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Prelude

She had her eyes on the tower. It made holding the spell easier somehow, and muffled down
the grunting and screaming of the orcs. The tower was on the horizon, a long stretch of grass
away, but the creatures they had been fighting wouldn't cease. So Ilandra held the spell,
sweating and not thinking, feeling the blood pump in her head like it was going to explode, and
kept three of the orcs immobilized while her partners fought. A little away from her Cylan
punched through a skull, getting his arm tinted of green blood to the elbow. Another orc
pulled him by the shoulder, hurling him to the ground. When he could stop rolling he punched
up, left and right, until he hit the enemy on top of him. The gigantic hand grabbed his head and
squeezed, and Cylan felt his eyes watering from the pain, the smell, the poison of the orc
blood. He thought he'd faint, but the arm pressing him burst in pieces. The orc screamed, and
he kept on punching, his gauntlets repeatedly hitting the bloodied stump and shoulder until he
cold stand and kick the orc on the ground to unconsciousness. When he looked up to where
the spell came from, Saraph, the caster, had been caught himself, two orcs pulling his arms in
different directions as a rag doll in while he howled. Cylan started to run, but three swirling
gleams of vivid green surpassed him in lightning speed, hitting one of the orcs, who let go. The
other one tossed Saraph's body in a wide circle over his head to the ground, and the sound of
breaking bones made Ilandra scream his name at the same time Cylan looked in her direction
to see the extended arms that created the rays that saved Saraph, as well as the three other
orcs released from the spell that kept them still.

Ilandra doesn't know her age, and her oldest memory is two years old. She remembers
waking up , nameless, in an empty house with nothing but a mark across her back, from hip to
shoulder, in a language she couldn't read. That took place in a small town at the edge of the
world, in a cluster of islands known as Iron Domains. There she worked, got herself a name -
Ilandra, a misconstruction of the sound of the strange words on her back - and discovered that
she had other two remarkable features; first, that her long, striking green hair was a trait
never seen before in the islands. She learned that right after starting interacting with people
again. Second, that she could perform magic, true magic, without the years of study and
training in a tower that took to make a wizard. The natural force flowed from within her. That
one was only learned many months after, when she left the islands for the first time, for the
only thing about the Iron Domains that made them famous was that they were a land devoid
of magic.

Cylan immediately doubled back and started running towards Ilanda, as one of the orcs raised
her from the ground by the throat. She tried to force his humongous hand open by scratching
and pulling with one hand, and opened the other in front of the orc's chest, gasping some
words. From her hands the same missiles erupted again, hitting the beast square in the chest
and in the fist around her neck. They both fell down, and Cylan got to them in time to punch
the other orc as he was trying to grab her from the ground. Ilandra crawled away from under
them, and tried to immobilize the orc that she saw in the horizon, punching merrily
something that she could fear would be Saraph knocked out. The immobilization spell worked,
and as she focused she felt the monster struggling, more and more helpless as his muscles
stopped obeying him, until his grunts were silenced in his teeth by the fact that his body wasn't
his anymore. It lasted but a second, for the third orc planted a foot on her back, grabbed her
hair and pushed it so hard she thought, for a moment, that her neck would snap. Out of her
sight, she could hear Cylan roaring in anger and the sounds of another skull cracking.

Cylan meet Ilandra when she started travelling towards the tower of Zinor. He, much like
herself, was also different from anyone she had ever seen; the top half of his hair was white,
the bottom black. He had grey eyes that were shaped in an odd way, and he always wore
gauntlets, at all times. She liked him immediately; they had dinner together at the inn they
were both staying, and talked about themselves. She told him that when people found out
that she could perform natural magic - a well-born, that's how they called people like her -
they sent her to one of the Wizard's Towers, for apprenticeship and control of the power, least
she exploded and destroyed a whole town. The nearest Wizard Tower to the Iron Domains was
in the Crystal Hills, the coastal kingdom, and there she went. But when she got to the port the
local wizard, Rhael Gallard, was waiting for her. He asked her a couple questions and sent her,
right away, to the tower in the next kingdom, Zinor.
When Cylan heard that, he thought it was the most irresponsible thing ever done. That woman
was clearly too naive to travel alone, especially if she was to go around telling the first stranger
everything about herself. So he decided to escort her, and also, if at all possible, alleviate her
ignorance of the world they lived in, for her memory loss made her much like a child to his
liking. Cylan was, as he explained to her, a dragonade - a race created by the second Dragon
God, Schandrazhekar, to watch over humans during their lives and take their souls back to the
Gods once they died. They could only do so, however, by being at the Primordial Lake to pull
their souls from it in the moment of their deaths. But Cylan fell in love with his human - and
joined her in this world, believing that he could feel, that he'd somehow know when to wait
for her on the other side. He was wrong, he didn't know, and her soul could never be
retrieved. Cylan lived, ever since, in the human world, as penitence and exile for his pride.

Ilandra tried to focus, to conjure anything, but the pain war running through her and making
her head spin to much to think straight. Her capturer grabbed one of her flailing arms and gave
it a quick twist, and she couldn't move it anymore. She heard, however, Cylan's raging voice
getting closer and closer right before she felt the grip pulling her hair loosen up. She crawled
away again, fast as she could, the pain of her broken arm burning her mind, and started to slur
the words for the enchantment. She had a false start, but could muster up the words for the
immobilization spell again. Once more she paralyzed the orc farther from them, and hoped
against hope to see Saraph. Above her, Cylan punched and kicked like a maniac, as the orc
tried to smash him, to grab him, to hit him somehow. Finally he wasn't fast enough, and as the
creature landed a solid blow to his torso, Cylan felt his armor curve inwards, the riping metal
cutting his flesh . The next punch caught him in the head, and he felt dizzy, hot blood running
down his head and covering his ear. But he kept on punching that green massive wall, and
punching, and punching. In the distance, Ilandra saw a bright, sickening grey color wash over
the orc her spell was holding, and as the color took over, the skin started to crack and the flesh
fell to pieces around him. With relief she saw Saraph's bloodied hand raise his staff,
commanding the decaying spell further.

They both met Saraph on the road, and Cylan mistrusted him as quickly as Ilandra adored him.
He was clearly a cleric, but wouldn't say of which God, which in Cylan's book meant a
shameful, dark one. Ilandra insisted, however, that they kept together since they were
travelling on the same road and going in the same direction. Saraph didn't talk much about
himself, but he was young and gentle, and joined forces with Cylan in trying to educate Ilandra
during the times they'd stop to rest or make camp. He told her about the First Dragon, who
created the world, and the Three Dragon Gods who ruled it ever since. He told her about the
races they brought forth as their children, the elves, the dwarfs and the humans. He told her
about the first three wars, and how in each one a human was raised to divine status by his
achievements, forming the lower pantheon with the Three Human Gods. And finally he told
her about the last war, the one that had just ended a couple of years ago, in which the third
Dragon God, Reodath, the raw-fleshed Dragon, finally ascended to his full divine power. He
told her how in the beginning of it all Helena, the Pearl Dragon, who was created for light and
good, feared that her younger, darker brother would bring downfall to her and the creation
she intended, and thus tried to throw his Egg in the Primal Fountain, which destroys anything
that touches it but the First Dragon himself. Saraph told her that Reodath was screaming, his
scales melted, when the second Dragon, Schandrazhekar, heard him and reached into the
fountain to save him, burning his hands to the core. That's how Schandrazhekar, and all his
servants and creatures such as Cylan, have now platinum gauntlets. After that Reodath was
never able to develop fully, having been always a half-dead god - or as close to dead as gods
can be- until the last was, in which he rose to power.
It was in that moment that Cylan knew that Saraph was a Reodath cleric, and accused him of it.
Both of them fought, but Ilandra insisted that no man should be judged but by his actions, and
Saraph had been a great companion. In her heart, though, Ilandra felt compassion for the fate
of Reodath. Cylan begrudgingly accepted, so they kept on traveling together.

