My room, because it’s really not a cell, is very bland. Very boring. It has no windows, a simple bed, a small hole in the corner that seems to lead out, but is barely large enough for my hand and has water running through it. It’s clearly used to dispose of waste, based on some of the smells that leak from it in the middle of the night. But the bed is warm and soft and I get fed in far too large amounts regularly. Nobody stands guard over me, my only company are the dragons that bring me meals. It’s almost like Smay has completely forgotten I exist down here. He certainly never deigns to visit.
It’s difficult to tell how much time has passed. I don’t dare assume three meals a day, and there’s no sunlight, only a soft glow that seems to come from the walls themselves and is constantly, annoyingly bright. I’m practically bouncing off the walls from boredom. I can’t concentrate on my escape plans for any length of time, but there really isn’t much else to focus on, so my muddled thoughts all start running together. Sometimes I nap. Sometimes I sing very bad ballads. Sometimes I talk to myself, trying to work through this like a logic puzzle. Other times, I wonder how long it will take Adamar, Folas and Valkallyn to get here. A month? And what to do once they arrive? How many days have passed by again?
My plan is almost finished, and although ‘almost’ isn’t ‘complete’ I decide that trying it is better than staying here indefinitely and trying to plan some more.
So, the next time one of the dumb dragons comes to deliver my food, I hide. There aren’t many places to hide, but behind the now-open door is a pretty good one. The dragon, of course, goes further in the room, trying to check if I’m under the bed. I carefully inch around the door to the outside and get a good look at the key and lock.
I have two options now, but considering that the size of the key is similar to that of the giant wooden spoon they provide me to eat with, I take a good look around, memorizing the corridor outside, and then clear my throat loudly.
The dragon, who had just stood up confusedly after not finding me beneath the bed, spins around immediately and bares its teeth. I hold up my hands non-threateningly, and step back into the room. The dragon shakes its emerald head, confusedly. Snarling at me threateningly, it places my tray of food on the bed and then leaves, slamming the door behind it.
“You’re welcome for saving your job!” I shout after it. Then I search the heel of my shoe, finding my lockpicks and small knife stored right where they should be. The lock isn’t one that can be easily picked from the inside, Smay is far smarter than that. It is a small lock that loops through a hole in a piece of metal attached to the door, and a hole in a protruding bit of rock. There is also a big bar set above the lock that prevents the door from opening, but that will be easy enough to take care of.
Although escaping earlier would have been simple, the dragon would have raised the alarm too early. Best to give the impression that I’m not interested in escaping, even though I could. Perhaps they’ll let their guard down.
It takes three more meals to get the spoon-key right. I ruined the first two tries completely– didn’t even get the runes right that would allow me to maneuver it without touching! And then my third dropped numerous times and didn’t even fit the lock, and I was nearly caught by the emerald dragon coming by with my next meal. He’s not the only one who brings me food, but he’s the most common– albeit not the smartest –of the lot.
But the fourth key works, and I grin to myself as I slide it under the door. It takes more than a few tries and a lot of headaches to raise the stupid thing from the ground and maneuver it into the lock. But the tiny click is completely worth it. A bit more sliding it around and suddenly the whole lock falls, bouncing a few times on the ground before going completely still.
I hold my breath. Nothing. Nobody heard.
I lever my plate between the wooden door and the uneven stone wall, just underneath the bar blocking the door. It’s about chest height, just like I remembered. I crouch and, scooching my shoulder under the plate while moving as close to the wall as I can, I attempt to lift it. It’s heavy, and it takes all my strength to move it over the lip of its holder. It clatters down a lot louder than the lock, but I don’t waste any time waiting now. I shove the door open, and grab the small collection of bread and cheeses that I’ve been storing in my undershirt under my bed. The emerald dragon had even seen it earlier, but apparently had discounted it. I don’t know I’ll even get out of here, much less how long it will take me to find my friends, but hopefully I can live off this till then.
Heading up the hallway, I try to navigate based on vague memories. I hadn’t been paying a lot of attention when Smay led me to my room. I had been paying even less attention before then, so it is quite surprising to me when I find myself at the Y intersection. Two dragons still guard the side I haven’t explored yet, and I immediately retreat out of sight, oddly feeling more than a little sick and light headed.
