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Chapter 36: Legendary Notoriety
Trizryn pulled Willowfern and Aija through the portal and ran behind Shei and Reznetha'ir as a large brown dragon swooped low, spitting flames over the town. As it came back toward them, they evaded being caught by diving behind a stone wall, but the beast snatched a nearby elf in its talons before lifting back into the dark, smoke-filled sky.
"You're back!" Shei shouted above the din as soon as he spotted them. "Did you make it to Rólundór? You might wish you'd stayed in the Deep Warrens after coming back to this."
"Where did the dragon come from?" Trizryn scanned the scope of the disaster.
Reznetha'ir pointed across the town to a cavern entrance that had been blown to rubble. "The miners came running out, screaming for help. A few seconds later this ghost-like dragon flew out and started sucking people dry—instant mummification. It went right through the ground, and there was this big quake. The next thing we knew, it resurfaced with a physical body to attack the mine itself."
"That's exactly what happened at Min," Aija told them, then looked to Trizryn. "Does that mean there's a gate in the mine? Underground?"
"Since the gates were originally a collaborative effort between all elves, it's possible," Trizryn answered.
"The dragon's only been here a few minutes," Reznetha'ir informed them, "but he's made it clear he's not just hungry. He's killing for the sheer delight of it. Everyone's trying to get out of his way, but he's not going to stop until he's had his fill." The camp leader drew his blade and pulled his shield from his back.
"And you think we're capable of stopping him?" Shei protested. "We don't know the first thing about slaying dragons. And unlike the last one we encountered, this one doesn't seem very interested in talking."
Trizryn drew Kassí's sword and studied the fire runes again, wishing desperately he knew how to unlock them. "A dragon's strength's are many, but his greatest weakness is his pride. We start by grounding him, so he's forced to fight like lesser creatures."
"You don't know anything about dragons, either."
"No, but I think I know someone who did. Still have my sword?" He asked of Aija.
Aija grappled with the elven sword belt and passed it to him.
Trizryn strapped it on, turned it opposite Kassí's, and unsheathed it. It felt good to have his own familiar weapon back in his hands once more. Giving up on the flame runes and readying both blades, he looked to his companions. "Aija, remember what you did last time? I need a chance to reach his wings."
A look of horror flitted over the human's face for a second, but then she drew her gun and checked its cartridges.
Trizryn faced his friends. "Spread out and do whatever you can to undermine his stability on the ground."
Willowfern drew his bastard sword and indicated he was ready.
The bard gave him a dirty look as he drew his blade. "We are going to die."
"'Music soothes the savage beast,'" Aija offered a human quote. "Don't bards have song magic that might calm him?"
"Well, there is that. But in order to lull him to sleep with a song, first I'd have to not die?"
Trizryn let the vampire surface with a snarling hiss. Then, bearing fangs and black eyes, he ran toward the flying reptile with preternatural speed.
"Oh sure! Why didn't I think of that? We can all just turn into vampires!" Shei fussed.
Beneath his armor Willowfern's skin turned into a tough bark-like hide, then shifted again to become more like stone.
"Or, we could all just turn into fireproof rocks," the bard added, seeing the dryad's earth magic take form.
Reznetha'ir started to run after Trizryn, when Aija grabbed the back of his armor. "Wait! Wait until he's got the dragon grounded." She had no idea how much energy was left in Tesler's magic bullets, but she hoped it was enough to get them through one more battle. Too bad she couldn't just knee-and-dagger a dragon in the throat like a wolf. "Courage … confidence … perseverance …" she repeated under her breath like a mantra as she rose to her feet.
"What are you doing?" Reznetha'ir challenged. "Aija—"
"Wait here for my signal." She knew the former queen's guard was just doing his job—guarding—but she ignored him to fold both hands over the magically refurbished revolver and open a portal to Trizryn. ~Ready when you are.~
Circling the village to soar back toward them, the dragon seemed to sense their challenge. Inhaling deep, he spat flames in Trizryn's direction.
