria politely refrained from mentioning that coping is not the same as living.

*****

The ship touched down.

“Everybody, put on the heavy parkas,” Meiling said. “It’s really cold down here. I hope the cold isn’t too big of a bother for you.”

“People always say I’m super chill any way,” Elijah joked.

“I do not require a parka,” Yuri stated. “My systems are designed to regulate my temperature.”

“You can wear one any way, if you like,” Meiling offered. “It might save your systems some strain and we have plenty.”

“You should accept,” Alexandria suggested. “It will also save us trouble if our expedition happens to be seen by any tundra researchers.”

Yuri looked from Meiling’s gentle smile to Alexandria’s smirk. “Then I will accept,”  she agreed.

“Now that we’re all friends,” Elijah said. “What’s our game plan? Besides, you know, capturing the Yvlet.”

“The Yvlet lives in underground burrows,” Meiling said. “Where it feeds off of subterranean plants & roots. It occasionally gets chased from its burrow by predators or leaves to drink fresh water. So, we’ll likely find it on the edge of the tundra near the ocean. They do a good job of disguising the entrances to their burrows, so it’ll take some searching to find them. We’ll have to be vigilant around areas where there are trees and other clusters of vegetation.”

“Does that not run counter to the definition of a tundra?” Yuri inquired.

“It normally would,” Meiling answered “But Heitzberg Beta  is an unusual case. It has an entire tundra ecosystem that thrives in the low temperatures. For example, there’s a fox-like creature called a Visleif that gets water from snow and hunts the smaller burrowing animals by using infra-red vision to find their body heat. There’s also…”

“Mei, we do not need an entire biology lesson,” Alexandria said. “We should continue with the briefing.”

“Of course, you’re right,” Meiling said. “Once we find the burrow’s entrance we’ll stake it out and, when the Yvlet emerges, we capture it. Now, I should warn you that it’s pretty large & quick. Wait until it’s completely out of its burrow before striking.”

“We will also have to be wary,” Alexandria said. “There are many dangerous predators down there as well.”

The four divided their supplies and made their way out of the ship and into the harsh, unforgiving tundra of Heitzberg Beta.

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The Dreisenberg Case part 3

The entrance wasn’t locked. Probably goes without saying since we were in some kind of mystic realm that your ordinary person isn’t going to stumble upon. Not that it would’ve kept me out in either case. I’m quite handy with a lock pick.

Opening the door was an immediate assault on the nostrils. It reeked of blood & decay.

I reluctantly let go of Bianca’s hand and held my Luger close, ready. I wasn’t sure just how strong witches were, but I did know, just from the little bit of magic I’d seen Bianca use, that I didn’t want to be caught by one while unprepared.

The inside was more than a little odd. I made a mental note to ask Bianca about magic & architecture later.

The door led to a corridor. Not an ordinary one either. It was one that twisted and curved, not just from side to side but up and down. It reminded me of that one bit in the Forest Temple but it was even worse.

Bianca put a hand on my shoulder. “Careful,” she whispered. “I don’t know where she is. The magic of this place is causing interference. On the plus side, I don’t think she’ll be able to detect us either.”

That was more than a little troubling to hear. I’d been counting on her to give us some early warning of trouble. Strange, I’d just met her and I already trusted her. Was already relying on her. As I’ve said, I have good instincts. That’s probably why.

I nodded my understanding. We continued on our way.

The corridor didn’t have any doors. It had paintings that looked like doors of various kinds but no actual doors. 

We moved for what felt like a good ten minutes before reaching the end of the corridor. It was a small, boxy area with a staircase leading up.

What is even the point of using that much space for that? I don’t care if it is a magical space. If anything, that makes it more of a waste. You could have massive rooms filled with the most pristine figurines and plushes of all the best characters. Or make yourself a nice gallery of PharMercy pictures. What kind of joyless, unimaginative pillock just has painted doors anyway? Unless there’s some type of magic that would turn them into real doors. I didn’t consider that at the time.

The stench was pretty over-powering by the time we reached the stairs. I’d been around worse. I wondered how Bianca was holding up. Looked over at her. She smiled and winked. Probably using magic to block it. Lucky her. 