Part of me wants to head down that obviously very important hallway. More than part of me, I’d estimate most of me. But how to distract the dragons guarding it? My whole plan relies on getting as close to ‘out’ as possible without alerting any of the dragons to the fact that I’ve left my room. So any distraction would have to seem entirely normal to them.
Glancing around and confirming that– as far as the torches on the walls light at least– this passage is deserted, I sit down to think. Perhaps I could wait? No, that would take too long. Who knows when they change shifts? I could throw some of my bread or a small rock down the oncoming corridor and dash past while they’re distracted by the sound. Bread would be a bit unusual, but a stone should do.
Picking up one of the pebbles, I throw it as far down the other corridor as I can. Only after the stone has left my hand do I realize that if they spot it flying through the air, they might try to see where it came from instead of where it clatters.
It makes plenty of sound when it lands, but the dragons only shift their weight slightly and look at each other. Not even a peep from either of them, and neither goes to check it out. I sigh, and turn around. It’s doubtful I could get across the brightly lit intersection with those two on watch, especially when a highly suspicious thrown stone doesn’t even make them flinch. Besides, the longer I stay here the more sick I feel.
Suddenly though, there is a scream from somewhere down the oncoming corridor. It is clearly a summons of some sort, for the dragons, almost as one, leap into the air and rush down towards the noise. Torn, I consider following them for half-a-second. Watching a dragon meeting would be cool, but I doubt Smay will be speaking to them in any way I’d have a hope of understanding. So instead I dart down the now abandoned passage. It is also brightly lit and quickly goes back down into the bowels of the rock. Slowly, the torches are placed further and further apart. And then they are gone, and the rock is glowing again. My stomach sloshes unhappily, but I ignore it, as I run around the bend and straight into a glowing cavern with a person inside.
Blond hair hangs to his shoulders in an uneven cut, leaving bangs above his bright blue eyes. He has a beard, not yet fully grown in, but certainly trying. His face is young, but there are definite stress lines on his brow when he turns to me in surprise. In front of him on a table is a box-ish looking object that glows an entirely different type of light than from the stones. It is a harsh light, and it makes his face look deathly pale. Next to the box-thing is a small cylindrical container with a design of three black crescent moons united by a black circle and surrounded with livid green paint.
“What?!” The young man looks at me, almost angrily. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” His voice is warped by my pounding headache, and it takes all my mental powers to realize that he is neither elf, nor dwarf, and doesn’t have the wings of a Kashan or Tadhiel, although he has the height.
When I blink, he’s crossed the entire room and is standing before me, eyes widening in horror. “You’re supposed to be dead. Why aren’t you dead?!” He asks me. His voice hurts. Thinking hurts.
I turn and run, desperate to get out of here. The edges of my vision are going dark, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why I thought it was a good idea to go somewhere that was making me feel this awful.
I take a corner and start coughing. It’s a hacking, loud, ugly, splattering sound. I find myself leaning on the left wall, torchlight glaring menacingly. Red appears on my hand like magic. I think I had used that hand to cover my mouth, but I can’t be sure. My memories are messed up. All I know is that that can’t be good.
I think I hear the young man’s footsteps following me, and start my loping run again. Why wasn’t he affected? How could he stand to be in that room, by those– those things! They must be causinging this feeling, there was nothing else in that room! I blink again, and suddenly the floor is approaching my face at a worryingly rapid pace. Like it can’t wait to give me a hug.
I feel a sharp pain in my head, and then the world goes mercifully black. I’m not sure if my eyes are closed, or if they’re open, and just not seeing anything. Seemingly from a distance, there is a rushing of sound, thuds and screams of angry dragons. “I’ve got him!” A familiar male voice crows, and suddenly I’m off the ground and flying at tremendous speed through the air.
“Excellent job, Fin!” Faladel’s voice shouts. “Get us out of here, Silv!”
“I would if there weren’t all those dragons in that cavern we came in!” Silv shouts back.
