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3/22/2016 16:32:24   
Uskius
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I stare at the wound in my chest, my other senses fading as I stumble and fall backwards. The sky is dark and moonless, the stars dim and fuzzy. The only light is coming from an object fallen at my side. Faintly, I hear an anguished noise, and barely manage to turn my head and see someone rushing over: a woman with green eyes who reminds me of my wife, Marna. The woman kneels down at my side, sobbing and saying a word I can’t quite make out over and over. My left hand fumbles around in the dirt for a moment before grasping the handle of something. I grasp it firmly, and lift it towards the woman at my side. I recognize the object in my hand now as a sword I forged, named Lightbringer. I gather the last of my breath. “This sword… was always meant to be yours. Go, now. Bring light to the world…” Trembling, the woman takes up Lightbringer, its ethereal blue flames casting otherworldly shadows on her armor. She charges forwards, and plunges Lightbringer into the darkness-

I wake up gasping for air, soaked with sweat and left reeling from the dream. While I’ve died over seven hundred times, that most undoubtedly was a dream about the death, my final one. The landscape was so familiar, and after a moment of thought, I realize it was somewhere in Darkovia. Darkovia, of course. Where else would it be? With my breath back now, I take a look around. I’m still in my room in Talon Tower, scrolls and notes piled haphazardly on the desk against the far wall, my Spellcaster’s Robes hanging on a hanger on the door. The world is as I left it when I went to sleep, and I begin to relax. It’s early in the morning, an hour or so before dawn. I yawn, and stretch. I might as well get up. There’s a lot I need to do today.

~oOo~

The Fireball spell flies towards my face at a surprising speed. Channeling a bit of mana into my hand, I easily wave it away and nod in approval. “That was good, the speed was excellent. You’re improving.”

“But you still just waved it away like nothing,” Tristan complained.

“If I hadn’t been expecting it I might not have,” I say. The young blond boy is frowning, but I can’t help but smile. This started a few years ago when Valencia, my wife Marna and I came to Talon Tower looking for the Hymn of Elemental Unity. Somehow along the way this ended up as us rescuing Tristan from the dark wizard Zunari, and freeing the nearby village from his deadly patchwork creatures. Zunari had said that there always has been and always will be a wizard in Talon Tower. So, a few times a year, I come down and stay in the village for a week, tutoring Tristan in magic. He’s almost ten; his birthday is in a couple months. I think that after this trip, or maybe the next one, he’ll be ready to be a full-time apprentice and learn from a more capable teacher, like Warlic or Xarymandias. “Now come on! Keep trying to hit me.” Tristan drinks a mana potion and continues his assault. I stay on the move, deflecting his shots and keeping a good sense of what he’s doing magically. As the minutes wear on, and his mana begins to run low as he takes his shots more carefully, his Fireball spells begin to sputter out. I catch one and throw it back at him, and as he dodges his next Fireball fails completely. He drinks another mana potion, and soon Tristan’s efforts with the spell are more productive.

Again, minutes later his natural store of mana runs low, and this time I recognize the problem. Aiming very carefully, I cast the spell Greater Charm, gazing directly into Tristan’s eyes. He raises his arm to cast Fireball again, but under my gaze he fumbles the spell, and it bursts in his face. He growls and tries to cast Fireball again, but before he can I cast a churning dark kaleidoscope of raw mana at him, the blast wiping away what mana he had left. He freezes in shock, looking down at the ground. “What...? But, how?”

“I needed to stop you so I could explain, and also prepare you for the next part.” I take a deep breath. “You were casting it wrong. When your store of mana was full you had no problem with it, but when you ran low you did something very dangerous.”

“Dangerous? I was just trying to do it how I normally do.”

“Wrong,” I say, lifting my chin and affecting an imperious tone. “Did you really think you’d be able to fool a mighty wizard such as I? You lead with the incantation and then worked up the mana and put the spell’s purpose in mind last. It should be the reverse of that. The purpose of what you are casting should always come first.”

