Bruegon has picked up Andruil and escaped through the secret stair case. Ria is filled with newfound power. Magma pours out of the breach and pools harmlessly at her feet.
Illyria looks to Ria and Lohr and asks how they would like to test their new powers.
Lohr has an immediate answer. There is a town. The people of which are unhappy and the ruler is unkind. Lohr would like to overthrow it. He believes he could turn the citizenship into devout followers of Illyria. Illyria grants Lohr leave to pursue his plans. The great being of fire looks to Ria.
“What is it you desire, Ria Cragsteel?”
Ria concentrates on the ground below her. Her eyes narrow on the magma, and on her goals. “Ria need do two things…Ria need her baby. Ria need protect Ridgefang.”
Illyria speaks to her in the hissing crackling language of the fire elementals. The noises sound foreign and strange, yet she understands their meaning clearly. "Ridgefang is under my protection now. Any who cross your clan shall burn for their transgressions. You need not fear. Your loyalty is their safety. You have leave to find your child. Where is your child located? “
Ria gives a slight squirm. Hearing that Ridgefang is under Illyria’s protection is what she wished, but it sits uneasy in her stomach. She gives a deep breath.
“Vua in Athame. Ria leave her with Queen.”
“Ah. The elven queen. She has the potential to become an obstacle. While in the city…should the opportunity present itself, eliminate the Queen. You will be outnumbered. Tread carefully. The Queen will not yet know you are no longer her ally. Use this to your advantage.”
Lohr has offered to teleport Ria to the remnants of the Stormcrow. A silent, cloaked assassiny looking fellow has come to stand by Lohr.
Ria’s stomach once again becomes uneasy at the thought of killing the Queen, one who has given Ria so many opportunities to send mercenaries to Ridgefang to break the Green Tide. Someone she’s been helping for several years. Ridgefang comes first.
“Ria will do so. Ria accept teleport.”
While Lohr talks to his new assassin friend, Grigori pulls Ria aside.
“Take this with you,” he says.
He hands her a brazier containing cinders. It has the words “Surgere et ardebit” carved into it.
“You light this, speak the words on it and a powerful elemental will be called to aid you. It will only work once, so use it wisely.”
Ria’s face crinkles as she sees Grigori. She takes the brazier, and doesn’t say a word.
Grigori speaks quietly. “You need to be careful now. It will not be the success or failure by which Illyria judges you, but by your intent. I know what it is like to lose a child. Remember that you have one thing the Queen will want back: Starcleaver. Use it as a bargaining chip if you must. It is not important to us. And yes, the Queen will not know you now serve Illyria, but your eyes—they burn like embers. Same as mine. And Illyria’s power courses through you. They may sense it.”
Lohr waits for Ria.
Ria is slightly taken back by Grigori’s words, not expecting empathy from someone she’s always painted as a force of destruction. “Ria understands. Ria want to speak to you after this.” Ria walks over to where Lohr is and nods for him to begin the teleportation spell.
In the blink of an eye they are standing outside the burned out husk of the Stormcrow. Lohr tells Ria “Good luck” and is gone a moment later. Those may be the last words Lohr ever speaks to her. The streets seem nearly deserted as the sun sets.
Ria examines what she once called the closest thing to ‘home’ for a few minutes, and begins to walk over to an Athame guard.
“What can I help you with ma’am?” the guard asks.
“Ria need to speak with Queen Vallana, it about recent assault on Kilkry!”
“Hmm. Wasn’t that assualt happening today? I don’t have access to the Queen and the Sword is away. I suppose I could take you to my Captain. Let him decide if you warrant an audience. "
Ria nods, “This good! Take Ria to Captain!”
“Alright, follow me.”
Ria follows the guard to the barracks outside the castle walls. He goes and finds his captain, who introduces himself as Captain Howel.
“My guard said you had important news for the Queen?”
Ria does a salute, and introduces herself. “Ria Cragsteel needs to speak to Queen about assault! Situation am not favorable! Need to speak to Queen about important things!”
“I’ll the Queen know your here and wish to speak with her. It’s late though.”
The Captain disappears for about 15 minutes before returning. “Alright. Queen Vallana will see you. Follow me.”
Ria nods, and follows in suit of Captain Howel.
Captain Howel leads her through the castle, now cleaned from the assault.
He leads her to the Queen’s War room. The Queen seems exhausted. Her Shield stands steadfast beside her. Her owl perches sleepily on her chair. She stands from her chair.
Ria can see that the Shield has one hand on the Queen’s upper back. The other on her sword hilt (which isn’t too out of the ordinary). Ria can tell the Shield seems unsettled.
“Ria, why are you back already? What has happened?” The Queen asks her.
