"Magic mirror, I want to see, show me Tiamat, I command thee," Beritra's voice slowly echoed trough his room. Since he got the message with the ice seal, he ceased his efforts to get back whom the daevas stolen from him. He sent token troops to Sarpan from time to time to remind them he hasn't forgotten and to gather intel the mirror couldn't provide, but other than that he focused on strenghtening his position in Katalam and Danaria. And monitoring the two people, who have been huge pain in his side lately.
The mirror's surface rippled and displayed large hall with something like smaller version of a Dredgion in the middle. Tiamat was standing right next to it, dressed in her rich red robes with a hood over her blonde hair, and commanding both, her own drakan and humans in uniforms of Lepharists. Taking over Israphel's private army after his death was a smart move. Currently she was focused on the daevas, but Beritra didn't doubt she'll return to the search for Hyperion as soon as she's done with her revenge for the stolen artifact. Depending on how long that will take and on the outcome, he will either consider her a threat or not. For now sending few spies and occasional checks through the mirror were enough.
The other person, however, was completely another matter. His spies were unable to find any useful traces and images from the mirror were clouded or confusing. On top of that he heard about some discord with Tiamat long time ago. If it was true, this was a perfect ally for him, but he needed to reach her first.
"Mirror, mirror, I have to know, what is she doing, the queen of snow?"
~ x ~
"A festival?" a red-haired sorceress raised her eyes from the paper she was reading and looked at her superior. "Are you serious?"
"Yes, I am serious," Lady of Wisdom smiled politely. "Do you have any questions?"
"Why? I mean... we're still at war with the Balaur. Why do you care about something as pointless as a festival?"
"Occasional festivals and celebrations are good for morale. We stopped fighting with the Elyos, large portion of the battlefields have calmed down. Also both Balaur lords, Tiamat and Beritra, have gone inactive for a few months already. I'm aware it's the silence before the storm, that's why we have to use this time to the fullest. And it's almost solstice, we had festivals around this time every year, before the Elyos and Balaur appeared. And even after that we had them from time to time."
"Fine. But why me? I've never done anything like this."
"Then it's time to learn it. The decree you're holding grants you full authority in all the matters of the festival. Performers, shop stands, places, cleaning, accomodation for important guests. Don't forget to invite some Elyos nobles this year too, it would seem appropriate and it might shut some annoying mouths for a time being. If you have no further questions, tell my secretary to take you to your desk, there already are documents with the important information and instructions you might need."
"My desk?" she looked surprised.
"Yes, you'll be working mostly from Pandaemonium and it would be inappropriate to disturb your family with messengers, so for now you'll have your own desk in the shared office."
"But... it's insane, I... I can't do it. And how can I work from Pandaemonium, I have all my things in the Beacon..." she tried to protest. After the incident with her mother she didn't like staying in Pandaemonium. And this hint... the Lady knew about it, for someone who paid at least a bit of attention to the affairs of the nobles it was impossible to not know. Was it supposed to be an indirect suggestion to reconcile with her mother?
"It's an order, Shienar," lady Lumiel scowled. "You don't have to start right now, if you're confident enough, you can slack off in the Beacon for half of the time. But you will get the things done by the deadline. Understood?"
"Yes, my lady," she bowed and left her lady's office. No matter how annoying the order was, it was still an order. And there have been ways how to stay in Pandaemonium without returning to the Vanahal district.
~ x ~
"I was wondering who that new person everyone is talking about is and it's my wonderful sister," at the beginning of the second week of her work on the festival preparations, a handsome man clad in armor more ornate than functional stopped her and greeted her with a broad smile.
"Hello, Illian," she looked at him in surprise. "Are you participating in the festival too?"
"Haha, no, I just thought I saw you, so I went closer to confirm if it was you or not. You haven't changed much since your last visit."
"And what do you need of me?" she asked warily. He was her brother, but given how well her last family visit went, she suspected there was more than just warm greeting.
"What about lunch? I know you're busy, but even you have to eat something. Come, I'm paying."
"Ah... alright, lead the way," Shien smiled and let her brother pick a restaurant, not too classy, but nice and with a good food.
"So, how you've been doing?" Illian asked after they ordered and the waiter brought them drinks.
"I'm... fine. Not awesome super fine, but I'm kept busy with that festival thing," Shien replied politely.
"You don't sound fine, but for the moment I'll believe you. You know you can tell me when something worries you, right? Where are you staying, anyway? I haven't seen you home."
"Haha, funny," she grimaced. "I've rented a studio in Pernon. It's not big, but I use it for sleep only, the bureaucracy haunts me almost non-stop. You wouldn't believe how many things are needed for such festival and how many forms one has to fill for each one of them. Not to mention the people! Some of them are so dense I think they're doing it on purpose."