“But,” Tristan said, frowning and crossing his arms, “You were moving around. I didn’t have time.”

“Wrong again! You can always think much faster than you can speak. Hopefully, at least. You see, when you lead with the incantation, you undermine the power of the spell, leaving it weak and capable of fizzling out before it reaches the target.” Though it’s a habit Tristan will need to kick if he wants to really make it as a wizard, after I see the determination in his eyes I decide it’s finally time. After all, most kids his age wouldn’t even be able to cast Fireball once, let alone repeatedly and against a moving target. I walk over to my pack burro Fred, and pull out my Vitae Thirster sword. “Do you see this?” I ask Tristan. He nods, keeping his eye on the blade. “This is one of the most dangerous weapons in existence. Whatever defense your enemy has, this sword can cut through it- but at a cost to the wielder.”

“And you just carry that around in your mule’s saddlebags?” Tristan points out. “You still haven’t even given me the key to the study on the fourth floor of the tower.”

I nod, trying not to smile. “That’s true. But before I can do that, it’s time for your final lesson.”

“Final lesson? It’s not even time for lunch yet.”

“I hate to admit it, but as good as I am there are some things I can’t teach you, Tristan.” I stare deep into his eyes and hold his gaze before continuing. “But, I still haven’t taught you the most important part of being a mage.”

“What’s that?” Tristan asks, but I interrupt his guess at the answer by lunging towards him with Vitae Thirster. His eyes go wide and he leaps aside, and I continue my assault. Tristan dodges my sweeps and thrusts, and I begin to work faster. With my fastest cut I swing down at his legs, turning the blade at the very last moment and teleport Tristan’s shoe a few feet away as he is tripped up. “What the HECK?! Are you trying to kill me?!”

“Yes-” I wave away Tristan’s rant and continue. “You see, Tristan, the most dangerous mistake a mage can make- hey, that rhymed! ahem. The most dangerous mistake a mage can make is relying too heavily on their magic to solve problems for them. Spells are magical, yes, but they’re not miracles. You have to keep a sharp mind, and, just as important- sharp reflexes and overall fitness. Do you understand, now?” Tristan nods, frowning. I smile. “Come on. Put on your shoe, and follow me in. It’s time for me to give you your graduation gift.”

~oOo~

The resentment slowly wears off of Tristan’s face, and I can see excitement grow as we make it up the final step. A short walk across the room later, and he’s smiling as we come to the door. “Why don’t you do the honors?” I say, handing Tristan the key to the study. He tries to not look too excited and fails, unlocking the door and taking a step in. He looks around at the bookshelves and stained glass lampshades, a mix of emotions playing over his face.

“...Until the day you first came, he never brought me up here.”

“With the key to the vault in you, that would’ve been dangerous. But other than that, yeah, it’s pretty cozy up here. I could fall asleep in one of the armchairs.” I locate the book I’m looking for on the shelf against the far wall, and pick it up and give it to Tristan.

He looks from me to the ancient book bound in water dragon hide, and warily opens it. “It’s a journal…”

“Correct, but it’s not just any journal: it’s the journal of Bophades Karydia, an oracle of Talados.”

“Is Talados up North, where you’re from?”

“No, it’s far over to the East across The Great Sea.” Tristan still looks a bit skeptical, so I continue. “Bophades was one of the very few people who escaped the calamity that sunk Talados, and as I told you a second ago was also an oracle of the Taladosian people. It’s a rare book I think you could learn a lot of important things from, Tristan.”

“...And, I get to keep the key?”

“Ha, nice try. I’ll give you the key after you’ve completed your Mage training with Warlic.”

“Figured you would say that.”

“There are a lot of things to learn before then, Tristan. Some things are in here and the vault not even wizards my age should be exposed to,” I say, thinking of the copy of The Dark Waltz that I found on the shelf a few feet from us. Even as recently as last year, I saw the book as an answer. But, I suspect, in spite of the millennia that have passed since it was first written and its influence since then, it is still only a beginning. “Speaking of such things, I might be back soon- after I talk to Warlic about the vault.”

