Chapter 4: Downfall

Having Aylwyn show up again was a good thing, right?  I certainly thought so at first, when the lovely angel rode up.

I went out to greet her as she was stabling Wyntaf.  “Hello, Aylwyn!”

Unfortunately, the paladin was all business.  “Hello, Paul.  Where are April and Patrick?”

Ouch.  I felt like saying “Yeah, good to see you again too,” but I still lacked the skill and nuance needed to pull off irony or sarcasm properly in Silva, so I held my tongue.  “They are within the tower.”  (There’s no way to just say they’re “inside” without a noun for them to be inside of.  The grammar just doesn’t work.)

“Your speech is greatly improved,” she noted as we walked toward the tower.

“I thank you.  The learning has been difficult.”  All the superfluous nouns seemed awkward to me, but April and Sarah both assured me it was perfectly normal.  Sarah seemed a bit confused by the way so many English expressions left them off entirely; she wondered how you’re supposed to know what’s being talked about.

We headed inside, and I showed Aylwyn to a laboratory where Sarah and April were working on building golems.  April smiled and greeted her; Sarah just looked up, nodded a little, and went back to work.

Oh, and Sarah was in half-angel form that day.  Awk-ward…

I went to find Patrick.  When we got back, we found the women talking about something that must have been pretty serious, judging by the worried expression on April’s face.

“The problem is what?” I asked.

Aylwyn looked over at me.  “I something something something came here something something before her.”  She had an accent that I had never noticed when everything she said came across as English, and it made her words almost incomprehensible.

I looked at April.  “Ummm…?”

She sighed and switched to English briefly to sum up for me.  “The tractumil have been unusually active recently, openly so, and Aylwyn has been hunting Syrixia.  She’s kept one step ahead of her, but now Aylwyn has reason to believe that, for whatever reason, the Oracle is coming here next, so she came here to head her off.”

I nodded, then smiled at Aylwyn.  “I understand,” I said in Silva.

She spoke more clearly now that I was part of the conversation, and if I strained, I could mostly make it out.  “She brings trouble where she goes, and now she comes here.  I fear she seeks to harm one of you.”

I nodded.  “Or she wishes to…” I hesitated, realizing that I didn’t know the word for “force.”  I bit my lip, then talked around it.  “To take me and transform me into a dracora.”  She–or rather, her Mistress, the great golden dragon Ryell–had been after me for years, seeming to think I’d make a good agent.

On the other hand, Syrixia had been the one who ripped away my translation.  Not sure what would make her think I’d want anything to do with her after that.  But on the other other hand, a minor detail like my clearly-expressed desire to have nothing to do with her or her Mistress had never seemed to mean much of anything in the past.  A dragon’s emotional baseline was one of supreme arrogance, essentially “Yeah, I’m a dragon.  Deal with it.” Maybe this was her idea of teaching me a much-needed lesson or some crap like that?

“What will you do when she arrives?” I asked. Their last encounter had abruptly ended with the Oracle teleporting away right as Aylwyn was about to smite the heck out of her with her flaming sword.

Apparently she remembered that too. She turned to Sarah, who had been uncharacteristically quiet since Aylwyn showed up. “Sarah, can you help prepare anti-teleport magic?”

She looked up at Aylwyn and turned a positively saccharine smile on her. “I would love to help!” she enthused, so sincerely that someone who didn’t know her well might think she was just in a really good mood. But from the look April shot me, she must have noticed it too: something was wrong.

“That is good,” Aylwyn said. “When she cannot flee, I will something her, and try to something her if possible, or kill her if necessary.” I could only assume from the context that the missing words were “fight” and “subdue,” or something similar.

“I can help with that too!” Sarah said, more genuine this time.

But Aylwyn shook her head. “Are you trained to something a foe with your magic? Non-lethal fighting is difficult, and dangerous when the adversary does not have the same something.”

I didn’t want her putting Sarah in a bad mood, so I spoke up. “I’ve seen Sarah hold an entire room full of resisting fighters motionless for a time. I’m confident she could do the same with a single person, even a tractumil.”

Aylwyn took a few moments to think this over–and I’m sure my poor grammar wasn’t helping; that was probably the most complex thing I had ever tried to say in this language–but then she nodded. “Then you may, Sarah.”

