These questions and more occupied my mind for most of the night, replaced only by a growing anxiety over my next encounter with Tamion. The feeling that something was going to happen only intensified the as I thought about Tamion's upcoming visit. An undeniable sense of dread crept over me, making my sleep, when it finally came, troubled and fitful, but I was becoming accustomed to that.

Tamion arrived early the next day, as Thynl had predicted. In truth, he arrived much early than I expected, and I did not fully awaken until halfway through my normal examination. The healer, a man who had treated me several times, but whose name I did not know, eventually decreed that nothing in my condition had changed. Tamion dismissed the man, then, as usual, regarded me, his magic eye glowing, as he gauged my condition for himself.

"It has been a while, Ara, since we last talked," The General said after a couple of minutes. I stared blankly at him; we had spoken the last time we checked up on me, and that was too recent for my comfort.

As if reading my thoughts, Tamion continued, "True, we speak on a regular basis, but that is always business. We haven't really had time to talk in ages. Not since Tiyn arrived."

By Tiyn, of course, he meant Garik, and his meaningful glance left no doubt that the "talk" he was referring to was when we had started our "game", with Garik's fate as the "prize". I was uncertain how to react. Why, I wondered, was he bringing this up now? Had his soldiers found Garik?

"Don't worry," He said, again reading my expression, "you've won our game. I admit that you beat me soundly and in the most unexpected manner. My soldiers aren't even looking for the boy anymore. That dragon rider – what was her name? Uraski? – might still be looking, but I think she's smart enough to know that there is nothing left here for her if she returns, with or without our escapees.

"We do, however, pay quite well for escaped slaves, so it's likely he will be returned to us. And if he is, he will be treated well, just as I agreed. But that's an issue for another day, Ara. No, I am simply reminiscing: remembering the signs of hidden potential that gave me so much hope initially, only to have you fail now.

"Yet even in failing, you have exceeded my expectations. You didn't die. You're not crippled. You're still fully cognizant. Although you're a bit malformed, there isn't even a single limb which was fully transformed by the dragon magic. And now, there doesn't seem to be a trace of dragon magic left in you. You're both a medical miracle and a complete scientific failure, Ara." He laughed at this point, but it did not sound at all pleasant. Nor did his next words, spoken a breath or two after his laughter faded.

"And it's pissing me off! If I can't even transform you, who showed such great potential, into a fully-fledged dragon, then I begin to doubt that it's possible at all! My life's work, Ythael's lifework, generations of research – all of it! – is amounting to nothing more than garbage! Once Zayn becomes Emperor, that will be the end of it all. Zayn will shut us down: he's too stupid to see what must be accomplished. He'll throw our armies against the armies of the world, only to realize, too late, that the world is a much larger place than he has imagined."

I had never seen Tamion so completely out-of-control. I recalled the fervor I had witnessed when he had recounted the history of Ythalla, and knew that this outburst was simply an expression of all his frustration and zeal coming to a head. So I just lay quietly, not daring to move, while he quelled his emotions, wishing I could be somewhere else. After a time he continued, in his usual calm and controlled manner.

"But don't think I've given up all hope just yet, Ara." Tamion walked to the door and knocked twice. A moment later, two hospital staff came into the room and began fussing with my bed. It quickly became clear that they were making preparations to move me. Tamion continued talking while they worked.

"While I will admit that a person becoming a dragon seems farfetched, I assure you that the basic magical principles are sound. If you recall our previous discussion, dragons are created by humans, using a portion of the Summoner's life magic. Physically, there is no part of a dragon which you can call human. Yet, magically, the two forces are in constant struggle; part trying to become human, the other trying to become dragon."

He paused while the workers maneuvered my partially-grown wings out of a slot in the bed. Having adjusted the bed so that I was sitting nearly vertically, they unhinged a portion of the bed so that my wings would be free of confinement. They left me alone for a moment, preparing other things while letting me get used to holding up the extra weight of my wings. Though the weight of my partially formed wings was not great, my wings did nothing to help maintain my balance, unlike the fully-formed wings of the soldiers I had seen. Tamion continued talking as if he had not stopped.

"This struggle, guided by Formation spells, ultimately forms a dragon. Dragon magic is without form or substance. Human magic provides substance, the Formation spells provide form. Together, the process results in a creature neither purely natural nor purely magical.