“What’s so special about the vault anyways?” Tristan asks, folding his arms.

I debate how much I should tell Tristan. My current theory is Talon Tower was owned by the Arch Magi. The volumes of prodigiously advanced magical theory here in the study and the tome I took from the vault support this, but I haven’t been able to confirm it. “...You’ll see when you look inside. Now come on, let’s head back to the village and get some food before we keep going.” Tristan nods and follows me out, and with one last look into the study, I close the door and lock it.

~oOo~

It’s the next morning, and I’m trying to “kill” Tristan again. Though of course I startled him with my first few attack, he gradually began to recover, and every now and then he dodges one of my thrusts or slashes with one of the rolls I taught him before we started. I’m not going even close to full speed, but I decide Tristan can handle just a little bit more. His first two dodges are impressive, but as I throw the third strike I can tell it will connect with his cheek. Reaching out with the UniForce, I work it to send Tristan tumbling back several feet.

“What was that?!” Tristan demands as he stands back up. In that brief moment of connection to the UniForce, though, I felt something. I reach out with it again, and sense a disturbance far away that is quickly approaching. “Mister Uskius?”

“We’ve got some company on the way,” I explain as I search the sky between the tower and the village. “They were riding dragons and headed here in a hurry, so there’s a good chance they’ll be coming for me.”

“But, you’re just a goofy old wizard.”

I chafe at Tristan calling me old(I’m not even thirty! Though, I will be next year...), but calm myself down and try to simplify my explanation. “Listen, Tristan… I have made a lot of mistakes, and have made an astounding number of very powerful individuals very angry.” I give Tristan a mana potion and a health potion. “And besides, I’m not quite as goofy as I look. Drink those potions, and when I give you the word run back to the village and be ready to help defend it, okay?” Though he looks skeptical, Tristan drinks the potions. I continue to search the sky, and see three shapes flying in from just East of the village. As they come closer, I call on the UniForce to sharpen my sight, and I relax. Slightly. It’s Pierre and Jakob- a vampire and werewolf who live on my estate- flying in on Noxus and Cyclonus, two of my wyverns, and beside them flies Crysta, an Ice Dragon who guards my estate; she is riderless.

“What’s going on?” I point to where Jakob and Pierre are flying in, and Tristan shades his eyes with his hand and squints. “Do you know those people?”

“Yes. They live with me, and help me keep things straight between my estate and Darkovia.” I wave to Pierre and Jakob, and Crysta roars back. In only a few moments more they come gliding in, landing a stone’s throw away. They immediately dismount Noxus and Cyclonus, and run over. Their clothes are rumpled and bloodstained, and I can see bags under their eyes.

“Sir!” Pierre says, coming up to me.

“What happened?” I ask. “It had to have been serious for you to fly here non-stop.”

“It’s… things have gotten worse,” Jakob says.

“Has something happened to Marna? Her and the baby are okay, right?!” My wife marna was several months pregnant with our child when I left- it was very close to the time she would need to give birth.

“Your wife was safe when we left, sir.” Pierre answers.

“How was she?”


Jakob glances at Pierre for a moment before answering. “Very… pregnant. She was constantly craving pickles and peanut butter.” Jakob clears his throat, and continues. “But, about the situation back at the estate… well, Ambrose came back.”

“What do you mean he came back?! We haven’t been able to find any trace of him around the estate or in Darkovia for almost an entire year!” Ambrose was one of the four that moved in with me after the War of the Fangs. He was a quiet man and kept to himself, though he was willing to help out around the estate; then without warning, in the Summer of last year he vanished. The only thing he left behind was a small scrap of paper on his bed that said “whispers”.

“He came back different,” Jakob began. “He called himself a prophet, he said he would guide us all through the darkness. None of us could believe him or what he was saying. Um, except… except for Edward.”

“Not long after you left the whispers started getting to him, too,” Pierre added. “Edward was a little more willing to come to blows than Ambrose, and we had to force him and Ambrose and his men away from the estate.”

