[Story] Story a Week 52 – The End

[[ Prompt: A story titled “The End”.

I have seen prompts before that asked you to write the death of a character. I guess this is basically that, but larger in scope, it’s a vision of the Legion invading the Ghostlands. But don’t worry, as all Bronze dragons know, it’s only a possible outcome! ]]

The first streaks of dawn stretched over the Ghostlands sky, illuminating the wintry landscape below. A cold rain had frozen overnight, sheathing the branches and fences in a layer of ice. Renzdormu shivered, eager to finish his morning patrol and return to his cozy bed. There would be cake or muffins by the time he was back, and tea and chocolate. He occupied himself with wondering what sort of muffins they would be — manaberry, perhaps — as he glided low over the forest. As he crested the final ridge that led out to the ocean, something caught his eye, stark and jagged among the ashes of the scar.

It was a portal, a large one. As Renner watched, fel energy crackled over it, the surface churning like a stormy sea. His first thought was to try to break it, but he knew the structure was too strong — it was some sort of reinforced metal and likely had wards as well. He swung around and flew straight back to the school, beating his wings to carry him faster. Hethurin had to know, so he could prepare the portals to get everyone to safety.

Renner landed in the garden, shifting hastily into his elven form as he did so, jogging into the entry room. Hethurin wouldn’t be up this early, but he could ask Tik to rouse him. But surprisingly, he was, already speaking with the death knights. “There’s a–” Renner interrupted. Whatever they were talking about couldn’t be as important as this.

“Portal,” said Salenicus. “It appeared last night.”

So they did know. “It looks to be opening,” Renner said. “You must start the portals,” he said to Hethurin. “I’m going to find Zayel and see if she can help me close it.”

Hethurin was already making his way down the hall, knocking on doors to wake the students. Renner could hear confused and sleepy voices behind the doors, asking what was going on. Once outside, he made the flight over to the healing clinic in town, where Zayel would already be seeing to patients or making up beds for the day. Isandri looked up as he arrived, surprised. “Get to the school,” he said. “A portal is opening. Zayel, come with me.”

Zayel’s eyes grew wide, but she followed Renner outside. “Are you sure?” she asked.

“Very sure,” Renner said, looking south to where he’d seen the portal. The rangers! He’d forgotten they were here in the forest too, and first in the path of anything that might come out of that portal. “It’s this way,” he said, shifting back into his dragon shape, his great wings lifting him into the sky. His eyes scanned the forest below as he flew, searching for any demons. Maybe there was still time to close it before anything came out. He heard Zayel gasp, and he looked to her.

“Look,” she said, as the surface of the portal alit with vivid green flame. The spiraling surface seemed to pull apart, and a teeming swarm of imps poured forth from it. Renner couldn’t even begin to count how many there were; they were countless, like a hive of bees or ants. They ran over the ground, leaving it charred with flickering fel flames behind them, moving north up the scar — and toward the school. Renner had fought imps before. Even this many shouldn’t pose much danger.

“Is there any way you can close that?” he asked, turning to Zayel. She stared intently at the portal for a few long moments, and shook her head.

“It’s too strong,” she said. “There’s something very powerful keeping it open.”

Likely something much bigger than imps, even a swarm of them. “Go up to the school,” Renner said. “Hethurin will need help making the portals. If you could keep the demons out–”

Zayel nodded. “I can keep a ward up long enough for that, I think.” She looped around, heading north toward the school. “Be careful, Renner,” she said.

It wasn’t a matter of being careful, it was a matter of buying Hethurin and the others enough time to get to safety. The thought of the school — his school — being over-run by demons was unacceptable to Renner. The students, so eager and innocent, couldn’t be harmed either. He would not allow it. The bronze dragon landed squarely in the middle of the imp swarm, hoping to break their march. He snapped with his jaws, swung his tail, and swiped with his paws at any imp within reach. He could hear their pained shrieks, feel their bones crunch between his teeth. They jumped and crawled onto his back, their needle-sharp claws scrabbling to hold on. He could feel the fel fire burning into his scales, but he ignored it. There would be time to heal later.

The imps, seeing their kindred dying, finally scattered. They darted off into the forest in different directions. They were still out there, but they were far less dangerous alone. Renner looked back to the portal, and groaned. More demons were coming, and bigger ones. He recognized the mana-eating hounds, the long, tall inquisitors and the strange one-eyed orbs. They did not look at him as they emerged, rather they continued their march north. They had orders, Renner realized. Someone was in charge of this invasion. The demons were not simply roaming where they wished. It was even more important to stop their advance. But without the leader, it would no doubt continue. Where was he?

