Nine pages! OMG! The last…the final chapter! Over 4400 words… It's insane! I did my best to wrap it up well, but I don't know how good of a job I did with that… I do hope you all like the ending, though. I don't really have much to say today, so just get to reading the last chapter! Do enjoy!

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Chapter #18 – Immolation and Liberation

Or someone…

Miande wheeled around. There, right behind her, was Jariath in a crumpled heap. She dropped to her knees. Her panic was forgotten. Here was Jariath! She had him! Now she just had to… Then she remembered. She, too, was trapped. She shut her eyes tightly, hoping Orin could figure out something to do, else he would be trapped along with her and Jariath.

"Who are you," came Jariath's feeble voice. He was looking up at her with glazed green eyes. He was thin and pale. His once light brown hair was now riddled with grays.

"My name is Miande. I tried to come rescue you. I'm here with your brother."

"Orin?" He seemed surprised. He clutched at her robes weakly. "My brother is here?"

"Yes." She took his hands in hers, holding them. He was so cold. "If he can, he is going to try to get you out of this crystal."

"I can't leave." His voice was barely a whisper.

The sorceress did not understand. "What? But we need to get you out!"

"If I am forced out of the crystal, I will die. Ninet tied my lifeforce to the crystal. If it shatters…" He groaned and slumped forward some. "Only Ninet can release me."

Well! This was a precarious situation then!

"Orin…" She looked towards where she knew he probably was – the opposite way from Ninet's horrifying eyes. "Please figure something out."

Ninet was now focusing her attention solely on Orin. "Pity… My edeltak can only hold two. At least you're the lesser threat." She snapped her fingers. "Viroti, bring him."

As the scruffy magician approached Orin, the apprentice sent a volley of magical daggers towards him. Ninet lazily defended her servant with a wave of her hand. Immediately after that, she said a short spell and did a hand gesture. Orin fell to the ground and was unable to move. He swore loudly. Viroti just laughed as he approached and dug his heel into Orin's neck where he lay on the ground.

"No no, puppet, leave him unharmed." The sorceress was turning to go back into the keep through the door in the tower's side. "Once he's out of the way, I will have no one else to worry about. Maybe he will be the one to crack, since Jariath did not."

How Viroti picked him up, as meager as he looked, Orin did not know. But he was slung over the smelly magician's shoulder and carried into the keep the way Ninet had gone. They went down the stairs into the main part of the keep, across a landing on the third floor that overlooked a large hall, then to another set of spiraling stairs that surely went up the other tower. Orin was getting dizzy, seeing nothing but stone blocks in the wall passing by him quickly in the position he was in. The smell from Viroti did not help his churning stomach either.

Then, he was suddenly dropped to the floor. He groaned in pain. Viroti chuckled hoarsely and kicked him in the gut for good measure before going to his mistress' side. Orin watched as she flipped through a book. When she found the page she wanted, she studied it for a moment. Then she went to select a gemstone from a collection she had on a shelf. She was going to make another edeltak to put him in. He tried to fight the magic, but the spell she had used was beyond his skills.

"Don't struggle," she said lazily. "That spell with tighten around you if you do. And then it'll start cutting into your flesh. I really don't want to have to deal with blood today. So be a good man and be still."

Orin did not know what he could do. He could not move to properly direct a spell. He needed to try to rescue his brother…and Miande. He was sure that Ninet had said she had two people in the crystal she had been holding – the one that was now resting in an ornate stand only feet from him. He could only assume that meant Miande and Jariath were together. He needed to try to figure out what he could do, while in his current predicament, that could free them.

Miande had said a blast of magic could be enough to shatter an edeltak. Well, the only spell he could do that did not need hand gesture to direct it was lightning – but even then it was hard to direct something so primal. And, in such an enclosed space, it would possibly prove deadly so someone. If he did not do something soon, though…if he did not try something…he too was going to be trapped in a gemstone.

As he watched the gemstone – a black onyx – Ninet had selected for his prison begin to glow a brilliant, almost blinding white, he made his decision. He was going to do what he could. He really had no other choice at this point. He refused to be captured. He would rather die attempting to free his brother than be a prisoner like him.

