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Chapter Twenty-Three

Thæon understands now, that the gods had been trying to prepare him. Every downfall he has ever faced, every trial they had set before him, every challenge that he had to overcome had been for the sake of preparing him for the fight in the mountain fortress. And as Thæon kneels in front of the mural stone, he knows that he has failed. It has been two weeks since Anther last opened his eyes. He has returned to how he once was; the blue-black-obsidian of his horns having faded from the patterns that had bled to colour the corner of his eyes, curling over his nose and throat. His scales and smooth and perfect once more; no longer sharp and spiked as they stick up from where they had layered over one another; talons still sharp but short; horns smooth and arced rather than jagged like lightning bolts. But he is still yet to wake. Anther’s heartbeat is still far too slow; one draw of breath equal to three of Thæon’s; still silent whenever Thæon calls his name and it is painful. As is the fact that the gods remain silent to Thæon’s prayers. He has fasted for them; decorated their dais with offerings that he hunted and foraged and collected, having forced himself to bear the weight of being so far from Anther; having bled his own skin in ancient words as he knelt at the altar to recite every prayer, every oath, every ceremonial scripture that has been carved into the Great Halls back in the clanlands in hopes for guidance. For answers. For Arenthíen, Goddess of Death, to turn a blind eye for as long as she is able. For the Wild Goddess herself to take her kin into her arms and help him. While Anther was, in truth, human, he was also that last living dragon left within the Living Realm despite it a curse that gave him such a shape. Thæon had thought that might account for something, but to each and every prayer that leaves Thæon’s bloody lips, the gods do not answer. Only in his dreams do they give him more than their silence. But dreams can be interpreted in a thousand ways and Thæon is scared to understand his own. He knows now that they are from the gods; have always been from the gods. Because the child in his dreams, who had mourned Obí’s imagined death, who had screamed alongside Thæon when Anther was murdered, is Líala: the same mage that had changed Anther in the first place. She is a constant in his mind now, when Thæon dreams of the lake shores, the clifftop and the meadow. Sometimes she is sat with Anther’s head in her lap as she cries for him; sometimes standing beside him with sadness painted upon her face while Anther lays, as still and as lifeless as ever. Sometimes she whispers, and sometimes she sings, but Líala’s words are not understood, or if they are, then forgotten in the moment of waking; Thæon dragging himself from the space where he sleeps, curled up against Anther’s neck, to the gods’ altar, knee’s biting the cold stone, hands folded in prayer and forehead pressed to the dais as he repeats ancient words and begs for a voice to guide him. But the gods do not answer. Instead all that answers is the wind; howling as snow settles on the peaks and in the courtyard, but there are no words and there are no whispers and Thæon’s questions remain unanswered. Líala herself, is another unanswered question. Or, perhaps more accurately, a thousand of them all tumbled together into one messy tangle of confusion. Firstly, her magic was nothing like anyone had experienced before; for Líala was not simply aligned to one of the six sources, nor branching, and yet her magic was, imparts, familiar. Thæon hadn’t witnessed much first hand—too stubborn to leave Anther’s side except to venture as far as he is able to the draught, or the gods’ dais or to the cooking pot to force himself to eat whatever has been cooked that day—but he sees the look on their faces when they settle themselves in front of the fire on that first night. Eidan had been unusually quiet, even more so than after checking they hadn’t hurt Morak nor Gryka too harshly with their rogue lightning; Perrin’s ramblings as sharp and mind-numbing as they have always been, even more so when they had returned to clear the courtyard of the battle to find the giant’s corpse gone; neither Ríenn or Torra returning to settle around the fire with them, which leaves His Highness to be the one to pick up the frayed ends and weave them into a story. “She healed her wing,” he had said, voice hollow and a little empty as he spoke of the roc that had stayed behind, unable to take flight. “Líala could understand her just how Ríenn could and then she just took her wing and… she just….” He waved his hand; a little flourish of his fingers, not needing to finish what he was saying for Thæon to know what he meant. Healing Palms are just as rare to find as Threadweavers, if not more so. And even then, a broken arm would take days to heal; regrowing flight feathers a week at least when it would take a year naturally. Líala was young to hold that much power, younger still to still have that much power that it is easy for her to speak with the roc while she healed her. And Ríenn is the only one that Thæon knows of, or has ever heard of, who can use his Silver Tongue magic to speak to animals, and while it’s not impossible to possess the ability to harness multiple magics as Favoured are known even of not-quite as common as expected, with Dornan himself being just one example to that; a rare example in himself by being able to control magics that are natural opposites to one another, his