As with the very first dragon he and Aija encountered, Trizryn used his inherent sorcery to conjure a large shield of manna, blocking the flames. Then, adjusting his metabolism, he made the manna ice cold to take some of the sting out of the blistering heat. The dragon fire nearly took his breath away. It singed parts of his leather armor and heated his weapons enough to burn his outstretched hands, but the magical barrier held long enough to save him from being roasted.
Steam between the fire and ice, along with smoke from the fires, obscured his vision. He could no longer see the dragon, but he hoped that also meant the dragon couldn't see him.
"Elf! Do you honestly think yourself a worthy adversary for me?" The dragon's deep, gruff voice boomed. "Your puny swords and weak magic are nothing against the wrath of two thousand years come back from the grave!" His great yellow orbs glistened red, then black, as soon as the smoke cleared.
"Maybe not. But I've got a human," he grumbled under his breath. ~Aija!~ He cued her, then dodged and rolled out of the way.
Still standing on the other side of the open portal, Aija aimed for the dragon's head and fired.
The shot missed the dragon's head, but made contact with its neck below its chin. That was all it took. The spot where the petrification pebble lodged into a scale burst with a magical flare that rippled out, turning the dragon's lower neck, shoulders, and chest into stone.
A sharp inhale was the only warning before flames engulfed Trizryn again, forcing him to cast yet another shield of ice to protect himself from the blistering heat.
Aija shrieked and closed the portal just in time to avoid catching fire. Then, after a second behind the safety of the wall, she dared to open the portal again.
Trizryn was back on his feet and racing toward the dragon.
The dragon's horned head had turned to stone, but the rest of his massive body was still mobile. Like a giant dog, the beast tried shaking off the petrification spell, but the upper half of his body was blind, paralyzed, and heavy.
"Now!" Grabbing Reznetha'ir by the wrist, Aija propelled him through the portal behind the rogue-prince. Then she reached back twice more to pull Shei and Willowfern along, before jumping through herself.
Trizryn ran so fast he was a blur, but keeping up with him wasn't the point. Sheathing his blades, he darted toward the dragon's shoulder and used his unnatural strength to jump up to the flailing wing joint. Pulling himself onto the dragon's back, he drew his own enchanted sword, turned it blade-down, and sliced through the thick, leather membrane that formed the right wing.
The dragon jerked violently in reaction to the pain and tried to shake him off, but the petrification spell held down the upper portion of its body like a dead-weight.
Aija held her breath as Reznetha'ir ran to the right, underneath the dragon, while Shei flanked him to the left. Willowfern ran dead center, but then abruptly dodged under the dragon's chest and left wing, which was flapping hard in attempt to gain lift. The dryad continued running behind the beast toward its tail.
After shredding gaping holes through the dragon's right wing, Trizryn scrambled across the dragon's back to the left.
Shei and Reznetha'ir started slashing hard at each of the dragon's hind feet, attempting to hack through the tough skin and even tougher tendons to further disable it.
Willowfern cast his thorny vines over the dragon's tail, in an attempt to root him to the ground.
Enraged and in agony, the dragon somehow managed to break free and leap into the sky. His tail tore through the dryad's thorny net, whipped down, and slammed Willowfern across the street into the side of a building. Shei and Reznetha'ir dodged and ran to stay clear of the down draft, but then Rezntha'ir ran to check on the downed dryad.
Airborn once more—but just barely—the dragon's flight was an unsteady limp.
Aija watched as Trizryn nearly slipped off, but grasped the left wing joint and dug the blade of his enchanted sword into the scaly hide to hang on for the tilted ride.
The infuriated dragon managed to shake off some of the stone flakes of the petrification spell and swooped low with a roar that echoed across the night sky like terrible thunder.
~Trizryn, the petrification spell is wearing off! He must be more resistant than Frostfang was! I need to shoot him again; don't move!~
~Where would I move? The only place left is down!~
"Abomination!" the dragon snarled now that his mouth from free from the stone spell. Banking sharply, he tried to throw Trizryn off. "You are not an elf! You hide beneath the scent of living blood, but I know what you are now! After I grind your bones, I will hunt your sire and see him rot in the lower reaches of the Abyss for desecrating the immortal bloodline!" The dragon banked sharply again, careening into a rooftop and smashing it with his talons.
