A knight in a distant land searches for her love amidst war and chaos.
| The wispdragon's ephemeral wings whipped the cold, thin air into submission as Kaye gave his scaly hide a touch of spur.
"That's it now, Zigo," she crooned. "We have much of the Upper Steppes to search. But there's a war on! We must stay high above it."
The wispdragon moaned in answer, a lonely cry that was swallowed by the clouds. This high up, the sun's face was a fiery disc of terrible beauty, and Kaye was thankful that his face was not turned toward her. Even her gleaming, spunsilver armor could not withstand Ferrian's full gaze at this height.
Words echoed in Kaye's ears from the last night before the war started, the last words she ever spoke to Syrina.
If you leave me, then please leave the World, for I cannot bear to be alone with you still in it.
Then Syrina was gone, like a dream, while Kaye was called away to war. Every minute with her absent was like another wound to Kaye, though she suffered none in battle.
Zigo's attention seemed to sharpen, and his shoulders tensed. Kaye reached for and felt the reassuring hardwood of her bow, holstered on her back. The tension in the wood was palpable, a living thing ready for action.
"What do your dragon's eyes see, my silver one?" asked Kaye of the ancient reptile. "Is it the one we seek? The one who will give us answers?"
In reply, Zigo tilted his wings and began spiraling downward, his supernaturally keen eyes searching out Kaye's quarry through the clouds. As they descended through the damp whiteness, Kaye could hear the sounds of battle drifting up from below, the clash of steel on spunsilver, the moans of wispdragons, and the grunts of warriors.
Kaye and Zigo broke through the clouds trailing vapor and found themselves in the bloody fray. Kaye cast her eyes about, looking for Morian's crest, for it was Syrina's brother that she sought. But the battle had devolved into chaos, with no front line or ordered ranks. It was a fitting metaphor for the crumbling Empire of the Iron Steppes, a lost cause for which this final battle was being fought.
An arrow flew from above and passed through Zigo's right wing. The wispdragon wailed as his wing flared purple with pain and faded to transparency.
"No!" cried Kaye.
She hauled on the reins to compensate for the injured wing, but Zigo was in a steep bank, headed for the ground. Kaye looked up and saw a mighty crimson redwyrm and rider in gold-plated spunsilver armor with the unmistakable crest of Lord Morian. It was Jaston, commander of the Aerial Cavalry. It could be no other.
Jaston knocked another arrow and urged his redwyrm to follow as Kaye put Zigo into as steep a dive as she dared. Below, the frosty ground was littered with corpses, casualties of the fall of a civilization. The wind roared in Kaye's ears as the steppes rushed at her. At the last moment, she pulled up, but Zigo's injured wing failed to complete the maneuver. Rider and dragon slammed into the earth, throwing Kaye several yards into a stunned heap.
Kaye lay still for a moment, gasping for breath, and the moans of Zigo brought her to her feet.
"Zigo, my friend!" she cried, running to her mount. "Will this be your end?"
Zigo thrashed and rolled himself upright. His wing was an indistinct, purple cloud drifting in and out of existence. It wouldn't carry them aloft for long.
Kaye, heard the rush of wings, and turned to see Jaston's wyrm landing nearby, the knight leaping from his saddle with arrow at ready. She dove, unholstering her bow and knocking an arrow in the same motion as Jaston's arrow sang through the air where she had been a split second before. Her arrow found Jaston's chest plate and glanced harmlessly away. In the blink of an eye, Jaston had loosed another which creased her arm, drawing blood. Kaye didn't notice. Her next arrow flew straight and true, embedding itself in Jaston's thigh.
The commander didn't cry out - a knight of Morian didn't do that - but he sank to one knee, glaring at Kaye.
"You!" he hissed. "You abandoned your oath to Morian! You should have been fighting at my side!"
"You defend a corpse," replied Kaye. "Lord Morian is dead! His son is nowhere to be found. The client states break away and war with each other. Syrina knew this! It is why she left!"
"You dare to speak my sister's name!" said Jaston, struggling to stand. "She left because she glimpsed your true visage, the face of betrayal!"
Kaye felt the pang of loss, more acute than any arrow.
"You slander your sister, knight! She loved me, and I her! She knew my soul."
"It matters not," said Jaston. "If you would kill me, be done with it! I tire of conversing with a traitor."
"First, you will tell me where Syrina has gone."
Jaston glowered at her.
"Help you find her, so you can cause her even more pain? Never!"
In three steps, Kaye was standing over Jaston, ripping off his helm and bringing her dagger to his throat.
"I know you do not fear death," she said. "But I also know you wish to rejoin the battle, and fight for your lost cause. What shall it be?"
Above, the battle continued to rage, and bodies fell, both Morian's and the enemy's. Defiant rage burned for a moment in Jaston's eyes, then they lowered.