He would have a better view from the air. Though he ached from the fel burns, Renner spread his wings and flew up over the forest, searching. Even from afar, he could see a bright blue glowing barrier surrounding the school. He hoped it would hold against so many demons. Something whizzed past Renner’s head, and he drew back in alarm. A second later, the ground below shook with the impact, a smoldering crater of green fire. Infernals! Renner looked up, searching for more. If he could prevent them from hitting the barrier, that would help. He darted underneath the falling boulders, shoving them out of the way. It hurt, much worse than the imps had hurt, but if one of them got through the barrier — he didn’t want to imagine it. The forest below had caught on fire, the trees crackling with vivid green flames as the infernals pushed their way through. They were huge, their rocky heads towering over the tops of the trees. And more were coming.

A battalion of demons, each armed with two long swords, advanced along the scar. Each was huge, its hoofbeats causing the ground to tremble with each step. The portal yawned once more and Renner saw the general emerge — at least, he was certain it had to be the general. A monstrous pit lord, its massive body too large to fly, stepped out and surveyed the forest. Renner circled back around the portal, studying his prey. As long as he could stay in the air, he would have the advantage. It was surely weak around its head and especially the eyes, though its head was covered with spikes, and a pair of long curving tusks. He would have to stay away from those. But unless the head was stopped, the demons’ invasion would press on. If nothing else, he had to buy Hethurin enough time to make the portals.

Renner swooped down, clawing at the pit lord’s head. He didn’t seem to even scratch the thick, scaly skin, but the pit lord certainly noticed his presence. He bellowed and swatted at the dragon, but he darted away quickly.

“Captains!” the pit lord bellowed. “Remove that dragon.”

The eight demons with the long swords paused in their advance and turned around to look. Renner ascended up, out of their reach. Though they were more agile than the pit lord, they were still very large and couldn’t move as quickly as he could. And their swords only reached so far. Renner was careful to stay just out of range. Maybe he could draw them back toward the ocean, away from the school. But he could see the other waves of demons, continuing to walk north, ignoring his presence. They had their orders, and they would follow them.

One of the sword demons lunged toward Renner, swinging wildly. He ducked under and around them, flying up when he needed to pause for breath. The burns from the imps still stung, and he could feel the impact of the infernals — that would surely bruise later. He hoped Zayel knew how to treat dragon injuries as well as elf. Below him, the demons appeared to consult with themselves. He supposed it was a good thing that they weren’t more competent. The entire forest would have been burnt down by–

A bolt of fel fire caught Renner off-guard, causing him to stagger off-balance and flap wildly to regain his position. It had come from one of the long, thin inquisitors, and others gathered behind it, their hands glowing with magic. The fire had burned a hole in the leather of one of his wings, and the pain was almost unbearable. But he had to stay in the air. If he landed, he would be dead.

“Again!” ordered the pit lord. “Bring it down!”

The inquisitors’ hands alit with flame, and magic was much more difficult to dodge than slow swords. And his right wing already hurt terribly. Renner flew south toward the ocean, trying to draw them away from the school. He could hear the heavy hoofsteps of the sword demons following behind him. That was good. Another bolt of fire seared over his back and he shuddered in pain. It was enough for one of the swords to catch him, and Renner went tumbling head over tail into the brush. As his vision went dark, he saw the barrier over the school dissolve.

[Art] Merry Christmas!

Renner and Zayel are getting in the holiday spirit!

xmasdragons.png

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Renner’s Journal

I was able to find Zayel without any other students around, that’s not easy to do. Usually she’s over at the healing clinic, or in her room studying. I wanted to speak to her about what’s been happening, and whether she could help with the wards. I also wanted to tell her about the island with goblin beds on it, because I bet she would be interested to see them too.

She said the wards are fine, that Hethurin’s are quite strong and she didn’t need to make any adjustments, however she did make her own as a back-up. It seems Hethurin didn’t mention to her that the emergency portal would be to another timeline. The idea of having to use it frightens me a great deal; bringing one person is highly dangerous, bringing an entire school’s worth? I am honestly not sure what might happen. I’ve been hunting for one that is suitable, that would have the least impact, but I am not sure if it’s possible. Even removing them from here, if they are meant to die, is more tampering than I would allow anyone else. So why am I even considering it? I don’t want to see them die and everything taken away. I know I shouldn’t be personally invested, but I am. Especially when I think about the little baby ones. I couldn’t just stand by and watch them be devoured. There has to be a timeline they can go to without too much danger.