Aija shrieked at the horrible crash and could no longer see through the shadows and smoke as to whether the dark elf was still on the dragon's back as it struggled to gain more lift. Gathering her courage, she opened a portal behind Trizryn again. Though her feet remained on solid ground, the portal opened to the gusts of heat blasting the dragon's haphazard flight.
Grimacing with fangs bared and clawed fingers piercing the left wing membrane, Trizryn looked more like a demon than an elf. His red-metallic-and-black eyes were capable of seeing veins beneath the skin and shadows in the dark, but he, apparently, still couldn't see her on the other side of the portal.
Aija reminded herself that he didn't need to see her. He just needed to finish the job. Pointing her gun at the dragon's back underneath the rogue-prince, she braced herself for the recoil and fired. The pellet took off a few scales and a plug of flesh at close range, but new waves of stone began extending in ripples across the dragon's body, starting with its shoulder blades.
The dragon fell to an abrupt landing, making the ground quake. His wings opened wide, and he expressed bitter rage with another earth-shaking roar.
As soon as he was down, Aija rushed out of the portal onto the dragon's back and holstered the gun. Digging her fingers into Trizryn's arms and shoulders, she was desperate to pull him back to his feet.
The petrification spell was spreading up the dragon's wings, down toward its spine. But the dragon's long neck snaked over its shoulder, unhindered, maw opened large enough to swallow them whole.
Trizryn's preternatural reflexes pushed Aija behind the left wing just in time to avoid the snapping jaws. Then, scrambling to his feet, he lunged forward and slashed toward the dragon's eye.
The dragon's head dodged and received a cut cheek, instead. Wincing at the strength of the strike, the dragon's nostrils flared with sulfuric smoke. "Derra Eirlyn abomination!" the dragon bellowed, even as the petrification spell claimed its neck.
Aija's arm burned with acidic spittle that flew from the dragon's teeth and tongue when it tried to snap her up, but she stayed behind the wing and watched with worry as the stone spell crept steadily up to the bleeding holes Trizryn tore and sliced into its leather membrane. If only there was some way to make the petrification magic work faster, before the dragon attempted to take flight again.
The rogue-prince continued trying to wear down the dragon with his sword, staying close to its neck, but aiming for its eyes.
The dragon straightened and lunged forward to throw him off when it stumbled and crashed to the ground.
Trizryn's low, defensive position spared him, but Aija lost her grip on the wing and was thrown onto her back in the grass.
The fall knocked the wind out of her. But beneath the dragon, she saw Willowfern ensnaring the beast's tail and hind legs in his thorny vine spell again. Shei and Rezentha'ir were once more hamstringing the beast. Determination was etched into each of their faces. This dragon wasn't getting away from them a second time.
The beast roared in anguish and spat vile curses in an eldritch tongue. No, on second thought, the cursing sounded more like a spell!
Trizryn must have recognized it at the same time she did. Drawing Kassí's sword along-side his own, the rogue-prince launched himself up the neck to the horned head, then drove both enchanted blades down into the beast's skull with all his unholy might.
The dragon immediately slumped. Its body convulsed with the involuntary spasms that sometimes accompany death, but in the end the ancient beast surrendered its soul back to whatever hell it came from.
For Trizryn, to be on his knees and bathed in dragon's blood felt oddly damning. Dragon's blood had created him, so for all he knew, this dragon could have been his sire. Or he could have done this to his mother. What should he even call the dragon-queen now, if not mother?
Though his hunger had been satiated only a few hours earlier, instinct was compelling him to imbibe the blood of his kill, while it was still fresh. Instead, he jerked his weapons free from the massive, horned skull and scanned the ground below for the human. Spotting her a short distance from the dragon's left wing, he jumped down.
Aija rolled onto her hands and knees, then half-crawled until she could walk and attempted to meet him half-way. As they came together, her arms folded around him in a frightened, relieved, embrace.
