Melody Daggerhart

copyright December 2016

Chapter 1: Brinnan Burning

Brinnan was burning.

Dismayed at the destruction of the elven capital, but unable to let herself be distracted, Frostfang swept over the large city tucked between forests and mountains and kept flying west. The white wyvern's wings, torn and bloodied as they were, ached with each push required to keep her large body aloft, but she had to catch the red drake flying ahead of her.

They had fought talon-against-talon, magic-against-magic over the crumbling Gate of Nýú and the soul of the dragon elder trapped within it. Frostfang had protected the crew of the elf Prince's airship so they could use the ancient portal. The drake jealously denied it. During their battle, the risen elder broke free and destroyed it.

"I am Herjarynbál of the new Order of the Dragon, which is responsible for your freedom," the red drake shouted after the risen elder stretched his wings and bellowed rage at the two-thousand-year banishment he had endured. "Brinnan is now the capital city of the light elf Kingdom of Aesethna. If revenge is what you desire, feed upon the Derra Eirlyn of the Fen Dynasty there! Show the fae of light the true power of the ancient dragon-gods by finishing off your traitorous allies once and for all!"

"Don't listen to him!" Frostfang had begged the risen elder. "The old war is over! All of us are better off if we do not start a new one! Take a moment to breathe in your freedom! Isn't freedom what you truly want?"

The risen elder spat a gout of flames, forcing her to dive out of his way. Right now, all he wanted was justice.

As the risen elder flew toward Brinnan to join the siege, Frostfang started to pursue, but Herjarynbál's talons pierced her wings and held on tight. "You picked the wrong side to favor, Frósútathán."

"The War of the Blood Reign ended two thousand years ago!" she argued. "Seeking revenge now won't change the past!"

"The Fen Dynasty must be punished for what it did to the other dragon enclaves! And you will be punished for protecting the Prince's airship!"

Frostfang screeched as her wings were torn and released.

Herjarynbál turned west and flew toward the mountains.

At first she had no idea why he would threaten punishment, but then leave. But if he was the same red drake who helped the Derra Erilyn attack the refugee settlement on her mountain, he most certainly could punish her by returning there, to her nest. "NO!"

Her own two-thousand-year banishment in the Gate of Ska left her slow and weak compared to the younger, battle-ready drake. Frostfang struggled to keep the red in sight during the chase.

Herjarynbál reached the mountain first and circled until he found the back entrance to her lair.

Scrambling in behind him like a clumsy, grounded bat, the wyvern blundered through the large cavern toward the interior grotto. There, she was horrified to see Herjarynbál had smashed every egg in site. Some had been crushed under his feet. Some he had slung against the gotto walls. He even went so far as to devour some of them.

The brood mother shrieked and shook with fury, spitting alternating bouts of fire and ice at the drake before launching herself onto his back.

Herjarynbál's neck snaked over his shoulder, his teeth snapping the longest, strongest bone in her wing before throwing her to the ground. With his fore and hind legs, he shredded her wings further, scratched off her scales, and gored her with his horns.

Dizzy with pain, Frostfang tried fending him off until he lifted and threw her against the grotto wall near her cannibalized nest. He followed the physical attack with magic from his frosty breath. Then, as she struggled against the growing numbness in her extremities, he stormed over the mutilated corpses and broken shells and took flight once more.

"My babies …" The wyvern wept as she dragged her broken body over the scattered, gruesome remains of her brood. "My precious dragonlings …" Like the broken shells scattered across the grotto, her heart felt as if it had been shattered into thousands of tiny pieces that would never fit back together again.

Combing though the branches of her pine tree nest, she saw that one perfect, little egg had escaped the slaughter. It had fallen and rolled behind the coffin of the light elf Princess which Frostfang had agreed to guard for Reznetha'ir, until he could return for it. She had no idea how long she spent grieving before trying to contact the rebel leader, but for some reason her mind-speak could not reach him. Frostfang's struggle to stay alert eventually fell into immeasurable darkness.

))((

Brinnan was burning.