Ria kneels before the Queen. “Ria have news from Assault! Unsuccessful fight, Illyria am in our lands!”
The Queen sighs. “That is what I had feared. Then so be it. We are at war. Illyria must be stopped. What of the rest of your group? And the Princess and my Sword?”
“Lohr am with Illyria. Bruegon escaped, me not know where. Sword and Princess am safe.” While still kneeling Ria questions “Am Vua safe?”“Lohr is with Illyria? As in allied? And what did Bruegon escape from? Please start from the beginning. And yes, of course, Vua is safe.”
Ria takes a deep breath.
“Stormcrows go and fight forces outside wall with Sword. Tower we go in stopped by big fire thing. We fight through streets and big but not as big fire things and lose many people to fire things. We climb town wall and evade ANOTHER big fire thing. Stormcrows and Sword fight Arctus and Leptus. We make way into escape path, and find Grigori and mean prince guy! We fight them, Grigori very much stronger now…took on Sword and me. Bruegon try and stop prince from summoning Illyria, Ria broke off from fight to help Bruegon… we failed. Lohr was stopped early and fight, by assassin! Assassin took me out too…”
She now gets a little quieter. “Illyria summoned, and give spare lives. Lohr is really strong now… Illyria let Bruegon and Sword get out. Ria…made it out with her life.”
“How have you returned so quickly? And why are you alone?”
“Before Lohr leave, he make portal for me, to have everyone know Illyria back. That you need to know before she come here.”
“You’re saying Lohr is with Illyria now? But he was the one who sent you here? What aren’t you telling me Ria. "
“Ria…made deal.” She slams her fist on the ground, and looks at Queen Vallana in the eyes.
“Ria can’t lie to Queen anymore. Queen help Ria, Queen needs to know truth.”
Ria’s eyes welt, yet flicker at the same time.
The Shield has moved in front of the Queen, sword drawn.
“Ria, you will regret this. Stand down.”
“Illyria promise Ria that Ridgefang be safe. Illyria give Ria powers to stop Green Tide. Please, give Ria Vua, I give you Starcleaver, Ria Promise.” Ria points to Starcleaver.“Ria not want fight. Ria want Vua safe.”
“All you want is your child to be safe? You think she will be safe with you? With Illyria? Nowhere is safe now. You’ve committed treason against all the free-willed people of Sarulia. This? This is the path you’ve chosen?”
“Ria want Ridgefang to be safe, as well as Vua! You not want to protect those you care about? Ria’s protected her lands! Ria can’t win against Illyria then, Ria gives Ridgefang the chance to live! Ria sorry, but it not too late! Work with Illyria! Find way to be safe! …Please…”
“Subjecting my people to the tyranny of that beast would not be protecting them. I will never submit. Illyria is the only reason your people even face the dangerous of the wilds. Illyria was the one that drove the people out of their homes. That was the horror of Illyria. People faced dying in mass in the wilds rather than face it. By allying with that beast you have made yourself an enemy of the Emerald forest. As a recognition of all you have done for me, you make take your child and leave with your life. If you ever set foot with my lands again, you will not be shown the same mercy again. Vua will be brought to a rendezvous point outside the city, just south of the bridge. You will take Vua and leave Starcleaver. Are these terms acceptable?”
A hard swallow can be heard from Ria. She should have paid more attention to her Elders and listened to their tales. She shouldn’t have trained all this time for nothing. Ria can’t help but feel like she’s betrayed everyone and herself.
Captain Howel reappears as if on cue.
Queen Vallana speaks to him: “Escort this woman out of the city under guard. She is to be considered an enemy of the forest, but is not to be harmed. Take her to the Galasnian Tree and wait there.”
“Yes, your majesty.” Howel motions for you to walk in front of him.
Defeated, Ria walks with her head hung, and respects Howel’s orders.
Concerned that any motion beyond going to the Galasnian tree will be misconstrued as an attempt to disrespect that order, Ria follows all of Howel’s instructions.
Howel picks up a half-dozen additional guards and takes Ria to the Galasnian tree.
About a half hour later, a second party approaches. Vua is with them. They demand Ria lay down Starcleaver and walk a dozen paces backwards. They when then let Vua come to her.
Ria sets down Starcleaver, walks the dozen paces backwards, and anxiously awaits her child.
As promised, Vua is free to go to you. Ria can see she has a backpack. As Vua reaches her, a soldier approaches Starcleaver and picks it up.
Ria embraces Vua. “Ria missed you.”
Vua is happy to see her mother as well. She has been stocked with several weeks’ worth of provisions.
Ria heads off to Ridgefang, the eyes of the forest upon her the entire way,