Animus Lost

The Golden Empress
Friendship was magic, while it lasted.

Chengshi Jinse (The Golden City), Fu Empire – formerly the City of the Unworthy
Approximately 2 years after the events of Animus Lost

Fanning his wings strongly against the wind, the Soldier battled his way onto the opulent marble balcony that led to the rooms of the Golden Empress. The other Soldier waiting there hovered nearby anxiously, and buzzed an inquiry at the new arrival. He replied in the negative, and the attendant radiated disappointment. With a shake, the first Soldier took on the familiar glamour of Goldie. She ruffled her yellow hair, which had grown long since her days as a traveling mercenary, and looked at her Changeling companion.

“Yi Wei, I’m sorry,” she said, and placed her hand on what approximated a shoulder for the insect-like creature. “I waited for as long as I could, but no one came. I don’t think they want to treat with us.” The Changeling drooped and assumed the guise of the handsome Fu Elf that he had finally perfected.

“I had just hoped, after all of this time, that they would forgive me, and us, and see what a wonderful opportunity there is for our kind in these lands. We don’t have to be criminals. We don’t have to hide our abilities, and the bear form is easy to master.” He sighed, and Goldie gave him a hug without replying. Even though the northern Changelings wouldn’t keep any of the diplomatic appointments that Goldie had tried to make with them, at least these two could lean on each other. Sometimes it felt like Yi Wei was the only person she could relate to, which was a far cry from how she’d felt when he was impersonating her friend Quinlan. Who would have thought that her closest friend, confidant, and eventually lover would be a Changeling? The world was truly a strange place.

“My love,” he said, after leaning into her embrace, “I appreciate that you tried. I have a delegation from Empress Valentine waiting in the Jade Chamber, and the usual petitions in the Hall of Living Statues. Who would you like to see first?” She laughed, because he obviously knew that she would put off the Cinderfell delegation as long as possible. Most of her friends from there had abandoned her for their own lives, or no life at all in the case of poor Skygoat, and it was painful to see even the familiar faces of Astrid’s ambassadors. Almost as strange as her rule over the Fu with another Changeling as her lover and Prime Minister was the fact that her main points of contact with her former friends were regular letters from Arkh. He was doing well for himself, and was very proud of her ability to write now in two different languages. She occasionally saw Fritz and his lady, but she didn’t trust either of them in her palace for long. Things always seemed to go missing, including her statues. Just because he had the power to move them didn’t mean that she appreciated him doing so. Thankfully, Ashll seemed to be a voice of reason.

Goldie allowed herself to be primped and painted, and donned her heavy sapphire and gold robes of state. With Yi Wei at her side, she entered the Hall of Living Statues and took her place on her throne. The intoxicating rush of power over the hundreds of lives in front of her never grew old, and she was sure that she had already been corrupted more than a little by it. Somehow, that didn’t seem to matter as much as it should have. At times she was concerned by the loss of some of her empathy, but she was always so busy that she never had much time to dwell on it. And anyhow, Yi Wei never judged her. Perhaps it was good that she had lost touch with her friends. They wouldn’t understand what it took to rule a land such as the Fu Empire.

The first petitioner, some unimportant peasant by the look of him, bowed until his head nearly touched his knees. “My Golden Empress,” he murmured, keeping his eyes cast respectfully down at the marble floor, and continued the traditional greeting. “My life is in your paws.”

Goldie smiled. It was not a particularly nice smile.

On Epilogues
In which "ever after" isn't far.

6 months after Unforgiven

“You’re staring, Mr. Greene.”

The words pulled Arkh back into the real world. He shook his head gently as he regained clarity over the moment. It had been a long journey here, and he’d gotten little sleep. Physical comfort was still a difficult thing for him to achieve, despite Albin’s creative measures (he called the device a “wheeled chair”), and a good night’s sleep had long since become a thing of the past for him.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just kind of… overwhelmed.”

Near him, reclined on a small bed, with a blanket draped over her, laid Cyleena Dren, a small smile dancing across her lips. “It’s alright, Archie.” She nodded down with her head at the swaddle of blankets in her arm. “Did you want to hold her?”

Arkh felt his heart leap up into his throat, and suddenly had a hard time breathing evenly. “Yeah, I do,” he finally said, after a moment.

She was smaller and lighter than Arkh had expected, the mass of blankets making her seem heftier than she actually was. When he finally got her nestled into the crook of his arm, he peeled back one of the cloth coverings and looked at her face. So tiny, so fragile. “She’s beautiful.”

“Yep, she’s got her father’s trademark good looks, that’s for sure.” Jharva had leaned over Arkh’s shoulder, and was now gently poking at the little baby’s hands while he spoke.

Arkh let out a small laugh that he hoped desperately didn’t convey the hate he felt. Jharva Kelger, handsome orc functionary in the Imperial Court and heir to the Kelger fortune, had fallen for Cyleena shortly after her promotion to Imperial Advisor. Their courtship had been swift, and their whirlwind romance resulted in a quick but lovely marriage ceremony, and a beautiful baby girl—who was unusually healthy, considering how she was nearly a month premature. Jharva had attributed the stroke of luck to his strong genes. Arkh had no medical basis upon which to disagree with the orc.

Cyleena looked knowingly at Arkh, and agreed with her husband. “Yes, Jharva, she does.”

Arkh fought the smile that tugged at the corner of his lips, not wanting to let Cyleena see that he still loved her. “What’s her name?”

Jharva sniffed, and stood up straight as he answered. “Well, I wanted to give her a strong, orcish name, like Valla, or Thess, but, well…”

Cyleena picked up the sentence. “I insisted on using a family name.” She hesitated long enough for Arkh to meet her gaze. “Celeste.”

Three weeks later

“I’m sorry, Mr. Greene.”

The words, despite their source, were sincere. Lieutenant Cressida didn’t know Arkh that well (and, due to the nature of their relationship, likely never would), but she was a kind soul, and a good soldier. For whatever it was worth, Arkh knew that she understood his pain.

“Thank you, lieutenant. May I please get closer? I’d like to read it.”

The Imperial Guardswoman took a moment before giving her response. “You may. Take your time.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.”

Lieutenant Cressida, as well as her three sergeants, had been assigned to Arkh as “security detail,” for his time in Cinderfell. Ostensibly, they were there to act as his bodyguards and guides, as he was now officially an Imperial asset. In reality, they were there to make sure that no Blood Magic was used during his stay—with force, if necessary. Empress Valentine hadn’t wanted to take such strongarmed measures, but her Imperial Council weren’t backing down, and Arkh ultimately subjected to the detail. He figured he’d need someone to strap him into his saddle, anyway.

