TMA Down Time

TMA Down Time
Art by @spoiledchestnut

Friday, May 26, 2017

Session 13

Weeks had passed since the battle for Illium, and I still had no word from my friends. All I could do was wonder, and hope. And always long to be with them. Adventuring. I hadn’t reached the point where being kept in one place embittered me, there was still too much to be done in and around the city. Too much to make right, to improve upon, to learn. This will be my world, I thought distractedly. But does it have to be only this? I considered the dual life my father led in secret. If Viceak could be king and an Arch Magi, why can’t I handle two jobs?
“Taelim?” Feeps interrupted my daydreaming. “Are you certain?” The warforged asked me again as he dogged my footsteps down the hall.
I pretended the matter didn’t daunt me. “Nope. There’s no set date, so no pressure. Besides, it makes the city feel at ease. I think.”
I watched from the corner of my eye as my guardian visibly trembled with frustration. “Taelim, this is no small matter. Remember Valium?”
I grinned. “The stone man in the cellar? I do, but Killian isn’t Valium. We get along.”
Feeps grabbed my wrist and forced me to a stop. “Please. I just want you to be...happy. Do not make the same mistake as…”
“My mother?” I missed her already, but she was back in the Green Court. Free from all this.
Feeps looked away, abashed.
I peeled his fingers off me and held my best friend’s hand. “I’ve had weeks to decide. Killian can’t do this alone, he’d resent it. As much as I have the right to leave this place behind, I won’t. Not while people look up to me for help--for whatever unholy reason. Anyway, Killian despises politics.”
“As do you!”
I laughed abruptly, nodding my head. “Yeap.” I patted his hand. “But someone has to do it, and there’s only so much I can burden you with. For now, Killian keeps busy cleaning up Wroth activity while I tell everyone it’ll be alright before wallowing in drink.”
The comment seemed to dampen the warforged’s spirit further. “Taelim…”
“It was a joke!”
“I do not believe you.”
I sighed and motioned for him to follow. “As long as you’re here, I can bear this.” I paused, wondering if he would come to resent this too. “Hopefully the group will come back. Maybe we can clean up the remaining Wroth, you know, make a trip out of it. I’m tired of Killian pulling rank and having all the fun. He’s not as charming as he thinks.”
I turned down a corner and we stopped, preparing to part ways. “I have to meet with him at the docks, his crew had reports of Wroth on neighboring seas. I want to know what they’ve found out.” I explained eagerly, craving a break in the morning routine.
Feeps regarded me for a moment, his eyes trying to perceive what he could only guess at. “Have you two…?”
“Byeee!” I beamed and bolted down the corridor.

I admit it. I was jealous. While Killian was a receptive learner, he was far better at leading soldiers around the countryside, killing off straggling enemies, than actually being king. Which was what Illium needed at the moment, the assurance and protection he could offer with his years of seasoned training. So I let him have that, but it generally left me dealing with matters in the city. I would get my turn at fun, one way or another.
I examined Illium’s new flagship from the docks, taking in the unusual amount of bustle aboard the vessel. Soldiers, equipment, supplies. I didn’t outwardly jump to conclusions as I worked my way up the ramp, locating my target. Killian was happily commanding his crew with practiced ease, and when he made eye contact, he barked one last order before approaching.
“Taelim!” He waved, coming to stand at my side.
I held back a smile with effort, grateful he was one of the few people who actually called me by my name these days. Even if it took repeated requests. To everyone in the kingdom, I was still “Princess.” As if they willingly whisked away my background, foregoing it in lieu of my recent services to the kingdom. I gave up trying to correct it.
“Docks are busy today. Where’s the ship heading?” I said, noting the sailors double-checking lines across the deck.
“Somewhat busy, I suppose.” Killian responded halfheartedly, scratching the back of his head.
Ah, the old “nothing’s happening here.” I turned to face him, eyes narrowed. “We talked about this. Trust. I’m not about to live my parents’ lie.” I paused and let it sink it before asking again. “What’s going on, Killian?”
The Azure Prince shifted under my gaze, focusing on the ship’s railing as he spoke. “Reports of Wroth activity at sea is true. Their forces have amassed on a warship. I thought it best we deal with it before they retaliate.”
I inclined my head, moving to lean against the railing. “Let me guess. We involves you leading them?”