"I do not know where she has gone," he said. "I only know that she took the sapphire hourglass with her."
She released Jaston and stepped away.
"For what it is worth, I pray to Ferrian for your glory and victory, but I do not hold out hope."
"May you find the truth, Kaye, about Syrina and yourself," replied Jaston.
Leaving Jaston to tend his wound, Kaye approached Zigo and caressed his smooth scales.
"How fares your wound, old friend?" she said, frowning as she examined the injured wing. It still bore a purple tint, but seemed to have solidified. Zigo flexed it a few times, then snorted and raised his head, eager to take to the air again despite his injury.
"I knew you would not fail," said Kaye.
She mounted, and Zigo pranced for a dozen paces before managing to take wing. They climbed back into the clouds, leaving the sounds of battle far behind. As they leveled off, Kaye looked to her wound, a scratch on her right arm. It would keep for now. She wondered why Syrina would take the sapphire hourglass. There was only one place where the priceless artifact was of any use. Kaye turned Zigo toward a land where Ferrian never cast his radiance, a land of endless wastes.
For days, they flew, Kaye sleeping in her saddle while Zigo needed no sleep. As the two soared through forbidden skies, the bright blue days turned to gray twilight. Ferrian appeared to retreat behind veils of mist, and frost grew on Kaye's armor. The golden plains of the Iron Steppes gave way to yellow desert sands.
"It should be soon now," said Kaye on the third day.
The sands had changed color. No longer yellow, they were now the leprous color of sun-bleached bones. The sands crawled along the landscape and disappeared into a horizon that appeared entirely too near. Nearly resting on that horizon something gleamed, like a bright diamond in the dust.
Zigo was wheezing, laboring with every wing stroke, and his right wing now pulsed a bright violet, turning translucent with every beat. He grunted at Kaye.
"You are in pain," said Kaye. "You have done enough, my friend. I will continue, alone."
She guided Zigo down from the heights and landed him gently on the sand. Zigo looked at her, his eyes bright and intelligent, but a faint purple glow of pain intruded. Kaye wrapped her arms around the wispdragon's neck and embraced him.
"Rest for now, faithful friend. I release you from your bond to me. Return to your kind at Mount Thieress and be free. Rest!"
Zigo lowered his head to the ground and slumbered.
Kaye lingered with him only for a moment, then marched into the sandy wastes and toward the far-off twinkling object. Her footsteps raised tiny clouds of dust. No sound, no wind, no living thing disturbed the stillness or intruded on Kaye's thoughts.
If you leave me, then please leave the World...
The word echoed again, tearing at Kaye's heart. For a day and half she walked on aching legs with every word, every look, every smile, and every thought shared between her and Syrina flitting about Kaye like ghosts. The dusty desert offered no respite, no redemption, and even the sounds of her footfalls abandoning her in silence. This was the place where remorse and loss haunted the wild, waiting to suck the life and spirit from any living thing that braved the wastes. This was where the World had begun to die.
But still, the shining object lead her onward.
At last, with every inch of her body aching, dust caking in her wound and around her eyes, her armor no longer gleaming, she found the end, where the dust spilled off the edge of the World, and everything beyond was void. Even the stars refused to shine here, and the air hung like still curtains. Ferrian was a distant memory.
Right in front of her, resting on the sands on the edge of eternity was the sapphire hourglass, completely undisturbed by the tribulations of the World. It was still twinkling with the residue of titanic forces that Syrina had used in her final act on this world, seeming to mock the void itself. The sand within was half spent, but something had stopped the flow, trapping the remainder in the upper chamber. Kaye approached, and spied a little scroll made fast to the relic. It was sealed in wax with Syrina's sigil. Kaye plucked it from the glass and broke the seal.
My Dearest Kaye,
It is with both great joy and clawing agony that I write this in memory of you, with the faint hope that you would look for me, that you would search to the ends of the World to find wither I have flown. Do you miss me? Do you long for my embrace as I long for the warmth of your arms? For me, leaving was like cutting out half of my own heart. And yet, I did what I must. You were unmoved by your duty to the Empire, and could not see what I saw, that the Empire and the World were ending. Even our love could not sway you, and I could not be a distraction, for I know that your duties as a warrior and knight to Morian are cast into your very bones.
You once said that if I left, I should leave the World. And so I have. I took the hourglass, and have moved to the next plane, wherever that may be. Perhaps the face of Ferrian? I wonder, will you spare a thought for me as you fight your battles? Will you still remember the touch of my lips upon yours? The scent of the gardens where first we made love? I will dream of it every night.
All of my heart,
I do hope you find this note. There is enough power left in the glass for one more journey. You have followed this far. Will you forget your oath and follow a bit further?
Kaye slowly lowered the scroll and looked at the hourglass, still twinkling, beckoning to her. Then she raised her eyes, stared off the edge into eternity and smiled.
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