In the meantime, I am desperately hoping it doesn’t come to that. Every night I fly over the forest and kill any demons that I find. Normally I find a few imps, once I saw some of the magic-devouring hound type down by the Scar. Nothing bigger than that, but I’m still going to watch. Aeramin has returned, hopefully that will fortify the wards enough that the emergency portal won’t be necessary. Zayel said she hasn’t seen any in town, either, only on the path near the forest.

I told her about the autumn ball. She could easily make herself an illusion for it, but as she’s supposed to be a student, it would probably be better if she made a mask out of paper or cloth like everyone else. The other students usually start making them soon, so they could help. I don’t think she really understands it, and won’t until it happens. That’s okay, I didn’t either, and it is sort of a strange custom when you think about it. She especially thought the fake spiders were odd, since we have real spiders.

She sounded pretty interested in seeing the goblin beds. Of course it’ll have to wait until things are safe here. She asked if they were goblin-sized. I really hope not, I don’t want to have to be in a goblin shape to use one.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Renner’s Journal

I’ve never spoken to many blues, so I don’t know if that one is strange or not. But she certainly seems strange. I was sure that she wouldn’t remember — people usually don’t remember something so far ahead in their own future — but she did. She said that she wondered what happened to the strange elf that she found. I suppose having an elf fall out of the sky into your yard would be memorable.

I don’t think she’d had cake before, which isn’t too surprising if she’s been living in the middle of the crystal forest with no one around. She didn’t really explain why, which I found a little suspicious. I can’t think of any reason why someone would want to be away from everyone else, unless they’re doing something suspicious. Probably magical experiments or something. She definitely hadn’t had spinach rolls, I put some of those on her plate, and the other little foods too. They taste really good, but you have to eat a lot in order to get full, but fortunately Tik knows that and makes plenty. He must have been cooking for the past week. So then she said that she’d been working on learning about the light. I thought that was really strange, I’ve never heard of a blue dragon or really any mage studying the light. She said it was a different kind of magic and worked entirely differently, also it would be useful for healing people. All of those things are potentially true, I just thought it strange. She said she was going to try and work at the clinic in town, with Hethurin’s sister. I hope it’s not just a front to eat people’s magic or something like that. Do blues do that? I bet they could.

She also expressed interest in staying here at the school, to help Hethurin improve his wards and help with the students. While I don’t see how it could hurt anything (I mean, provided she’s not stealing anyone’s magic), I’m sure Hethurin will feel differently. It’s only been a couple of weeks for him, and he’s still angry about the shackles, which I can understand. I didn’t explain all of his past to her, I don’t think it’s my place and it wouldn’t change what happened, anyway. But he’s likely more upset than even most mages would be, with good reason. It might help if I could vouch for her, but I’m not entirely sure of her motivations myself. Although it would be funny to tell Zarah that another female is staying here. I bet she’d get jealous and come here to see her for herself. That would be something.

It’s got to be better than lurking around the forest alone. If she posed as a student, she wouldn’t be able to teach anyone. But maybe she could take over Hethurin’s arcane lessons until he feels better. She’d do a lot better job at it than he does. I don’t really like pretending to be a student, it’s a little embarrassing, but it causes a lot less fuss this way. We could just say she’s a temporary instructor, or she could live in the house with the female students and keep an eye on them. I don’t know. That all assumes that Hethurin will be willing to let her stay, he can be awfully stubborn sometimes. Worse than me, even.

[Story] Beneath Dalaran

Renzdormu glided on the currents above the crystalline forest, his wings spread wide to catch the meager updrafts. Below him, the forest was as still as death: no small creatures scurried among the brush, no birds flitted from branch to branch. The only movement anywhere was the elf, tumbling down from the walls of Dalaran. His cloak fluttered around him like futile wings. As every time the dragon had watched the scene, he felt the urge to intervene, to pluck the elf up into his claws before he landed and avoid what was to come. But that would only complicate things further and, he thought — not without a hint of spite — maybe the painful arcane thorns would help the lesson sink in this time. How could he have done it! After everything they had both seen and been through. Renzdormu watched the mage cast his spell, slowing his rush toward the ground, and his landing in the thorny brambles. Then the woman discovered him and took him inside.