The marble and crystal façades that once reflected the brilliance of the sun and moon were now beacons of fire exploding beneath a sky of smoke and ash. The War of the Blood Reign ended over two thousand years ago, but the newly freed ancient dragons attacked with ferocity because the war had never truly ended for them.

Three days ago, Dheryl-Kin Erys Fen-Da'en sent guards to Ilisram's tower, high in the mountains on the city's outskirts. Ilisram knew the King would eventually uncover his involvement in the conspiracy, but it had happened sooner than expected. Forced to acknowledge that his days as a palace steward were over, Ilisram escaped to his necromancy lab in the sewers beneath the Three Tiers, the waterfalls of Brinnan's Court District. The dark elf had spent his time watching events unfold through scrying spells ever since.

He had set them throughout the underground ruins of Absin'navad. He left them in the airship that the exiled Prince and his rebel friends repaired to rescue the refugees. And he watched his tower being patrolled and searched by Derra Eirlyn guards, until Brinnan fell under the dragon siege. When the guards were recalled to the city's defense, Ilisram used another pentacle card to teleport back to his tower.

An imp agent of House Skeradú, Rewúguzúl, was waiting for him with a gray sack full of gate documents he had successfully stolen from the Prince and his allies. Ilisram felt having an agent posted at the weakened gate beneath the town of Tántara at the same time the rogue-prince visited came down to a stroke of good fortune. Trizryn and his friends killed the risen dragon-god. But in spite of that loss, the imp stayed with them until he could get his hands on the documents.

Ilisram had spent the rest of the siege packing to leave his home on the surface world … for now. Every award he earned for magic studies and service to the fae court was displayed within these halls. He was tempted to pack them, too, but any sentiment for the past might impede his future.

Packing done, Ilisram paused at his window to watch the ancient dragon-gods destroy the city that betrayed them. He had no regrets about enabling such justice. Then using one final talisman card, Ilisram and the imp teleported beyond the city's magical shielding back underground. He would be secure here for the duration of the siege … or at least until he could begin the next stage of his Shadow Elf Conspiracy.

Sweeping past his guards at the tunnel entrance, Ilisram strode through the cavern and ante-chamber down the hall to his lab. "I'll be doing research in my private chambers," he announced to two female dark elves monitoring the holographic scrying device near his enchantment altar. "I don't wish to be disturbed unless it's an emergency."

Underground, the attacks sounded like thunder and shook the earth. They seemed worried, though Ilisram had assured his House staff that this lab could withstand anything, including dragon fire. Both women nodded at his orders, but continued watching the Siege of Brinnan with fear and fascination.

Ilisram continued down the hall past the armory, bath, library, and bunker junctions to the chamber at the end of the corridor. Closing the doors, he locked them, then set the gray sack on the bar and sorted the documents by type for study. A moment later, he sighed … then frowned.

Folding his hands behind his back, he turned away to approach the fountain behind the headboard of his bed. A soothing stream of water trickled through the mouth of a dragon's skull into a basin whose stone ledge doubled as a small altar. Dipping a silver bowl into the water, he set it on the stone ledge and waited for the ripples to still.

He stared at his own reflection for a moment. Ignoring the long, brown braid that fell over his shoulder, almost into the water, he briefly contemplated the dark circles beneath his topaz-and-amber eyes. Then, with a sigh, he cast a scrying spell upon the water's surface and watched as his own face turned into a shadowed silhouette of someone else.

Ilisram bowed with deep respect. "Your Grace, is there any word on the Dheryl-Kin's return yet?"

The eyes within the dragon skull mounted on the wall glowed white. "The Arch-Dragon sent word to all elite forces as soon as the Dheryl-Kin's unexpected disappearance was reported. Locater spells have been cast, but nothing has indicated his whereabouts yet. He might be beyond range, or just using magic to cloak his presence. I highly doubt that human's teleportation staff could kill a dragon—especially one as powerful as Erys Fen-Da'en. If it was that easy to get rid of him, Ysmé and I would have hit him with one centuries ago. But, for now, Erys is not our concern. We must remove the Arch-Dragon and take control of the Derra Eirlyn and the fae court while Erys is missing, or when he comes back—and he will—he will use his loyalists to fortify his defenses a thousand-fold."

