We land on a ridge overlooking Lotherain. Eileen’s breathing has become shallow. I have to act fast before she loses too much blood. But the wound where she was struck has already been cauterized by the beam. There’s nothing for me to bandage on the outside, it’s her internal body that I need to somehow heal.
Eileen’s temperature has been dropping since we left the city. No amount of heat I provide will make up for the blood she lost. If there is a cauldron nearby, I have the crystals to turn it into an alchemy cauldron—
But I have neither the heart of a vicious beast nor the blood of an innocent one. Damn it. How did I come so unprepared? I should have known my satchel was vulnerable compared to my clothes. If Mira was here, what would she—
“Not now, Cammy!”
Roots from her hair come to life and coil around my arm. I feel the mana flood into my body from the arm, filling me to the brim. It’s as though a massive font of energy has come into my disposal. Around me, everywhere— the roots beneath the earth, and the branches and stems on the surface, I can tap into them.
Cammy tugs at my entangled arm and points at the grass beneath my feet. “Look!”
All around us the earth pulses with faint blue light. Despite the wind battering us at this elevation, the grass and trees do not sway. By some supernatural force, they’ve been frozen in time.
Even as night has crawled it’s way across the horizon, energy emanates from where I’m sitting, illuminating the world around me. At first, I think to run. A beacon of light would alert Humility and Belle to our location.
But something tells me this is something only I can see. Or rather, Cammy and myself can.
She leans in, dangling a fruit sprouting from a flower on her head. It’s not like the strawberries that grew last time. This apricot-like fruit is the only one that’s grown. She shakes her head, urging me to take it.
“What do I do with this?” I ask. I don’t even have to pluck it, the apricot snaps from the stem and falls into my palm.
“Eileen is hungry. She needs to eat!” Cammy continues to chant this until I start moving.
“But… how do I…?”
I feed it to her the only way I know how. I squeeze it with all might. Its juices and fleshy interior spills to the floor. Cold, sweet-smelling nectar flows from my hand and into Eileen’s mouth.
At first, nothing happens. Then her chest rises and lowers in a rhythmic pace. Eileen breathes with life again but remains unconscious. The next breath I take has never been sweeter. After losing so much today, I managed to save someone. But the fight isn’t over yet, and our lives are still very much in danger.
I ruffle Cammy’s stem-like hair, causing a few bulbs to bloom and flower.
“Good work, Cammy.”
“Not Cammy,” she says, shaking her head. “Mama and Cammy did it!”
I’m not too sure what happened, but I somehow think Flora’s magic allowed us to do what we just did. I make a silent prayer to her, thanking her for two gifts— the boon and Cammy.
On the way back, I have to bite the urge from warning the cities who have yet to see any fighting. They will be safer not knowing that the capital was attacked. The hope is that when the Order of Piety arrives they will simply occupy the towns instead of laying siege to them.
King Marcus was right, evacuating the citizenry to the Weeping Expanse would never have worked. How naive was I?
The sky-reaching towers quickly come into view. We finally cross the threshold into the forest, and give the residents of Ellowyn a fright as we land. Many of them come to me, glad that I’m finally back. I’m glad as well, and it looks like the place wasn’t attacked or too battered during my absence.
“Roga,” he’s the first one to push his way through the crowd to me. “Tell Clem and Kati we have a fight coming. A big one.”
The orc nods and hurries off towards the demihuman encampment. He whispers to Ana, whose expression hardens and begins to corral the crowd back to their homes.
I kick open the door to my home, startling Gurk from his slumber.
“I know you’re horny, but not right now.”
I lay Eileen on the couch, uncork a restoration potion from the shelf, and pour the content into her mouth. Whatever was ruined internally by the beam should be healing right up now. I drop to the floor and just lie there, not even bothering to take a seat.
It feels like I’ve been on edge since King Marcus died.
“I’m so tired…”
Gurk comes over and throws a bedsheet on me.
“Thanks,” I say, reaching up to pat his head “I’ll make sure to reward you tomorrow— no, I can’t rest yet.”
For all I know, Humility and the rest of the Order are on their way. Worse, who knows what Councillor Anora has in store for us. She’s probably watching me right now.
I pick up Rio and look him straight in the eyes. “Headmaster, if you’re watching, know that I’m very disappointed in you. That’s right. Your former student is disappointed in you! I can’t believe you would allow King Marcus to be killed like that. I still hate you for turning on Mira! Know this— even if I have to betray the covenant, I will expose you and make you pay for all the suffering you’ve caused.”
Rio tilts his head and meows at me.
“Ehh… she probably isn’t listening, is she? Damn it. Now I just look like an idiot. I still need to remove that surveillance spell from you somehow.”