Quickly, before Ninet or Viroti could react, he cast a lightning spell, trying to direct it to the crystal. There were screams from Ninet and Viroti as the flash came. The tower shook from the concussion of energy splitting the air. The bolt struck the crystal perfectly – but it did not affect it. Instead it ricocheted off the quartz and spread out like tentacles through the tower. The tendrils of lightning that hit Ninet and Viroti knocked them back. They crumpled to the ground. She started laughing as she recovered. Viroti only growled in anger.

"You really think I don't have the gem shielded against such attacks?" The sorceress got to her feet and looked over to Orin. Her eyes widened…then she snickered slightly at the sight of him bleeding in circular patterns all over his body. "That was a foolish thing to do, you know." She walked over to him and bent down to be closer to him, though far enough back to not get her feet in the blood that was slowly covering the floor of her tower. "I told you not to struggle, and when that hit you…tsk tsk…you were no fun at all. I had questions for you." She straightened her posture. "But as stupid as you are, you probably didn't know a thing anyway."

Ninet turned to the crystal on the stand. She picked it up and smiled down into it. "Can you hear me, Jariath? Miande?"

The two of them trapped in the crystal looked up and saw her face clearly, not just her eyes. They had known something had happened, but because of the nature of an edeltak it was hard to see outside the gemstone they were trapped in, even when it was nearly perfectly clear like the quartz crystal they were in. They saw her smiling down at them evilly.

"Your brother is more foolish than you are." She swept the crystal around so they could see Orin as he bled to death. "He tried to free you with lightning. Pity my binding spell didn't react too well to it." She peered down into the crystal at Jariath. "He's too far gone to be saved now. Your dear little brother…"

"You bitch." Jariath had been clinging to Miande, finding comfort in having someone there with him after so long. "I promise you shall pay for everything you have done to me and, now, for the death of my brother!"

A spell racked the High Chancellor and he doubled over with pain. His screams brought tears to Miande's eyes.

"You are never getting out of there. Never!" She set the crystal back down on its ornate stand. She cackled. "Maybe now you will break, Jariath."

"Never…" Jariath said quietly, falling to the "floor" that was inside the crystal.

"We will begin anew with your interrogations in the morning. I'll give you time to rest up. Maybe Miande can be of some help, too." The sorceress started putting the onyx away that she had magicked into a fresh edeltak to use to capture Orin when she froze, her hand lifted to a high shelf with other magical objects. She looked troubled. "Someone is here…"

"My my…Lady Ninet…"

The voice sounded terribly disappointed. The person was standing at the entrance to the tower room. Miande turned her attention towards the door, still able to see the lair clearly. In the doorway was Natius. His pipe was in his hand and he was clicking his tongue like he was admonishing a bad child. What in the world was he doing here?!

"Natius!" Ninet was obviously shocked by his sudden arrival. So was Miande…

"Yes, quite timely, my arrival, no?" Then he caught sight of Orin's blood covered body… His eyes narrowed in anger. "Or…not so timely…"

The sorceress hissed. "Be gone with you!"

"I would gladly comply, if it were not for the fact you have the High Chancellor imprisoned in a gemstone…" He took a few puffs on his pipe, seemingly not feeling threatened at all by the situation. "Prìoseòd is illegal, Ninet… To even possess an edeltak is illegal."

"How did you even discover this," she yelled at him, magic crackling around her. Viroti was trying to slip around the edge of the room to the sorcerer that had just arrived.

"Don't think about it, Viroti…" He did not take his eyes from the sorceress, though. "If you really must know, Miande told me."

Ninet glared at him. "How could she have? Her last letter to you said nothing of it!"

"Oh, I'm sure the one she sent me through the fire did not. She was informed of the interceptions by Dyvalli. Interesting, that you're the one that first brought it to the Council's attention. Trying so hard to not pull any attention to yourself." He drew on his pipe again. "Yes, she sent me one via the fires, but she also sent me one on wings of magic. I was on my way to Muali Castle to talk her into staying longer when it flew straight into my hands. She told me everything she had learned. I hurried after her, knowing she was going to be in great trouble."

