The Trial



  • _“Just listen for a moment!” I held out my hand, forestalling any further protests from the man hiding behind the thicket with me. “I understand what you’ve been through more than almost anybody else, but maybe it’s just time to let the past go.”

    A loud pop echoed through the forest as a large shower of sparks spewed out of the burning remnants of the small cottage which had previously occupied the clearing. Smoke billowed up in a great black plume and the smell of burning charcoal hung in the air.

    “Easier said than done,” Desert Fox grunted. He was right. The guards from Pnyx were methodically scouring the nearby area; it was only a matter of time before we were discovered.

    “Don’t you worry about them,” I filled my voice with confidence. I took a deep breath, readying myself. It was enough to give away my hesitation.

    “What are you going to do?” he asked, suddenly suspicious. I feared if I told him, he would lose his resolve again.

    I turned away to watch the scattered fires dotting the tiny clearing. I tried to not look at the body on the ground or the fresh scars in the earth. Just minutes ago, this had been a peaceful and homely place.

    “I want you to make me a promise,” I said quietly. The guards were getting closer; there was no more time. “Don’t give up.”

    I finally turned to look at him. He stared at me with a look of puzzlement as he struggled to guess what I was about to do, and then his eyes widened as I stood up and strode into the open, holding out my bloody sword._

    I woke to a world of darkness and agony.

    My abdomen burned fiercely with a throbbing pain. I tried to roll onto my side to relieve some of the pressure, but I could not. I tried to move my arms, but they too would not respond. My limbs ached with a different sort of pain: the stiffness of muscles that were unused for too long. I couldn’t turn my head or open my mouth. I lay paralyzed in the dark, unable to see, unable to call for help. Panic started to settle in.

    I slowly became aware of noises around me. People were talking, but I couldn’t make out their voices. Someone lifted my arm, but I hadn’t had feeling return to it, so it dangled limply.

    At last, I was able to open my eyes. My eyelids were thick and heavy, but at least they had shielded me from the blinding light I was now exposed to. I somehow managed to flinch away so the light wasn’t shining directly into my face.

    My movement must have excited my audience because the noise around me picked up in intensity and speed. Sounds swarmed around me like gnats. I wanted them all to go away, to return to my dreams. A woman spoke to me, but I still couldn’t understand her. Why couldn’t they all just go away? At least she put my arm down.

    I felt liquid run through my parched lips and over my swollen tongue. It took all of my strength to force my dry throat to swallow before I choked on the water. A rush of feeling spread throughout my body, marked by a wave of sharp tingling as circulation returned. It was almost too much and I nearly blacked out from a wave of dizziness.

    The woman started talking again, but I still couldn’t understand her. I picked up on my name a few times, but I didn’t have the concentration to focus on the rest of the words and assemble them into any meaningful thoughts.

    My vision had cleared up a bit; it was no longer quite so painful to see. I could make out blurry shadows moving about now. My stomach still hurt though. I tried to move my right arm to figure out why, but I didn’t have the ability to comprehend what I felt. I only knew that my skin around there was much warmer than it was everywhere else, and that the heat was related to the pain.

    The woman grabbed my hand again and helped me rest my arm back on the bed. She had stopped speaking, but I could feel small drops of water. I focused my efforts on understanding her.

    I stared at her for several moments before I realized her skin was blue. Katerei. I tried to pat her reassuringly, but it probably came across more like a feeble twitch.

    “Avatara?” She stirred and squeezed my hand. “I’m glad you’re alive,” she said softly. I had no words for her.

    The cacophony of voices in the background ceased, save for one man saying, “–preparations for the end of this week.” I tried to see who was talking, but couldn’t make out any of the colored figures behind Katerei. I turned my attention back to her as she proceeded to wash my face with a damp cloth. She didn’t seem to be paying my audience any mind. The noise started up again, and my head started to hurt.

    I suddenly felt very tired. I closed my eyes and through the miracle of fatigue, managed to reduce the throbbing pain to a dull hum. And then I fell asleep.



  • _The fire blazed away, slowly reducing the cottage to ash. Smaller brush fires dotted the scarred clearing, burning alongside rubble and debris. The air was heavy with smoke, and the evening sun glowed red through the haze.

    A lifeless body lay in the open, the blood on the surrounding grass still fresh. The smell of burnt hair hung around the gruesome corpse.

    However, the most disturbing sight was the man standing above it, a dazed expression on his face.

    I had known Desert Fox for years. We had journeyed through horrible places before against overwhelming odds and neither of us was a stranger to war and bloodshed. When everyone else around him would falter, he alone would press on and stubbornly refuse to give up. Yet, the proud warrior I knew was now a broken shadow of his former self.

    I had seen him mourn before, but I had never seen him so paralyzed in grief. Seeing him like this terrified me.

    I stood quietly beside him and rested my hand on his shoulder as he gazed upon the lifeless corpse. We stood there for a long time before he seemed to realize I was there. When he finally saw me, he fell apart.

    “She’s gone!” Tears started slowly streaming out of his eyes, running down his unshaven face. “I’ve lost her.” I didn’t say anything. I knew he was talking about Saria, and I knew he needed someone to anchor his shattered world.

    My mind raced frantically for something comforting to say. I knew I had to do something. I knew I was expected to do something, but I still had a tenuous grasp on what had transpired. I was unable to act, and I hated myself for it. I just could not find the words.

    Fortunately, my problem was solved when the clattering of approaching people rang throughout the forest. From my vantage point, I could make out the glimmer of armor down the path and knew that the guards from Pnyx were finally arriving, too late to save the day. One of them pointed in our direction, and they all started running towards us.

    “We need to move,” I told him. Neither of us was really in a position to explain things to the guards, especially not with so much blood on us. He nodded back at me, but made no attempt to move. I grabbed his arm and dragged him away from the path, back behind the burning ruins, using the smoke to shield our movements from sight. I wanted to run, to get out of there, but there was no way I could drag Desert Fox along fast enough.

    We only had a moment and it was barely enough time to forge our way to a large hedge and hide in the tangled branches. We were hidden from sight, but a careful search of the forest would expose us. I hoped they wouldn’t try very hard, but I knew that they would.

    A dozen or so guards came running up the path in a disorganized group. The first person was the man that had spotted us, a young man with short brown hair and a captain’s insignia. I noted he was not surprised to have seen the body; they must have heard the same explosion I did. He ordered us in a loud tenor voice to come out of the forest and turn ourselves in. In retrospect, fleeing at the sight of guards and leaving behind a bloody body probably didn’t help our cause; they were now assuredly convinced we were at fault, though I hoped they hadn’t seen enough of us to know who we were.

    Promptly after the captain of this group arrived, they split up into pairs and fanned out into the forest. My fear was coming true: they would search the surroundings in the hope that the culprits hadn’t gotten far.

    I looked over at my companion. He had calmed noticeably, but he still seemed oblivious to everything transpiring around him, and I wasn’t sure I had faith in his ability to fight or flee right now. I wasn’t sure I wanted to fight; doing so would surely sever any remaining ties I had to this island.

    I weighed my options. They weren’t very good. I could escape if I was alone, but I would not abandon him. Our bond was built on an unspoken trust between us, the faith that the other would be there to watch over us when we were down. I could not leave him, but I desperately needed him to pull it together.

    Much to my surprise, Desert Fox was the one that broke the silence. “I seem to have gotten us into trouble again,” he apologized. He still looked shaken, but he was looking back at me now. I glanced around and saw that we were loosely surrounded, and though the guards hadn’t closed in on our exact location, it was only a matter of time.

    “It’s too late to run now.” I sighed.

    “We could fight our way out,” he suggested, but we both knew that we wouldn’t. He understood my reluctance, and part of me felt a little guilty that I was holding us back, but the rest of me knew that it would be the wrong choice. We needed to figure out something else, and fast. Both of us had drained our magic and the exhausting pace of the past few days was catching up to us.

    “Perhaps we won’t need to,” he said quietly enough that I almost didn’t hear it. All the relief I was feeling at his recovery suddenly changed into panic as I began to wonder what he might be implying. He confirmed my fear as he began, “I could just go up there and-“

    “NO!” I belatedly winced and looked around; hoping nobody else had heard my outburst.

    “It makes perfect sense. Everyone I meet ends up in some catastrophe. I’m cursed!” he chuckled to himself quietly. “I don’t have anything noble to live for, I could just go and end it all. Nobody else would have to suffer for my stupidity.”

    “Your existence isn’t a curse,” I argued back. “You’ve saved many people–“

    “I’ve killed far more,” he interrupted me. “Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by death.” I knew how he felt, probably more than anyone, but in my stubbornness I refused to let him throw his life away. He deserved better than this. It was past time Fate gave him some relief.

    I recalled the tale he had told me once of the unlikely troll ally he had rescued not so long ago. The troll had been forced to watch as his village was burned and his family hunted down one by one. Until Desert Fox showed up and put a quick end to the raiders. In gratitude, the troll swore a blood oath to follow and shield the savior of his people. In the end, the troll repaid his debt in full, taking a fatal blow intended for Desert Fox during an ambush.

    I thought back to the first night I met Desert Fox. I was staring at the bloody knife in my hands in shock, the body of my closest friend at my feet when Desert Fox found me standing alone on that terrace, oblivious to the riot forming outside the palace and the fires beginning to consume the city. The world as I knew it was at its end, and I only vaguely remember accepting the strange warrior’s offer under that blood-red moon. I numbly agreed to follow him and to seek out a new chance at life for myself. And find one I did. My thoughts drifted back to the ultimate sacrifice his troll companion had made, and at that moment, I felt as if I truly understood what the troll’s final thoughts had been. You gave me life and now I shall return the favor.

    The guards were drawing closer; it wouldn’t be long now before they reached us. “In the name of the King, come out and reveal yourself!” the captain hollered again.

    I felt Desert Fox start to rise. I grabbed his arm, holding him in place.

    “Let me go,” he demanded. “Let me atone for my past.” I ignored his pleading and stubbornly refused to lighten my grip.

    “Listen. No please, just listen for a moment!” I begged him quietly. He stopped struggling and let me continue, “I know more than anyone how you feel right now. How you want to blame yourself. How you think throwing your life away here will make the world a better place. But let me tell you plainly and clearly, it won’t.

    “You see, I’ve known you for years now. I know the good in you, even if you forget it sometimes, and I know you are the only person capable of stopping Icel before he is able to find the last wraith. You can’t tell me that everything will be better simply because you gave up here.”

    “I’ve done more harm than good, I’ve–“ he started.

    “Perhaps its time to just forget the past and move on.” I cut him off. We both paused for a moment. I wasn’t being completely fair. After all, I still clung to the dark shadows of my past, and he knew it.

    Desert Fox started talking first. “For years I’ve been wandering around without a purpose, mostly doing whatever I wanted to. But these last few weeks I finally felt like I had found a reason for being. And now–“

    “Now you’re just going to give up and throw it all away?” I sighed. “That’s not the Desert Fox I know.” My admonishment brought about another pause. He stared at me, and I felt it was my turn to break the silence.

    “I’d like you to make me a promise,” I told him quietly. “Promise me that no matter what, you’ll keep moving forward. Promise me that you won’t give up and that you’ll regain the part of yourself you almost cast aside today.”

    ‘That’s easier said than done,” he grunted. We were both painfully aware that the guards were unnervingly close and we’d be spotted in our hiding place at any moment.

    “Don’t you worry about them.” I gave him a sad smile. He looked at me, and then his eyes widened. I held out my palm to forestall any protests. “Promise me, please.”

    I reached my hand out and he hesitantly clasped it. “I promise,” he said with conviction. He still looked like a mess, but I could see the spark of life returning to his eyes. I longed to stay, but I couldn’t wait any longer. We were out of time.

    “You owe me,” I whispered back jokingly, as I stood up and walked into the clearing, drawing my bloody sword._

    I woke with considerably less pain than the day before. My muscles still felt stiff and weak, but I found I could move all of my limbs. My abdomen still burned, but I was able to suppress the stinging pain and ignore it.

    I looked around to identify my surroundings. I was sitting on a cot made up with white linens in the middle of a small gray room. Thin white curtains billowed around a window open to the quiet rolling of the ocean.

    A wooden table stood near my bed, covered with all sorts of bandages, medical supplies, and old books. A woman in her early twenties was busy picking through and sorting the contents of the table, putting some on a metal tray she balanced on her right forearm. Her brown hair was tied back in a simple ponytail that dangled down to the lavender sash that fastened around her linen robe. She was singing quietly to herself as she worked and I was content to watch.

    It wasn’t long before she noticed I was awake and turned her attention to me. My thoughts scattered as she glared at me; her brown eyes smoldering with cold hatred. I shivered involuntarily and she gave me a final scornful look before turning and leaving the room.

    The ocean breeze that had felt warm and comforting a moment ago now felt cold and uninviting. I lay back down and pulled the threadbare sheets up to my neck as I tried to sort out a reason for her reaction. The sheets weren’t as clean as I had thought; a large brownish-red stain was visible in the part covering my abdomen. I slid my hand down to start unwinding the bandages and examine the extent of my injuries, but touching the linen set off a wave of nausea that quickly changed my mind.

    It wasn’t long before there was a quiet knock on the door, followed shortly by another woman carrying a tray. As Katerei shyly entered the room, I gingerly sat up, careful not to upset my injury, and forcibly pushed away my dampened mood. She closed the door quietly behind her and then paused, looking at me for a moment before slowly walking towards the bed.

    Her soft purple dress was starting to show signs of wear. The bottom hem was badly worn and showed obvious signs of mending. The dress around one of her legs had been patched, but the color didn’t quite match. The lavender sash around her waist was faded and showed some permanent wrinkling. Her long blue hair looked hastily combed and swayed in a tangled mess behind her as she walked.

    Katerei suddenly realized I was staring at her and for a moment I feared she might run away. I put on the most jovial face I could muster and greeted her, “Good morning!” My smile wavered, sitting up had put pressure on my abdomen, but I couldn’t back down now.

    She nodded towards the window and replied with a forced smile, “barely.” She sat on the side of the bed and set the tray down on her lap. The scent of hot porridge filled my nostrils and my stomach grumbled. “Do you need me to feed you?” she asked. I didn’t sense any mockery from her, but I was loath to be seen as helpless.

    Flushing, I hastily grabbed the bowl, nearly spilling it all over myself in the process. Realizing I was only making more of a fool out of myself, I told her that I could manage.

    “Careful,” she warned as she handed me the spoon. My stomach was complaining again, so I ignored the warning and took a big scoop. It appeared to be a simple cream and oat mix, but I didn’t care; I hadn’t eaten in a very long while. I promptly burned my tongue and nearly spit out my first mouthful. Doubly humiliated, I was more careful with the rest of it, though I still wolfed it down at a rapid pace.

    Katerei remained silent while I ate, letting me concentrate on the food. Once during my breakfast, I glanced over at her to see her staring at the door. I assumed she was trying to be polite, but the scowling woman from earlier entered my mind and I began to wonder if I had done something to upset everyone.

    When I had almost finished, she broke the silence asking me how I was feeling and if I needed anything. I thanked her for bringing me breakfast, then lay down again to lessen the pain. After a long moment of silence, I asked, “Where are we?”

    “Pnyx,” she turned her head back towards me as she replied, but she avoided making direct eye contact, as if she was uncomfortable being in the room. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the brown-haired woman earlier hadn’t spooked me with her hateful glare, but now that I had, I wished I hadn’t.