Killian swallowed at my subtle accusation. He bowed his head in acknowledgement.
We lingered there in silence, but I couldn’t let my own hungry desire to take his place admonish one key fact. “No one knows these waters better.” I conceded.
He raised his gaze. “So, I can go?”
“I don’t have the right to stop you,” I said dryly. “Only guilt you.”
He laughed. “I promise, I’ll take care of it and be back before the week is through.”
I hesitated, trying to mirror his mirth. “Just don’t be reckless. I know, I know...I have zero right to say that, but even I know you can match me for foolishness on the field.”
He leaned in close, humor still spread across his features. “You’re right. Zero right to talk about heedless behavior, she who takes on a dragon.”
I rolled my eyes, moving away to create space before more crew stared. Maybe they’ll actually believe we will work out. My relationship with Killian was complex to say the least. One that might grow in time, but was currently thrown together out of necessity. Did I find him attractive? Absolutely. I always had, but there’s wasn’t love between us and we knew it. For now, we teetered just above friendship and awkward flirtation. At least we were allies in a world neither of us wanted.
“When do you leave?” I asked, starting down the ramp.
I sighed. Damn, I’m stuck with court. Again. “You tell the council, I’ve got to--”
“Princess! Princesss!” A voice hollered from a soldier sprinting toward the ship.
Gods! I’m going teleport to a peaceful place. “Yes?” I asked, gritting my teeth.
The soldier tried to catch his breath. “Your--um--friends--have arrived!”
I felt my heart leap. They’re here? Did they bring Elroar? I hurried past him, ready to sprint toward the castle.
“A moment, Princess!” The soldier called out.
I threw up my hands. “What is it?”
The soldier hesitated. “Lady Tylda...isn’t pleased. They, um...appeared inside the castle. With a...hut of sorts.”
I cocked my eyebrow for a moment, my brain unable to process whether he was serious or confused. Without another word, I turned and ran all the way home.

It was a hut. And it stood on gangly chicken legs, having barreled through the walls of the west wing with uncanny force. I could feel the silent fury from the attendants, but all I concerned myself with were the friends that loitered nearby, dirty, tired and grinning.
“Taelim!” They called as I approached, filling me with a sort of comfort I hadn’t realized was missing.
“What in the actual hells?” I exclaimed, in no way angry. “Whose house is that?”
“Baba Yaga’s! Remember?” Klotonk piped up waving the familiar gnarled staff of the witch.
“Okay, but why is it here?”
“To break into the Impenetrable Prison, duh.” Cosmo added matter-of-factly.
“Hah! You should have seen the faces of the Magaat guards!” A dwarf with silver hands guffawed. “It barreled right inside their walls. We broke the druid out, and it brought us here!”
I could only assume this was the Dagon they hired, and the huge cleric of Kord, Yaup was chuckling beside him.
“You broke into Magaat’s prison!?” An attendant squeaked, on the verge of fainting.
I covered my mouth with my hands, desperately trying to hold back my amusement. “That’s going to bite me in the ass,” I told my friends casually. Then I shrugged as the attendants groaned collectively. “I’ll deal with it.”
A hush fell over us as the reason for the jailbreak cleared his throat. I lifted my gaze and recognized the face of Elroar Warson. My real father. The attendants cleared the room, mumbling about apologies letters, and even my friends congregated near a corner of the room.
I wavered as Elroar approached me quietly. A tall, thickly built druid as rugged as the wilds he served. He wasn’t a man who embraced civilization, but the simplicity of nature. As I should have been--might have been if my birth was any different. Instead, I straddled two worlds uncomfortably.
“Elroar,” I started. “I, um…I’m happy to see--”
The druid said nothing and he stepped up and embraced me, squeezing me tightly as if refusing to let go. “Now you know.” He whispered. “My daughter...”
Words fell away as I lingered in his embrace. Familiar. Welcome.
Eventually, I pulled away, wondering what happens next. Nothing. I didn’t think anything could change this path I had chosen, it would just keep moving forward. I regarded his warm expression. But maybe I can try.
I turned to my friends who were watching the exchange. I furrowed my brows and recounted their numbers, finally noting what I missed earlier. What I had taken for granted.
“Where’s Maziel?”
The party shifted uncomfortably, refusing to meet my gaze.
“GUYS!” I yelled unconsciously, fearing what came next.
“Well,” Klotonk began quietly. “This version of Maziel...died.”