We went up the stair. The scene that awaited us was beyond grisly. Dismembered body parts, bloody organs jarred and littered around like someone’s demented collection. I was starting to feel queasy. Bianca didn’t look so good either.

Okay, you’re the one who knows magic,” I kept my voice low. “What’s this about?”

Bianca shrugged. “A homunculus experiment, human sacrifices for enhanced spells, research into some kind of body-altering magic. Those are all possible.”

Immortality, actually.” The red-haired witch came seemingly out of nowhere. “So, a couple of pests managed to find me.” A bolt of fire narrowly missed me. It did singe my newsie hat, knocking it off of my head. A second would have hit Bianca but some kind of purple, shimmering shield protected her.

Stay back,” Bianca said. “A normal gun won’t be able to hurt her.”

I caught her hint. I just hoped our opponent hadn’t. She hadn’t exactly been subtle. The two of them started hurling spells at each other. Fire, lightning, ice, wind all that classic stuff you think of when you think of magic. There was more than that, though. There were three dimensional illusions, strange looking orbs and… I don’t rightly know what. They were like masses of energy with rainbow coloured lights flashing throughout them.

Our opponent quickly forgot about me, concentrating her power against Bianca. Guess she thought I wasn’t a threat. Just as planned.

I moved slowly to the side, out of her easy range of vision. Then I slowly aimed, keeping an eye on their battle. Didn’t want her to notice and dodge or deflect my bullet, somehow.

I had a definite sense of urgency, though. I couldn’t tell which of them was winning and I didn’t want to see Bianca hurt because of me. I fired. My bullet hit the same type of shield Bianca had used. The shield shattered after two seconds and the bullet moved through, somehow keeping its speed. Hit her right through the heart. She dropped like a rag doll.

Way to go, Hilde!” Bianca declared. “Let’s just return this area to normal space. Then you can contact the authorities and show them what a brilliant lady you are.” She rustled my hair and stroked my cheek affectionately. I can’t say I minded.

*****

Talking to the authorities wasn’t easy. I made up a convincing sounding story about tracking her to a closed business building that was up for sale and had been for a while, since that’s where we’d been returned to along with all the bodies. Told them she’d caught me investigating and I’d been forced to open fire to defend myself.

It was an easy enough lie to sell. There she was, her prints on the jars and her gruesome handiwork apparent.  

Couldn’t very well tell them that she was a witch and we’d found her with magic or that she’d been doing the business in a mystic space where she didn’t even have the decency to put in proper decorations of any kind. That she was using the body parts to try and discover the secret of immortality… somehow. They’d have thought I was a complete nutter.

Not that I could’ve blamed them. I was there and it still sounded crazy. 

After answering some questions, Bianca and I were set loose.

Thanks for your help,” I said. It was hard to say goodbye to her but I also couldn’t think of a way to ask her to keep in touch without being totally awkward.

Hey, it was fun,” Bianca said. “Now we can celebrate our victory with dinner at a nice, fancy restaurant. Just the two of us. I can get the reservations.”

You’re buying,” I said.

Yes, Ma’am,” she agreed. Her arm went around me. “So, when’s our next case?”

Ours?” I asked. Truth be told, I had  started thinking of how helpful it would be to have a witch around the moment she’d said that. But I barely knew her. The entire time I thought her flirtations had been more teasing and less… serious.

Absolutely,” she answered without hesitation. “After all, once word of this gets around you’ll have a lot of cases and when it gets around that you fought a witch, there’ll be plenty of odd, totally not safe for one ordinary woman, cases.”

I thought about it for a moment. She had a point. I would definitely need her for supernatural stuff. Besides, I was falling for her. There was no denying it.

You need a job that badly?” I asked. Secretly, I was hoping that it wasn’t about that.

A job?” she seemed to actually be taken off guard by that. “Isn’t it natural for a lady to help her girlfriend?”

It was my turn to be caught off guard. “You and me?”

She smiled. Her hands on my shoulders. Her face close to mine. “Of course! So, are you going to kiss me now?” Her eyes closed. Her lips puckered. It took me nearly ten seconds to act.

