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27 – The Hard Decisions

Word of strange stone towers appearing all over the Weeping Expanse spread across Parthun like wildfire. King Marcus sent his most trusted, High Magistrate Semyon, along with a number of soldiers to my protection and hoped I could shed some light on the phenomenon.

“Unfortunately, we’re also at a loss, Your Excellency.” I explain.

Semyon chews on his thumbnail and glances up at the canopy. “With every day that passes, those flying monstrosities grow bolder in encroaching our farmlands. It’s got the elders of Durai in talks of moving west to seek refuge.”

“That might be the best course of action. There’s only so much Mira and I can do to keep—”

“Durai fields thousands of acres worth of harvests, feeding a large portion of the eastern side of Parthun. You understand we cannot afford to lose these lands?”

The few dragons that we’ve seen have remained perched at the top of the towers. Only several manticores and wyverns have crept their way past the wards.

Since these are unnatural spawns, Mira and I have free reign to kill as many as we deem fit. For the most part, we’ve dealt with anything that came too close to the great hollow. But for them to escape past our notice isn’t beyond our expectations. It was inevitable.

“I understand, but the villagers are in danger if they stay!”

“Isn’t it your duty to keep them safe? To keep Parthun safe? Fix this. King Marcus mobilized one-hundred soldiers from our army to be at your disposal. Use them and deal with this problem.”

High Magistrate Semyon spits on the ground before me and rides off on his horse.

A hundred soldiers are now building an outpost by the river where the Gurk’s former tribe used to be. Another smaller group is posted within the boundaries of my great hollow. Many of them look ill-equipped to deal with bandits let alone a dragon.

Mira returns from advising the senior officer at the outpost. She whistles to me to signal her approach. There is a harsh scowl adorns her face.

“Whatever happened to my alone time with Ellori? Now this forest is not only filled with beasts, it is rife with the rancid smell of steel and sweat.” Mira says, then pulling deep from her pipe.

“I don’t like it either, but King Marcus holds authority over us here.”

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Randover. I ended one war, only to find myself in another.” Mira leans against the garden beds. She empties her pipe, and then plucks a leaf from the sephalothanes. Liquid is pulled from the leaf, drying it, and is crushed into her pipe. “The ones in the forest will likely all die by the morning.”

“What?!” I exclaim. “We have to help them!”

Mira grabs my hand to keep me from going. “This is for the best. When news of their slaughter goes back to that idiot Semyon and King Marcus, they will know to leave this to us.”

“A hundred people, Mira…”

“You’re trembling, darling.” She brushes her fingers against my cheek. “Know that unless they do not take this matter seriously, more will die. Like those Durai villagers.”

Headmaster Anora and King Marcus entrusted me to safeguard the Kingdom of Parthun. Is it right to just let those soldiers die? What if she’s wrong and the High Magistrate only ends up sending more? But if Mira is right… he may consider evacuating the nearby villages.

“Did you have to make choices like this in Randover?” 

I can scarcely believe myself, looking for a reason, logic, some moral sense in not following through with her suggestion. It’s cruel, heartless, but the scholarly side of me believes this is the only way.

Mira hands me her pipe and urges me to take in its fumes. “I let many villages burn simply because the next one over had more people to save. It will not be your fault. If the Headmaster ever asks, tell her it was my decision.”

“But Parthun is my… uhh…domain…” My train of thought becomes foggy, then my vision follows suit. “Mira… what did… you…”

***

I’m awakened by the chirping birds just outside of the window. Gurk is folding fresh bed sheets and storing them in the mahogany drawer I had brought from Grathir. 

“I don’t recall teaching you how to do laundry.” I say yawning, brain still groggy from waking up.

“Mistress awake! Gurk scared when Mistress collapsed. Other mistress says to watch Mistress, but not touch Mistress or else Gurk become frog soup.”

“Mira threatened you— wait. The Parthun soldiers! what happened?”

“They perished. As expected.” Mira says, coming upstairs. “Good work, creature. Perhaps I shall serve you a reward.”

“N-no need! Gurk fine just serving!” He stuffs the last bedsheet into the drawer and scurries downstairs.

Mira takes a seat on the bed and says, “A pack of manticores bore down on them last night. 94 casualties, six in critical condition but nothing your potions couldn’t heal. You should rejoice. The remaining soldiers sent a letter to Semyon requesting a retreat—”

“There’s nothing to rejoice about!”

The burden of almost a hundred deaths weigh down my heart. To even let one of them die would have been a tragedy. This will plague me for the rest of my life.

“94… they had family, Mira. They were important to someone, just like how you’re important to me.”

Is this the difference between a witch who’s seen war and one who hasn’t? Is Eudora like this? Or worse?

“If— if it pleases you, I mapped out all towers within a fifty kilometer radius of here!”

Mira rolls out a large map and sprinkles dust over it, coaxing the ink to life. Illusory trees spring forth from the parchment, birds and clouds fill the skies. Dozens of pillars larger than the trees shoot past the canopy. 

It never occurred to me to create a map myself. I didn’t think to do so because the Weeping Expanse is just forest as far as the eye can see. But these are unusual circumstances that call for thinking outside of the box.

At a glance, the map seems to accurately depict the location of each tower. The most alarming thing about them is how well-spaced out they are. Almost as if there is a purposeful pattern to them.

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There are two that are relatively close to us. The tower due east is the one we saw first, and the other is north…

“Oh, no. Kati’s tribe is right in front of a tower!”

“Kati?” Mira echoes after me.

“A kobold tribe. They’re protected by a guardian dryad, but who knows how long they can last so close to a tower.”

I grab my stuff and turn back to Mira to stand my ground. “They showed me nothing but hospitality. I will not abandon them.”

“In that case, I can’t very well let their goodwill to you go uncompensated.”

“You mean it??”

Mira gets off the bed and whistles for Talos. The avian familiar lands on her shoulders and, if my eyes aren’t deceiving me, bows his head in my direction.

“Kaw!”

“It’s been some time since I’ve seen Talos in action. Have you gotten stronger?” I brush a finger over Talos’ firm head. 

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“Mraaauuu!”

Rio hops onto my shoulder and swats at Talos, but Mira’s familiar takes the attack in stride and turns his head away.

“Lead the way, darling. Talos and I are with you.”

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