WARNING: Spoilers ahead! Do not read any of the chapters posted if you intend on reading Rise first!
Scribe’s Note: The following events occur directly after the events chronicled in Rise. In summation of the narrative, the Colberran fleet’s surprise attack on the Expeditionary Force’s outpost located on the Nomad Shell sent Quentin and the entire outpost tumbling toward the core. Micaela and Suyef remained on the shell post battle. In summation of the interviews, Micaela had just informed me of Quentin’s demise, and Suyef and Quentin had vanished from their hidden home. That left me with no clue where to go except the still closed box entrusted to me. I opened it, in search of answers.
The box lay open on the table before me, Suyef’s note underneath it. Inside lay a stick, smooth and round on one end, broken and fragmented on the other. The wood bore a light brown hue, smooth to the touch and had only two slight bends in it breaking up the otherwise straight lines. The fragmented tips along one end were very sharp. Nothing else lay inside.
"What is this?" I whispered, staring at the item.
A memory bubbled to the surface. A memory of a man and his stick. Pulling at my notes, I flipped through pages of memories, of a story as convoluted as my notes. It took several moments but I found what had piqued my interest. The list of names the Queen had given me and a note from a session with Quentin, all quickly jotted down. A simple phrase next to one name.
Nidfar. Ask about Stick.
My eyes shifted back to the open box. Could this be his stick? The one he’d spoken to. The one Micaela and Quentin both insisted he’d had with him each time they met him.
I flipped through my notes, searching for more information. Page after page, memory after memory. Theirs and my own. As the images their words had created in my mind flitted to the surface, images of them sitting before me, their stories pouring from them, mixed in. I shook my head for focus, eyes darting back and forth until finding the sought after notes.
I scanned the words of Micaela’s first encounter with the old man. The crazy old man that had also once lived near Quentin’s home. The crazy old man who talked to a stick.
"This isn’t any ordinary stick."
I’d written those words down exactly, circling the contraction. What could that have meant? I scanned over the page again and found something else.
"Piece of fabricated wood."
Another circle lay around the word ’fabricated’. My eyes darted to the piece of wood laying before me. Being fabricated wasn’t necessarily strange. Most wood was fabricated from matter reforgers. Still, the words made me wonder if there was something more to this stick.
My eyes shifted to Suyef’s note, then back to the box. Yes, there was definitely more to this stick. Something powerful. Dangerous.
Something worth hiding.
I tucked the stick back into the box, closing and returning it to my sack before sitting back to ponder my next move. Quentin and Suyef remained absent. Waiting seemed the best option, but there was no telling how long they could be gone. I considered for a moment going back to the Nomads in hopes they might be able to tell me where Suyef had gone. That was probably useless. They’d been less than helpful the first time. What motivation did they have to do more now?
Pondering my limited options, eyes scanning my notes, I heard a sound nearby. A shuffling, like feet not lifted from the ground. A sniffle. Someone was crying?
"Quentin?" I called, moving toward his room, my notes and sack gathered into my arms.
No answer. Just another sniffle. I moved down the hall and stopped in his door. It wasn’t Quentin. Sitting on the bed sat an old man, hair barely clinging to the sides of his head, a cloak made of many colorful strips of cloth hanging from bony shoulders. His eyes were locked on the sketches of Micaela and he held something in a fist just visible to me at his side. A strip of gray cloth. The strip Quentin had torn from my cloak.
"Nidfar?" I asked, my voice a whisper.
He shuddered, head jolting around. Bright blue eyes locked onto mine and his fist clenched tighter on the cloth.
"Who is it?" His voice croaked as he spoke.
"My name is Logwyn," I said, stepping into the room.
He shifted on the bed, moving away from me. I froze, not wanting to scare him. His eyes darted over my shoulder at the door. Following his gaze, it dawned on me he might feel trapped with me standing in the room’s only entrance. To help soothe him, I moved to the side, allowing him to leave if he chose. His eyes followed me, darting once at the door then back to watch my movement.
"Do you know the Dragon Queen?" I asked.
His eyes widened at the name, but he didn’t speak.
"Do you know her, Nidfar?"
"Shh!" he hissed, waving the hand clenched around the cloth at me. "Don’t say that name!"
I looked around. "There’s no one here but us."
His eyes, wild a moment before, locked onto mine. Strong, clear, blue eyes.
"In this place, he is always here," he whispered.
