Chapter Twelve – The Silver Dragon Awaits
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Cateline watched as Varin struck the sparring dummy with such force it frightened her. Strands of hay flew into the air with each strike, the burlap material that was secured with rope was tattered and torn. Chewing on her bottom lip, she tore her stare away from him and refocused her attention to the ground.

He terrified her. She had no idea why, for he had only shown her care—albeit, sarcastic and uninterested care, but it was generous nonetheless. She had yet to thank him for saving her from those men outside the tavern. Now that she thought about it, she never verified who the second man was. He deserved her gratitude as well.

Although he was standing there, no longer occupied by his eccentric satyr companion and ready to be conversed with, she stood still. She wanted so badly to trust him, Aiora, the headmistress and that satyr, but it was difficult. She spent her entire life doubting her closest family members' intent, and unfortunately that pessimism transferred to strange magical academies in foreign kingdoms.

Digging her nails into her skin, she let out an exasperated sigh and pushed open the doors. The sky was gray, dark clouds overhead that threatened to downpour at any moment. With each gust of wind, the large oak trees surrounding them in the courtyard danced. Cateline stared at the fountain she had seen from up in the attic, the one with the glowing runes, before turning back to Varin.

“I would hate to be the focus of your aggressions, Varin.”

He jumped at the sound of her voice, turning to look over his shoulder. Beads of sweat dropped from his brow, his sword lowering before he drove it into the ground. “Luckily burlap foes do not feel much at all.”

“I would hope so. You should come in, it looks like it is about to storm.”

“What a kind heart, Cateline. I think I can survive a bit of rain,” he said with a snicker.

Smiling subtly, she nodded and folded her hands in front of her waist. “I wanted to talk to you, if you have a minute.”

Varin’s chest heaved with each breath, turning his head to look at the torn sparring dummy, with tattered pieces falling to the ground and flying away with the wind, before lazily shrugging. “I suppose I had little use left out of this, anyway. What is it?”

She watched for a moment as he began to untie the rope that held it in shape, hay falling to the ground as he removed the material from the wooden spike.

“The tavern the other night—it was you that saved me from those men?”

He slowed his movements, nodding carefully. “Yes.”

“And the other man?”

“Thaddius,” he said while folding the material, “I figured you knew.”

“As I told you,” Cateline whispered, “I do not know much, specifically in regard to why I am here. Or, how I got here in the first place.”

Her breath catching in her throat, she moved to the fountain and bit her tongue. Revealing too much could serve to be deadly, she had to remind herself that.

“I remember you saying that. How does that even happen?”

Spending a moment to mull over a proper response, she decided silence sufficed.

“Right, ‘I don’t know.’ I promise, I am an awful listener.”

Cateline grinned, rubbing the symbols engraved on the stone. Although they glowed and appeared raised, it was smooth. The water looked normal, tiny ripples splashing around and washing over the border. “I wanted to thank you, and Thaddius. I am forever grateful.”

“No need for gratitude, Cateline, I would be a monster if I left you to be killed.”

Cateline’s smile dropped slowly, her eyes closing at the thought. He was right, she could have very well died; not once, but twice. The worst part of it was that with one of those instances, she would probably have never known what happened. Varin and Thaddius witnessed her impaling that man and falling faint, yes, but nobody watched her float down that strait until she was washed up on the shore, better off dead.

Cupping her hands together to conceal her trembles, she turned to look at him and smiled. “No, I insist. Consider me in your debt. I am going to go inside, though. It's growing frigid from that storm.”

Varin raised an eyebrow and grabbed hold of his weapon. It was a long, steel sword that had an extravagant handle, one that was much more elegant than the one she saw him sparring with days prior from the balcony. This one glistened, despite the clouds that shadowed the ground, and held an energy that she found alluring. She had never handled a sword, her father was under the impression that swordsmanship was for men, and that she should learn to clean, sit upright, and look like an eligible bride. It still sickened her to this day.