Only then did he acknowledge it was over. "I think I know now," he mumbled, as she fought to catch her breath. "I know why I was cursed. I was never meant to be the Derra Eirlyn's puppet or protector. I was meant to destroy them."
Aija tried to grasp the depth of what Trizryn was saying. With supernatural attributes and the ability to survive otherwise mortal wounds, of course a vampire had a better chance at slaying dragons than ordinary people. However, even if he was created to slay the ruling dragons, the only creature that could have made an original vampire was another dragon. As a golem, he was still someone's puppet prince, but she was glad for whatever personal epiphany he got from fighting this dragon. It had given him back the sense of self he lost in the fog of having his origins dissected by others over the past several weeks.
Reznetha'ir jogged toward them, avoiding pools of acid steaming from the ground. "Are you alright?"
Tired, Trizryn nodded and briefly inspected his swords for damage.
"Guess having a vampire comes in handy on occasion," the camp leader joked. "And you!" he spoke to Aija with surprise. "Between the portals and the gun … I don't know what to say. You're becoming quite the technomancer."
"Someone who uses ordinary mechanisms that have been altered with magic. Tesler's gun, Kassí's locket …" He didn't know about the third magical artifact—the one Chizrae had mentioned—the golem.
First a warrior; now a technomancer? When Aija first came into this world, all she could do was hide in fear in the shadows, but Trizryn had been right when they argued after the wolf fight in the mountain pass. She had been forever changed by this experience … more than either of them truly realized.
"We were supposed to be popping in to let you know the gate documents are now being studied by the dark elves at Íenthé's fortress," she told him. "They should be safe there. And they've offered to help us retake Absin'navad if we need them, but we wanted to talk to you first. We have a lot to talk about."
"Glad you made it okay, but it's good you came back when you did." He looked over his shoulder toward the dragon carcass, but when he faced them once more, something past Trizryn's shoulder caught his attention and made him sigh with disgust. "We'll trade news later. Right now, you two might want to … um …" He gestured to his own face as a warning for them to cloak their identities.
Aija pulled her hood over her head to hide her human face, but when Trizryn did nothing to mask his gray skin and silver-white eyes, she worried that he picked the wrong time to take her advice to heart about not hiding behind illusions.
"What is the meaning of this?" a distraught light elf demanded as he approached. "First drunken brawls and ghosts. Then dragons! Now dark elves? You've been nothing but trouble since you came to this town!"
"Ýeórl Boerm-Jenýú of Tántara,these are our friends, Trizryn and Aija," Reznetha'ir introduced them.
"You asked for warriors to fight dark elves, yet you have dark elves in your own company?" he fussed, giving Trizryn a disapproving glare. "How are we to tell which is which? How do you know these aren't like the others?"
Reznetha'ir frowned and folded his arms. "Well, for one thing, Triz is the only dark elf here. For another, he just helped save your town from a dragon."
"From a dragon that just happened to show up at the same time he arrived?"
"That dragon was here before he arrived."
"Dark elves and their sorcery … He probably summoned it here to hurry negotiations along—to pressure us into submission like the Dheryl-Kin's men. Dark elves and their dragons were banished from this kingdom for good reason. God slayers … Mind melting savages … I won't have his kind freely roaming my streets. Understand?"
"Then next time you can fight the bloody thing yourself!" Aija fussed back, surprising herself and her elven companions. After being on the run from authorities for so long, she was fed up with elven prejudices and her frustration spilled over. "It took all of us to bring down that dragon, and we might not have been able to do it without him. He put his life on the line for the people of this town, including you."
"And what are you supposed to be? A faerie? You don't sound Thályn." He grabbed her hood and pulled it back.
She raised an arm to block and push him back as she drew the dagger from her thigh.
Reznetha'ir stepped between them to keep them apart. "Aija, put away the weapon," he ordered with a stern frown.
Trizryn snatched the ýeórl's collar and jerked him away from her and the former Queen's guard.
"Unhand me at once! Am I going to have to throw you behind bars for threatening me with assault?"
"Shall I disembowel you for threatening me without provocation?"
"Triz," Reznetha'ir sharply reprimanded him.