My gut twisted, but my mind clung to the peculiarity of Klotonk’s words. This version? I opened my mouth to question, but the half-orc spoke up, ringing his hands almost yearning.
“We released the god, Primus, unto this plane! Now, we must engage it in glorious battle!”
“Cosmo did it!” Dagon pointed at the kender.
“Hey!” Cosmo cried, kicking at the ground. “Okay. I did. Sorry?”
I just stood there, mouth open looking between my friends and trying to grasp the extent of the situation. “WHAT?”
Klotonk held up his palms. “Let me explain. Actually--you’ll want a summary. We passed through Viceak’s tower--since it had the teleportation circle--but we stopped to explore the ziggurat back in one of the rooms. You know, research.” He fumbled at my glare, and immediately quickened his retelling. “Cosmo kinda unlocked it. Turns out, it was holding Primus--some ancient god of the Cabiri. It made…clones of us, and controlled us for a little while…We miiiight have done things. Point is--we should probably deal with him. Oh, and the clones. Which we are...right now…No idea where our real bodies are by the way.”
I heard the soft metal clang of Feeps slapping his hand to his forehead, even Elroar groaned beside the hut. I pulled up a chair and dropped down, unable to support my own weight as I took it all in.
At that moment, another attendant came running into the room. “Princess! Your friends have arrived, and--” She stopped short as she gaped at the group. “But they’re...trailing me…”
From behind her, I watched as Maziel, Klotonk, Cosmo and Dagon entered the room, a small goblin trailing their heels. Snee? I hadn’t seen him since our circus days. The goblin was almost always with Klotonk, the two tinkering away on projects like friends. But they weren’t, the goblin was out for himself. Still, from what I learned, Snee had been the one responsible for finishing Illium’s airships. After he copied Klotonk’s blueprints that is. I wonder if Klo knows...
The two groups looked at each other and cheered loudly, and I just slouched in my chair, wondering what in the nine hells my friends had dragged me into.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Session 12

Then I was off, adventuring in China, leaving my party up to their own devices. We're still paying for that. Here’s the filler before all hell broke loose.

It had gone from blissful reunion to sober disbelief. Our party was hailed as the heroes of Illium, returning at their hour of need to fend off a hostile invasion. We had won, but as I gazed over a burnt and bleeding city, I realized the cost that came with it.
I turned the symbol of the five-headed dragon in my hand. Tiamat. I didn’t know what the goddess of evil dragons had against Illium, but she had made an enemy out of the kingdom. Out of me. I was positive it wasn’t the last we’d seen of her and the cultists, but part of me was glad. I wanted revenge.
There was a knock at my door and my mother, Irielya, walked in. It’s funny, no matter how old you think you are, or how independent, your mother can always make you feel like you need her at that moment. Dress swishing, she rushed toward me, arms open and taking me in a tight embrace. She just held me there, cheek against my head.
Eventually she pulled away. At arm’s length she studied me with the same green eyes, evaluating the woman I had become in the years I spent away.
She smiled softly as she pinched my chin. “My daughter,” Irielya said simply, fondly.
“Hi, mom...” was all I could reply.
“Come,” she said, taking me by her smooth, slender hand and leading me to my bed where we sat at the edge, like when I was a child crying after my father scolded me. She folded aside her elegant robes, and I was reminded I was still covered in dirt and blood, having had no time to myself after the battle. Now, in the late hours of the night, she was first on my list before I told the world the truth. She waited, patient as ever.
“I have something for you,” I said, digging into my bag and handing her the scroll Viceak intended for her.
Concern swept over her elven features, but she unraveled it and read. When she was done, she put it down, eyes watching me intently. “Will you tell them, Taelim?”
“I have to,” I responded quietly, looking away.
She brushed a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “I will support you no matter what.” She paused to consider her next words. “But I think it best I return to the Green Court. You’re always welcome with me.”
“I...appreciate it. I do. But I have to stay and help. Killian will need someone to teach him.”
             “There’s no one better,” she said, patting my leg.
I laughed, enough disbelief for the two of us. “You’re my mom, you have to say these things.”
Her smiled widened. “No, but I know you take after me, and we’re stubborn that way.”
That we are.