He had informed Des and the other student of the situation. There was no way he could bring either of them along, but they deserved to know what was happening. And he hoped it might prove useful, for the younger at least. Des had been there for everything, she ought to know well enough why there were rules. But then, so should Hethurin. Even besides the danger of unexpected irregularities, the timeline itself would be too dangerous for two blood elves. Hethurin had entered the city during the Purge, when any sin’dorei would be captured or killed on sight, depending on the whims of the mages. Disguises were possible, but their illusion spells would likely not be advanced enough to trick the Dalaran magisters — particularly when they were keenly alert for such things. Renner, however, could change his appearance as he wished — and his eyes were blue in their natural state. And he was much better equipped to deal with a bad situation, should it come to that. From the distance, he could not tell whether the elf in the house who had found Hethurin was a dragon or not. It was likely, he thought. Who else would choose to live in such a place? Renner had limited dealings with blue dragons; he was not sure how reasonable one would be, nor for what reason they would choose to keep Hethurin. He knew they guarded dangerous mages — Sanimir among them — but Zarah had arranged that. The younger timewalker asked if Renner would fight with the blue dragon if needed. He could scarcely imagine that! He was not the most skilled in physical combat, most of his kind weren’t. But then perhaps, maybe the blues weren’t either.

Renzdormu arranged his form, remembering to leave his eyes blue, and approached the house warily. The very ground seemed to hum with magical energy beneath his feet, and he could hear the faint vibration of the crystals that sprouted from the branches and vegetation, having over-run the forest long ago. She wasn’t angry at him knocking at her door, at least, she seemed more intrigued than anything else. Renner explained that the mage inside belonged to him, and needed to be returned to his own timeline right away, before he caused any more disruption. Hethurin had been bound with arcane shackles, which Renner thought a bit excessive. He hadn’t done anything wrong, had he — at least in her eyes — but she said it was only a precaution. Hethurin was still groggy when he stirred, and didn’t make much sense. He said that he’d come here for a dragonhawk, no doubt the one that now resided in the school’s stable. Why would he do something so foolish, even knowing what could happen? There were always unexpected outcomes, always. And he had done it all the same. Renner wanted to leave the shackles on to drive the point home, but then the elf started to cry. It was best to bring him back right away, before anyone at the school worried any further. He thanked the blue dragon for saving Hethurin. As much trouble as he had caused, him dying would have caused even more. She’d saved him a great deal of work. He asked if she liked cake, and told her about the winter ball that would be happening in their own time soon. Most likely he would have to bring her there, unless she wanted to wait several years, but he rather doubted that. Imagine what everyone would say, having a blue dragon at the mage school! Maybe she would even agree to help with the lessons, it would be more interesting than living in the middle of an empty forest.

[Story] Fairsong Academy – Renner’s Journal

I haven’t been doing terribly much since the trouble happened. I’ve gone to see Sanimir where the blues are keeping him, and he seems secure, but I can’t help but blame myself. I know Zarah blames me too. I’ve not heard much from her either, I assume that she’s busy working with her timewalker. Hethurin hasn’t had much time for lessons, not that he needs many. He’s adopted two small girls and had his wedding recently, so he’s mostly been focused on that. I guess that once fall classes resume, he’ll have a more steady schedule and be ready to practice again. But I have been working with Des, and she’s making good progress. I’d like to take her on another trip, similar to the one in Booty Bay, to test her ability. But somewhere nicer, with better food and fewer goblins. Zalindri is still in the foundation of her studies, so I’ve not spoken with her yet other than passing hallway conversation. I hope that Hethurin hasn’t forgotten about her. And last night I had another student ask me to look at my books.

As I said, it gets a bit boring without any lessons, so I’ve found other ways to pass time during the day. Usually that’s looking along the timelines of students here at the school, and people in the area. Babies are especially fun because theirs can vary so widely, and there are a lot of babies around here. But I’ve also looked at his, the one who goes by “Lhoris” here, and I have my doubts about whether he is really a student at all, or here for another reason. Still, I didn’t see in harm in letting him look at my bookshelf, most of them were probably far too advanced for someone still in basic magic studies, however. He asked a lot of questions, mostly the same ones that everyone asks at first, and mostly about his own future. I don’t worry about him casting anything on his own, I’ve never seen him cast anything at all. He and the clockmaker are puzzles, nothing in their timeline suggests a reason for them to be here. Unless I look closer to the present, but it always feels invasive, as if they’d somehow know. They don’t, but I feel guilty anyway. I don’t see any reason for concern though, no more than anyone else at least. Magister Firewind is the one with some secrets lurking in his past.