The ýeórl stopped struggling and took a good look at Trizryn's blood splattered face and pale eyes. It was as if he slowly realized he might have insulted something more inherently malevolent than a dark elf.
"You don't have time to argue about this," Trizryn snarled. "You have fires to put out and people to rescue."
"I don't have time for this," Boerm-Jenýú snarled back at him. "I have fires to put out and people to rescue."
The rogue-prince released the ýeórl with a shove, but kept an eye on him as the light elf marched away to do his civic duties.
With a huff, Aija sheathed her dagger and pulled her hood back over her ears and head. "So sick of being grabbed," she muttered under her breath in begrudging apology to Reznetha'ir.
Reznetha'ir let her defensive behavior slide, but scowled at his thief. "You just did that mind-thing on him, didn't you?"
"He was getting grabby."
"And you weren't?"
"He's wasting time blaming me for the dragon attack when he needs to be taking care of his people," Trizryn argued.
"What would you think if you were in his shoes? All these people know is that a very long time ago dark elves and their dragons attacked their warriors, their king, and their gods. The Derra Eirlyn rewrote history. Until we can set the record straight, people don't know any better. Shei and I just spent three days trying to negotiate an alliance with him to clear out Absin'navad. Now there's no way he'll help us. He might have been reasonable if you'd just told him you were half-Thályn instead of man-handling him."
"I'm not half-Thályn," Trizryn growled between clenched teeth. "I never was."
Reznetha'ir sighed and rubbed a hand over his soot-smudged, crimson-smeared face. "We talk about it later. Right now, these people need our help. The townsfolk are not to blame for the ignorance and arrogance of their leader. Just … find some place to stay out of his way until we can leave. Please?" The former queen's guard walked away to do what he did best—help refugees.
"Where's my horse?" Trizryn called before he got too far away.
Reznetha'ir turned and, walking backwards, pointed. "Check the stables down the main street on the other side of town," he answered, but then he turned back around and jogged toward Shei and Willowfern, who were trying to clear hysterical and curious people away from gathering near the dragon's carcass.
Aija and Trizryn jogged down the road in the direction the rebel leader had given them. Tántara was a small town, but just large enough that the stables were farther away than they thought. However, that is probably what protected them from the fires raging elsewhere. When they arrived they found dozens of frightened horses and a few other small farm animals inside. The black mare with the feathered hooves that they were seeking was stomping nervously in her stall.
Zhenta's eyes were wide with the knowledge that something terrible was happening nearby—the dragon roars in the night sky, the smoke hanging low over the town, people screaming and running at ground level.
Aija went to the horse's side and gave her hugs and pats, trying to reassure her she was going to be okay.
Trizryn did the same, but then grabbed her tack while Aija led her out of the stables.
"Should we free the other animals so they can run?" Aija asked, holding Zhenta's reins, still trying to calm her.
Studying the speed of the raging flames, he hefted the gear over Zhenta's back and returned to the barn.
Aija led Zhenta to a safe spot under the trees near a cliff wall intersecting another road just outside of town and tethered the horse there, removing the saddle and other gear. Then she sat down on a fallen log in the snow, facing the mass destruction, to watch as Trizryn drew out the other animals, relocating them in a corral separate from the wooden building.
When he was done, he returned to Aija and sat down on the log beside her. He smelled of smoke, sweat, and blood, but she supposed she did, too.
"We did what we could," she spoke, perhaps to console herself as much as him as she stared toward the dragon's carcass. One of the wings was still visible from this distance. "We couldn't save this town, but we prevented the dragon from claiming another one."
"The ýeórl was right about one thing. We killed a god tonight. That dragon was worshiped during the Blood Reign." He turned his attention back to her. "That's what we're going to have to face on a regular basis, and in droves, if we can't stop them from coming through the gates."
"At least now we have proof. The best evidence that dragons are coming back is a dragon's carcass. And it's not just prisoners and refugees that are going to suffer these attacks."
"I'll need to check out that mine tomorrow when the smoke clears. There's a gate somewhere in there. I'm sure of it."
