Coming out of the grip of dragon fear was no easier for having managed it twice before Dae decided. She’d been able to isolate the emotional cataclysm the dragons inflicted on them somewhat better thanks to the foreknowledge of what they would be exposed to, but even with that she felt shaky and disoriented as the magical compulsion faded.
“Not that I’m complaining, but what killed the dragons?” Dae asked, pushing down a wave of nausea before she decorated the monastery’s landing pad in the colors of whatever she’d last eaten.
“Blasting powder,” Monk Wunchlasse, the old woman leading the other monks, said. “They came to claim our current stocks and ‘encourage’ us to make more.”
“I didn’t know that blasting power could be focused that well?” Dae said.
“It’s easier when you get to pack it carefully on your target’s backs,” Monk Wunchlasse said. “We’re lucky that these were young ones, both the riders and their mounts, though.”
“Yes, if their lieutenant had more experience he wouldn’t have fallen for my ruse,” Estella said.
“And the dragons might have survived the explosions,” Monk Wunchlasse said. “But come, there is much to discuss and put in motion and precious little time from here to work with.”
“I need to check on my people,” Dae said. She turned to find Jyl standing against the side of the sky carriage, panting to catch her breath but looking to have weathered the dragon fear as well as Dae had.
Inside the sky carriage, Dae found Mayleena folded over, hands wrapped around legs and forehead pressed to knees.
“The dragons are gone,” Dae said, keeping her voice soft.
“We know,” Mayleena said. “We need a few…we need time. Please. Don’t let anyone else open the door until we come out. We are…we’re not safe at the moment.”
Dae nodded, understanding.
“Take as much time as you need,” she said. “We have some questions to work out with the monks. I’ll check back in when we’re done, and I’ll knock before entering.”
“Thank you,” Mayleena said, her voice cracking into alien tones.
After the dragon fear, Dae couldn’t be sure if her apprehension at bothering Mayleena further was due to being off balance still or if it was the voice of self preservation screaming an entirely sensible warning. Mayleena had managed to stifle her natural reaction to dragon fear, and as a result hadn’t killed everyone on the mountaintop. The effort had cost her dearly though and from what Dae could see the reaction in Mayleena was still fighting to go out of control.
On the off chance that they survived the mission, Dae promised herself that she would make time to work with Mayleena in less fraught situations to help her hone the amazing amount of control she’d already clearly developed.
“How is she?” Nui asked as Dae returned to the gathered group of Resistance fighters and alchemical monks.
“She’s holding it together, but she needs time,” Dae said. “For the love of all the Sleeping Gods, no one go into the carriage or disturb it at all though. There won’t be a mountain left, or any of us either, if you do.”
“What is she?” Monk Wunchlasse asked, her aged face tightening in suspicion.
“One of mine,” Dae said. “And a good woman. Please treat her as such.”
“And who are you?” Monk Wunchlasse asked.
“Maricha, please meet my daughter Daelynne Korli,” Estella said.
The old woman took a step back, her eyes widening in shock.
“You’re less dead than I was led to believe,” she said, regaining her composure.
“It’s Akorli now, and yes, we’re working on discovering who it was that survived the events of twenty years ago,” Dae said. “Neither my mother nor I are precisely who we were then.”
“Well that explains why we had to save you I guess,” Wunchlasse said.
“How did you know to do that?” Jyl asked. “I was out of it there for a while, but it looked like you took the dragons completely by surprise.”
Wunchlasse glanced at Estella but Dae answered Jyl’s question before any awkward prevarications could be dreamed up.
“Hand signals, I think,” Dae said. “From where I was frozen I had a decent vantage point on Lady sur Korkin and I’m pretty sure the finger fluttering she was doing was not the panicked, overly emotional gestures the dragon rider mistook them for.”
“The resistance has gone on long enough that they’ve developed a whole language of gestures?” Jyl asked.
“Probably,” Dae said. “But probably better if we don’t know too much about it. They’ll be worried what we’ll say if we’re captured.”
“If I’m captured, I don’t plan on retaining the capacity for coherent thought,” Jyl said, “Much less the ability to betray any secrets.”
“I’m not sure it’s a comfort to them to know that if defeat seems imminent, we’re likely to unleash our Pact Spirits and self-destruct,” Dae said. “After all it won’t exactly be healthy for anyone within line of sight of us if that happens.”
“If defeat is imminent, I believe all of us would prefer a swift death, no matter how terrible, in place of the tortures Haldri Paxmer would have waiting,” Estella said.
“I have lived a good long life,” Wunchlasse said, “And I intend to keep living it for a good time longer, so enough talk about defeat. I want to hear why you’ve come and what sort of hell you’ve brought with you?”
Dae saw that the monks around them weren’t gathering to be part of the conversation but were instead rapidly packing up boxes and crates as though a surprise housing inspection were imminent.
“Our time table has shifted up somewhat,” Estella said as Wunchlasse led them into a room at the top of the spire.
“You’re rushing things because your daughter has returned?” Wunchlasse asked.
“No, we’re rushing things because of the army that she is bringing here,” Estella said.
“An army?” Wunchlasse asked, looking at the two Pact Knights in the room.
“Yes,” Estella said. “There’s an army massing just north of the border. These three are it’s vanguard.”
“You’ll be slaughtered,” Wunchlasse said.
“That’s not the army you need to worry about,” Dae said.