    So I was in Pnyx. I probably should have figured that out earlier. And then I remembered that Seralcard had broken me out of the jail below Pnyx.

    That was probably why everyone was so uncomfortable around me. I was supposed to be a prisoner of this very city.

    Katerei finally looked directly at me. “You’ve been unconscious for ten days.”

    I stared blankly as her words sank in. Almost two more weeks gone. What had happened while I was asleep? What had become of those who depended upon me?

    “Have you seen Desert Fox?” was my first question. From her startled reaction, I belatedly realized she had been expecting something else entirely.

    “No,” she answered almost immediately. Was there disappointment in her voice? “I haven’t heard from him in a long time.” It probably was a stupid question to ask, but part of me had hoped for some idea of what happened to him in the six – no, seven months I had been trapped in this cursed city.

    The next question I was burning to know an answer for probably should have been my first question, in retrospect. “What happened to you…after…?”

    She waited a little bit before replying this time. This probably was the question she had been expecting, but it seemed like she still was uncertain about what she wanted to say. Or perhaps, how much.

    “I didn’t get hurt as badly as you. My leg was slashed pretty badly, but I was walking about within a few days, though with a heavy limp. That kind of made it impossible to leave the city, so I spent my time in the library studying books.” She looked straight at me, and then continued, “you probably would have healed a lot faster if they used magic. Why do they forbid it?” The question hovered uneasily in the air.

    “Did they get the assassin?” I tried to change the subject.

    “Yes,” she replied quietly. “Eventually.”

    I tried to recall that night, but the details were hazy. After months of inaction, everything had suddenly happened at once.

    I had been in my cell, then an assassin at Katerei’s urging let me out, and then we were racing through the halls in a race to stop a conspiracy. We enlisted the help of a guard in the library who eventually betrayed us and locked Katerei away while I stood helplessly with a knife at my throat. And then when a chance to break free finally came, I underestimated how much my imprisonment had dulled my reflexes and quickly lost the fight. Apparently, it was a miracle that I was alive.

    I suddenly felt a strong desire to get up and move about. I had spent over half of the past year confined to a small room, sealed off from the outside world. Now, so close to an open window, the smell of the sea and the sound of birds stirred up a feeling of restlessness. I tried to sit up.

    “You can’t do that!” Katerei blocked me from moving with her forearm. “You’re not well enough to be moving about yet!”

    “I just want to get a better look out the window,” I lied while I tried to sit up again, but she pinned me down easily and I didn’t have the strength to resist.

    “I don’t think you understand just how severe your injuries were,” the friendly tone from her voice was gone, replaced with the strictness of a healer lecturing a patient. As if on cue, the wound on my stomach started to burn and I slumped in defeat. She seemed to sympathize with my disappointment and offered to move the bed closer to the window as a compromise. With clever positioning of pillows and linens, I was able to see through the window while lying on my back.

    I could only stare out at the ocean through the narrow window, yet the frothing blue waves rolling slowly towards the shore were mesmerizing. The flow of the ocean under a peaceful sunny sky soothed my earlier anxieties and I was content to simply watch.

    Katerei pulled up a chair and watched silently with me for some time. I sensed there was much more both of us wanted to say, but neither of us wanted to risk breaking the peace. After a while, someone came into the room to fetch her away. I thanked her before she left and then returned to watching the waves rolling in.

    I must have dozed off at some point because the sky had turned orange and a sleepy sun was lazily slipping below the horizon.

    “Enjoy your nap?” a sweet voice asked from behind. I had to twist uncomfortably to identify the speaker, and was unpleasantly surprised to learn it was the brown-haired woman from this morning.

    “Why yes I did,” I answered, forcing a smile as she labored to drag my bed back to its rightful location. I tried to help out by bracing against the table, but the unexpected feeling of cold metal on my arms drew my attention. My wrists were covered with silver bracelets, each engraved with an elaborate pattern.

    “What is this?” I asked, attempting to pull them off. They were too small to slip over my hands and I couldn’t find a mechanism that would open them up.

    “Something that should have been put on you long ago.” She gave me an incredulous look, as if I had just asked the stupidest question possible. I dropped the subject and let her work. Once the room was restored, she set a small bowl of porridge on the table (out of my reach, of course), closed and covered the window, and activated the room’s glow-crystal.

    As she was leaving, she paused in the doorway and turned back to face me. “Enjoy your freedom while you can!” she mocked in a singsong voice before closing the door.



  • _“All my life I’ve been moving around. Chasing after challenge and glory, or hiding from my enemies.” Desert Fox turned and looked at me, grinning, “Though you probably know more about that than me.”

    “Go on.” I waved in mock irritation.

    “I’ve never really had the chance to–“ he paused to carefully consider his words. “I never really considered not being alone.”

    “I travel with you sometimes,” I reminded him. In fact, we were walking together along the rocky shoreline north of the mages’ city.

    “Yeah, but not like…” his face reddened slightly as he fumbled for words. Of course, I knew what he was really talking about, but it was fun teasing him. I’ve seen him recklessly charge into hordes of enemies, volunteer for extremely perilous missions without a second thought, and even fend off a dragon alone, but he was no match for the terrifying experience of falling in love for the first time.

    “I mean, I’ve never considered being with a girl,” he managed to say.

    “You’re with women all the time,” I pointed out. His face went livid and he suddenly looked around, as if to make sure nobody was nearby.

    “Not like that!” he hissed in a voice barely above a whisper.

    I made a show of thinking deeply for a moment before coming to the realization. “So, you’ve fallen in love?” He nodded. “With Saria?” I asked. As if there could be anybody else.

    “I think so,” he said quietly.

    I knew that was what he wanted to talk to me about (though I didn’t know why he was asking me for advice), so I sat down on a flat rock and dangled my legs over the edge of the cliff. The mid-morning sun was warm and pleasant, a nice contrast to the gloomy rain that had drenched the coast for the last few days. The wind from the west brought both the smell of the ocean and the sound of waves crashing into the rocky seawall below.

    “What makes you think so?” I tried to encourage him to continue.

    Desert Fox remained standing next to me. “When she’s around… how can I explain? If I’m feeling down, suddenly the day seems brighter. I enjoy talking to her, being with her. She can make me laugh and smile in a way that nobody else can.

    “When she’s not around…” his voice dropped to a more somber tone. “I can’t stop thinking about her. I hope she’s okay. It’s been two days now without any word!”

    “I’m sure she’s okay,” I said. Saria was supposed to have reached us well before now, but she seemed capable of looking after herself. She was probably just having trouble getting out of Pnyx with all of the unrest lately. I felt a sudden chill and looked up to see that Desert Fox had covered me with his shadow.

    “Maybe I should go back and look for her,” he said suddenly.

    “I think that would create a lot of problems for her. You can’t seem to go five minutes without starting a brawl.” Picking a fight with the guards in the center of town had been an incredibly risky and unbelievably stupid idea. “Look, she’s made it this far. She’ll be fine. Just have some faith.”

    “I suppose so,” he sighed. He stood quietly for a moment before grabbing his hair in frustration and moving away. I quickly averted my gaze from the sudden sunlight. Behind me, I could hear him pacing around restlessly. I hoped he would heed my warning. We were lucky that nobody had been seriously injured last time.

    The steady rolling of the waves under the warm sun was alluring, and I found myself nodding off. Overcome with a peaceful fatigue, I closed my eyes for a moment. My mind wandered and I had a brief glimpse of a dream where I was lying in a dark room listening to the muted sound of a distant ocean, but the fleeting image faded and I found myself under the warm sun once again.

    I felt a gust of wind blow through me, rustling the branches of the trees above. The roar of the ocean faded into the steady crackling of a wood fire. The forest air carried a faint trace of smoke. Smoke?

    I turned around and found myself in a small clearing. A short distance to my left was a half-collapsed cottage being consumed by flames. I spotted Desert Fox nearby, leaning onto his sword as he solemnly stared down at the bloody corpse at his feet.

    I made my way towards him, careful to avoid stepping on any smoldering debris. The front of the cottage lay in splinters across the hilltop and the eastern wall was nothing more than a muddy crater. I could see the remains of a trampled garden, torn petals now littered haphazardly over the dirt.

    He turned his head to look at me when I placed my hand on his shoulder. His eyes were red and I could plainly see the water trails streaking down his unshaven face. It took him a moment to collect himself enough to speak, and when he was able, he said simply, “She’s gone.”

    I understood without really understanding, but it was enough. I held him as he gave in to the well of sadness and despair inside, ignoring the heat on my back from the burning cottage. I don’t know how long I stood there, caught between sympathy for his loss and awkward uncertainty over how to respond.

    The intensity of the fire’s heat dwindled as it slowly burned itself out. The shadows of the trees lengthened and stretched out over the clearing as the sun dipped beneath the treetops. When Desert Fox finally calmed down enough to stand on his own, I stepped back, giving him some space to think and collect himself. Neither of us spoke as the long minutes ticked by, until he finally broke the silence.

    “I think I can make things right,” he said so quietly that I almost didn’t hear him speak. “I need some time. I’ll find her and–” his voice cut off. It took a moment for me to realize he was looking at something over my shoulder. It took another few seconds to realize I was hearing the voices of other people.

    I warily turned around and found myself facing a line of armored soldiers. Their captain stood in front, blade drawn, glaring at me with fury on his face. He lifted his gloved hand and pointed at the body beside me. “What have you done?” he said, enunciating each word in a cold voice mixed with shock and anger. Behind him, a dozen men cast disbelieving looks at the burning house, the smoldering body, and the two of us standing calmly in the middle of it all.

    I sensed Desert Fox begin to move and immediately knew I had to stop him. He had nearly killed several people during that foolish brawl back in Pnyx, and in his current state any fight would have a catastrophic outcome. There was no way he would be able to restrain himself now, so before he had the chance, I wound the fingers of my right hand around the hilt of his sword and tore it free of the earth. I leveled the sword at the captain’s chest and everyone around me suddenly went tense. There would be no turning back now.

    “I did what was necessary,” I said, in as cold of a voice as I could manage. “And I am willing to do so again.”

    “What are you doing?” Desert Fox hissed.

    “Giving you a chance!” I shot back.

    “Since you have admitted your guilt, we will be bringing you back with us,” the captain said, raising his own weapon. “Dead or alive.” Behind him, the rest of the guards were drawing their own weapons and fanning out, trying to surround us.

    “You don’t have to do this! This is my fault, not yours!” Desert Fox whispered.

    “I know,” I replied in a calm tone that surprised myself. “But if I let you end it here, who knows what will happen to Saria and the wraiths.”

    I turned to face him and softened my expression. “I’m giving you this chance to make things right. Go find your girlfriend.”

    “But-“ he protested.

    “Go!” I cut him off. There was no more time. “Promise?”

    He stared at me for a long moment. I could see the struggle playing out within as he was forced to choose between two diverging paths. With each passing heartbeat, I grew more nervous. Finally, he looked at me sadly and said, “I promise.” Then he turned and ran.

    Ordinarily, I wouldn’t turn my back on an opponent, especially not for so long, but I wasn’t intending to win. All I had to do was stall for time, but I was beginning to doubt my ability to accomplish even that. I had acted without thinking and now scrambled to find a quick end without too much bloodshed. The freemage’s death may have been justified, but these guards had done nothing wrong.

    As I hesitated with indecision, I was struck by a blast of energy from behind and had my choice stripped from me. The shock rippled throughout my body, forcing my hands to open by reflex. The sword tumbled to the ground and clattered out of my reach. My knees buckled and I sank to the dirt, crossing my arms above my head in surrender.

    I chanced a quick glance at Desert Fox. He had paused at the edge of the clearing and was now looking back at me in the horror of sudden understanding. He started to head back to save me, but I glared at him and shook my head to ward him off. What would be the point of this if he got captured too? With heavy reluctance, he bowed his head and vanished amongst the trees.

    I felt a hand grip my hair and my head was painfully pulled back to stare at the sky. The captain’s face appeared in my vision, leering down at me. “You are under arrest for your heinous crimes,” he said before lowering himself so he could speak directly in my ear. “And you will be treated like the dog you are.”

    Out of the bottom of my vision I saw a second man approach and raise his foot. Then his steel-toed boot collided with my stomach and the world exploded in pain._

    I sat up under the sudden rush of agony. My vision swam with gray and brown distorted shapes and I felt lightheaded. Strong hands pushed me back onto the bed, and I lay there for a moment, breathing heavily.

    After a moment, I settled down and was able to recognize my surroundings. I was back in my room at Pnyx. Daylight filtered in through the dusty window. The brown-haired nurse was busy changing the bandages around my abdomen. Curious, I chanced a look.

    “That doesn’t look so bad,” I remarked. There might be some nasty scarring later, but the worst of it had healed.

    “Of course not. Do you think I’m incompetent?” the woman snapped back at me without looking up from her task.

    “Actually, I don’t know what to think of you. Who are you?”

    “I’m the healer assigned to you.”

    “Okay, healer assigned to me. Do you have a name?”

    She glared at me. “This might all be a game to you, but it’s really just a waste of time.” She finished one last loop and pulled the bandage tight, eliciting a sharp cry from me. “I don’t know why they even want me to bother. It won’t matter in the end.” She stood up, brushed her hair out of her face, and began scrubbing her hands in a silver water basin. Finished, she wiped her hands on a folded cloth, gathered her things onto a metal tray, and turned to leave.

    “Your…’friend’ will be bringing you breakfast,” she said, pausing in front of the door.

    “Thank you, um…”

    “My name is Adriana,” she replied coldly before opening the door and storming out. As she left, I could see the edge of a metal gauntlet in the hallway before a blue woman slipped in the door, closing it behind her.

    “Good morning,” Katerei said softly, setting a wooden bowl of porridge and a steaming mug next to the bed. She sat down on the stool Adriana had vacated and started fiddling with a small hole in her sash.

    Determined not to make a fool out of myself today, I slowly raised myself to a sitting position. My stomach muscles hurt a little, but not nearly as much as yesterday. I lifted the bowl and slowly stirred the thick gruel. It looked fairly bland, but I wasn’t sure I could handle anything else yet. I scooped up a giant glop, blew on it to cool it off, and started eating.

    Katerei remained quiet until I was halfway through my meal. “How are you feeling today?” she asked.

    “Better, I think,” I replied. “The pain seems to be going away, and I didn’t see a lot of blood earlier.”

    “Well, they finally gave the healers permission to use magic on you. I wonder why it took them so long.” She focused her blue eyes on me.

    “At least they gave me a consolation prize,” I said, holding up my arm so she could see my bracelets.

    “You have a guard now too,” Katerei said, her expression darkening. “They must be unhappy that you broke out.” She lowered her eyes to stare at the bed. I took the opportunity to shovel down more porridge.

    “Can you do me a favor?” I asked her, interrupting the silence.

    “Hmm?”

    “I want to try walking today.”

    “Absolutely not!” Katerei scolded me. “You are in no condition to be moving around!”

    “I saw my wound earlier; it looks mostly healed.” She narrowed her eyes and I hastily tried to preempt her objections. “I’ve been lying down for almost two weeks now! I haven’t been outside in far too long! And besides,” I said, lowering my voice, “I have no idea what’s going on right now.”

    “I still think it’s a bad idea. You don’t even know if you’ll be able to stand!” she protested.