The hard rain had made reading from a distance difficult, and as his horse plodded forward through the mud, the simple, unadorned words on the headstone finally came into view.


An evil mage destroyed my life. I earned my name by ending his. I am remembered by the company I kept in my quest, who are honored among the Beastmen for their deeds.

Albin Graf, Demon slayer
Archibald Greene, Blood mage
Fritz Karhil, Curious thief
Goldenlocks Kittlebee, Bear warrior
Nameless, Skybound Beastwoman

Vengeance was sweet.

For a long moment, Arkh remained there, him and his horse standing a silent vigil for his lost friend. The hard rain and booming thunder of the North seemed as fitting a eulogy that the warrior could have asked for. Arkh was grateful for the rain, as it removed the need to dry his eyes, once he finally turned away.

Two years later

“Thank you, Mr. Greene.”

Arkh smiled at the young boy across from him. “Don’t fret over it, Shane. I knew what you were trying to say, but your word choice had me worried at a couple parts. I just wanted to make sure you were doing alright.” Shane smiled as he stood up, and pulled his pack over his shoulder. “Now you promise you’ll come talk to me if you start getting angry, okay?”

Shane nodded at his professor. “I promise. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“There’s a good lad. Go get some dinner.”

The boy didn’t have to be told twice, and had disappeared from the room before Arkh could blink. Arkh allowed himself a small smile as found the next blank page in Shane’s journal, and took notes on their session. The boy was doing well, despite being in one of the most problematic age ranges, and had already learned to control his anger and aggression much better than most of his peers. Arkh saw lots of potential in that boy.

The Academy itself was an exercise in finding that kind of potential. The original idea had come from Empress Valentine, who’d handed it over to Arkh and Rathiel, eldest son of Jarl Eagleface, and a powerful Blood mage like Arkh. The two of them saw the good they could do with it, and immediately started erecting a school in the borderlands of Kalahari, just under a mile east of Westwater’s city limits. Jarl’s strong presence in the city during the rebuilding of Westwater was a godsend in that time, and served to dramatically strengthen relations between the Academy and Cinderfell.

The Academy for Constructive Applications, as it was officially known (or the “Sanguine School,” as some liked to call it), was finished in just over a year. Westwater, Tuari, Koth, Cliffport, and even Trada had sent help in the form of supplies, workers, and educational materials, and the final result had been something much better and grander than either Arkh or Rathiel had even hoped for.

The pair quickly realized that there was more to do than they could handle between them, and had to start recruiting others from around Vulcanica to help. Teachers began to fill up the Academy’s faculty for virtually all of the classes that didn’t specifically involve Blood magic, while support staff filled up the logistics positions. Meanwhile, Rathiel took over most of the administrative duties, and Arkh handled a lot of the student counseling, but both of them still taught Blood magic classes on a regular basis. Arkh personally had a hard time staying out of the medical wing, where he was quickly gaining a reputation as an advisor and helpful pair of hands.

In the year since the Academy’s completion, Arkh had found a serenity that he hadn’t realized he was missing. The dark part of him had grown quiet, and he came to embrace the control him and Rathiel saught to empower their students with. For the first time in a while, he’d felt neither pain nor regret.

A knock on his door pulled Arkh from his gentle reflection. “Come in,” he announced, as he closed the journal and returned his quill to its holder. The door creaked open, and an armored woman stepped in. “Captain Cressida,” Arkh nodded as he began tidying up his desk. “Please, sit. How can I help you?”

Jenvive Cressida, loyal soldier of Cinderfell, and captain of the Imperial Guard detail assigned to monitor and aid the Academy, sat across from Arkh. Officially, her job was to make sure that the Academy recieved all the help it could from Cinderfell, and that no one in the Academy entered Cinderfell without express permission and a chaperone. In reality, however, her job was largely quite boring, and mostly involved her going to a lot of meetings with various Cinderfell officials to deliver even more boring status reports.

“Professor Greene,” Cressida began, clearing her throat. “It is my understanding that no classes will be held tomorrow, on account of the holiday?”

Arkh nodded. “That’s right.”

“Well,” she continued. “I was curious if… if you’d like to go into town with me, tonight?”

Arkh tilted his head. “Do you need my help with something?”

Cressida blushed as she shot a dry look at Arkh. “Professor, I’m asking you on a date.”

Arkh smiled as he felt blood rush to his face. “Oh,” he laughed. “I’m sorry, captain.” He paused for a moment. “Yes, I think I’d like that.”

The Final Dawn
In which all is given

The crisp, mountain air was difficult to fly in, though not impossible. The lack of any rising thermals made ascent tiring, and demanded much more effort and focus than, say, flying over the Fire, or the lowlands of Kalahari. For anyone else, the daunting task would have likely been too much, and death by jagged rocks would have been an inevitability—a task doomed from the start. For the Dragon Grakkas, formerly Grakkas Silverclaw, former member of the famed Dawn Patrol, and Guardian of the Dragon Stone, however, endurance was not a concern. The concept of fatigue hadn’t even entered his mind in many years, and certainly had no place with the task at hand. Weariness, whether he felt it or not, was irrelevant in the scope of what was expected of him.

Figuring he should be roughly a mile from his destination, he briefly stopped flapping his wings and dipped below the clouds. He smiled slightly upon recognizing that he was exactly where he expected to be. The Magic in his Stone had long since expanded his mental faculties far beyond anything he could hope to achieve in a mortal life span, and his understanding of many sciences, including geography, meteorology, and topography, had advanced likewise. He could fly blind if he had to.

Pulling his wings in towards his back, Grakkas began a rapid descent groundward. If he needed to, he could empower his vision to double-check his projected landing zone, but he didn’t feel like ruining the surprise. Though a serious task no doubt, he saw no reason to not have a little fun with it. He believed that enjoying something only meant you were more likely to do it right.

The icy wind whipped at his face, the clouds of his breath that streamed into his vision serving to remind him how cold it was this deep in The Spine. He passed the elevation of the nearest major summit, and began furiously pounding with his wings, trying to increase his speed as much as possible. As the sky began to slowly fill with more and more mountain, he made one final push for speed, then rapidly tucked in his wings, and began a snap roll backwards.

At terminal velocity, the average human body might crack a stone or make a small divot in the ground. The average dragonkin might make a slightly more lasting impression, but certainly won’t cause any damage that can’t be easily fixed. To a body that had used Dragon Magic to cause itself to weigh five tons, and was plummeting at a rate nearly twice that of terminal velocity, however, the mark would be noticeable.