Logically, I knew there was going to be trouble down the line if I stayed with her but I’m a woman who follows her instincts. And my instincts were telling me to let myself get carried away. They were saying we both needed this and that it was a definite chance at happiness.

I kissed her. And that’s how we became partners, in more ways than one. I don’t know what the future holds but I have a feeling there will be a lot more cases that are decidedly not normal and I’m kind of looking forward to the two of us facing them, together.

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The Dreisenberg Case part 2

The woods looked exactly as they had in Bianca’s crystal ball. I reminded myself that she lived in the area. The show had probably been arranged in advance. But for what purpose? If she wasn’t involved, why show me something that specific? If she was involved, why show me anything at all? A trap? But that didn’t make sense. It’s not like I was close to any kind of truth. Unless this was a technique to bring in more victims. Wait for someone curious to show up and then get them intrigued with a little show to lure them out into the woods alone.

I brought my Luger out and proceeded into the woods with caution. The path was exactly like I’d seen. Right down to some broken branches. I’ll admit, that freaked me out a little. How could she have been sure no one would disturb that spot? Or was it… I shook my head. There was no way the magic explanation was real. Was there?

The tree was exactly as it had appeared in the crystal too. Right down to the initials carved on one of the lower hanging branches. I found the spot where the woman had drawn a star with her finger.

If the magical explanation was real, then I knew I should be able to uncover it just by copying what she’d done. I hesitated. It wasn’t that I implicitly believed Bianca and her story but I did trust my instincts. Always have. My instincts were screaming at me not to do it. Telling me that I was on the verge of meddling with things I shouldn’t. Then again, that was part of my job. I steeled myself to do it.

Hilde!” I’m not ashamed to admit that I jumped. Anyone would have. I’d been listening to my surroundings, sneaking glances behind me using a hand held mirror. I’d seen no sign of her. I definitely hadn’t expected to hear her so close. I looked behind me. There was no sign of her. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned back towards the tree.

There she was. She’d put on a light jacket and a pointed hat. Believe it or not, she was hanging upside down off of a floating broom.

Want to be the Mary Jane to my Spidey?” She asked. “Not yet, huh?” The broom rotated so that she was facing upwards. It lowered gently to the ground and she dismounted, picking it up. She looked from me to the tree and sighed. “I warned you about this place. But you aren’t the type to stay away, are you?”

Guess not,” I answered, forcing myself to speak calmly. 

She glanced at my Luger. “Hand me that for a second.”

Without thinking, I tossed it to her. Why? Why did I always feel compelled to comply with her requests?

She put it on the ground and started chanting with her hands resting on it. I didn’t recognise the language. Couldn’t even guess what she was saying. But I could swear I saw it glow. She handed it back to me. “I put a powerful enchantment on it,” she said. “You should be able to fight witches or other magical beings if you have to.” I examined it. It did look a little different. There were bright teal crystals on both sides of the muzzle.

Maybe one more advantage,” she said. “Wear this.” She held out a pendant. It was shaped like a Raven’s head with emeralds for the eyes and a silver chain. “It’s enchanted,” Bianca explained. “It’ll protect you from having your mind affected by spells. Naturally, that includes the spells I’ve used to make you tell me the truth. I won’t lie, it’ll be a bit harder to tease you this way but I think out relationship will be stronger for it.” She winked at me.

I was starting to believe her. To believe in magic. It’s hard not to when you’ve seen a woman floating upside down on a broom while her clothes defy gravity. So, I put it on. “If you’re a witch, then why are you helping me stop one of your own?” I asked. I needed to know if she was trustworthy. 

I told you,” Bianca said. “This is the work of an unlicensed witch. Well, maybe you don’t get that.” She put an arm around me and pulled me close. She smelled good. I couldn’t help but notice it. “Let me explain in basic terms. Most witches follow the council. We don’t do much that would draw attention to ourselves and we mostly live in peace with ordinary humans. An unlicensed witch does whatever she wants. And we basically have to stop them before ordinary humans find out and we get a full witch hunt. Because they pull stunts like this that cause big commotions. Now, if this was a licensed witch doing some kind of special experiment with the council’s leave, I couldn’t come with you because it’s forbidden for one nice legal witch to harm another except in a couple very specific situations. Luckily, she’s a bad girl and I’d have to put a stop to her any way. So, my cute little Hilde,” she booped my nose again “I’m coming with you.”