I pressed my lips together, nodding once. He calmed, lowering his fist. My eyes followed his hand.
"Are you going to use that?"
He looked down at his hand, opening it to see the cloth. "Maybe. It’s not as bright as my others."
My eyes darted over his cloak. The gray cloth would indeed be plain among the myriad of colors he’d attached to his garment.
"Why all the colors?" I asked, thinking that might be a less volatile subject.
He shrugged. "Seemed a good idea. Now, I like it."
His fingers played with the cloth in his hand, his eyes staring off at the wall over my shoulder. As he sat there, the box in my sack came to mind. Questions formed, questions for him about the object inside that box. Suyef’s words held me back. Could I trust the old man? Was it his? Was my need to know driving me to do something I shouldn’t? If I did.
The old man shuddered where he sat, shaking his head, and focusing his eyes on me.
"Well, hello, have we met?" he asked, his voice cheery, a smile splitting his face. "I’m afraid my memory’s not what it once was." He tapped at his forehead with his balled hand. "Glitching and messing up." He looked at his fist and saw the cloth there. "What have we here?"
He held up the gray cloth, eyes darting up and down, his nose sniffing. "Hmmm, lower shell fabrication, if my nose is near the mark." He licked the cloth, smacking his lips together. His hand balled into a fist around the fabric, one finger pointing at me. "Several decades old. Inherit that cloak, did you?"
I frowned at him. "You can tell that from licking and sniffing it?"
He grinned. "Nope, made it all up."
I shook my head and looked at my notes. I held them up and showed him the pages.
"Do you know what this is?"
"Paper?" he asked, his face splitting in a toothy grin.
I glared at him. "Do you know what’s on it?"
His eyes narrowed. "What do you take me for, a saysoother?"
"You mean soothsayer," I said, smiling at his mistake.
"S’what I said, witnit!"
I smothered another smile, trying to keep my face as calm as I could. "So, what is this?"
He shrugged. "A waste of valuable paper, it looks like." He leveled his finger at me again. "Hope you got the necessary authorization to use all that. Had to cost a fortune in reforge credits, I’d wager."
I started to say they hadn’t come from the reforger, but stopped myself. The first page hadn’t; the rest had. I shook my head, waving the pages at him.
"I’ve got your name in here," I whispered. "Written as clear as day."
That got his attention. He sat bolt upright, looking around. He pointed at the sketches.
"It was that girl, wasn’t it? Blasted, I told her not to go blabbing."
I shook my head. "Micaela didn’t give it to me," I stated. "The Queen did."
His eyes widened. "She mentioned me?"
I nodded. "Gave me your name herself."
His face transformed before me, a glorious smile melting into place, dancing in his eyes, his mismatched teeth jutting out.
"She mentioned me," he whispered.
"The Queen gave me a task and said you were one of the only people who could help me," I went on, embellishing a bit as it seemed to buoy his spirits.
He looked at the papers. "That’s what all that is, isn’t it? What she needs help with?"
I held them up. "These are my notes on it. I have a padd I’m recording it on as well."
His head moved up and down in a methodical manner, his empty hand patting his cheek as he stared at my notes.
"And you want me to talk? You said record, so I guess you mean my voice?"
I shifted the papers under my arm and pulled the padd from my sack, careful not to reveal the box just yet.
"On this, yes."
His eyes narrowed as he pondered the device. "Is it safe?"
"The Queen assured me it was."
He glared at the device. "Has it been isolated? Domain blocked or masked? Does it have connectivity of any kind? Can you detect any packet transfers? Any pings?"
I held the device out to him. "Feel free to check her work. I trust the Queen when she says something’s safe."
His eyes locked onto the padd. "She assured you?" I nodded. "She’s very thorough. Very capable. If she said it was safe, it must be."
We fell silent after that, him watching the device, me him. I shifted the padd in my hand and looked around.
"So, you want me to talk." Nidfar pointed at my papers. "And you want to take notes. But you haven’t told me what you want me to talk about."
I eyed him, contemplating what I should say. How I should say it.
"What was necessary?"
A lot of things are necessary. Food, water, love. We know life is full of these things. But there are more. Moments that make us, break us. Lessons. Successes. Failures. The things that fill pages, that people want to read about. The things that make us real.