Grakkas crashed into the craggy mountainside with enough force to obliterate a castle wall, as he delivered the signature dynamic entry he’d spent half a century perfecting. Dust and rubble were launched into the air around him, and small, fist-sized rocks began pummelling the earth a few seconds later. He looked around, and allowed his gaze to linger on the three Ice Giants that were only now coming to understand what had just happened.

“Hm,” Grakkas thought aloud, in a tongue he could only hope the Giants understood. “I’ve only ever fought one of you before.” The Giants began to shift and turn, bringing their weight to bear against the small figure before them. “This should be fun.”

“You know how he gets. He never listens to anyone once he’s set his mind on something. Not even Sandwich could stop him.” A small, frustrated sigh passed through her lips, disturbing the lock of BROWN hair that had fallen in front of her face. Cerlissa, formerly Cerlissa Grav-Norsca, former member of the Dawn Patrol, and Guardian of the Demon Stone, reached a hand up to her head, and pushed the errant hairs behind her ear. “Besides, I think he’s right. We need to do everything we can.”

Across from her stood a man, clad head to toe in black robes, with just a hint of gold lining. “I know,” he replied. “And I’m not here to argue that. I’m here to help.” He hesitated. “And to… ask you for a favor, of sorts.”

Cerlissa tilted her head. “I always get uncomfortable when you ask for favors.”

A chuckle came from the black-clad man. “That’s probably wise, considering. But I’m serious.”

“So am I. What do you need?”

The man in black hesitated, gently thumbing the head of his warhammer, resting at his side. “I need you to go back on the promise you made to Baldred.”

Cerlissa exhaled sharply, as if the wind had been knocked out of her. After a moment, she found her breath. “You ask much.”

“I know I do, and I wouldn’t if I had another choice. But you know why I need it.”

“I’m not ready to die.”

“I can’t promise anything.” He scanned her face at that, and frowned. “But I’ll do my best.”

After a long moment, Cerlissa nodded. “Alright. Baldred would forgive me, if he knew what was at stake.”

Across from her, Jarl smiled. “Let’s hope he extends the same courtesy to me.”

A hundred-thousand empty hearbeats, marching on to the cadence of life that was as necessary as it was pointless. A ritual wasted on an audience undeserving. The servants were scrambling to perform their daily duties, blissfully unaware that the masters had long since taken their leave. The grim metaphors rolled in as the pulses throbbed gently all around him. The Plague had been here, and it had hit hard. Jarl Eagleface, former member of the Dawn Patrol, and Guardian of the Blood Stone, felt an empty sadness tug at a dark part of him as he realized that though he was surrounded by the living, nothing near him was alive.

Well, almost nothing. Cerlissa, his friend and former companion, sat nearby. Her eyes were glazed over, and her cheeks were stained with the tears she’d been trying to hide. Jarl didn’t blame her. Westwater was a place of great sadness, and she’d done everything in her power to avoid coming here. Considering how closely it resembled New Turath these days, it didn’t take much to imagine why. Below her face, Cerlissa’s chest heaved and sagged erratically, as though her breath itself had become painful. At her sides, her arms hung emptily, the self-inflicted wounds slowly dripping crimson to the cobbled stones below. Beneath her, and for many feet around her, was a growing pool of blood; the sanguine life that was once hers, now spilled for the benefit of others.

Jarl wasn’t sure if she would survive. She’d given so much blood, it seemed unlikely—but he could still feel her heartbeat, and though it had slowed, it hadn’t yet weakened. Despite his concerns for his friend, however, she would have to wait. Cinderfell was in great danger, and he had a job to do. Calling out to the blood on the ground, he beckoned it serve him. Cerlissa’s blood was strong, and though it was eager to bow to his will, a lesser mage may have struggled to control it.

As he sent it forward, he felt a dark tugging in the back of his mind. Though he’d long since grown accustomed to it, it had always troubled him that it was there. The Stone gave him resistance to the magic’s twisted agenda, but there were so many others in the world who hadn’t been granted that immunity. In a moment, he pitied them, and the darkness that would claim them.

When the Blood left him, he reached out again, to inspect his work. A hundred-thousand empty heartbeats, now pulsing in unison, eagerly awaiting his command. Cinderfell was in danger, and faced a force four times the size of anything she could muster on her own. Cinderfell needed an army, and Jarl had found it.

The rolling hills of Westwater stretched on to the horizon, their serene, verdant curves seemingly unaware of the war that was approaching. The setting sun painted the sky in fading hues of blue, and cast a golden light across the ground that gave everything a near-angelic comfort. A simpler man might be able to relax and enjoy the calm of this land, but Vicorin Blackwood, former member of the Dawn Patrol, and Guardian of the Creation Stone, was no such man.

Leaning on his cane, Vicorin took a few moments to study the landscape while he let his achy joints calm themselves. Unlike his contemporaries, Vicorin had eschewed the immortality his magic had offered, opting for the natural lifespan he’d spent so much of his life counting on. He’d been determined from a young age to die in battle, and circumstances had reliably seemed uninterested in affording him that one comfort, though recent developments had given him one last chance. He wasn’t even remotely interested in the glory or legacy that he knew people would give him, once the dust settled. He just wanted to die a warrior’s death.

To the south, the distant call of a war-horn told Vicorin that his time had come. The Fu army was approaching, and he’d decided he was going to stop it. Bracing himself on his cane, he slowly lowered himself to his knees, where he sat for a moment. Another, alien sound caught his attention, and he looked up, noticing some kind of flying ship disappear into the clouds, seemingly heading south. He shrugged. He’d seen stranger things.

Calling on the Stone, he pulled it into existence in his open palm, and spent a moment studying it. “Well, you piece of shit, I guess it’s time. Let’s make one last Artifact.” He vanished the Stone, and closed his eyes.

In life, there will be many obstacles.
Hit the obstacle.
In the search for enlightenment, you will face distraction.
Hit the distraction.
At the end of the road, when wisdom is yours, you will be one with all things.
Hit all things.

Vicorin opened his eyes. Leaning forward on his knees, he placed his left hand on the ground, and pulled his right back, behind his head. Balling his hand into a fist, he unleashed a haymaker onto the ground, and focused all of his magic—all of his Hit—into the motion.

Pain lanced through Vicorin’s body as the Creation Magic fought him. He felt skin tear and bones fracture as his fist connected with the grassy dirt, but so too did he feel the wall begin to rise before him. Pulling his arm back for another strike, he delivered another blow, and another, lifting the wall higher from the ground, and adding more and more layers of protection to it.