Cylan was on the ground, trying to get up again. But as he extended his leg, the orc kneeled
down heavily on it, breaking it. Cylan's yell was muffled by the orc's shoulder, as the creature
threw himself over him. The orc was twice the size of the Dragonade, and although he pushed
and struggled until his muscles trembled, he could not move the monster fighting to rip the
rest of his breastplate off. Ilandra jumped recklessly on the orc's back, and tried to strangle hi
with her arms, forgetting the burning pain on the broken one, trying to tear him away from
Cylan. The orc barely seemed bothered by it. She put her hands on the creature's eyes, and as
she screamed and an explosion of colorful lights erupted between her fingers as the orc,
shrieking, grabbed her and hurled her over his head, landing next to Cylan. The orc's eyes were
unfocused and dazed, so Cylan tried to punch him and grab his arms to give Ilandra time to
escape, but his fists had no more strength left, and his blows were meaningless. The orc
groped blindly, and pinned both of them down. He held each head in one hand, and started
banging them against the other. Each hit prevented Ilandra from saying a spell, and the pain
was driving them to unconsciousness when they both felt in their faces the cold-burning
sensation of orc blood poison. Their heads were banged against each other one last time,
much less forcefully, and they both looked up to see what was happening. On the orcs face
and body scars were opening into cuts, patches of healed skin burning back, bones twisting out
of place. They've watched, startled, as on top of them it seemed like every wound that the orc
had ever sustained was brought back, time rewinded to reopen them all. Ilandra snapped out
of shock, and propelled both herself and Cylan away right on time for the orc to fall flat on the
ground, dead. She looked around to find Saraph, each part of his face either purple or red and
with only one eye opened, propped from the ground on one elbow and sustaining his staff
pointed in the orc's direction . She smiled, thankful, and raised her eyes to see, behind him,
after a long stretch of clear grass, the tower of Zinor against a pale grey sky.

Cylan was uncounscious for a couple of seconds, but Ilandra gently woke him up. Leaning
against each other, both of them got up and walked to where Saraph still laid. The cleric was
closing some of his most urgent wounds, before the puddle on blood in which he was laying
became a pool of it. Ilandra slowly helped Cylan to sit next to the cleric, and sat herself. They
were silent for a moment, only the slightest sound of the staff's vibrating magic lingering
between them. Then Saraph started chuckling.

-What is funny?- Cylan asked, roughly

-We tried so hard to stay out of trouble during our way here, travelling discreetly and camping
in the weirdest locations you could find. All because you thought Il and I couldn't handle a
fight. But look! How many orcs were there, five, six, seven?

-Six.- said Ilandra, counting the corpses sadly, but smiling at Saraph's euphoria.

-Six! See, Cylan? We can get by.

-We're almost dead, Saraph.- reprehended Cylan, gravely.

-Yes, we're in bad shape. And I don't have enough healing prayers to fix all of us up. Maybe we
should do what we can, so we don't choke in our guts during our sleep, camp here and see the
wizard in the morning.

-No. I'm going there now. - Ilandra said - You don't have to waste any prayers on me, only my
arm is out of place, and I'll be fine soon.
-You won't. Your arm will heal wrong, and then I'll have to break it first before I can mend it
properly. Besides, both you and Cylan are bleeding rivers from your heads. Can't you feel it?

-Honestly, no.- she chuckled, and Saraph laughed as Cylan gingerly touched Ilandra's and his
own head.

-Better wait, Il. - Cylan looked, serious, at both of them - But just while Saraph heals as much
as he can. We'll fix the rest in the traditional way, I have some bandages and some ointment
in my... - he searched around, until he could spot his baggage yards behind - backpack. Then
we'll see the wizard. It's not safe to stay here, in open field, and despite how heroic you might
be feeling, we can't deal with another situation like that for a while.

-Alright.- Saraph laid again, and kept on closing his abdomen wound.

Ilandra got up to pick Cylan's backpack, which he tossed away during the chase just at the edge
of the woods before the green plain surrounding the tower. When she got it, she turned back,
and kept looking at the tower as she made her way back to her friends. It was a stark, simple
and strong structure, made of big, porous dark grey stones, and it seemed old like the
centuries. Nothing on its exterior justified the anguish with which the people always talked of
it, or the heavy feeling surrounding it, like the vision of a red guillotine. Ilandra observed all of
this, but it didn't affect her. The only thing she felt herself, growing within her, was curiosity
and a tingling sensation of excitement, as if the tower was drawn to her as much as she felt
drawn to it.
The Shaking Tower

On the wooden door, made smooth and strong by the years, right on eye's level, was the
source for people's disquiet when referring to the Tower of Zinor. Many symbols and
thaumaturgic circles were weaved and combined to create which was known, from peasant to
high-priest, as the seal that would make any pact unbreakable: the Vallen sign. It's presence
made any deal as unavoidable as the passing of time.

Standing before the door, Cylan and Saraph hesitated, alternating between the fear of the
name and the disposition to show bravery when among peers. Ilandra, however, with her lack
of common-sense granted by her lack of experience, knew little and feared less. She grabbed
the knocker and hit the door, controlling her urge to scream just to make fun of her
companions.

The door opened to darkness and silence, both incongruous with the bright gray daylight and
the noises happening all around in the plain. But it wasn't day inside, for no shadow could be
that that thick. No vibration betrayed a single sound in the stale air. They entered the dry and
cold atmosphere with Cylan and Saraph feeling their heartbeats in their mouths. They had
shared with Ilandra, before coming in, the common knowledge that the inside of a Wizard's
Tower is limited by nothing but its master's mind; its shape and space, its objects and spells,
they all reflect and obey his thoughts.

This thought lingered in Saraph's mind like a mist, while he saw what the wizard wanted him to
see, in that gloom in which he knew he shouldn't be able to spot a thing. The metaphysical
formulas written on the walls, the tomes and old arcane symbols, powerful and worn, the
forms of things over which his mind slithered, not willing to fully acknowledge them. He knew
he was being watched, and felt like prey walking on the wizard's hand, bearing in mind all the
time that it was all by his design. He felt like his skin was being ripped by hooks when he heard
Ilandra break the silence:

-Lazich Vallen? My name is Ilandra. We have come to see you, and I believe you know we're
here. Thank you for letting us in, and if you could reveal yourself, the act of kindness would be
complete. - Ilandra talked and walked, impatient with their behavior and ignoring the dreadful
auguries all over the place. Another voice answered her, bursting from the shadows beyond
them.

-What an awful lot of noise. Be silent, Ilandra, and keep still. Let us... yes, let us feel you.-

The three turned to where the voice came from, staring fixedly at what was no different than
any other dark patch of this dark room. Slowly, each of them started to notice the shape of a
drake on top of a column. Saraph and Cylan noticed the eerie sound of claws paving the floor,
approaching them from behind, circling. The image of fur sliding on muscles suggested itself in
their minds.
Ilandra stood, throwing her weight on a different leg. She waited as much as she could, trying
to tame her discomfort in feeling the tension rise in her companions, and then asked:

-Who would that "us" be? Are you not alone, sir Vallen?

-No.

The claws clacking the stones became louder, and Saraph noticed slightly before Cylan the
fangs and snapping jaws surrounding them. He saw the direwolves emerging from the
darkness, nearing them. Both reacted instinctively, the cleric hitting the first beast's mouth
with his staff and Cylan grabbing and hurling the other away in one fluid movement. The
direwolves whimpered, but the Dragonade felt the warm blood of wounds reopened run down
his skin, and Saraph couldn't disguise the hand holding his stomach, where his biggest wound
had been barely healed.