I suppose you’ll follow me if I protest,” I said.

Absolutely!” Bianca declared. “It’s against my personal code to let someone as pretty as you get killed by a bad witch, after all.” She winked. I knew she was teasing me, but it was very flattering.

Fine,” I agreed. “Just follow my lead, okay?”

Ma’am, yes Ma’am,” she said. She moved up to the tree. “Take my hand and I’ll get us in.”

I thought it would open a portal that we can walk through,” I said, remembering the vision. “Why do we need to hold hands?”

Oh, it gives me strength,” she said. “Actually, it’s so that we stay together. That’s the thing about magic portals. You never know where you might end up.”

For a second I thought you might be a Pretty Cure,” I joked, taking her hand.

Well, I like to think I’m pretty,” she said. She was already tracing the star.

I was…” I stopped myself. No reason to out myself as a total nerd already. “Yes, yes you are,” I agreed.

She smirked as she finished the sigil. That’s what it’s called when you have a magical sign, I think. The portal appeared and we walked through. Yes, we were holding hands. And yes, her skin was very very soft. It made me feel bad about my calluses.

The trip was kind of like having one of those dreams where you’re half awake and acutely aware of what your body’s feeling, but you also see yourself flying or something and it gives your mind this awkward sense of being disconnected from reality.

We landed in what looked like a courtyard for a massive castle. I knew right away that we weren’t in Dreisenberg any more. Nor were we in the normal world at all. There were definite differences. The colours were muted, like an old black & white show that had been colourised. The air was strange too. It felt heavier. Kind of like you were treading water when you walked, but the water was only up to your knees. Still, for a magical world outside of our own, it was kind of lame.

Well, Hilde dearest?” Bianca asked. “Where to?”

I scrutinised the courtyard. It looked normal enough. No sign of any of the missing people. Just some trees with fruit. A kind I’d never seen before and certainly didn’t trust. It was triangular, pink and spotted.

Now we get inside,” I said. I moved towards the door, still holding onto Bianca’s hand.

I could tell you that I did it without thinking or that I was worried about losing track of her in that place. You might even believe me. But the truth is, I just liked holding her hand. It made me feel more… secure, somehow. I knew that I would probably have to let go sooner or later but right then, in that little moment, I wanted to hold on as long as I could.

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The Dreisenberg Missing Person Case Part 1

Business had been slow when he walked in. I expected a nice, normal case. A cheating lover, perhaps a lost object. I never anticipated… but I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Hildegard Elizabeta Müller. I used to be in law enforcement. Now, I’m a private investigator.

The client was at the tail end of middle age. He had hair that was mostly grey with a bit of black still poking through. He was one of those balding guys who tries way too hard to look like they’ve still got hair. The comb-over was quite comical. I would’ve been tempted to laugh if he weren’t a customer. He fidgeted nervously while talking. Introduced himself as Professor Hans Klein.

I didn’t expect you to be so young, My Dear,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow at him. I’d never liked diminutives. “Professor,” I said. “I would prefer if you call me detective or Miss Müller.”

Terribly sorry, Detective Müller,” he said. “No offence was intended, I assure you. I wouldn’t normally come to one of your kind for help but I have a matter I’d very much like investigated.” His face visibly flushed when he noticed how that sounded. “I mean a detective. Not…”

I could have let him flail for a bit, but it’s not great for return business. “I know what you meant,” I interjected. “There are plenty of white investigators you could have gone to if that was your problem. Please, give me the details.”

He seemed relieved, wasn’t fidgeting as much, when he continued. “You’ve heard of the incidents around Dreisenberg, I trust?”

The missing persons cases,” I said. “You want me to find someone, I take it?”

Quite,” he said. “My nephew, Sebastian, is among the most recent victims. I would very much like to know what’s happened to him.”

Do you have a picture?” Professor Klein held one out. Sebastian was a portly blonde with a thin moustache. Looked to be thirteen, maybe fourteen. I put the photograph in my bag. “I charge a hundred euros a day, plus expenses.” I gave him my best sympathetic look. “I can’t guarantee that I’ll find the boy alive. The police do suspect a serial killer in this case.”