She smiled at that, and seemed to loosen up a little, for whatever reason. Aylwyn expected Syrixia to arrive soon, so she and Sarah set to work preparing the defenses, with some help from April.

Patrick and I mostly stayed out of the way while they worked. “Why would she come here?” I asked him, mostly rhetorically.

“I can see no reason to come for us,” he mused, “so she comes for you. Why, I don’t know.  Or she let Aylwyn find this out to something something her.”

I frowned. “To do what to her?”

He chewed on his lip, looking for a better way to say it. “To deceive her,” he said after a moment.

I nodded.  “What is the word, when a performer waves his hand so the audience will watch that, and not see what he is really doing?”

So he taught me the word for distract, and nodded. “Exactly.  She may be seeking to distract Aylwyn.”

Oh, but the reality was sooooo much worse…

* * *

Syrixia arrived right on schedule.  She didn’t ride, she didn’t walk.  She appeared on the road leading to the tower, hovering a couple feet over the path.  I’d seen Sarah do that same trick, and with enough power, she could keep pace with even the strongest of horses.

Aylwyn and Sarah stood at the base of the tower, and curiously enough, Sarah seemed to be consciously emulating Aylwyn’s posture, back perfectly straight, one foot slightly behind the other, arms at her sides, wings tightly folded against her back.  If she’d been wearing a white robe instead of a bright yellow dress, she’d almost look like a paladin in training.  (I’d imagine, at least.  I’ve never actually seen paladin trainees.)

The golden woman saw them standing there, and floated up to them calmly, not saying a word.  When she got close enough, Aylwyn held out her hand, and a flaming sword appeared in it.  Then Sarah did exactly the same thing, or at least what looked like it!  I figure the real deal had to come from Paladin training, but Sarah’s father was a master bard; he’d doubtless taught her plenty about improvisation and stage props, if nothing else.

If Aylwyn noticed Sarah’s sword, she didn’t seem to care.  “Why have you come here?” she asked.

Syrixia spread her hands wide, palms open.  “To something myself into your something,” she replied in a strong, clear voice, letting herself float down to the ground.   I was watching from inside the tower, and Patrick and I exchanged questioning glances.

“She wants to what?” I asked Patrick.

He said a word I didn’t know, and when he saw that I still didn’t understand, he raised both hands high over his head, the universal gesture for surrender.

I blinked.  “That can’t be true.”

Aylwyn seemed to have the same thought.  “What deception is this?”

The Oracle shook her head.  “I deceive you not.  I ask only one thing.  Paul must come with me to witness an event of great importance.  You may something any something that you find necessary to reassure yourself that I will not something.  But ask yourself, angel and…” she looked at Sarah, scoffing a little, “troosk-angel, if I wished harm upon you, would I not have many, many easier ways?”

I looked at Patrick. “Troosk?”

His jaw tightened.  “To pretend to be something that one is not.  It is a very insulting word.”

Impostor, fraud, poser.  Got it.

Sarah bristled at the insult, and called out words of magic.  I didn’t see any effect, but I felt my skin tingle.  I really hoped she wasn’t going off-script.

It must have been the anti-teleport spell, because Syrixia simply bowed her head.  “I could escape even now,” she said, “but I will not.  Come, make your preparations.  There is time, but there is little of it.”

This was really starting to creep me out.  The dragon and her minions simply didn’t act like this.  They saw themselves as rightful rulers of the world and everything in it.

Sarah glowered at her.  “If Paul does not wish to come with you?”

She shrugged nonchalantly.  “Then I do not surrender, and I destroy this tower and everything inside it… and outside it.  He will come, and that is not necessary.”  She looked up, directly at me.  “That is true?”  It was even creepier, the completely emotionless way that she said that.  But there it was, the draconic arrogance I was used to, the utter confidence that I would have to do as she wished.

And, when she put it that way… ugh.  I supposed she was right.  I didn’t want to get my friends killed just for sheltering me.  I stepped away and came down the stairs, then headed out of the tower.  “I will.”

Aylwyn turned and looked at me, a little shocked.  “Paul–”

“You do what you can to ensure she won’t be a problem.  If seeing this thing will prevent conflict, I will.”