Ilandra ran forth, until she grabbed the column with both hands, and stared into the drake's
yellow eyes, urging -Stop! We are not enemies!

The insidious creature blinked, slowly and charmingly, and held her stare. He moved his
bifurcated tongue over the scales in his face, nonchalantly, and the creatures were silent. One
turned on his back, offering his belly for Cylan, and the other laid at Saraph's feet. Ilandra
looked around to check on her friends, concerned, but with a small nod, Cylan encouraged her
to keep going. She turned back to the drake, still focusing on her, but at no moment she
backed off a single inch.

- You're different from what I expected.

The drake emitted a cracking sound, and swiftly jumped on one of her arms, sliding liquidly
around her torso and up, finally setting himself partially on her shoulder, partially on her back.
-I imagine, young well-born! What a fool you are. And for shame that your friends were so in
fear and awe of the mighty Vallen that they forgot to tell you that Wizards, great Wizards,
have arcane guardians.

-We are not in awe or fear, and there are no such things as arcane guardians.- the calm,
modulated voice of Cylan spread through the room - It is always a complicated matter with
arcane conjurors, such as wizards. Their powers, when fully developed, allow them great
latitude in dealing with people. - he said off-handedly, dismissing the direwolf that now rubbed
itself against his legs - Il, wizards often have creature that aid and advise them. They are
usually the souls of dead wizards that weren't able to give up their art when they died. They
are usually called companions, animistic vessels, or familiars.

-I'm called Levi. - the drake hissed maliciously - And if you had your share of fun, I'll take you
to what you came to see. Light that way, well-born. - he ordered, imposingly, twisting his tail
around her arm to point it. Ilandra allowed her inner sensations to take over her, feeling the
live energy within her overflow and run through her body. Effortlessly, she turned her palms
up and started walking, and light radiated from her, more and more, making the darkness
flicker and move away, thus revealing a broad stairway ascending in circles along the walls of
the tower.
They went up, and Cylan and Saraph were most uncomfortable to allow Ilandra to guide them,
with Levi all wrapped around her as he was. Ilandra herself, however, turned to smile at them
from time to time, as to reassure them that she was fine. But as they climbed up she did so
less and less often, for the images she saw on the walls, the representation of spells so
complex and intricate she couldn't begin to make sense of them, fascinated her. Following the
stairs up there were shelves and shelves of books whose spines were decorated in glyphs and
stones, there were skulls of all kinds of extraordinary creatures, there were artifacts clearly
magical, and everything resonated with her core. She half-wished she could run all the way up
and down, and through the whole place, just to feel the plangency within her expand to its full
potential.

Saraph, however, was actually more thankful for the darkness at bay than for the light Ilandra
irradiated. On the long way up had passed by some open floors, and he didn't wish to see what
the darkness veiled in them. He felt constant shivers and resolutely ignored as much as he
could from the walls. He remembered the stories about Lazich Vallen, how he enslaved
demons and men with his pacts, and how they were more binding than death itself. He wished
they could go away as soon as possible, but dared not even pray.

They halted in front of a door, rather simple and solid, in which the veins in the wood
suggested inhuman faces. The silence in the tower was so that they could hear the rustle of
pages being turned behind it.

-Each one of you will enter alone, one after the other, and the door shall close after each
entrance. Everyone will talk to my master, and will be dismissed according to his convenience.
- declared Levi, hissing merrily.

-We came in peace, and there's nothing we could do to harm the Vallen wizard, and nothing
we could offer that would appeal to him. Can we believe that we shall not be harmed,
imprisoned of separated?- Cylan asked, firm and serene.

-Sure, Dragonade. You have come in one piece, and will be returned to the world just like that,
as far as he's concerned, and why not? As you put yourself, what could he possibly want that
the likes of you might have? When, in reality, the other way around is much more plausible,
and you may want things from him, since you prevailed upon your legs and cowardice to come
here despite your dread! You'll find what you need, dear ones, and more. But the price is
steep.

Cylan nodded, and stepped foward. He opened the door, entered, and closed it behind
himself with ease and grace. Nothing seemed to have changed at all, the same sounds of
shuffling pages coming from inside. Saraph proceeded to do the same, briefly touching
Ilandra's shoulder and straightening her blouse up before going. Drake moved his head as to
prompt him along, but the cleric ignored. He finished what he was doing, smiled, and went in.

-Are you going to stay in my arms?- Ilandra asked, looking down to Levi, bundled against her
stomach

-Yes. It's pleasant. Come on, move along.


She pushed the door with her shoulders while Levi turned the handle with his tail, as they both
passed and the door closed behind them. Ilandra saw a circular room in which whole floor was
an overly complex arcane sign. Torches lit up the grey stones of the walls, coloring them in
warm hues. There was an immense desk covered in devices and papers neatly organized, and
the same tomes and skulls that garnished the walls coming to this room. Four comfortable
chairs were loosely placed around it, each one half turned to and half away from the others.
The sound of thick pages turning prepared for the man behind the desk, whose hand slowly
perused the books in front of him. Far too young for someone whose name intimidated
generations, all of him seemed to suggest long lines, smooth and barely curved. The dark
auburn hair insinuated a movement of trickling down the shoulders, ending mid-chest, but the
crimson robes and the cape that draped down, covering the whole right side of the body from
neck to toe, insisted on the vertical, languid impression. Wizard are not known for their
strength, but this one looked healthily pale, with slim, defined lines. On his face an expression
of hardly existing interest in what he was reading suggested a feline resting. The first evidence
that he noticed their presence was when his eyes darted to them. The quickness of that single
movement contradicted the flowing languor of all the rest. For a moment they all stood still,
and the intelligent carmine eyes drank in all the information about her, and she felt measured,
weighted, analyzed and theorized upon. They closed a little bit, roguishly, and with ease and
poise he raised himself and came to her.

Ilandra knew, for the way Cylan and Saraph reacted to every mention of the name, that it
would be common sense to fear such man. But awe was her most natural reaction to the
world around her, and she had never felt such awe as since she entered the tower. She smiled
openly in answer to a smirk merely suggested on his lips, and spoke, clearly and confidently as
he approached her:

-Sir Vallen, I am Ilandra. I've worked as a tavern maid in the Iron Domains, but it seems that I
am a well-born. Thank you for having me.

He looked amused, and although she couldn't understand why, she didn't mind. The wizard
came to a halt in front of her. He barely had to look down to see her eye to eye, and his voice,
mellifluent and low, resonated with dynamic and expressive pauses.

-It's my pleasure to have you, Ilandra. You have quite a remarkable look for someone that hail
from the Iron Domains. I welcome you to my Tower; be so kind as to let me know what you
would have of me.

-The wizard Rhael Gallard, from the Crystal Hill Tower, has sent me to you. He has honored me
with his symbol, so you'd know I speak the truth.- she put Levi over one of her shoulders, and
from her satchel took a Lantern made of iron, Rhael's sign. She extended it to him - He told me
to present myself to your appreciation. Rhael said he couldn't possibly trace the origin of the
magic in my blood and bones, curious as he was, and would have me come to you.

-It is well known that there's no flow of arcane or divine energy within the Domains.- Lazich
kept staring at her, with a hint of a crease between the arched eyebrows. He watched her shift
her weight to the other leg, and instinctively leaned in the same direction. In his mind he could
see the scene unfolding in front of him as a third observer, and he felt there was something
else entirely, something urgent he had to notice, but hasn't been able to do so far. - The
descendents of creatures with natural arcane power usually display traits immediately
discernible of their heredity, but of those you exhibit none. The green tinge of your hair is
known to us, of course, but such a rare trait that only a very specific creature had it in all
history, and that lineage is long gone. Is there anything else that sets you apart that you would
care to share with me?- Ilandra could hear the embellished tone of his voice, but she was too
fascinated in what he said to heed to it.