We pushed everything back until morning, mother insisting she knew best. So I settled for washing up and trying to sleep in my old bed, but having a hard time of it. The prospect of tomorrow worried me, but it had to be done. Right? I grinned at the thought that at least my friends still considered me that, titles or no titles. Then I fell asleep.

Even if this classified as a break from adventuring, I knew it wouldn’t last. It never did. That in itself brought me comfort as I sent for my audience. One last thing before that.
The attendants, older since I last saw them, remembered my favorite foods. They flooded the table with what they could spare, stuffing my party--their heroes. I begged for privacy with my friends, wondering if this was my last meal as their "princess."
“So, you’re going to tell them?” Maziel asked, cutting into her pork and taking delicate bites.
“That’s the plan,” I said, sitting back in my chair. “Feeps and I will stay on to help Killian get settled.”
“And what about us?” Cosmo demanded with a mouth full of eggs. Barnaby was sitting in his own seat, wolfing down the kender's bacon.
“Hello? Help find Klotonk.” I reminded them incredulously about our friend. “I’ve already asked my aunt for help.”
“Mmm, unnecessary,” Maziel said, waving her fork. “He sent me a message last night. He ended up at some dragon den apparently as a succubus. He’ll find a way to teleport to Illium today.”
I blinked at the drow who spoke in a perfectly calm manner. I, however, wasn’t. “You tell me this now?!”
Maziel shrugged, and continued with her meal.
“Are you really leaving us, Taelim?” Cosmo butted in again.
“No.” I blurted out almost immediately. “Well, not for long.” I hesitated, and found all eyes on me. “But I do have a favor to ask…”
“What?” Maziel questioned, enunciating the word and all it encompassed.
I licked my lips, squirming in my chair. Part of me recognized this was my responsibility, but I didn't want to delay it any longer. “Will you rescue my dad from Magaat?”
Utter silence.
“Didn’t we bury him?” Cosmo blinked at me, cocking his curly red head.
“Her biological father,” Feeps corrected. “Elroar is a prisoner there on Viceak’s orders.”
The kender formed an O with his mouth.
“Please,” I begged quietly. “I would do it myself, but not anytime soon. Knowing he’s there because of my father--er, Viceak--I just…”
“We’ll do it,” Maziel responded coolly. “Once Klotonk gets back.”
I closed my eyes, trying not to appear too relieved. Then a thought came to me, one which was supposed to convince them to rescue my dad before I asked. “Oh, I hired someone for you guys.”
“Gods not another!” Maziel snapped.
“Me too!” Cosmo exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “I made friends with a dwarf, his name’s Dagon.”
“He’s a scoundrel,” Maziel snarled.
“Uh, huh.” I said. “Well, Illium paid for a cleric of Kord, his name’s Yaup. He’ll help you until you get back.”
Maziel rolled her eyes and pushed away her plate, apparently full.
The rest of breakfast went by uneventfully, my friends readying to part from my company for the first time in over a year. Just before the group set off, Cosmo approached me. “What happened to Valium?”
Feeps and I exchanged looks, then I cleared my throat. “In a safe spot. Until I decide whether to remove the petrification.”
"If she decides." Feeps corrected.
Cosmo laughed.

I sat in my father’s study--now Killian’s--facing him and my aunt. Feeps hovered by my side, always the moral support. A handful of Illium’s highest advisers waited nearby, hearing it all as was their right. I told them everything, emphasizing the bastard part which fully relinquished my responsibilities, but lending my support to the Azure Prince’s claim.
“Me?” Killian repeated, for what felt like the tenth time.
“Yes, Killian, you. I think you’re the obvious choice.” I peeked at Aunt Tylda, feeling like a traitor. Did I even still call her aunt? She definitely cried when she saw me again. Maybe because I was her worst student, and she was thankful that was all over with. Unlike Viceak, she didn’t bother with age magic, and it reflected. I lost count after seventy, and just relied on Feeps to remind me when it was her birthday.
Aunt Tylda nodded in my direction. She had spent most of her life devoted to her studies and the universities in Illium, heading all research within. She helped the kingdom advance alongside my father. She didn’t have the desire to rule, only to learn. Yeap, I’m definitely my mom’s bastard.
“I-I can’t,” Killian started to say. “I wasn’t born for this life. You were, why can't you just do it?”