That must have been the fight that messed up their clothes. “...He’s going to come back,” I say. “And I have a feeling he’ll come with more men than he must have the first time.”

“Do you think it’ll be another siege?” Jakob asked.

“I don’t think so. Donovan’s content to stay within his own territory for now, and since Safiria’s vampires were defeated and Castle Darkovia ransacked, the vamps haven’t been in groups large enough to mount a successful siege.” I sigh, and look over towards the tower. “But I do think it’ll be another large battle. Barrenford might not be willing to help, and in any case their backup might not get to the estate in time. We’ll have to track down Ambrose and stop this ‘whispers’ movement before it goes any farther.” I look down at Tristan, who’s been silent so far. “...I’m going to have to leave. We’ll have to pick up your training again later, okay?”

“When will you be back?”

“I don’t know. Depending on how soon we find Ambrose, this could take a few weeks or a few months.” I rest my hand on Tristan’s shoulder. “I’ve not really told you this before, but you’ve been doing very well, Tristan. You’re a better mage than I was for the first few years of my adventuring career, actually. Keep studying, and if I come back I’ll take you to meet Warlic after we get done training.”

“‘If’?”

“If.” I look back to Pierre and Jakob. “Mount up. I’ll get my gear from the tower and then we’re out of here.” They nod, and turn back to Noxus and Cyclonus.

~oOo~

“We chased them to about two hours away from the estate!” Jakob shouts over the wind. “When we were in Darkovia it got dark, and they lost us!”

“Let’s head to where they got away and pick up the trail from there!” Jakob nods, and urges Noxus into the lead. We’re flying in close to my estate now, coming around the East side. In fact, as we come around the eastern edge of my hunting grounds, I feel a faint, feather-light pull in my mind towards my estate.

“We went this way, right?” Pierre shouts to Jakob. He nods, and we change direction slightly to head more West. As the minutes pass, a feeling of foreboding creeps down my spine with a chill. Not the usual “oh, I’m in Darkovia now” kind of feeling, but something more ancient and insidious. “I remember that abandoned building!” Pierre shouts to Jakob. “Should we touch down here?” He asks me.

“We might as well! Before too long the trees will be covering any landmarks you could see from foot!” We begin the descent, circling around. The air darkens around us as we go lower and lower, until it appears to be late in the evening, just before twilight. For some reason this sticks out to me, and I remember the sunny morning by the tower, and the harsh light of the desert as we stopped by my estate West of the Fire Fields to rest.

With a closer look, I can see the abandoned building has been burned and ransacked in the past, vines snaking their way up the charred walls. “The trail’s over here!” Jakob calls.

As I walk around the ruined house, I get a strange sense of deja vu. “Do you feel it, too?” I ask Pierre. He gulps, looking over towards Jakob for a second, then looks back at me and nods. I wonder how he’s been able to hold out against the whispers. I can faintly hear them, their call like a distant howl gliding across the moon. If it’s like this for me, who also has the blood of wolves and dragons in my veins, I can only imagine what it’s like for a pure vampire.

“This is odd…” Jakob whispers from up ahead.

“What is it?” Pierre asks.

“There are more tracks here than the other day, and a stronger scent.”

“Which means Ambrose and his men must have been going along one of their main routes through Darkovia, leading from the edge of the forest in,” I reason. “Which also means this movement Ambrose seems to be heading is widespread instead of just him and a few others, which means that we’re going to have a little bit of work to do once we get there.”

Several minutes later, Jakob looks up to the sky. “It’s starting to get dark again.”

“I think we lost them around this time,” Pierre says to Jakob, who nods in agreement.

“Their trail is still wide as the river,” Notes Jakob.