I relax, and let the darkness and the pounding headache take me away. I’m safe now, I’m not coughing blood, I can’t feel my headache, I can’t feel anything, and then I can’t think either.
When I wake up, my headache is back in full force and I groan miserably.
“Wakey wakey Briareth!” Silv says, leaning over me, her tiny head looking a lot bigger as she inspects me. “Elen, you might want to come over, he could have a concussion or something. His eyes aren’t focusing right.”
“Are you sure you tied his wounds tight?” I hear Fin ask, but his voice is muffled. “I can smell the blood.”
“Oh you’ll be fine you big baby. You literally just ate.” Silv tosses her head as she turns away from me, which would have a much better effect if her hair weren’t chopped so short. Elen approaches, her large white wings shielding my eyes from the fuzzy glare as my vision swims.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” She asks, and I blink trying to focus.
“Definitely not twelve.” I say confusedly, “You don’t have twelve fingers, only ten, right?” She laughs unreservedly. And I try to count them again. But with them all bobbing and weaving and blurring together, I really can’t tell. “Sorry,” I apologize, giving up.
Her blobby fingers approach and smooth the area of my pounding head, gently pressing down on the lump I feel swelling there. “You’re right about the bleeding, Fin, It started up again, must have been the encounter with the scouts that upset him.” She pulls a bandaid out from somewhere and starts wrapping my head. “Perhaps he hit it on something with the roughness of the flight. Oh, that wasn’t meant as a criticism, Silv!“ Elen calls over her shoulder to the short captain manning the wheel.
The Zytherling in question shakes her head not even looking at us. “None taken, Elen, none taken. I’m confident in my skills, and even more confident that you and FIn can’t do any better.”
“Briareth?” Faladel comes over, I don’t know where he was all this time, but I’m grateful he’s in view now.
“What happened, Faladel? How did you even find me?” My voice is dry, and I lick cracked lips. “And can I have some water?”
Elen leaves off re-wrapping my bandages and goes to hopefully fetch me some water as Faladel sits down beside me, telling me all about how they’re staying at this Chairholder’s house and how he showed them maps, and about his beetle lighting up and bringing him directly to me. “I still can’t believe the Dragon’s Nest was flying.” He finishes, shaking his head. “It really makes no sense. Boats, I can accept. They’re small, and this world has all sorts of weird technology. Pistols, and mechanical servants, so why not flying boats? But an entire island… If I hadn’t seen it for myself.” He shakes his head again and chuckles slightly.
“It’s the Habbach Stones, or Floatstones if you prefer the less technical term.” Silv calls back from the wheel, obviously listening in to our conversation. “They power our Zippers and our Big Rigs, along with the Frigates and other fighters. But that Island must be chock full of them to float that high by itself. Once we kill all the dragons,” I can practically sense her grin at the thought. “That island will be looted dry within the month! Floatstones are rare, and notoriously difficult to catch, so a flying island will certainly leave investors drooling over the opportunity. Did you see any strange glowing bricks in there, Briareth?”
Elen arrives just then with some water for me, and I take a long deep drink before telling my own story to Elen’s quiet openness, Silv’s eager ears, and Faladel’s grave concern. I start with the most obvious problem.
“Smay is here. And something is terribly wrong with him!” I break the news bluntly to Faladel. He opens his mouth, closes it, and then gapes it open again, like a confused guppy.
“Who’s Smay? And why is he important?” Silv looks between Faladel and I.
“He’s a dragon we know.” I explain bluntly. “He was quite nice; he helped us out in a tight spot, fed us pancakes, and was by all accounts an entirely civilized dragon, and the only one we knew until we came here. He eats people now Faladel! Pops their heads like blueberries!” Faladel’s mouth continues to do the surprised fish routine, and I briefly wonder how mad he’ll be at me if I nickname him guppy after this. But I shake that thought out and continue with my desperate explanation. “The strangest thing is, he acts like all his changes are entirely natural. He just left his home, found these dragons, and became their leader, leaving all his treasures behind except this silver set of kitchen scales that he doesn’t want to let out of his sight. He got super mad when I hadn’t even touched them. He even modeled all his new decor around them! It’s all in silver and rubies, which” I add on, suddenly realizing something, “completely clashes with his natural coloration pattern. Copper and bronze, versus silver and ruby, ugh…” I spit out my tongue, just imagining it looks nasty. How did I not pick up on that earlier?