-Well, there's my back.- and she turned,with Levi sliding around her torso to clung to her hips
as she pulled her hair over her shoulders and her blouse over her head. She held it to cover
her front at the same time she revealed the extension of the mark on her back.

Lazich noticed the involuntary movement of raising his left hand, but didn't come closer. He
inspected the sentence that crossed the skin in front of him with squinted eyes, and started to
answer her not-yet-made questions with a strange inflexion in his voice.

-It's an archaic form of elvish; extremely archaic, must I say. The feelings are hard to convey
simply, but it can be roughly translated into "I have loved you for your faults as much as for
your wonders". - he held his breath for a moment, as if a new idea interrupted his previous
train of thought - I can't help but notice that your name coincide with what would be the
common language reading of the first set of words. That can't be a coincidence.

-It isn't. You see, I have no memory from before the Domains. I don't really know my name, or
who I am. But I have this mark on my back, and as far as names go, it doesn't sound that bad. -
she sounded sad in saying so, and covered her back again and allowed Levi to climb back to her
shoulder.

Lazich raised an eyebrow and reigned in a smile - Hasn't Rhael tried to retrieve your memories,
or undo the spell that erased them?

-He was kind enough to try, but he couldn't do it.

The smiled could be held back no longer. He stepped forward again, approaching her - Did he
mention why he sent you through the ordinary paths, instead of sending you through the
telluric connection between the towers?

-Yes. He said they were too fragile to send me over them, and he didn't wish to risk it. Anyway,
I never got to far as to enter his Tower. He came to meet me at the Port.

-Well. - Lazich hesitated almost imperceptively, but raised both his arms to hold her by the
shoulders. In doing so, the mantle that covered his right side slid off, revealing an arm that was
disproportionately big and demoniac; thick dark leather instead of skin, spattered with cracks
and scars, and the hand ending in big, coarse claws. His eyes flashed to register her reaction to
the sight, but what her face revealed was curiosity, not unlike the way she looked at his books,
or at Levi. Parallel to the way a child contemplates the night sky or a bleeding wound, she
simply tilted her head and absorbed what she saw.
-Nice arm.- the cheeky comment, very interested, barely had time to irritate him before she
laughed - Where have you gotten it? Were you born that way? Are you a well-born, like me?

-It's the arm of a Lord of Abyss. It's... an infernal creature. I took it in a negotiation. My arcane
powers were develop over years of study, like those of any wizard.

After the short explanation, she all but forgot the deformity. Her relaxed shoulder were
encircled by Lazich's hands, both human and demonic. With the palms pressing the curve of
her bones, his fingers executed different sequences of moves and positions, creating
consecutive thaumaturgic patterns. The carmine eyes were almost completely closed, and the
lips and tongue rhythmically passed over a myriad of sounds and forms, quickly and precisely.
Ilandra felt her curiosity turn into awed admiration as she witnessed for the first time the
confident defined quality that arcane energy had when controlled by a wizard; the elaboration
only glimpsed in the symbols she's seen on her way up. She felt stunned and crass with her
raw magic, but not for long. All the labyrinthic sequences were concluded, and she saw herself
enveloped in a dome of red, viscous energy, in which motives of horns, hooves and mystic
signs dissolved as soon as her eyes captured them. The atmosphere within that obscure
resonance, with whispers just beyond hearing and shadows dancing in the corner of her eyes,
was so different from the effects of her own magic that the discrepancy hypnotized her.
Illandra felt the flow thicken around her, until if overcame all her senses, and she felt her
thoughts flooded through her eyes, her skin, her mouth. It would have been impossible for her
to say how long she was immersed in the arcane sphere; her only conscience was of having
been submerged in it, and no other idea or thought rose. Abruptly, like the moment you
realize you're not asleep anymore, the spell released her, evanescing as quickly as morning
mists under the sun. She turned her head to follow the last flowing lints of red dissipating. One
moment more, and there was nothing there. Only the feeling of uneven hands holding her
shoulders and the smell of brimstone and perfume.

Lazich's eyes opened slowly, unfolding the dark red irises. In them she could spot a shining
certainty, a fierce triumph that was somehow quickly buried by a frown, the smile covered by a
purse of lips.

-So?- Ilandra shifted her weight again, agile, and felt her shoulders being released. She put her
hands or her hips, and Lazich took a moment to answer, as if pondering.

-I don't know what to tell you. Superficially, everything seems quite simple, the same potential
unexplored and with specific, peculiar traits that you demonstrated in front of Levi when you
entered the Tower. Associated, naturally, with the spontaneous-intuitive element that can't be
separated from well-born magic. But I can't find a single element that would be external to the
source of magic. It's the standard procedure: to identify the magic core of any creature, which
is no different that hearing its voice or taking its pulse when you have the skill and perception
for this specific process. Then you separate what is prime arcane energy from the qualifying
hereditary trait. This could be draconic, fae, astral, natural, abyssal, among many other. But in
you I can't find anything beyond arcane energy. - underneath the calm surface he was
agitated, clearly excited by what he was saying, even if in a contained way -What's even more
extraordinary is that, underlying the outer layers that you access to produce your current level
of magic, there's something beneath, like a parallel current hidden under the first one, and in
this current you find... more arcane energy.

His deliberation were interrupted by a tremor. The Tower was shaking, the books and furniture
falling to the ground all around them, and the tremor raised until they found themselves on
the floor. Ilandra quickly overcame the instability, her agility making her able to walk through
the quaver. She got Levi, who was trying to fly amidst the pieces of the ceiling falling down,
and made her way to Lazich. He has such a barely held back fury in his eyes that it stopped her
dead for a moment, but she made herself get closes and offer him her hand.

-What's happening?- her voice could barely soar above the trembling, and he took so long to
react she thought he might not have heard her. When she was about to repeat herself, he
answered - I don't know.- and noticed her hand, taking it.

-I believed you controlled everything inside your Tower with your thoughts.

-Correct.- he spoke, retorting almost along as the end of her sentence, distracted. His eyes
seemed focused somewhere beyond her, and she felt the shaking slow down, until it stopped.
He turned to look at her again, and the quake came back, twice as hard as before. Making a
decision, held her hand tighter and started running, crossing the room and down the stairs.

-Where are we going?- the falling stones from the walls clashed against each other, and the
friction between the stones still standing shed dust and gravels on their heads.
-To one of my ritual rooms, in the dungeons. I'll send you somewhere safe while I deal with
this.
-Wait!- she halted, digging her feet on the ground and throwing back the weight of her body as
not to be pushed. Levi flew away, slithering, pass his master and down the stairs while Lazich
turned to look at her, with stupefaction. - Cylan, Saraph! I can't leave them behind. You don't
have to worry about me, just let me find them.

Lazich seemed angered and impatient while she was talking, and he considered forcing her
down or enchanting her. He decided for letting out a sigh, and saying - I'll commit myself to
their safety. I give my word , the word of a Vallen, that you'll be reunited. But at first I'll have
you all sent to different locations, least they go after you in case that's what's causing all this
commotion, and it will be safer that way. Now come.

Ilandra took a second to make up her mind, staring him in the eyes. She agreed, and her agile
and strong body surpassed him on the run, pulling him faster than he could have run himself.
When arriving at ground floor, Lazich made a gesture and the pavement stones vanished,
revealing the continuity of the stairway right on time for Ilandra's legs to land of the first steps.