"Then with the Winter Court in your capable hands, my lady, I will turn my attention to the artifact. One of my agents has had the good fortune of recovering the stolen gate documents, however, they are still encrypted."

"Master Vadis-Shin intentionally scrambled his notes to spite me," the shadowy figure cynically stated. "I would have had those documents translated long before now if the Derra Eirlyn hadn't locked them in the Forbidden Archives."

"Well, as you know, I tried to lure Reznetha'ir to Rólundór seeking the vaults and the crypt with a forged letter from the Tamaseluf, so I could have Trizryn steal the documents. After which, I intended to rip Kethrei's memories for the location of the original triptych while I worked on translations. I suppose we are fortunate his summoner stole the documents for him, and that my agent stole them back, in spite of all the distractions."

"Fortunate? Fiasco is more like it," the voice reprimanded. "Had the Dheryl-Kin not accidentally disappeared, there would be no saving the golem from his talons—never mind the near loss of the gate documents because you could not control Trizryn's summoner. Have you located his airship yet?"

"Herjarynbál prevented it from using the Gate of Nýú to take the human back to her world. The risen elder has joined the siege on Brinnan, and the gate has fallen. Herjarynbál also reported that a white wyvern prevented him from grounding the airship. He believes it was the elder from the Gate of Ska—Frósútothán. She refused to join us when we freed her … wished to remain neutral. But when we raided the refugees on her mountain, she attacked us. Herjarynbál has already punished her for interfering again. And the airship has landed in the northwestern wilderness."

"What coordinates? I will dispatch someone to collect Trizryn at once."

Ilisram froze. "Your Eminence, now that we have the gate documents, we might not need the golem's memories. If I can crack the code, we can try to make a replica, instead of wasting more time hunting the original. Since Ysmé hired Vadis-Shin behind your back—"

"Choose your next words carefully, elf. If you think I trust you because you tattled on them, you would do well to remember you also collaborated on that little golem project behind my back."

And had I not agreed to Her Majesty's request for help, Kethrei's memories of the triptych would be lost forever, Ilisram countered in his thoughts—only in his thoughts, of course.

"Time is running out before the Dheryl-Kin returns. His exiled heir is becoming more resourceful. You said Erys and Trizryn joined forces to seize Absin'navad. Since both of them know you are responsible for K'tía's assassination, both of them will want justice. They might join forces against you again."

"Highly unlikely considering Trizryn and his allies just teleported Erys elsewhere."

"You said it was unlikely they'd unite against you in the first place, but they did."

Ilisram clenched his teeth, but held his tongue.

"You also reported Trizryn has a number of dark elves among his alliances now."

"No doubt associated with the blood smuggler my assassin used to track him in the warrens. They're a small fortress of rogues from the middle of nowhere, by the looks of it. They're no match for the unified armies of House Skeradú and the new Order, Your Grace."

The shadowed figure in the watery reflection raised a hand. "Your underestimation of the Dheryl-Kún and his allies is what led to this chaos. I will not make that same mistake. I want Trizryn on our side before Erys tries to kill him again, and before he gains enough power of his own to not need either of us.

"We will never get a better opportunity to overthrow the Fen Dynasty than while the Dheryl-Kin is missing with no heir on his throne. Brinnan belongs to us now. However, if we do not take the rest of the kingdom with haste, we risk losing everything we've waited so long and worked so hard for. We have no choice but to take Kethrei's memories from Trizryn. Now where is his airship?"

Ilisram briefly considered lying. Perhaps part of him wanted to protect his princely handiwork, but a larger part of him simply wanted to stop wasting time chasing the golem and find another means of achieving their objective. "The coordinates indicate he has found the Bloodstone Sidhe."

A moment of silence followed before his contact spoke again. "Is that the place where—"

"Yes. So the fact that he's there probably means he knows everything."

"You said you destroyed all evidence on the experiments."