“There were glowing stones by the way. The entire walls were aglow in the lower parts of the island.” I sit up and turn to face Silv, finally remembering to answer her original question. “How did you guess?”
“You were friends with a dragon?” She has completely let go of the steering wheel to come over and stare at us incredulously. Fin is trying to steer now, but the ride is noticeably bumpier, and sets my head aching.
“He was a nice dragon back then.” Faladel tries to defend us, but Silv is having none of it.
“They’re monsters! How could you–!” Her voice cracks, fury scrawled all over her face. Elen looks up at the short, furious Zytherling standing above us and her eyes are wide. Then I remember why we didn’t want to tell them about Smay in the first place. Silv’s family was killed by dragons. I’m such an idiot.
“Silv…” Fin turns back towards us, slightly hesitant. He has a grey cloth wrapped loosely over his nose and mouth, and his voice is slightly muffled because of it. He’s not quite sure what to say to his friend, but clearly feels the need to say something. “It’s not like they knew us back then. And he’s clearly not siding with them now.”
Silv takes a deep breath, looking very much like she’d like to continue shouting at us, but instead turns and strides below decks.
“We should give her a minute.” Elen murmurs softly. “She hates it when anyone sees her crying.”
Faladel nods, but I look at Elen confused. “She didn’t seem like she was about to cry to me.”
Elen shrugs. “She trusted you, we all became friends, and then it turns out you were hiding this from her. I’d probably be equally upset if my friends were also friends with my sworn enemy.”
“Sworn enemy?” Faladel frowns, perturbed. “Did she swear to kill any dragon she meets or something?”
“Any dragon she can find. And, of course, you can’t take oaths like that lightly.” Elen confirms. “Oathbreakers are shunned by their families and cast out of society. And she hasn’t kept her oath secret. So obviously there is now a conflict of interest here.”
“We should probably let her cool down for a bit,” Fin says, shifting topics. “Half an hour at least.”
“So is there a way we can make her oath void?” Faladel ignores the attempt and continues to question Elen.
Fin sighs and turns around to face us, only using one hand to keep the wheel steady. “The rules about oaths are pretty airtight, Faladel. They’ve nailed those down for generations. Even asking that sort of question aloud would be dangerous in the capital.”
“So there would be no way to rope you all into helping us free Smay from his enchantment then? Even if it would lead to the collapse of this dragon army?”
“Collapse the army?” Fin laughs. “There’s no way.”
“Yes way!” I jump on to Faladel’s train of thought. “Smay leads the other dragons, and he told me himself that all the other dragons were basically dumb brutes until he came along. If we can break whatever spell has warped his personality, the dragons are left without any grasp on tactics. They’ll fall apart!”
“You’re serious?” Elen stares at me with her deep brown eyes. “You really think the two of you have found the key to ending this war?”
“Not just found the key, called in reinforcements to help!” I warm to my plan even more. “We just need to get Smay’s shiny new scales away from him and then play keepaway until Adamar, Folas, and Valkallyn arrive, and they’ll be able to help us break the enchantment!”
“It would depend on Silv, and how she views the vow. She’s pretty uptight for a Zytherling, one of the many reasons she makes a great captain.” Fin says thoughtfully. “I don’t hate the dragons nearly as much as she does, but if you’re sure this Smay fellow will side with us after the magic breaks and we can somehow pull this off, I’m all for it.”
Elen frowns and shakes her head slowly. “I don’t think it will work. We don’t have the rations to go back and grab the scales and get all the way back to the capital.”
“Of course not.” Fin says, turning back to the wheel. “That was never in any doubt. However, the run on rations should be over by now. We should be able to buy them once we’re back in port at The Light. ”
“It’s the name of their capital.” Faladel explains to me in an undertone. I nod like I understand, but still have questions. Starting with, what sort of a name is ‘The Light?’