The dungeons were huge, constituting a single room the full dimension of the tower, and so
deep the stairs circled it three times before touching the ground. Skulls and heads of demonic
creatures abounded, some crooked because of the shaking, some fallen. There were no
torches, the light came from a huge cauldron, as large as ten men side by side, that merged
with the ground in roots and trunks of black iron. It was full of thick, acid green liquid, which
bubbled and swirled. Above it, sustained and suspended by chains with links the size of a fist,
an enormous skeleton, humanoid but bearing long, large wings, horns and distorted legs
ending up in hooves. Ilandra's nonchalance failed her, and she found herself paralyzed, unable
to stop shivering at the sight. Her eyes went for the right shoulder, registering the stark
absence of the arm bones that should be there, but were not.

-Of course not.- she whispered, her heart suddenly louder than the rumble of falling stones on
the ground above. When Lazich sided with her, having lingered behind to isolate them from
the rest of the tower, he mentioned, casually: - This is a Lord of Abyss. What's left of him, at
any rate.

Ilandra snapped her mouth shut, trying to stop the shivering. Tentatively, she said - I see now
that this one is whole, but there are many similar parts scattered over the walls in the tower
above. Specially wings, and skulls.

- They are a specialty of mine.- He held his breath briefly, and touched her shoulder lightly - I
need you to go in the cauldron, Ilandra.

She seemed visibly alarmed as she turned to face him, but he prevented her from saying
anything - Be not afraid. Allow me to send you away, so I can deal with this nuisance in my
terms. - he stepped closer to her, and as she held his arms, instinctively, he held her back, no
unkindly, comforting her.

-Be brave. You'll be fine.

-Will you be fine? Will Cylan? Saraph? Levi?

He arched his brows, gently surprised. He laughed off the concern in her voice, and shook his
head, the last minutes seeming strange and surreal to him, and much more as he thought of all
the implications he kept for himself of what he found out. He smiled, and pushed her lightly
towards the cauldron.

-I'll be perfectly fine, and I'll look after your friends. I'm sending you now to Isaack Tzara,
wizard of the Tower of Savantim. Send him my regards. Now go.- and he kept leading her to
the cauldron. Ilandra threw one leg over the high edge, the second one, and jumped.

She expected to meet some resistance, eventually, when she hit bottom. But she kept on
going, submerging, feeling the vibrations from the Tower shaking first dwindle, then disappear,
and then only the liquid moving around her as her body sank. The luminescent tone of green
turned darker and darker, until it wasn't green anymore, but intensely blue, or a bluish black,
and she could make out strange shapes on it. When her feet finally touched the ground it
dawned of her that the darkness surrounding her was a forest , in a moonless night, and the
cold against her skin was no longer the liquid of the cauldron, but the night air. She couldn't
say where she was, but the ritual worked. In the thick quiet, she could hear animals and wind
all around her, and even the distant sound of running water, but no earthquakes, and no
trembling towers for miles and miles.

The Tucan and the Lion


Ilandra kept troding the woods, not being particularly careful, since her reflexes were good
enough to balance her easily after any stumbling, bumping and low branch. Nor did she care
about being quiet, stomping bushes, kicking pebbles and even singing and whistling from time
to time.

After a couple of hours, she caught herself noticing some sounds that were much different
from the usual chirping of the night forest. She stopped and looked around, casually. When
she was shrugging it off and tried to keep walking, she finally saw the sharp blade of a saber
almost touching her chest.

-Halt! Identify yourself immediately. - holding the saber was a young woman in a pristine
military uniform. Her voice was commanding and firm, even if suggested a slight edge of
tiredness.

Ilandra smiled and calmly took her hand out of her pockets, raising them in front of her, open-
palmed. -My name's Ilandra, and I'm a tavern maid in the town of Pewter Port. Who is it that
I'm having the honor of being arrested by, captain?

-Not a captain. Lieutenant. I'm Lieutenant Lia Fallarim. - and Lia kept staring into Ilandra's
wide-opened brown eyes. When she saw Ilandra twist her nose around, as if she was trying to
scratch it without using her hand, all the freckles undulating on her cheekbones, Lia felt
embarrased. She lowered her saber, breathing out.

- Nor are you under arrest. But you are currently within the watch perimeter of our camp. And
you sound western.

-Is that so? How does "western" sound?

- Tender and sluggish.- Lia combed her black hair back with her left hand - And quieter. When a
Zinor merchant arrives, you always have to scream "What?" a couple of times before he
decides to make an effort to speak clearly.- Lia appraised Ilandra, top to bottom, and was
confused and slightly angry. She saw loose clothes sliding off her shoulder, low, soft, worn
boots that were very wrong for walking in these woods, the luxuriant green, messy hair, the
well-disposed smile, nothing made any sense at all - And what, for the sake of all Gods, are you
doing by yourself, in the witching hours, in the middle of a forest? Are you a witch? I thought
maybe someone ill-intended had brought you here and you escaped, but you seem unharmed.
And unphased! And what is that hair, are you a driad or nymph?
- No, Lieutenant Lia. I'm human. - Ilandra geve a low chuckle - I'm here because of a
transportation spell, and one I dare say didn't quite work as expected. - she smiled again, and
once more put her hands in her pockets. - I am, though, a well-born.

-Ah. - was the dry answer the Lieutenant offered. She turned around, and abruptly, gestured
Ilandra to follow - Come, you can't stay here. This forest is ridden with skirmishes and fights,
and although it's unlikely that we'd find a barbarian scout this far into army territory, with
those beasts you can never know. The tribes were never famous for their prudency and sound
military tactics. I'll escort you to our camp, and from there you can take a safe route to
wherever you're going.

-That's great! Thank you Lieautenant, you're really nice!- Il rushed, prancing over some roots
and fallen branches, reaching up to Lia. -Why only "Ah"? That was the most laconic reaction I
ever had.

-You're more used to people being amazed, aren't you? Well, conjurors are always plagued
with a shortage of basic common sense. Specially when regarded in comparison to their self-
confidence. And of those, well-borns are the worst. There's something about sneezing and
turning a bee into a flower and a rock into molasses that makes you believe the world will
bend to your will, somehow.

-Hm, I see your point. Lucky us I didn't sneeze, uh?- Ilandra laughed, and Lia huffed. They
walked silently for a dozen steps. - You said you're at war?

-We're always at war with the tribes.- Lia answered, off-handedly, holding some branches for
Ilandra to pass - But it's been a lot worse since Krajick unified them. Before him we fought the
odd tribe, one at a time, when they grew too presumptuous for their own good, or try to steal
our crops or cattle. Now all of the thirty and some are working together, and it has been ten
times worse than Reodath's hell. Krajick.- she spat on the floor and stomped on it, cursing the
name - But their defeat in coming to them. The triunvirate will never be overcome by a
barbarian.

-Never.- Ilandra agreed, enthusiastically. - And where are we, exactly?

-In the south-southern quarter of the section...

-No, no, I mean, what kingdom?

Lia stopped, shocked - What the devil do they teach their kids over the west? What do you do
all day, since you don't fight and apparently you don't know a thing? Savantin, for Helena's
sake! The greatest military nation east of the Frontier, that keeps the barbaric pandemonium
in check so you can keep busy doing whatever you do. You most certainly have studied the
triunvirate in school?

Ilandra, during the past two years, had to absorb a lot of information immediately in order to
function in society. She had learned that the best way to acquire information was to give
people around her unrestricted attention, allowing them to express themselves to their hearts'
desire. Lia, offended in her regional sensibilities, stared indignantly at the open and interested
face in front of her and felt her anger dwindling down.

