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~ Previous Chapter ~
Just tying up a few loose ends. Only one more update to go!
WHEN THE DRAGONS finally arrived, they swiftly bundled the Riders and miryhls up and carried them away. Dhoriaen Aure, occasionally known as Auriaen, son of Maegla, let them go. He would catch up later. He had one last task to perform before he followed.
“Well done, cousin. I do believe this round goes to you.”
Auriaen looked up from where he contemplated Yullik’s body and just about managed to keep his grimace from his face. The Twins. Of course. Why wouldn’t they be here?
Herion, the speaker, was smiling, but Auriaen didn’t trust him an inch. He was old and wise enough to know never to trust anything either of these two said, did or implied. They were Disorder and Chaos, untrustworthy and deceitful, liars and cheats. They couldn’t help it. That was who they were.
“I claim my victory,” he said, eyeing them as they sauntered closer – dressed as pirates of all things. “This field is mine.”
“This time,” Heriame agreed, brushing cool fingers across his cheek, having never had much respect for other people’s personal space. “But only for this time.”
“In this place.”
“In this moment.”
He hated it when they finished each other’s sentences, but he really hated it when they spoke in unison. They knew that, of course, which was why they followed their words with mirror perfect smiles and matching tilts of the head.
“I claim my victory,” he repeated. “Now go.”
Heriame pouted. “Wanting rid of us so soon, cousin? My feelings are hurt.”
“And we so wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed your final showdown.”
“Having the Wingborn finish it all was particularly inspired.”
“You don’t have any feelings,” he pointed out, ignoring everything else. Partly because they were only stalling for time, but also because he wasn’t particularly proud of letting Mhysra deal the final blow. He couldn’t have done it himself, being banned from interfering too deeply, but still, it might have asked too much of her.
Herion tilted his head and his sister wrinkled her nose. “True,” they acknowledged.
“But still,” Heriame said, slinking up to him like the most unwanted of cats. “You did very well, Lian.” She pinched his chin between her fingers and gave him a little shake. “Even if you did lose your temper down in the darkness.”
He grabbed her wrist, unable to stop himself. Her touch sent unpleasant prickles beneath his skin as her magic tried to work on him. It couldn’t, of course, just as his own retaliatory lightning sparks were little more than tickles to her. But, as she herself had said, still. “I wondered if that was down to you.”
“Not that.” Herion wrinkled his nose and waved the terror of the cave-in away with a dismissive flick of his hand. “Yullik was always prone to cruder methods.”
The three of them stared at the body by their feet.
“He gets it from his father,” Heriame sighed, poking Yullik’s arm rather disrespectfully with the toe of her boot.
Auriaen considered protesting but chose not to waste his breath. “He never realised, did he?”
The twins blinked, their expressions unexpectedly solemn. “No,” they said. “He believed himself the son of Khennik kin Blazeborn and Nera of the Riders until his dying breath.”
Auriaen studied the man who had caused so much strife during his relatively short life and sighed. “Heirayk always was a careless bastard.”
“Or just careless of his bastards.” The twins laughed.
“But now, now, cousin, don’t go annoying our uncle.” Herion wagged a playful finger. “He might get angry.”
“And then your mother will have to smite him,” Heriame continued, grinning. “Again.”
The twins sighed in delighted reminiscence of the last time Auriaen’s mother and her Sun God brother had come to blows. Maegla and Heirayk were often at odds – and it wasn’t always Auriaen’s fault.
Even as they spoke a shimmering cloud of gold gathered around the body, pulsing with heat and smelling of warm summer days. The heat grew and grew, until Yullik ignited in a fiery glow. When Auriaen’s eyes cleared of sunspots, all that remained was a small dragon, curled up with its head tucked protectively beneath its wing, carved entirely from stone.
Well, that explained his affinity for World’s End. “Who was his mother?” he asked, because if Yullik’s father had been a human god, his mother must surely have been a remarkable dragon. Heirayk was picky that way.
The twins shrugged and Heriame crouched to pet Yullik’s rocky remains. “Some Stoneheart, I suppose. Doesn’t matter now. Isn’t he adorable? Just imagine if this was what he’d hatched into. So cute!”