When Micaela stepped onto that platform, so much flashed through my mind. Whereas before that all had been chaos, a swirling surge of memories boiling over my head as I struggled to stay afloat, the sight of her standing there brought a moment of clarity. A vision of defined purpose. A point on a map guiding me home.
And it was all summed up in one word: necessary.
So, as the ring took her from sight, I called after just that one word. Hope filled me she would make sense of it. I couldn’t say more. Not for lack of time, which was obvious. But for lack of knowledge. So much unknown to me. What might happen if I said to much? What events might change? A singular struggle I alone have faced for so long.
No, not alone. This hasn’t been just my struggle. The Dragon Queen, as eternal as the water above shines a crystal blue, yes, she’s struggled against this along with me. Rather, she’s struggled in her own way. A point of disagreement between us. A wedge, so small at first, driven deep with the blows of time’s infinite, omnipotent hammer. A gulf as vast as the atmosphere is empty. But I digress.
Unlike the Queen, I’ve spent all this time trying to have as little impact on the world as I can. Still, I knew the time was coming when that would be impossible. When Micaela and her companions would walk into my tower and set in motion a series of events so powerful the world still hasn’t stopped shaking from them.
How do you tell a person she must go forward? She mustn’t turn back. How do you say all that without saying anything at all?
You say it in one word: necessary.
And you trust the person to figure it out.
I held up a hand to stop the old man.
"Are you claiming to have lived as long as the Queen?"
He grinned at me, a toothy thing that made him look even older than he already appeared.
"And how old is your Queen?"
I frowned. "No one knows. She’s been around longer than our history records."
"Yet, your people call her eternal, yes?" I nodded. "Without evidence? Does she ever confirm this descriptor?"
I shook my head. "It’s rude to ask such things."
He wheezed, his chest heaving with what sounded like a laugh. "Why, because she’s your Queen?"
"No, not just that. She’s a lady. It’s rude to ask."
He pointed at me, a knobby, wrinkled finger with a jagged torn fingernail on it. "You’re a scribe. It’s your job to know such things. Does this stop you from asking?" I shook my head. "So, why haven’t you?"
I paused, contemplating his words. "I haven’t had the need to."
His eyebrows raised, as his finger pointed up to the ceiling. "Haven’t needed to. So, in all the time your people have kept their history books, no one has ever needed to know?"
"I don’t know, maybe it’s protected information."
He nodded. "Possibly. Or it’s not there because no one knows."
"What does this have to do with your age?" I asked, feeling my face heat up.
"Simple. If you can’t say how old she is, how can you say how old I am?"
"You’re the one claiming to be that old!"
He shook his head. "No, I said I’d struggled long in this fight. Just like her." He locked his bright blue eyes on me, finger pointing at my face. "You assumed. Stop doing that. You’ve been doing it most of your life and it’s done you no good."
My eyes narrowed at him. "How do you know so much about me?"
He grinned. "To quote one of the greatest fictional characters of all time, ’spoilers.’"
Once Micaela left my tower, I knew one thing was certain. What came next was going to be rough on her. The battle at the outpost didn’t have a good ending to it. It wasn’t an ending at all. Just another beginning. And the chapter that came next for her was a dark one for sure.
You have to understand the predicament I was in. I knew what was coming but the details were relatively unknown to me. It was like being able to see a painting from a distance. It’s possible to make out major details but the particulars are lost over the gap. I’d had so long to prepare for that day, but something had kept me away. Something inside pushed me not to look, not to fill the gaps in my knowledge. To stay in the dark. Maybe I was protecting myself. Maybe protecting her and her companions. I don’t know.
What I did know was I couldn’t follow. Not right away. What happened at the outpost had to happen free of outside influence. So I waited. I paced the tower, talked to myself, talked to my stick. For once, the infernal thing stayed around. It’s quite annoying misplacing something as simple as a stick when you need it. But let’s leave stick out of this. I’ve got a feeling the thing’s annoyed with me right now as I haven’t seen it in a while.
Once all the ships were past, I began to ponder going. The platform beckoned me. I could check if the Nomad tower was empty. The computer could tell me that much. So why didn’t I? What held me back? Dread. What came next filled my memory and part of me dreaded witnessing it again. So I stood there, waiting, contemplating, hemming and hawing, waffling, and several other -ings for good measure. It all amounted to avoiding and I knew it.
