Clawing back towards the waking world, Ali became aware of two things. One was pain – mostly a throbbing headache, but also some all-over aching and stiffness; the other was the scent of lilacs.

That was a bit curious – it was well past the early spring when lilacs were in bloom – and that in turn provided something to focus on other than the pain, which was quite welcome. Oh, to be sure, some floral scents were frequently distilled and used in perfumes and incense, but lilac was – regrettably, from Ali’s point of view – not a common choice for that.

It also served as a reminder that Ali wasn’t at home, because the Arcine manor didn’t have lilacs on the grounds these days, blooming out-of-season or otherwise, nor was the scent favoured among the staff. As fragments of the evening before sorted themselves in Ali’s memory, this wasn’t terribly surprising – but one thing Ali couldn’t remember was actually getting into bed.

(more…)

The flight attendant’s voice was soft, as someone might make their voice when they wanted to gently wake someone, but didn’t want to try very hard to do so if that latter someone was deeply asleep. Which, indeed, was probably exactly why she’d done it. But Rico Montel had rather often had call to doze lightly, making the most of the time spent waiting for an interruption that could come at any time, but might not be for an hour or more, and that was what he’d done on this flight; now he blinked awake, focusing after a few attempts on the squirrel whose gentle murmur of “Officer?” had roused him.

I’m awake,” he managed, promptly if perhaps not with complete honesty, and paused to cover a yawn. “Wha’ is’t?” (more…)

When Rico Montel had first donned the blue and green uniform of the Varilyn Hierarchy’s armed forces, it had been a moment of inexpressible pride.

The burly mouse didn’t think he was unusual in that. He’d come from a humble background, a few steps from the streets, and still been given a chance to succeed; should he not be proud of his nation? And he’d trained and studied for years to pass the bar for a slot at officer’s college, and not only been accepted, but been at the head of his class; should he not be proud of himself?

He’d committed to enlisting in the wake of what had since become known as the Sterley uprising – a gaggle of pirates who’d had the notion to turn conquistador and caused five bloody years of fighting before their base of operations was finally tracked down at the outer limits of the Sterley system. He’d been much too junior to actually take part in the strike on that base – hadn’t even won an ensign’s stripe, still on his midshipman’s cruise, most junior of a wing helping to police the home systems – but he’d been in uniform long enough to feel some common ground with the soldiers who had gone to fight. He’d mourned their losses, cheered their triumph, and been once again proud to wear the same uniform as them. (more…)

It was a small wonder he hadn’t worn a groove in the floor.

That floor was good hardwood, topped by a thick rug which, given the prior ambassador’s lavish tastes, was surprisingly understated and tasteful, yet which still might be worth more than the entire home Nicolai di Casson had grown up in before the seminary. But he’d been pacing across both of them for long enough that he’d quite lost track of time by this point, and he was hardly a small man. Some part of his mind half-expected there to be a rut a hand’s-breadth deep worn through the wood by now.

This post was a comfortable one, and the people he’d been sent to treat with were decent, honourable folk, however bewildering the array of customs their populace exhibited could sometimes be to a provincial knight of Rendayn like himself. His peers at the negotiating table treated him with respect, his staff was dutiful and attentive, his host the King was friendly and approachable and shockingly willing to put up with Nicolai’s foibles and occasional gaffes – and that didn’t even touch on the court wizard.

So why did this spacious, comfortable suite feel so much like a cell?

(more…)

The full force of winter had set in, and even the main road of the fishing village of Falvarinth was constantly blanketed in snow, now. The boats were ensconced in boathouses and drydocks, the piers locked in ice; fishermen and sealers hiked to work, now, chipping holes in the thick ice sheets to get their catch. The cold was omnipresent.

And yet the upper reaches of the town, near the hot springs, were far, far milder than the deep north; and so it was that Danir stayed in one of the largest homes, second – if a distant second – only to the headman’s own.

Of course, Danir was himself several times larger than Headman Nashir, so his home didn’t wind up feeling nearly so grand. Put another Narami in it, and it could actually feel somewhat cramped at times. But Falvarinth was not a Narami town, so such visits were rare. And, given who was most likely among Narami to be visiting, cherished.

(more…)

Freedom. At long last he was free!

Delvin threw back his head and let a laugh tumble free, whipped away by the wind as Glitterdark bore him down from the clouds. The drake was in just as good humour as the rider, wings splayed wide, barely rustling as he rode the currents; his eyes were half-lidded, his posture as relaxed as it was possible for a dragon in flight to be, save that as Delvin looked about at the vast unspoiled landscape rising to meet them, the drake’s tail-fin splayed and relaxed in a rhythm of barely-constrained excitement.

Behind him, now, was the bewilderment of Choosing, the labour and study of a candidate with eggs hardening before the hearth, the gut-wrenching anxiety leading up to a hatching. They’d lived together through Glitterdark’s ravenous hatchling days, the confused young night-drake barely able to comprehend anything but his own hunger and Delvin’s devoted care. Then the lessons, the training, the endless, endless drills both on the ground and in the air. For years, they’d never had a moment’s peace.

And now, wonderfully, for the first time since he’d been Chosen by his dragon’s dam as a youth of fourteen autumns and entrusted to the care of Glitterdark’s cornflower-blue egg, the young man’s time was his own. (more…)

A swirl of dust in the hot, still air marked the rider’s progress over the badlands.