Auriaen met Herion’s gaze and for once felt a moment of accord as they rolled their eyes at Heriame’s antics.
Then Auriaen bent to scoop up the sword that had remained behind after Heirayk had reclaimed his part of his offspring. A little scorched around the edges, but nothing a bit of polishing wouldn’t sort out. He rubbed his palm along the flat of the blade, smiling as the runes lit up in a familiar pattern.
“You ought to be more careful with that,” Heriame said, eyeing the sword as Auriaen rested it against his shoulder.
“You might do yourself a mischief one of these days,” her brother agreed, looking delighted by the prospect.
“Or I might make mischief for you,” Auriaen replied, swinging the sword in their direction.
They jumped back, laughing, “Promises, promises,” as if the Eagle’s Blade wasn’t one of the few things on the Overworld that truly threatened them. It had killed a demi-god, after all.
Auriaen rested it against his shoulder again and patted the hilt affectionately. Everyone always focused on the eagle-headed cross guard, but few ever noticed the lightning bolts on the pommel – as befit a sword forged for the son of a Storm Goddess. Being the creation of another god itself, Auriaen allowed the sword to wander the world every few centuries, content that it would always come back to him. Now it had. He patted it again. He’d missed it.
“Where will you go now?” he asked, as he and the twins left the cavern, heading for the nearest way out of the mountain.
They smirked. “As if we’d tell you.”
True, they never did. Just as he never told them where he was going or what he was doing. That would be boring.
“Stay away from me and mine for a while,” he warned. “I won.”
“But I’ve grown fond of the Wingborn,” Heriame protested.
“And your dragons are so much fun to play with.” Herion pouted. “They panic beautifully.”
“I won,” Auriaen reminded them sternly.
“You’re no fun,” they grumbled in unison.
Auriaen raised his eyebrows, not caring if they found him fun or not. They were Disorder and Chaos. Their type of fun typically wasn’t enjoyed by anyone except the two of them.
Heriame rolled her eyes and Herion gave an exaggerated sigh. “Fine,” they conceded. “You won. We’ll leave them alone. For now.”
When Auriaen looked at them, they shrugged.
“You can’t claim them all, Aure,” Riame pointed out. “The dragons have plenty of centuries left, and those Riders are such trouble magnets who knows what else they’ll attract in their lifetimes. We won’t touch them while they stay peaceful and boring, but if they do stray into mischief again…”
He sighed, conceding defeat, knowing they had a point. There was only so much he could do under the rules and protecting them all for life wasn’t one of them. Not when, as the twins so helpfully pointed out, his Riders were such infernal trouble magnets.
“Fine. Just leave them be until something interesting happens.” When the twins smiled deviously, he narrowed his eyes. “Something interesting that will in no way be caused by you.”
They assumed innocent expressions. “Would we?” they asked, fluttering their eyelashes.
They couldn’t help it; it was who they were. But Auriaen was who he was too, so he fixed them with his sternest glare. “I will smite you.”
“Promises, promises,” they sighed again, almost wistfully as they reached the front doors of Yullik’s fortress beneath the World’s End Mountains.
Standing on the threshold, the three of them turned to each other and smiled.
Then, without another word, the godborn turned their backs and walked in different directions.
This round was over and won. At this time, in this place, at this moment. Beyond doubt they would meet again in another time and place and fight another battle.
But not here. Not now.
Auriaen, demi-god of Lightning and only son of Maegla, looked out from the smoking ruins of World’s End towards the far-off but now peaceful mountain of Aquila and was content.
“Did I do well, Mother?”
Thunder rumbled across the sky and rain kissed his upturned face. He smiled. He had done well.
A sharp whistle drew his attention to the group gathered far below.
“Come along, Dhori!” Reglian boomed in full Thunderwing form. “The Illuminai’s waiting for us in Etheria and Goryal’s carrying Hurricane all the way.” Curious to see just how well that was going to turn out, Auriaen strode down to meet them, sheathing his sword and jumping into Latinym’s saddle, sliding back into the persona of his extraordinarily ordinary Rift Rider life. Lightning lit up the sky and somewhere in the distant reaches of the Overworld, Maegla laughed.
~ Final Chapter ~
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