What part of illegitimate don’t you understand? We’re both bastards, but you happened to inherit the correct lineage. I sighed. “Because that’s not how it works, Killian.” I replied calmly. I moved to the edge of my seat. “I promise, I’ll stay for as long as you need. I’ll teach you what I can,” I gestured to the group of advisers who gaped, but had the decency to say nothing. “Everyone here will help you. You’ll make a great king. Illium loves you.”
“And not you?” He answered back. “The princess who came back to save them? She just ups and leaves?”
I rubbed my forehead. “Killian...I get it. I do, but Illium needs you. An heir. You said you’d do anything for them. Remember?” The words struck him, and his posture softened. Maybe I was guilting him. Too bad. “Besides,” I started in a lighter tone. “You’ll settle down soon enough, marry some royal’s daughter. She’ll be able to help, I’m sure.”
That’s when they looked at each other, Killian and Tylda. They turned to the advisers who seemed to entertain the thought as well, even Feeps was in on it, if uncomfortably. I was the only one who didn’t notice.
“That is a thought,” Tylda thought aloud. “I’m sure Illium would accept it under these circumstances. Embrace it even...”
“See!” I said to Killian. “You’ll be fine.”
“Taelim,” Feeps put his metallic hand on mine. “They are talking about you.”
I held my breath and furrowed my eyebrows. “What?
“Taelim,” Tylda began. “The people expected you, they would support the union. They'll take comfort knowing you’ll help alongside our new king--”
By now I was gritting my teeth, furious. I stood up, shaking. “A day back and I’m already a pawn again!” I glared at them a final time, then stormed out. I wondered how long I had to catch up to Maziel and the group. They only have an hour on me, so maybe if--
“Taelim, wait!” Killian ran down the hall, sliding to a halt. I briefly considered a wild shape and bolting, but he threw up his hands, pleading. “Please, hear me out!”
I pressed my lips into a thin line. “One minute before I pack my bags. Go.”
“I’m sorry,” he stammered. “That was--it’s not what I meant. I don’t want to marry you--I mean I would! Don’t get me wrong, but you wouldn’t want to--and I just--” He forcibly stopped himself, flushing as I crossed my arms across my chest. He took a deep breath before managing to make eye contact again. This time, he spoke slowly, quietly. “This was all so sudden. A world I only dipped my feet in, and now I’m expected to rule it. War I’m good at, but politics?” He shook his head vigorously. “I was grateful you wanted to stay and help, then when you talked about settling with someone... it made sense. I was wrong to assume, to demand more than you’ve already done. I’m sorry for that. I can’t imagine everything you’re feeling, and with both of our backgrounds...I get it.” He paused for a heartbeat, and put his hands together as if in prayer. “Please, don’t go. Help me. I’m begging you.”
My hands fell to my hips as I studied his pleading face. I could feel my anger ebbing away, and I knew he won. He was hard to stay angry at. “It’s not fun,” I said at last. “Trust me, I ran away once.”
“Yet, here you are.” He shrugged, daring to smile. “I’m sure we’ll make it work.”
              Definitely hard to stay mad at. “All right. Come on.” I started down the hall.
“Where are we going?”
“Illium is aligned with a conclave of metallic dragons. A representative wants the body of the chromatic dragon.”
“We have dragon allies?” Killian wondered aloud, almost excited.
See, that was my reaction too, I thought to myself. That’s why we have Feeps. This is going to be a learning process for everyone. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Session 11

This was an emotional session for me. As a player and character. Fun fact: it was supposed to be my last game, I was shipping off to live in Asia for a while. The battle to save Illium; and my DM had me sweating bullets.

This was my home. If I tried I could still picture crowds bustling through the market square. I remembered the ships docked in the harbor, an imposing show of our fleet and commerce. Then there were the high outer walls, dwarven made, barring danger from the peaceful city. Finally, the castle, the foundation of it all that watched its people with pride.
Now, as we teleported in the city center, my home was overrun. The demonic deformities that were Wroth burned and maimed in hordes. Contingents of dragonborn bearing the symbol of a five-headed dragon went toe-to-toe with soldiers defending fleeing citizens. Then the dragons. Five chromatic dragons flew across the city spewing flames and reaping chaos. Our guardians, the titan golems that stood at the four quadrants of Illium didn’t move to defend, they needed an heir.
No, gods, no... My mind raced, my wolf form whining as panic seized me. Maziel had one hand on my hackles, in a failed attempt to calm me.