“So, when do we get there?” I ask.
“Two days.” Fin proclaims, “and I think we lost our dragon pursuers yesterday, so we should have clear skies till then.”
Clear skies and plenty of stories later– I told them all about the rest of my misadventures during captivity, and of course, repeated what Smay had said about Sus-Ciel and the pseudodragons being behind the gift of the scales– we arrive in The Light that Guides the Lost Seas, which at least makes more sense for a capital’s name than just ‘the Light’ because this city doesn’t glow nearly as much as the Dragon’s Nest Isle did.
It is a loud, busy, delightfully chaotic place filled to the absolute brim with people and peddlers. Almost every street is crowded, and numerous buildings have lines along the blocks to get in. Dirty paving stones line the streets, and mechanical servants shop right alongside their fleshy counterparts. On the poorer side of town, down by the sky docks, there are less mechanicals and more dirty children running and flying around us. I catch a young Kashan, trying to pickpocket me, but let him off with a stern warning. There’s even a mysterious young man who claims he can tell our fortunes, and Faladel and Silv have to pull Fin and I away from the entrance to his colourfully festooned tent. We don’t stay in that side of town long though, Faladel has explained to me that our host, Helios-Lime III, is one of their leaders in government, and of course he has the property to match his lofty title as one of the nine Chairholders that run the Triumvirate Tribes– the name of Fin, Silv, and Elen’s country.
I’m not quite sure I understand their politics, but since Faladel has apparently introduced us as diplomats, I’m going to have to learn fast.
When we arrive at the mansion the Chairholder resides in, one of his non-mechanical servants guides us in. The young Tadhiel man clearly thinks Elen is quite the thing, and Elen is bright red from all the compliments by the time he finally leaves. Of course, the Chairholder insists I recount all the things that happened on what he calls ‘my little misadventure.” I spare him no details since the others seem to trust him, and even recall a few that I’d forgotten to tell my friends about. Smay of course, but also how he seemed quite calm about putting the other dragon out of its misery and his sudden growth spurt. The queasiness that I had felt around that one corridor and the strange creature I’m almost sure I imagined that had chased me back through it. I made sure to also mention that Adamar, Folas, and Valkallyn will need some way off the arrival island once they make it through the portal.
The Chairholder only steeples and taps his fingers in front of his thin mouth as I tell my story. His eyes are narrowed in concentration as he takes it all in, and the wrinkles on his old forehead grow deeper in thought.
“A new leader would explain the sudden change in tactics.” He taps one of the maps on the table in front of us, “But what if this dragon, Smay-Smay–” He snaps his fingers and I supply the word for him.
“Yes, that. What if he was just tricking you with overtures of friendship earlier? What if this is his real personality, not some strange magic? After all, you said magic wasn’t behaving right, correct? So any spell on the dragon would also be subset to the same failure rate.”
“Not exactly.” Faladel cuts in, and I gesture for him to continue. He understands more of the theory than I do, he’ll be able to explain it better I’m sure.
“Enchantments and spells are different. Both are magic, yes, but spells need magic channeled into them constantly. They are current, and end when the flow of magic ends. Enchantments could have been engraved thousands of years ago, filled with magic a hundred, and only activated just now. So all the magical components really are in the past back when the runes were carved and filled with magic. Now, the enchantment is just following a predetermined outcome. If he got his hand on an enchanted item that started working back in our world and caused him to leave, I see no reason why something that interferes with spellwork here would necessarily have an impact on an enchantment.”
I blink at Faladel, I have a minor headache from all the buzzing that those words caused, and our new friends look completely confused.
“I’m pretty sure half of that was nonsense.” Elen breaks the silence with her bluntness. “Did anyone understand him?” Fin shrugs and flutters his black wings noncommittally, and Silv shakes her head.
“Ahhh… the language differentiation.” The Chairholder’s eyes widen as he catches on, and a chuckle escapes his lips. “I should have expected this. You’ll have to excuse us, our language probably doesn’t have words for a lot of the things you were describing. We’ll just assume that you have the right of it, and move on.”