The sentries roused at their posts, calling warnings and lifting field glasses, but for some time, the dust was all that could be seen. All it told them was that this was not a large force, nor a covert one; this was at most a few people, riding hard. Riding straight for the one patch of vibrant life to be found for miles around.

Archers and a few wizards came up to the wall, bows strung and staves in hand. The sentries kept eyes on the advancing rider as the mounted figure grew more visible in front of its trailing cloud – just one rider on a lightly-built two-legged plains lizard, the sort often favoured by scouts in these warm climes. The rider was small and light in turn, possibly a woman, though distance and riding leathers made it impossible to be sure.

Certainly, it could be one of their own, but the defenders at the wall kept up their vigilance, even when the rider slowed somewhat to lift up a Concord pennant. Enemies had ridden under that banner before, using the false flag to get near the camp, and such vigilance had prevented horrible harm then; they would not relax it now.

(more…)

He should never have been fighting like this.

Fighting, yes. Charr were born to a life of fighting, and he’d taken to it well – in his own way. But his own way was not this way. A crush like this was where the Blood Legion belonged. Just get right in there and hack at the enemy – they loved that. And with the ghosts flocking all around them, thick as morning fog, there were certainly a lot of enemies to hack at.

(more…)

The main Audience Chamber was a piece of engineering of a kind with the great cavern of Aynithral, if on a smaller scale. In its tiered galleries, a thousand people and more could gather to watch the proceedings. The main body of the chamber could hold hundreds more in procession, without even setting foot on the broad dais that held the throne. That in turn could hold a retinue of a few dozen on its lower tier, and another half-dozen around the throne itself.

It was the site where all royal proclamations of Jisani were read. From this very cavern, he’d sent Dren to the deep vaults. Many an uncomfortable hour had been spent on that unyielding seat.

(more…)

The moment the door closed, it sank in just how much more of a home the Hall of Healing had become than the Deep ever had. Perhaps the appointments weren’t quite so sumptuous, definitely not so spacious, and the food was much simpler fare, but he felt safe there. For the past few years especially, the Deep had kept him in a state ranging from anxiety to active terror.

Jisarr sagged against the door with a sigh of relief.

Rima looked from one of them to the other. “Aynithral’s market may be the most hectic place I’ve seen, but the both of you look rather too wrung for even that.”

“The market, averting a bloody riot, and interrogation by a rather prickly general. That’s enough to leave anybody feeling wrung,” Tavi put in. “I think I need a drink, and I’m strongly considering getting you one on healer’s orders.” With that parting word to Jisarr, she disappeared deeper into the building.

(more…)

Tavi was indeed supportive of the notion, and did indeed have a contribution toward it, but she also had a caution: it wasn’t going to be as simple as just walking out the door and going to market.

“Firstly,” she said, “you are still in my care, and not just for healing. It’s absurd, but for the moment, that lot hold power, and it would not be wise to simply ignore them. Second, it would be best if you avoid drawing too much attention to yourself. Unfortunately for us, you are rather conspicuous.”

“Oh, curses. I should have thought of that,” Rima muttered. “I’ve never seen black fur outside the royal family and its close relatives.”

“Even the Dukes don’t have that,” Tavi confirmed. “And while I don’t know how people would react to seeing you in the public plazas, I can only imagine that it would hamper your plans, one way or another.”

(more…)

An almost negligent wave of the man’s hand, and the force keeping Alderian up in the air shifted smoothly downward, letting him get all fours properly onto the ground. It was a marked improvement; he was hardly afraid of heights, certainly not the mere foot’s breadth he’d been at, but it was such an undignified way to be hanging there, not like proper flight at all.

Not that Edric was quite ready to trust him enough to release him entirely, apparently; he was allowed to furl his wings, but then force bound them against his body, and he was not permitted to walk around, or even to sit. He was stuck standing with his legs outstretched, at the human’s mercy.

(more…)

Kirrik swept a forehand over the metal surface, watching the shifting light that glinted off the surface. “The good news is, it’s not going to get worse for us,” he reported. “The hatch warped when it hit the deck, and tore a little. It’s no longer airtight. Between that and the vents, there’s enough air getting in here. The walls are all fine, and there’s no weight pushing down on them, so it’s not going to collapse on us or anything.”

His companion’s head tilted to one side. “There’s a ‘but’ waiting there,” Krinni accused.

(more…)

At last, home was in sight.

Well, maybe not his own actual home. He was from the coast, and once his discharge was processed, to the coast he’d return for the rest of his aborted training. But it was his homeland, there past the river and the line of border forts straddling it, torches on their roofs gleaming like brilliant jewels in Hakenteri’s keen sight.

(more…)

Autumn was a hard time to be a working pegasus in Horseshoe Corners. While summer mostly called for clear days with just enough rain to keep crops growing well, in autumn things were more complicated. First, the pegasi needed to stir up a lot more wind to keep things properly cool. Rain was just as important – letting crops dry out just before harvest-time would be disastrous. But rain at the wrong time would be bad, too; the fields couldn’t be too wet for the farmers to harvest them. So all the pegasi were worked to the wingbones to move clouds into place when it was time for rain, make sure they rained properly, and then shoo them off over the surrounding hills when enough had fallen on the fields.

And somepony needed to be sure all of it was happening at the right times – and in Horseshoe Corners, somepony meant Stormchaser.

(more…)

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