“I have to lead the army!” Oliander called, turning toward the city gates. They were torn down, the impenetrable walls of my past now fallen, admitting entry to the Wroth that generations kept at bay. “Find the princess!” Like that, the Rose Knight sprinted away.
“Taelim,” Feeps began, “What do we--”
I bounded toward the castle, leaving my party shouting after me in a mad dash to keep up. I had to find an heir, Killian or Aunt Tylda, somebody to take my dad’s scepter and wake the golems. We had to fight back, or Illium would be ashes by morning.
How? How did it get to this? I bared my teeth as all I could think of was Jayce Valium sitting on my father’s throne, taking over and bringing danger to our doorstep with his arrogance.
The castle gates were unguarded. It didn’t surprise me that every capable fighter was likely doing their part in the battle out there. Feeps and the rest of the group caught up, panting, but the warforged took the lead, reading my intentions.
“We need to find Valium.” He said to me as we stepped inside. Home. The halls felt desolate, and we stopped at the first person we came across, a guard escorting an attendant inside.
The guard stopped and gaped when he recognized the warforged, eyes sparkling with hope. He opened his mouth to speak, but Feeps interrupted him.
“Take us to Valium!” The warforged demanded.
There was absolutely no hesitation. The guard turned on his heels and led us through the castle, up winding passages and halls of hiding citizenry with questioning looks. We hurried past marred memories that made me question the brash actions of a teenager those years ago. I knew where we were heading, my father’s study.
We stopped at the elaborate door, and the guard threw it open without ceremony. “My lord,” he announced. “Master Feeps has arrived!”
There he was, pacing the room like a peacock, tall bay windows overlooking the city and the turmoil outside. Jayce Valium, potential heir to the throne of Illium. He had been arguing with two guards and an attendant, evidently frazzled by the current situation and his inability to handle it.
“So you finally decided to show?” Valium said to Feeps with the inherited air of superiority that came natural. His eyes swept across our group. “And where is she?”
“I came as soon as possible, Lord Valium.” Feeps responded cooly. “As for the she,  I assume you mean Taelim?”
“Don’t play coy, warforged! Do you see this mess I’m trying to deal with? Where’s my scepter?”
I had forgotten I was in my wolf form. It felt natural, safe. What would have been a curse came out as a snarling growl and I pressed my ears against my skull. The room fell silent, except for the sound of discord outside.
Valium regarded me with a curious expression. “Elroar?” He asked, daring to take a step closer, forcing me back beside Maziel instinctively. I suppose I wasn’t over it. He smirked. “Ah, no, it’s female. Quite the bitch you have there.” He told Maziel, who said nothing in response. “Now then, where were we?”
“Taelim has the scepter,” Feeps lied. “It is her birthright after all. Now, where is Kililan?”
“Who are you to make demands?!” He pointed a finger at my guardian. “You try my patience, creature. Where is she with the scepter?”
Feeps glanced at me as I stood trembling, lips curled back revealing hungry fangs. The line between animal and human had been crossed.
“I am her guardian, directly expressing her wishes. Where is the Azure Prince or Tylda?”
Valium snapped. “Guards! Seize this lot. If they won’t tell me where Taelim is, we’ll beat it out of them!”
The words, the threat triggered something inside of me. Pent up frustration, loathing, nothing but worst intentions for the man who had frightened me into a corner, forced me away for fear of what he might do. I lunged. Eager to sink my maw into his throat, but it was too late.
Feeps knew me inside and out. Before I struck, he had whipped out the odd scroll the Incunabula gifted him, shouting out a spell before I knew what was happening. Valium cast one last look of annoyance before he turned to stone entirely.
The room froze, and I staggered back on all fours cocking my head at the turn of events, tail wagging against my will. Would I have killed Valium? It certainly felt like it, and I wondered if my guardian feared it as well.
The guards seemed to wake out of their daze, drawing swords and approaching us.
“Wait!” Maziel threw up her hands. “Change back, Taelim!” Maziel yelled while the rest of the party huddled defensively.
The name kept the guards at bay as they inadvertently searched the room for the missing person, their missing leader.
I obeyed, if uncomfortably. Well, they’ll learn the truth about what I am if I survive long enough to tell it.
There I was, half-elf form shifting awkwardly under their awed expressions. As if they didn’t believe I was here after all this time. They gaped at me, then Valium’s petrified from, then Feeps and the party.