"Everything I could find. Her Majesty cleaned out and locked down the castle the first time Trizryn was arrested. The personal journals she kept disappeared. If they still exist, and if Trizryn finds them … Kethrei might awaken.

"If the soul shard housing Kethrei's memories becomes fully—or even partially—conscious again, the golem is likely to become even more unpredictable than he already is. We must leave him be … for the moment. Vadis-Shin's research on the gates is a safer, quicker alternative. If I can decode his notes and make the replica, we can put the golem out of his misery. In fact, we might need the replica to do so … if the experiments were completely successful according to Ysmé's design."

"Then that is even more reason to make Trizryn an offer he cannot refuse. Ilisram, since you already have the gate documents, continue with your plans to translate them. If you can use them to find or recreate the artifact, you will still be rewarded as we agreed. But from now on, you will leave the fate of Ysmé's golem to me. Are we clear?"

The necromancer's jaw set again, but he offered another formal bow. "Very clear, Your Grace."

))((

Brinnan was burning.

But its King was unaware. The golden dragon caught the wind under his wings and pushed himself north toward home. All Erys carried was the satchel containing the mind rips his Arch-Mage took from Trizryn, Reznetha'ir, and Shei—evidence to condemn each of them for treason, evidence to convict Ilisram for the murder of the Princess K'tía.

As Erys flew through the misty clouds, his heart broke recalling the scene recorded in Reznetha'ir's memory sphere. K'tía, his beloved daughter, his one and only true heir, had intercepted the mortal wound Ilisram meant to deliver to her step-brother's summoner, Kassí. Trizryn had dragged his sister into his shady dealings, but was nowhere in sight to protect her when tragedy struck. Typical!

To retrieve his daughter's body and bring her murderer to justice, Erys had reluctantly joined forces with his good-for-nothing step-son. But when no body was found, Erys sought to exact justice on him, too. Mahntarei, the assassin, had captured Trizryn in the Derra Eirlyn dungeon, but the rogue-prince's allies freed him. During that fight, the human among them had hit Erys with a teleportation staff to send him here—wherever here was!

The weather was unseasonably warm over this ocean, so he assumed he was in the tropics. If so, Brinnan was still far away. Considering how long it had been since he flew in his true form, his wings were beginning to tire. He needed to find some ley lines. Jumping ley lines back to the palace or Derra Eirlyn Fortress would save time and effort.

If K'tía had known her true heritage, perhaps she could have used ley lines to escape Absin'navad. Or perhaps if she had known she had the strength and magic of a dragon, she could have defended herself. She could have killed Ilisram, and she would have known why she had to stay away from her bastard brother in the first place, rather than loping after him like a loyal puppy. Dragons had no business being that fond of elves or any other kind of fae. And his wife's elven bastard had defied him for the last time.

Anguished rage bellowed from his maw, followed by a gout of flames that hit the water with a steaming hiss and continued to burn in his wake. For the millionth time he cursed Ysmé and her elven sympathies. Erys didn't believe the obscure prophecy the conniving bitch spewed at him the night they wed, but she had been plotting to destroy his court and council ever since. Little did he know her weapon of choice would be a child from an illicit love affair with a dark elf—or so everyone thought. The mind rips revealed a different truth. Trizryn was a golem.

A god-damned golem!

Somehow Ysmé had impregnated herself with a changeling concocted of magic in a test tube. Then she cursed him with immortality, making him nearly as powerful and indestructible as any dragon. Trizryn was nothing more than a walking, talking spell designed to usurp the throne—if not by inheritance, by force. Erys had already answered his wife's betrayal by having her poisoned. A few altered memories here and there, and no one was the wiser about the Queen's prolonged illness and death … until Mahntarei threatened to blackmail him in front of Trizryn.

Erys swooped low and briefly dragged the tips of his wings in the waves, cooling his hot temper.

The good news was neither golems nor vampires are truly immortal. Conjuration and illusion spells can be dispelled. Vampires can be beheaded or burned. Trizryn had escaped twice before, but now that Erys knew exactly what he was dealing with, he would see that Ysmé's abomination never escaped execution again.