"And you'll be joining her in her troubles!" Ninet quickly raised the onyx around to Natius but, with a wave of his hand, he avoided the blast of white magic that had captured Miande. The sorceress looked mystified.

The Lord of Ifankash Riz Ridge shook his head, his eyes closed. "Trying to catch a former constable of the High Council won't work. Though they might not be legal anymore, we are all still taught how to use and evade the magic of prìoseòd. There's always been some fool trying to use them periodically since their being made illegal."

The keep's sorceress cast aside the stone in her hand and resorted to more direct magical attacks. All of which Natius either ignored completely or deflected with little effort. He looked bored, actually. Miande's eyes were watering. Why had she not waited for him to respond to her? If only Keiraz had not been in such a hurry… Orin would not have had to die then… She started crying again…

Natius finally redirected a certain spell towards Viroti. The smelly magician was sent reeling backwards and smashed into a bookcase, sending the tomes cascading down upon him after him after he landed on the floor in a heap. The sorceress stopped her volleys of spells, seeming to realize it was futile to keep trying to fight him.

"Finally give up?" He pointed his pipe towards the edeltak that held Jariath and Miande. "Let them out if you do, otherwise I'll let them out once I subdue you."

Ninet grinned evilly at the sorcerer still standing in the doorway. "Just you try it. Only I can let them out."

"Really?" With a magical swiftness few knew how to use, the redheaded sorcerer had crossed the room and pinned Ninet against one of the bookcases. He put his first finger and thumb at the base of her neck on either side of her spine and sent a pulse of energy through her. She crumpled to the ground. His pipe was between his teeth and it made his words slightly muffled as he spoke past it. "I think the High Council is going to love finding out the truth…"

Knowing that neither of the magicians in the tower were a threat to him now, Natius turned to the crystal ball on the stand. He stood beside the table and looked down into it, seeing Miande and Jariath. "Foolish little sorceress…" He did not sound angry, but rather amused. He even gave a snort of laughter.

Natius tapped the quartz sphere with the bottom of the bowl of his pipe twice. He then examined the magic that had been added to the magical item. After a moment, he drew on his pipe then blew the smoke over the ball. The room lit with a blinding white light. There was a sound of shattering stone. Then, a moment later, everything was normal again. Miande was on the floor on the other side of the table with Jariath still leaning against her.

"Impatient, were you, as soon as you found out where he was?"

"It was probably my brother," Jariath said hoarsely.

"I'm at fault, too. I knew there would be danger." Miande lowered her head and closed her eyes. There were tear tracks still visible on her face. "I should have thought things through more."

"Indeed, you should have. I should make you come study with me for another ten years. Maybe then you'll lose your foolishness." He puffed on his pipe some more, his attention now on Jariath. "You alright, there, High Chancellor?"

"I will be." He leaned his head back, clearly breathing in the fresh air…breathing in his freedom. "I don't even know how long I've been in that thing…"

"Three years," the older man informed him.

The governor of Rycori chuckled somewhat. "I would have thought more like thirty… It felt like an eternity…" He looked over at Ninet. The sorceress was out cold. He looked back up at Natius. "I am grateful for your arrival, though." He squeezed Miande's hand that was on his shoulder as tightly as he could. "And yours, too…Miande."

"But Natius is right. It was foolish of us to come without someone we knew would be of help. I should have asked him to come with us. I should have convinced Keiraz and Orin to wait." She started crying again. "I'm so sorry… This was all my fault…"

"Miande," both Jariath and Natius said in near unison.

"It's not your fault." Jariath smiled gently at her. "Things always unfold the way they do for a reason, whether we understand the reasons for them or not."

The High Chancellor's words did not comfort her, though. Natius came over to them and knelt beside her. He hugged her tightly and just let her cry for a while…until Viroti started to stir under the pile of books that partly covered him.

"I think it's time to get ourselves to the High Council with these two." The Lord of Ifankash Riz Ridge straightened himself with a grace most others his age could not manage. He offered a hand to Jariath. "Can you stand, Jariath?"