His right hand started shaking. “I know. Just, please, see if you can find what’s happened to him.”

I shook his hand. “Don’t worry. I’m not given to failing cases. I’ll drive down there straight away and see what I can dig up. You’d better give me your e-mail. I’ll send you reports whenever I learn anything.”

The Professor thanked me and left my office. I wasn’t as confident as I’d sounded. There was a lot of wilderness around Dreisenberg and the police hadn’t managed to find any good leads. Still, it was always possible I’d find something they’d missed.

I put on my dark blue blazer and tan newsie hat, grabbed my handbag, locked the office behind me and got into my blue Volkswagen Beetle. It wasn’t a new one. In fact, it was about two decades old. Still ran fine, which was good enough. I wondered what I’d find when I got there. What method I might use to figure the case out. Well, there’d be plenty of time to think about it during the drive. I had an hour or two on the road, after all.

*****

Dreisenberg was a small town with a population of a couple hundred people. The area was heavily forested, whoever was behind the incidents was probably hiding the bodies there somewhere. Of course, the regular police would have already thought of that. I needed a different lead.

I made my way to the town’s only coffee shop. It was a pretty big place with a two-sided sign. One for the coffee during the day and the second for night when it converted into the pub. Judging from the inside, they weren’t too picky about when they actually served pints. There were a couple teenagers, probably skipping classes, drinking at a table in the back. There were seven other clients & an elderly woman working the counter.

I quickly scanned the menu. “Can I get a medium Mocha, please?” I asked.

Sure thing,” she said. “You just passing through or visiting on some business?” There was just a slight hint of concern in her voice. Probably because all the missing people had been visitors. Although it was also possible that she was worried about what I might discover.

Just passing,” I lied. “I wouldn’t want to stay too long with all the nasty business going on. Why, is there somewhere specific I should avoid?” I said it like I was half-joking. Best way to get information from people, in my experience, was to appear like you didn’t actually care about it all that much.

She handed me my drink. “I’d stay away from the Hexe Manor if I was you. It’s the big place about two streets down.”

Is that seriously their last name?” I asked, laughing. “How do you even get that as a last name?”

Rumour says their ancestors sold their souls to the devil centuries ago,” she answered. “Strange lot too. Only ever women down there. I knew their old gran, rest her soul, as a young girl. She never married. Never even saw her with a boy. But one day she had a baby girl. Her daughter was the same. Never married. Never seen with a boyfriend. But she had daughters, three of them. Strangest thing, neither of them showed any signs of being pregnant either. Now that she’s passed her girls live there. You may laugh but they’re daughters of Satan, I’ll wager. Me own gran once told me that that’s always been the way. Only ever girls in that house. I’ve told those idiot officers that those girls are probably behind the tourists going missing but they won’t listen, call me a raving lunatic. You’ll stay away from those witches if you know what’s good for you.”

Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll stay away.” I paid for my drink and went back to my Beetle. I felt a little bad, lying to the old woman, but I had a possible lead. Even if I’d thought for a moment that the devil existed, it wouldn’t keep me away.

*****

The Manor looked nice enough. It had pale yellow paint with white borders, open windows and it was in pristine condition. The only somewhat odd thing was the broom propped up by the door.

Maybe one of the Hexe sisters rides it,” I muttered, joking.

I left my beetle and approached the door. The house didn’t have a door bell but it did have a knocker. Lion-shaped, also not what you’d expect from witches.

I gave it two quick knocks. It took about twenty seconds for it to open.

She looked to be about my age, maybe a little younger. Roughly a hundred seventy centimetres tall, ten centimetres shorter than me. She had straight blonde hair in a pixie cut and the brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen. A Greek nose and a full, pouty-lipped smile. Her skin was somewhat pale and smooth looking. Wore a white tank top with a black and white plaid skirt. She was definitely a beauty.

And who might you be?” she asked. “Wait, let me guess. You came because you heard the rumours and you wanted to offer your body to save me from my ‘wicked’ ways? No, that’s not it. You saw me from afar and immediately fell in love. Now you’ve come to confess and ask me to take you to my bosom and make you mine. No?” She was teasing me. Deliberately keeping things light-hearted so I wouldn’t be uncomfortable too. “All right, you can tell me.”