“Uh, no, we aren’t just going to move on from that.” Fin says, polite but firm. “This weird jabbering has been bugging me ever since we met them. I would like an explanation.”
“Understandable,” The old man nods, “but unfortunately, I’m not going to be much help at explaining it. You see, I don’t have the words or the knowledge to be comfortable sharing what I know. However, I’ve already taken the liberty of summoning a Chronicler. He’ll probably want to hear your story again, and he’ll be a lot better at explaining that sort of thing than I’d be.”
“Wait, how long ago did you ask him to come?” Faladel queries him, “You’ve been with us this whole time.”
“Once I knew you had arrived in the city, I knew you’d have a tale to tell.” The old Tadhiel stands up and stretches his wings and arms with a yawn and multiple muscle pops. “These sort of intuitions come with age, you understand?” He looks down at us, almost patronizingly.
Faladel hesitates, clearly slightly unnerved by his attitude and not sure how to respond. “How old are you?” I ask the Chairholder, taking up his defense. “I’m sorry if I come across as rude,” I add on, trying to take a more diplomatic route so Faladel will quit the dismayed stare he just gave me. “But I highly doubt you are in a position to patronize either of us based on age at least. Knowledge of culture, sure, politics, unlikely, but age?” I chuckle. He looks like a dwarf who never took the immortality serum. I would highly doubt anyone immortal could look that old, so what– he could be seventy? Eighty? Unless Tadhiel are extremely long lived, I could be wrong but…
The man frowns, unused to being challenged. “Fifty-Eight.”
I lean back in my chair, looking up at him in triumph. “I’m ninety-one, and Faladel is over a hundred and fifty.”
“No way.” Elen exclaims, “You don’t look like the half-mechs. How the hell are you still alive?”
“And with all your limbs still working?” Fin adds on.
“We’re immortal, so stop with your blabbering about how things come with age.” I scold the Chairholder, who looks properly flummoxed. Slowly he sits down in his chair again. “I’m sure Prince Faladel just meant to ask why that had hit your list of priorities, instead of, oh, I don’t know, getting ready to refill our ship with rations for our next trip.” I continue, putting the emphasis on Faladel’s title to really drive home that he isn’t just any elf. This dude should respect him.
I think I’ve got this diplomat thing down pat. Faladel doesn’t like to pull rank, but as his subordinate I’m totally allowed to pull his rank. In fact, it would be weird of me not to. I shoot the confused looking Chairholder a glance, wondering if he had in fact set this up, counting on Faladel to not stand up for himself and thereby lose some sort of political influence.
Considering how he’s still reeling from the age thing, it’s unlikely. But then again, Silv, Fin, and Elen all look shaken too.
“So you, like, never die?” Fin asks, clearly trying to wrap his head around it.
“Not naturally, although once we’re older than five-hundred, we do start to go a little insane.” Faladel says, and takes a cup of tea from a young, wide eyed Tadhiel servant boy’s platter. “Thank you Gilfri.” He says, and sips it. “Mint?” He asks, and the kid nods mutely.
Helios-Lime III laughs to himself, head in his hands. Gilfri looks from me to Faladel with big blue eyes. “Is there a way for people like us to become immortal?” He asks, still holding his tray of gently steaming teacups.
Faladel hesitates slightly, but then tells the truth, “Yes, but only one person is capable of making the serum, and he’s famously finicky.” I snort, finicky is an understatement. I was utterly stunned when HeadMaster Morthose Haulding had revealed that he knew how to make people immortal, and even more stunned when, as part of peace treaty negotiations, he had offered to freely distribute the serum all across Dwarven Territories.
Hearing a knock, I turn around and see a Kashan– or what I think is a Kashan– standing in the doorway. His hair is white, much whiter than the Chairholder’s short silver locks, and a lot longer too. His wings are also white, but they are the same leathery texture of a Kashan, not the feathers of a Tadhiel, and his skin has the same eerie colouration as Fin’s. His eyes are as red as his lips which creases into a smile at my glance. He stands in the doorway just waiting to be called in. His robes are different from those of the Helios-Lime household, and he wears a strange insignia embroidered into the left shoulder– a four pointed star, surrounding a book with a gear on the cover, and a quill lying next to it.