"With help, yes." He took the offered hand and, with Miande helping as well, got to his feet. He was not very steady, though. He leaned on the sorceress beside him for support. "Where is Keiraz? You said he brought you?"

"He is on the rampart." Natius was headed back over to Viroti. "Emapi is tending to him. He was hit with a pretty nasty stun spell." He dragged the waking magician from the books. "Tell her I'm taking these two straight to the Council and that I'd like her to head there for when I'm done if she's not too tired."

The High Chancellor staggered some as he walked to his brother's body. He collapsed to the floor and touched his forehead to Orin's, tears spilling from his eyes. "I'm sorry I wasn't a better teacher. I hope you forgive me for the pain I surely put you through…"

Miande dropped to her knees beside them and hugged Jariath with one arm. "It wasn't that you were a bad teacher, I'm sure. We were just two young and foolish magicians."

Jariath gave a chuckled then shook his head. "I cannot lift him. I have no strength… I have no magic back yet…" He turned to Miande, a tear trailing down his cheek. "Please, would you do it for me?"

The sorceress smiled and nodded. "I would be honored."

While Natius was preparing Viroti and Ninet for transport to the High Council, Miande lifted Orin's body from the floor with magic. She conjured a large red sheet and wrapped it around him. She departed with Jariath after Natius kissed her on the forehead. He told her that he would see her when she arrived at the Council with the High Chancellor. She nodded, then carefully went down the stairs.

The keep was oddly quiet. No servants wandered the halls. There were no guards. But she did not dwell long on such thoughts. She was busy keeping an eye on Jariath to make sure he did not collapse and concentrating on moving Orin's body along with them. But the further they got from Ninet's lair, the stronger Jariath seemed to become. He was at least walking better and not having to lean on her as much.

When they reached the rampart, Miande was startled for a moment, seeing the great reddish gold mass that Emapi there. She was a riding dragon, not one of the great dragons…but she still took up quite large portion of the rampart. From tail tip to nose she was well over forty-five feet long. She lifted her head from where she had been on eye-level with the pegasus when she saw them come out onto the rampart.

Keiraz immediately bound to their side, seeming to be very well. He looked about ready to bowl over Jariath in happiness when he saw the wrapped body and froze. He nudged it and looked at Jariath with clear sadness. The sorcerer bowed his head. The pegasus let out a mournful sound Miande had never heard any normal horse give.

"Will you take him back to Muali for me, Keiraz?" Jariath patted his winged horse's neck and hugged him. "Though I'd love to fly with you to the Council, I would prefer you take him to the castle instead."

The pegasus nodded. Miande moved Orin's body to Keiraz's back and secured him with a spell Jariath told her would not interfere with the pegasus' flight. Once he was safely tied down with magic, Jariath hugged his winged friend again then told him to be off. They watched him fly off then the High Chancellor turned to the dragon.

"Natius has asked us to see that you fly to the High Council to meet him there. He is taking Ninet and Viroti straight there."

The dragon bobbed her head slightly then stared into Jariath's eyes.

"I would never ask you to take us anywhere, Emapi. But if you offer, I will not refuse."

Gracefully, the dragon moved and offered her back to them. She turned her head around and gently picked Jariath up in her mouth and dropped him on her back. He patted her in thanks. Miande just stared for a while. First a pegasus…now a dragon… She resigned herself to having to climb up on the creature's back and settled herself in front of Jariath, so he could hold on to her if he needed to.

The dragon took off quickly, not having to run to gain speed to take flight like Keiraz did. She also soared higher than the winged horse did, letting the wind currents help her fly faster. It was much harder to hold on to the slick scales around her wide shoulders. She was so tired but was afraid of falling asleep on the back of the dragon.

She was grateful that Jariath wanted her to tell him about what had happened since he had been captured. She went into as much detail as she could about how the High Council had not investigated, about the short wait before they elected Dyvalli the new High Chancelloress (to which he nodded and said he was sure she was a fine leader), and then about how she had decided and fought to go to Muali Castle. She told him about her fruitless search…to which he laughed. He told her he was surprised she did not give up sooner with all the little puzzles everywhere in the castle.