-The great Savantim alway had, traditionally, three leaders: a military man, an arcanist, and a
noble. This way, all areas in which Savantim excels would receive the appropriate attention
from a specialist. In the last war, Reodath's Ascension, may Helena and Schandrazhekhar keep
us safe - Lia made a sign of protection, raising her hands to the sky to her front and left -
Savantim's own General, Lexus, known as Colossus, was part of the group of Heroes called The
Four, repeatedly fighting Hicksar and Donivan Ashcroft III. Today the position is carried by his
right arm, Andrus Kelvin. The Arcanist in no other than Tzara himself, archmage of Savantim
Tower, whose power and skill are as remarkable as his creativity and unusual approach to
magic. The nobleman, and the one responsible for the finances and production of the kingdom
is Lord Salles, considered an economic and diplomatic genius, who was able to provide our
kingdom with riches even with the ongoing war needs. - at the end of her speech, she looked
back at Ilandra, to make sure she paid attention to everything. The well-born smiled, and
asked:

-Tzara's first name is Isaack, isn't it?

-Yes.- Lia seemed pleasantly surprised

-He's the one I was told to meet.

The lieutenant turned brusquely, holding Ilandra's shoulder. - You're aware that meeting the
commander of a kingdom in war is no simple task, surely? Maybe you can get a hearing, hell, I
can introduce you as an envoy, though only the Gods would know what could we possibly
want with an island lost on the other side of the world. But you would have to travel to the
capital, and it could take weeks.

-Where is he now?

-In our camp, in theory, but that doesn't mean much. It's been days since anyone has seen
him, and access to him here is even more restrict, since he's not bound to see people outside
of his tower.

-I'm sure that, with a little help, I'll manage.

-Why would I help you?- Lia throw her arms up in the air, brushing her hands against branches
and spider webs. She pulled her hands back to her chest, cleaning them and gruffing.

-You are helping me, Lia, by taking me to a safe area. You are strong, seem honest and I
daresay you wouldn't abandon someone that needs you to their own luck. Your kindness, if
you can offer it to me, would mean a great deal. I need to get to Isaack; I've been sent from
the other side of the world, as you say, to do so. I've been sent to him by other tower wizards,
so he could tell me where my magic comes from, and maybe more, for I have no memory of
my life before the war. I might have a family somewhere who's waiting for me. I have
companions in my journey from whom I got separated, and I can only assume following
through with my instructions is the best way to find them - go to Tzara. Generous, kind people
have helped me so far, and with their help I came all this way. I'd much rather not disturb
anyone, but I'm still not there yet, and some people seem to find pleasure in helping others. I'll
meet Tzara, Lia. Will you help me?

The lieutenant was quiet after this speech, trying and failing in avoiding Ilandra's eyes. For a
while there was no answer, and Ilandra followed Lia camly, going back to her singing and
whistling. Until Lia, resignedly, said - Right in front of us is the camp. I'll take you to my tent
and find you some clean clothes and food, and tomorrow we can think of a way to get to
Tzara. As a last resort, you could turn yourself in an exotic bird. He loves those.

Ilandra smiles, warmly, and touched Lia's shoulder gently -I thank you, lieutenant Lia.

-Yeah.

-A bird, you say? And why were you in the woods?

-What do you think? We have our shifts guarding the camp and patrolling the area. You were
way beyond my route, but were making so much noise, and such a different kind of noise at
that, that I decided to check. I was curious. Honestly, I thought maybe someone had too many
drinks and was messing in the woods. The songs seemed, well...

-Tavern songs?

-Yes.

-They're the only ones I know.

-Dreadful.- Lia faked a shiver, laughing through her nose as she pushed back the last branches
and entered the great plain that surrounded the camp - What a pitiful situation. I'll teach you
one or two marching tunes, to better enrich your repertoire. Come, and let me handle anyone
that talks to us.

They soon passed through the edges of the camp, and immediately the soldiers started to take
notice of the strange womans presence. Lia ground her teeth and closed her fists, but kept an
exterior of ease and kept walking on, talking to nobody. Ilandra, however, couldnt help but to
feel interested in the place around her. She looked at everything, and would smile and wave at
people when she caught them staring at her. At one point, Lia caught her doing so and sneered
Will you stop it? Just look straight ahead, or look at me, and stop being a nuisance.

After what seemed to Lia an immense length of time, they arrived at a tent made of rough,
washed-out black canvas. Lia hurriedly pushed Ilandra inside, and ordered her to wait there.

Once inside, Ilandra looked at everything in there, observing the campaign bed, the table
covered with dozens of sheets of paper, miniatures in carved wood and a lot of maps. She was
engrossed in noticing the worn-out carpet with heraldic symbols she presumed were
Savantinian woven in, and the leather bag holding carefully folded clothes, and all the
weapons with their cleaning instruments laid beside them. She smiled, wholeheartedly
approving in Lia behaviors completely absent in her own personality, and absent-mindedly
fixed her own clothes, sliding of her shoulders as they were. Finally settling herself at the table,
she noticed that the biggest map was a well-faded leather impression of the whole Cornellin
itself, which had been folded and rolled up in about every possible way.

The continent was similar to a gigantic peninsula opening up from an area marked as Deep
North, which extended through the whole map, east to west. Bordering the North area were
the the Crystal Hills, an elongated kingdom that stretched over almost all of the western coast;
followed by Mortein, Valencia and, separating the land in the middle was the famous chain of
mountains that severed east from west, the Frontier. On this side, right beneath the Deep
North, were the kingdoms of Eight Spears and her own current Savantin. It was clear in the
map that this last one was drawn with more detail and care, and Ilandra could spot the great
south-eastern forest that Lia mentioned, which kept on going to become a huge forested area
bigger than Savantin, Eight Spear and the remaining kingdoms of the east. Over this great
area, written in a scrawl, you could read Kallash. Ilandra whistled, and turned her eyes to the
farther western area, looking for the island she came from. It had a stoney look to the drawing,
which amused her, and was the biggest island surrounding the continent, and the only one not
located south of it. After that she looked for Zinor, which was a western country, right beneath
Mortein and Valencia and next to the Crystal Hills.

-Piss beer, Im right on the other side of the world- she mumbled to herself, tracing the
distance with her fingers. Well, Rhaels Tower I could see from the port I landed, and Lazich
and his Tower are here.- she estimated, from the time it took Cylan, Saraph and her to get
there from the capital. Now, Tzara- Savantins Tower of Magic was beautifully drawn, and a
good journey away from where Ilandra was. She searched the table, looking for a local map,
and wasnt disappointed. This map had the camps location, and showed routes to the nearest
town and the capital of the realm. She put the maps side by side, and started moving her
fingers over them If this is the distance between Zinors capital and the Tower, and it took us
about a month Oh, Gods, may Lazich be true to his word and keep Cylan and Saraph safe.-
she closed her eyes, praying out loud the thought she had continuously ever since But I guess
trusting the Wizard of Pacts to follow through with his word is natural- her voice trailed off as
she traced all the way back with her fingers, and reached a resolve that she had to speak with
Tzara, cause no altenative would be viable.

-Do you always talk to yourself?- Lia entered the tent in long strides, her arms heavy with
clothes and boots that she immediately pushed into Ilandras arms.

-Well, yes. I lived by myself, and when I was in my house, during the day, I missed the loud
tavern noises. Is this a uniform like yours?- Ilandra started to undress and try the new outfit
on, impressed with the black coat with yellow details. Now, under the light of the lamps, she
could notice things that the shades of the forest hid, like the stiff, high neckline with three
lines, or the embroidered symbols of a crown, an axe and a tower on the left sleeve.

-Yes, exactly like mine, even though I spent years in the service to get what youre about to
strut around for free. I told them youre a member of my sisterhood, and Im oathbound to
assist you. This will give you an excuse to linger instead of being shipped off in the next cart
going out for provisions. Just do what you did so far, smile your silly smile, wave and never
show anybody your back. Nobody will ask you a thing, and you wont have to lie.
-What sisterhood do you belong to?