Wait a minute… this part of Darkovia seems familiar. Wasn’t I around here when I was looking for Zorbak’s wedding rings? “Doubletime, I know where they’ve gone to! Let’s go!” I draw my sword Gyrfang, and march ahead. Though the sun sets, I reach out with the UniForce, sharpening my senses and getting a feel of the landscape, Pierre and Jakob falling in behind me as I press forwards. I feel the whispers surge for a moment, an almost audible word I barely can’t recognize. Then with the moon beginning to arc above the treeline, the scene splashes over me like a bucket of freezing water: Doomgrove Hollow. I wouldn’t have recognized it for what is was when I came here for Zorbak’s wedding rings. Everything I’ve seen in Darkovia since then, though, begins to fall into place: the Cure, nearby to the East; the Werewolf Lair and Castle Darkovia on opposite sides, the battlegrounds on the North side of the mountains, and right in the middle of it all…

Pierre steps forwards to stand beside me, entranced as he looks towards Doomgrove Hollow. “Home…”

“What?” Jakob asks from my other side. Neither Pierre or I answer, and from the trees at the edge of the valley I see a group of dark figures emerge.

“Hold him back,” I say to Jakob as I step down the hill. I may be a hero and Chosen of Lore, but as I learned during the War of the Fangs, I am capable of doing terrible things- and I’m about to slide a few pegs down the Good scale again. I stick Gyrfang point-first into the ground, and draw out my fragment of the Blood Orb. Reaching out with my sense of magic, I feel the natural mana of Doomgrove Hollow welling up near the mountains and spreading out. I stretch out my hand, raising my voice. “Raze!” The spell, which draws out the ambient mana of an area and focuses on ignition rather than brute force, quickly billows out and the flames sweep across the hollow as if poured from a cauldron.

“Sir, what-” I wave away Jakob’s question, and sheath Gyrfang.

“We’ll camp out here for the moment, and I’ll head in once the flames die out.” I look to Pierre, and he hasn’t moved an inch from where he was a moment ago. I began to set up magical wards against the fires that are slowly creeping closer, and moments later with that done, stand and watch as Doomgrove Hollow burns to the ground.

~oOo~

For the first several hours, the screams and their echoes in my memory were what kept me awake. As the grass smoldered and the trees became embers, I began to think of my wife Marna. We are both dracopyres, and thereby undead, and for a while we thought because of our undead status, Marna wouldn’t be able to bear a child. We’d liked the idea of having a family, and even thought of adopting a child a few years down the road, it was just the idea of having one of our own that seemed out of reach. I think of what our baby will be like. Will it be undead, like us? Will it be human, or… something else?

The moon has set, and Doomgrove Hollow lies blackened in front of me. Though still dark, it is now close to dawn(or what passes for it in Darkovia), and I decide to get to work. I put on the breastplate that goes with my Spellcaster’s Robes, and step out into the ruined valley. Here and there I can see fire still burning, and the smell of ashes still hangs heavily in the air. When I get to the middle of the valley, I feel the whispers softly beckoning. Razing Doomgrove Hollow did nothing to them, it seems, which would confirm they have nothing to do with a physical entity. Rather, they rely on what lies underneath the hollow.

The world of Lore is built on magic- literally. At its core is a dense nexus of magic that branches out and reaches up towards the surface, like a network of blood vessels; these pathways are known as ley lines among wizards. Unless you’re actively looking for them, you won’t realize what they are, though their effects are quite obvious regardless. Then, in my own terms, there are knots and navels: knots are focused tangles of ley lines, while navels- such as the Mana Dragon’s maze- are direct openings to the flow of mana. Doomgrove Hollow is such a place, where the ley line’s mana flows openly up to the surface. Briefly, I imagine what the place looked like alive and full of light. It must have been beautiful.

Using my sense of magic, I study Doomgrove Hollow, looking in deeper and finer. I’ve been in Darkovia enough to get a good grasp on how it feels magically. The hollow is similar, but there’s something different. I try repeatedly to detect it on its own, but it sticks to Darkovia’s natural feeling like a shadow. Perhaps, if I draw it in, I’ll be able to tell. I do so, and immediately, from all around me, I hear, “Return home… I will shelter you…” I jump about two feet in the air. To hear the whispers so clearly… and to realize what’s causing them… well, now I know why they only affected vampires, at least.