"The ýeórl's not going to let you anywhere near the mine."
"He doesn't have to know about it." He gave her that look meant to remind her he was a thief and a Derra Eirlyn agent.
Aija looked down at her grandmother's ring, giving it a twist. "The survivors will need to take shelter in the mine. It's too cold to be out in the open tonight."
He scanned the burning horizon. "That's where the dragon came from. They'll be too afraid to try to sleep in there."
Saddened that the burning timbers of destroyed homes would be the only warmth the survivors might find tonight, Aija pulled her veðrkylk closer around herself, and leaned against his shoulder. "Well, you showed much more self-restraint with Monkey Boy than Reznetha'ir gave you credit for. Ungrateful twat. I would have vamped out and bit off his head."
He seemed amused at her insult. "Well, that won't help find allies."
"We don't need allies like that, especially if we've got Chizrae and Daerazal's entire fortress behind us now."
"They might be able to help us against Ilisram, but one small army of dark elves is no match for any number of dragons hell-bent on destroying the kingdom. Reznetha'ir's right. We need as many allies as we can get—even him."
"I still say you should have mopped the floor with his backside for threatening you like that," she grumbled.
"You were looking at Monkey Boy's backside?"
She chuckled. "No."
"Because you were looking at my backside?" he guessed in a dry manner.
She chuckled again and gave him a tolerant glance. "We just fought a dragon, and a town is on fire. Why would I be looking at anyone's backside?"
"Maybe I should get a vine tattooed down my ass like Willow. Or a gate map across my back like Távaló."
She smiled at his tired attempt to find humor in the midst of horror. "You are not flaying the skin from your back."
"I'm not? You're still giving me orders? I was a prince. I might have been a general. Finding out I'm a golem doesn't give you the right to order me around."
"Then if I ask nicely will you teach me how to read the gate maps?"
His eyes narrowed at the request, as if contemplating the consequences."That would be treason … giving that kind of knowledge to an age-old enemy. In fact, sharing that kind of information with a human might have been what triggered the invasion during The Blood Reign. Humans are … barbarians …" Leaning close, he met her lips with a soft kiss. "… after all."
Aija returned his kiss, lifting her frozen fingers to touch his jaw as his tongue slipped past hers.
"All right. That's enough of that," Shei scolded as he approached from the main road into the town. "She doesn't want your filthy spit."
Trizryn drew back, lips curled in an expression of amused apology, but whether it was for getting caught in the act, or for the sensuality of the kiss itself, she couldn't tell.
"Do you realize how unsanitary that kind of behavior is?" the bard continued with mock disgust. Willowfern and Reznetha'ir were behind him, also looking greatly amused. All three of them were covered in dried blood and soot. All three of them looked fatigued beyond words.
"You mean when you're not doing it?" the thief dryly retorted.
"I never do such things," Shei boasted, stopping in front of them and folding his arms like a disapproving tutor. "Although the thought did cross my mind a few times concerning your sister and mother."
The thief made a face of gross distaste. "My mother?"
"Childhood crush. Didn't I ever tell you?"
"No, thank the gods."
The bard sighed at the nostalgia and walked around the log to stand behind them, bending hands to knees so that his face was between theirs. "It was shortly before the breast faerie visited K'tía."
Trizryn covered his ears. "I don't want to hear this."
"He had a crush on my mother and sister, too," Shei assured Aija, resting his head against her cheek in a manner that made her giggle.
"He doesn't have a sister." Trizryn opened a hand over the bard's face and pushed just enough to make him step back. "And there's been many times I wondered if he even had a mother."
Shei chuckled as he straightened, then straddled the log, sitting facing Aija.
"I assume you're here for some reason other than to heckle me?" Trizryn prompted.
"No, actually, I'm just here to heckle you." The bard smiled. "They, however, came to talk about where we should go next."
"The town's mages are taking care of the fires," Reznetha'ir told them as he approached. "Their healers are helping the wounded. We've done all we can here, so let's just move on."
"We can't leave the area until I check that mine for a gate," Trizryn insisted.