They spent several minutes binding her with various magic and wards, which the Oracle bore patiently.  Then, when everything was ready to Aylwyn’s and Sarah’s satisfaction, she floated up into the air again.  “It will not be far. Come.”  She headed off towards the forest, in what looked like exactly the direction that the drone had come from.

It may not have been far, but it sure took a while, because the forest grew pretty dense once we got in there.  All four of them came along, and we made our way for a little over two miles, I’m guessing, before the trees began to thin and the ground began to rise.  There was a hill nearby that remained clear, and on top of the hill was a camp.

From the tents, I’d imagine there were a few hundred people here, and a ways off I could see some large tree stumps that looked like they’d been cut flat, some with the trees still laying nearby, and a few of them were so big that it would have taken chainsaws or similar motor tools to cut down that way.  In the center of the camp, a wooden cabin was being erected, which explained where the wood was going.

Syrixia held up a hand. “You stay here,” she said.  “You bear witness.”

Sarah looked around. “We are witnessing what?”

“They are invaders from another world, your mother’s world.”

It took a few minutes, but then I saw what it was we were supposed to be witnessing.  The first thing I noticed was Aylwyn going all tense.  “The problem is what?” I asked her.

She pointed, up in the sky.  I looked, and couldn’t see anything… and then a moment later I did.  Gold.  Moving.

Ryell flew in surprisingly fast.  First she was a speck in the distance, then she was a vaguely dragon-shaped thing in the sky, then there were men pouring out of tents as an enormous golden horror descended upon them, claws flashing, tail whipping back and forth, breath torching tents left and right.

Then the guns came out.

I heard the distinctive chatter of automatic weapons fire, saw bright, repeating flashes.  I looked at Sarah. “You put up a barrier in front of us, enough to stop a hundred arrows, now!”  She didn’t hesitate; she just worked her magic.

Ryell had magic of her own.  She flew back a ways, circling around unpredictably in the air, before diving and strafing the cabin, dense flames pouring from her mouth.  The place burned, then exploded, bright purple and red and blue energies flaring out wildly.

The guns continued firing, but she was using some sort of barrier spell to hold the bullets back; I could see them ricocheting off a few feet from her scaled body.  But then someone brought out something heavier.  A contrail flew up from the ground, then another and a third, rockets exploding all around the golden dragon.

Enough kinetic energy can shatter a magical barrier, a principle I knew quite well.  One moment it looked like the dragon was winning.  The next, she was plummeting, one wing blown completely off, a gaping hole in her side gushing bright purple blood.  More rockets, more concentrated gunfire, and then the soldiers were scattering in all directions as Ryell fell to the earth, writhed a few times with a loud roar, and then stopped moving.

Syrixia was clinging tight to a branch in what I’d call a white-knuckle grip if she was human.  Her knuckles went a slightly paler shade of golden yellow instead, and her jaw was clenched tight.  Then I heard an explosion, and looked over; apparently that was a level of self-control that not everyone possessed; the copper-skinned man who had been my first introduction to the tractumil came running out from the treeline, up the hill, screaming like a berserker and hurling fireballs.

A few of the soldiers held up their hands and established magical shields, while the rest calmly aimed and gunned him down, him and about a half-dozen others who had reacted the same way.  And then I heard Syrixia sobbing.  She looked over at me hatefully, bitter tears running down her face.  “This is upon your head.  I surrender myself now into your hands.  You must make this right.”

Comments (13)

  1. Griffin

    I’m calling shenanigans on the dragon! It is a set-up!

    No way would Ryell do such a crude attack.

    If its goal was truly to destroy the encampment, Ryell would have had all of her forces bent to the task, not leaving all of the dracora around the sidelines to witness.

    Invisible dragon + invisible dracora sneak up on the encampment before attacking all together.

    Now the question is what was Ryell’s true goal, and was it something that it was truly willing to sacrifice its own life to accomplish?

    Mobilizing the entirety of the land to defend against a coming invasion? I could see that possibly being enough of a motive to sacrifice one’s life for … maybe. What is just about the only thing that would convince Paul that the dragon is serious? The dragon dying.

    But, unless it is ABSOLUTELY vital that Paul be convinced in order to halt the invasion, I don’t think Ryell actually sacrificed herself.