Vicorin felt his skin flay and organs rupture as the all-powerful Magic punished him for breaking the rules of this world. A lesser warrior would have died instantly, dead before he could even finish his spell—but, well, Vicorin was too badass for that.

For a long while, Vicorin beat the shit out of the ground, pounding it into submission. When he was finally done, and released the laws of reality he’d spent the last several minutes pummelling the hell out of, a magical boom erupted from him that he was sure even Cerlissa couldn’t top.

The wall, finished, stood at waist height, and had a bell-tower every fifty yards, set to ring upon the approach of any who were unwelcome in Cinderfell. The sound of the bells ringing would instantly kill anyone on the outside of the wall, and the stones of the wall itself would regenerate immediately upon destruction. If the Fu managed to make it over the wall, they’d find themselves cut off from their supply chain, and would have to pillage and scrounge just to survive. And when they tried again from the north, or the east, or the west, they would find the same wall, standing stalwart through the entirety of Cinderfell’s border. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best he could do.

And as Vicorin lay there dying, his organs slowly failing and his blood slowly spilling out, he smiled. His life had been one long mess, and though he’d tried to keep things in order, he hadn’t always succeeded. He hadn’t been perfect, but he’d done the best he could do.

That was good enough for him.

On Very Old Friends
In which a chapter ends, and a new one begins

Rienne held a kerchief to her face, her other hand draping emptily at her side. The small cloth was moist with her tears, though she’d stopped crying now, and was only trying to avoid breathing the dead’s air. This accursed plague had claimed many lives, and she was determined to not add her own name to that ever-lenghtening list. Normally, she wouldn’t even attend the funerals, but today was an exception.

Her voice trembled and her hands shook as she stumbled through the eulogy, delivered to the half-dozen assembled in the rainy cemetary. Not many knew Adlai all that well, and fewer still would miss him, but he’d been a good friend to her. Both of them being elves, he’d felt an initial kinship with her, and had given her a job, and grown close to her and her family in the many years she’d worked for him. He’d died without any kin left to mourn his passing, so Rienne only saw it fitting that she be there to watch over his funeral.

As Rienne had expected, Adlai left the alehouse to her. She’d worked there for almost seven decades, and was running the place by the time Adlai first fell ill. When she returned to it later that day, however, despite Adlai having been redundant and unnecessary for a long time now, it felt empty without him there. As she’d done countless times before, she lit the wall sconces, turned around the ‘closed’ sign to ‘open,’ and began heating the stove and oven.

It had been a dark day, and Rienne didn’t expect any of the townsfolk to come out of their homes for her food. Likewise, travel had waned these last few weeks, and she’d been lucky to see any new faces lately. So when the door-bell jingled not an hour after her opening, it startled her.

“Just make yourself comfortable, I’ll be right out,” she called out from the kitchen. She tossed a handful of herbs into the stew she was brewing, then headed for the main room. She stepped out from the back while wiping her hands on her apron, speaking as she did. “I’ve got stew on the stove, and bread’ll be out of the oven shortly. I can also muster up some better fare, if you’re in the mood for—” She stopped speaking abruptly, frozen in her steps as her eyes finally fell upon her patron.

The man was unusually tall, even for an elf, and was draped in green traveler’s clothes, punctuated by occasional spots of black leather at the left shoulder, chest, and forearms. His short-cropped brown hair was dry, though the hood he’d now pulled back slowly dripped rainwater to the floor. His face, like hers, hid his true age, and its sharp, angular features had long since grown familar to her; a face she’d steadily grown to recognize and find comfort in. Her Traveler.

“Traveler,” Rienne began, surprised at seeing him. “I wasn’t expecting you. You don’t normally pass through until winter.”

The Traveler shrugged, then gestured over his shoulder towards the rough weather outside, cocking an eyebrow as he did. Rienne wasn’t sure of his exact meaning, but had grown familiar enough with his gestures to get the general idea.

“Yeah,” she agreed, her thoughts wandering to Adlai. “My plans changed, too.” She shook her head, regaining her composure. “Where are my manners? Let me take your cloak. Please, sit.” She gestured towards the nearest table, and reached towards the Traveler’s shoulders for his cloak. He let her remove it, but she was surprised to see a quiver of black-fletched arrows hiding beneath it, strung across his shoulder. “I didn’t know you were a hunter,” she said as she hung the soggy cloak near the warm hearth. “I don’t think I’ve seen you with a weapon before.”

The Traveler smirked as he sat, meeting her gaze.

“Yes, I suppose there is much I don’t know of you,” she agreed. She came around to the side of the table opposite him, and leaned gently against one of the chairs. “The usual, then?”

The Traveler looked thoughtful for a moment, then sniffed the air. A broad grin spread across his face, and he patted his stomach.

“It’s just stew, you know. Nothing exciting about it at all.” When he just continued grinning, however, she gave in. “Okay, one bowl of stew, coming up.”

She’d long since gotten used to her mute Traveler, as he’d been a bi-yearly regular for longer than she’d worked here. Always visiting once in summer and once in winter, he’d quickly developed a rapport with Rienne, and she’d likewise grown fond of him just as fast. The two were as good of friends as any in Cinderfell, and, despite their infrequent meeting schedule, she trusted and loved him like family.

Rienne returned from the kitchen a few minutes later, laden down with a large bowl of piping-hot stew and a basket of oven-fresh bread. The Traveler smiled like a child as she placed the food in front of him, and he set into it like a starved beast. After a moment of stuffing his face, he looked around at the empty alehouse, then up at Rienne with a quizzical look.

“Nope, you’re the only one here,” she replied, glumly. “Probably for the rest of the day, the way things have been going.”

He gestured towards the soup bowl in front of him, then at the seat opposite him.

Rienne was about to protest, but her stomach growled in opposition of her stance before she could get a word out. “Oh, alright,” she muttered, and turned towards the kitchen. “I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

“No, I never did know my father,” Rienne began, leaning back in her chair. The Traveler sat opposite her, their empty bowls resting on the table between them. “I actually never met either of my parents. Did you?”

The Traveler winced, and looked away, then back at her with an almost pleading face.

“Yeah, I know. It was a different time, then. Technically I was born under Solis Umbra, but I don’t remember any of it. All of my memories are here.” She gestured around the alehouse, and out the window. “Whoever my parents were, they didn’t care enough to watch me grow up.”

At that, Rienne thought she saw something in the Traveler’s eye, but he looked away before she could be sure. He hung his head for a moment, then looked back up, meeting her gaze. Whatever she thought she saw was gone now, replaced by a look of reassurance. He lifted his eyebrows, and gestured with his head towards the kitchen.