Lia let out a heavy sigh, and gestured for Ilandra to hurry up and finish getting dresses.
Theres an island Oh. Here, roughly halfway between the Elvish Exile and that godsdamned
pirate cluster of islands, since you feel free and at home enough to mess about in my stuff.
she placed her finger over an empty space in the map This island, hidden from the world by
ancient magic and a rose hedge thicker than this camp, is called Flower Island. Its the home of
a sisterhood of extraordinary women that goes by the same name. Only those who have
accomplished some feat of wonder and talent are invited to join, and we commit ourselves to
protect the defenseless and help each other, like a family, or a clan. People assume its an
alternative to the knight orders, but its much more than that.- Lias eyes went blank, as if
seeing through the map Were not focused on the strength of weapons or arms, but that of
will. We protect that which we judge beautiful and good, and allow it to grow.- he voice had
gone tender, but quickly hardened back as she slapped Ilandras hands and started to redo the
frontal lacing of her coat. Which is why your request for help was herd and attended to, and
youre here. Lets then talk and see how we can get the damn audition you do badly need. I
dont entertain she added, sarcastically So we have to either sit on the floor or on the bed.

Ilandra spined around herself and sat down graciously, kicking off her worn boots under the
bed while sitting at its feet. She leaned back on it, and Lia equally sat at its head, grabbing her
pillow and folding it under her elbows. She seemed visibly worried, and Ilandra tried to ease
her thought.

-Dont worry, Lia, I have an idea. You dont have to be so concerned. I just need to find a piece
of parchment, of the thicker ones, and red wax, and wood, like the one you used to carve your
statues, and Ill be able to pass any guards.

-Huh. Whats this plan of yours?- disbelief and contempt flew freely in the lieutenants voice.

-Im going to draw you a symbol, and youre going sculpt it is wood, which in turn Ill use as a
signet to seal off a letter. Which Ill present as being a message for Tzara.

-Just brilliant, Ilandra. Because that couldnt possibly put you in the same position as of any
random messenger, no sir. Hell, why go through all this work? We can go there right now and
tell them youre a terribly important envoy from the island of Worlds End. Why wouldnt they
take our word for it, right? Its not like where a realm at war and youre the most bizarre
woman anyone has ever seen!- as soon as the words left her mouth, Lia seemed to regret
them, and she lowered her voice again. Grunting, she said. I might have gone a little to far.
Youre not stupid, after all.

-Its alright. I understand youre nervous, but you dont have to be. Ilandra smiled at her,
relaxed. This is a symbol theyll let through without checking twice.

-Which symbol?- Lia stared, suspiciously.


-Lazich Vallens one.

-The burning hell of fire, Il!- The lieutenant jumped out of her bed, making three consecutive
protection signs with her hands. Would you damn the both of us? Lazich Vallen will
immediately know that were using his symbol, and would extract our souls and give them to
bored demons to use as they please!

Ilandra watched Lias terrified face intently until she could completely convince herself that the
fear she saw was genuine. She could see the intensity of peoples emotions, and had
understood them with Cylan and Saraph, and even felt it, slightly, when she saw the Lord of
Abyss Skeleton hanging in the dungeon. But when she brought to mind the wizard she met,
these reactions seemed almost laughably disproportional. After a while of silence she smiled
again, and went to Lia to comfort her.

-Lazich Vallen- she felt the lieutenants arms tremble under her hands as she spoke the name
did send me. If hes capable of knowing everything related to his name, as you say, hell
know the person using it is me, and wont think about it twice, for I do it by his own design. Its
a little bit of a stretch, but not more than an artifice to get to Tzara. Once Im in front of him,
Ill tell him everything. Besides, I believe Lazich has more to worry about than such
subterfuges. she looked out of the tent for a moment and shrugged. Well, lets go with it. I
know you want to get rid of me as soon as possible, but tomorrow well have more light and
will be able to do a better job of it. Ilandra spoke sweetly, and then looked out again.
Anyway to find food around here?

-Oh. Yes. Its past supper time, but we ca go into the cooking area and grab something. Beside,
I was on patrol and have a right to extra portions. Lia seemed very rattled by Lazichs name,
but was calming down.

-Shouldnt you tell someone you found me and send someone else on patrol?

-You know everything about military operations now, I gather? I did that as soon as I left you
here, Lady Prying. Come on, move.

They ate, talked and slept, and Ilandras intimate and well-disposed behavior ended up making
the Lia feel more comfortable with her, and with the plan. Next morning, she was surprised to
find out that Ilandra not only woke up earlier, but had risen up, bathed and brought food, and
a lot of the luxury kind, which Lia havent seen in a while, like fresh food , nuts and wine. On
her desk, she focused in drawing something.

-I though youd wake up later, due to your profession.

-Good morning to you too, Lia. I was very interested in getting things started, so I got up as
early as I could.- Ilandra replied casually, still carefully tracing.

-I thought youd create the symbol with magic, waving your hands. Isnt that what Well-born
are good at?

-I cant magic it. Either theres some kind of magical ban on it, or Im simply not good enough. I
am, you see, very raw at all this. she pushed her disheveled green hair out of her eyes. The
tradicional way will do better. I did some rehearsal tries in the mud with a stick to remember
what I saw, but my memory is not perfect, theres still a lot of blank spaces. However, I believe
Im getting close to something thats going to be good enough.

-May the Gods guard you.- Lia felt a shiver down her spine, and helped herself to the bread,
cheese and fruits.

During the following hours they alternated their work on the plan, firstly Ilandra working on
the drawing while Lia performed her duties, and from late morning until the middle of the
afternoon Lia sculpted the symbol in fine detail as a signet in a piece of wood while Ilandra
searched the camp for red wax and an adequate parchment. Even with Lias evident anxiety
about the whole ordeal, Ilandra managed have everything in her before sunset. With the letter
properly sealed, they both proceeded to the very center of the immense camp, where great,
sophisticated colorful tents held the Flags of each one of the triumvirate. Once they arrived in
the surrounding area of Savantins major cadre, they were stopped by guards. Lia almost
choked in her own tongue before announcing:
-Im escorting a messenger that brings news to the Archmage.

-What news and from whom?- the guards look went from the lieutenant to Ilandra.

She couldnt help but to smile, even as her eyes closed ever so slightly, emulating Lazichs
subtle glare. Her voice, her movements, her posture, everything in her suddenly suggested the
same languidness as the Vallen, and the same power.

-Good afternoon, Soldier, and a rather Good Night. I bring something curious for your
commanders appreciation from the Archmage of Zinors Tower. I suppose youre familiar with
the name? Well, I can assure you, thats all Im bearing, and I do not with or intent any harm in
your lovely camp.

Despite the soft, quiet quality of voice delivering the speech, Ilandras eyes sparkled with
wonder as she saw the soldier in front of her goggle, press his lips together in a thin line, and
get paler and paler. After his reactions, she touched his arms gently and said, in a sweet,
calming voice:
-You will want to wave me on now.

The guard stood aside, indeed moving his arms to encourage them through. Ilandra
confidently strode into the restricted area, with Lia trailing behind. As they advanced in a
straight line towards the tent under the banner of the golden tower in a field of black, Lia
caught up with Ilandra and whispered, stupefied And you didnt even need to show them the
letter

-No, but I had it in my hands, and he saw it. Maybe he couldnt tell one wizard symbol apart
from the other, so he didnt bother to pretend. He seemed honest, really.

-How kind of you.- Lias sharpness returned, raising an eyebrow to Ilandra.

-Id have a less kind comment to say about his courage, but it seems that when you talk of
Vallen the usual standards dont apply. Even brave people as yourself seem to be afraid of
them, Lieutenant.- she winked at Lia. To that pair ahead of us we woulnt be able to help but
to show it. Dont fiddle and flutter, my dearest Lia. No lie has crossed my lips so far.