    I’m expecting Ryell to wind up alive somehow. Paul was thrown off-balance and constrained to April’s location by the language-stripping. Puts him in prime position and frame of mind to have things set up for a grand show like this.

    Ryell is a schemer, not a blunt-force person.

    Love this!!!!!!!!

    • You make some good points. More will be explained in the next chapter, but just a few points in response:

      Ryell is a schemer. She is not the only one. Sometimes, when multiple schemes collide, the results can get messy, and now she is dead. If a Munchkin coroner were to examine her, he would pronounce her “really most sincerely dead.” It really was Ryell, not a clone, illusion, or Doombot. They did find the body, (it’s kind of hard to miss, laying there in the middle of their camp,) and once those men get the chance to regroup a little, they will dispose of the body. It is not going to be revived, resuscitated, or reanimated in any way, magical, technological, or otherwise.

      Having said that, yes, Ryell is a schemer. There’s more going on here than is readily apparent, but that goes without saying. She was the only being around who was capable of causing that magical explosion in the cabin, doing so quickly, and doing so without an army of cannon fodder, most of whom would end up dead. And she saw doing that as being of the utmost importance, so she decided to do it. Sometimes, blunt force is the only option you have.

      More will be revealed as the story continues, but one more point. I’ve mentioned before (and heard other people say as well) that the series The Wheel of Time, as we know it, begins in the fourth book; the first three are the introduction. I’m doing something similar here; at the end of The Return of Paul Twister, I will have finished setting the stage… 😀

      • Griffin

        What? No doombots?!? 🙂

        Ahhh, then it wasn’t to destroy the entire camp, it was just to destroy the thing in the cabin.

        But, they can obviously build it again, eventually. That must have been something really, really vital to sacrifice her life for it, knowing that it was only a temporary victory.

        But, again, schemes overlaying schemes. Maybe she didn’t plan on dying. But if she really did see the future as she claimed …

        Ahhh, rampant speculation!

        Thank you very much for having modern weaponry do realistic damage! I enjoy a good monster flick, but really, a HEAT round from a basic RPG can penetrate close to three feet of solid steel. Scales don’t have anywhere near that sort of toughness.

        Sure, I know that movie monsters are supposed to be tough, but when tanks shooting depleted uranium penetration sabot rounds and modern military RPGs have no effect? Grrr. My inner-realist gets all upset. 😀

        • Yes, as Paul noted back at the end of the first book, dragons have an ulterior motive for not wanting modern weaponry in their world.

          And you raise some interesting points about Ryell and about the cabin. To say much more would be to say too much, so I won’t, but feel free to keep speculating. 😀

  2. Griffin

    Oh ho! Open season on speculation!

    How did they get to this world?

    Magical stuff that the previous wizard had set up while he was back on Earth. (Kentu? I forget his name right now.)

    Or, magical development on Earth from strictly Earth-based sources. Unlikely. It seems that breaching the barriers between worlds would be an easy thing – something that would likely be beyond the abilities of any strictly native-Earth magical developments. Even if magic development continued in secret on Earth after the split, secret development by a very small isn’t going to keep up with that of an entire culture of magical development.

    Or, technological developments on Earth revealed the existence of other planes. Super-collider results (or something) revealed and enabled a technological breach. Also not likely because **removed long-winded stuff**.

    I’m going with option 1, possibly combined with a bit of 2 or 3. Kentu arrives on Earth and begins preparations via 2 or 3.

    Who are these people?

    Definitely not an officially government-sanctioned effort. Non-state actors. Probably cabal-backed. Possibly a group started or contacted by Kentu. They’ve obviously been working at this for a while. Acquiring drones, RPGs, acquiring and moving large numbers of combatants – all presumably done with some stealth on Earth’s side – all takes time to set up. Two or three years at the least.

    How are they getting here?

    Really good question! Or at least I think so since I’m the one who asked it. 😛 People traveling from this world to Earth seem to require a “balancing” by pulling people from Earth. But if hundreds of people have come from Earth to this world, does that mean hundreds of people are disappearing from this world and reappearing on Earth?

    Does it pull people from a localized area, or does it grab randomly across the world? Both April and Paul were grabbed from a relatively localized area and deposited in a relatively localized area. I’d think that one of these worlds would notice hundreds of people appearing/disappearing in a relatively small area.