Hildegard Elizabeta Müller, Private Investigator,” I answered without even thinking. Without wanting to. It was almost like some… force was compelling me to tell her everything. “I’m here on a missing person case and I heard you might be suspicious.”

She laughed, giddily. “Well, My ebon temptress, or shall I call you Hilde?” She turned her eyes to me. “All right, Hilde it is. Well, Hilde, I’m Bianca Hexe. My sisters, Brenda & Beatrix, are out right now. I can promise you, one hundred percent, that we don’t have anything to do with the case. But you’re a cutie, so I’ll find out who is. Just for you. Come in!”

She beckoned me with a long, slender finger. Before I knew what was happening, I’d followed her inside.

She led me to a sitting room. It was very… blue. The walls, rug, chairs, they were all shades of blue. A dark, not quite navy, colour for the furniture. A lighter sea blue for the walls, a medium shade for the rug.

Go ahead and have a seat,” Bianca said. “I’ll get us some tea.”

I hesitated, but sat down. I figured that I was already inside. Might as well see what happens. Besides, I had my trusty Stoeger Luger securely strapped to my leg if things went badly.

She returned in a few minutes with a pot of tea in one hand and two cups in the other.

I hope you like Rose tea,” Bianca said. She set the cups down and poured for both of us before sinking into her own chair and taking a long drink. I took a light sip of mine. Have to admit, it was damn good tea.

Now then,” Bianca said. “Your case.” I didn’t see where she’d pulled it from, but she suddenly had a small crystal ball on the table. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said. “Sometimes the old ways work the best. Now, let’s see.”

The lights went out. I was sure no one had touched them. A timer of some kind? The ball glowed on the table. Bianca’s fingers ran over it. A red-haired woman in a green dress appeared. Then there were flashes, almost too fast to follow. She was with various people. I could’ve sworn I saw Sebastian. Then there was an image of her with a blanket-covered figure floating behind her. She ran to a large tree and ran her fingers along its trunk in a star shape. A shimmering light opened. Then, she was gone. Taking her burden with her.

So, that’s it,” Bianca said. She looked directly at me. The lights came back on and the ball returned to normal. “What we have is an unlicensed witch. Probably doing experiments with humans or sacrificing them for spells.” She sighed. “You won’t be able to beat her. I’ll tell my sisters about her when they get back and the three of us will handle it. Why don’t you stay with me until then? We can get to know each other, dance, dine, have the type of naughty pillow fight that certain teenagers like to imagine girls have at slumber parties… It’ll be the best!”

I looked directly at her. “So, you’re telling me this whole incident is caused by magic? That if I find that tree and make that shape I’ll be transported to some other dimension where the missing persons were taken?”

Pretty much,” Bianca answered. She reached forward and booped my nose. “I’m also telling you not to worry, Hilde. We’ll take care of it and you can tell the person who hired you how instrumental you were. We’ll back you up. It’ll save us trouble any way.”

Well, thank you for the tea,” I said. “I really must be returning to sanity.”

Just don’t go near that tree,” Bianca warned.

I made my way out of her house. It was a trick. It had to be. Witches, magic, all that nonsense, there was no way it was real, right? Still, it wouldn’t hurt to check. Maybe if I went to that tree I’d find the answers for myself. Not like it would hurt to check.

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The Last Draconian 20: Following Larick’s Wishes

Previous Chapter

Illyana  Fensen

I strode into the council chamber, keeping my head high and trying to sound confident. “I am the current headmistress of the academy, Illyana Fensen.”

“You are late,” the voice was shrill. “I am Pran,”

I shook his hand. It was slimy, like holding a frog. “I greet you, clear-minded one.”

“Another mage of all, to meet I did not expect,” this voice was like listening to a mountain shake. “Entrik, I am.”

I shook his calloused, gnarled hand. “I greet you, earth-mover.”

“She looks scrawny, like she hasn’t eaten enough,” this voice came out in hisses and sputters. “I’m Squen, go eat something. ‘Fore you wilt.”

I shook his scaled hand. “I greet you, strong-armed one. I will most certainly dine after this meeting.”