Glancing at him, Chairholder Helios-Lime III stands up and tells Gilfri to put away the maps. “We should move to a larger room, and perhaps have a midday lunch.” He says, ushering us out. Glancing back at the maps, the strange looking Kashan raises a playful eyebrow at me.
Once we reach the lunchroom, the Kashan turns to us with a smile. “I’m afraid I couldn’t help hearing the last snippets of conversation in the map room, Honorable Chairholder, praytell, might I ask your guests a few questions? Immortality sounds like a story I’m sure many would be quite interested to hear, and from what the rumor-mill says, one of your not-so-young friends has had quite the riveting adventure, riding away on dragons and whatnot.”
The Chairholder sighs, not even trying to keep the annoyed look from his face. “Please, everyone, meet Mattias Habernloch, Librarian and Chronicler from the Citadel of Travelers.” Mattias sweeps himself into an elaborate and elegant bow, pulling a snow white hat with a bloodred feather from his head and flaring it beautifully out to his side. A cheery grin splits his face, and I realize that either he is way over the top, or Silv, Fin, and Elen, who are acting like this sort of thing is completely normal, are actually quite flippant to the Chairholder.
It takes the entire afternoon and most of the evening to tell Faladel and my tale in its entirety to Mattias Habernloch. He is an avid listener, and gasps at all the right points, but also pauses me constantly to ask for more details or to define a buzz-producing word as best I can. When I finally bring us up to the present, he insists on running it back past me twice to ensure he’s gotten most of the details down in his memory, and then requests an inkpot, and, taking a large empty book out of his bag, and his feather from his hat– which apparently doubles as a quill– begins to write everything down in a neat, swirling script that looks nothing like the letters I know. As he starts writing he says, “Please, feel free to ask me any questions you have, I can focus on two things at once.”
Silv pounces immediately. “What’s up with those words? The ones that mean nothing, and only result in headaches?”
“Oh, we have a language barrier, the magic is trying its hardest, but some words are just impossible because we have no concept of them.” Mattias smiles his thin red smile, tiny fangs showing through.
“You have magic?” Faladel looks perplexed.
Mattias dips his bloodred quill back into the bottle of black ink. “Not to the same extent you have of course. But some remnants, time differentiation and language merging mainly, seem to remain. We probably knew more about magic before the flood, back in the days when knowledge and sweetwater flowed throughout these lands. Yet now, some deny those times ever existed, that there are any worlds outside this one. But us Chroniclers remember, for it is our job to keep the knowledge. Woe will be the day when they take things a step further and name us liars and our truths only children’s tales.” He shakes his head sadly, “But I digress now. Please, continue with your questions.”
“Why are you so… White?” Elen asks in untactful yet fascinated horror, her own white wings fluttering “You’re not a half-breed, right?”
Mattias laughs, flaring his white, featherless wings to properly display them. “A mythical half-breed? Oh no, although I did get teased for these wings quite a lot as a child. My parents were coloured like this, and their parents before them, and so on. It comes down in the family tree, and so it came to me.”
Fin stares at Mattias, a slightly hostile look on his face, but the other Kashan’s eyes just dance right over him and land on me. “You look like you have a lot of questions, Sir Briareth.” He invites me into the conversation, “Would you like to see if I have any answers for you?” His red eyes sparkle with mirth and gaiety, and, on a whim I decide to test him.
“Why is Fin pissed at you?” My question is just as tactlessly phrased as Elen’s, and I almost instantly regret it as Fin’s eyes widen. But the question is already out, and Mattias only blinks once before answering.
“Well, this is just conjecture, as he hasn’t come out and said anything about it, but he probably wonders if I have any ties to his family. It’s quite reasonable, Habernloch does sound a lot like Habbernach after all, and the Habbernach are his cousins if I have his family tree correct. But rest assured, we are unrelated, and his parents as far as I’m aware don’t yet know he is in town, but I don’t think that can possibly last much longer. Anything else?”