    “Then help me stand up. If I can remain standing for a few minutes, will you let me walk around for a bit?”

    She stared at me quietly and pressed her fingers to her lips. I could tell she still wasn’t happy about the idea, but this time she hadn’t rejected my plea outright. She let out a slow, heavy sigh. “I guess I can.” When I moved to swing my legs off the bed, she stopped me. “Finish your breakfast first.”

    A few moments later, I set the now-empty bowl aside and tested my legs. They moved, if a bit stiffly. Emboldened, I looked at Katerei. “I’m ready.”

    She quickly cleared the area around the side of the bed and took a few steps back to give me room. I shifted my weight to my arms and carefully positioned my legs over the edge. With a deep breath, I slowly slid off, testing my ability to stand for the first time in weeks. I felt my weight begin to press the bottoms of my feet against the cold, stone floor. More confident now, I lifted my arms off the bed, leaving me wobbling on nothing but my legs. I had done it!

    My knees promptly buckled and I tipped forward in a sudden panic, only to have Katerei step in and catch me before I could fall. I stood there, resting in her embrace, struggling to catch my breath. This close to her, my nose was filled with a pungent mix of spices. I felt her breasts pressing against me through her dress, rising and falling with each breath. I wrapped my arms around her to help steady myself. She said nothing, but I felt her breathing quicken.

    “Let me try one more time,” I pleaded. Katerei only nodded in reply. She shivered as I slowly slid my hands up her sides to her shoulders so I could more easily detach myself. When I felt I could manage, I gradually transferred weight back to my legs and let go of Katerei. She stepped back, watching me wobble for a bit and nearly lose my balance. It was close, but I remained standing.

    “See?” I smiled triumphantly.

    “Now try walking,” she said, a tiny smile tugging at the corner of her blue lips. I hesitantly took a step forward and had to reach out and steady myself on her shoulder to avoid falling. She looked at me, her smile replaced with concern. “I don’t think-“

    “I can do this!” I cut her off. I really didn’t want to spend all day cooped up in my room; I’d had my fill of that. I looked into her eyes and pleaded. “Please? I just need something to lean on, that’s all.”

    Katerei stared back at me. “All right,” she said. “Let me find you a walking stick. A shirt too.” She hurried away in a rush, but not before I caught a glimpse of purple coloring her cheeks. I glanced down at myself and realized the only thing I was wearing were some rather loose-fitting tan pants.

    I tried to wait patiently, but my imagination kept drifting to thoughts of walking around outside, being able to feel the sun on my skin after so long. I looked back at the rumpled sheets lying on the bed. No, I definitely didn’t want to stay trapped in here again today. Yet, I was quickly tiring from standing, so I reluctantly sat on the edge of the bed while I waited.

    Before long, Katerei returned with a spare white shirt. The cut was too big and the trim was ugly, but it was better than nothing. I donned the shirt and fastened the chestnut-colored buttons in the front.

    “Did you find a walking stick?” I asked her.

    “Oh, they um…” She lowered her gaze to stare at my now-covered chest. “They don’t want to give you a weapon.”

    “Oh.” I suppose I could lean on the wall, but this was going to be more difficult than I thought. A cold hand grasped mine and I looked up to meet Katerei’s eyes.

    “If you’d like, I thought I could…” Her soft voice trailed off and her face flushed with traces of purple again.

    I placed my other hand over hers and smiled. “Thank you.”

    With her help, I eased off the bed. Together, we shuffled over to the door. The gray stone walls of the hallway greeted me as I stepped outside. Two men in armor were waiting for me. The younger of the two was clearly bored, probably wishing he could show off his short, brown, curly hair to the female students downstairs. The older man stared at me through his sand-colored bangs, a look of apprehension plainly visible on his face. Neither Curly nor Sandy seemed interested in speaking.

    Sensing my body stiffen, Katerei turned to explain. “We are to remain under their watch at all times.” Sadness tinged the corners of her eyes. “It was the only way I could get permission to let you out.” I nodded, not really wanting to dwell on it.

    With Katerei’s help, I managed to stagger around most of the hallways surrounding the second floor of Pnyx. I had originally wanted to go outside, but chickened out after a moment of staring silently down the first staircase we encountered. Walking was proving to be far more exhausting than I remembered. I tried to hide my fatigue, but Katerei probably knew I was tired anyway from our slow pace and the way I had to lean heavily on her shoulder.

    We encountered other people in the halls: students, guards, mages. Many of them stared at Katerei, unaccustomed to the sight of a viirelei, but I caught my share of cold looks of disapproval. None of them approached us directly, but I could hear their whispers as we passed by. By the time we had completed a circuit, I was ready to return. At least the walls of my room would block out the jeers and condescending whispers, and my calves were starting to burn from exertion. Katerei squeezed my hand in reassurance and led me back inside.

    Just as my head was passing through the doorway, I caught a glimpse of a man in a dark robe at the end of the hall. I jerked back to take another look, but he had vanished. Confused, I rejoined Katerei inside as Curly and Sandy resumed their posts at the door. I had passed a sea of unfamiliar faces today, but for a moment I thought I recognized someone else I knew. Katerei had been the only friend to visit me since I had first woken up. I wondered if I still had any other friends.

    Thoroughly exhausted, I settled back onto the bed and out of my shirt with Katerei’s assistance. “Thank you,” I said, smiling up at her as I gently clasped her hand in appreciation.

    Some time later, I woke to the sound of metal clattering. Adriana was busily placing some medical instruments on the table, her brow furrowed in concentration. A glance at the window showed only darkness behind the curtains. The room was illuminated solely by the purple light of the glow crystal.

    Adriana finished arranging her tools and began unwinding the bandage around my stomach. As the linen threads fell loosely to the side, she stopped and frowned. “That can’t be!” she gasped.

    I raised my head so I could see. Most of the scabs and puckered flesh from this morning were gone. Instead, the area was covered with smooth, pink skin that felt warm to the touch. Adriana turned and glared at me.

    “You really are a skilled healer. Thank you,” I said, hoping to blunt her attitude.

    “I didn’t heal you!” she retorted. She glanced at the bracelets on my arm. “Did you–“ She reached over and grabbed my wrist with her ice-cold fingers, lifting the silver up for inspection. She traced some symbol and the engraving on the bracelet flared fuchsia while the metal became unbearably warm. The bracelet emitted a quiet hum, and I felt a cold emptiness grow inside me. The light faded as she let my arm fall back to the bed.

    “What tricks are you up to?” she demanded.

    “No tricks. I really don’t know what’s going on.”

    “You were forbidden from healing magic. Mage-killers don’t deserve it!” Her retort dripped with venom. “How did you do it?”

    I sputtered for a moment, trying to figure out if she was asking about the murder or the magic. I didn’t know who would be willing to defy an order from the Headmaster on my behalf and I didn’t really want to debate the ramifications of killing a possessed freemage. In the end, I decided it was best to stay silent.

    Sometimes the best answer is no answer at all.



  • _Raindrops fell from the sky, their landing muffled in the wet dirt, save for the few that clinked onto the broken glass lantern in my hands. I squinted at the jagged edges, trying to see in the dim light. The cut was too misshapen to be from falling; someone had smashed the glass in when they killed the watchman lying at my feet. Or some thing.

    I looked around warily, wishing I had brought my sword. The corpses of the guardsmen behind me were still warm. Whatever was out there was probably watching me. Unless…

    I spun around, facing the back of the tavern. There! Writhing up to the second floor. A shadow blacker than the night rippled in the air, heading towards one of the windows. The shutters flew open and the shadow slipped into the exposed room. Saria’s room.

    I raced back to the wall, my boots slipping in the mud. Why had I forgotten about the attack on her earlier? Why had I been so foolish to leave her unguarded? My fingers slid against the wet, wooden planks, unable to secure a handhold. Frustrated, I tried climbing the rope that led back to my window, ignoring the rough twine biting into my skin. Her room was next to mine, but the tavern wall was too wet to safely cross. As I neared my window, I pushed off from the wall and swung towards Saria’s room. There were no sounds coming from within. Her shutters hung uselessly over the alley below.

    The rope swung within reach of Saria’s windowsill and I grabbed at the wooden frame. The corner of the frame splintered, and pain shot through my finger as the rope carried me out of range. Frustrated, I drew my boot knife and on the next approach, rammed it into the crack in the corner of the frame. The knife slid in with a muffled thunk, and I was able to use the handle to stop my motion and secure my grip. I paused, listening. Ominous silence greeted me. I swung my legs up and tumbled through the window.

    The room was dark, the light from outside barely lighting any shapes. I could make out the bed and dresser and the outline of the locked door, but I didn’t see the shadow. Saria was lying on the bed, sound asleep. I tiptoed closer, careful to not strain the boards underneath. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness. I could see her rustled hair splayed out onto the pillow behind her. She lay on her side, the blankets tucked up to her chest. Unmoving.

    She wasn’t breathing.

    A hiss filled the air as a dark shape swirled off the bed and landed in the far corner. I cursed as I leapt forward, wishing again that my sword wasn’t lying against the bed in the adjacent room. I used the only weapon I had with me. My magic.

    My hand burst into a ball of flame, chasing away the shadows from the room. The wraith in front of me let out a shriek, and I took a startled step back. I had only seen wraiths in the dark before, where they were shadows that were darker than a starless night. Under the dancing light of the fire, I saw an entirely different monster.

    A bone-white body reflected the light back at me, and I had to cover my eyes from the sudden glare. Large, bony wings flapped silently, keeping the wraith levitated above the ground. The shadowy cloak must be a spell then.

    My options were limited in cramped quarters; destructive fire magic was not so helpful with comatose allies nearby. Even so, I readied another charge. The alternative would be to let Saria die. I glanced over at her again, and found her standing next to me.

    Dim light filtered through the treetops, sending splotches of light dancing across her face. Her bow was strapped over the shoulder of her leather armor, and Moonshadow’s dagger hung at her belt. Her hair blew gently in the wind; a wind I could not feel.

    “What happened?” Saria asked, her voice a mixture of wonder and disgust. Certainly not the voice of someone who had been smothered in their sleep.

    “A wraith tried to kill you,” I replied, distracted. I was still adjusting to the sudden shift in terrain, not entirely sure if I should expect the wraith to burst out of the trees and attack again. Some of this looked familiar. Was this the forest on the way to Pnyx?

    “A wraith? We were ambushed by bandits!” She gave me a skeptical look. I stared back. I didn’t remember any bandits.

    “You seem to have a lot of wraith friends chasing you,” I said.

    “Icel has been hunting us for weeks.” She nodded at Desert Fox, sleeping soundlessly on the forest floor. “It was tough, but we managed to bring down two of them. Unfortunately, Fox seems to think there are four more.”

    “Three then,” I replied before realizing it. I saw the question forming on her face and continued, “He uh… ‘ate’ one of the wraiths.” It was a frightening memory, the way Icel had calmly severed his disabled arm. The chanting that had made my body turn cold as he drew a sigil of blood on the paralyzed fiend. The ear-splitting shriek of terror as the wraith’s body was warped and reshaped, fused to Icel as a bony white arm. A very unnatural looking arm.

    “What are those things?” I asked her.

    “Souls of corrupt magi, I’m told.” She fell silent. I wondered if she came to the same conclusion I just did. If Icel could absorb the soul of a mage, he could gain the knowledge and power the mage had obtained in life.

    “We have to take them out,” I said. Icel was a formidable foe now. If he were to fuse with his lieutenants…

    “That won’t be so easy,” Desert Fox said as he rose to a sitting position.

    “We saw one of them possess someone,” Saria said, unable to suppress a shudder.

    “Possess?” Now I was even more worried.

    “Completely took over a man’s body. Couldn’t even tell there was a wraith inside from a distance,” she explained.

    “No shadowy cloud,” Desert Fox added.

    “Then how could you tell he was a wraith?” I asked.

    Saria pointed at Desert Fox. “He can sense them.”

    “My shadow magic can sense them,” he corrected. “But it doesn’t work from a distance!” he hastened to add. So much for that idea.

    “Then I guess we’ll just have to find them the hard way.” I sighed. Why did it always have to be so complicated?

    With nothing else to say, we turned and headed into the forest. I led the way, forging a path through the undergrowth. It wasn’t too difficult here. The trees were spaced several feet apart and there wasn’t a lot of brush. Most of the tree limbs were dozens of feet above the ground. I mostly blazed a path over dead leaves and dirt, stepping over tree roots lying exposed on the ground.

    We walked in silence, trees giving way to more trees. The sunbeams penetrating the forest canopy above brightened, but I saw no animals, heard no sign of wildlife. I could see shadows dance around me as wind rustled the leaves, but I felt nothing. At last, I saw the trees start to part. An orange light shone ahead, blocked by fewer and fewer tree trunks ahead of me. Until finally, I burst out into a grassy clearing and was greeted with the smell of smoke.

    A burning cottage lay in front of me, walls shattered into ruin. Desert Fox stood silently nearby, leaning on his sword and breathing heavily. The frost-tinged blade glinted in the firelight, giving it an eerie glow. The point of the sword was impaled on a body below. A man, I thought.

    I glanced behind me to see nobody there. My feet carried me over to Desert Fox, crossing the all-too-familiar ground. I stopped in front of him and followed his gaze to the corpse between us. A middle-aged man lay staring at the sky, eyes half-open, his mouth curled up in a smile. His right elbow was bent at an unnatural angle and his legs didn’t look like they would have been able to move again.

    “Was this necessary?” I asked Desert Fox, staring at the slain man.

    “He was a wraith,” Desert Fox replied solemnly. His voice sounded almost regretful and I quickly clamped down on my surprise, keeping my face expressionless.

    “I see.” I frequently wished he could control his destructive urges, but having fought a wraith myself, I knew how difficult they were to defeat. The one I had faced always managed to get away.

    “Icel was here,” he said, looking up at me. “He’s the one that destroyed the house. Sent this guy flying right through it.”

    “I see.” I felt a little bit better knowing he wasn’t entirely responsible for all this devastation. “Who was he?”

    Desert Fox paused. “Saria called him Menelaus.”

    “Where’s Saria?” I asked, finally meeting his gaze.

    “Gone.”

    I had no response for that. Maybe if we hadn’t split up looking for her, I could’ve been here too. Maybe then the outcome would have been different.

    “She blames me.” His voice cracked and this time I was unable to keep my astonishment off my face. Was he crying?

    “She doesn’t realize that… In the end, the wraith gave his life up.”

    “Better to die than be forever twisted into Icel’s service?” I asked.

    “Perhaps,” he replied. A moment of thought, then he added, “There is still one more out there.”

    “You’ll find it,” I said. We had come this far, what was another wraith?

    Desert Fox looked like he was about to reply, but I lost his words as a searing pain tore across my gut, doubling me over._
    “Aaaaugh!” I cried out as I reflexively sat bolt upright.

    Adriana stood above me, my freshly removed bandage dangling from her hand. “I’m sorry, did I wake you?” she asked, not looking very apologetic at all. I tried to stutter out a retort, but my mind was still whirling in confusion.

    “It seems you won’t be needing my assistance for much longer.” She lowered herself to speak directly into my ear. “Since you’ve had such a miraculous recovery these past few days.” I winced as she tore the other bandage off my chest.

    “Now, we’ll see about dressing your wound up for you. Wouldn’t want it to get infected, would we?” She sang obnoxiously as she dabbled some kind of poultice onto a fresh strip of linen.