“Well, actually,” Rienne began, surprised this hadn’t come up earlier. “Adlai passed last night. We had his funeral this morning.”

The Traveler leaned back at that, his eyes vacant, as if trying to take in too much at once. After a moment, he leaned foward, and placed his hand on hers.

Rienne let a grin tug at the corner of her mouth. “Thanks, Traveler.” She let the silence linger for a moment before speaking again. “He was a good man, and cared for me. I’m going to miss him.”

The Traveler leaned back again, pulling his hand back and folding it with its twin, across his stomach. He nodded silently, then looked into Rienne’s eyes.

She smiled a bit, glad for the opportunity to speak on something positive. “They’re well, they’re all well, thank the Light. Marcus and I actually just bought a plot outside of town, where he’ll have the room to start keeping more horses.”

The Traveler raised his eyebrows and smiled, tilting his head as he did.

“Yeah, she’s well, too. For the first time, I’m thankful that she didn’t take that job in Ibygya. I wouldn’t do well, fearing I’d lost my baby girl.” She let her eyes travel to his. “I wouldn’t make far it without her.”

And there it was again. A glimmer of something in his gaze, something he’d never shown her before. He didn’t pull away this time, and his breathing got shallow as his eyes started to shimmer. He wanted her to see it, this time. He was saying something to her, but for the first time in decades, she couldn’t hear him. These words were foreign, and unfamiliar, and she scrambled in her mind as she raced against what appeared to be growing emotion within him. She was about to give in, to shout that she couldn’t understand, but then she remembered where she’d seen that look before.


Priorities Sorted

Standing atop one of the fallen Ice Giants, Cerlissa bent to cut an arrow out of its midsection and tossed it toward Grakkas. “What do you make of that?” She asked.

“It’s…” Grakkas hesitated a moment before admitting what he suspected she already knew, “It’s Fu. What were the Fu doing in the Spine?”

“I think they’re in Norsca.” Cerlissa mused, almost to herself. “The way they’re fighting now… it’s like they’re more afraid of what’s behind them then they are of us.”

Grakkas fiddled with the arrow and said nothing for a bit, until Cerlissa changed the subject again.

“We should get these things gutted and carted back to the civilians.” She kicked it and hopped down. At Grakkas’ look of confusion and disgust, she defended her decision, “Hey, food is scarce since New Turath, and it’s made of meat. They’ll never know and they’ll be stronger in the end for all their ignorance.”

He grunted in assent and slid his gaze over to the nearest of their three most recent foes. When he turned to follow, he nearly tripped on her.

“Cerlissa, what…?”

She spun to face her friend, face pulled into a mask of genuine fear, “They’re mobilizing…” Then, to seemingly no one, “Figure it out, Arkh! You’re the most brilliant idiot I’ve ever met! FIGURE IT OUT!”

She’d done this before, and Grakkas waited impatiently for her to tell him what she was seeing through the coin she’d passed on to the mercenaries. After a moment of silence, her gaze fixed on him again and she said quietly, as if it might be less true if she didn’t say it aloud, “The Fu, they’re in the harbor. They’re breaking through. Titus… I have to get there.”

“And… what? Sink them all? You haven’t slept in nearly a week, and you’ll bring the plague to Cliffport. Let me go.”

“No! If he summons me it’ll get me away from the Tree. It may weaken then. If it does, I’ll take some time to rest while you hold the North and we’ll all be better for it.”

“But the plague…”

“It’s not going to matter if I spread the plague if Cinderfell falls, Grakkas!”

He couldn’t fight that logic, but he wanted to. Cerlissa started to pace, flapping her hands nervously and looking for all the world like the teenage version of her that he’d met in Blackfeather. Worried about one thing or another. She always worried so much. Now that there were real, catastrophic things to worry about, he feared it might ruin her.

He took the opportunity to make a call. He fiddled in his pocket for a moment, searching for the vial that Jarl had given him, and pulled it out. The blood inside was coagulated and pretty gross looking by now, but it was still useful. Cerlissa continued to pace and mutter and scowl as he concentrated on finding Jarl.

A disk of faint green light formed in his palm. Slowly, the light became dappled, then leaves began to form along with the outline of a man. It was soon clear that Jarl wasn’t in his mountain home, as he’d expected, but in the forests of Valiraura.

The figure tensed and reached out, shoving a tall, Fey woman to the ground and searching for the source of the threat. Grakkas made an effort to empower the scry, knowing that Jarl would understand.

“West of Dra.” He muttered, and helped his wife to stand again. “Just outside the Spine.”

Dropping the scry, Grakkas stepped forward and poked Cerlissa in the side with a massive finger, “Go tell Jarl.”


“If they’re in Norsca and Cliffport, they’ll be after Westwater.” His expression darkened, “I swore I would never let it burn again. I can’t handle that.”

Nodding, Cerlissa reached out to place a hand on his. “Is he near enough?”

He nodded and relayed the information.

“I wish you could come with me. I miss saving the Empire with you. With everyone.”

“I’ll hold the North and watch after your kids. You need to go now, before that Orc figures out the coin.”

The backlash over her Pact Travel took the breath from him, and in the sudden silence he wondered if he might never see her again.

Making the Ancestors Proud

When the sun was young, and the land fertile with all of the people, animals, and growing things…the [elder giants] stood with their feet carving out the rivers and valleys, while their hands placed the stars in the sky… And although the elder giants could take any form, they in their great wisdom knew that their mortal children could not do this, so they gave only a Body and a Spirit form to their chosen warriors, and only to the families that had proved most worthy of the honor. Thus, the Sacred Six Families came to be, and they swore to advance the Empire and protect the Imperial family at all costs.

With a derisive snort, Fah Shen let the scroll roll up into its case. As if the elder giants were real! Surely Grandmother My was joking when she suggested that he’d find the answer to his shifting problems in these moldy tomes. The proud young Fu left the Library and jogged to the Training Field at a smart pace. Senile or not, it didn’t do to keep Grandmother My waiting.

The Venerable Cow was waiting for him, as he’d thought, and the rest of his class of immature bulls and cows ignored his late arrival. It was one of the great Wisdoms to allow those who had fallen from grace to return with dignity, but it still felt like they were just being rude. He stood at attention as Grandmother My inspected each of them, and almost inevitably called him into the ring to transform first.