“I will give you proper greetings,” said a booming voice. “But I will not deign to touch a human. I am Solan.”

I forced a smile. “Greetings, silver-winged one.”

“I apologize for my companion’s rudeness.” This voice was hollow and caused a strange echo. “I am Sadow.”

“I greet you,” I said. I didn’t offer my hand. “Now, shall we begin the meeting?”

*****

The falcon flew directly down to the Royal One. His guards drew their bows. He held up a hand. “Stop! There’s nothing to fear. It is only Larick’s familiar.”

The Royal One took the small parcel and the letter from the bird. “Thank your master for me,” he told it. The falcon quickly flew away.

The parcel contained a small, clear liquid. The Royal One read the letter. It said:

Royal One, you must send your son, Leaf and your guard, Lofu to the southern check point immediately. It is the only way to create the best possible future. The vial I have sent you contains medicine. It is for you to consume immediately in order to avoid future complications.

“Summon Leaf and Lofu,” The Royal One ordered. “Send them to the southern check point with the fastest horses available.” He drained the vial in one gulp. It was bitter going down, but had a strangely sweet after taste. It never occurred to him to question what the medicine might be for.

*****

Lynai Elfblood

I spread out on my bed. Lais was watching me from the corner. “I can’t believe that this is my last night of freedom,” I said. I tried to sound resigned. Maybe I could get her top report my compliance and get an opportunity to escape.

“Taking a mate won’t be that bad,” Lais said. She was just trying to reassure me, I knew. She was a kind woman. Unfortunately, she was also wholly loyal to my father.

“How would you know?” I asked. “If you ever take a mate it’ll be of your own choosing. Although I don’t suppose that priestess of yours is the marrying type.”

We sat in silence for a moment. Someone rapped on the door to my chamber. Lais shifted and put her left hand on her blade’s hilt.

I propped myself up with my elbow. “Come in,” I said. I was feeling tired, but I thought I recognised the knock.

Lan walked in. He scratched his head and twiddled his fingers. Lais put her left hand back onto her lap.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

“I’m worried about you, Lyn,” he said. “I heard that you’ve been restless.”

“Wouldn’t you be restless if you were expected to undergo Hera’s ceremony against your will tomorrow?” I asked.

Lan paced for a moment. “This expectation isn’t fair, Lyn,” he said. “It’s not fair to you, or to any of the others who came before you. But, it won’t change just because it makes you unhappy. I don’t even think you’ll be the first unhappy royal daughter as a result of it. You probably won’t be the last either.”

“I know that,” I sat down and looked up at him. “It will change eventually, though. It’ll change because some Royal One comes along and changes it. Someone more reasonable than our father. Someone who loves their daughter too much to let her suffer.” I sighed heavily. “What would you have me do if not resist?” I asked.

Lan scratched his head. “I guess that I’m trying to say that you should choose someone who you can be happy with. Because…” He paused and cleared his throat. “I don’t want to see you unhappy. I want to be able to visit you and see that you’re doing just fine.”

“Thank you, Brother,” I whispered. “But I fear there’s no way that’ll happen. ”

*****

The elven guard, Lang if I was recalling the name correctly, observed me as I sat in a meditative position. He was clearly still under orders to watch me closely.

I moved out of meditation and performed a series of stretches to loosen my muscles. It would hamper me to be overly tense when the proper time came, after all. I reached into the corner and examined my concoction. I shook the cup from side to side. It wobbled slightly but did not splash. It had become fully gelatinous. It was all happening according to plan.

I set the cup back down, flipped some stray strands of hair out of my face and resumed meditating. It would not be long until I was ready to escape. I simply had to bide my time a little longer.

*****

Liys sharpened his blade. “How long do we have?” he asked.

Larick leaned against the outpost’s trunk. “The attackers will arrive in the morning.”

“How great of a force?” Liys asked.

“It will not be great enough,” Larick said. “The exact size is uncertain.”

“It looks like you were right about war being inevitable,” Lyon said, turning to Liys.

“It’s going to start sooner than I anticipated, though,” Liys admitted.

Larick smiled. Everything was unfolding exactly as he had foreseen.

Next Chapter

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