    “Why do you care? Grumpy that you won’t be able to play nurse anymore?” I snapped at her before I could stop myself.

    She dropped the pestle into the poultice bowl and glared icy daggers at me. “You have it backwards. I never wanted to be assigned to you in the first place!”

    “Couldn’t you have let someone else do it?”

    “I had no choice in the matter!” She pursed her lips and paused, choosing her words carefully. “Headmaster Lindus made this arrangement himself. A lesson, for both of us.”

    I bit back the sarcastic remark that immediately leapt to mind. Adriana stood staring at her clasped hands for a moment longer. The linen bandage slipped over the side of the bed and fell into a pile on the floor, forgotten.

    “Menelaus was my mentor, you know,” Adriana spoke so quiet I almost didn’t hear her. “When I first arrived in Pnyx, he was the one that showed me around, helped me to adjust to living away from home. He is the reason I took up healing magic, why I became one of Pheres’ students. And now he’s gone, thanks to you.”

    Oh.

    Adriana leaned over and picked up the discarded bandage. The area around the poultice was gray from the floor. She set it aside and unwound a new strip from a roll of linen on the table. As she worked, I wavered between wanting to apologize and convincing myself that would make matters worse. A lesson for both of us? I suppose so. A professional healer shows impartiality to her patients, focused on mending wounds, not harboring grudges, and I was supposed to witness how my actions affected other people.

    We didn’t speak again that morning. I could see her fighting back tears, but every time I moved, her look reminded me just how much she loathed me. She finished her work, collected her things, and left me in silence.

    I stared at the wall for a long time. It was disconcerting being so close to someone whose life had been altered (if indirectly) by my actions. I wanted to express my regret, or even admit that it wasn’t really my doing. However, excuses wouldn’t bring her friend back. Instead, she’d probably assume I was just trying to deflect guilt to avoid my penance.

    A soft knock at the door heralded Katerei. She walked in smiling with a bubbly energy in her step, carrying a silver breakfast tray. Then she saw my expression, and the energy drained out of her, replaced with concern. Caught up in my self-pity, I forgot to greet her, and she took it as a sign that I wanted to eat in silence. I shoveled some of the porridge down, but couldn’t finish more than half of it.

    “I want to go walking again today,” I said, finally breaking the stillness that was choking the room.

    “Okay,” she replied. No fight this time. I wondered if it was because of our walk yesterday or the mood in the air.

    I set the tray aside and carefully slid off the bed. Katerei was at my side in an instant, holding my arm, helping me steady myself. I signaled that I was fine, and she slowly backed away, pausing an extra moment holding my hand, before letting go.

    “Where are we going today?” she asked, watching me carefully.

    “Downstairs.” I saw her face scrunch up in protest, but she pressed her fingers to her lips and said nothing.

    I was able to make my way to the door without too much difficulty. My pace was slower than normal, but I could move faster than yesterday and I didn’t have to lean on anything. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

    Like yesterday, Curly and Sandy were standing in the hallway, blank expressions on their faces. They looked at me as I stepped out, and Curly shifted his arm towards his scabbard.

    “Am I allowed to visit the seawall?” I asked Sandy. He brushed his sand-colored bangs back as he considered, then nodded.

    We set a slow pace down the hall. I didn’t want to over-exert myself too early, but I was also taking every opportunity to sneak glances through open doors, wondering if I could spot the robed figure from yesterday. I didn’t.

    When we arrived at the stairs, Katerei insisted on holding my arm as we descended. I protested at first, but gave in after a bit. I didn’t want to spend all day listening to tirades about people slipping on the stone steps and breaking their ankles, or necks. I felt her cold hands gripping mine as we locked arms. With her at my side, we descended slowly, step by step.

    It was a relief when we reached the ground floor. I didn’t mind having Katerei’s presence so close to my side, but the excruciating pace we descended was starting to make my calves and knees sore. I wasn’t looking forward to the journey back.

    The ground floor was much more lively than the nearly-empty hallways upstairs. We passed through the eating hall without trouble, earning only suspicious gazes and whispered chatter. Fortunately, most people were content with ignoring us.

    The sound of music greeted us as we entered the main hall. Soft, mellow chords rang out, echoing through the stone hall. As we passed the entrance to the courtyard I got a glimpse of a group of children sitting near the fountain, listening to a woman playing the lute. She was facing away from the door, swept up in her playing, but I was still able to recognize Adriana. I’m sure Katerei recognized her too, for I felt her hand tugging my sleeve, urging me onward.

    At last, we made it to the back of the city. A narrow field of grass separated the cold pyramid wall from the rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. Sandy took up a position several paces behind and to my left, betraying no emotion on his face. Curly stopped on the opposite side, trying to look bored, but I could tell he was secretly enjoying the sunshine and the ocean breeze. They seemed fairly confident that I wouldn’t bolt, and a glance over the edge showed they had no reason to worry I would jump. It would be a fall of about a hundred feet, and sharp rocks jutted out from the water below. The wind was strong enough to send large waves crashing into the rocks, loud enough to be heard all the way back in the city.

    I sat down on the grass at the edge, looking out over the endless blue water. Katerei sat down next to me, her side snug against mine. I didn’t want to admit that I was tired, but I found myself leaning against her shoulder anyway.

    “You know, I’ve always been running around this island, but I’ve never really taken the time to stop and look at it,” I said. There had always been another quest, another journey to rush off to. I had crossed snow-capped mountains, deep forests, stinking swamps, and even crawled around inside a volcano once, but in all of those places, I couldn’t remember a single moment where I found the time to look around.

    “What are you going to do when you get out?” Katerei’s voice was soft.

    “I don’t know yet,” I replied. My plea bargain had been for another six months, but I didn’t want to mention that now. “Maybe I should take the time to really see what this place is like. See if I can enjoy the beauty of the land.”

    “I have a house by the ocean,” Katerei said. Her words came out slow and uneven. I felt her arm move and looked down to see she had clasped her fingers.

    “Catamarca, right?”

    “Yes.” She paused for a few heartbeats. “It’s a lot quieter there. Fewer watching eyes.”

    “That would be nice.” I wouldn’t mind not having people glare at me all day. “I’m not sure I could walk that far though.” It was the truth. I was nearly worn out just from walking outside.

    “Stay here,” Katerei commanded as she stood up, leaving my side exposed to a sudden chill. I sat staring out at the ocean waves as I heard her move somewhere behind me. There was a sound of rustling clothes and then I felt her hands on my shoulders. Her blue legs entered my field of vision, one on each side of me, and her hands slid down my sides until her arms clasped around me, pulling me back against her soft skin. I felt her warm breasts press into my back and my senses were overwhelmed with the smell of cinnamon.

    I felt her breath on my ear. “This is the only way I can,” she whispered, her words barely audible above the roar of the ocean. Her hands began moving, lower down my body, down to my waist. I closed my eyes and felt my shirt being pulled out of my pants. My pulse was racing, and I could feel Katerei’s breathing speed up to match mine, as her chest rose and fell against my back. A cold hand appeared on my stomach before sliding over and coming to a halt directly above my stab wound. I sat as still as I could manage while her second hand joined the first, and my gut was filled with a warm tingling sensation.

    “Mystery solved,” I said, breaking into a smile.

    “This wasn’t easy, you know,” she chided me. “I almost think they didn’t want you to recover at all.”

    “That wouldn’t surprise me,” I replied before I could stop myself.

    “What makes you say that?” Her voice had hardened and the tingling stopped.

    “I…um…” I couldn’t think of what to say. I jumped as icy nails touched my chest.

    “You can’t trust me?” she asked and I could feel the hurt in her voice. I did trust her, but I was also reluctant to tell her. I’m not entirely sure why, since she had seen me kill in battle before, but somehow this felt entirely different. I probably should have explained what had happened the first time she came to visit, but now it was worse because she knew I was hiding something from her. Yet, if I did tell her, I didn’t know how she would react. Would she be disappointed with me? Would she stop coming to visit?

    I chose my words carefully. “They accuse me of murdering a freemage, Menelaus.”

    “Did you?”

    “Yes. No, but I–“ So much for careful preparation. “I confessed that I did. I went before the Headmaster and admitted it and he gave me a lenient sentence. One year in the dungeon.”

    “Why?”

    “Because I had helped out the mages in the past. The other masters weren’t too happy about it, but Lindus convinced them that my punishment would be enough, as long as I went along willingly.“

    “No. I mean, why did you do it?” I finally turned my head and met Katerei’s eyes, inches away from mine. She looked…hurt.

    I almost told her right there. Just before I spoke, I suddenly remembered the last time I had seen that expression, shortly after asking about Desert Fox.

    “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.” It was true, but we both knew that was an incomplete answer.

    “I see,” she said, leaning back so her face wasn’t in my field of vision. I turned back to watch the waves, replaying our conversation in my mind and questioning my choices. After a while, I felt her forehead rest against the back of my neck. Her arms were still around me, but they rested loosely now. I wanted to apologize but didn’t want to risk broaching the subject again.

    Some time later, Curly came up and informed us that it was time to leave. An uncomfortable moment of silence followed as we got up and disentangled ourselves, but my mind was too wrapped up in our talk to care what the guards thought. I don’t even remember walking back, only that at some point I realized I was lying back on my bed and Katerei was gone.

    I heard the door slam and turned around to see Adriana storming over. Her face was livid and her hands were devoid of any medical supplies.

    “What was that all about?” she demanded, grabbing my collar in her fist and roughly jerking me upright.

    “What was what about?” I managed to reply. Her eyes glared with hatred, all too close to mine.

    “You think this is all some kind of vacation?” Her grip tightened and I felt the shirt dig into the back of my neck. “You think you can just traipse around and do as you please?”

    “No, I…”

    “The reason – the only reason you are up here instead of rotting down in your cell–“ She had to pause to catch her breath. “Is because the Headmaster felt you should have the dignity of standing at your own trial!”

    “Trial?”

    She let go and pushed me back against the bed. My head bounced off the wooden frame. Hard.

    “Um…is everything all right?” My vision was swimming, but I managed to make out Curly standing in the open doorway. Apparently the door had slammed too hard.

    “I was just reminding the prisoner of his upcoming trial. For violating the terms of his imprisonment and his involvement in the death of the guardsman who caught him escaping,” Adriana said. Her voice was still cold, but she managed to force her hands to her sides. She was also breathing heavily.

    Curly looked uncomfortably between the two of us as he ran his fingers through his hair. I could tell part of him wanted to watch her strangle me to death, but I now knew he also had orders to ensure I showed up to my trial. Which also meant preventing my premature demise.

    I wanted to fight her accusations, especially that last part, but knew it would do no good. The guard that I – or rather, Katerei – had killed was a traitor, but there was a lot of other bloodshed that night. I was still in the dark about everything that went on, and at any rate, I didn’t think either of them would believe me.

    Adriana took a few more deep breaths, calming herself before facing me again. “I will see you hang for your crimes,” she said, each word dripping with icy cold venom. “Just three more days.”

    She turned and stormed out. Curly waited a moment, scowling at me, before calmly shutting the door and leaving me to my thoughts.

    If Adriana was telling the truth and they blamed me for the death of a guardsmen, then my plea bargain with Lindus was now void. I had once escaped a much harsher fate on my word and good will. There would be no such reprieve this time.

    I had only three days left to live.



  • I didn’t sleep at all that night.

    I stared up at the ceiling for an eternity, counting the lines between stone slabs and trying to formulate shapes from amongst the pocks and marring.

    Three days. In three days, I would be banished to an eternity in darkness. I doubted that they would hang me, at least not right away, but a long sentence in the dungeon would be just as bad, if not worse. At least if I was dead, I wouldn’t have to pass each day wondering what had become of my friends. Watching from afar as their lives moved on without me. Wishing I could feel the warmth of the sun on my skin again.

    Could I escape? I was pretty sure all of the courtesies I had been offered was because the master mages still had some modicum of trust in me. After all, for six months I had behaved, staying in the dark confines of my cell, cooperating with the warden. Yet, that assassin had broken me out and killed the jailers all so I could help unravel some kind of conspiracy. In the end, I was only useful to pin the blame upon. Would they still trust me now?

    I held up my right arm, inspecting the silver bracelet in the dim, pulsing light of the glow crystal. They had sealed off my magic. They posted a guard, albeit a small one. I wasn’t in shape enough to run far, if I could run at all. Yet, even if I managed to make it away from the city, where would I go? Once the word spread, I would become a wanted fugitive, unable to find safe harbor anywhere in Cythera. I would be an outcast, forced to leave my old life behind. That outcome was only mildly better than being stuck in a cell.

    What if I told them the truth? That Desert Fox killed Menelaus. That their freemage was really a wraith. That Seralcard had unlocked the cell and Katerei had killed the traitor guardsman. Would anybody believe me, or would they think I was uttering a list of excuses to escape punishment? After all, I hadn’t complained while I sat in the dungeon for six months; why was this story surfacing now?

    None of my options were good. I kept searching, trying in vain to envision another way out. I still had time. Adriana had given me that much. How should I use it?

    Frustrated, I placed my bare feet on the stone floor. My head ached from spinning around in circles. I needed something to clear my mind.

    I knocked on the door. For a moment I stood there staring at the wooden barrier in silence, wondering if anybody had heard. Or cared. I raised my arm to knock again, only to have the door quietly swing open.

    “Yes?” A guard I hadn’t seen before stood before me. His dark hair spilled out of his helmet and down past his shoulders. He didn’t look very sleepy, considering the late hour. The night shift must be normal for him.

    “I um, was wondering if I could take a bath,” I said. I don’t know when I had been washed last, but maybe scrubbing off the oil and grime would help clear my mind.

    Longhair peered at me with suspicion before leaning back and conversing with his fellow in the hall. They held a quick debate before he turned his attention back to me and said, “I suppose it would be permissible.”

    I walked carefully out into the hallway. This time, Katerei wouldn’t be around to support me. Longhair’s partner was another guard I didn’t recognize, but he promptly wrinkled his nose in disgust as I drew near. At least my bath had earned his vote.

    “Which way?” I asked. I had no idea where to find a washtub and I didn’t think anybody wanted to haul water upstairs on my behalf. Wrinkles was all too happy to simply lead the way. Longhair didn’t seem bothered at all. Perhaps he had no sense of smell.

    There was a small room downstairs, adjacent to the barracks, where a large tub of water was set out. The water was lukewarm and traces of an oily film floated on the surface, but I didn’t mind. When I stepped out, scrubbed clean, I felt more refreshed than I had been in a very long time.

    We took the north stairs back since they were closer. The halls were still deserted; nobody was awake at this hour. Or so I thought.

    As I exited the staircase, I caught sight of a dark robe coming towards us. I paused near the stairs, pretending to catch my breath, earning an impatient glare from Wrinkles and a shrug from Longhair. The robed figure quickly passed us by, head turned away just enough to prevent the light from illuminating his face. As fortune would have it, he turned down the same hallway that led back to my room.

    I pushed off from the wall and started walking, the abruptness catching Wrinkles by surprise. I wanted to run, but that would be too suspicious, so I settled for a brisk pace. The robed man had already disappeared around the corner by the time we entered the hall, and I feared I had lost him, but I heard a soft click as we passed the first room on the north wall. There were only two rooms here, being one of the more secluded areas of the city. The other door hung ajar, hinges damaged by some kind of beast with claws. I made a mental note and returned to my room without incident.