“Shen,” she bellowed, the stentorian sound of her trunk present even in her mundane Body, “you will assume the form of your Spirit, utilizing the knowledge that you have gained from the Wisdom of the elder giants.” Fah Shen sighed, and closed his eyes. He stepped into the center of the circle and clenched his fists, willing his Spirit form to overtake his Body. Instead of dreading it as he usually did, he found that something about the scroll had stuck with him. He was actually looking forward to the feel of long, powerful legs and the flexible nose of the siang.

Without any effort, he suddenly shifted into his Spirit form, and for once it felt completely natural. He held his breath for a few heartbeats, eyes still tightly shut, but the Spirit did not escape him. His quick exhalation came out as a commanding bugle. Gleefully, he opened his eyes and pranced in place as much as his massive limbs would allow. He had done it! He had finally kept the siang inside him visible for more than a few moments! From the tip of his strong trunk to his wide flapping ears, down his tree-like legs and to the end of his whippy tail, he was truly a siang, what the Northern Heathens would have called an elephant, but ten times more massive.

Grandmother My motioned for him to resume his usual Body, and he did so with ease. “Grandmother, I did it!” he yelled exuberantly, as his classmates clapped politely- and the young cows gazed at him adoringly. “But I… I didn’t even manage to summon one piece of armor.” His handsome face fell. This was a letdown after such an unexpected triumph. “I still have so much to learn.”

Wiry arms wrapped around him, and he looked down into Grandmother My’s wrinkled, ancient face. “That, Fah Shen,” she said, “is the beginning of true Wisdom. No one ever said it would be easy, but each step you take with humility and a willingness to learn makes our ancestors proud, just as you have made me proud this day.”

On Always...
In which Arkh struggles to remain in control

Arkh watched as Nameless fell to the ground, still clutching Cerlissa’s sword. Her heart had been in the assault, but it was clear from the start that she didn’t know what she was doing, and their foe had been eager to remind her of such.

Their foe. Hardly. An immobile tree, seething anger and hate, with a wicked cocktail of Nature, Blood, and Demon magics all pulsing from behind its thick bark. Arkh could feel it tugging at him, clawing at a part of him he wasn’t about to let go. He looked again at the odd scene before him, studying each of his companions as they all struggled to find a way to end the unusual confrontation.

“Why aren’t you helping?” The voice came from behind him, and Arkh didn’t bother turning, already known well who it belonged to. The deep voice, which sounded so much like his own, had long been familiar to him.

“Because I can’t, you fool,” Arkh spat back. “In case you didn’t notice, it’s a tree.”

A derisive laugh led into a response from Him. “True, but it has Blood. You sensed it.” He paused, as if waiting for a response, but continued when none came. “Two days ago, you overpowered another Blood mage, which, you should know, is no small feat. How difficult could a tree be?”

“It stole control of Skygoat’s storm; there’s no way I’m strong enough to best this thing.”

When His voice came again, it was much closer to Arkh, almost whispering into his ear. “I’m disappointed that you compare yourself to him. Skygoat is an excellent beastman, and I’d never doubt his courage… but his magic is nowhere near your own.” He walked around Arkh’s side, finally stepping into view. “I’m almost ashamed that you think you couldn’t outperform him.” He turned, and looked to the scene unfolding before them. “Besides,” he said, gesturing with an open palm. “You’re not trying to create a storm, you’re just trying to influence its decisions. Even if it does backfire, the consequences will be far easier to control.”

Arkh chewed on his lip, thoughtfully. Dammit! He hated it when He made sense. “Alright,” he said, after a moment. “I guess it can’t hurt to try.”

For the second time since their return to Cliffport, Archibald Greene, resigned Cartographer and convicted Enemy of the State, reached into himself and summoned up the Blood he’d long fought to suppress. For the second time, he did so inside Cinderfell, within the Palace walls, in full view of Imperial Guards and members of House Valentine. He hoped, as he drew up the impressive reserves within him (Wait, was it this massive last time? He was scared of his power before, but surely it couldn’t have grown this much in just a few days…), that this would be the last time. He drew in a breath, and unleashed all of it as he reached out to the Blood within the tree before them.

And then, it was gone. The magic at his fingertips had simply… fallen away, and no longer responded to his commands. He stood dumbstruck just long enough to wonder what had happened, when a warm breeze caressed the back of his neck, and He pointed over Arkh’s shoulder.

Behind him, with her signature azure fire in hand, Cerlissa now stood, apparently unaware of the fact that she was unconscious. Her body moved, but her eyes stayed shut, and her motions were jerky and rigid, almost as if…

Almost as if a Blood mage were controlling her.

A hand clasped on to his shoulder, and His voice came once again. “You can do this, Archibald.”

Arkh wasn’t sure if his face actually reflected the surprised confusion he felt, but he wheeled on Him anyway. “What the hell are you talking about?”

He didn’t react immediately, taking a moment to size Arkh up. “It isn’t obvious?”

Arkh glowered back, his confusion rapidly boiling over into anger and frustration. “Let’s pretend it isn’t.”

He raised His hand, pointing to the tree. “That tugging you feel? Well that… thing… is trying to get your soul. Trying to rip it right out of you! What have you seen that does that?”

Arkh took a moment to think, shocked that he was actually listening to Him. “The plague.” He looked up at Him. “You think that tree is the source of the plague?”

“Why else would Cerlissa start showing symptoms the minute she comes within arm’s reach of it? This thing is plague concentrate, not even she can stand up to it.”

Arkh shook his head. “Even if that were true, there’s no way I can stop it. It stole my Blood from me! I can’t stand up to this thing.”

He locked gaze with Arkh, practically staring right through the orc. “Yes, you can.” He pointd at the dagger in Arkh’s hand. “You just need some help.”

“No.” Arkh said, defiantly. “Last time I did this, I hurt a friend. I’m not—” He was cut off.

“You don’t have to hurt a friend, Archibald. There’s someone here whose Blood will no doubt be far more potent than anything these cattle can offer.”

Arkh was too distracted by His suggestion to notice the insult at his friends, taking a moment to fully process what He had just suggested. “Cerlissa.” He looked down at the knife in his hand, and studied the simple blade. “She’s helped us, she’s not our enemy.”

“No, she’s not,” He agreed, almost regretfully. “She wants to be a hero, and she’s good at it. But you can’t forget what she did to you. She’s dangerous, Archibald. In the end, it would be worth it, don’t you agree?” Arkh remained silent, still focused on the knife he held. When he didn’t respond, He continued. “Gwind would be grateful, if nothing else.”