I’ve been thinking about the one who opened the portal to Draenor, as well. When we visited there, we saw his corpse but it had not reverted to his true shape. I’ve never seen such a thing happen before, and it makes me wonder. I’d like to go back to find out more, but Hethurin hated that place. Admittedly, I can understand why, but maybe I’ll go without him this time. Zarah probably knows more, if she’d talk to me, that is.

[Story] Sideways – A Meeting in Dalaran

Zarah sat in the window alcove, her eyes scanning the churning grey clouds. It would surely be raining, were it not for the magical shield that enveloped the city where they now met. This Dalaran still stood among the ancient pine trees, warm and safe beneath its magical barrier. “I’ve never been to a sin’dorei wedding,” she said finally, taking a sip from her glass. “Are they much different from human ones?”

Renner gave her a sideways look. “You’ve been to a human wedding? Where?”

Outside, lightning flickered distantly, outside the magical dome. Zarah could see the trees gusting beyond the barrier, as well. She gathered her robe closer around herself, just in case. “They have them all the time in the city. It’s one advantage of not living in a ruined old house in the forest.”

He gave a little huff at that, but wouldn’t give Zarah the satisfaction of hearing it. “I imagine it’ll be like the other parties. Just a lot bigger.” Renner was still cross at being assigned duties as part of his attendance. All he had really planned to do was eat — and eat a lot. “Will you come or not?”

“What about Lena?”

“She can come, too,” Renner replied. He’d already thought to ask Hethurin about that.

“I mean whether it’s safe,” Zarah said, shaking her head. “Though she could put up a minor illusion if it’s needed.”

There were far stranger things at Fairsong Academy than a human, but Renner didn’t say that. “It’s safe. The other student is eager to talk to her. In fact–” he stretched his boots out onto the low table in front of him. “I’m taking her to create an anchor soon.”

Zarah’s brows arched sharply in surprise, which was the reaction he’d hoped for. “Really. Do you really think you can oversee two Timewalkers responsibly?” Considering what had happened with the last one, Renner had to allow her that slight.

“I trust her so far. She’s diligent in her studies, and she’s seen first-hand what can happen.” And she’d never asked him to bring guests to other timelines, Renner thought crossly. He still couldn’t believe, after all of the problems they’d had, that Hethurin would suggest such a thing. And he was still bringing Terellion with him, though at least he’d been careful about which timelines he chose in that case. Still, the mage often forgot caution at times, and it concerned him. Particularly when he was distracted, as he was with this wedding business. “There’s another one as well that I’m watching,” Renner continued. “She’s had only very basic lessons, but she has an interest.”

Zarah shook her head. “Please tell me you’re at least going to speak with her first.”

“Of course,” Renner said, though he dreaded that conversation. Elves never seemed to react well at first. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of Desdeyliri, though she’d promised to tell the new student beforehand. It wasn’t really a subject that came up naturally, though, and he guessed that he might have to do it himself. At the very least, he hoped that she would stop watching him while he was reading. “What about Lena?”

“She’s well. I worry that she’ll overextend herself, though. I have to make her rest or she’ll forget.” Zarah frowned slightly. “She’s been to see Sanimir. He’s — I hate to see mages like that. It’s like a bird with its feathers clipped. I know it’s necessary, but it seems so cruel.”

Renner watched Zarah for a puzzled moment. Hadn’t she been the one so keen to stop the rogue chronomancer? She didn’t regret it, did she? “He is secure though, isn’t he?”

She nodded. “Yes, his–” Zarah stumbled over the word — “keeper speaks with me often. I don’t think that she much enjoys it either. I’ve heard the sorts of things he shouts at her.”

It was unfortunate, Renner agreed, but he could see no better solution to the problem that he had, in a way, himself caused. He thought it better to change the subject. “We should have one,” he said finally.

Zarah gave him another sharp look. “One what? A mage?”

“No, a wedding. With a cake. A bigger cake than Hethurin’s.”

This time it was Zarah who snorted. “Are you mad? Whatever for?”

“Welllll,” Renner hadn’t exactly thought this plan through very well. “You’re my consort, aren’t you?”

Zarah threw a book at him. Fortunately it missed his head, because it was a very large book. Her shape was already melting away into the timeways, but he could see her flashing green eyes. “We’ll see you at the party,” she growled, her broad wings unfurling as she lifted off. Renner wasn’t sure if it was a threat or a promise.