“Um,” I began in a quiet voice. “I can explain…”
“Taelim!” Feeps commanded my attention, waving the scepter about. “Killian or Tylda. Now!”
I nodded and motioned to the guards. “Killian, bring him here quickly.” They seemed to hesitate, as if ashamed of some truth I didn’t yet know. “Hurry!” I called, shaking them out of it. They fled the room to do as ordered.
“Wooooow,” Cosmo commented once we were alone. “Is home always like this?”
I tried to laugh, but I felt nauseous. My head was brimming with worry as I paced in front of the windows. We need to fight. I need to defend the city. Then my eyes caught sight of something peculiar outside the city walls.
“Klo,” I called to gnome who scampered over. I pointed, directing him to my line of sight. “Is that--”
“A summoning circle…” He gasped, hand over his mouth. “The biggest I’ve ever seen.”
From there I watched the Wroth pour in, reinforcements seemingly unlimited. “We have to shut it down.” Out there, a black dragon patrolled alongside the ritual, letting out an intimidating roar. “That too…” I swallowed hard.
“And the four others,” Maziel reminded me as we observed a red dragon light up the merchant district.
The doors of the study were thrown open and two guards dragged in a semi-conscious Killian. He looked half starved half beaten, and the guards must have seen the fury in my features.
“Princess,” one stammered. “Lord Valium had us question--”
“Just get out!” I yelled, disbanding them. I dropped to Killian’s side the second the door closed.
Familiar blue eyes watched me from swollen eyelids, and he smiled despite his wounds. You look like shit, I wanted to tell him. Instead, I placed a hand on his chest and casted quick healing spells. He sighed in relief, as most of his bruises and cuts disappeared, revealing a familiar, if haggard man.
“Glad you made it,” Killian said hoarsely. “As you can see, Valium didn't take kindly to me finding you. Sank my ship and threw me in the brig. Don't know what he told everyone though.”
“Killian,” I said softly, helping him to the window so he could see for himself. He muttered a string of curses, and I turned him toward me. “I-I have to ask you something. A favor,” I hesitated, beckoning for Feeps. “How much do you care about Illium?”
He beamed and tried to lighten the situation. “As much as my left hand.”
Cosmo laughed and I rolled my eyes. Even Maziel chuckled as she leaned against the doorframe.
“Really, Princess,” he cleared his throat. “Just let me grab a weapon, I’ll lead a group outside. We’ll clean this up.”
I placed two hands on his shoulders, growing serious. “You’re the rightful heir of Illium.”
Killian blinked at me, then snorted amused. “Riiight. But really, I swear I can fight.”
Feeps lumbered over bearing the scepter, and I guided the warforged’s hand into Killian’s. The Azure Prince raised his eyebrows as he held the scepter. Gently, I pushed him toward the window where he could command safely.
“I promise,” I began in low, desperate voice. I had begun to feel it, what I knew to be true all along. That I was helpless to help my home. “I’ll tell you everything.” I started toward the door, motioning for the party to follow. “Wake the titan’s, send them after the dragons. Defend the city.”
“What about you? Where are you going?” Killian called after us.
“To do what we can.”

We sprinted headlong out of the castle, just in time to hear the low groan of metal moving into motion. The titans at the four corners of the city stretched their weary limbs, eyes alighting with magic energy. They smashed their fists together, goading the soaring dragons to draw near. Even from the courtyard, we could hear the echoing cheer of the people. The fight was on.
The titans heavy footfalls stomped over the fighting groups, weaving their massive feet through city blocks. The chromatic dragons made an enemy of each, diving forward for battle, but the black dragon lingered at the city gates, knowing full well what it protected.
It was odd to reach the city walls and stand atop the ramparts, staring back at the soldiers who eyed me with equal disbelief. They cheered our group, banging swords against shields, and knowing hope had arrived. At last, I never felt so welcome.
“Taelim!” Klotonk pulled me close, forcing our group to huddle. “I have an idea!”
“I’m all ears,” I said, admittedly distracted by whizzing arrows overhead. I yearned to fight something.
“I can dispel the circle! I’ll cast Invisibility on myself and make it over there. Can you distract the dragon?”
I glanced at the gargantuan black beast that spewed acid in an arc, keeping soldiers at bay and encouraging Wroth companions forward as they materialized in droves.