Finally lifting his gaze, Arkh looked to his right, where Skygoat stood. Ever the fearless companion, Arkh could see in his eyes a willingness to help, to do what needed to be done. Dammit Skygoat, he cursed the mercenary, decrying the Beastman’s unending selflessness. I hope that when the time comes, you’ll be strong enough to stop me. Light knows I won’t be able to do it on my own. “Ancestors forgive me.”

Twisting to his left, Arkh jammed the knife into Albin’s unprotected side, the unsuspecting dwarf crying in pain and surprise as the blade slid between his ribs. Taking care to avoid the lungs, Arkh moved the blade backwards, opening a major artery and several veins. When he drew the knife from his friend, he felt his Blood return to him, and could feel his fingers tingle as the power coursed through him.

“He forgave you once before, he’ll do it again,” His voice came again. “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, and all that.”

Preparing to unleash the power he held, Arkh locked eyes with Him. “For everyone’s sake, I hope he never does.”

A King's Landing

I gasped for air, my lungs scorched from the heat of his attack. My eyes were still adjusting to whatever darkness I’d managed to travel to, and I hurt. Everything hurt. Using my left hand, as my right hand only twitched spasmodically, I tried to assess the damage he had dealt me.

Burns. My skin, and probably the flesh beneath, had been burned badly. I couldn’t feel much of my body, and only wished I couldn’t feel the rest. I could smell my own flesh, still cooking, stretching and bloating. I reached down at my calf to find it had split to the bone like an overcooked sausage.

I lay back and closed my eyes, unable to even capture enough air to clear the smoke. I felt the warm spring sun on my arm and part of my face and wondered how long it would take for me to die. If my blood would even allow it?

Well, technically, it was my blood that had demanded it, wasn’t it? That filthy Beastman alongside my own son. It was my own progeny that called for my death, and it looked as though the Blood obeyed his demands.

I opened my eyes wide. I could clearly feel the sun, but there was nothing to see. I couldn’t see. The last thing I saw was that DIRTY BEASTMAN I WILL LIVE TO KILL THAT SON OF A BITCH.

Gasping again, I was forced to relax and accept that the sudden rage inside me was telling lies. Unless my brilliant progeny were to follow me and find me here, I wasn’t going to live through this. Killed by a Beast. I would have laughed if you’d tried to tell me.

I felt magic nearby— an impossibly quiet Pact travel. There was only one man who could do that, and it wasn’t the man I was hoping would find me.

“Oh, Arkh, my brother.” He spoke quietly nearby, in his funny way, “What trouble have you found for yourself?”

I wanted to respond. To spit at him, to cut him and dominate him. At the very least insult him. As it were I think I may have drooled a bit.

He continued to speak whimsically as he moved closer, “I expect you finally saw your boy? Is he well? I suppose so, considering your face… and considering he has FRIENDS… oh? Was that a grimace? Whatever for?”

What I wouldn’t give to fight him. To tear him apart and use his Blood to amplify my own. There was just nothing left in my body to HURT and no one near to proxy.

Then he was standing over me, holding my shoulders… maybe shaking them? I could barely feel the difference.

“Oh, brother. I expect you’d like to die now, hmmmmm?” He laughed, “Oh, you poor, suffering, MOTHERFUCKER YOU DON’T GET TO BE DEAD UNTIL I MAKE YOU DEAD.”

His spittle actually felt a bit nice on my burning face. I raked in the deepest breath I could manage, and hissed at him, “I… will live… to… kill again… Rathiel… kill you…”

I don’t know where he took me, but it hurt to go.

On Avoiding the Truth
In which a son wants his parents to be proud of him

Mom and Mom,

I’m sorry I haven’t been better about staying in touch. It has gotten very busy down here lately, and I’ve been so preoccupied that I completely forgot about sending more letters. I’m sorry, I promise to work on it.

I actually wasn’t joking about it being busy here, and a lot has happened since I last got in touch with you. I guess one of the biggest is that I finally made Junior Cartographer! I even got a field assignment, which wound up being much bigger than anyone expected. It took me to New Turath, through Koth, into Utica, and I even spent almost two weeks in Valiraura (please assure the Abbess that I minded myself while there)! I’ve had a lot of adventures in the last two months, and have seen far more than I could ever hope to share with you in a simple letter. But, I am safe, I am well, and I have gained and learned much in my time away.

Unfortunately, Cyleena and I are no longer together. I know I said in my last letter that I was saving up for a ring, but her and I had a long talk after I got back, and we both agreed that we were rushing into something neither of us were ready for. She actually got promoted to Councilwoman in my absence! I’m very happy for her, and wish her well.

Speaking of the Imperial council, I forgot to mention that, in my travels, I met the Heiress Astrid Valentine! Some mercenary friends and I were actually responsible for escorting her through a leg of her journey, and apparently we did such a good job that she actually invited us to attend her Coronation. It was an amazing ceremony, and I actually had the honor of dancing with her at the ball that followed! I am still reeling from that day.

The mercenaries and I have gotten close these past few weeks (having spent much of the journey together), and they’re very good people. They are all good friends to me, and I think you would like them very much, if you ever get the chance to meet them. Rest assured, they’re looking out for your son.

Despite all the good news, however, the main reason I had for sending this letter isn’t quite so pleasant. I meant it when I said that the mercenaries and I worked our way into Her Majesty’s good graces, and now she seeks to send us on a very important, very dangerous mission. I will be working with the best and brightest people in the empire, and protected by the bravest and strongest warriors this side of the Spine, but there is a very good chance that I won’t make it back. I have accepted the risk, and am proud to have the opportunity to serve my Empress in such a significant way.

The real bad news is that we will be departing very soon. I sent this letter the same day that I learned of our imminent departure, but there is still little chance that your reply, even if sent immediately, won’t make it back before I leave. Should you wish to try, though, I’ll be staying in the Palace at Cliffport (which is fantastic, by the way), and I can be found there. I will try to extend our stay as long as possible, but our mission is very time-sensitive, and I fear I won’t be able to buy enough time. I am happy, however, knowing that I still have this chance to say goodbye.

I love you both very much, and I’m so grateful for everything you’ve given me in my time here. I challenge anyone in this life to find better, more loving parents than you, and I’m proud of the man you raised me to be. I look forward to having our Ashes joined, someday.

With all the love I have,

Archibald Greene

A New Life; A New Purpose

Some time ago…

He was looking at her again. The handsome Orc was seated off to the side of the altar, theoretically observing the rites being performed by the King Crow. Theoretically, because he’d spent more time staring at her than learning the Ceremony of Sacrifice. She wondered what his name was, and wished she were allowed to give him hers.