“She speaks true there too,” Estella said. “The queen has mobilized the largest flight of dragons since the War of the Split Throne.”
“That’s impossible,” Wunchlasse said. “That many dragons in our province would devastate the countryside. The royal army couldn’t possibly handle the logistics of keeping them all fed.”
“Impossible or not, the dragons are coming,” Dae said. “Haldri thinks they will be justified in holding off an assault from Gallagrin. She also thinks they’ll be sufficient to accomplish the task.”
“How could they not be sufficient?” Wunchlasse asked. “Even with all the Pact Knights in Gallagrin, you couldn’t beat a dragon army the size of the ones that were fielded during our civil war.”
“We have a lot of Pact Knights and with the right tools a single Pact Knight can defeat a dragon,” Dae said.
“It’s never been done before,” Wunchlasse said.
“We haven’t had the right tool before,” Dae said.
“There is an artifact, one that will allow a Pact Knight to push through dragon fear,” Estella said. “My daughter and her companions seek to acquire it before our queen gains control of it.”
“That’s why the queen has ordered the dragon army here then, isn’t it?” Wunchlasse asked. “With an artifact like that she would hold the upper hand over Gallagrin at last.”
“No,” Dae said. “She’s not interested in keeping Paxmer safe. She wants the throne of Gallagrin, and she’ll grab for any power that promises to give it to her.”
“We have more immediate matters to discuss though,” Estella said. “While I am deeply grateful for your assistance, I am afraid of the cost you must bear for rendering it.”
“It won’t be the first time I’ve fled from my monastery,” Wunchlasse said. “And at least this time it’s not on fire and collapsing on top of me.”
“Why do you have to flee?” Jyl asked. “Can’t we come up with a story for you? Maybe we killed the dragons in mid-air and then landed here, overpowered you and fled down the mountain after taking the supplies we need.”
“There are two problems with that story,” Wunchlass said. “First, our queen will not believe a story wherein a trio of Pact Knights got the better of a trio of dragons in an aerial battle and second, even if she did, she wouldn’t care.”
“Haldri Paxmer is not a forgiving monarch,” Estella said. “She’d slaughter everyone at the monastery even if the story you suggested was the pure and factual truth.”
“That’s insane,” Jyl said. “She must go through advisors like they’re fashion accessories.”
“No,” Estella said. “She’ll never give up a pretty broach once she has it. Her advisors enjoy much less guarantee of remaining in her good graces than that.”
“The monks are packing to leave already?” Dae asked.
“We’ve known the cost for the taking direct and lethal action against the queen’s representatives ever since the Resistance was founded,” Wunchlasse said. “Now is the time for us to scatter. The queen may hunt some of us down, but enough will survive to rebuild the monastery, in secret if we must, and continue forward the research that’s been done here.”
“Wait,” Dae said. “What if you didn’t have to scatter?”
“No one can be here when the next dragon riders arrive,” Estella said.
“Agreed,” Dae said. “But what if the monks stayed together?”
“Then Haldri Paxmer would only need to find us in one place to wipe us out completely,” Wunchlasse said.
“Not if that one place was in a spot where her power couldn’t reach,” Dae said.
“You mean for us to go to Gallagrin?” Wunchlasse asked.
“Yes, you could continue your research, together, as the community that you’ve become, with no fear of being hunted down,” Dae said. “And, once the current strife is ended, you could leave Gallagrin and return home.”
“We would be refugees,” Wuchlasse said. “Unless your queen could guarantee us our place in your country and the freedom to return to our own whenever we wish.”
Dae smiled and a light flashed across her eyes. When she spoke her voice was not her own.
“We grant the people of this monastery the sanctuary and protection of the Throne of Gallagrin,” Alari’s voice said from Dae’s mouth. “We grant too the right of transit so that none may bar them from leaving our realm when their sojourn within our borders is complete.”
“I’ve heard royal proclamations before,” Wunchlasse said. “You’ve been given the Gallagrin Queen’s voice to speak with?”
“Yes,” Dae said, reverting to her own. “Our offering of sanctuary is backed by royal will and is a binding pledge on both myself and the monarch whom I serve.”
“It will take us some time to reach the Gallagrin border from here though,” Wunchlasse said.
“Then we shouldn’t delay you any further,” Estella said.
“And where will you be going?” Wunchlasse said.
“We must head for the artifact which my daughter seeks,” Estella said. “The time of Paxmer’s destruction is on us sooner than expected but we must rise to play our role in it nonetheless.”
“Which means I believe you owe me a hundred gold crowns don’t you?” Wunchlasse said.
“You had a bet on this?” Dae asked.
“Your mother thought we would struggle on to our dying days with nothing ever changing,” Wunchlasse said. “I’ve seen the signs of this coming for years though.”
“Yes, well, remember that you’ll have to live through this in order to enjoy those gold crowns,” Estella said.
“You too little bird,” Wunchlasse said. “You bring the coins when this is all done and maybe I’ll share another bottle of the monastery’s Special Reserve.”
“I still don’t remember that week,” Estella said. “But another bottle sounds wonderful.”
“If you’re going to head directly to the border from here, I have a request,” Dae said.
“And what would that be?” Wunchlasse asked.
“Warn the people in the town’s that you pass,” Dae said. “We’ll travel overland and do the same. You’ve seen a cataclysm coming, let’s make sure everyone’s ready for it.”