    Either the bath or my small adventure had been enough to wear me out because the next thing I remember was waking up to daylight outside my window. There was a small silver tray on the table, complete with a cold bowl of porridge and some kind of really disgustingly strong tea. Katerei must have been here and left. My bandages had completely fallen off during the bath, but they had not been replaced. I wasn’t sure I needed them anymore anyway. Aside from a white scar line, my wound was completely healed.

    I ate what I could handle, then decided I didn’t want to wait around all day and asked to visit the library. Maybe it would help if I learned about what had transpired while I was locked away. I gave the room in the north hall a glance as I passed by. The door was shut and no sound came from within, yet something drew me towards it anyway. That temptation was put to a quick end by the young guards who were my escort today.

    If Selinus was aware of the charges against me, he didn’t show it. He was all too happy to show me to the history books, or at least the publicly available ones, as long as I kept reminding him what I was looking for. I didn’t think I would find recent history in a book, but was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. Apparently the library had a frequently visiting scribe of some sort who was all too happy to record the stories transpiring across the land.

    I passed the morning and part of the afternoon in the corner of the library, reading books. I learned about the conspiracy that had unfolded the night I broke out, the mobs and protests against the magi months prior, and a number of other events that I had completely missed out upon. When I finished with that, I found another book to read, this one about basic magic. Then a book about flora on the island. None of these books were giving me any answers to my predicament, but I suppose that’s why I was burying myself in them. As long as my mind was occupied learning about giant crustaceans, it wasn’t spinning around in circles, fretting about the future. Besides, nobody was paying attention to me while I read in the back corner of the library. Even my escort had long since lost interest and were chatting with some of the other occupants.

    My mind flew back to that locked door. The exit was not far from where I was sitting, and the bookcases were between myself and the guards. It was a foolish venture, one that could get me in a lot of trouble, but I convinced myself that I didn’t have much to lose and let my curiosity win out. Keeping my head down, I crept past the rows of old books and out into the hallway. Nobody shouted in surprise from behind me, so I kept walking and rounded the corner to the living quarters.

    Even in the middle of the day, this hallway was empty. I paused outside the locked door in trepidation. What if someone came around the corner and saw me? What if this was the wrong room after all? What if he didn’t want to be seen? It wouldn’t be long before my disappearance would be noticed, but even if I returned now, I risked being caught entering the library alone. I had come this far, might as well see it through.

    I raised my hand and knocked on the door. The sound was loud, booming throughout the quiet hallway, and I winced. The door remained shut. I could hear no noise from within. Maybe this was the wrong room. Maybe nobody was inside right now. I knocked again and still received no response. A third and final time, and I was rewarded with the sound of a clicking latch. The door swung open, but only a few inches.

    “What do you want?” the hooded man demanded, barely visible through the crack in the door. It was enough.

    “I know you!” I said. He took a closer look at me and his eyes widened.

    Right then is when my escort decided to burst around the corner, pointing and shouting at me. I stood patiently while they roughly grabbed my arms, angrily scolding me for running off. Furious, they started to drag me away when the robed man fully opened the door and stopped them.

    “Wait!” Trundaylan yelled. The guards turned to look at him in surprise. He lifted his hood back, exposing his face, and from the way they stiffened, I knew they recognized him. “He’s with me,” he said.

    The young man pinching my left arm, if he was old enough to be called a man, was clearly unhappy. I was supposed to be his charge.

    “I’ll return him to his room when we’re done,” Trundaylan added. “And we can all forget about this whole incident.”

    My escorts exchanged nervous glances. They had let me slip away. Any trouble they wanted to bring down upon me would not leave them unscathed, and they knew it.

    “If you’re willing to take full responsibility for this criminal…” the man on my right arm began.

    “I do.” Trundaylan turned to me. “You’re not going to cause any trouble, are you?”

    “Not planning on it,” I said.

    Either his word or the implicit threat of being reported was enough for the two of them, and they reluctantly departed back to their posts, shooting hateful glares over their shoulders. Trundaylan watched them go and then beckoned me inside and shut the door.

    He had changed significantly from the last time I had seen him. Where his skin was once a dark tan, it was now a ghastly white. A large red scar stood out on his neck. His muscular figure had degraded into a wiry mass of skin and bones. No wonder he ran around with a hooded robe on.

    “I heard you were dead,” I said, not knowing what to say. I hadn’t quite expected to get this far. Nor had I known about his obituary when I had glimpsed him before.

    “I heard you were an accused murderer,” he replied coldly.

    “That’s the simple explanation.” I sighed, taking a seat on the sole wooden chair in the spartan room. I didn’t think even he would believe my story. Well, maybe he’d believe some of it. I told him about my liberation, how Katerei had come seeking my help, and the death of the traitor Simon. He sat on the bed and listened to it all. When I mentioned Katerei, the energy seemed to drain out of him, but the fight with Simon brought it back. He gripped his knees and leaned forward, anger simmering behind his eyes. The older guards here had been a close-knit bunch. Betrayal was not something they took lightly.

    “There’s nothing I can do about that,” he told me when I mentioned the trial. Apparently only a small few in Pnyx knew he was still alive. Having an allegedly dead man defend me would only raise more questions.

    “What happened to you? Why did you fake your death?” I asked.

    “I didn’t.”

    I gave him my best look of confusion.

    “The Ronin did this.” Trundaylan gestured at his body and shuddered, remembering. “They brought me back to life with some kind of twisted magic, but they couldn’t undo the physical scars. So now I live, but a life like this is a curse.”

    “Does your family know?”

    He shook his head.

    “Why not?”

    “How do you think my daughter will react when she sees me like this?” His voice came out hoarse and he trembled. “How do you think my wife will feel? I barely resemble the man I once was!”

    “If you didn’t want to be seen, then why did you show yourself to me?”

    He took a few breaths to calm down before speaking. “Maybe I wanted to be seen.”

    I considered his words. My future was likely to be a life behind bars, but my friends and acquaintances could visit and see me. Trundaylan had no bars save for the ones he placed around himself to prevent being seen. Perhaps his appearance had been an act of desperation, a longing to share his existence with someone from the outside world. I wasn’t sure I was the best choice for that, but then again, he could easily pretend this encounter never happened if he didn’t like it. In that sense, I was the perfect choice for a man who couldn’t decide what he wanted to do.

    How would I feel if I could never see someone close to me again? How would they feel if they could never see me? I wondered what thoughts were running through Katerei’s mind when she discovered me in my cell. I had vanished for months without telling anyone. Had she thought I left forever? I recalled her tears on my arm when I woke up. How many times had she cried for my sake because she thought I was gone?

    “I think they would rather be with you,” I told Trundaylan. “Even if it wouldn’t be like before. Better to live with the scars you have than to not live at all.”

    He leaned back, considering. “I see.” It would be difficult, but I felt it would be best in the end.

    “I can’t keep you for much longer without arousing undue suspicion.”

    I nodded in reply. It seemed to take him more effort to stand than it took me, but I held my tongue. We returned to my room in silence.

    The two youngsters were waiting outside, slouched most unprofessionally. They straightened as we approached and I caught Trundaylan eyeing them with disapproval. He stopped a dozen paces from my room and departed without saying a word.

    “You have a visitor,” the guard on the right jerked his thumb towards the door.

    Katerei was sitting on the chair, resting her head on the bed, eyes closed. The late afternoon sun was shining through the window, illuminating her peaceful face. I tried entering quietly, but she jerked upright when I shut the door. Seeing me, she rose to her feet.

    “Where have you been?” she demanded. “I’ve been looking for you all day!”

    “I uh–“ I was with someone else you thought had died. The mood in the room was suddenly very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to lie to her, but I didn’t think it was my place to tell. “I was in the library.”

    “Doing what?” she angled her head slightly as if that would help her see past my defenses.

    “Reading.”

    “About?”

    “Current events.” This conversation was not going anywhere pleasant. “Look, I appreciate you coming to visit, but I’d like some time to think to myself. I don’t have much time left.”

    She put her hands on her hips. “Until what?”

    Oops. No sense dodging it now.

    “I go on trial in two days.” I sighed. I was sighing a lot lately.

    Her expression changed to concern. “For what?”

    “For breaking out and killing a bunch of guards.”

    “That wasn’t your fault!”

    “I know.” I collapsed into the chair she had vacated and rested my head in my hands. “I don’t see any alternative.”

    “So you’re just giving up?” She was standing very close now, looking down at me. I watched her chest heave with every breath, saw the worry and anguish on her face. She thought she had lost me twice, now I was telling her that I was about to vanish again. This time, perhaps permanently.

    “Do I have a choice?”

    “Yes.” Her words startled me and I looked up. Her blue eyes were searching, prying. I saw the plea on her face.

    I lowered my head. That wasn’t the answer she wanted. She stood for a moment and then turned and left without another word.

    The door slammed shut behind her.



  • _I ran through the forest, cursing under my breath, hoping I would arrive in time. A large tangle of tree roots rose up out of the ground in front of me, but I leapt over them without missing a beat. Tree trunks zipped past, bushes and vines cut at my arms and legs, and I kept having to duck my head to avoid smacking into branches.

    I had been searching for Saria when I heard the explosion. Almost instantaneously, I felt the magic bond with Desert Fox tug at me, pulling me towards him, urging me to hurry with all haste. I had no idea what was going on, other than a large amount of shadow magic had just detonated somewhere to the northwest.

    I ran, my legs burning with the exertion, my breath coming in rapid gasps. If I had been better rested, I might have had more stamina, but we’d been chasing wraiths around for the past few days, and time for rest was hard to find.

    The trees started to clear out on one side, and I found a dirt path winding through the woods, traveling in the same direction I was headed. A few more turns, a small hill, and then I spotted my destination.

    A grassy clearing lay ahead. A burning cottage lay in ruin, one wall nothing more than a few splintered beams and a muddy crater. Debris lay everywhere, some pieces still smoldering from the fire. Thick, black smoke billowed up from the ruins, forming a dark beacon in the blue sky.

    I sensed him before I spotted him. Desert Fox was standing to one side, his sword buried in something on the ground. As I approached, I saw his frost-blade impaled upon the body of a man, wearing what looked like the tattered remains of a brown robe. I almost tripped, a piece of glinting metal revealing the danger at the last moment. It was the remnants of Desert Fox’s shadow-blade, now shattered beyond use. I had seen that blade in dozens of battles before. For it to be broken now meant that powerful magic had been unleashed here.

    I stopped across from Desert Fox. He was staring grimly at the corpse between us, leaning heavily on his sword, though now that I was up close, I could see the large crack running through this blade too. Dark circles were visible under his eyes and he looked far more distraught than he had when we parted earlier that morning. Water lines were visible on his cheeks, the tears mixing with the blood clinging to his unshaven beard before falling to the trampled grass below.

    “What happened?” I asked. I was on edge now. I had known Desert Fox for years, but not once had I seen him like this. It was terrifying.

    “She’s gone,” he said simply. He didn’t look up.

    I looked around, but I didn’t see anybody else. If Saria was dead, he would be standing over her corpse, not the body of some man. So they had a fight, and all of this was at the center of it.

    “Who is he?”

    “A wraith.” Another short reply. Where were his bad jokes? His unrepentant sense of terrible timing and horrible misconceptions.

    “Before that.” The wraiths could possess people. This man didn’t look like he had been a wraith for very long. He looked almost like he was from Pnyx.

    “A freemage,” Desert Fox said. He finally lifted his head and met my eyes. “Saria called him Menelaus.”

    “Did she know?” Of the three of us, he was the only one that could sense them reliably. I didn’t wield shadow magic and Saria was just a novice.

    “I don’t think so.” He bit his lip in thought. I noticed the tears had stopped flowing. Perhaps this was giving him an idea. Or perhaps he had already cried out all of his tears.

    “Icel was here,” he continued. “He’s the one that destroyed the house. Sent this guy flying right through it.”

    “Is he gone?” I asked, suddenly feeling the need to look around again.

    “Yes,” he said. He took a deep breath. “But she blames me.” He frowned in confusion, fumbling for words. “She doesn’t understand that…the wraith gave his life up.”

    I wanted to say something, to reassure him, but nothing came to mind. My eyes kept darting between the body at my feet, the burning house, and the road I had traveled. Surely the smoke would be visible from the city.

    “I think I can make things right.” His words broke the silence, but I barely heard them over the crackling of the fire. “I need some time. I’ll find her and–“ his voice was cut off. It took me a moment to realize he was looking over my shoulder. I spun around and caught sight of a dozen armored men down the path, hurrying towards us. They were too far away to make out any details, but deep inside I knew they were from Pnyx. With all of the unrest lately, the guards had been patrolling the woods nearby, and this group must’ve been close enough to investigate.

    “We need to move,” I told him. Neither of us were really in a position to explain anything to the guards. Desert Fox was obviously unstable and I wasn’t quite sure what had happened. Besides, after that brawl in the restaurant, I wasn’t sure they would even be willing to listen.

    I started towards the trees behind the cottage. If nothing else, maybe the smoke would obscure our exit and buy us some time to get away. The undergrowth was thicker back there.

    Desert Fox didn’t move. “Come on!” I urged him, but he still stood there. I turned back, ripped his sword out of the ground, grabbed his arm, and began dragging him towards the forest. It was like dragging a giant sack of potatoes. The hill would block the guards’ view for a few more moments, but not long. I had to drop his sword so I could pull him along with both hands.

    “What’s wrong with you?” I hissed. “If you want to see Saria again, you need to walk away. Right now.”

    That seemed to snap him out of his reverie. His eyes widened and he started looking around, finally remembering his surroundings. We raced behind the cottage, barely putting the burning ruins between us and the path before the guards appeared on the hill, marching double-time towards the mayhem.

    Through the smoke, I saw their captain take in the scene. His gaze wandered to the burning house, missing us, then to the body of the freemage, and then settled on something else. The frost-blade that I had conveniently dropped along our escape route. Oops. The captain raised a gloved fist in the air and said something to his men. They saluted with a fist over their chest and immediately split up into pairs, fanning out around the clearing and into the forest.

    I dragged Desert Fox into a large clump of undergrowth just inside the forest. I wanted to go further, but there was too much open ground between the trees, and the guards were too close now to risk it. We had missed our chance.

    “I seem to have gotten us into trouble again,” Desert Fox apologized, breaking the silence. He still looked shaken, but he had calmed down somewhat. He wiped his face clean on his forearm, clearing his vision. I glanced around and saw that we were loosely surrounded, and though the guards hadn’t closed in on our exact location, it was only a matter of time.

    “It’s too late to run now.” I sighed.

    “We could fight our way out,” he suggested halfheartedly. We both knew that would be the wrong choice. These men hadn’t done anything wrong. I couldn’t justify their deaths to myself, nor to the inhabitants of the island. We needed to figure out something else, and fast. Both of us had drained our magic and the exhausting pace of the past few days was catching up.

    “Perhaps we won’t need to,” he said quietly enough that I almost didn’t hear it. I tensed up, filled with a sudden panic. “I could just go up there and-“

    “NO!” I belatedly winced and looked around; hoping nobody else had heard my outburst.

    “This is my fault! If only I hadn’t been blinded by jealousy, then I would’ve seen Icel’s trap before it was too late!” he argued back, louder than I would have liked. Wait a minute.

    “Jealousy?” I asked, incredulous. Just what had happened here?

