Chapter 28: Shattered Core
Slowly turning, the doorknob had become the messenger of Annabelle’s and Lydia’s impending doom. Whatever being was about to enter was certainly much more powerful than any of them, as he was able to shake the whole mansion just by arriving.
Looking at each other, the sisters nodded barely noticeably and positioned themselves between the door and the dying elf. Regardless of what was going to happen, the two of them would not abandon the man that had done so much for them, and had been doing his best to ease their lives even in his last moments.
Reaching out for her younger sibling, Annabelle squeezed her hand once, trying to reassure the frightened girl, although she was herself doing nothing but putting a brave front. At least they had been in the cottage together, living a life sweeter than all of their years in Thurgau combined.
When the door opened, Annabelle only got a glimpse of two large figures, before a shadow blurred past them, stopping right in front of the bed.
“Father! Are you alright, father? I heard you were dying, but it’s too early, right?!”
The deep and agitated voice resounded, laden with sadness. Recognizing the other figure, Lydia exclaimed with surprise.
“Sir Hayze! I’m glad to see you here, it’s Sir Eldrin … He is not doing well, can you help us?”
The large man only offered her a sorry smile, shaking his head slightly.
“Let’s leave the father and son alone for a while, I am sure you have many questions, but for now we should not interrupt their last reunion.
How about coffee, I’d like a big cup.”
With the girls out of the room, only Luthais stayed with his father Eldrin.
“Is it true father? You’re leaving me?”
The half-elf had always known that his father had withdrew to this estate after the death of his mother, heartbroken and resolute to spend his remaining days secluded in solitude, and far away from the political fangs that had ripped his wife’s life.
However, seeing his parent laying on his deathbed overruled all of those rational thoughts and Luthais felt a deep pain stab through his chest.
After a short slumber, Eldrin woke up feeling his son holding his hand, a dismal expression on his face.
“My son, it’s good to see you. I hoped to meet you throughout the whole last turn, but I’ve only ever had letters. It’s great to know that you are invested in your work, I am sure that a great person like you will be able to resolve the siege.
But enough of that, I am tired … I have written you a letter, you can find it on the secretary. Originally I wanted to let it get delivered to you, but since are already here, please read it first. I feel exhausted, let me rest for a bit.”
Giving his son a warm smile, Eldrin drifted into a state between sleep and awakening, already strained by the short exchange, though he had taken numerous breaks between the sentences.
Luthais was effortlessly able to determine that, from the old elf’s behaviour, he was indeed in a hopeless situation, and conscient of his helpless condition he had prepared words to be passed down onto his son.
The letter addressed to him laid in the middle of the table, together with two others sealed envelopes. He took the snowy one that reminded him of a bony sheet, ready to see the announcement of his father’s demise.
Controlling his grieving feelings, the half-elf opened the document and started reading, as Eldrin’s breathing was steadily returning to a regular rhythm.
Time slowly passed by, the half-elf was studying the piece of paper his father had drawn for him, learning more about the events that had taken place in the cottage over the past turn.
Working through several pages worth of stories, Luthais finally arrived at the last sheet, feeling already acquainted with the several inhabitants of the cottage, Annabelle, Lydia, and Nisha, that memorable Nisha. At first he had been surprised by the encounter between his father and the noble party, angry as he came to know the outrageous behavior of the two puny minor nobles, and finally happy for his father seeing that he had been allowed time in the company of people he felt close to, especially Nisha – regarding whom he had asked for a special favor from his son.
Sitting down at the bedside, the half-elf waited for the sleeping elf to open his eyes again, smiling at the kind old man who had, his entire life, always been ready to help out anyone in a difficult situation, a remnant of his own difficult past in the forest kingdom.
“Father, it’s alright, I am here. I have read the letter and will make sure to do as you wished. But enough of those gloomy matters, let us talk as long as we can. It’s been forever since we last saw each other.
I’m surprised that you know Hayze too, I was startled when he teleported me here, but I’m not sure if you understand any more than I do. I always thought he was just a servant that delivered goods and letters to you, but I realize I don’t remember when I hired him or why I would entrust him with going to you.
Anyway, tell me more about Nisha. Your letter explained some things already, but I’d like to hear it directly from you, it seems worth the trip in itself.”