He pulled her along the abandoned corridor, and she giggled when he refused once again to tell her where they were going. “Just tell me!” she cajoled, laughter nearly obscuring her words. He shook his head and grinned mischievously, placing a thick finger against his dark green lips. “You’ll have to wait, Sister,” he said in a hushed tone, “but not for long, since we’re here.” He opened the door to a long-unused room. It was large, and the stones echoed their footsteps as he pulled her toward a raised dais of some kind. On it sat a huge, tarnished bowl full of dust. It almost looked as though it had grown out of the stone. He boosted her up into it and leaped agilely over the side to join her. She protested that they shouldn’t disturb such an obviously important place, but he hushed her with his lips, and his hands, and the feel of his skin on hers.

He turned away, but not before she caught the anguish in his eyes. “Say something,” she sobbed. “Tell me that it’s all going to be fine.” Spinning around, he yelled, “I can’t! It isn’t going to be fine! You have to leave now, and we can’t be together, all because I was too stupid to think of the consequences. I’m next in line to be King, and I should know better and this… maybe someday this could work, but it just can’t right now.” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she begged him to reconsider, but he had already made up his mind. Later, when she was riding out of the Temple in the back of a hay cart in borrowed clothing, feeling naked without her veils, she thought she saw him standing in the tower window of “their” room. But then a cloud shifted over the face of the moon, and he was gone.

She clutched her new habit to her stomach in a bundle as she nervously followed the Novicemistress to her cell. The greying Fey woman seemed kind, if brisk, and seemed not to have noticed the slight bulge in her midsection. For being about three-quarters of the way through this cursed pregnancy, she was hardly showing, which was a blessing that she could only thank the Crow- the Light… she could only thank the Light for this blessing. After the Novicemistress had closed her cell door behind her, she slowly dressed in the heavy winter fabric. At least grey wasn’t such a bad color. She had just smoothed the wimple down over her sable hair, glad to have the familiar weight of a head covering again, when she was startled by a knock on her door. She was even more surprised when it opened immediately after, and a tall, severe-looking blonde elf barged in. A beautiful smile, one that was slightly intimidating for the sheer number of teeth that it displayed, transformed the face of the other young woman from severe to mischievous. “I’m Vera!” she announced, busily inspecting the contents of the cell. “We’re neighbors, and I know that we’re going to be best friends. I can sense these things, you know,” she said conspiratorially, “I’m very intuitive. Everyone says so. What’s your name?”

She looked up (and up; by the Feather, this Vera was too tall to be allowed!) and swallowed the lump that rose in her throat at such an exuberantly friendly greeting.

“I’m Celeste.”

She screamed as another pain wracked her body. Vera rushed to the door of the room they shared in the pilgrims’ shelter in response to the concerned pilgrim-master’s knocking. “Oh, no, just cramps! She had some meat before we left and I told her it was off, but she never listens!” caroled the blonde Elf. “No, no, sir, you’re very kind, but she’ll be fine. We’ll catch up to you in a few days, or go back to the Abbey. It’s good that we’re only a week away from home. Fare you well! Safe journey!” With a sigh of relief, Vera dropped the merry act and rushed to Celeste’s side. The midwife looked up and grinned as she gabbled something in her native tongue, and Celeste wondered sourly what the idiot woman had to smile about at a time like this. “You just had to go into labor in the only village around that doesn’t have a midwife we can actually speak to,” Vera complained sarcastically, but she gripped Celeste’s hand to provide an anchor through the next contraction. Celeste welcomed her friend’s staunch support, but knew that as soon as the babe was out she would lose her only ally.

Less than an hour later, the midwife hurried out of the room, her face ashen as she flicked prayer beads over her freshly-washed hands. Celeste lay back, exhausted, as Vera paced the room with the swaddled baby in her arms. Surprisingly, her personal warrior hadn’t abandoned her when the child proved to be an Orc, even though there was no reason Celeste could think of that would explain how this child existed. Still, there was nothing to be done. A child like this could never be accepted, and both it and she would be executed if anyone but Vera discovered what she’d done. “I know it’s hard, Vera,” she said weakly, “but I’ll do it. Give it to me, and I’ll take it away, and be back by evening. No one will know. It’s for the best, and it’s kinder for it to die now than to-“

“No!” shrieked Vera, startling the frail newborn into mewling cries of protest. “We’ll not expose this baby. This is your baby, Cece, and we can’t just… give up like that! I know that we can come up with some story to cover it. No one but me even knows that you were pregnant. It will work, you’ll see.” Softening her tone, she came and sat down next to the bed, placing the green-skinned infant in the crook of Celeste’s arm. Against her better judgment, the dark-haired Elf let the baby curl its tiny hand around her finger, and she couldn’t help but smile. Vera leaned over and put her arm around Celeste’s shoulders. “I love you, Cece,” she said softly, “I love you because you’re my best friend, and because of who you are, and as more than a friend. I think you feel the same way about me. We can raise this baby together. We can say that we’re adopting, but we’ll know the truth. We can have a real family together.” Suddenly shy, the normally confident blonde looked down at the infant. “That is… if you want.”

Celeste could hardly believe what Vera was saying. She’d thought, maybe, and hoped, but… this was much better than she’d dared to dream. She turned and kissed her friend softly on the lips. “Vera, I love you, too, and I would love nothing more than to raise this child with you. I had thought… if there was any way that it was a boy, and I could keep him, I might call him after his father… Arkhebael. But that’s too uncommon, and I can’t let anyone know, so what about Archibald?” Vera, tears of joy gathering in her eyes, looked at the boy and said, “Archibald. I like it. We could call him Arkh, for short, to still be after his father.” Suddenly, she giggled, and continued, “and Greene. We could call him Archibald Greene, for the color of his skin!” She dissolved into laughter, and Celeste had to join her. When she caught her breath, she said, “Now, Vera, we’ll have to come up with a much better story than that for his name!”

He felt it when his first child entered the world, and he couldn’t resist scrying the boy. He saw her with a different Elf, a blonde one, and they seemed very happy together. They’d love his son and raise him, as he would never get the chance to. He tried the boy’s name out a few times, and had to smile. It was a good name.

“Archibald Greene. My son, Arkh.”

He canceled the scry and turned back to the pressing business that he’d interrupted to have his surreptitious peek at the baby. The Cambion girl’s eyes widened and she gasped in either pleasure or pain as he cut, ever so gently, into her wrists. The bowl was getting low, and her blood was strong. Rosornos blood always was, and this one was most eager to learn the rites. Perhaps someday she’d make a bride for him or his new Brother King.


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