"It is a delicate balance, however. Provide too much dragon magic, and the transformation will overpower the Formation spells, resulting in a malformed, misshapen thing that cannot sustain itself. Too little dragon magic might result in nothing happening or a partial transformation, and almost always produces unexpected side-effects. Even if the proper balance is achieved, if there is too little human magic as a base, the whole thing will be unstable and fall apart. When this happens, the result is never pretty; mutations and insanity are among the nicer side-effects.

"This is rarely a problem during a proper Summoning, of course. The formulae have existed for centuries. The ritual is divided into distinct phases, each taking days to complete, and each able to be independently controlled. More importantly, the two magics are in raw form, so a Summoner can simply adjust the amount of each magic being drawn in until the desired result at each phase is obtained. Failures are rare.

"An Augmentation spell, however, takes the two magics in physical form and forcibly merges them. There are no phases; it simply happens. Though it may take hours, days, even weeks to complete, attempting to adjust the amount of dragon magic is impossible to do reliably. The process is simply too wild and unpredictable to be controlled externally. Instead, all of the balancing must be calculated beforehand; a troublesome problem, since magic cannot be measured precisely. Different quantities and qualities of magic react to each other differently. Worse still, dragon magic in physical form also contains another human's magic, which can change the entire equation."

Tamion's lecture was punctuated by pauses as the hospital staff helped me to stand on my own, get dressed, and walk around the room without assistance. Despite his interruptions, and the simplicity of these actions, Tamion finished lecturing before I mastered walking with my reconfigured body, and he stood watching me patiently for a minute or two. Once I could walk without assistance, he concluded his lecture, while I continued practicing.

"I'm sure you are wondering, why am I telling you all this? Truthfully, I don't have any reason for telling you. I suppose you could say it's because I respect you, as a formidable opponent. To be honest, there have been few experimental subject that I have even considered 'opponents'. Some were intriguing or difficult, but none have been more intriguing, or produced more unexpected results, than you. This is the very first time I find myself hesitating, uncertain of what steps to take. For more than twenty years, I have explored avenues of study that others thought impossible, impractical, or too dangerous. Some things worked and others did not, but never had I reached a point where I had nothing left to try.

"Until now," A flash of his earlier emotion found its way into his eyes, but did not touch his voice. I think I may have been the only one to notice.

"Well, it passed quickly enough, I suppose, though it annoys me that it was a voice from my past that gave me the idea.

"When I was still a student mage, one of the younger magic teachers would always tell his students:

"'There is nothing that a human being cannot accomplish, given enough time and effort. If you ever encounter something that you seemingly cannot do, it's because you don't have the proper foundation. You should reevaluate everything, beginning with the fundamentals: for there exists no level of mastery at which improvement is impossible.'

"Well, I never liked that teacher, and I can't say I ever agreed with his philosophies, but his method for solving problems does have merit. If all of our theories, which have been fashioned after decades of study, are wrong, then perhaps there is some detail we've overlooked, some obscure exception that we took for granted years ago and never found a need to revisit. If so, we will find it.

"I have already ordered a small group of soldiers to begin organizing the data we've collected for the past twenty-three years. Obviously, we are far too busy right now, but once all of the Augmentations have been completed, we will be searching those records until I am satisfied that we have discovered the answer to our current setback."

Tamion paused dramatically, and I admit a shiver went down my spine from the intensity of his dedication. The other hospital workers looked uneasy, and obviously not very pleased with the task their futures held in store.

"But as I said, that is for later. For now, I want to try something – getting back to the basics, as I've mentioned. You see, Ara, one of the very first methods of detecting and identifying magic is to use resonance. Most people have no natural method for detecting the presence of magic, and even fewer have a Talent which allows them to identify the magic once it is detected. There are spells which allow one to see, sense, or identify magic, but these become increasing ineffective as the magic becomes 'deeper', so magicians use the property of magical resonance to sense underlying currents of magic within people or ancient objects.

"Magical resonance, in short, is the tendency for magic of a certain type to interact with magic of the same or conflicting type in close proximity, given enough time. This principle has been utilized for many different purposes, not just detecting magic. It is what makes ritual magic work, and also explains why using some types of magic is easier in some places, but more difficult in others. We use the principle ourselves during Augmentation, so that we can produce more powerful effects with less overall effort.

"So, now that you are ready," And I had been for a couple of minutes, at least, "Ara, you will accompany us. The Augmentation uses plenty of dragon magic, and you will be close at hand all day. If the dragon magic we infused you with is still present, but has sunk too deep for us to detect, as I suspect it has, then it will eventually resonate with the magic that is cast about during the Augmentation ritual. And if … when it does, I will at least have the answer to one question: do I add more magic, or do I keep waiting?"