1-6b: A Journal of War

Here we have the first of the Chapter Extras.  This is a collection entries from the journal of Gwendoline (referenced in Chapter 6,) Princess of the Empire, Duchess of Midrook, and Queen Regent of Avrale.  This series of excerpts chronicle a very personal experience of the Dragon War, from one of few mortals to witness both the beginning, and the end of the most bloody conflict in recorded history.

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It has been a century since I have truly looked into the eyes of my sister… Of all the horrors of the day, this is what hangs on me.  I have seen a goddess bleed.  I have seen scales like diamond rent, and heard the baleful cry of our Dragon Empress.  I have seen her fall weakly upon the cliffside before my gates…and I have bared to look into her eyes…after all this time.

My sister was dead.  My sister was something timeless, and inhuman… I had let her go.  I had mourned, and pledged nearly the same fealty to the dragon that had taken her name.  I had looked at those eyes before.  I had seen the dragon…and how wrong I was.  For today as she cried, as healers tended to our Empress, and I looked into her great eye.  I saw her.  No matter how large, and changed that eye, it was hers.  It was my Roshanna, eldest princess who would read to me when we were little.  I abandoned her, I forgot her, I left her alone for a century of our lives.

My old bones could nearly crack beneath the weight of it.  My sister…my sister who lives, who by all measures seemed immortal, the last ruler this world would ever need…  She has nearly perished, fallen at the might of another dragon.  Fear grips me, there is not merely another of her kind now in the world, he has an army like him, and we…my country…my son will be first to bear the brunt of what is upon us.  The horror of an age.

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The Empress…my sister…  She has gone against the advisement of healers, and flown on to the east.  Some are whispering of cowardice, others do not blame her, but few see the truth.  She has failed once against our coming foe, she must seek hope at the heart of the Empire…and yet what hope can there be?

Now I must flex my own political authority, already weakened by the Empress’s retreat.  My son seeks to rally the troops, and prepare to defend against the inevitable.  I must depose him from the station he seeks to take up, and send him away.  I pray that he has more of my reason, than his father’s steady but stubborn will.  It is fortunate perhaps, that I wed the young duke, and not the elder prince after all.  For now I may press my dear cousin in law, our King to tap my son to diplomatic service.  By this force him out of the path of the coming storm. I have sent my letter, now…now I wait, and hope.  My years are short, let a princess of the Empire stand, let it be my blood that is shed when the war comes, not my son.

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Ashrook has fallen, only a lone soldier was spared the dragon’s wrath.  I wonder if he was allowed to escape, only to spread fear.  It is unclear how many might have been taken prisoner, and there is no word of the duke, though his wife arrived some days ago on her way to Broken Hill.

My entreaty has been answered, and my son has threatened to defy the King.  I have pleaded that he accept the role he is called to, and he has correctly blamed me for the King’s order.  First I have waited for word, and now I wait for my son to see reason.  There cannot be long for him to accept.

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Broken Hill is aflame.  My son is no longer a Duke…he is a King.  A King in a war where the high mountains of Avrale mean nothing.  Where a force of dragons can fly swiftly in the dead of night, and lay siege to the capital before even an alarm is raised.  There is no longer any command that he need head.  If I can no longer go above him, then my dear daughter in law is my only hope.  If she cannot speak reason to our new king, then at least she can carry my grandchildren far from here.  I only worry to where.

Would South Rook be safe enough?  To Wesrook perhaps, and the chance to retreat across the Strait of Carth?  To send her all the way through Niven, to seek refuge from our cousin?  Could even the Storm Queen stand, if the Empire falls?

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My son…my King.  I think I have lost any right in his eyes to ever call him son again.  He has abided his wife’s words, and she has left for the south.  He knows this was right, but my constant maneuvering behind his back has wounded him.  It matters little if it were for his own good, that of his family…this nation….

Now we wait, and an old woman will fight beside her son… My only hope left, that I die first – for I cannot imagine victory.  Nohrook has been sacked, though some reports say the tower itself still stands.  The greatest mage king of our age could not even scratch Roshanna, and these dragons laid her low.  Nothing has phased the attackers.  Human mages and soldiers march in unresisted to clean up the destruction the dragons bring.  Pride will kill my son, duty be my undoing…but my grandchildren will live.

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They have set up camp down the pass, and dragons circle high above us, out of reach.  It is only a matter of time.  The wards of Midrook are strong, some of my best work, and my son’s.  I am proud of him, much as I wish he would have fled, and let me stand here for the inevitable.

He has looked into my eyes again, for the first time since his wife departed.  No words were said, and no words were needed.  What could they be?  Neither of us are sorry, but there is still love there.  It is good to know that again, before the end.