"I've done the paperwork of just changing a legion, I think I would believe," Illian smiled. "And now when we've done the pleasantries, have you spoken to mother lately?"
"Ah, I wondered what was the real reason you showed up. No, I haven't. I have no reason to. I presume she told you what happened, so this shouldn't surprise you."
"Yes, right, the Elyos fiancé. How is he doing?"
Shien stopped in the middle of movement and returned her glass onto the table without drinking from it. She knew he was going to ask something like this, but still she couldn't be prepared enough.
"He wasn't real, right?" her brother continued. "You just grabbed some random guy..."
"He's dead," Shien gritted her teeth. "Vanished. Killed by the Balaur."
"Oh," Illian was genuinely surprised by the change in the tone of her voice. "I'm sorry, Shien. I really thought you weren't serious back then. I had no idea... I'm sorry."
"I... appreciate that. But you were right, it was nowhere near serious back then. But it could have been, if we got enough time. Shade was... Never mind, I'm sure you don't want to hear such details."
"You know, mother misses you," he said after short pause. "You should talk with her."
"She misses me? Hardly," Shien shook her head. "And no, I'm not gonna talk with her and beg her to take me back so she could throw more potential suitors, whom I'm not interested in, at me."
"That's why you should talk with her. And I mean really talk, I want to believe you two are able to understand each other."
"No, Illian. Please, don't ask me that. I'm not interested in listening how she's happy about finding out that someone I cared about died. Again."
At that moment the waiter brought their food, so she blinked quickly a few times to suppress tears and politely thanked.
"Could we... talk about something else? A weather, perhaps?" she suggested when the waiter left.
"I hope it's not that bad so I would have to discuss weather with my sister."
"I hope not! But you can tell me about your days with the Fangs."
The rest of their lunch was quite calm, mostly discussing Illian's entrance tests for the most prestigious legion in Asmodae and the hard training and rookie assignments that followed. And despite the initial distress Shien was leaving the restaurant a bit more at peace than she's been in the last few days.
~ x ~
The visitors and staff of the Sanctum's Healing house got an unexpected surprise when the Lord of Freedom himself stepped into the hall and looked around. They were used to occasional visits of Lady of Life or Light, but others came very rarely, almost not at all. He asked one of the nurses for direction, then proceeded further into the building. After few wrong turns he finally found whom he was looking for.
"Hello, May," he said with a broad smile.
"Hi, Vaizel, what brings you here?" she looked at him and smiled too.
"Maybe I should ask what brings you here? I just wanted to know how you're doing and since you weren't at home..."
"Oh, please stop, I'm not ill," May frowned. Since she asked Kaisinel to create an illusion for her, so no one would notice her pregnancy, Vaizel was always worried about her health. It was nice, but really annoying.
"Of course, I know, not ill," he laughed. "But still, you should rest..."
"I'm fine and I rest more than enough. I should be out there, helping people, but instead I have to stay here, in safety of Sanctum. So please, stop acting like I'm about to die."
"When is the... gift supposed to..."
"In a month. Or so," May sighed. "Vaizel, don't worry. I'll just finish checking this ledger book and I'll go home. I'm being as careful as I can and there are at least one or two guards watching constantly over me. I'll be fine."
"Okay then, but be sure you'll get enough rest. Oh, and I almost forgot, I just wanted to tell you, that I sent Zikel an invitation to Sanctum, it's quite a long time since there was some decent party here."
"You did what?"
"But don't worry, I bet he'll refuse, he hates Elysea, after all," the Lord of Freedom grinned. "Unless he misses you too much. If I were him, I definitely would."
"Vaizel, you're such a... if he comes, what am I supposed to tell him? What if... what if he'll get angry?"
"And what if he'll get happy, hm?"
"Happy? You think..."
"I don't know! And as much as I hate telling others what to do, I think he should hear that from you, not from some random messenger, who will carry the happy news to Asmodae next month. Just take care of yourself, okay?"
"Maybe you're right," she said. "I should have already told him. Don't worry, I'll be fine."
"Okay, I'm out then, this place creeps me out," Vaizel laughed and left her with the books.
May tried to continue with the checking, but the thoughts of Zikel's visit were too distracting, so she left the Healing house and headed home, followed by two personal guards that Nezekan appointed to her, after she told him and lady Ariel about her pregnancy. Kaisinel insisted on it, when he came with the news that there was no such law that would forbid two Empyrean lords to love each other. Since then she was getting quite often visits from Vaizel or Nezekan aksing about her health and panicking in general. And now, if Zikel comes here and finds out, what will happen? Will he panic too? Or will he be happy?