The gnome procured a handful of potions while we looked on, not doubtfully, just concerned with the thought none of us might make it out of this. He started to down them one after another sticking out his tongue in a grimace after each swig.
“Klo…” I tried, wanting to make excuses, but I knew we were quickly running out of options.
“You guys handle the dragon,” he said decidedly, finishing his last potion. “Leave the circle to me.”
I dropped to one knee and embraced him. “Be careful, buddy.”
He chuckled. “Of course!” He started to move, then added, “But when I get back, I wouldn’t mind taking a look at your dad’s book stash. I saw some pretty tempting titles.”
I grinned. “You got it.”
Then he was off, muttering his spell and disappearing entirely from sight.
“Hey guys,” I said to my friends, eyes locked on the black dragon. “Thanks for not bailing.”
Though they said nothing, I knew they had my back, as I undoubtedly had theirs.
“Soldiers clear out!” I called, waving my arms and creating ample spaces around us. “I’m about to piss off a dragon.”
I tilted my head up at the sky, black oil occasionally falling from the overcast ceiling. I reached up, muttering the words for my spell. Above, the clouds darkened into thick thunderheads, crackling with electricity. I slashed the air and pointed at the dragon as bolt of lightning slammed into the beast who bellowed furiously. I walked to the edge of the wall and repeated until its eyes met mine.
With a thunderous roar the dragon beat its massive wings and leapt into the air. With a few more flaps, it dropped onto the wall before us, revealing an impressive set of teeth. Its presence alone was enough to make us take an unconscious step back, except for our kender, who wouldn’t knew danger if it swallowed him whole.
Congrats, Taelim. You got its attention. This is where you die.
Every playful skirmish, every dungeon battle, each time we barely walked away didn’t quite prepare us for this ancient beast. But we gave it our everything, if not for our own hides, then for our friend working his way to the ritual alone; and if not for him, then for every citizen in Illium unable to defend themselves.
The black dragon clawed and bit, and we dodged and struck back. Acid burned beside our boots, and we stumbled around the difficult terrain trying to avoid being knocked off the towering wall, or slashed to ribbons.
We battled the beast for what seemed like an eternity, all of us at the end of our resources. But then, weary as we were, it snapped its maw forward, and this time found its mark. Feeps was swept upward in the dragon’s jaws, and I watched in horror as it crunched down, splintering my best friend’s body.
At that moment the air distorted, and a magical energy pulsed through the field. The dragon turned in horror to see the summoning circle had been dispelled, leaving no trace of Wroth in the vicinity. In fact, there wasn’t a living creature in hundred-foot radius. Nothing. The black dragon gazed around the city, evaluating. It realized something for the first time since they invaded: they were losing.
By now, the titans had killed at least one of the chromatic dragons, and were already teaming up on the others, annihilating danger as they went. Wroth were spilling out of the gates, fleeing droves, only to be cut down by Illium calvary.
The dragon dropped Feeps and leapt into the sky. It did one lap around the city, signalling for others to flee or follow. The remaining chromatic dragons joined, fortunate enough to escape pursuit unlike their ground forces. All that remained now was cleanup, but I was too distracted to think about it.
I slid over to Feeps, and wrapped my arms around him, refusing to let him go.
“Taelim. I am fine. Please do not worry.”
When he said that I wanted to cry. I thought I’d witness my best friend get devoured, and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. I did a cursory check over his body, he appeared functional, even though the bite marks sizzled with acid.
“We’ll fix you,” I promised. “We’ll fix Illium too.”
He smiled at me, and I detected pity. “If that is what you wish.”
I said nothing. I truthfully didn’t know.
“Shit! Klotonk!” I jumped to my feet, but hesitated at Feeps’s side.
“Go!” He encouraged. “I will be fine.”
Cosmo, Maziel and I barreled down the steps and into the fields, striking down running enemies with certain satisfaction. When we stood at the center of where the summoning circle existed, not a single soul remained.
I closed my eyes and cursed. We’ll find you, Klo. I swear.
Eventually, I shuffled back to Illium and watched with pride as the city reclaimed itself. A towering half orc bearing the symbol of Kord carried the broken Feeps toward me. Off to an alley, Cosmo and a raging dwarf with silver arms were slaughtering remaining dragonborn.
Maziel hovered at my side, arms across her chest. “What now, princess?”
I shrugged. “I have no idea.”