“Whatever you say, Cateline.”

Turning on his heel, he headed toward the armory to put away the supplies he borrowed. She followed after him quickly, her eyes still set on the blade. “That sword, it is awfully pretty. Surely it doesn’t belong to the academy.”

Varin liftened the handle to look at it, letting it rest back into its sheath and nodded. “It is from my home.”

“Your home? Where is that?”

Varin turned over his shoulder with a pained look. After a moment of hesitation, he said, “Inquisitive today, are we?”

The blood rushed to her cheeks as she bowed her head. “Apologies, Varin. My father always told me not to pester.”

“Your father sounds like a boring man. I was only kidding. I am from Yulia, a Kingdom in a northwestern region many days away from here.”

“Region?” Cateline asked. “What region?”

“A relatively small one, nothing compared to Ellixus. You wouldn’t know the name.

“I would like to know, though.”

Varin grinned, shrugging his shoulder as he drifted his gaze to the runes on the fountain. “One day I will tell you all you wish to know. Perhaps give you a lesson of my own, but for now it would be too much. My homeland is torn with war, Cateline. It is only fitting that the most violent region on Denzethea be told over mead and fire.”

“Denzethea is an expansive world, Varin. Surely your homeland is not the only place stained with blood.”

“Well,” he sighed and grabbed onto the handle of his sword. It was like it humbled him, or brought him back to reality, “it surely is on the list of places torn to shreds by the hands of corrupt and greedy leaders. Much like Axulran.”

“I beg your pardon?” Cateline furrowed her brow. She crossed her arms and lowered her stare, making sure she didn't show too much bias toward the political standing of her homeland. “Axulran is beautiful, Varin. I think you have the wrong impression.”

“Do I?” he asked and looked at her. “How could I be so wrong, Cateline?”

“The royal family is… misspoken, sure. King Airen is a mighty ruler, but he cares for his people.”

Varin scoffed, shaking his head before turning away, heading towards Lighthelm’s doors. “I never imagined caring for your people involved the widespread eradication of a race, Cateline. King Airen is a murderer, and the sooner you stop thinking of him as a saint, the better. Weren't you cold, or something?”

Cateline gulped, watching as he disappeared into the academy without waiting for her response. She let out a deep breath, gripping onto the edge of the stone to level herself out.

The scorn that dripped from his tongue when speaking her fathers name shook her to the core. Citizens of Axulran were restless, torn over poor agricultural opportunities and bad politics, but she had never seen somebody spit in the direction of her father in such a way. She knew she was ignorant for expecting anything less.

If she thought her own flesh and blood was ruthless and evil, those who served no loyalty to the Bennett bloodline surely had their opinions as well.

Widespread eradication…

Cateline smoothed her skirt and made way into the building. Whatever he was on about made her wonder of the wars that Alleyn told her so little about, the bloodshed that her family made sure she knew nothing of.

She doubted the legitimacy of that claim, of widespread eradication, but she was no fool. The royal family of Axulran loathed elves, and as a result most mages were looked down upon because it meant they had elven blood coursing through their veins.

She knew little of the origins of magic, or how she got Elven blood in her system, but this complication in her lineage was the root of her fathers disdain in regard to his only daughter. If it weren’t for her dearest servant, Alleyn, she would have never known. Not that she could be surprised of her fathers contempt for her heritage, Elves and magic were the cause of strife in Axulran after all. Still, she could only wonder where it came from in the first place.

Surely her father was not an Elf.

Tucking her lip between her teeth, she watched Varin disappear upstairs to his quarters. She pinched the fabric of her sleeve and entered the library. Determined that a place like this would hold some type of encyclopedia of this eradication he spoke of, she began her search. Something so grand must have been written and spread across the entirety of Denzethea. This world was far too small for it not to.