"My lady," her servant bowed when she entered her house. "There was a messenger few moments ago, he said he had an urgent letter for you," she said and handed her a rolled scroll.
"A letter?" May looked surprised. Was it from Zikel? "Thank you, Mirri, please, bring me something light to eat."
After the servant left, she sat into her favourite chair and opened the letter. It wasn't from Zikel and the content definitely didn't please her. Castor, commander of the Eracus desert garrison, requested help with the Fountain of Life, as it suddenly stopped working. That was bad. Really bad. She was there about two months ago to check all the Fountains and ensure they were functional, there should have been anough time for her to give birth to her child and recover from it, until they required her presence again. But death of lord Israphel didn't mean that Lepharists would stop with their activities and if they broke the Fountain again, she had to fix it. Lives of too many people depended on it.
When her servant brought the food, she just drank a cup of tea and took an apple and prepared for departure again.
"I'm going to Eltnen, if someone will be looking for me, tell them I should be back before evening," she told Mirri and left her house. Two guards joined her as faithful armored shadows the moment she set foot on the street.
"Ehm, my lady," one of the guards politely coughed when she asked a captain of a supply ship to take them from Sanctum to Eltnen and back later. "Lord Nezekan strongly recommended you to not leave Sanctum..."
"Yes, I know, Wolf, but lives are in danger."
"Wouldn't it be better to use a teleporter then? It's faster and safer."
"No," may shook her head sadly. "You can go ahead, if you want, but I need to use the ship."
"I'll stay with you, my lady," Wolf gave up. The other guard, a gladiator named Hathreo, silently nodded.
The captain was surprised to see a Seraphim lady wanting to travel in ordinary ship, but no matter how strange her wish was, she was the Lady and he more than happily obeyed. In addition to the payment, he'll get stories to share among his fellow captains when they meet in a tavern.
~ x ~
Zikel crumpled up a letter and tossed it into flames. Official invitation to Sanctum to celebrate the alliance sent by Vaizel sounded more like getting drunk and being flashy about it. The drinking part wasn't the problem, it was the place. He has never been in Sanctum, he had only seen pictures drawn by some capable spies, but he already hated that city. For him there was no worse place in the whole world than the Elyos capital. The only reason why he still kept thinking about it, was the Lady of Life. How long it has been since he last saw her? Five months? Why didn't she visit him since then? In her last letter she wrote she missed him dearly, but she couldn't leave Sanctum. And didn't mention why. He wanted to wait until whatever has kept her there would allow her to leave, but it was taking too long. Way too long. And Zikel wasn't known for his patience. He looked around the room, as if the surroundings could give him answer, but everything remained the same. Suddenly he cursed, got up and headed to the teleporter.
"Kamar," he said simply. Even though they were allies for more than half a year, they still didn't trust each other to have teleports connecting the two capitals.
~ x ~
The travel from Sanctum to the Eltnen fortress didn't take as long as they expected and flight transporter could carry them into desert garrison almost immediately. Once they landed, centurion Axelion hurried to greet them.
"Good afternoon, my lady," he bowed respectfully. "What brings you here?"
"I came because of the Fountain, can you tell me what happened?"
"Fountain, my lady?" the centurion looked confused. "Did something happen to it?"
"I got letter from general Castor saying it stopped working."
"I was there not an hour ago and it looked alright," Axelion frowned. "But maybe the general knows more than I do, please follow me, I'll take you to him."
"Thank you," May smiled and followed the soldier to the leadership tent. General Castor was looking at a map of Eltnen and comparing it with some reports, when they entered.
"Lady May? Welcome, what can I do for you?" he asked.
"I got a letter from you stating that the Fountain of Life stopped working..."
"No, I've never sent such letter. The Fountain is fine since you visited us two months ago and we're guarding all the Fountains non-stop. They are all safe and sound for now," general Castor shook his head.
"Could someone send it in your name? Misinterpretting something you said?" May was puzzled.
"No, I gave no orders about the Fountain, other than guarding it," the general replied with certainity.
"Then... who sent it?" she looked around helplessly.
"No one from here, my lady, I can assure you," Castor frowned. "Maybe someone wanted to lure you here, everyone knows you care about the Fountains and you wouldn't leave one broken."
"Lure me? Here? Why?" Could it be... no, no one should know. But what if they do? What if someone is after my baby?
"You're the youngest of the Seraphim lords, you were injured in Kamar, it wouldn't be surprising if the Balaur or Lepharists thought you're weak, my lady," Wolf explained. It was obvious and it might sound rude, but to him, lady May was more confused today than ever. "It might be safer to return to Sanctum."
