Summerveil

Liza!

Your name is Liza Rippley and this is one of the worst days of your life. Unfortunately, that’s a category with some stiff competition these days! What with “the day that Oberon Greymane took over the Kingdom” and “the day you signed up with the Iluminan Volunteer Corps because your little sister Kay got press-ganged and you weren’t going to let her face that alone” and “the day that you tried to confess to Beau Lakley but it turned out he was already going out with Barb Finley and you had to navigate your way out of that conversation before you started crying and you failed at that so he had to awkwardly pat you on the shoulder while you furiously willed yourself to stop crying but that just made things worse” up there as very, very bad days, too.

But “a dragon sets your horrible awful commander’s tent on fire, then drops out of the sky, nearly runs over you, flings herself out of the camp and now you have to go follow her and somehow capture her despite being armed with a glass spear, a little bit of water magic, and some moxie” is also a very, very bad day.

So there you are, with Kay on your left side and Moggy Lily on your right, lightly stepping through the creepy mist which likes to manifest really mean and cutting images just when you’re not expecting them, when you duck under a branch into a clearing and there’s this great big woman with imposing black armor and golden eyes there and you recognize her immediately, because how couldn’t you?

How couldn’t you, when you regularly wrote fan fiction about Taing the River Daughter becoming a tall, pretty woman and kissing you a lot when you were a teenager? Except Taing looks much less kissable and more like she’s going to drag you into the river and eat you up, in person.

There’s a moment where you think you might be able to back up and get away clean and never tell anybody about this, but then Kay steps on a twig and Taing the River Daughter looks up at you and you and Moggy Lily grab each other and you can feel the scream bubbling its way out of you because she’s going to eat you!

***

Kazelia!

“Ma’am,” Tam Patterley says with quiet sorrow, “the situation on the ground is a sight more complicated than that. We’ve people back home we’re worried about-“

Asteria whirls about, and for a moment one might be afraid she’s just heard your sedition, but she’s grabbing you by the cheeks furiously for a different reason: someone’s not doing as she’s told.

“Kazelia,” she says, all poisoned sweetness, “I know you’ve been wasting your time frolicking among undisciplined Hyperboreans, but in my camp, when I ask a question, it is answered. Where is Alina Cascade?”

Her lip curls in disdain. (One of her camp staff has been cleaning the mud off her face as you’ve walked.) “If you don’t want to talk, we can always move forward with your etiquette training. Immediately.”

***

The Slaugh

Alina!

You and Rita wait with feverish patience by the door until you hear the firm, steady tread of Kaja Ironpelt’s boots recede down the corridor and around the corner. That’s your window to scamper across the hall (because of course your mother’s room is across the hall from yours, just in case). The door does not want to give, has warped tight and close into the frame, but you and Rita both turn the handle and put your backs into it, and even as you hear Kaja coming back, humming a Rider lullaby to herself to keep from being scared, the door groans violently and suddenly gives way.

There is no way Kaja will not be on your heels in a moment!

But here, hanging gravid in the space where your mother should be, is the Wound. The Wound’s edges ripple, the peeling edges of the world, a torn rent in what Is. From it seeps the black water, which laps against your shins as you wade forward, as Rita valiantly tries to wedge the door shut behind you. Within the Wound is endless night and falling stars, like a Rider’s eyes, coalesced around-

A dark crystal hangs there, and from it pours forth ceaselessly the black water, which stains the night.

If Kazelia were here, she could probably tell you more, but here is a feeble attempt at an explanation, regardless: that this crystal is the terrible thing that Azora brought here. (The windows burst open at the sound of the Roc’s heavy wingbeat; the glass sinks soundlessly into the black sea.) That Azora has set the endless night beyond Ouroboros as the last and most terrible guardian. (Rita is flung backwards as the door gives way; and Kaja is here, but the turning-point of the world is you.) That to end this-

You must declare that you reach in to take it.

You must bid your lights not to follow you, not to lose themselves in that night, no matter what follows.

You must draw it forth, even if in the very next moment Kaja has you fast, if you want to have even a chance of ending this.

It will be terrible.

But perhaps you were always meant to be here, to do this thing. Who else could?