Two options spring to mind: on a physical level, completely obliterate Doomgrove Hollow- even more extensive burning, salting the land, rockslides, the whole shebang- and render it uninhabitable, or “cauterize” the ley line. One would take a few days and discourage gathering here for at least several months, while the other could take a few weeks and last permanently, or, just horribly backfire and annihilate everything in the area and open up the ley line even further. It takes several minutes, but I decide to do both, and to start by sealing up the ley line.

I think of how the spell circle on my estate draws in power from Darkovia and the surrounding area. I could make a number of such circles to pull in the mana of Doomgrove Hollow, and then link them to a central circle, which would then be used to seal off the ley line. I immediately get started on drawing up four spell circles nearby to test this: three in a triangle, and one in the middle. It’s the work of over an hour, but I finish them and work on altering the language of the outer three so that they feed into the central circle. This is tedious stuff that also stretches out for dozens of minutes, but is completed soon enough. Feeling confident, I speak the words of the sealing spell that will shut off the flow of mana to the spell circles. It does nothing. I blink a few times, and try again. Still nothing. As I look on the spell circles in disbelief, I can hear the whispers slowly but steadily rising, and put all the mana I can into the spell of sealing. The whispers begin to swarm and push back, and I’m left with a slight headache as I have to give up and the spell fails. I hurriedly undo the spell circles, and massage my temples for a moment.

If doing it by finesse wouldn’t work, then I’ll just have to do it by brute force. With my sense of magic I reach out to the edges of the ley line near the mountain, and pull. I’m met with resistance, which I expected, and pull in harder. The whispers push back against my efforts as hard as I pull in, growing louder and more persistent. They seem to draw strength from the ley line, and begin to drown out my other thoughts. “Come home…” “Return…” “Shelter…” With one last effort I try as hard as I can to draw in the borders of the ley line, but a splitting headache rips through my mind, and I have to let go. Mercifully, the headache soon begins to fade, and I find myself fallen to my knees on the ground.

I stand, and realize the towering work of genius I was up against. The whispers were a masterwork that must have been centuries in the making, and I thought I could undo them in mere moments, or even days? I mutter a long string of curses I learned during my days as a pirate, and walk back towards camp on the hill. As I start up the hill, a thought flashes through my mind: the spell circle on my estate, drawing on the magic of Darkovia…

I see Jakob is up and cooking himself breakfast over a campfire as I run up the hill, and getting to camp, see that Pierre has simply curled up on the ground to sleep, not bothering to have set up a tent. “Sir?” Jakob asks, looking up from the cooking pot.

“I’m headed back to the estate in Greenguard! Bring Pierre when you get the chance!” I jump and mount up on my Ice Dragon Crysta, urging her on to take flight.

~oOo~

I can see them from a distance before I land. They’ve gathered near my mana collector, and have set up a large tent over my spell circle. “I’m going down!” I tell Crysta. I draw Gyrfang and hop off, transforming into my dracopyre form as I fall. I spread my wings to slow my fall, and then dart forwards to fly to the tent’s edge. Upon landing, I roar as loud as I possibly can. There are sounds of someone scrambling back to their feet from inside the tent, and before they can come out to greet me I reach out with the UniForce and rip the tent out of the ground and throw it several yards to the side. Near where the door of the tent was stands a very tall werepyre, and there are five vampires standing behind them. In the middle of the spell circle is a wooden altar, and it looks recently used…

“Peace, brother.” Says the werepyre. Surprisingly, they have a husky feminine voice. “This is a safe place-”

“Not for you.”

“MoonBiter,” Says one of the vampires, coming around the altar. “We know you’ve stayed loyal. Why else would you have built this place?” They say, spreading their arms out.

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with here,” I say to him and the werepyre. “Darkovia and here might seem safe, but they aren’t- they are nothing more than a tool.”

“Darkovia was meant to be a home!” The werepyre says, stepping forwards. “A place for people like us- you should understand that.”