    “Well, she apparently had been staying here for a few days and…” Desert Fox’s face flushed red, though I couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment or anger. Anyway, it didn’t matter. We had more pressing problems.

    I saw him start to rise and grabbed his arm, holding him in place. “Let me go,” he demanded.

    “Listen!” I hushed him. He struggled against my grip. “No please, just listen for a moment.”

    He stopped struggling and let me continue, “I know more than anyone how you feel right now. How you want to blame yourself. How you think throwing your life away here will make the world a better place. But let me tell you plainly and clearly, it won’t.

    “I’ve known you for years now. I know the good in you, and I think – no, I _ know _you are the only person capable of stopping Icel before he is able to consume the last wraith. You can’t tell me that everything will be better simply because you gave up here.”

    “I’ve done more harm than good, I’ve-“ he started.

    “Forget the past and move on.” I cut him off. We both paused for a moment. I wasn’t being completely fair, but I was telling the truth. We needed his shadow magic to find the wraith.

    “I’d like you to make me a promise,” I told him quietly. “Promise me that no matter what, you’ll keep moving forward. Promise me that you won’t give up. Find the wraith, and find Saria.”

    ‘That’s easier said than done,” he grunted. We were both painfully aware that the guards were unnervingly close and we’d be spotted in our hiding place at any moment.

    “Don’t you worry about them.” I gave him a sad smile. “Promise me, please.”

    I reached my hand out and he hesitantly clasped it. “I promise,” he said.

    I drew back and unbuckled my sword belt. “Here, you’ll need this,” I said, handing it to him. He accepted it quietly, fastening it around his waist. I started to stand up and caught myself, remembering. “This too,” I said, pulling out a small artifact, pulsing with a dim blue light. His eyes widened, but he accepted the zetacomb without complaint.

    I took a deep breath. It was time.

    “You owe me,” I whispered back as I stood up and walked into the clearing._

    “What did you want?” Katerei asked as I closed the door to the Headmaster’s room.

    “I’ve been given permission to visit the site,” I told her before nodding at Sandy. “Under escort of course.”

    “What site?”

    “You’ll see.”

    We were met at the gate by three guards and a freemage, all with varying degrees of gray in their hair. I didn’t recognize any of their faces, but as they exchanged words I learned that the freemage was named Peleus. He had a bald spot on the back of his head that reflected the sunlight when he leaned over to inspect my arm. I held my bracelets up at his request and he performed some incantation. My forearms snapped together painfully when he finished. “Just a precaution,” he told me.

    If you’ve ever had to walk with your forearms together, it’s not very fun and actually quite tiring. I couldn’t relax my arms at all and constantly had to shift them in search of a less uncomfortable position. Only Katerei’s cool hand on my shoulder kept me from vocalizing my frustration.

    The site was almost an hour away, and I had to stop and rest a number of times. My feet were beginning to hurt. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I wasn’t going to find any answers there. However, it did offer me one last opportunity to be outside of the city. I gazed at the trees, took in the smell of nature around me as we left the main road and followed a narrow dirt path into the woods. Most of all, I enjoyed the pleasant scent of cinnamon wafting in from beside me.

    At last, we rounded a turn and I stopped, recognizing the copse of trees ahead. The path wound to the left, up a grassy hill. I stared ahead in trepidation, hesitant to return to the place that haunted my dreams.

    “What’s wrong?” Katerei asked, her soft voice louder than my thoughts.

    “It’s nothing,” I said, shaking my head. If my arms weren’t bound, I probably would have grabbed her hand and led the way. As it was, I could only stumble forward awkwardly.

    I crested the hill, and for a moment everything looked just as I remembered it. The burning house, Desert Fox, his sword, and the body. Then I blinked and the vision faded.

    The hilltop was covered in green grass, but gone were the smoldering splinters. Menelaus’ body had been removed; I remembered reading he was buried with the other mages back in Pnyx. The blackened ruins of the cottage still remained, but only the north wall and part of the west were more than charred shambles. A dirt pit lay on the east end, where Icel had unleashed his shadow magic. Even now, nothing living grew there.

    The flower garden in the back caught my attention. Whereas the vegetable garden was overrun with weeds, the soil amongst the flowers was freshly tended. Someone had planted Irises and Starflowers. We were past blooming season, but traces of blue, white, and violet were still visible among the plants. I had an idea who the caretaker might be. I left the garden undisturbed, careful to not trample the single white poppy in the back.

    My gaze settled on the hedge where Desert Fox and I had hidden, where we had parted ways. Where was he now? Had he found what he sought? I walked back out front and motioned to Katerei to sit on the grass. We were on the spot where Menelaus’ broken body had lain and if I looked hard enough, I thought I could make out the gash where the frost-blade had cut the earth.

    I told her the whole story. I didn’t care if anybody else heard me, but I wanted her to know the whole truth. I revealed what little I knew about Icel, how he had hounded us with his wraiths first in Odemia, then Catamarca and Pnyx. I told her about Desert Fox and the demon he battled within as the price for wielding shadow magic. I told her about Saria, the ranger that had followed him here and the complicated relationship the two of them had. I told her about Pnyx and how we had discovered the wraiths were possessing magi and using them to stir up riots and unrest. Then I told Katerei about the day I stumbled upon this burning clearing and gave up my life for a friend who would have done the same to me.

    When I finished, the sun had moved a fair distance across the sky and the shadows were starting to lengthen. Katerei sat in silence, gazing pensively at me, her fingers pressed against her blue lips. I kept my eyes focused on her, trying to shut out the guards talking amongst themselves several paces away, or the freemage squatting on the stone steps to the cottage. At last, she spoke.

    “What are you going to do now?” Her voice was so quiet, I almost didn’t hear her words over the rustling of leaves.

    “I will go before the magisterium tomorrow and be sentenced,” I replied. There was an empty pit in the bottom of my stomach. I wished I could stay here longer, but time was painfully short.

    “That’s it? You’re not going to fight?” By some miracle she kept her voice low enough that nobody else overheard. Or at least they didn’t react. I saw tears form in her eyes. “Why?”

    “I gave my word,” I said. Both back then and today, I had promised not to fight. That was the only reason I was allowed to venture here. Why I wasn’t under closer guard.

    Katerei looked at me, tears streaming down her face. I felt water running down mine. We stared at each other in silence, my vision blurring. Then at last, she got up and ran away.

    I sat unmoving, watching her leave. This would be her last memory of me. Crying on a grassy hill. Just great.

    I felt terrible. My chest was tight and my stomach was queasy. Tears were streaming down my face, and I let them fall to the earth. So this is how it felt to never be able to see someone again.

    Some time later Peleus informed me it was time to return. I spent the whole journey feeling numb, remembering the look in Katerei’s eyes as she begged me to change my mind. I don’t even recall returning to my room, or crawling into bed. I just lay there, staring at nothing.

    At some point I got up and nibbled on a stale loaf of bread somebody had left on the table. I wasn’t hungry and only bit off a few mouthfuls before setting it down. That was when I noticed the note. It lay on top of a familiar set of blue and black fabric, freshly cleaned and folded. I picked up the note and held it up to the glow crystal.

    I apologize for my behavior the other day.
    It was unbecoming of one in my position.
    Since you have been true to your word,
    I thought you might want to wear something
    more dignifying than that horribly ugly shirt.

    I allowed myself a small smile as I lay back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, trying not to think about tomorrow.



  • My restless sleep was filled with visions of the friends and companions that I would be leaving behind. I flitted from memory to memory, reliving my years on Cythera in the span of hours. Interspersed with the memories were nightmares from which I would wake up sweating before struggling for moments on end to fall asleep again, only to repeat the cycle.

    Desert Fox confronted me, demanding to know why I had abandoned him when he had dropped everything to come save my life. Where was I now, in his time of need? If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have returned to Cythera and set in motion the chain of events that led to the present. If I had been a little faster that day, I could have altered the outcome and avoided this whole mess.

    I remembered Talos, Moonshadow, and Rogan. What would they think of me now? Would they react as Katerei had when she first found me? With shock and revulsion at what I had become?

    And what of Katerei? Would she hate me now for my cowardice in refusing to live? Or would she blame herself? I was haunted by the image of her crying on that hill. Why had I brought her?

    At some point, night turned into dawn and dawn turned into morning. I lay huddled in bed, hiding from the world, dreading the coming of noon. It was a foolish gesture; I could not escape the flow of time. I dressed in my adventuring clothes, grateful for that at least, and waited until they came to take me away.

    Most of the city had turned out to watch. Either they took this very personally or there was nothing more interesting to do. Lindus sat at the head of the dais, flanked by the other master magi. I saw Longhair amongst the guards standing around the room. From their formation, it seemed like they were expecting more trouble from the crowd than from me. I didn’t spot Adriana, but knew she was watching from somewhere.

    I didn’t pay much attention to my trial. It wasn’t really much of a trial anyway, just a bunch of proclamations and accusations. I stood there until my feet were tired of standing, but even then I wasn’t allowed to sit. The room was hot and stuffy and I had the sun in my eyes. My head hurt and I felt exhausted from a lack of sleep.

    There was the sound of a gavel and my arms were bound again. I was led from the room by Pheres. Curly and Sandy were my escort. Sandy eyed me apprehensively as he followed from behind, but said nothing. I was starting to like him, professional to the end. Unlike his companion. Curly didn’t spare me his jeers as he led me along.

    The trip through the hallways didn’t last very long before I found myself looking down the stairs to the dungeon. So this was it. The end. My existence was about to be locked away from the world. I felt panic rise from within. I didn’t want to vanish. Curly tugged on my arm, unhappy that I had stopped.

    I descended slowly, taking one step at a time. What was it I had told Trundaylan? Better to live with the scars you have than to not live at all. I stumbled on the uneven stone and almost fell, but Sandy caught me and held me steady. His face was an expressionless mask and his sandy-colored hair fell forward, almost covering his eyes. What was it that Katerei had wanted me to say? That I was going to fight, to run away? Could I do it? Could I live as an outlaw?

    Better to live…

    I had been given a light guard because they trusted me. Now, I was breaking that trust. But I wanted to live.

    Time around me seemed to slow down. I gave Sandy an apologetic grimace as I grabbed onto his outstretched arm. I saw his eyes widen in recognition as I pulled him forward, spinning him around me, and brought my leg up to trip him and send him crashing down the stairs. I heard Curly shout as he reached back to grasp my legs, but I sat down on the steps and kicked at his chest. Hard. He fell backwards into Pheres, the two of them tumbling out of sight into the darkness below.

    I paused for a second, catching my breath. There would be no turning back now. If I didn’t escape, my life would be forfeit. I ran back up the stairs as best as I could with my bound arms. At the top of the steps, I listened but didn’t hear any sound. No cries for help, no alarm.

    I shut the door to the dungeons and made my way through the abandoned hallways of Pnyx. Most of the city must still be back in the courtroom, filing out, sitting down for lunch, playing in the courtyard. It was eerie seeing the halls so abandoned like this. Had recent events taken that much of a toll upon the people here? Only once did I have to hide while a pair of guards passed by. I expected them to be agitated and alert, on the lookout for an escaped fugitive, but they were chatting about some kind of cheese. They didn’t give the column I was crouched behind a second glance.

    Where was the alarm? When I threw the guards down the stairs, had I knocked them unconscious or broken their necks? I hope it was the former; I didn’t want to be responsible for more bloodshed. For a moment, I considered going back to check, but quickly rid myself of that thought. If I got caught, it would all have been for nothing.

    I made it out of the pyramid without being seen and ran into trouble. The main extension gate ahead had two men at their posts, watching over the road leading into the city. I turned north and headed towards the side entrance, placing as many trees and carts as possible between myself and the guard station.

    The north gate was also guarded, by a lone man in dark robes. Trundaylan nodded as I approached. He lifted an axe and I held up my arms.

    “Are you sure you should be doing this?” I asked him.

    “I do as I please,” he said as he brought the axe down hard on the silver cuffs. “I’m dead, remember?”

    I ground my teeth as I felt the reverberations of the impact rattle through limbs. The engraving on the bracers flared a bright white and then went out with a hiss and a burst of powdery smoke. I jerked my arms apart, the binding holding them together broken. The cuffs were still attached, but the freedom of movement was a welcome relief.

    “Thank you,” I started to say, but he was already gone. It was past time for me to leave.

    I fled the city, running as fast as I could. I wasn’t able to use the main road, and the river blocked my passage north, so I circled around to the south, hoping to lose pursuit in the thick woods and steep hills there. I made it halfway around the city when I heard bells start clanging. Someone must have found my escort. A panicked glance over my shoulder revealed no guards chasing me. Yet.

    I was hugging the oceanfront when I saw her. She was sitting on the cliffs, watching the waves in silence. She looked up as I approached and I saw her smile.

    I stopped next to Katerei and took in the sight of her lithe form sitting on the grass, wearing that purple robe she always wore. Her long hair blew gently in the wind, hopelessly tangled.

    “I changed my mind,” I told her.

    “I know,” she said as she pushed herself up onto her feet.

    “I can’t stay here,” I said as she pulled me into her embrace.

    “I know.” Her body felt warm against mine. I slid my arms around her and hugged her back.

    “I can’t run much further.” I inhaled the sweet smell of cinnamon.

    “I know.” She pulled back slightly so she could look at me.

    “It’s dangerous for you to help me,” I said.

    “I know,” she said, her hands reaching up to cup the sides of my face. Then she leaned in and kissed me. I held her snugly in my arms, feeling her body relax against mine, tasting her soft, blue lips.

    For this one moment, everything was right in the world.



  • Avatara posted a chron?

    faints

    revives

    I like the references to previous TSs: the older stories are very well-integrated. An interesting "behind the scenes" look into the storyline with DF and the zetacomb is also provided. Someone should try to drag him back so that that plot can be finished.

    The use of first-person and the emphasis on the character's thoughts and feelings is also fairly unique to chrons. (For that matter, the incorporation of romance subplots is also fairly unique.) Personally, I'm not so good at dealing with someone's psychology, but this seems fairly well done.

    An ambitious first effort, easily better than any of my own chrons (which is not hard to be honest). Very nicely done :) .

    Spoiler

    I am kind of confused though. Are the mages incapable of determining when Avatara is lying? I'm also not certain why he couldn't tell them the truth. Are they incapable of determining if DF is lying?

    I find it hilarious that, after wanting Trundaylan dead for so long, you bring him back. (I'm kind of disappointed though that it wasn't Rapierian who resurrected him for his own twisted amusement.)



  • @selax_bot, on 04 January 2014 - 08:34 PM, said in The Trial:

    Avatara posted a chron?

    faints

    revives

    20,000 words too! It's like having four chrons in one!

    Quote

    I like the references to previous TSs: the older stories are very well-integrated. An interesting "behind the scenes" look into the storyline with DF and the zetacomb is also provided. Someone should try to drag him back so that that plot can be finished.

    I keep trying when I see him, but he's long forgotten it. The best I've been able to do is have him give me an unposted post and his old notes, which I relied on heavily for this and have pretty much used up.

    Spoiler

    The only thing that I haven't touched on in his notes is the location where DF/Icel are and a rough idea how the zetacomb is related to that. The ending of that conflict, and even the DF/Saria subplot, is lost in this mists of his memories though.