Refusing to acknowledge the imminent death of his father, Luthais kept chatting with him whenever the dying magician was feeling up to it, though he needed long pauses to catch his breath every now and then.
In this fashion the sun slowly fell, they only stopped for a quick meal in the evening, Luthais helping his father to eat his portion.
They conversed on all sorts of things, from the newest developments in the capital to the oldest events in the hunting grounds. Over the course of the discussion, the half-elf heard more about Nisha’s true origins, and Eldrin trusted him with her secret, the deal he had made and various other incredible feats.
Deep down, the marshall was unsure on to what extent he could trust those tales, as his father’s life was nearing its end, and it was not uncommon for dying men to paint their last colorful myth.
After saying his goodbyes on the evening of the second day, Eldrin went to sleep and peacefully drifted in the dark grasp of the void, to never wake again.
Groaning at the stream’s low mumbling, a painful cry escaped the muddied body of a person half submerged in the water.
The source of that strange creature’s ache was not physical, but rather the mental torment caused by the reliving of the events that had led her to the current.
Feeling miserable to the point of crying, Nisha kept her eyes closed for one more moment, trying to push away reality, the fact that she was once again able to see … and in extension the possibility that her grandfather had passed away.
However, no matter how sorrowful she was, the tears failed to drop from her eyelashes, and she decided to use her [Spirit Vision] to recognize where she was.
A few years ago, the dragon siblings were often playing around in these very waters, teasing each other and fishing.
It doesn’t have to be true. He might be alive. I need to get back.
Resolving herself to see it with her own two eyes, Nisha struggled to get up and walked in direction of the [Dragon’s Den], that was only about an hour away from the place where she had found herself after the rampage.
The dragon girl was vaguely starting to recall the various deeds she had performed when she had been sinking in an ocean of rage and grief, giving in to a primal urge to wreck the world that threatened to take her family away.
Raw fury pulsing through her veins, everything had urged her to lash out against anything and everything in her way, the frenzy taking a physical form and guiding her, releasing more power and strength that she had thought possible to be found in her small frame.
Nisha did not remember much from the hellish spree, only bits and pieces : she was tearing through unsuspecting monsters and beasts, regardless of their rank or killing intent towards her.
I don’t even remember for how long I rampaged … so much senseless death.
Palping her battered body, Nisha was expecting to find herself completely broken and in deep pain from the long frenzy, carefully trying to move her limbs.
She was amazed to discover that her frame was tingling with a sensation similar to the one she had had after her first transformation. The flowery smell of the forest suddenly felt more intense, she engrossed herself in the touch of the mud clinging onto her skin cooling her down and the caress of a silky feeling from the water playing around her legs.
More importantly, her hands, legs and back were itching from a sense of loss; the tired girl pulled herself out of the river and inspected her body with utmost care.
Curiously, she no longer had a tanned skin, as she first noticed when she opened her eyes, she was now covered from head to toe in a pristine white and silky soft manner.
The second change was rather obvious, Nisha’s claws on her fingers and toes had disappeared, leaving small and delicate extremities, while her tail and wings were completely missing, unearthing unscarred skin.
The raging fire that had enshrouded her throughout her rampage should had been a real one, as there was not a single shred of clothing left on her, all burned to ashes and scattered in the wind, revealing the third and last change.
Her scales had receded, exposing more of the young girl’s vulnerable flesh, highlighting her single strip of scales below her navel, running in a vertical line downwards.
Strange. Why do I have scales only there? I should ask Anna later.
She took a dress out of her [Soul Space] to cover herself, a proof that her education as a lady was showing results. Without caring for the grime still sticking on her, Nisha slipped on the clothes, noticing another small modification: her hair had completely evolved, the mixed red and black hair strands had unified, reminding her of the scales she had before the transformation, starting night-black at the root and gradually turning into a deep red hue towards the end.
Done with her observations, the dragon girl stumbled in the stream, orienting herself along the various landmarks she could remember to reach the [Dragon’s Den]. To her dismay, she seemed unable to control her aura or mana to strengthen her limbs or gather more of the energies.
Running along the river frustrated Nisha greatly, she desperately wanted to get to her siblings who would be able to help her get back to the cottage, but she was just so slow. Every second mattered, she needed to rush to her grandfather and see his condition with her own eyes, now that she could open them again.
It just can’t be. There has to be another reason. He is currently at home and everything is like usual. It must be.
