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A New Path

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Tilera hated the Cradle of Summer.

It was beautiful, yes, and peaceful, and the fae left them alone as long as they did the same, but she had spent ten years camping outside the same locked door and she feared deep down in her heart that this was how she would meet her end.

Her retinue dwindled day by day until only her most loyal servants remained, and she knew that she could not expect them to give up their whole lives in her hopeless quest.

But she couldn’t give up. Not now, not when there were just a few doors in between her and her goal. She was so close she could almost touch the Piercing Light, she frequently dreamed of it being in her hands, only to awaken, bitter and empty handed, the fateweaver’s words echoing in her head.

And that’s how she spent her days, until two dokkalfar approached her camp.

Tilera got to her feet with a sigh. “And you are?”

The one dressed in mage robes answered. “I’m Kyrielle, this is Gwyn. Alyn Shir sent us to help.”

Tilera looked them over, unimpressed. “A single Warsworn and a mage? What exactly does she think the two of you can do that my people can’t? The way she spoke I expected her to send me an entire army. She can never stop herself from meddling.

“Believe me,” Kyrielle said earnestly. “I can help. This isn’t the first ancient weapon we’ve reclaimed from a ruin that no-one is meant to be able to enter.”

It wasn’t her words that convinced Tilera, so much as the tight smile of anticipation that grew on her companion’s face, and the brightly shining warhammer on her back.

“If you really want to help,” Tilera said, still annoyed, but willing to take a chance, even if she wasn’t yet willing to hope. “Then you need to open this damn door. We think those windstones open it, and we think this windchime controls the stones, but we have never made it any further than that.”

Kyrielle held her hand out for the charm and Tilera handed it over. She watched as the two of them wandered over to the windstone, heads bent close together in discussion, and in less time than it took for Tilera to sit down again, the windstone moved.

Tilera leapt to her feet again and watched in disbelief as the first door opened and, simultaneously, a Niskaru attacked the two woman who had come out of nowhere and changed everything.

Before Tilera could run and help them fight, the two of them brought the Niskaru down, lightning crackling from Kyrielle’s hands, Gwyn swinging her hammer that the Niskaru tried to flee from, but it was too late for it. It crumpled at their feet while Tilera gaped at them.

As soon as the two of them returned to camp, Tilera gripped both of their hands tightly. “You did it, you really did it.” Her voice cracked somewhere in-between disbelief and hope. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting.”

“Twelve years,” Gwyn said, and there was admiration in her voice, not pity. “And it’s Kyrielle who changes things.”     

Kyrielle looked torn between pleased and embarrassed but didn’t deny it.

“Please,” Tilera said to her, desperate now like she had not been since after that battle in Klurikon. “There are more windstones, more doors –”

“I’ll open them, I promise,” Kyrielle said, and glanced over at Gwyn, who was staring at the ruin with a thoughtful expression.

“I’ll remain, for now. If there are more Niskaru…” She adjusted her grip on her hammer meaningfully.

Kyrielle nodded. “I’ll be back soon.”

As they watched her walk away, Tilera turned to Gwyn, still disbelieving. “Is she always like this?”

“You have no idea,” Gwyn replied, a small smile on her face. “None at all.”

“Your weapon…?” Tilera asked, and Gwyn smoothed a hand over it.

“An ancient Warsworn weapon,” Gwyn said. “Wielded by Eamonn and Eagonn themselves and sealed away by a door fated to never open.”

Tilera stared at it hungrily. She had seen how the Niskaru had fled from it, the way it had seemed to spark and sizzle as it struck the creature. If the Piercing Light could do half of that… it would have been worth all this time waiting.

“It’s not the first time she’s preformed a miracle, then?” Tilera asked, and Gwyn shook her head.

“It won’t be the last either, but it is her story to tell,” Gwyn replied. “But yes, she is…remarkable.”

“I’ll ask her when she returns,” Tilera assented, having seen nothing so far to dispute Gwyn’s statement. “And what of you? What’s your story, Gwyn?”

Gwyn shook her head. “Me? I’m Warsworn,” she said, as if that was the only important detail, then paused. “And something of a scholar – I am interested in relics such as these.”

“A Warsworn scholar? I’ve never heard of such a thing, I must admit.” Tilera replied, looking over at her with new interest. If only she had known of her, after the battle at Klurikon. Perhaps she wouldn't have been waiting for so long.

“I’m not the first,” Gwyn said quietly, her mouth turning down for a moment. “And I won’t be the last, not now, I hope. If we had not neglected our true duty for so long, perhaps your battle in Klurikon would have gone differently.”

“Stop,” Tilera said sharply, though the anger was directed at herself, not Gwyn. “My failure is my own. Your people are not at fault.”

“You didn’t fail,” Gwyn said, leaning close. “You faced impossible odds and never gave up. This battle isn’t over – you have a new start ahead of you.”

“I hope you’re right,” Tilera said, the hope she was trying to suppress flaring brightly despite her best effort.

“I am,” Gwyn said. “You’ll see.”

---

By the time Tilera had made it back to Rathir, news of her defeat had beaten her to the city.

She walked off the docks, her head held high, ignoring the whispers, the people who spat on the floor when she passed them, the bereaved parents and children who cursed her when they saw her.

She deserved it, every part of it.

The Elund refused to grant her an audience, and when she went to sleep in her rooms in the Orbocant, the building felt more deserted than usual, like even the guards and servants were ignoring her.

But she wouldn’t give up. She would find a way to avoid the future the fateweaver had seen, or she would die trying. There was no alternative she could live with.    

It took her a long time, and all remaining favours and influence she had in Rathir, to get an audience with the Archsage of the Scholia Arcana.