    Quote

    The use of first-person and the emphasis on the character's thoughts and feelings is also fairly unique to chrons. (For that matter, the incorporation of romance subplots is also fairly unique.) Personally, I'm not so good at dealing with someone's psychology, but this seems fairly well done.

    I was surprised when I found out how much easier it was to write that way. I was adapting a scene from one of the TSes and struggling with writing it, until I realized I had forgotten to use the first-person. Once I switched back, the rest of it became really easy.

    Quote

    Spoiler

    I am kind of confused though. Are the mages incapable of determining when Avatara is lying? I'm also not certain why he couldn't tell them the truth. Are they incapable of determining if DF is lying?

    I find it hilarious that, after wanting Trundaylan dead for so long, you bring him back. (I'm kind of disappointed though that it wasn't Rapierian who resurrected him for his own twisted amusement.)

    Spoiler

    I apparently forgot about that spell. I was using the spell list (you might have noticed an attempt to portray Shake Down), but didn't remember them all. The way I see it, they didn't really have a reason to doubt him before (after all, he surrendered and confessed), and then later on, Avatara didn't try to convince them otherwise. Ascertain is not a spell he knows either, so you can consider his unwillingness to believe telling the truth will make a difference to be a lapse of judgment on his part. With consequences.

    I actually had decided to go with the Ronin's resurrection a few months after cache and I fought about it. But, since his death was originally meant to have some impact (everyone had been cheating death a bit too much in the stories that nothing really felt dangerous anymore), I had also decided for there to be some kind of price for his resurrection. It just took a really long time to find an appropriate way to reveal all of that.



  • Made a quick Kindle-compatible ebook (The Trial - Avatara.mobi) because I'm always looking for something to read while sitting at the coin laundry, but never when I'm sitting at my computer.



  • Wowev, that was a good read! I really enjoyed it. Trying verbalize why I liked it is harder, but I doubt you'll believe me if I don't, so I'll have a go.

    I think the most important part of stories, to me, is the characters. I'm usually more captivated by a story with a lame plotline & likable characters, than a story with a gripping plot and unlikable characters. Of course, ideally a story will have a good plot & good characters - & I think your story did, though I kind of dreaded the plot advancement. As far as I can remember (& I've only re-read as far as Bell Tolls, at this point), Avatara was not seen again after Bell Tolls, and the next time Katerei was seen, she was alone and haunted by bad memories. And she was pretty freaked out when she first saw alt-Avatara in DM. Therefore I assumed Avatara would be hanged or sentenced to life imprisonment. :(

    Anyway, the three main characters, Avatara, Adriana, & Katerei, were all very likable (to me). You portrayed their emotions very well and I didn't want to stop reading this chronicle because I wanted to keep reading the characters' interactions with each other.

    Adriana might be my favourite, I thought your portrayal of her hatred for Avatara was well done, but yet (besides knocking his head against the bed frame, & maybe leaving his porridge out of reach) she did nothing to harm him & took decent care of him. We also see a glimpse of her private life implying that she's not hateful in general, just hasn't forgiven Avatara for killing someone she loved.

    Avatara was endearing. Similar to the real-life Avatara (^_~) he doesn't share much of his feelings or personal thoughts. Contrary to TSes and everything though, we get to read this story from his point of view, with glimpses of what's going through his mind. I get to see his loneliness, his over-cautiousness against hurting others (which just hurts Katerei, but oh well), and his general awkwardness in talking to people. Doesn't it make you want to hug him? Fortunately, Katerei seems to ultimately see through his silence, and she does hug him <3 It's only when Avatara decides to escape, it really frustrates me. It's a step up from accepting his sentence, maybe, but about the worst thing he could do otherwise. He's all caught up on his idea of honour (which is apparently to continually lie & deceive others so his very unstable friend, who regularly wipes out entire towns etc., can go on living in society), but then decides push a bunch of innocent people down a staircase, possibly even killing them, and run from the fate he'd long accepted. This is just lousy IMO :P What could it have hurt him to just tell the true story at his trial? If he was honest & still sentenced to life, I probably wouldn't begrudge him for breaking for it. I guess he'd have been accompanied by more guards in that case?

    Katerei is also very likable. I feel that you have idealized the Katerei character in your chronicle. Her discomfort of being around people, her tendency to run away & not come back, etc., have been minimized. (I'm not saying that as a criticism, I think it's fitting for Avatara to see her that way as he's clearly becoming smitten) She's just being a perfect nurse/friend for Avatara ^_^ I hope we will soon get to see the Katerei-view of this story, which I expect will be a little bit different!

    Anyway, other things I liked about this chronicle:

    I understand it!: You've probably noticed how poorly I tend to understand things. I like it when stories spell things out for me, dumb it down, make sure I understand. Abstract stories just leave me confused and take out a lot of the enjoyment. I don't know how well I would've been able to follow this chronicle if I hadn't read it immediately after reading most of the story-history of the Cythera board, but as it is, it mostly all made sense! I have a few questions, but it's more trivial things or curiosities, than failure to understand your story. That says a lot! At first I had trouble following the italicized portions, but after a few of them I caught on that they were re-living the same scene over & over, with different emphases. It's probably your willingness to write that scene multiple times that helped me follow it.

    The music: I've been enjoying listening to the soundtrack, it has some really pretty songs, and I think it fits the story well! Though I'm not entirely sure for every song which goes where - do you have any soundtrack annotations? (Side-note: Jadwiga commented that she doesn't like track 9. She thinks it's too scary.) I'm not sure I recommend listening to the soundtrack while reading, I had to stop a few times to concentrate on not crying :x The music really adds another level of emotion @_@ Though the only time I actually cried was when I got to Adriana's apology letter ;_; & I wasn't even listening to the music at the time! It just really struck me. ;_;

    The bedroom window: I remember you mentioned reservations about the window in the Pnyx bedroom since it's not game-accurate. I liked the window though, and anyway, there's apparently no windows in Pnyx at all, and that was a significant plot point in For Whom the Bell Tolls. I think the TS needs to be considered a higher canon than the game for the purposes of this chronicle. It was nice though, how the layout of Pnyx mentioned in your chronicle otherwise seemed to match the actual game-Pnyx. It's always nice to see connections between the Cythera Chronicles and the game itself :D

    And of course, another really cool thing about this chronicle is that it continues and partially resolves the abandoned plot from Shadow Games & sub-plot from Witch Hunt, and answers questions brought up in For Whom the Bell Tolls. It's so satisfying to see everything tie in together! :D Squee!

    I admit, I'm curious how much of this story you'd worked out during the times of those TSes. In Witch Hunt, did you know wraiths could possess people? Did you plan for Menelaus to die? Did DF (the writer) plan for DF (the character) to fall in love with Saria? In Bell Tolls, had you already decided Avatara was technically innocent of the murder for which he was convicted? It's a total bummer that DF doesn't remember his intentions for the Icel/zetacomb plot :( He always seemed to remember the stories so well. He'd disappear for months or years and then come back and start right where he left off, bringing up unresolved junk from long-previous stories that no one else remembered :D But it's been a very long time now.

    I'm really rambling now, so I'll go on to specific comments/questions.

    Quote

    “She’s gone!” Tears started slowly streaming out of his eyes, running down his unshaven face. “I’ve lost her.” I didn’t say anything. I knew he was talking about Saria, and I knew he needed someone to anchor his shattered world.

    I was sure Saria was dead at this point!

    Quote

    I thought back to the first night I met Desert Fox. I was staring at the bloody knife in my hands in shock, the body of my closest friend at my feet when Desert Fox found me standing alone on that terrace, oblivious to the riot forming outside the palace and the fires beginning to consume the city. The world as I knew it was at its end, and I only vaguely remember accepting the strange warrior’s offer under that blood-red moon. I numbly agreed to follow him and to seek out a new chance at life for myself.

    This hasn't appeared in any stories yet, has it? I'd be very interested to read more of it ^_^

    Quote

    “Did they get the assassin?” I tried to change the subject.

    “Yes,” she replied quietly. “Eventually.”

    Which assassin are they referring to, & when was he caught?

    Quote

    _“Icel has been hunting us for weeks.” She nodded at Desert Fox, sleeping soundlessly on the forest floor. “It was tough, but we managed to bring down two of them. Unfortunately, Fox seems to think there are four more.”

    “Three then,” I replied before realizing it._

    How did they go from three at that point, to one remaining when DF killed the one possessing Menelaus?

    Quote

    “She doesn’t realize that… In the end, the wraith gave his life up.”

    I'm curious what this amounted to?

    Quote

    “I have a house by the ocean,” Katerei said. Her words came out slow and uneven. I felt her arm move and looked down to see she had clasped her fingers.

    “Catamarca, right?”

    “Yes.” She paused for a few heartbeats. “It’s a lot quieter there. Fewer watching eyes.”

    “That would be nice.”

    Did Katerei just ask Avatara to move in with her?! :o

    Quote

    Her blue legs entered my field of vision, one on each side of me, and her hands slid down my sides until her arms clasped around me, pulling me back against her soft skin. I felt her warm breasts press into my back and my senses were overwhelmed with the smell of cinnamon.

    I felt her breath on my ear. “This is the only way I can,” she whispered, her words barely audible above the roar of the ocean. Her hands began moving, lower down my body, down to my waist. I closed my eyes and felt my shirt being pulled out of my pants. My pulse was racing, and I could feel Katerei’s breathing speed up to match mine, as her chest rose and fell against my back.

    Whoa, you weren't kidding about making Katerei super-forward! Her behavior shocked me a bit here. To think, a couple of weeks ago, she was having a panic attack at the thought of dancing with a boy, and now she's straddling a felon & untucking his shirt! O_O
    (Also, this struck me as something Avatara's guards wouldn't be comfortable with?)
    & why does Katerei smell like cinnamon?

    Quote

    Apparently the library had a frequently visiting scribe of some sort who was all too happy to record the stories transpiring across the land.

    Is that The Scribe?

    Quote

    "...So now I live, but a life like this is a curse.”

    “Does your family know?”

    He shook his head.

    ;_; what a jerk!

    Quote

    Someone had planted Irises and Starflowers. We were past blooming season, but traces of blue, white, and violet were still visible among the plants. I had an idea who the caretaker might be.

    Adriana..?

    Quote

    I told her the whole story.

    Wowev! Stunning! I wasn't expecting that. Is this a breakthrough for the Avatara character? Is he finally learning to trust his friends?

    Quote

    I was haunted by the image of her crying on that hill. Why had I brought her?

    No, I guess not :(

    Quote

    Desert Fox confronted me, demanding to know why I had abandoned him when he had dropped everything to come save my life. Where was I now, in his time of need?

    What is this referring to?

    These are the last few bullet points of my chron notes:
    -Katerei's on the cliff. She sees Avatara & smiles.
    -They hug.
    -They kiss.
    -The end???

    In case you can't tell, I'm not satisfied with the ending :P Maybe he gets captured by the guards & sent back to jail, or hanged. Maybe he escapes and runs to another dimension - & leaves Katerei? Or maybe she doesn't want to leave Cythera? Or maybe she goes with him, but after a while they break up & she comes back in time for Dark Mirror? In any case, it's not exactly a happy ending :\

    Whatever happened to Sideline? Wasn't he hanging out with DF/Saria/Avatara in Witch Hunt?

    Do you have any explanation for what happened to DF & Saria? I know they're not your characters, but it's your chronicle... & I'm so curious! & what about Icel? This needs a sequel! ^_^

    (Also, thanks for the Kindle version, Fiery!)



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 14 January 2014 - 10:26 PM, said in The Trial:

    It's only when Avatara decides to escape, it really frustrates me. It's a step up from accepting his sentence, maybe, but about the worst thing he could do otherwise. He's all caught up on his idea of honour (which is apparently to continually lie & deceive others so his very unstable friend, who regularly wipes out entire towns etc., can go on living in society), but then decides push a bunch of innocent people down a staircase, possibly even killing them, and run from the fate he'd long accepted. This is just lousy IMO :p What could it have hurt him to just tell the true story at his trial? If he was honest & still sentenced to life, I probably wouldn't begrudge him for breaking for it. I guess he'd have been accompanied by more guards in that case?

    We don't always make the right choices.

    Quote

    I hope we will soon get to see the Katerei-view of this story, which I expect will be a little bit different!

    Me too!

    Quote

    I understand it!: You've probably noticed how poorly I tend to understand things. I like it when stories spell things out for me, dumb it down, make sure I understand. Abstract stories just leave me confused and take out a lot of the enjoyment. I don't know how well I would've been able to follow this chronicle if I hadn't read it immediately after reading most of the story-history of the Cythera board, but as it is, it mostly all made sense! I have a few questions, but it's more trivial things or curiosities, than failure to understand your story. That says a lot! At first I had trouble following the italicized portions, but after a few of them I caught on that they were re-living the same scene over & over, with different emphases. It's probably your willingness to write that scene multiple times that helped me follow it.

    Well, that's a relief! I think re-reading the stories was probably a big part of it.

    Quote

    The music: I've been enjoying listening to the soundtrack, it has some really pretty songs, and I think it fits the story well! Though I'm not entirely sure for every song which goes where - do you have any soundtrack annotations? (Side-note: Jadwiga commented that she doesn't like track 9. She thinks it's too scary.) I'm not sure I recommend listening to the soundtrack while reading, I had to stop a few times to concentrate on not crying :x The music really adds another level of emotion @_@

    There should've been a text file included with the zip. I tried to avoid spoilers in the annotations, but you can probably pair up the one-word descriptions. The chapters are listed at least, and they're in chronological order anyway.

    Quote

    Though the only time I actually cried was when I got to Adriana's apology letter ;; & I wasn't even listening to the music at the time! It just really struck me. ;;

    It's interesting hearing people cry at different parts.

    Quote

    The bedroom window: I remember you mentioned reservations about the window in the Pnyx bedroom since it's not game-accurate. I liked the window though, and anyway, there's apparently no windows in Pnyx at all, and that was a significant plot point in For Whom the Bell Tolls. I think the TS needs to be considered a higher canon than the game for the purposes of this chronicle. It was nice though, how the layout of Pnyx mentioned in your chronicle otherwise seemed to match the actual game-Pnyx. It's always nice to see connections between the Cythera Chronicles and the game itself :D

    I think I had Wizard's map of Pnyx open constantly in another tab while I was writing the entire thing.

    Quote

    I admit, I'm curious how much of this story you'd worked out during the times of those TSes. In Witch Hunt, did you know wraiths could possess people? Did you plan for Menelaus to die? Did DF (the writer) plan for DF (the character) to fall in love with Saria? In Bell Tolls, had you already decided Avatara was technically innocent of the murder for which he was convicted? It's a total bummer that DF doesn't remember his intentions for the Icel/zetacomb plot :( He always seemed to remember the stories so well. He'd disappear for months or years and then come back and start right where he left off, bringing up unresolved junk from long-previous stories that no one else remembered :D But it's been a very long time now.

    I relied heavily on DF's notes. He came up with the possessions (actually, I think that was even in WH!) and Saria was based off a girl in real life. We both had planned to kill Menelaus, though I think the original idea was to have that trigger a riot back in WH and the murder idea came up when planning Bell Tolls.

    Quote

    This hasn't appeared in any stories yet, has it? I'd be very interested to read more of it ^_^

    Still don't have a solid idea, but the core essence (mentioned) hasn't changed. >_>

    Quote

    Which assassin are they referring to, & when was he caught?

    Was supposed to be the one that killed Trundaylan and (I think) some other people?