"You're right, I'm the easiest target," she admitted. "But I cannot hide in the safety of Sanctum forever, that would... I have duties to Elysea. I'll check the Fountain to be sure it's alright and then we'll return. Thank you, general, for your time."
"Axelion will accompany you to provide you anything you need, my lady."
"Thank you," May smiled and with the three soldiers she left the tent. The Fountain of Life was just outside the garrison, just several steps from the entrance. May opened her arms and sent the aether to determine the state of the Fountain. After she scanned every part of it, she released her spell and sighed in relief.
"The Fountain is alright," she smiled. "Let's go back to Sanctum."
"As you wish, my lady," Axelion and Wolf bowed and wanted to return to the garrison, but Hathreo was unmovingly staring at the sky and frowning.
"Hey, guys, what's that? That's not supposed to be there, right?" he pointed at two growing dots. The others looked in that direction.
"Prepare for defense," May said suddnely. "It's the Balaur!"
At that moment alarm bells started ringing in the garrison and soldiers and mages gathered on the walls. The two dots, that became smaller versions, or parts, of Dredgion, flashed with light. May with other casters raised a shield above them, but they were a split second too late. The shot from the ship hit the garrison and destroyed the flight transporter's station. They heard another explosion from the outside.
"They hit the Fountain!" someone yelled and a wave of panic ran across the soldiers. But few commands from Castor gave everyone something to do and the veterans could keep the young soldiers from running around or trembling in fear.
One of the mini-Dredgions landed not far from the Fountain's ruins and a person emerged from it. Some soldiers recognised her immediately. Dark red dress, long blonde hair and mostly the fact she was able to stand inside of the aetheric field without showing any sign of inconvenience were unmistakable.
"Good afternoon, dear Elyos," Tiamat's voice was loud and clear. "If lady May would be so kind and talk with me for a moment, I would appreciate it."
A silence fell upon the garrison and everyone looked at their Lady, who was standing in the middle of the settlement and channeling aether into the shield.
"However, if she refuses, I'll be forced to unleash a full scale attack on this piece of nowhere."
May stopped glowing and looked at Castor.
"General, how battle-ready are the soldiers in the garrison?" she asked quietly.
"They are well trained, but a lot of them was relocated to Katalam and Inggison. We don't have enough numbers, not to mention the aether. Because of the temple it's stronger than in most of Elysea, but even with it not all of us can fly. And we know nothing about the defense of those Dredgions," he summarised the situation. "But they must be weakened, we could try direct assault on Tiamat and get her before she escapes."
"That might be exactly what she wants, but keep the plan as a backup. Do you have some teleportation scrolls?"
"Yes, my lady."
"Good, send a messenger to Sanctum or Eltnen fortress to request reinforcements. Someone has probably noticed this already, but it won't hurt if they know what they'll be walking into," May ordered. "I'll go talk with her and try to stall her. I fully trust you with leading the defense."
"As you wish, my lady," Castor bowed.
May stepped out from the safety of the shield accompanied by Wolf and Axelion. Sorrow and guilt struck her, when she saw the ruins of the Fountain, it will take too many days to repair it.
"What do you wish to discuss, Tiamat?" she asked.
"I came to offer you a deal," the Fifth Dragon lord smiled. "As you can see, we can now enter your precious aetheric field unharmed. Just one order separates me from killing everyone in that makeshift fortress behind you."
"And what is stopping you from giving it?" May asked with a conversational tone, but deep down she was worried that Tiamat wasn't bluffing.
"Right to the point? I like that. If you come with me now and become my honoured guest, I'll spare those worms you care about so much."
The Lady of Life had to think for a moment before answering: "And why would you possibly wanted to treat me?"
"I have only your best health in mind, of course. Don't you think you gained too much weight lately? Although I must admit you got yourself a nice little illusion to cover it. Is it yours? Or Kaisinel's?" Tiamat smiled as innocence itself.
May was struck. She knew. Tiamat knew about her baby. There was no doubt now the letter was fake, someone found out about her most guarded secret and passed that information to the Balaur.
"My lady, are you alright?" Wolf asked with concern, he noticed she became pale once she heard those words, although he couldn't find any sense in them.
"Yes, yes, Wolf, I'm fine," she took a deep breath and glared at Tiamat. "Why?"
"One such brat was enough to humiliate me. I will not allow such thing to happen again. The choice is yours, lady May, you can refuse my offer and risk that precious life of yours along with all of those with you, or you can come with me and save them all. And you should choose quickly, my patience is running thin."