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.”