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I have been permitted my journal at last, and may finally record the fall of Midrook, my home.  My son is dead…I have outlived him.  Perhaps I was too stubborn to grant my own wish for death.  We stood side by side on the wall when it fell.  That even with the best of my skill I broke but a single of my brittle old bones, being thrown clear into the heart of the city, is a wonder.

Flames, death, destruction.  The screams of the dying, and the crackling of burning wood, as dragons melted a path of oblivion through the city.  There was nothing I could do but try to tend to my own broken leg, and watch as the smoke rose.  The street where I fell was empty.  All the remaining horrors of that day distant.

It was the flames that saved me.  Not a pain I could bear to die in.  I extinguished the fire around me before shock took me, and woke some time later at the point of a sword, and the azure coat of a royal Osyrean mage standing over me.  I surrendered.  Could I have bested him?  Perhaps, even in my condition – yet what was the point?  A lone old woman with a broken leg, in a fallen city, surrounded by enemy soldiers.  Dragons still perched on hilltops.

I did not offer my identity quickly, till it was forced from my lips to spare the life of some poor servant girl.  From then I was important…and guarded closely, kept from the eyes of any other prisoner.

Recently I have been moved to a tower chamber that was chosen – I am sure – for its view out over Midrook.  A black trail of glass cuts through the wall, and the city.  The houses around it reduced to scorched rubble.  Much of the city still stands, cut in half by that obsidian scar, but I do not imagine it ever rising to her former glory.

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Smoke fills the sky to the north east.  I have heard the whispers of guards.  The Sylvans are putting up a remarkable fight, and I wish them all the best.  Perhaps one day they can be allies after all, if they do not take Osyrae as merely a part of our human world.

There are other rumors of the Empire fortifying Helm.  Towers that can unleash beams of pure light, one of which purportedly exploded.  The guards chuckled over that.  I am in the end just a prisoner listening to the quiet chatter of her jailers.  What I know does not matter, and does not leave this tower.  What I know confounds me more than it comforts me, terrifies me for the world so much as those I could ever even name.  This will get worse.

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I have lost a sister, and Vhael has lost a general.  Oh Calista, dear proud Calista.  It did not need to be you to finish the cursed dragon.  Her name is not mentioned, not by my guards, but a woman who lead paladins, who’s blade cut the throat of a felled general of the black flight.  It could have been no other.  Pride and sorrow, joy and tears.  I am wracked with clashing emotions.  That a battle went at all in our favor, and then the cost of that meager victory.  Dear little Calista…a princess who wanted nothing more than to be a knight.  She died living her truth.

I cannot even write anymore, my tears smudge the ink, but I must.  If nothing else I will leave some memory in this world of my love for my sisters, as all the world falls to ash and ruin around me.

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I cannot even comprehend the whispers of my jailers.  They say Corinthia is no more, burned to nothing.  That it was this terrible crime that lit the night sky a thousand miles away.  Yet all at once they whisper their King was wounded, that a god was born on the battlefield, and defied them.  Harsh curses of traitor.  It is all madness, utter madness.  Are they toying with me?  Are we winning?  Losing?

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My high perch, the one they gave me to witness my country laid low.  Even my old eyes could see their Dragon King flounder.  Yes, the beast is wounded.  His Queen though is strong, his general loyal.  Oh but the other vultures circle, black fiendish flying things that they are.  Let not their scales fool you, they are no more than scavengers, not proud birds of prey.  All ready to fall upon the chance to take command for themselves.

Can I hope that this setback will tear them apart from within.  Can I believe that treachery, the betrayal of the empire will be met in kind among these traitors, these monsters.  I can name a few old gods, none I believe in in my heart, and yet I pray to every name for this simple justice.  For my enemies to be their own greatest foes.

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Dragons, green, white, one even black as the enemy.  They routed the Osyrean’s from my city, driving back their leaders, and leading all that remained to throw down their arms, and up their hands.  The Emperess has returned, and when I heard the feet scramble up the stairs to my chamber, when I heard the key turn.  I was ready to slay any who came to end me before I might see her again.

One of the guards, he had killed at least one other who had such ideas.  He prostrated himself before me, he begged his life.  I was sorely tempted not to oblige him, but no more would I kill him there on the ground.  I made him look me in the eye, and then I lost the nerve.  I am not them, I cannot kill in cold blood.

I nonetheless kicked the bastard to the ground as we left the tower, as I marched amongst the prostate soldiers of Osyrae, up to my sister, and threw my arms around her great fore leg.  So gently she set her vast snout to my back, so gentle this giant I had once scorned in my heart.  I knew the war had not ended, I knew there were terrible deeds left to do, and yet, there, that moment, nothing could ever be wrong with the world again.