strength given to him by both mother and father, and yet still it is unheard of for a child so young to have the abilities that Líala has shown. Normally it takes years to build up that level of control enough to diverge from the soul’s source and even then, there are limitations; such as Earthshakers channelling their magic to become a Metalbite, or a Skinwalker focusing their efforts to harness Beastmaster magic, or a Fireheart over-burning themself to become a conduit for light magic. Eidan suspects that Líala’s story is similar to Dornan’s; in that which her parents have given her the powers of a Healing Palm and a Silver Tongue. But even as much as she has learnt to trust them in the weeks that they’ve been here, she can neither confirm, nor deny because she has no memories from before the stronghold, and at the very least, nothing beyond what Tirich had told her. Líala only knows that she had been found by the Shadowcast, although even those memories are vague and distant and she has never been sure if they are memories or dreams; her head as empty as a starless sky when asked anything about herself, her family and her home. Except, once, there had been a glimpse. “Hwomsun?” Morak had repeated, lifting his head, Thæon lifting his own from where he still sat beside Anther, turning fire over in the palms of his hands to entertain some part of his mind so that he doesn’t entirely spiral. Líala had ducked her head in response, fingers twisted into clothes that Ríenn had hunted the fortress for, something better suited to her smaller frame to fend off the cold winds. It was just one of the small things they’d done for her, to help her heal if only a fraction, and it showed just how much she had begun to trust them in turn when Líala didn’t immediately whisper hurried apologies, nor pull away when Eidan placed a hand over hers. (She still flinched, because not all wounds can easily be healed when she has had to survive years under the thumb of a monster like Tirich). “It was the name of the mountain,” she had said, staring at her feet, knocking them together as she holds all eyes in the hall. “I remember climbing it together… with someone. But, I don’t remember—I’m sorry I can’t remember—I’m sorry—” Líala’s lips had quivered then, fingers tucked into herself, hands hidden away in fear that her answer was inadequate and that there had been a punishment; tears only flowing all the more when Eidan wrapped their arm around her and eased her into their embrace. Later, when she lay asleep, sharing a bedroll with Ríenn, Thæon had caught Morak’s watchful eye upon her, tilting his own head in silent question. “Hwomsun is the old name for Hawnsong,” he had said, the words whispered and unsure of himself. But Thæon knew how many hours that the Shadowcast had poured over ancient texts and recorded facts for his own questions; knowing that Morak had absorbed it all in his endless search of understanding of his own powers, so that when he says that Hwomsun was once the name of the mountain of Ered Naur’s northern solitary mountain, Thæon knows it is fact. “I’ve never known it to be anything other than Hawnsong,” Thæon said, more to himself than to make conversation. But Morak just shook his head. “Because it hasn’t been Hwomsun since the seventh era. That’s twenty-two thousand years ago.” They’d shared a look. Shared confusion too. Maybe Líala was misremembering, having been told that Hawnsong and Hwomsun were once and the same but she’d only remembered it’s ancient name. And so came another question. And still, no one to answer them. “What do you think, Anther?” he asks, the words like bones rattling in his throat, the smile at the corner of his lips lying false and flat and empty. “I bet you wouldn’t even care who she was.” Thæon doesn’t, really. He is far too consumed by the worry for his dragon to think deeper into Tirich’s claim of her, or the mystery behind her magic and the lingering question whether or not she truly is the one responsible for cursing Anther’s shape, twisting him from human into dragon. It wasn’t a far stretch. Considering everything. Thæon’s protectiveness of her still curls in his chest, and while it is unexplained, it has lessened now; soft and crooning like the sound of Anther breathing, and for a moment, for Thæon, it is as if he is simply sleeping. But then Thæon remembers the truth and it all falls away from him, head slumping down, shoulders drooped and he doesn’t have the strength to keep himself; sinking down to lay his face in the crook of Anther’s neck. He takes a deep breath, wincing to the rattle in his lungs. He closes his eyes, too tired, too drained for anything more, focusing simply on the sound of Anther’s agonisingly slow breaths; his hand resting against his scales, just underneath his jaw, listening to the faint tumble of his heartbeat. The only thing that speaks back when he begs him to wake; begs his friend not to take the weight of the consequences of a foolhardy plan, rushing in and hoping for the best. Thæon is meant to be Mundanaï. One day he is meant to lead not only Angrenost, but all five clans. And all he has succeeded in doing is leading his friends into danger, feeling responsible for Anther’s current silence because if they hadn’t rushed in then Anther wouldn’t have faced against the Giant’s Blood and he wouldn’t have trapped himself inside his own magic and maybe, maybe Anther would still be a dragon, but he’d be awake, and well and Thæon— Thæon wouldn’t feel like he’s killed his best friend.

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