Reznetha'ir sighed in surrender. "Fine, we won't get far before we have to stop for sunrise anyway. But let's at least head far enough up the road to be out of sight and set up camp in those trees over there somewhere. We can get catch up on sleep tonight and regroup over breakfast to catch up on news in the morning. Then we'll deal with whatever else tomorrow brings when it gets here."
Everyone could agree with those sentiments, even though there was much more to say.
Following Reznetha'ir's lead, everyone shouldered their bags and prepared to head on.
Aija grabbed Zhenta's reins and steadied the loose saddle and gear on her back. Just a short distance more, she told herself. Then they could finally rest.
"When we get ready to look for the gate in the mine, I'll show you how to chart it on the maps," Trizryn told her, draping an arm over her shoulder.
"You will?" Surprised, she slipped an arm around his waist so they could walk side-by-side. "I was teasing, you know."
"I know. But if anything had happened to me tonight, no one else would know how to use them to help you find a gate home. But understand that if I do this, I'm trusting you to protect this information with your life … because the lives on both our worlds—and more—depends on it."
She had known this with each tidbit of information he had shared about the gates along their journey so far; however the scope and depth of such knowledge never seemed so profound as it did now. "I won't tell anyone else without asking first. Promise."
"Also understand that knowing where the gates are is not enough to take you home. To summon the gates and unlock them, you have to be able to do magic."
"Still, finding a usable gate is half the battle, right?"
The corner of his mouth quirked in mild disgust as he glanced behind his shoulder toward the carcass left in town. "That and finding one that hasn't been destroyed by a dragon." Touching his temple, Trizryn stopped for a moment in confusion.
Aija waited for him to do or say something to explain why he'd stopped, but when he didn't she thought he looked lost … almost as if he didn't recognize her for a moment. "Something wrong?"
"No, it's just … " he answered after a second. "Have we already had this conversation?"
She tried to think back. "You told me once there is no way in all the hells in existence that you would give a dimensional gate key to a human. Does that count?"
His head slowly tilted sideways in doubt, as if trying to slide that memory back into place. "I said that?"
She smirked. "You told me the key to summon the gate was a spell, but that's about all you were willing to say about it."
He still seemed uneasy, rather than amused.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"He showed her how to use the gate maps …. That's how she escaped."
"Wha—who? Ellen?" Now Aija felt uneasy, too. "You're getting his memories, even though you're not dream walking?"
"Not memories, knowledge. But … how else would I know that?" His silver eyes met hers with an undercurrent of fear. "I haven't had any serum since before the gem was removed. Is this withdrawal? Or am I losing my mind?"
"No," she assured him without a second thought. "No, you're just tired. We'll all feel better after we've had some rest." Drawing his head to hers, she gave him an reassuring kiss, then slipped her arm back around his waist.
Leaning against each other, they caught up to the two light elves and the dryad and continued down the snowy road to find a place of solace for the night.
Author's Note (7/3/14): It's not a cliff-hanger, or he'd be hanging from a cliff, right? ;) Just ending with a sense of direction for where the next book is headed ... and offering a reminder that this is the 3rd book in a 5-part series. As with the previous books, this is the last revision before the final edit.
What can I tell you about the next book? It's called "The Atheling". If you're not familiar with that word, it's Anglo-Saxon English for "prince" or "lord", although the term has also been applied to a few notable women of crown-inheritance, as well. So, that should also give you a hint about some of the topics to expect in the next volume. Without offering spoilers, I can tell you Trizryn does confront his father, finally, as well as Mahntarei and Ilisram again. The dream walk is explored to find out what's going on with these memories he thinks he's having. And Aija finally gets some much-needed answers regarding other humans and a gate home when seeking out the vampire Eirik.
Unfortunately, these things take time to make them suitable for public consumption. As of this writing, Atheling is in first revision, and I typically run novels through four revisions from beginning to end before I consider sharing them. Six months to a year is my typical turn-out time for a full-length, publishable novel. So, if you wish to be notified of when the next volume is ready, following my profile might help.
I hope you enjoyed the story as much I had fun writing it. Thanks so much for your time and interest! Please leave a review! :)