Cammy plops down next to my legs, rubbing her weary eyes. The leaves and petals in her hair are drooping. A sign that she’s getting fatigued from being away from her tree for too long. Gurk and I carry her back to the guardian tree, and she embeds herself into the trunk after an entangling me with a goodnight hug.
Never would I have thought that the Weeping Expanse would provide me comfort. The day has yet to end, and it feels like the invasion of Lotherain was but an illusion. I should be fortunate that the residents were quick to believe me.
The fortifications they’re making to the walls won’t stand a chance against someone like Humility. The true purpose is to give them a sense of control in their lives during desperate times. It will prepare them for when the battle comes. I’ll need to make long term preparations to evacuate them further into the forest should it come to that.
The truth of the matter is I can’t defeat the Order of Piety. Even with Mira’s help, it changes nothing. We’re going up against a colossal entity capable of destroying a kingdom without a second thought.
As soon as I get back to the house, Gurk springs to life having remembered something. “Almost forgot to tell Mistress. Found this in the morning.”
He hands me an empty scroll.
“Is this a joke?”
“What is a joke,” he asks, himself just as confused as I.
The scroll suddenly expels glittering dust at my face before going up in flames. I let the pieces of cinders fall, extinguishing as they hit the floor.
“What the… nngh!”
My body seizes. Words and runes fly across my eyes. Gurk clutches his head in panic, thinking he had done something to me.
“It’s alright,” I assure him, recognizing the effects of the spell.
Like water being poured into a glass, empty pockets in my mind begin to fill with thought. I hear Mira, yet at the same time I don’t. Her mute words play in my head, reciting line after line as though she is reading from a book.
When the spell subsides, two memories that I didn’t have previously echo in my head: a ritual to purge enchantments and the necessary reagents to get it done, as well as the location of a reclusive dragon.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that this is from Mira. I dance with joy knowing that she’s alright and has made headway into taking the fight to Anora. However, the fact that she didn’t deliver me the news herself means she’s caught up in something.
Every victory we make mustn’t be met with complacency.
I have all the ingredients in my home except for the dragon’s heart. Every part of the dragon we killed has already been used or consumed, so I’ll have to go after this other dragon for the final piece.
“Can I even kill a dragon by myself?”
I pick Rio off the ground and scratch his head. “Looks like we’ll be going to another tower.”
A wave of exhaustion comes down on me harder than an avalanche. I lay Rio down and he runs off to lay next to Eileen.
“We’ll go first thing in the morning. Until then… Gurk, your mistress needs some attention.”
“Yes, Mistress!” He and his lower buddy stand at the ready.
“AAAAAAAAHHHHHH! GOBLIN! HELP!!!”
I snap awake to a blood curdling scream. Eileen is throwing anything she can find at Gurk who has hidden himself behind the upturned table.
“Stop! No more destroying Mistress’ stuff!” Gurk tries in vain to calm the girl down, but it’s only serving to incite more fear in her.
“Eileen!” I call to her from upstairs.
“Ellori… Mistress?” She stops short of chucking another mandrake.
I rush downstairs to throw my arms around her. “I’m so happy you’re alive!”
“I’m happy, too. But uhm…” she gestures to my naked body.
“Oh— ” I whistle into the air and my robe flies down to dress me.
“Whoa! What is that? A witch thing? Also— there’s a goblin behind you!” She clutches my shoulders, trembling at the sight of Gurk.
“Eileen, I need you to take a deep breath and calm down. What I’m about to say might shock you.”
Eileen is receptive the whole way through. Everything falls into place for her as I tell her what happened from the very beginning. Between my coming here, the revelation of Headmaster Anora’s deception, and the attack on Lotherain, she digests all I say with only a modicum of doubt.
She sips on her tea, throwing the occasional cautious glances at Gurk. “It’s one thing to hear about them, it’s another to actually see one in person. You really have sex with that?”
“Ahem. I think of it as a mutually beneficial relationship,” I say, scratching my cheek in embarrassment.
“I don’t think I’m ready to walk out and see a bunch of orcs and kobolds…”
“Take your time to get used to the place. You got used to Cammy, didn’t you?”
Gurk delivers a batch of cookies we had baking in the clay oven, and offers some to Eileen. She takes one and bites into it. Her blissful expression telling me she’s famished.
“I had no idea so much was happening. Meanwhile, I was just struggling to get by working in a tavern. I can’t thank you enough for saving me. If you will allow it, I’ll work on my fear of the demihumans and be the best apprentice you ever had!”
“I’m expecting great things from you, apprentice.” I pat her head and start getting ready to depart. “Until I get back, I’ll have Ana and Liz to bring Cammy over to keep you company.”
“Where are you going?” She asks, stuffing her mouth with more cookies.
“To hunt a dragon.”