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    • Deep in an old, misty mountain where waterfalls abound and cut canyons into its weathered surface, an ancient dragon slumbers. At the base of this mountain, there lived a small village of draconids, the guardians of this noble dragon. And halfway between the two, a trio of Draconids trekked up the mountain face, on their journey to meet with the dragon, Somnolemist. It was a rite of passage for every young draconid to have an audience with their grand charge. It is a simple tradition, more than anything, as the trek was long, but relatively safe, and only a few younglings were ever rejected by the great dragon. But the tradition remains a pivotal part of every young draconids life.

      At the entrance to a dark pit, the three draconids stood at disagreement.

      “We can make it down there, yes. But how do you propose we make it back up?” Zara asked, irritated. They could hardly see the bottom of the pit, and the walls of the crevice were slicked by a constant stream of water .

      “Not confident in your climbing abilities, Zara?” Mocked her brother, Drex.

      “I’m a better climber than either of you,” Zara countered. “But that doesn’t mean I can make it up this. We need to find another way in.”

      “I think little Zara is scared of a little fall” Drex continued.

      Zara squinted her eyes in irritation. “And I think big bad Drex is a pompous fool”

      “Zara.” Silder spoke up finally, holding out a calmative hand to her.

      Drex, on the other hand, turned to face Zara squarely. “You want to repeat that, you yellow bellied hatchling?”

      She’d be lying if she said she wasn't intimidated by her brother, but it was Silder’s position that really hurt. He and Zara generally got along, especially if Drex was absent. And while she tried to hide it, she did fancy the boy. Zara sucked in a breath to counter and turned on Silder. “There you go again, Silder. Why do you always take his side? Is his approval that important to you?”

      “Where is this coming from, Zara?” Silder asked, bewilderment plastered on his features.

      “Where is this…? You two meat-heads have been ridiculing me since we left home. If you wanted me gone so bad, all you had to do was ask. It would have saved me one regrettable day.

      “There she goes being emotional again.” Drex scoffed. “Why do you always take everything as a personal attack?”

      “Shut your trap, Drex.” Zara hissed.

      Drex opened his mouth wide and snapped his jaw loudly, nearly nicking Zara on the shoulder. He then hung his jaw open again in a dopey grin. “Are you going to shut it for me, whelp?”

      Zara shoved her brother’s head away from her. Drex was easily the biggest of the three, and hardly budged from the push.

      “Stop, you two. Zara-” Silder's efforts were futile. Drex growled and advanced on his little sister. Zara dodged a powerful swipe, ducking backwards. She struck out with her left foot to catch Drex in the ribs, but he caught her foot and flung her backwards. Zara caught the ground and rolled into a low crouch, pulling her staff from her back and hissing.

      Silder stepped between the two and pushed against Drex’ chest to stop him. “Stop it, both of you. We have an important mission to complete. You can kill each other after we get back home. I’m not dragging one of your corpse’s down this mountain.”

      Drex pushed Silder’s hand away, but didn’t advance. “Find your own way to the dragon, or better yet, go back home and cry to mother.” Drex spat. “If you do manage to make it to Somnolemist, he’ll just cast you out of the tribe anyway.”

      Drex’s words stung more than they should. But he was speaking her nightmares. She feared she was incompetent among her tripe. She feared she wasn’t worthy of Somnolemist’s blessing. She feared she would in fact be cast out. It was an irrational fear, perhaps, but a fear that she couldn’t get out of her head nonetheless.

      “Don’t listen to him, Zara.” Silder reassured. “You’ll be fine. Take a second to cool off, alright? We’ll be down at the bottom waiting for you.”

      Drex turned and stomped back to the pit. He jumped down the hole, and the low thud of him landing on the ground echoed out.

      Zara stood slightly straighter from her crouch. She didn’t want Silder to leave, too. She gave him a pleading look, but he was already advancing towards the hole. An instant later and he was at the bottom of the crevice as well.

      “Fine, leave!” Zara cried. “I hope you both die down there!”
    • Preparations were a long and often tedious process. This time, it was particularly the case. A large bath built underground, enough clean salt water to fill it. Inks, stones, deep crustaceous shells. A clean, new smelter, made only from parts themselves that were sterilized, and used itself to craft surgical implements of superior quality. He'd spent hours designing the chamber, days designing the blank insviras that would receive the knowledge and memories he needed for the process, and a day more drawing in the complex circles along the floor, ceiling and walls.