~My Leige!~ an urgent voice in his mind interrupted. It was the Arch-Dragon of the Derra Eirlyn, one of many telepathic links he maintained with various draconian elders and advisers. Normally, Arch-Dragon Kua'íd-Mada—or Arch-Duke, as he was known among the common fae—was a very cool and detached drake. It was one of the reasons he was chosen to head the Derra Eirlyn, but he sounded neither cool, nor detached now. ~Your Majesty! Brinnan is besieged! By dragons!~

"What!" Erys roared aloud.

~Baron Shádek-Shy'úl has every Derra Eirlyn regular and elite unit available on the ground and city walls, but his defenses are already weakening. These dragons are utterly mad! They're destroying everything in site!~

~What about the city's magical shields?~

~They've been penetrated somehow! They're completely down! I've dispatched warnings to every ýeórl in every province to ready their highest defenses, but we were awaiting your orders regarding the deployment of the dragon lords when word arrived that you were … missing. I question the delay in the delivery of such news from the lower ranks, but it is good to know you are alive and well, Your Majesty. Please advise. Do we risk letting the fae know we are dragons in order to defend the city? There is no way the fae forces can withstand this without our dragon lords flying at full strength. Not even with the griffin squadrons.~

Trizryn had broken into the palace to warn him about Ilisram's impending Shadow Elf Conspiracy—his plans to unleash the ancient dragons trapped in the elf gates. Erys intended to dispatch Derra Eirlyn units to each of the gates after Trizryn's execution for high treason. He had hoped to catch Ilisram in the act and behead him for high treason, too. Erys had not planned on Trizryn's human hitting him with her insufferable teleportation stick!

Humans had always meant trouble for the fae realms. This one was no exception, and Trizryn had the gall to share his magic with her—a sacred Majéan Bond with a human! Blasphemy upon abomination! Smoke puffed from the gold dragon's nostrils as his brow furrowed. A low, guttural growl stoked his inner fire as he soared among the clouds.

~Your Majesty—~

~Call an emergency meeting of the Winter Court and the Derra Eirlyn. Tell them you have confirmed I am alive and of sound mind, and you carry my full authority to deploy defense operations, until I arrive. I am activating my mark as proof that you speak for me.~ He cast the spell that would reveal his royal seal on the Arch-Dragon's face.

~Your Majesty … I'm receiving word that the Winter Court has been destroyed. The dome has been smashed; the building's remains set ablaze.~

~Then take everyone down to the war room! I want every noble of every province, temple, and house present when I get back—especially House Skeradú,~ he growled. ~In fact, lock down every member of House Skeradú under elite guard, and put all shadow elves—every one of them—under house arrest! Open the lower levels of the dungeon to contain them if you must. I suspect our shields were dropped from within, not penetrated from without. Armaan Ilisram Álthló-Dégar is responsible for this Shadow Elf Conspiracy. I want him rooted out of wherever he's hiding before he releases any more Blood Reign elders from the gates.~

~These dragons are … the Blood Reign elders?~ Arch-Dragon Kua'id-Mada was silent, as if needing a moment to wrap his head around the magnitude of that news. ~Troops on watch at Armaan Áthló-Dégar's private tower have been withdrawn to defend the city. Should I have Shádek-Shy'úl send them back?~

~Only the regulars. Regulars are no match for a dragon siege and would be put to better use tracking Ilisram. We can mind rip someone else for the interrogation; I want him dead! Do you understand? I'm bringing evidence that he murdered my daughter, so he's already received all the trial he's going to get. Select your best head hunters. Ilisram is no average dark elf. He is a dragon priest with a mastery of soul magic and necromancy.~

~Yes, Your Majesty.~

~Dispatch elite units and griffin squadrons to the ancient gates immediately! Any dragon lords assigned to those units should take their riders.~

~Yes, Your Majesty.~

~All bonded wards of the city should be summoned to defend it, freeing our regular and elite forces for dealing directly with the risen elders.~