    Quote

    How did they go from three at that point, to one remaining when DF killed the one possessing Menelaus?

    There were four. The first one (the one that was harassing Av/Saria throughout Shadow Games) got offed by Saria pretty early on in Witch Hunt. She killed a second one in Pnyx. Menelaus was the third. There was a fourth, but he/it never got fully planned out (and I think Icel was supposed to win that one anyway).

    Quote

    I'm curious what this amounted to?

    DF had the idea that it was a "good" wraith, in that it preferred death over being twisted to Icel's will. The wraiths had been under Icel's control for some time, and he's not a very nice commander.

    Quote

    Did Katerei just ask Avatara to move in with her?! :o

    I thought "visiting", but maybe?

    Quote

    Whoa, you weren't kidding about making Katerei super-forward! Her behavior shocked me a bit here. To think, a couple of weeks ago, she was having a panic attack at the thought of dancing with a boy, and now she's straddling a felon & untucking his shirt! O_O
    (Also, this struck me as something Avatara's guards wouldn't be comfortable with?)
    & why does Katerei smell like cinnamon?

    She said so. (The cinnamon.)

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    Is that The Scribe?

    ;)

    Quote

    Adriana..?

    :)

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    No, I guess not :(

    The truth doesn't always just magically make everything better.

    Quote

    What is this referring to?

    DF pretty much dropped everything and booked it to Cythera to save Avatara from the dragon in Echoes.

    Quote

    These are the last few bullet points of my chron notes:
    -Katerei's on the cliff. She sees Avatara & smiles.
    -They hug.
    -They kiss.
    -The end???

    Or is it? Does seem like something is missing and not everything was wrapped up, doesn't it? ;)

    Quote

    In case you can't tell, I'm not satisfied with the ending :p Maybe he gets captured by the guards & sent back to jail, or hanged. Maybe he escapes and runs to another dimension - & leaves Katerei? Or maybe she doesn't want to leave Cythera? Or maybe she goes with him, but after a while they break up & she comes back in time for Dark Mirror? In any case, it's not exactly a happy ending :\

    Spoiler

    One of these is true.

    Quote

    Whatever happened to Sideline? Wasn't he hanging out with DF/Saria/Avatara in Witch Hunt?

    Originally (in Witch Hunt), Saria was going to run off and encounter him after witnessing DF kill Melenaus and he would've brought the guards. I didn't include him because I wasn't sure if that was still a worthwhile plotline. There were some other things about getting the non-mages of Pnyx riled up against the magi, which in retrospect, seems like it would've been a lot harder to do. Turning Cademia against Pnyx is one thing, but Pnyx against Pnyx?

    (quote)Do you have any explanation for what happened to DF & Saria? I know they're not your characters, but it's your chronicle... & I'm so curious! & what about Icel? This needs a sequel! ^_^
    /quote)
    I think I posted everything I know about them. I have a little leeway to actually make up an ending, but I don't know if Avatara would be a first-hand witness to that.



  • @avatara_bot, on 15 January 2014 - 12:17 AM, said in The Trial:

    There were four. The first one (the one that was harassing Av/Saria throughout Shadow Games) got offed by Saria pretty early on in Witch Hunt. She killed a second one in Pnyx. Menelaus was the third. There was a fourth, but he/it never got fully planned out (and I think Icel was supposed to win that one anyway).

    This wasn't entirely correct, but I can't edit my post without breaking a bunch of stuff.

    There were four by the time Witch Hunt started. (There were more that got vaporized in Echoes.) Avatara saw the first one get eaten by Icel near the beginning of the story, while they were traveling to Pnyx. The second one Saria killed while at Pnyx. Menelaus was the third and that was after they left Pnyx. There were some implicit time-skips in the dream sequences.

    So at that point in time, there were still three left, but then fast-forwarding to the burning cottage, DF had just killed the third wraith, so there was only one left.

    Also, since I assumed the older TSes took place in the same canon as DM, DF wasn't quite the village-slaughtering megalomaniac he was made out to be. Maybe elsewhere, but there just weren't that many villages or villagers on Cythera to be slaughtered. I think he'd be toned down a bit - still probably overly violent, but not excessively so. (Just like fighting thousands of undead seems excessive too.)



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 14 January 2014 - 10:26 PM, said in The Trial:

    The bedroom window: I remember you mentioned reservations about the window in the Pnyx bedroom since it's not game-accurate. I liked the window though, and anyway, there's apparently no windows in Pnyx at all, and that was a significant plot point in For Whom the Bell Tolls. I think the TS needs to be considered a higher canon than the game for the purposes of this chronicle.

    I'm having trouble with the layout of Pnyx because there is apparently no hospital wing, which seems important for a school of magic (if Harry Potter taught me anything.) I'm choosing to believe that they renovated sometime between the game and now, installing windows and converting one of the libraries into a hospital. Seriously, who needs that many libraries?

    Quote

    I was sure Saria was dead at this point!

    Me too!

    Quote

    Which assassin are they referring to, & when was he caught?

    From what I can gather, this was Scourge, who had a pretty high body count in Bells. He hadn't been caught by the end of the TS, so it must have happened while Av was comatose.

    There were actually two assassins, the other being Seralcard, but I don't think that's who they're talking about (though he had a high body count too.)

    Quote

    Did Katerei just ask Avatara to move in with her?! :o

    I took it as "stay as long as you need," but it's open to interpretation.

    Quote

    Whoa, you weren't kidding about making Katerei super-forward! Her behavior shocked me a bit here. To think, a couple of weeks ago, she was having a panic attack at the thought of dancing with a boy, and now she's straddling a felon & untucking his shirt! O_O

    Desperate times call for desperate measures!

    @avatara_bot, on 15 January 2014 - 12:17 AM, said in The Trial:

    She said so. (The cinnamon.)

    I think I specifically said chai tea, because Katerei does so much work with herbs and spices, but Avatara doesn't know what chai smells like so I had to give a more specific smell. :rolleyes:



  • Posted Image



  • So I was thinking about what happened with DF killing Menelaus & everything, as I lay awake last night (what is with this insomnia?). I've put it together like this:

    At Menelaus' cabin.
    DF: Dude, what is my girlfriend doing in your bed??
    Wraith-possessed-Menelaus: Uh, she's ill?
    DF: My, what a big shadow-aura you have...
    Wraith-possessed-Menelaus: All the better to eat you with!
    DF: gasp You're possessed by a wraith! Man, if only I had that zetacomb! Where's Avatara when you need him?
    Icel: enters Did someone say wraith? I must consume it!
    DF: NO! You may not consume the wraith!
    Icel: RAWR! I just want to consume the wraith! Throws wraith-Menelaus through the wall in anger
    They run outside
    Wraith-possessed-Menelaus: DF, please kill me, I'd rather die than let Icel become more powerful.
    DF: With pleasure! STAB
    Saria: DF! WHY DID YOU JUST KILL THAT INNOCENT MAN?!
    DF: Uh, he slept with my girlfriend?
    Saria: Ugh, you're disgusting! stomps off
    DF: NOOOOO! SARIA!
    Icel: Uh-oh, DF's mad, better get out of the 10-mile radius.

    I'm still missing the shadow-magic explosion :\ hmm.

    Quote

    (you might have noticed an attempt to portray Shake Down)

    I didn't... when was that?

    Quote

    We don't always make the right choices.

    That's true... It prompts the question, what makes a character likable or unlikable for me? I don't really know the answer to that. I liked Avatara throughout the story, even though he continually made the bad choice (IMO) not to confide in Katerei. If he'd just been open with her, their interactions probably wouldn't've been much fun. But in the end when he decides to break for it, I felt like that reflected a flawed standard of ideals that was slightly appalling. But this really has nothing to do with the quality of your chronicle. Reading about perfect characters would be boring. (Some book series with perfect characters are pretty popular, but you've got to admit, they're boring.)

    Quote

    There should've been a text file included with the zip.

    Oi, I feel dumb! I didn't even open the folder, just imported it straight to iTunes @_@

    Quote

    I think I had Wizard's map of Pnyx open constantly in another tab while I was writing the entire thing.

    See, Wizzy! See why it's so important that you maintain your website!
    Side-note: If I remember correctly, Wizzy declared in Bell Tolls that Pnyx was several-storeys high :x

    Quote

    I'm having trouble with the layout of Pnyx because there is apparently no hospital wing, which seems important for a school of magic (if Harry Potter taught me anything.) I'm choosing to believe that they renovated sometime between the game and now, installing windows and converting one of the libraries into a hospital. Seriously, who needs that many libraries?

    My personal opinion is that if we're imagining Cythera as real, it would need to be a lot more detailed than the game is. Therefore I think it's most sensible to think of the game as a simplified version of the TS-world Cythera, due to lazy programming ^_^/> I really do enjoy seeing references to the game world (like NPCs from the game, same general layout of buildings, historical references, etc.), but worrying about it too much would really confine the writers.

    Quote

    Was supposed to be the one that killed Trundaylan and (I think) some other people?

    Quote

    From what I can gather, this was Scourge, who had a pretty high body count in Bells. He hadn't been caught by the end of the TS, so it must have happened while Av was comatose.

    Okay, as far as I knew Scourge was never caught (though if it happened in a story/tavern after Bell Tolls ended, I probably forgot about it). That's another resolved plot element then. :D/>

    Quote

    The truth doesn't always just magically make everything better.

    No, but if Avatara hadn't told Katerei his story, would she have been waiting for him on the cliff, after his trial? Avatara seemed to understand, throughout the story, how he hurt Katerei with his silence; but expressing regret at making her cry implied that telling her was worse than not telling her.

    Quote

    Or is it? Does seem like something is missing and not everything was wrapped up, doesn't it? ;)/>

    Yes, it definitely seems like that! :D/>

    Quote

    There were some other things about getting the non-mages of Pnyx riled up against the magi, which in retrospect, seems like it would've been a lot harder to do. Turning Cademia against Pnyx is one thing, but Pnyx against Pnyx?

    I was a little confused about that plot in Witch Hunt. Just how many non-mages live in Pnyx? In the game, it's emphasized as being a "city of mages" and the only non-mage NPCs in Pnyx were staff (the little Dodona family, & the guards). Maybe we're assuming there were actually lots more non-mage citizens who weren't shown in the game (though I'm not sure where they'd live, it's not so much a city as a school), or maybe we're assuming that a lot more non-mage families moved in in the 10-15 years since the game, I'm not sure. But my immediate reaction was that the Pnyx mages could've easily subdued a non-mage rebellion :\

    Quote

    Also, since I assumed the older TSes took place in the same canon as DM, DF wasn't quite the village-slaughtering megalomaniac he was made out to be. Maybe elsewhere, but there just weren't that many villages or villagers on Cythera to be slaughtered. I think he'd be toned down a bit - still probably overly violent, but not excessively so. (Just like fighting thousands of undead seems excessive too.)

    When DF returned in Echoes, he spent a lot of time reflecting on all the people & undead he killed in the Tyrant's Ring - which not only isn't considered canon, but was never even finished. I think Mr. Somebody (if I remember correctly) resolved the Tyrant's Ring story in a chron series, but DF's version didn't seem to match up quite right to that anyway. Most of what I know about DF (the character) is from older non-canon TSes, so I just kind of make assumptions based on that.

    Quote

    I took it as "stay as long as you need," but it's open to interpretation.

    Oh, that's less shocking! (her positioning for touching his tummy is still shocking though, I considered that extremely intimate for how much their friendship had developed at that point. Couldn't she have just touched his tummy while sitting beside him? Or maybe she didn't want him to be able to see her blush ^_^/>)

    Quote

    I think I specifically said chai tea, because Katerei does so much work with herbs and spices, but Avatara doesn't know what chai smells like so I had to give a more specific smell. :rolleyes:/>

    Oh, her herbal medicines! That makes sense. I was thinking "has Katerei been baking? I thought she was scared of ovens!" :x



  • Actually, Scourge was apparently free at the beginning of the Tree of Life TS (see here). It's possible that a scapegoat was captured or that he escaped. There was going to be a subplot (I think) where Katerei would encounter and recognize him, but that has yet to materialize.



  • Quote

    It's interesting hearing people cry at different parts.

    Out of curiosity, which part made you cry, Sely?

    Quote

    Actually, Scourge was apparently free at the beginning of the Tree of Life TS.

    So he's still technically on the loose? Or could that have happened before Avatara regained consciousness in this story?
    When he asked Katerei about the assassin, I actually wondered if he could have meant Simon (that was the guy who almost killed him, right?), though I don't think he was actually an assassin himself.



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 15 January 2014 - 01:24 PM, said in The Trial:

    I was a little confused about that plot in Witch Hunt. Just how many non-mages live in Pnyx? In the game, it's emphasized as being a "city of mages" and the only non-mage NPCs in Pnyx were staff (the little Dodona family, & the guards). Maybe we're assuming there were actually lots more non-mage citizens who weren't shown in the game (though I'm not sure where they'd live, it's not so much a city as a school), or maybe we're assuming that a lot more non-mage families moved in in the 10-15 years since the game, I'm not sure. But my immediate reaction was that the Pnyx mages could've easily subdued a non-mage rebellion :\

    I assume there must be more non-mages to keep the place running. What would be funny is if they didn't stage a violent rebellion (which obviously they'd lose), but just went on strike. I'd like to see a school of mages try to operate smoothly when laundry stops getting done.

    Quote

    Oh, that's less shocking! (her positioning for touching his tummy is still shocking though, I considered that extremely intimate for how much their friendship had developed at that point. Couldn't she have just touched his tummy while sitting beside him? Or maybe she didn't want him to be able to see her blush ^_^)

    She probably could have. But she didn't. Make of that what you will. ;)

    Quote

    I was thinking "has Katerei been baking? I thought she was scared of ovens!" :x

    I'm actually downplaying that fear now because I rewrote her backstory to be less clichéd (though it still makes several allusions to old stories.) I might get around to updating her character info one of these days.

    @selax_bot, on 15 January 2014 - 08:23 PM, said in The Trial:

    Actually, Scourge was apparently free at the beginning of the Tree of Life TS (see here). It's possible that a scapegoat was captured or that he escaped.

    Other possible explanations are that Katerei lied to Avatara, or someone fed Katerei misinformation.

    Quote

    There was going to be a subplot (I think) where Katerei would encounter and recognize him, but that has yet to materialize.

    That would have worked better if I was in Tree of Life.

    @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 16 January 2014 - 05:15 PM, said in The Trial:

    When he asked Katerei about the assassin, I actually wondered if he could have meant Simon (that was the guy who almost killed him, right?), though I don't think he was actually an assassin himself.

    I actually like this explanation best, because it makes Kat's response more meaningful. Neither Av nor Kat found out who the assassin was during Bells anyway.

    This post has been edited by iKaterei : 17 January 2014 - 05:35 AM



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 16 January 2014 - 05:15 PM, said in The Trial:

    Out of curiosity, which part made you cry, Sely?

    So he's still technically on the loose? Or could that have happened before Avatara regained consciousness in this story?
    When he asked Katerei about the assassin, I actually wondered if he could have meant Simon (that was the guy who almost killed him, right?), though I don't think he was actually an assassin himself.

    Well, reading your comments was fairly traumatic but not any more than usual.

    I would assume Scourge is still loose (maybe he'll make a return someday, who knows). The reference being to Simon is a good explanation.


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