      Using the knowledge he'd gained from Doctor Lawrence, and additional research into the matter on his own time, Omentus was finally able to determine the nature of his extreme physical aversion to electrical energy. Contrary to his previous beliefs, it had nothing to do with an imbalance of humors, nor an inherent affinity for the proper elements that his body lacked. By point of fact, those beliefs might have some gravity in the realm that he called home, but it was even then doubtful. The new information that Doctor Lawrence revealed to him was revolutionary, and he would need to ponder long and hard about how best to submit his findings to the Academy Arcana of Iacun. He would also need to be ready for a relative inquisition of examinations about his knowledge. It defied, decried and disproved so very much of what science, medicine and magic had already revealed about the world. There were issues in the contradictions, of course. It was clear that Lawrence was from a realm where magic itself was, as a whole, disbelieved and disproven. They had logic, hundreds of years of background in scientific research, and Omentus had no way of revealing to the Academy board the source of his certitudes on the matter. Not without revealing what he had done to the homunculus process, at any rate, and certainly not without revealing how he'd used those modulations on himself.

      In particular, those changes and uses of the process would make him a criminal, even if there were no laws specifically prohibiting the practice. The Board would submit legislation, and laws would be passed within months. The Academy Board was only barely understanding of his use of the original working of the surgery and spells that replaced his own, lost eyes, with Mayazel's, and then ordered the destruction of the demon, as if it were not somehow understood what consequences that would have on the erstwhile body of his dear Adelaide. Lawrence's world had grandfather laws. These seemed reasonable to him. His own world did not. If he acted politically... that was a very deep rabbit hole, he'd prefer not to pursue it at all. He would simply have to write memoirs, and recount his travels in a slightly abridged fashion. Working these spells or committing this surgery now, however professional his intentions... he could see no reason the Board would take them in a favorable light. Not as his world stood now.

      At last, he removed his clothes, and lay down in the saltwater bath. Cold nickel nipped at his back. He incanted the words to begin the process. The arcane circles on the ceiling began to glow. The white-fleshed insviras came to life. One picked up a syringe, and approached the bath. The stub, where a syringe's needle should have been, entered the port on his arm. Omentus drifted off to sleep.

      * * *

      Fresh air. A cold, misty breeze brushed across the old traveler's face. The smell of the mountain. It was nice. Inspiring, refreshing. Why was she here again? It was to... take a nap under the old cherry trees near the cloudline. They grew up the mountain from Mesala, the tiny town of her childhood. Was that twenty years ago, already?

      No, that's not... something's not right.

      She looked up the mountain, toward the clouds. It was just like Mesailles. A headache tugged at her brow. She touched her face, brushing the hair out of her face by force of habit, but felt nothing there, only skin. My hair, when did I cut it? Instinctively, she reached for the messenger bag at her side, but there was none. No, she always had it with her. What was happening? Where was she?

      This is not Mesailles! She gasped, biting back panic. The nameless do not panic! Hands touched her face. These... these were not her hands! "Who are you?!" she cried. No. That— that was not her voice. It was his voice. Memories flooded her mind.

      Etsol castle. The dungeons. Her blood on the floor. Days without food. Given water only as she needed it. One interrogator. One torturer. One court wizard. She had trained for this. No draught, no depravity, no spell could loosen her tongue. The nameless do not know. She was Kindra, the maid. Now Estia, the merchant. Now no one. She did not need to be. She had been caught, in the magistrate's office, taking the old forgeries and placing the new ones.

      He was new and also old. Another wizard. King Adraines had hired him, a freelance mage. Probably from the Academy, probably specializing in extracting truths. She had none to give him. She was nameless. No one. He was gentle. A common tactic. He gave her water. It could have been drugged. Maybe poisoned. She drank. He gave her food. Dried meats, cherries— she loved cherries! Oh, a sweet muffin. How kind. He warned her to not eat too quickly. He had some questions for her, she knew what they were, but it could wait until she had her strength back. His eyes... they weren't right. Teal, like cat eyes, but soft. He didn't want to see her like this. Why was she crying? No one trained her for this. No one trained her to be cared after...

      "Shh," he said. "It's alright. You're going home after this." Liar. "No," he said. He was very specific. He was here for the answers, but he would be paid in the way he'd described. Once he gave his employer the answers they paid for, they would release her, alive, into his care. He was going to take her home. She had no answers for him. "That's fine," he said. He would give them himself. What? She would understand soon. His name was...

      Birdsong flooded his ears. Their sharp, lilting melodies freed him from the haze, however momentarily. Omentus shook his head. He was on the mountain. Not the nameless girl. He'd taken her memories. She was a part of him, now. How much time had he lost in her recollections? There was no way to tell. Right. Time to find Zara, the last keybearer.