Jariath, in return, answered her questions about Orin. She knew hardly anything about him, yet he had given his life to try to free them. He told her about their childhood and about his curiosity about everything and his intensity about life. He had followed Jariath to Muali Castle when he went to study under Hilzon and worked in the stable the entire time. No one there ever knew that they were siblings. Once Hilzon had passed away and Jariath had become governor and the new High Chancellor, he started to teach his brother a little magic. His brother was not a full apprentice, which was his way of skirting the rules against teaching your own family members, but he was a good student nonetheless. But Orin had hardly had four years of study under him before Viroti had captured Jariath in the edeltak. Even though he had continued to study on his own, it was no replacement for a real teacher.

It was dawn when they saw the towers of the High Council's palace come into view. They had flown all night with no sleep. Though Jariath seemed to get stronger as the night wore on, Miande had dozed off more than once. She wanted nothing more than to find a guest bed in the Council's hostel area and sleep for the rest of the day. When they landed, though, she knew she was not going to get sleep for a while still…

As soon as Emapi touched down in the landing area for flying mounts near the stable, they were swarmed with people. Questions and congratulations and welcomes flooded over them. Miande's head was swimming with the chaos. But Jariath simply raised his hand and there was silence.

Miande and Natius were questioned thoroughly about the day before. Jariath gave an official statement, explaining what Ninet had done to him and why. He told the entire Council that she had captured him to learn where certain magical artifacts where in his castle – some of which she had said truly belonged to the ruler of Morsani. When he did not tell her, she began questioning him about other things…other secrets of the castle. He never broke…even though many times he was very close to that point.

When Miande was finally allowed to go to find a bed, she slept for well over sixteen hours. Natius woke her in the end, saying she had been with her dreams for long enough. She hit him with a pillow for it. He only laughed, telling her Jariath wanted to see her. She groaned and reluctantly got out of bed.

Jariath was sitting behind the desk that belong to the High Chancellor, for he had been reinstalled as the leader of the High Council the day before. Dyvalli was sitting opposite him in one of the plush and very comfortable chairs. She dismissed herself and left with Natius. The sorceress went and filled the chair the now-former High Chancelloress had been seated in. Jariath looked fully recovered now, though his hair was still white beyond his years and he was still terribly thin.

"I know I thanked you many times on the way here from Morsani, but I wanted to thank you one last time." He leaned forward. "I also wanted to offer you to come and study with me at Muali Castle."

The offer caught her completely off guard and she just stared at him for a long time, her mouth slightly open in shock.

"Would you," the High Chancellor said with a hopeful expression.

The Sorceress of Jaciona bowed her head. "It is a great honor, but I do not think I can accept your offer, High Chancellor."

"Not now, or not ever," he asked, wanting her answer clarified.

A soft laugh escaped her. "I will say that I won't accept it for now. I love the castle, but I do not think I can return there at the moment. And, anyway, I think Natius is also wanting to ask me to further my learning under him. I don't know which offer I would be willing to take." She smiled at Jariath. "I know, though, that there are many things you can teach me. After being at the castle for even such a short time, I have realized there are methods of magic that I have never even imagined were possible. I know I still have much to learn."

"We all continuously learn, dear sorceress." He stood and walked around the desk to her. He took one of her hands in his and kissed it gently. "I will give your farewells to the servants then? I am sure they will miss you. I am grateful for what you did in my place, for my servants and all those on the isles." He knelt before her. "You were my savior, Lady Miande, and I thank you for your ambition and determination."

"I don't really feel like I did anything but cause more trouble and pain for you," she whispered, thinking about Orin.

"Never think that." He kissed both of her hands then stood. "I do hope to see you again soon, Miande. I know you said you wanted to go home. I only wished there was probably still snow on the ground." He chuckled. "I think some people will miss the weather problems that Ninet caused."

Miande smiled. Yes, she had really wanted to see the beach covered in snow, like her parents had described to her.

"I shall not keep you any longer. May the winds of fortune always blow in your favor, and may they blow you back to me someday."

"I do hope they will, Lord Jariath. And may fortune smile on you as well."