Desperate to enhance her speed as much as she could, Nisha strained her tired muscles to their limit. Although the new transformation had not been painful, the dragon girl was still quite fatigued from the blind destruction of her surroundings, feeling powerless and far too slow, not helping to calm down.
Just as her frustration was about to reach its breaking point, a ripple of foreign energy went across her body, replenishing her exhausted limbs with fresh vigor.
The endless well of power hidden in Nisha’s body never stopped pouring its boundless vitality into the little girl and the excess formed snake-like runes twining through her skin, condensing as it neared her back, dancing in circles on her shoulder blades.
Burning inside, the runes felt familiar to the dragon girl, speaking to her in a low voice, scarcely too quiet for her to hear, but they understood each other and her desires were granted.
Shaping themselves as wings, draconic ones and not the chick-feather-like ones she had after her first transformation, the black and white runes’ intangible power suddenly faded to become real and take a palpable form.
Stretching out the familiar appendages, Nisha suddenly knew that the change was not permanent and the runes would only give her a short-lived support, hence she did not waste time and immediately took off from the ground, heading straight for the [Dragon’s Den] while using both her eyes and the [Spirit Sight] to their full capabilities to avoid any monsters or beasts on the way.
Soaring through the air like the carefree beast she had been, the distance between the former dragon and her sibling’s cave rapidly shrinked. Under any other circumstances, she would have enjoyed the feeling she had longed for, soaring in the sky again, but this time her mind was too preoccupied by the single task of returning to the cottage as fast as possible.
After the span of a single candle, Nisha landed on the piece of land directly adjacent to the den and was amazed by the large improvements made to her old home. Instead of a single cave, a small network of grottos connected by paths and waterways had been created, housing different tribes of monsters and various farms rearing normal animals and cultivating various corns. The [Dragon’s Den] remained at the center of the whole complex, governing the budding community and providing a good life to anyone willing to submit to the dragon’s rule.
Arriving in front of the main cave entrance, where the four dragon siblings had entered more than a decade earlier- and was now a lavish and elaborately carved hall -, Nisha hurried inside.
I have to find Little Breeze. My wings won’t last, I need someone to fly me to the mansion. Little Breeze will do it if I ask.
As she was running through the various chambers, the wings the elven-like girl had folded on her back slowly faded back into a construct of black and white runes that disappeared under her skin, giving off a sweet smell of autumn leaves and hot tea.
The sensation of the runes returning inside of her, to the same place the burning rage had flown from, was a very strange one, almost ticklish or slightly unpleasant as she missed the power it had momentarily given her.
Checking meticulously each room, the distressed girl finally found her emerald-colored sibling, dozing off together with the two harpies.
“Little Breeze, wake up! I need you, I need your help! Please!”
Racing up to the scaled beast, Nisha shook the dragon awake, pleading it to assist her in going back to the hunting grounds.
Explaining the situation didn’t take her very long as her interlocutor didn’t ask any questions, not about her further transformed body, nor about her presence at the [Dragon’s Den] or the reason why she needed to get back to the cottage immediately; the dragon simply trusting its older sister, something Nisha was very thankful for.
Settled on Little Breeze’s back, the two of them took off without even telling the other dragon siblings that their Little Flame had stopped by for a visit.
The flight was far too turbulent and noisy to hold a conversation, forcing Nisha and Little Breeze to abstain from speaking.
I am almost back home. Please be safe, grandpa.
The green scaled beast could fly restlessly, it was used to go on excursions with its two harpy playmates who were displaying a tremendous vigor, and carrying a small human figure was not a problem at all either. The pair of beasts arrived almost perfectly when the last sun rays disappeared behind the tree tops.
“Wait for me please, Little Breeze. I need to check up on … Eldrin.”
Not knowing the word for grandfather in the dragon’s language, she asked her younger sibling to stand by for a little while, before charging upstairs.
The two sisters must have heard her, and they tried to block her way.
“Nisha! We missed you, where have you been? What happened to your wings? And your eyes are open!”
Flooding her with questions, Lydia attempted to hold her into her embrace, streaks of tears running down her face.
Dodging the arms that closed in on her, the dragon girl sped past the young woman, desperately running to the door that separated her from the room in which she could find her grandfather.