-That depends on how loose is your concept of lie- Lia retorted, but remained quiet as they
approached the officers at the entrance of the enormous tent, which had Savantins flag
floating above their heads, magically, as Ilandra noticed. With a courteous nod and a flick of
the wrist, she presented the letter. The specific hue of red, much darker than any one thing
they had at the camp, was achieved by mixing all kinds of red ingredients Ilandra could find to
the molten wax. She had imagined that the personal guard of an arcane commander would
known the sign well and recognize it, and she was not wrong. One of them bowed down to her
deferencially, and the other slip inside the tent. The third, however, asked her in a dry tone.

-Shouldnt you have come here directly, instead of spending the night in an officers tent?- he
bore straight into Ilandra, not even bothering looking in Lias direction.

-Thank you for your concern, guard. I had, however, good reason to do so. Lieutenant Lia is
from the Flower Island Sisterhood. I imagine you know what that means. It was imperative
that she and I talked.- one more the tone and leisurely manners of Lazich himself were
adopted. The guard didnt answer, but held her gaze for a long time, until the flaps
dramatically flew open. Through them came Isaak Tzara, Archmage of Savantins Tower of
Magic. The mind needed a while to fully take in all the visual elements that were Tzara; the
abundant golden hair and eyebrows, of indefinite age but visibly healthy and strong; the big,
bright teal eyes, the pinkish skin, the Savantins military uniform modified to many shades of
aquamarine, azure, teal, with details of cyan and green; the fingers in each hand covered in
saphires, emeralds and lapis-lazuli, and here and there, placed with surprinsingly good taste,
ornamental feather following the color palette. After his expansive exit of the tent, Tzara
halted right in fron of Ilandra and took his time observing her, and she found herself thinking if
he was looking at her appearance, her arcane aura, or both. When both pairs of eyes met, he
performed an elegant and elaborated venia as a greeting, to which she quickly and charmingly
replied with a cursty.

-Would that all my fellow wizards messages came through such pleasant means! Come, be so
gracious as to enter my tent, and youll certainly make the lives of countless creatures better,
just as you made my own. Will you join us, lieutenant?- he added, extending his invitation as
he held the flaps of the tent open.

-No, sir. With your leave, sir, now that Ive made sure she got to you safe and sound, Ill return
to my duties. If youll excuse me, sir.- this assertion, made with barely contained anxiety and
self-control, took Ilandra out of her fascination with what she was doing, making her flash her
surprise, disappointment and gratitude towards Lia all in a fast sequence. She made her steps
back and enfolded her in an embrace. Lia was shocked, but after some hesitation, hugged
Ilandra back, pushing her against her own chest. When they parted, Ilandra still held Lias arms
affectuously, and said Thank you.

Lia nodded, and after a while, turned her back and went away by the same road they came,
and if she wavered a little, few would notice. Ilandra turned back to Tzara, realizing only upon
seeing the archmage again that she forgot to keep Lazichs mannerisms up. At one glance,
though, she realized that Tzara was on to her, and still her inquisitive expression and the twist
of the corners of his mouth, in a quizzical smile, indicated that she still had, apparently, his
interest. She breathed in, and when he insisted that she entered the tent repeating the same
gesture, she did.

The inside was dark, and the light entered through slits on the ceiling that casted rays of sun
here and there, creating intersections at the shadow. Perched all around every wall, and each
one seemed insanely bigger than when seen from the outside, there were birds, hundreds of
them in every size and shape, sitting in golden branches that extended and weaved through
each other, covered in nests. There were so many colors, so many tones of green, blue, white,
and the occasional scream of red, pink and orange here and there, that Ilandra merely turned
around herself, amazed. Finally she found her voice and looked at Tzara, who was waiting with
a proud smile in his lips and crossed arms.

-Do they sing?

-They all do. Usually in their own time, its true, and sometimes an extraordinarily inconvenient
time that is, but I can make them sing for you if you want. Id be a shame of a wizard if I
couldnt.- he winked mischievously, and was pleased with her expression of childish wonder.

-Which one is yours? I mean, you familiar? Or all of them are?

-Not all. Cant you tell?- and he raised his arm as a tucan flew, its long beak shining in the
gashed of light, and perched itself on his arm. Ilandra noticed that the creature was careful
enough to avoid the finery and embroidered elements of the uniform. The tucan turned its
head to see Ilandra and she approached fluidly, trying not to disturb the creature.

-Lets trade.- Tzara said, lifting her right arm so he could pass her the tucan, and taking the
letter she still had in her hand, and with quick flick of his wrists, he opened it. After reading the
words, he threw his head back and laughed, while Ilandra attempted to caress the bird.

-Well, you came looking for me and now you found me and have my attention. the wizard
glanced at the end of the parchment, that briefly described her journey from Lazichs tower
until the present moment, and saw a name Ilandra. Can I call you Il?

-Please do. Thats how I think of myself.

Once more, they smiled conspiratorially to each other.-Il, youre standing in front of me now,
although only the Gods might know why Lazich has choosen me for this task, and I somehow
cant seem to contact him telepathically to inquire his reasons. His eyes went out of focus
briefly, but soon flashed back to her Im deeply satisfied that he has done so, however. I can
spot a well-born when theres one right under my nose.

-Yes. But I dont know my lineage, or the origin of my magic. Rhael consulted a series of maps
when we met at the port, books and registers,he measured and tested me and couldnt tell me
much. He then sent me to Lazich, who surrounded me with his arcane symbols and enfolded
me in his blood mists, and still didnt have anything he could tell me. I appreciate their efforts,
and for having sent me here as well, and I do hope you have different results, and if I extend
my rudeness a little more, soon, for I long to know of the whereabouts of my friends whom I
left at the last tower.- and she finished her speech as she touched the tucans beak with the tip
of her own nose.

An expression of full understanding spread on Tzaras face as she explained herself. He walked
around his tent, checking inside bags and on top of tables, until he grabbed a hold of a
particularly detailed dagger. Have you ever studied arcane theory, Il? We divide the great
realm of magic into schools; abstractions, of course, based on academic approximations and
observation of desired results and effects of arcane routines. Its a standard as good as the
next one, as long as youre able to navigate youre studies by it. Most of the proficient wizards
tend to specialize in one area in detriment of all others, such as Enchantment, Abjuration or, -
he smiled condescendingly may the Gods help them, necromancy. he proceeded to dip the
dagger into a series of liquids, and then turned fiercely to Il, with a captivating grin, clearly
waiting for her to ask. She retributed his grin, and inquired as she was expected:

-What is your specialty, Tzara?

-Oh, my dear. Transmutation.- ravingshily, he took a lock of her hair in his fingers What an
exquisite color of tresses. You should give me a small braid of them, and Id treasure it. Maybe
as a payment for the uniform of my very own army youre now wearing, which, might I say,
looks divine on you. Have you ever considered a life of military service?- and, with a humorous
tone, he cut the lock with his dagger. He then rolled it around the handle and pulled it back,
rubbing it over the symbols engraved there. Following, he lift it up, as if toasting, and
swallowed it.

Il raised her hand to her mouth as she watched the body in front of her become brighter, as if
the flesh started to irradiate light that couldnt be contained by the skin; it started in teal
coloration, with dashed of white and an undertone of blue, which got more and more intense
as each bird in the tent started to sing its tune. Tzara was shining, and Ilandra me an effort to
keep her eyes open, even when the tucan in her arms flew to join the choir, flapping his wings
in her face. She watched as the teal changed, the blue in it turning to yellow, its brightness
becoming a deepness of color, the shade of dark forest in the shadow. The whites became a
rich red, sweet as the legendary red elvish wine seen against the sun, and both colors swirled
into patterns of curves and twists, not unlikely vines.

Minat Terkait