Many mages had died in Mel Senshir, and many more would, because of her. She didn’t blame him for his anger.

But finally, she got his permission to search the libraries for any information about the Balor, about the Witch Knight, for anything that could help her find a way to defeat them.

But it was no good. She was not a scholar, for one thing. For another, any mention of the Balor mentioned that it was all but undefeatable, that all the weapons that may have helped had been lost.

She sent word to the Warsworn, in case they had heard of any such weapon, but never heard back. So many of their numbers had fallen in Klurikon, she understood their silence even as it frustrated her.

But the weeks turned into months, turned into a year, turned to longer, and she found no answers, no hope.

One evening, despairing and angry, she took refuge in the Seafoam inn. Everyone there ignored her, but she was used to that, and she had begun to take comfort from it.

Then a woman slipped into the seat next to her. A dokkalfar, dark-haired and sharp-eyed, wearing armour that suggested she was more spy than warrior.

Tilera didn’t turn to look at her. A few people had tried to start a fight with her since Klurikon. She would defend herself, if she tried anything, but she wouldn’t try to stop her.

“I hear you are looking for a weapon that can stop the Balor,” she said, out of nowhere, her voice hushed like she was sharing a secret.

“It’s not a secret,” Tilera replied dully, not looking at her.

“There are not a lot of weapons left like that,” the woman continued, nodded at the barkeeper as she put down a glass of wine in front of her. Tilera hadn’t even seen her order it. “Most mortals have forgotten about them. Luckily, I know a few immortals who remember when such weapons were a necessity.”

“The fae,” Tilera breathed, looking over at the stranger for the first time. “Of course.”

“They told me of a ruin in the Cradle of Summer,” the stranger continued. “Urul-Tusk. It contains what you are looking for.”

Tilera pushed her drink to one side and stood up, hope surging through her body.

“There’s no hurry,” the stranger told her. “Urul-Tusk is sealed up. The fae don’t know how to open it. No fateweaver I have spoken to has seen the door open.”

“Faint hope is better than no hope,” Tilera snapped, putting a coin down on the table. “I would rather wait there than here.”

The stranger smiled. “Very true. And who knows? It may open one day, if not for you.”

“What do you want for this information?” Tilera asked, eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”

“My name is Alyn Shir, and we want the same thing. Someday, I may ask you for a little favour of my own. But for now, I will leave you to prepare for your journey. Pack well, you may be waiting for some time.”

“If your tip pays off, you may ask me whatever you like,” Tilera told her, then leaned closer, lowering her voice. “But if you are mocking me, I will find you again, and you won’t like what I have to say.”

“Why would I mock you?” Alyn said airily, bringing her drink to her lips and taking a sip. “I think what you are doing is admirable, if foolish.”

“I may be a fool, but I have never been a coward,” Tilera snapped, walking away. She would go to the library one last time, now that she had a name, and then if what Alyn Shir had told her appeared to be true, she would head out.

Doing something was better than doing nothing, after all, and she could never accept her helplessness.  

---

The atmosphere in the tavern was subdued when Tilera entered, but the room still went utterly silent as her presence was noticed.

Then the whispers started. Failure. Coward. Some Great General.  

She felt her hands clench into fists as she stalked across the room and took a seat across from Mel Senshir’s fateweaver.

Wismey Destan dragged his gaze up from his ale to look at her. He was a young man, barely out of his teens if she guessed right, but his eyes were ancient. There was a yellowing bruise on his cheekbone, though whether that was from battle or from someone who was displeased with the future he had seen for them she didn’t know, nor did she care.

Tilera was furious at him. She slammed her fists on the table, knocking over his tankard and spilling ale across his cards. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded.

He didn’t flinch. He looked at her, not with anger or disappointment, but with terrible aching pity, and that was so much worse.

“Would it have helped?” he asked. “Going into battle, knowing you would have failed? Knowing wouldn’t have changed a thing. You would have just gone into battle with a heart filled with dread.”

“I wouldn’t have been afraid,” Tilera snapped, but she wondered then, how she would have felt to throw her spear while knowing it would miss, knowing she would fail to stop Malwyn and the Balor, knowing she had doomed Mel Senshir, if not now, then one day soon.

She leant back in her chair and folded her arms with a frown, not wanting to concede that he had a point. “How do I fix it?” she asked.

“You can’t,” Wismey replied, his voice exhausted.

“Then who does?” Tilera asked, agitated. “Who kills the Witch Knight? The Balor?”

Wismey shook his head, and Tilera leaned forward and jabbed at his damp cards. “You didn’t even look!”

Wismey spread them out on the table but didn’t glance down at them. “I don’t need to look. That’s all I see,” he said, his voice too weary for fear. “The Witch Knight will come again, and lead the Balor to Mel Senshir, and we will all fall before them. The Tuatha will swarm over this fortress like flies over a corpse and the way to the Faelands will be open to them. It is the beginning of the end for us”

Tilera shook her head, fear seizing her heart. “This can’t be how it ends for us,” she whispered.

“Not for you,” Wismey replied absently, and immediately looked as if he wished he hadn’t spoken.

“How does it end for me?” she demanded, then held out her hand to forestall his protest. “Don’t tell me it’s better not to know.”

Wimsey sighed. “You will die far from here, alone, in peace, and in bitterness.”

Tilera stood, her hair toppling behind her. The tavern was utterly silent. “I don’t accept that,” she told him through gritted teeth.

“You wouldn’t be the great general if you did,” Wimsey replied, and the lack of mockery in the title wounded her somehow. “But if you run from your fate you will only come to it sooner.”

But Tilera was already storming away, and she didn’t hear his words. She would have just ignored them if she had, anyway.