Pushing the dark door open, she stopped at the bed, looking for the familiar shape of an elf resting early like he used to before her departure.
But her prayers had not been heard, as the room looked unused, lacking Eldrin’s warm presence; leaving her haggard, despairing in an abandoned place, hollow and cold.
The tears she had been unable to shed so far started cascading on her cheeks again, she didn’t need Lydia and Annabelle to tell her what had happened to her grandfather, the whole house missed his spirit, his being.
The blanket on top of the bed used to be soft to the touch, but today the cover felt as hard and coarse as a rock on which Nisha shed countless drops of salty water, hugged by her two sisters, who shared her pain.
The three of them would have spent more time like this, however a sharp shout interrupted their reunion.
“It’s a dragon! It’s really a dragon!”
The unknown voice startled Nisha, she wasn’t expecting any visitors, and was usually on guard against strangers, her grief not helping in giving a warm welcome to anyone at the moment. Throwing an inquisitive glance at the two older women, the little girl made them understand that she didn’t want to care for any intruder.
Annabelle and Lydia had other plans.
“I totally forgot! Nisha, I am so sorry. I know how hard this must be for you. But you have to know that it was his wish, he didn’t want you to be there, Sir Eldrin didn’t want you to see him in that state.
He left you a letter; and his son, Sir Luthais, has arrived a week ago. He was waiting for you, let’s go.”
“Wait, please. I am not ready yet, I want to see … him first, please show me where he rests.”
Answering Lydia’s downcast consolation in a quiet voice, the grieving young girl looked straight in the eyes of the one she considered to be an adopted big sister.
“Your eyes … they are beautiful!”
Left breathless by the dragon girl’s unique gaze, Annabelle exclaimed in bewilderment. Staring directly at her were two golden irises, surrounded by a tiny grey ring and minutiously drawn black and red rifts passing through the golden band.
The sisters didn’t question their youngest companion’s recovered ability to see as Eldrin had reluctantly explained them the deal he had made, enabling the two of them to get a complete understanding of the bargain by adding these facts to the story Nisha had told them before.
“Anna, I think that’s alright. Go to him with Nisha. I’ll talk to Sir Luthais about Nisha’s … acquaintance and prevent him from doing anything hasty.”
Grabbing the distressed creature by the hand, Annabelle provided her with appreciated mental support, having the little girl meekly follow her when she pulled her along. Lydia went into one of the guest rooms ahead of them and the foreign, deep voice, rang out again. Without paying any attention to the discussion, the two girls headed downstairs and to the kitchen, then into an empty room room behind it. Resting on an improvised coffin, the elf laid peacefully, seemingly sleeping. His small typical smile plastered on his face, Eldrin appeared to be about to get up and welcome her back home.
So it is true. Grandpa, I love you.
Breaking down, Nisha cried her heart out, letting the tears flow freely, there was no end to the bitter current, even after the earlier outburst. Annabelle had had time to process the initial brunt of the loss, enabling her to stay at her little sister’s side when she presented her last goodbye to the man she had called grandfather, who had introduced her to a world she would have never imagined to exist otherwise. Her curiosity had led her to him, yet during the course of not even a full turn, so much more came true for her. Nisha had went from a large majestic dragon to an blind half elvish form, discovered another sense she never knew she had and rediscovered the power of aura and mana.
Yet even this paled in comparison to the addition of her other family, her two lively older sister, her kind and caring grandfather …
She would never be able to repay him for all the new things he had taught her, the shield he was for her when she was unable to protect herself, he had stood up for her when he had no obligation to do so. A benevolence she always had trouble understanding in the violent world of the Wilderness, something she took to heart and wished to protect.
You promised me you wouldn’t leave me … you’re so unfair, I can’t even be mad at you. Please rest in peace, I hope you will meet up with your wife. I’m envious that she gets to be with you, but I will be also happy for you two.
Raging against the world had allowed Nisha to let go of her anger, cleansing her mind and supporting her in the acceptance of the facts more calmly. The sadness still threatened to overwhelm her and reduce her to an incoherent mess, but the encouragement from her family and friends had stabilized her, even when she still wanted to destroy, tear everything apart and let the world know the full extent of the loss it had experienced by letting go of an outstanding person. But she restrained herself, knowing that the elf would not approve of such behaviour.
“Goodbye grandpa. I will miss you forever and even after that.”