~All of the wards? But … they might riot.~

~When they see those dragons, they'll be too scared to riot. They'll know the only way to survive is by doing what they're told. And with summoners controlling them, they'll have no choice. If we start losing wards, knuckle-down to the slaves. Warn every dragon in the court and council it may be necessary to shift into true form to defend the city, but do not give the order until you hear back from me.~

~Should I evacuate any fae nobles and palace staff not attending the meetings? I was thinking the slave pens might be safe.~

~No. As one of the leaders of House Skeradú, Ilisram knows how to find the slave pens. For all we know, he's messed with their minds to turn them against us. Have the summoners check for sorcery influencing the slaves before giving them assignments. Take fae nobles and household staff who will not be at the meeting into the undercity. They won't like it, but the invading elders will have to shift into smaller forms to attack anyone down there … unless Ilisram already has shadow elves waiting to purge it. If Brinnan looks lost don't waste time saving anyone else; defend the rest of the kingdom from the gate elders and find Ilisram! I'll meet you in the war room as soon as I can.~

~As you wish, Your Majesty.~

One way or another, Ilisram and his conspirators would soon face the wrath of their Dragon King. And he, Erys Fen-Da'en, would be the last Fen Dheryl-Kin of Aesethna to tolerate the Derra Eirlyn's ancient pact with the dark elves of House Skeradú.

))((

Brinnan was burning.

News of the dragon attack on the elven city had shocked Aija and weighed heavily on her mind because the company aboard the airship was helpless to do anything about it. Brinnan was far away and the least of their worries at the moment.

The soft, blue light of the glowworms covering the ceiling of the tunnel in which she stood made the exposed, dangling roots resemble snakes. But thinking of worms and snakes falling on her head made it difficult to focus on the cluster of geothermal formations arranged in an unnatural circle at the tunnel's dead end. The rune-marked stalagmites were unlike any other rock present—dark grayish-green with red spots. A ring of similar stalactites mirrored the spires on the ground. Each rested alternately between the others forming a cage-like chamber around a spiral staircase. Above the stairs, hung a thick, mysterious fog.

The mists of the Veil seemed alive, for lack of a better word. They ebbed and flowed like a creature anxious to pounce whatever came within reach. Some of the mist settled on the ground around the geothermal formations, but the Veil itself was contained by magic within the stone circle.

When she was a child, Aija's grandmother used to read stories to her about the "Fair Folk" and "Gentry" and the sidhe (or shee) they supposedly haunted. Historically, most sidhe were just earthen burial mounds built by ancient Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings. But legends claimed fay sidhe marked the thin places in the Veil between the world of humans and the invisible realm of the fay beyond it. These mystical mounds were supposed to hold strange wonders like castles in the sky, kingdoms of eternal youth, and wild hunts where fairy kings hunted magical beasts. King Arthur supposedly passed through the Mists into Avalon, where its mysterious inhabitants miraculously healed and still hold the Once and Future King in a magical slumber, until his own kingdom has need of him again.

Aija was in that Otherworld now. The legends, it turns out, were sometimes right and sometimes skewed. She saw no evidence that King Arthur was here, but Shei once claimed Shakespeare had visited. She never knew which of the elven bard's stories were true and which were tests of gullibility.

One obvious truth was that fae civilization had advanced into an industrial age with their magical technology—like how humans evolved, only differently. But according to their old laws, any humans caught in the fae realms—in the Kingdom of Aesethna, at least—were to be executed on sight. Though her fae friends were already fugitives, they risked further charges of treason for harboring her.

The more Aija learned about the fae and their realms, the more she wished she could reread her grandmother's books. But finding another elf gate linked to her hometown of Winderbury was a problem, since the one that brought her here was destroyed by a dragon. Many gates were falling as the ancient dragon-gods trapped within broke free. And shattered gates released the mists of the Veil into the other worlds they touched, destabilizing them. Additionally, Brinnan was now under siege—the beginning of another dragon war.

Lost in her thoughts, Aija collided into the back of the dark elf in front of her when the elven scouting party came to an abrupt halt.