I stare into the werepyre’s eyes, and begin to exert my presence as a dracopyre, that fear of the dark and the unknown horrors in it. She backs up a few steps and I brush past her as I come to the altar. With one blow, I smash it to pieces, and then step over it to where my spell circle’s language marks out a link to Darkovia. I’m not quite sure if I’ll be able to at first, but with a few quick words the link is undone. The werepyre and vampires stare at me in shock. I look at each of them in turn, and then speak. “...I am no longer a member of the Darkovian family. That link was weakened with the War of the Fangs, and broken completely yesterday when I turned Doomgrove Hollow into a valley of ashes. It’s come to the point where I can no longer offer safety. All I can offer is freedom. You can either take that, or become a slave to Darkovia and disappear with it.” They stay silent for several moments, and I raise Gyrfang to attack. “I’m not going to wait all day for your answer.”

The werepyre, who I’m beginning to think is the leader of the group, steps over. She transforms back to her human form, and is still as tall as I am; she has almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones, and long and wavy auburn hair. I also shift back into my human form, and look her in the eyes. “What good is freedom without a home? You might have Battleon, and Greenguard and Granemor or wherever, but Darkovia is the only place for us. If all you’re going to do is tear down Darkovia, we will be enemies until one of us dies by the other’s hand. I promise you that.”

“My goal isn’t to bring down Darkovia, it’s to transform it back to what it once was. It was never meant to be a place of darkness and fear; it was meant to be a place of hope, and light.”

“And you think you can change how Darkovia has been all these years?”

In spite of what happened earlier today in Doomgrove Hollow, I say, “I know I will. Maybe not today, or even this year, but I know I will someday.” Our stare is long and drawn out, and the werepyre seems to come to some sort of decision.

“We’ll think about it.” She signals to her group of vampires and starts walking away. “We’ll back back soon with our answer.” Their vampires warily glance back at me as they leave, and once they reach my orchard I sweep their altar out of my spell circle with the UniForce. I bundle up the planks and boards in the tent, and with a simple fire magic light the pile on fire.

My Fuzzlee, named Alura, walks over from my guard house as I watch the tent and altar burn. “The doggy-bat lady wasn’t angry before she left, you know.”

“Alura, not even Sage Uldor can know what a woman’s thinking. Also, what have I told you about looking into the minds of strangers?”

“It’s only for emergencies, I know, sorry. But she wasn’t as mean as the other doggy-bats; they didn’t even bring weapons with them.” Hmm. In my haste to get home and send them away from my spell circle, I hadn’t notice that. I reach down and scratch Alura behind her ears and pet her for a moment, and then reach out with the UniForce to absorb the fire’s energy into myself, extinguishing it; it should have burned enough to be unusable now. Though resolving the danger of my spell circle was important, there’s something far more important I need to check on right now.

I hang Gyrfang on the pegs by the door as fast as I can, and hurry up the stairs. “Marna? I’m home!”

“AAAAAAAH! USKIUS, GET UP HERE NOW!” I leap up the stairs and burst into our room. My clone Stan is beside the bed, wincing as Marna grasps his hand.

“Is it happening now?!”

“I HEARD YOU ROAR, AND THE BABY STARTED KICKING LIKE CRAZY. THIS IS YOUR FAULT, USKIUS LANDARINE. I AM GOING INTO LABOR EARLY AND IT IS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT YOUR FAULT.”

“Marna, just calm-” Wrong move-

“I WILL CALM DOWN AS SOON AS I GET THIS THING OUT OF ME.” I stop talking and move to stand beside her, offering her my hand. I too wince; I knew Marna was incredibly strong, but not this strong. I see beads of sweat beginning to form on her brow, and brush her dark hair out of her face. She looks at me, and smiles for a brief moment. Then her enraged grimace returns, and I feel something in my hand crack.