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I have never thought much of the Clarions.  Some, noble enough, I suppose.  I know less what to think of this…thing…the adherents call Avatar.  The tale none the less gives me pause, a man who stood before dragon fire, who stood defiant as enchanted shield, and armor failed him, who did not burn away, but burned brighter than the fire that sought to consume him.  He is glorious, strange, strong, and yet oddly frail.  I am not sure I see him right at all, and I do blush sometimes to look upon him.  He wears nothing but light, though I must admit that brilliance does sometimes blind one to the details, he remains a man, even if some now worship him as a god.

This creature is our ally, and yet, I worry.  He does not speak, though they say actions are louder than words.  There is much we do not know about his nature, and much more I fear in the reverence the Clarions feel for him.  The Clarions already often undermined Imperial authority, now they have a god, a thing to hold up against dragons, for he has proved at least so powerful as several.

I see it in Roshana’s gaze, she does not trust him either.  Though her words are of implicit faith, she sees it, she sees perhaps more than I.  What are these things I see in the shadows cast by his light.  What are the echoes he calls up around us.  They only appear in the corner of the eye, always familiar, but never fully seen.

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I ride with the army.  They abide my presence grudgingly, but I want no claim to the world that is left if this campaign fails.  Let me be there to see it done, to victory, or ruin.  Yet every day it seems victory is more likely, and every night strange, and incomprehensible dreams wrest me from somber sleep.

She shines brighter than even the Avatar.  I see her before him, a little girl, unafraid, then a great woman brighter than the sun, awash in light, devoid of gravity.  I know the prophecy of the storm child, yet why am I seeing it?  Who is this girl to me?  Just a fragment of this Avatar’s future?

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The Black King is dead, but my heart finds little solace in it.  I find almost more hope in his son, maddening as that is.  He stood defiant before my sister, a sword held up.  Not a threat at all, just a punctuation, a sign of conviction, no more.

Roshana has had no part in it.  If there is to be peace she says it is for others to forge.  I have ridden to the high hill where she has perched, and she gazes not to the fallen capital we took, but east, I know in my heart, to the one we lost.

She has spoken to me of the words of the infamous Sylvia Grey, a name that has reached even distant Avrale.  I am of mixed opinion, though I have tried to console my sister.  I believe she judges herself too harshly, that the blame cannot fall to her.  She who ruled fair, and kind.  Who founded another golden age for an empire determined to hunger for darker days.

Yet what solace lies in the lack of blame.  She is the image of the monsters that have ruined our world, and whatever treaty is struck, how gladly will the world again bow before a dragon?

Yet even these worries pale to fights yet to be had.  Niven still stands occupied, and my sister, my Empress, she plots more war, even as her heart is no longer in such endeavors.

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Less than half the council survives.  Yet even then they have never held true authority before.  I cringe at this course, but I can offer no better.  The Empire will be no more.  We will enshroud what we can of all that it stood for in new treaties, and laws.  We will steal from the world the brightest gifts, bringing them to Mordove.  They will live together, they will be family, friends, and the free nations listen to their kin.

It is a new world though, one now more divided, borders tighter.  The open roads of the empire now subject to sovereign regional authority.  Will they maintain the spirit?  Will these few centuries stick in their hearts?  When already they longed for war.  Perhaps that fire is quenched, perhaps it will work.

Mage kings are forbidden, or at least discouraged.  Exceptions have been made.  Nohlend’s King is a good man, with precious few to pass authority to.  My grandson shall not be trained further though it pains me.  I am a Queen, and a regent even then, small distinctions.  I shall live out my days, rebuild that proud tower at Broken Hill, and leave this world as best I can.

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I have said goodbye I think, perhaps for the last time to my sister.  All that I saw, the girl I still knew in her that day beyond my gates, it has faded, though the shadow is there.  This war has cost much of what was left of her humanity.  The final battles of Niven have left her shaken.  She will not even speak of what happened in the routing of the dragons from that land.

Her throne renounced she says she will take refuge in Napir, with the grace of our cousin.  She jokes she will take a nap for a century…and I wonder if there is any jest at all behind the growling laugh with which she said it.

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I was wrong.  Though I needed be carried to the castle gate, my sister has returned to me.  She offers me a scale, one wrested painfully from her own hide.  It contains the magic to make me immortal, if I survive it, to make me like her.  I wept at her side, cried into the night tucked beneath her mighty wing.

I have read much written by the woman Sylvia, now passed.  I have asked a group of her followers to take up residence at Highvale, and tend the orchards there.  I am torn.  Death…it is the great unknowable enemy.  Do I defy it, do I give up my humanity…or do I embrace the foe I can never love?

Only two sisters remain of seven daughters born to our kind Emperor.  When I die…will anything be left of her?  If I become as her, can I save her from the morose I see in her great eyes, or will it take me just as well, in time.

I know my answer, and yet I can hardly believe it is so.  If there is a world after, I will seek my son, and husband there.  My lost sisters, our father…and wait to see if one day an errant dragon might come home to roost.  If there is not…at least there will be peace.

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