Reznetha'ir was a tall, bone-white elf with black shoulder-length hair and spruce-green eyes. When he became thoughtful, he had a habit of thoughtfully rubbing the long, pink scar that marred his lips. "And you have no idea which Otherworld this leads to?"

"No," Trizryn answered. Beneath the dirty, white hood of the veðrkylk he wore, the charcoal-gray elf's silver-white eyes reflected metallic red in the wisp spells of his light elf companions. Such were the traits of the eyes of dark elves … and the undead. "But the castle is there, and the anchor should be safe."

"As long as the Veil remains contained," the light elf added what the dark elf left unspoken.

Trizryn had told Aija every elfling was raised to have a healthy fear of the wild places where the Mists were present. The shifting tides of the ethereal oceans could rip things out of one world and transport them to another with no way back. Fae caught in the untamed mists of a siðe were never seen again.

"An anchor may not be a true gate, but it operates on the same principles to stabilize the Veil," Trizryn assured the rebel leader. "The difference is it has only one fixed point … similar to how Chizrae's realms books work."

Reznetha'ir remained doubtful. "Chizrae's books are a one-way ticket."

"Aija and I were able to return here after stepping through. This anchor is safe," Trizryn assured him.

Gazing up at the mists, Shei used two of his long, blond braids to tie back the rest of the braids worn around his head. "Do you really think these dimensional holes were created by dragons? I mean, if it's true, you'd think someone somewhere in the past would have mentioned that." Among the fae present, no one knew more about elven history and lore than the bard.

"Maybe someone did, and you didn't pay attention," Aija answered.

His azure eyes crinkled with his wide grin, and he wagged a finger at her for throwing his own words back at him. He had said something similar after she questioned the validity of his tales shortly after they met.

"Someone did write it down—Master Sa'um Vadis-Shin wrote about it in his journal," Trizryn reminded them. "But for over two thousand years the Fen Dynasty and the Derra Eirlyn have been covering up both the existence of the gates and the fact that they are dragons, so he had to write more than half of it in an undecipherable code."

"Which we still need to translate as soon as possible." Reznetha'ir gestured to one of the glowing runes on the stones. "Aija, can your communication device record these images?"

She fumbled in her pocket for her phone and snapped a few pictures. But these stones bore no elf stars like the other gates they found. Curious, she touched one of the runes. Its thrum made her skin prickle with magical vibrations, but they didn't activate for her as they had for Trizryn. His mother had magically woven the anchor's "key" spell right into his body, along with all the other spells she used to craft her son—her golem.

Reznetha'ir faced Trizryn. "Are you sure no one else in the Winter Court knows about this place?"

"No," the rogue-prince answered. "But my Mother's letter asked me to bring K'tía here. If this place was meant to be a safe-house for her heirs, it was probably kept secret from Erys, the Winter Court, and the Derra Eirlyn. But if my hunch is right about Ilisram placing scrying spells on the airship to find the refugees on Frostfang's mountain, he's a greater threat to us right now than anyone back in Brinnan … or whatever might be squatting in an abandoned fortress."

Reznetha'ir's head bobbed in sullen agreement. Conceding to the rogue-prince, the rebel leader drew his sword. "Well, you know what they say: 'Semtímenen ða inlik weye ringikt kí esynar þurgaa kí.'"

Aija blinked at the unintelligible proverb wondering why it didn't translate, then she looked at the translation amulet she wore on her bracelet. The silver dragon claw clutching a quartz crystal belonged to Trizryn, but it was her lifeline among the fae, able to translate anything they said—able to whisper to her mind the words she wished to say in return. Because those whispers came from dead souls, it sometimes had a mind of its own. She was used to it sometimes refusing to translate Trizryn's swearing or skipping over proper nouns. She supposed this was one of those finicky moods, but Reznetha'ir's words were hardly ever offensive.

Powering down her mobile, Aija tucked it back into her pocket. She wasn't sure how the device worked since Eisiden rewired its dead battery to a magic crystal, but she didn't want to risk running it down. Then she and the other elves followed Reznetha'ir up the stairs into the Otherworld.