~oOo~

It turns out Marna wasn’t actually about to give birth, and was merely having very strong contractions. I’m sitting in the parlor downstairs currently, nursing my hand and wondering how I’ll be here and in Darkovia dealing with Doomgrove Hollow and at Talon Tower training Tristan all at the same time. And when is that werepyre and her group of vampires coming back? She said soon, but that could mean later in the day, the next day, the next week... Actually, before any of those things, I need to hurry over to Battleon to hire a midwife. I shake my head clear and stand, and the door opens.

“Oh, you’re here.” Jakob says, relieved. “I saw that pile of charred wood outside and was wondering what happened.”

“A werepyre and her followers set up a tent and altar around the spell circle, and I had to get them out of the way to deal with it.”

“The tent, or…?” It takes me a moment to realize Jakob’s unspoken question, and am disappointed in myself that he had to ask.

“Just the tent and altar. By the way, she said she would be back soon. I’m about to leave for Battleon to hire a midwife, so if she gets here before I do, tell her to wait for me.”

“Midwife?” Jakob asks with a tired smile.

“It can’t be more than a week or so away from the time, and while I know many dark secrets of magic, I’m not going to try delivering a baby on my own.” Jakob chuckles, and looks back towards the door for a moment. He looks down at the floor and sighs as he runs his hand through his short black hair, and I realize he’s returned to the estate alone.

“...I tried to convince him. I really did. But he just stood there, his lips moving like he was talking to someone… I think it must be something about that place, because the only word he said to me was ‘home’.”

“The place is definitely a part of it,” I reply. “If I had known beforehand I wouldn’t have brought him with us…” The silence lingers for several moments, and I sigh. “Well, tell Marna I’m off to Battleon to hire a midwife and that I’ll be back tonight. I need to get going.” Jakob nods, and heads off upstairs. I step out towards my guard house, and saddle up my Fire Dragon guard Vulcan and my Dragoncat Alby. We’re going to need to hurry over.

~oOo~

Though it’s happen a few times a day since I returned earlier this week, Marna insists it’s really happening this time, and the midwife agrees. She’s a thin woman with a sharp chin and nose, and the determined expression of a pastry chef, or blacksmith, and she has the most wonderfully calming voice. “-He hasn’t gone off to Battleon again, he’s right there beside you.”

“You can do this, Marna,” I quickly say after the nurse. “Just breathe.”

“I don’t know if you’ve been pregnant before, Uskius, but it’s hard to take a deep breath right now,” Marna says. Her voice is hoarse- three days of screaming will do that- but I can tell she would be shouting if she could. Marna’s eyes are squeezed shut, and for a moment, she is able to steady her breathing.

The hours wear on, and the pain in my hand fades to a numbness. The midwife sees something, and begins to urge Marna to push again. “Keep going, misses Landarine! You’re almost there!” “Almost there” still takes several more minutes, but after a particularly loud cry from Marna I begin to hear something else…

“You can do this Marna, you can do it. You’re so close…” Then the other sound intensifies, and Marna exhales loudly.

“It’s a girl,” The midwife announces. She cuts the umbilical cord and wipes off the baby a bit before wrapping it in swaddling clothes and handing it to Marna. As she lets go of me, pain comes alive in my hand as feeling returns. “Congratulations,” The midwife says.

Several minutes later, after Marna’s breathing has calmed, she looks up to me. “What should we name her? I was thinking something like Constance, or Evangeline.” Evangeline Landarine? Marna must have seen me grimace at the thought, as she angrily sighs. “Fine. Do you have any ideas, then?”

“Lucy, maybe?” Marna closes her eyes for a moment and nods.

“Lucy Constance Evangeline Landarine. That should be good enough until I’m not so tired.”

“It’s a beautiful name,” The midwife offers. She gives me a look that says this is not the first time she has encountered a temporary name situation, and we share a smile. I look back to Lucy, and get a glimpse of green as her eyes open briefly...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Link to discussion thread!

Link to story about questing for the Hymn of Elemental Unity where Tristan is first met!

< Message edited by Uskius -- 4/3/2016 9:32:05 >
AQ Epic  Post #: 1
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