Faladel cuts in at this point, “How long can you stay? And are there limits to the amounts of questions we are allowed to ask?”
“Ahh, finally, the Princeling who wants to know everything emerges!” I’m not quite sure I understand, as Faladel already asked him a question earlier, but the Chronicler continues without explaining any further. “I can stay up till midnight, but then I simply must bid your merry company adieu and retreat back to the Citadel to share the stories I have collected. Of course, between now and then, you may and simply must share any questions you have.”
And so our conversation continues, with Faladel taking point, all throughout the evening and into supper, and then after supper when all the questions have been answered, Elen begs for a fireside story, and claims the Chroniclers are the only ones who can tell the tales of history properly. Mattias seems flattered by her words, and in his now-normal eloquence, he urges us into the sitting room, takes a seat himself, and then expounds on the histories of the time immediately after the flood that covered this land. His voice lends rhythm and cadence to the words, letting the line of the story flow forth and catching us on his hook, reeling us in and not letting go.
His tale grips us, and I know I’m not the only one with baited breath as he tells of the wars between the survivors, of Kashan driven away at spearpoint from communities of Zytherlings and Tadhiels who they had helped to safety when the waters had come, simply because there was barely any cattle in the new settlement, and thus, nothing except their neighbors on which to feed.
Faladel and I exchange wide eyed glances. It had been clear from our previous experiences that Kashan didn’t exactly eat, but I hadn’t suspected that the bottle Fin always carries by his side held blood. However, I quickly turned my mind back to the story. Unfortunately I’d already missed some.
Some Kashan believed they owed nothing to those who had cast them out, and others wished to do whatever they could to rejoin their slowly rebuilding society. Some wanted to continue drinking the blood of sentients, claiming there were health benefits, and since they didn’t kill anyone, there wasn’t anything wrong with it. Others considered that barbaric, and only wanted a good supply of cattle from which to drink. They warred amongst each other, and eventually the cattle-drinkers won, which was for the good of all future generations, or else the Triumvirate would have failed before it began. However, that was not an end to the troubles, for shadows of their opposition remained on the outskirts of society, and the fear of Kashan was well integrated into the minds of those who had suffered during the Drinkers of Sentience reign of terror.
Mattias goes on to describe numerous detailed encounters of times cults of Kashan had been found to be feeding on members of society thought to be dead. Then he delves deep into the flip side, when Kashan were accused and outcast– forced to become forever travelers never to own land on which to raise cattle and thrive– or worse, tied down and stoned for mysterious deaths in their communities that had no connection to them. He doesn’t shy away from the details, despite being a Kashan himself, and Silv, Elen, and Gilfri seem fascinated. Fin looks like he might be sick. And the Chairholder just looks like he’d rather be doing other things, but is staying because he is the host. When I turn my attention away from the other audience members and back to Mattias, he is wrapping up, giving a bit more information on the other groups, and a wider picture of their world at this point.
The Tadhiel and Zytherlings had their own troubles during this time, of course. Zytherlings, as the only non-flying race amongst the tribes, had by far suffered the most in population decline when the flood came. They were nearly wiped out twice in the coming years, diseases, famine, and war, always a hair’s breadth from their doors. And of course, it had been a Tadhiel named Kythe who had opened up this world to the flood in the first place, so many Tadhiel were forbidden from being taught the histories and any of the surviving stories from this period. Hatred and distrust laced the relationships between the species. Tadhiel and Zytherling against Kashan, Kashan and Zytherling against Tadhiel, and all the world against the few remaining Zytherling.
It was only through great good fortune and the actions of one charismatic man that any peace was to be had, and any hope of surviving society. “But that,” Mattias finishes with a flourish as he places his quill back in his hat, “Is a tale for another time.” Smiling, he unfolds his long legs and gets up from his chair by the fire. He tips his hat to us. “It is nearly midnight, my genteel friends, and I must be off now. As always, if you wish to hear more, to learn and to explore true stories, come visit the Citadels. I will be at Citadel of the Travelers, but any Citadel door is open to those who ask with a yearning for knowledge in their heart.”