    I don’t think the Earth side of things is getting here in the same way as Kentu was. Maybe similar/related, but not the same way. Some marriage of tech and magic to create a less “disruptive” transfer between worlds.

    What was so important in that cabin that Ryell acted so directly, possibly knowingly sacrificing her own life?

    The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Ryell wasn’t expecting to die, though I’m still not sure about that. It’s possible that the RPGs were a surprise. But … nope, the dracora seemed to be under some orders to not interfere which suggests Ryell was expecting this possibility. Hmmm.

    Something in the cabin needed greater protection from the elements – relatively delicate things suggests electronics and/or careful magical prep. That might have been the wormhole/portal/gate/whatever connecting worlds.

    Remaking it from this side might be too hard to accomplish, but presumably it can be remade from the Earth side. The time needed might be an issue, though. A delaying tactic was that important?

    The only thing I can think of that it would be so necessary to delay is something that would cause the worlds to re-join.

    So, I’m guessing that it was something that was going to either establish an easy transport of large masses between worlds, or something that would re-join the worlds together.

    Large mass transport would allow things like tanks, jets, bulldozers, etc and the large-scale materials needed for a proper invasion.

    Oh well. This is fun!

    • Only got one thing to say here, by way of clarification. People being pulled across in Ken’tu Kel’s wake was not to balance the person, but to balance his magic. This is not causing hundreds of people to get pulled across and into Earth… but it is not without side effects of its own. 😉

  3. Mizu

    This was surprising. I honestly didn’t expect Ryall to die – surely better combat methods would work, anyway. I can think of one at least (drop a boulder on the cabin from high in the air).

    • Griffin

      Yes and no. Dropping objects with precision from high up is a really tricky thing to do.

      The earliest bombings by airplanes were lucky to get their bombs within a few hundred feet of the target.

      Some of the big advances during WWII were in bomber sighting for bombs. They got to where they were able to regularly drop bombs within twenty or thirty feet of the target, which was close enough for bombs.

    • Griffin

      Knowing that there were RPGs there, a really BAD place to be is up in the air. However, I know that from humanity’s decades of experience with RPGs and my own better-than-average knowledge of the military.

      Ryell made a valid, but far from best decision on his attack. Militaries do this, and they have centuries of experience to call on and experts who know the tactics, capabilities, etc pretty well.

      Ideally, he should have struck with some invisibility, flying down, blasting the cabin, and charging off through the woods to escape. By staying in the trees, he could make sure that the RPGs would have a very difficult time targeting him, and at most, only one would hit his shields at a time.

  4. Nick

    A few things:

    Based on Syrixia continued insistence that the various preparations to restrain her are pointless and the known connection to Ryell, I suspect that a very great portion of Ryell-ness resides in the Oracle. While people often think of Ryell as a large sort-of-magic lizard in reality the lizard does very little personally of the things “Ryell” is doing.

    Given that Ryell knows a very great deal about modern technology this assault is foolish in light of her other options. Magicking up some artillery should have been child’s play for her, especially with her resources, and would have solved this problem far more easily. Even if the cabin had some kind of shield that couldn’t be solved with long range bombardment, she could have removed everything around it first.

    I suspect that the giant lizard is little more than a glorified dracora or tractumil, and just like the rest of them dying, this was merely Ryell sacrificing a body (though a very useful and perhaps the original one) to advance her long term goals. Even if she can’t get another lizard, or the lizard was the store of most of her personal power it isn’t her.

    So I guess my conclusion is: Ryell’s mind is in Syrixia.

    • That’s a very interesting theory. I should kill off important characters more often, if it generates this much commentary! 😛

    • David Jenkins

      I second this theory as it just feels in better keeping with the story, although I kinda wanted to see the invaders get Babelized (as in the Tower of Babel) to see the havoc it would bring about. But the question we all really should be asking is: What is Paul going to do now? Is he going to go to the king and give away the secret of gunpowder to try to level the playing field, lay it all bare to his academy to fast-forward their innovations? This is what I personally think he will do: Take it to King Duncan first (or send him a message) then the Wizards, then the Academy. All of this to begin preparing for what I believe is an inevitable.

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