Upon entering the room, parchment paper and dust filled her airways. Sunlight tucked between the stained glass windows and bled onto the creaking floorboards, a handful of scholars scattered about with their irises glued to books that took up space on mahogany tables. Sucking in a breath, Cateline only just realized how difficult it would be to find the book—or, books—she was looking for.

Starting at the shelf closest to the entrance, Cateline firmly placed her foot on the first groove of the step and wobbled at the base. Shaking her head, she balanced herself on the edge of the wooden bookcase and leaned closer to read the spine.

A Study of Dark Mana: Analysis of the Past, Future and Myths of Dark Magic.

Cateline hummed, trailing her finger down the leather side before shaking her head. However interesting that subject matter may be, it had little to do with the history of Denzethea.

The world was vast, and she knew little of it, but what she did know was that there were two primary regions. The region of Ellixus, which is the area both Axulran and Traburg resided in, and the region of Cremsi. She played a fool when asking Varin what region he hailed from—mostly because she had never met somebody from a different side of this world, but she also hoped he would give her a history lesson.

Just like Alleyn used to. If it weren't for him, Cateline would have thought Axulran was the only Kingdom on the planet. That was what her father wanted, after all.

Her mother uttered the words of the Cremsi region with such scorn it was stained into her brain—she wasn’t sure why it was of such distaste to her mother, but history was something that was taboo in her home. Only those who dared to go against King Airen would enlighten little Cateline on folklore and geography lessons.

Reaching her eyes to the top shelf, she spotted a yellowing spine that glowed. The letters were etched into the leather with care and it called out to her. Taking a few more steps until she was at the top of the ladder, Cateline stretched her arm as far as it could go, barely grazing the edge of it with her fingertip.

She wiggled it out of its place until it began to tilt toward her. She gasped as it fell, nearly crashing to the floor when her grip became as good as butter. As it soared past her head, she held onto the landing of the ladder to regain her composure and waited for that ancient book to smash onto the stone floor.

It was silent, though.

Silence that was deafening, in fact. Looking below her, she saw the book floating just a few steps beneath her, open and facing up at her. She lowered herself onto the floor and grabbed hold of the book, the aged leather as light as a feather. What had to be at least five-hundred pages felt like air.

With the encyclopedia in one hand, and the other over her abdomen to ease her heavy breaths, she sat at the nearest table and closed the book carefully. Carved in cursive lettering, the title read: Denzethea’s Tale of Love, Loss and Scorn.

Humming, she traced the engraved title and watched the golden glow slowly subside. With wide eyes she opened it to the title page, looking at a map. It was large, many continents sprinkled across the page. She leaned forward and read each name slowly. It was information that intoxicated her—knowing there were people so far away it would take a month to voyage to them. And here she was, flabbergasted she made it across a puny strait.

Granted, she had never been to the ocean. She knew there were great adventures to be seen outside of Axulran, but to taste the sea and feel the sting of salt against her porcelain skin… it was but a dream. At least until she wound up unconscious in the middle of a strait, but that was unforeseen and mostly a void in her memory.

Shuddering at the thought, she bit her lip and trailed her finger all across the map. There was land due south of Axulran that haunted her, her eyes glued to it with a curious twinkle. It was hauntingly named The Land of the Forsaken, clouds surrounding it to indicate it was uncharted territory.

As soon as she turned the page, she watched the book roar to life.

The pages flipped on its own accord, lifting off the wooden tabletop and tilted to her eyelevel. Looking around to see if any scholars were watching, Cateline gripped at the bench she sat on as the room around her grew dark. The only object that shed light in the room was this book, and as it landed on its desired page, the words lifted off the parchment.

“A soul to reap is a soul to be set free. As the child sleeps, a monster will rise and the land shall weep.”

The words sung to life, only fading into an echo as the world around her shifted. Like that, Cateline was no longer in an antiquated library. She was alone, in the midst of a blizzard.

"The Silver Dragon invites you to witness your beginning."