Something happened that compelled me to move. As my feet carried me around the chamber, my pacing led me out to the balcony to check if the attacking ships were truly gone. A quick glance out to the south showed the fleet vanished from sight, off to their deadly appointment. That meant little to my dilemma. What lay to the north, on the other hand, did. When my gazed turned to the mountains, the sight of more ships massing over the citadel greeted my eyes. Many more ships than the fleet already on its way to the Nomad Shell. A massive fleet that filled the sky above the mountains.
An invasion force.
A chime rang from inside the room, beckoning me to the panel. I tore my gaze from the fleet and moved nearer the network station.
"Computer, what is it?"
"Incoming message, sir."
I looked around, licking my lips. "From where?"
"Attempting to identify. It would appear someone has found away to send a message from the network to your isolated system."
"Put it on screen."
The computer complied and a new panel appeared in the center of the station. A very familiar face greeted me.
"Ah, there you are," the face from long in my past said. "My, time hasn’t been friendly to you, has it?"
I felt my heart race, despite the fact I knew of his presence.
"Rawyn," I whispered. "How did you find me?"
The man frowned, his still young looking face wrinkling as he did. "Technically, I haven’t a clue where you are. I’ve been trying to find how you and your infernal beast allies communicate without using the citadel network and I stumbled across your connection." He leaned close, his cold, black eyes gazing at me. "I know you’re on this shell, and if I had to guess I’d say in the Wilds." He chuckled, leaning back. "Where you are is of no importance. Well, no, it is. The fact that you’re here and not elsewhere will make what comes next much easier."
"You know you can’t stop the events coming."
He waved a hand at me on the screen. "Don’t talk to me about temporal mechanics. You’re not going to stop me again."
"I didn’t stop you last time," I whispered.
"Yes!" he hissed, hand slapping down onto a surface out of my sight, his eyes flaring wide. "Yes, you did." He paused, taking in deep breaths to calm himself. "The two of you did. You locked the system away. She told me."
"Who told you what?" I asked, shaking my head in confusion. "The Queen won’t talk to the likes of you."
"Oh, not your precious ’Queen,’" he said, fingers wiggling to emphasize the name as he spoke. "I’ll deal with her soon enough." He pointed at me through the screen. "You know who I’m talking about."
I glanced at the screen around his face. "If you’ve convinced Celandine to help you, then your problems should be over."
He laughed, his head shaking, hair falling into his face as he did. "You know full well no one controls that woman. Not when she has the entire Citadel network at her disposal." He leaned in, voice dropping to a whisper. "Let’s just say she and I have common interests. And one of them is you." He grinned, an evil thing that transformed his face into something truly hideous. "Well, no, not you. Rather, your stick."
I clutched at the object of his interest, safely hidden behind my back. "You know there’s no controlling this thing. She barely tolerates me."
"Yes, Celandine did mention that little irony." He shrugged. "That’s your problem. Mine is simple. I want it. I’m going to get it. And I know full well that sometime soon, your precious little Micaela is going to find it. I thought she already had it, but clearly she would have used it against me if she had."
I held my breath, wondering what he knew. My fingers wrapped tight around the piece of wood in my hand.
"When she does, I will take it from her." His face loomed large on the screen. "And when I do, everything will change."
His voice fell so quiet I barely heard what he said next.
"And then I will kill her."
"Wait, you were holding the stick when this happened, yes?" I asked, interrupting the old man.
He nodded, smiling at me and saying nothing.
"So if you had it, how was Micaela going to find it?"
Both eyebrows on the man’s face rose and he remained quiet. I shook my head, scanning my notes, trying to make sense of the conversation he’d just shared with me.
"You said his name was Rawyn?" He nodded. "Is this the Rawyn? The one all our history books mention?" No answer. "The one that vanished just after the world was split apart?"
He just sat there, not saying anything.
"Are you going to answer any of my questions?"
"Are you ever going to learn to fly?" he asked.
I leveled a finger at him. "The issues of my past are not what we’re talking about here."
The old man leaned toward me. "The topic of our conversation is as intricate and complicated a matter as your failure."
My heart raced in my chest as I held his gaze. Through clenched teeth, I whispered, "I tried my hardest that day. Harder than anything I’ve ever done." A sigh shook my body, a shiver running from my neck to my toes. "The blessing wasn’t meant for me."
A tear rolled down his face, catching in the wrinkles and hanging there for a second just next to his large nose. It fell a moment later onto his cloak.
“My dear, the ’blessing’ is meant for everyone," he whispered.